Why Are Tents so Expensive? Are They Worth It? (REAL Pics!)

When I first started camping in my teens, I was using no-brand camping gear.

As I got older, I decided to buy my first few ‘branded’ camping tents from Coleman and Decathlon.

After that, I upgraded to REI and The North Face for my camping trips.

And with all those years of experience, here are my thoughts on why tents are so expensive, and whether they’re worth it.

Why are Tents so Expensive? Are Expensive Tents Worth It? (Featured Image)
Me in my $500 The North Face Wawona 6.

Key Takeaways

Here’s everything that an expensive tent has, that a cheaper tent doesn’t:

  • Thicker fabric with higher denier ratings

  • Lifetime warranties

  • Higher quality tent poles (not fiberglass)

  • More guylines

  • Thorough seam taping

  • Higher waterproof HH ratings

  • Branded zippers

  • Way more storage options

  • More user-friendly doors

  • At least 2 doors

  • Large vestibules

  • Better room dividers

  • Lightweight materials for backpacking

  • Resale value

  • Much longer shelf life

In the grand scheme of things, I think it’s worth spending on expensive tents, because the overall cost in the long run is less. (This just my personal opinion.)
I would highly recommend buying an expensive tent rather than a cheaper one if you camp frequently, in bad weather, or winter camp.
On the other hand, you can get away with a less expensive tent if you’re a first-time, beginner, casual, fair weather, or backyard camper.

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RELATED: Best Tents Under $100

Why Are Tents so Expensive? – Contributing Factors

What makes a tent so expensive? Well, there are a few factors, and I’ll go through the 5 most important ones with you:

  1. More durable tent fabric;

  2. Higher quality tent poles;

  3. Better waterproofing;

  4. Feature-richness; and

  5. Lightweighted-ness and portability

Let’s go through each one in depth now.

1. Are Expensive Tents More Durable?

First up, more expensive tents always have much thicker and more durable materials and tent fabrics than cheaper tents.

Tent Fabric Denier Rating

A simple way of checking how thick a fabric is to look at the denier-rating of the fabric. Tent manufacturers will often give you this information. The higher the denier-rating, the thicker the tent fabric, and the more durable it will be.

The flooring of The North Face Wawona 6.
My Wawona’s 150D polyester flooring.

Now, take a look at how a cheap $100 Coleman Sundome 6 compares to a much more expensive The North Face Wawona 6, with a $500 hefty price tag. Both are 6-person car camping tents, but with very different tent prices.

TentPriceTent FloorTent Body
The North Face Wawona 6$500150D Polyester75D Polyester
Coleman Sundome 6$100Polyethylene68D Polyester

Notice how the Wawona has flooring made of thick polyester, while the Sundome’s is just polyethylene (this is a cheap tarp material)?

The polyethylene flooring of the Coleman Sundome 2.
Polyethylene tarp flooring of the Sundome.

And also, the tent body of the Wawona is also a little thicker than the Sundome.

Warranty Length

The durability of each of these car camping tents is also reflected in the warranties provided by the brand:

  • Coleman Sundome: 1 year warranty

  • The North Face Wawona: Lifetime warranty

This shows how much each brand is willing to stand behind their product, which speaks volumes about how durable each one is.

Coleman's limited 1-year warranty for all their Coleman tents.
The warranty info you’ll get with every Coleman tent.

2. Are Expensive Tents More Windproof?

I’ve also noticed that more expensive tents tend to have more guylines and higher quality tent poles, which leads to expensive tents being able to take strong winds better.

Again, here’s a table summarizing some features of a $100 Coleman Sundome 6 and a $100 The North Face Wawona 6:

TentPriceTent PolesGuylines
The North Face Wawona 6$500DAC MX11
Coleman Sundome 6$100Fiberglass6

Pole Materials

The Sundome has only thinner fiberglass poles, which are usually not able to withstand more than 20 to 30 mile-per-hour winds.

the author setting up the Coleman Sundome's fiberglass poles.
Me inserting the fiberglass poles through their pole sleeves of the Sundome.

Fiberglass poles are also the weakest when compared to steel and aluminum, and fracture the most easily.

On the other hand, my Wawona has beefier DAC MX aluminum poles. These DAC tent poles are some of the highest quality poles in the world.

The DAC MX aluminum poles of The North Face Wawona 6.
The DAC MX poles of the Wawona. Notice they’re quite a bit thicker.

Number of Guylines

On top of that, it also has a whopping 11 guylines around the entire tent. Because of this, I was able to use my Wawona in 50 mile-per-hour winds without a single hitch.

The guylines of The North Face Wawona 6
The red arrows are pointing to some of the guylines.

In contrast, the Sundome has only 6 guylines around the entire tent.

3. Are Expensive Tents More Waterproof?

In my past 4 years of testing camping gear, I’ve also noticed that expensive tents tend to be a lot more waterproof than cheaper tents. This is because they tend to be better seam taped, and have higher hydrostatic head ratings.

Here’s another quick table summarizing some key points of my tents’ water resistance:

TentPriceSeamsHH Rating
The North Face Wawona 6$500Taped1,500mm
Coleman Sundome 6$100InvertedNot stated

Seam Taping

I’ve found that cheaper tents like Coleman and Ozark Trail tend to use inverted seams, instead of taped seams, because they’re cheaper to manufacture. The holes of the stitching are not sealed, and water can still seep in.

