(The Gear Loop) - The best pop-up, inflatable and instant tents have come a long way since they first started appearing on campsites and festival fields. Pop-up tents are no longer scorned as being gimmicky, with some pretty robust and durable models now appearing on the market and attracting the attention of serious campers.
They still magically leap to life in an instant, but are now viable option for use over multiple camping trips, making it a better choice for the environment than something "disposable", and they can actually withstand some weather.
The evolution of air tents has perhaps been even more startling. Ever since Scottish manufacturers Vango pioneered the AirBeam tent at the beginning of the last decade, there has been a revolution in pole-less pitching.
Vango is still at the forefront of this modern approach (its excellent Joro Air 600XL features in this round-up) though other manufacturers are perfecting their own inflatable shelters too, so there are plenty of great options out there.
So, whether you’re looking to ditch the poles or simply get yourself a small shelter that magically erects in not time, there’s something for you here.
First, we feature two of the best pop-up tents on the market, ideal for camping couples that want to waste no time pitching. Secondly, we champion a trio of luxuriously spacious family air tents, perfect for years and years of comfortable summer camping holidays without the pole-relate palaver.
There’s a fair amount of jargon associated with tent fabrics and the like. So, if you’re unsure about what terms like Hydrostatic Head mean, have a skim of our "what to look for" guide at the bottom of this feature.
The best pop-up tents
Quechua 2 Seconds Easy Fresh and Black
- Darkness even in broad daylight
- Stays cool in the sun
- Very sturdy and reliable for a pop-up
- Packs down small
- Comparatively expensive compared to most pop-ups
- Lighter options exist
There was a time when serious campers wouldn’t consider a pop-up tent. Most were thought of as gimmicky shelters that were fine for a few summer festivals but wouldn’t cut the mustard on the trails. Decathlon has changed this perception with its excellent Quechua 2 Seconds Easy Fresh&Black.
Like all the best pop-up tents, set up is a doddle. The 2 Seconds Easy features an innovative system, where you pull two cords and, before you know it, your castle of canvas has sprung to life, leaving the process of pegging it into the ground down to you.
When packing away, all you have to do is release the tent cords, assist your tent in finding its folded shape and stuff it in its sack.
Other plus points include its Fresh&Black patented exterior fabric, which keeps out even broad daylight, meaning no getting woken up by a glaring sun on early summer mornings.
It’s wind resistant and waterproof too, with a flysheet HH rating of 2,000 mm. Weighing in at 4.7 kg, it’s on the heavy side for backpacking expeditions, but perhaps not too weighty for a one-night wild camping trip and its small packed size helps, too.
In summary, this is a classy and innovative pop-up tent that’s suitable for all manner of camping applications during the warmer months. It's available in a 2-person and 3-person model.
Coleman Pop Up Tent Galiano
- FastPitch structure pops up in no time
- Great ventilation
- Not ideal in strong winds
- Less portable than some
Coleman champions its Galiano tent as the “perfect partner for festivals, multi-stop holidays and weekend camping trips”. This is thanks to its FastPitch structure, which sees its fibreglass poles spring into place when you liberate it from its pack.
All you need to do is peg it down using its webbing loops. To pack down, you just give the poles a little helping hand and they fold back in on themselves.
The Galiano’s ventilation options are a real bonus. It features a removable roof panel that allows you to open up the sides or go for a fully open roof. A breathable mesh is then all that’s between you and the stars, keeping the insects a bay but allowing air to circulate on hotter days.
Its polyester flysheet is HH-rated at 2,000 mm, so it will keep rain at bay in summer. We wouldn’t take the Galiano up a mountain, as it only has two guy ropes and a single skin, which raises question marks about its ability to handle the difficult conditions often encountered at altitude.
Besides this, like many pop-up tents, it folds away into a large circular pack which is fine for marching across the festival site or camping grounds, but not ideal for carrying over technical terrain.
However, for a multi-purpose tent that pops up in an instant, it’s one of the leading models. The Galiano is available in a 2-person and a 4-person model.
The best inflatable air tents
Berghaus Air 6XL
- Huge, versatile, fully-featured space
- Darkened fabric for bedrooms
- Strong waterproofing
- Sleeps up to 6 people in customisable bedrooms
- Expensive compared to some
- Not one for hiking with
The Air 6XL is an excellent addition to the air tent canon from reliable British outdoor gear stalwarts Berghaus. This palatial tunnel tent gives you loads of space and is crammed with features.
Extra-large windows create plenty of light in the living area and they come with adjustable blinds for privacy. Meanwhile, the bedrooms feature darkened fabric for those morning lie-ins. The flysheet has an HH rating of 6,000 mm, so there’s no chance of any rain getting in and there are vents on the rear and the side to prevent condensation.
Pitching is a doddle thanks to the tent’s spring-loaded, quick-release air valves. All you have to do is peg out the corners, before attaching the pump to each of the five air beams and inflating to the required pressure. All in all, it takes around 20 minutes if not in a rush, which is ridiculously quick for a shelter of this size.
At the end of the trip, packing away is as easy as pressing the release valve on each beam and letting the tent deflate, before folding it up into its wheeled carry case.
Where the bedrooms are concerned, versatility is key. The sleeping area’s partition walls can be removed or added, giving you the flexibility of one huge room, one big and one small, or three smaller rooms.
