What is an instant tent? What features does it have? How much time can you save? Which are the best instant tents? Find out the answer to all these questions here, and more.
Here’s everything I’ll be going through:
- What is an Instant Tent?
- What Types of Instant Tents Are There?
- How to Set Up an Instant Tent
- How to Pack Away an Instant Tent
- Are Instant Tents Actually Easy to Set Up? How Much Time Can You Save?
- Pros and Cons of Instant Tents
- Are Instant Tents Worth It? Should I Buy an Instant Tent?
- Best Instant Setup Tent
RELATED: Best Instant Camping Tents
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What is an Instant Tent?
An instant tent is a tent that is designed to set up as quickly as possible. As such, it has many features that a non-instant tent wouldn’t have. These include:
Pre-attached poles (the most important feature)
Pre-attached pole clips
Pre-attached guy lines
Let’s quickly go through each one to get you familiar with the terminology.
Pre-attached poles are, by far, the most important feature that all instant tents must have, to be considered an ‘instant tent’.
This is what speeds up the entire tent setup process.
When setting up an instant tent, all you’ve got to do is to extend the telescoping pre-attached poles into place.
Once you’ve extended the poles enough, a button that’s been built into the pole will pop into place, and this locks the pole into place.
On the other hand, when setting up a non-instant tent, you will first have to insert all the poles into the pole sleeves, and then prop them up using either pins, or grommets.
Instant cabin tents also tend to have elbow joints that help connect the pre-attached leg poles to the pre-attached roof poles. This is what provides the cabin tent structure.
Pre-attached Pole Clips
I’ve also found that all instant tents also have pre-attached pole clips. These pole clips attach the tent body fabric to the tent poles, holding the body up as much as possible.
If I don’t recall wrongly, I don’t think I’ve ever had to secure my own pole clips for all my instant tents.
Instant tents may or may not come with pre-attached guylines. These are pretty easy to attach though, and you can leave them attached (so, don’t take them out after using your tent) to save you even more time in the future.
Instant Tent Terminology
Also, here are some other names that folks may call instant tents:
Easy setup tents
Instant setup tent
Quick setup tents
You can call it anything you want, but I will stick to ‘instant tents’ for the rest of this article.
What Types of Instant Tents Are There?
There are various types of instant setup tents, and I’ll go through each one with you.
Instant cabin tents
Instant dome tents
Pop up tents
Instant Cabin Tent
By far the most common type of instant setup tent is the instant cabin tent. In my review where I bought and tested the 7 best instant tents on the market, every single one of them came in a cabin shape.
Cabin tents are tents that have vertical walls, on all four walls of the tent, providing lots of livable interior space to the campers in the tent.
Instant Dome Tent
Instant setup tents also come in a dome shape.
Dome tents taper off at the top of the tent. So, while the base may be large, the top is narrower, and this may not be enough room for some campers.
These instant dome tents are much less common. In fact, I’ve only ever seen one from Core Equipment, and you can check it out here:
Instant Tents V.S. Pop Up Tents
Now, I find that a lot of folks tend to confuse instant tents and pop up tents.
Well, for pop up tents, these tents literally pop up out of their carry bags, giving them the name ‘pop up tents’.
The reason these tents pop up is because they have bendable fiberglass tent poles. When folded into the carry bag, these fiberglass tent poles are bent, causing them to store a lot of tension.
This tension is released when the carry bag is opened, giving them that spring-loaded ‘pop up’ action.
On the other hand, instant tents have much thicker steel tent poles, which do not pop up. Instead, you have to extend the telescoping poles into place. (Remember what I mentioned above about this?) This is a little bit slower than the literal ‘pop up’ action.
One smaller difference I’ve noticed is that a pop up tent tends to have a pre-attached rain fly. These rainflies pop up along with the tent; there’s no need for you to attach them yourself.
However, with instant tents, these do not have pre-attached rainflies. This means that if you need to attach the rain fly in case of rain, it will take a couple extra minutes to do so.
Overall, pop up tents tend to have slightly faster set up and pack away timings than instant tents.
Let’s take a 4-person instant tent and a 4-person pop up tent, and compare their timings.
|Pop Up 4P
Notice that the pop up tent sets up and packs away about 3 times faster than the instant tent? That’s the difference.
How to Set Up an Instant Tent
Now, what’s the rough process to setting up an instant tent?
Step 1: Unfold Tent Body
The first step after taking the tent out of the carry bag is to unfold it fully on the ground.
It doesn’t have to be fully flat on the ground (do not force the tent to be flat on the ground or you may risk damaging it), but you should be able to see most of the fabric and poles.
Step 2: Pull Elbow Joints Up
Now, not all instant tents have elbow joints, but most of them do. The number of elbow joints differ based on the size of the tent:
For a smaller 6-person instant cabin tent, this usually has 4 elbow joints.
For a larger 10-person instant cabin tent, this usually has 6 elbow joints.
Go to the first elbow joint that you can see, and pull that up. Then, proceed to the next step below.
Step 3: Extend Poles
Once you’ve got the elbow joint up, extend that pole into place, until the locking button of each pole pops out.
