What is an Instant Tent? (A Complete Guide with Real Pictures!)

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.

What is an Instant Tent? (Featured Image)
Me setting up one of my favorite instant tents, the Gazelle T4 Hub Tent.

Here’s everything I’ll be going through:

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)

  • Elbow joints

  • 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

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.

The Coleman Instant Cabin 4 partially set up.
This is the Coleman Instant Cabin 4. The front 2 poles have been extended, while the back 2 poles have not been extended.

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.

One of the poles of the Coleman Instant Cabin 4.
The red arrow is pointing to the silver lock button on the Coleman.

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.

A close up of the pin and ring of the Coleman Carlsbad 4.
This is a non-instant Coleman Carlsbad 4. It has a pin and ring system at the bottom, and I had to insert the bottom of the pole into the pin.

Elbow Joints

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.

One of the elbow joints of the Coleman Instant Cabin 4
A close-up shot of one of the elbow joints of the Coleman Instant Cabin 4.

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.

Pre-attached pole clips and poles of the Outdoor Products Instant Cabin 10
This is my Outdoor Products Instant Cabin 10. The red arrow is pointing at one of the pre-attached pole clips, which is connected to one of the pre-attached steel poles.

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.

Pre-attached Guylines

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.

Pre-attached guylines of the Outdoor Products Instant Cabin 10
Me holding one of the pre-attached guylines of the Outdoor Products. It comes with a pre-attached black tensioner for easy adjusting.

Instant Tent Terminology

Also, here are some other names that folks may call instant tents:

  • Easy-up tents

  • Easy setup tents

  • Instant-up tent

  • Instant setup tent

  • Quick setup tents

  • Easy tents

  • Quick tents

  • Automatic 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.

What the side walls of the Gazelle T4 Hub Tent looks like
The cabin shape of the Gazelle T4, one of my favorite instant tents.

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.

The tent shape of The North Face Wawona 6.
This is my non-instant The North Face Wawona 6, which has a dome shape.

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 Dome Tent
Core 4 Person Instant Dome Tent - 9' x 7'
  • Instant 30 second setup
  • Sleeps 4 people; fits one queen air mattress
  • Center height: 54 inches
  • Core H20 block technology and adjustable ground vent
  • Pockets, gear loft with lantern hook
  • Electrical cord access port
  • Includes rain fly, tent stakes, and carry bag

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.

The author tossing the Coleman Pop Up 4
Me tossing the Coleman Pop Up 4 away. You don’t want to have it pop up in your face (it hurts!). Btw, please excuse the mask in this picture, I wrote it in my YouTube videos in the past because I was camera-shy!

This tension is released when the carry bag is opened, giving them that spring-loaded ‘pop up’ action.

The Coleman Pop Up 4 popping open.
The Coleman Pop Up 4 literally ‘popping up’. I’m just standing by and watching. Again, please excuse the mask!

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.

The author guying out the Coleman Pop Up 4.
Me guying out the Coleman. The green attached rainfly was pre-attached (notice this in the previous picture too).

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.

TimingsInstant 4PPop Up 4P
Set Up5 minutes1.5 minutes
Pack Away6 minutes2 minutes
I used the Gazelle T4 hub Tent for the instant 4P, and the Coleman Pop Up 4 for the 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.

The author unfolding the Caddis Rapid 6.
Me unfolding the Caddis Rapid 6. The red arrow is pointing to one of the poles; I couldn’t unfold it flat on the ground, but I didn’t force it either.

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.

The author extending one of the poles of the Caddis Rapid 6 instant tent.
Me having lifted the elbow joint and now extending the first pole.

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.

The silver lock button on one of the poles of the Caddis Rapid 6 instant tent.
The silver button on each pole.

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.

The author extending the second pole of the Caddis Rapid 6 instant tent.
Me extending the second pole of the Caddis Rapid 6.
The author extending the third pole of the Caddis Rapid 6 instant tent.
And then extending the third pole. Notice the tent starting to shape up.

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.

The author securing the rainfly of the Caddis Rapid 6.
Me draping the rainfly over the Caddis.

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.

The author retracting one of the poles of the Caddis Rapid 6 instant tent.
Me pressing on one of the silver buttons to take down the Caddis Rapid 6.

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.

The author folding one of the poles of the Caddis Rapid 6 instant tent.
Me folding up the 4 poles of the Caddis Rapid 6. I’m using one hand to hold down the elbow joint, and the other hand to fold in the pole.

This will allow the tent poles to be folded inwards as well, towards the center, so go ahead and do so.

The author folding the Caddis Rapid 6 instant tent.
What the poles of the Caddis look like when they’re brought together to be folded.

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.

The author compressing air out of the Caddis Rapid 6 instant tent.
Me placing the Caddis on the ground, ready to be rolled up.

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:

Instant TentSetup TimingTime Savings
Coleman Instant 44.5 minutes55%
Ozark Instant 66.5 minutes54%
Gazelle T45 minutes50%
Outdoor Products 1012 minutes45%
Core Instant 912 minutes40%
Caddis Rapid 69.5 minutes32%
Coleman Instant 1015 minutes32%
The 1-person setup timings of each different instant tent, and how much time it saves compared to a non-instant cabin tent of the same size.

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:

Instant TentPack Away TimingTime Savings
Coleman Instant 45 minutes50%
Gazelle T46 minutes40%
Ozark Instant 66.5 minutes46%
Caddis Rapid 67.5 minutes38%
Core Instant 99 minutes33%
Outdoor Products 1010.5 minutes25%
Coleman Instant 1011 minutes21%
The 1-person pack away timings of each different instant tent, and how much time it saves compared to a non-instant cabin tent of the same size.

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

Approximately 30% to 50% time savings when setting up the tent

Approximately 20% to 50% time savings when packing away the tent

Can be set up and pack away by just one person

Easy to set up even in dim lighting

Cons of Instant Tents

Much larger packed size

Slightly heavier in weight

Not for bad weather (like heavy rain and windy conditions)

Pre-attached poles are more difficult to repair than regular 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:

You’re usually the one setting the tent up, and you usually don’t have any help doing so.

You hate the the set up process and hassle of inserting poles through snaggy pole sleeves. (I know, this can be incredibly annoying sometimes. I sometimes spend as much as a whopping 30 to 45 minutes setting up a huge cabin camping tent by myself.)

And looking at the list of cons, you should only buy an instant tent if you tick all these boxes:

You’re car camping and don’t have to lug your tent far, so you don’t mind the much larger packed size and slightly heavier weight.

You camp only in fair weather without needing lots of weather protection. (I found light rain and light wind to be fine when camping in instant tents.)

To give you an example, here’s certain groups of people who may appreciate instant tents:

  • Car campers

  • Casual campers

  • Beginner campers

  • Festival camping

  • 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?

Best Instant Tent
Gazelle T8 Hub Tent
  • Peak height: 78 inches

  • Base area: 110 square feet

  • Set up timing (1P): 10 minutes

  • Weight: 56 pounds

  • Packed length: 68 inches

There’s also an instant screen room version from Gazelle:

Best Screen Room Tent
Gazelle T4 Plus Extra Large 4 to 8 Person Portable Pop Up Outdoor Shelter Camping Hub Tent with Rain Fly & Extended Screened in Sun Room, Orange
  • 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 🙂

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