There are loads of little storage pouches throughout the tent, as well as loops for hanging lanterns and flaps and Velcro cable loops for electrical hook up.
In short, this is a magnificent, fully-featured shelter and, while it may be on the pricey side, you do get a lot of tent for your money.
Vango Joro Air 600XL Sentinel Eco
- Fabric constructed from recycled materials
- Dark bedrooms
- Fast pitching
- Smaller bedrooms than some
- Not as waterproof as rivals
Another spacious six-person tunnel tent, the Joro Air 600XL brings all of Vango’s expertise together beautifully to create one of the finest family air tents around. The tent is from Vango’s sustainability focused Earth Collection, meaning the flysheet is made from Vango’s proprietary Sentinel Eco fabric, which is created from 100 per cent recycled single-use plastics.
In terms of waterproofing, it’s HH rated to 3,000 HH, which isn’t as strong as some of the direct competition but should still repel all but the most atrocious conditions. The flysheet features large, “Diamond Clear Windows”, which let in plenty of sunlight.
Set-up is as easy as pegging out the corners and pumping up the five airbeams. You’ll have a fully functioning family tent erected in around quarter of an hour. Inside, you’ll find all the features you would expect from a family tent, such as electrical hook up entry points, storage pockets and lantern hanging points.
The Air 600XL is 380cm wide, which is slightly narrower than some of the direct competition. This is fine for the spacious living space, but when divided into three rooms (along with the fabric walls), this leaves you with around 120cm in each bedroom, which may be a little too tight for some couples when at capacity.
The bedrooms are customisable though, allowing you to go for one large and one small room or just one big room. All in all, the Joro Air 600XL is a great value, well-featured option and one that scores well in the sustainability stakes too.
Outwell Airville 6SA Tent
- Excellent waterproofing
- High quality features throughout
- Additional wing in lounge area
- Very expensive
- A tight squeeze for six
The Airville 6SA is a premium quality, award-winning tunnel air tent for the family. It features many of the innovations of its rivals and then some, such as magnetically closing doors. Its Outtex 6000 RS Endurance fabric is remarkably robust and is HH rated as 6,000 mm, making this a supremely waterproof, tear resistant shelter that will perform admirably over countless camping holidays.
The Power Air System frame inflates easily. Stretch out and peg in the corners before inflating the airbeams, and then it's just a case of pegging out the rest of the tent and guy lines.
Great ventilation is achieved thanks to its rear and low air vents and you get all the usual features, like cable entry points, zip up curtains, hook points for lanterns and dark inner fabric in the bedrooms. There’s also an additional wing in the lounge area for a bit of extra space
Unlike some of its competitors, you get two bedrooms here rather than three, making it a realistic proposition for four adults rather than six, or a family of up to five. When this is coupled with its high price, it doesn’t represent the same value as its rivals, despite its excellent build quality.
However, if you’re a family of four or five and you don’t mind the extra cost, the Airville 6SA is a strong, long-term investment that won’t let you down.
What to look for when buying pop-up, easy-up or air tents
Size and portability
As a general rule with all tents, it’s worth bearing in mind that a manufacturer’s stated capacity is usually a bit of a squeeze. For example, a two-person tent can be very tight for two people and all their kit. Likewise, both the Vango and Outwell air tents in this guide are advertised as six-person shelters, yet six adults would probably be a little bit squashed together if all sleeping in the bedrooms.
Also, pay attention to how a tent packs down. If you have ambitions to go wild camping with your pop-up tent, the way the Quechua 2 Seconds Easy folds up into a small carry pack is ideal, whereas the Galiano’s large circular pack is not. The bigger family tents tend to come with wheeled packs, as they can be very heavy once packed down.
Knowing that your tent is going to be able to deal with a deluge is important. Waterproof fabrics, like those used for both tents and waterproof jackets, are always tested and given a Hydrostatic Head (HH) rating. This rating represents the amount of water it takes before your fabric begins to leak. Let’s say a flysheet has a HH rating of 6,000 mm: this means that it should be able to withstand the pressure of a solid column of water 6,000 mm (6 metres) long pressing down on it before it yields.
The legal minimum requirement for a tent is a HH rating of 1,000 mm. Traditionally, pop-up tents were designed for convenient summer use and were not as waterproof as their backpacking counterparts. A rating of 2,000 mm will keep you dry in all but the worst summer conditions, though it isn’t really enough for winter camping. Build quality is also important here as, regardless of HH ratings, features like taped seams and decent stitching are also required to keep the wind, rain and even sleet at bay.
There are various features to keep an eye out for when choosing both pop-up and air tents. If you’re a light sleeper or enjoy a lie-in, blackout fabric in your sleeping area is a real boon and will block out the glare of the sun on early summer mornings. Ensure you get yourself a tent with decent ventilation, too, as otherwise condensation will build up without proper air flow and start dripping on you and your gear.
A good tent will generally feature large windows to let the sunshine in during the day, but these should also feature zip up blinds for privacy. If you plan to camp in the Scottish Highlands during summer, you’ll want a model where you can zip up the doors with a mesh to keep the midges and bugs out.
Other handy features include multiple storage pockets, cable entry points and Velcro tabs to keep the power lines off the floor and loops for hanging lanterns.