Then, repeat Steps 2 and 3 again until all the poles around the tent have been extended. Pull the individual elbow joints up first, then extend the pole connected to it.
Smaller 6-person tents tend to have 4 telescoping poles.
A larger 10-person tent tends to have between 6 to 8 poles.
Step 4: Secure Rainfly
After all the poles have been fully extended, secure the rainfly over the tent. This step is exactly the same as a non-instant tent.
After that, stake down the entire tent with the provided tent stakes, and also secure all the provided guylines.
How to Pack Away an Instant Tent
What about the pack away process for an instant tent? Well, it’s just the opposite of the setup, with a few minor things to take note of.
Step 1: Remove Rainfly, Stakes, and Guylines
First, remove the rainfly, stakes and all the guylines around the tent. This is pretty self-explanatory, and is the same as a regular non-instant tent.
Step 2: Unlock and Retract Poles
Now, to unlock the poles that have been locked into place, simply press on the button that popped up when we were extending the poles. This will unlock the poles.
After that, push the poles back down, until they have been retracted as much as possible.
Step 3: Push Elbow Joints in and Fold
Once all the 4-8 poles around the tent have been retracted fully, push the elbow joints inwards towards the base of the tent.
This will allow the tent poles to be folded inwards as well, towards the center, so go ahead and do so.
After that, keep folding the tent towards the center hub, and your tent should be in a long-ish packed size. Lay it on the ground horizontally, and push all the air out.
Then, just get it back into the carry bag.
Are Instant Tents Actually Easy to Set Up? How Much Time Can You Save?
Now that you’ve got somewhat of an idea of the setup and pack away process, how much time can you actually save with an instant tent?
Setup Time Savings
Well, I’ve tested numerous 4-person, 6-person, and 10-person instant cabin tents, set them all up on my own, and timed myself doing that.
I also did the same with several non-instant cabin tents I have in a similar capacity. I compared the timings of both these instant and non-instant tents, and here’s a table breaking down all my findings:
|Coleman Instant 4
|Ozark Instant 6
|Outdoor Products 10
|Core Instant 9
|Caddis Rapid 6
|Coleman Instant 10
As you can see, instant tents will save you roughly 32% to 55% of your original setup timing.
Bear in mind that your time savings will depend on 2 things:
Which instant tent you decide to buy (more feature-rich instant tents take longer to set up)
And how big of an instant tent you buy (generally, a larger tent will have less time savings)
Pack Away Time Savings
I also did the same with the pack away timings, and here’s another table detailing how much time you can save:
|Pack Away Timing
|Coleman Instant 4
|Ozark Instant 6
|Caddis Rapid 6
|Core Instant 9
|Outdoor Products 10
|Coleman Instant 10
Again, instant tents will save you between 21% to 50% of your original pack away timing.
So overall, instant tents do save you quite a bit of time.
Pros and Cons of Instant Tents
I have an entire blog post going through all the pros and cons of instant tents, so I’m not going to list them all out here, but I’ll give you a brief list of pros and cons to think about for now.
Pros of Instant Tents
Cons of Instant Tents
Are Instant Tents Worth It? Should I Buy an Instant Tent?
Looking at the list of pros that an instant tent provides, it would be worth it for you if:
And looking at the list of cons, you should only buy an instant tent if you tick all these boxes:
To give you an example, here’s certain groups of people who may appreciate instant tents:
Older campers (who don’t like crouching down to set tents up)
Best Instant Setup Tent
If you’ve decided to buy an instant tent for your next car camping trip, I have a few quick recommendations that you may like:
Easiest and Fastest Tent to Set Up
My favorite instant tent has got to be the Gazelle T4 Hub Tent.
If you don’t need to set up the rainfly or stake the tent down, it actually pops open completely in 1 minute and 45 seconds. All I had to do was to pull up the 5 hubs around the tent (4 on the 4 walls, and the last hub on the roof).
When setting up the rainfly, stakes and guylines, the total setup timing comes in at just 5 minutes, which is incredible. This is definitely my easiest and fastest tent to set up.
And if you need a bigger instant tent, Gazelle also has a T8 Hub Tent, which has enough space for the whole family. This pops open in about 3 minutes, and has a complete setup timing of less than 10 minutes. Is that awesome or what?
There’s also an instant screen room version from Gazelle:
- Large main entrance, 1 D-shaped door, 5 windows
- 110 square feet of floor space, including a screened-in second room
- Weight: 56 pounds
- Waterproof 210 denier Oxford weave polyester
- UV50+ rating
- Pops up in as little as 90 seconds
- Detachable floors,
- Storage: 2 gear lofts, 5 gear pockets, 6 wall mounted pockets
Runner-Up Instant Tent Pick
Gazelle tents may not be as budget-friendly for your next camping adventure though. These are my most expensive instant tents:
A more budget-friendly pick is the Caddis Rapid 4 or 6. Almost as good quality as the Gazelle, takes a little longer to set up, but still a fantastic pick.
These prices here are the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP), and are not inclusive of any discounts. Sometimes there may be sales running on these tents, so click on the links to find out if you can get them for less.
For a more complete and comprehensive overview of how I tested and compared all 7 of my instant easy setup tents, click the link in this paragraph. I’ll see you there 🙂