Here’s what one of them (leaking in the rain) looks like:

An inverted seam in the Coleman Sundome 6.
An inverted seam in the Coleman Sundome 6. You can see some water droplets to the left of my hand.

On the other hand, my more expensive tents tend to have thorough seam taping on every single seam.

Some taped seams in The North Face Wawona 6.
Thoroughly taped floor seams in the Wawona.

There’s a plastic layer of tape on every single seam in the tent, and this prevents water from leaking in through the holes of the stitching.

I was able to take my Wawona through 3 days of heavy pouring rain, and none of my seams leaked.

One of the corners of The North Face Wawona 6 submerged in water.
The Wawona’s seams submerged in water but never leaked!

Waterproof Ratings

On top of that, my Wawona has a very respectable hydrostatic head rating of 1,500mm, well my Coleman Sundome had none. A higher hydrostatic head rating means a thicker waterproof coating, and therefore better waterproofed-ness.

Here’s how long each tent survived in heavy rain:

  • Coleman Sundome 6: 30 minutes of heavy rain

  • The North Face Wawona 6: 3 days of heavy rain

4. Do Expensive Tents Have Extra Features?

Now, how do the features of a cheap tent compare to that of an expensive tent? Here are a few differentiating factors that come to mind:

  • Zipper branding

  • More storage options

  • Better doors

  • Vestibules

  • Better room dividers

Again, here’s a table of info comparing the Sundome against the Wawona:

Wawona 6$500SBS1721
Sundome 6$100N.A.310
The brand of the zippers, the number of storage options, number of doors, and number of vestibules.

Zipper Branding

The zippers of the Wawona are branded SBS (one grade lower than YKK), while the Sundome has no zipper branding at all.

The SBS zippers of The North Face Wawona 6.
SBS zippers on the Wawona.

Storage Options

The Wawona also has a whopping 9 pockets and 8 loops around the tent.

This is a picture of 7 of the pockets in The North Face Wawona 6.
In this picture, you can already see 7 pockets.

And what does the Coleman have? 2 pockets and 1 loop. That’s a huge difference.

the author measuring the dimensions of each pocket inside the Coleman Sundome 6-Person Tent.
One of the 2 tiny pockets in the Sundome.

Door Quality

The Wawona also has 2 doors (1 big one at the front, and a small one at the back).

The author zipping up the back door of The North Face Wawona 6.
Me zipping up the Wawona’s back door.

The door at the front is amazing, because:

  • It’s huge (measuring 60 by 58 inches).

  • I didn’t have to duck when getting in and out of the tent, because it’s super tall (70 inches).

  • I could use only one hand to unzip and zip it up.

How tall the front door of The North Face Wawona 6 is, compared to the height of the author (5'3).
The Wawona’s front door. It’s so much taller and bigger than me. I’m 5’3, by the way.

On the other hand, the Sundome has only 1 door. It’s a lot smaller, I had to duck when going through the door, and the storm flap on the outside would sometimes get caught in the zipper track.

The author tying up the door fabric of the Coleman Sundome 6-Person Tent.
The only door of the Sundome.


The Wawona also has a super huge vestibule at the front of the tent, which measured 51.0 square feet. It had enough space to fit 2 large camping chairs, with enough leftover floor space for even a super large camping table.

2 camping chairs in the vestibule of The North Face Wawona 6.
2 large REI camping chairs in the Wawona’s vestibule.

On the other hand, the Sundome has no vestibule at all, so there’s no space to fit any wet gear in rainy weather.

Room Dividers

Both my Wawona and Sundome didn’t come with room dividers (6-person tents usually don’t have dividers), so I’ll have to use a different example here.

Here’s what a high quality room divider from REI Co-Op (my Wonderland tent) looks like:

The room divider of the REI Wonderland 6.
The REI Wonderland’s room divider.

It’s not transparent or translucent at all, and nicely separates the tent into two separate rooms.

On the other hand, here’s what a room divider from Coleman looks like:

The room divider of the Core Instant 9.
The Core Instant Cabin Tent’s translucent room divider.

Notice that it’s semi-transparent, and you can see through to the other room? That’s the difference between a room divider from a cheap vs expensive tent.

5. Why are Backpacking Tents so Expensive?

Car camping tents aside, backpacking tents are another category of tents that can burn a hole in your pocket.

And while I’m no expert in backpacking (I go car camping way more often than backpacking), I know that it’s because backpacking tent fabrics need to be made extremely lightweight, yet extremely strong at the same time.

On top of that, the poles need to be made from lighter weight, high quality aluminum too (think DAC MX aluminum poles), which will also drive up the price of a tent.

The Benefits of Buying Expensive Tents

In my personal opinion, I do believe that expensive tents are worth it, as there are many benefits to doing so. These include:

  • Having a resale value;

  • Being longer lasting;

  • Reducing waste;

  • Lifetime warranties; and

  • Peace of mind.

Resale Value

An expensive tent will have a much higher resale value than a cheaper tent. For example, you will be able to trade in or sell back some of your used gear with REI, and they usually accept only the more expensive tents from brands like:

  • REI Co-Op

  • Big Agnes

  • MSR

  • The North Face, etc.

Longer Lasting

An expensive tent will also last much longer than an inexpensive tent. For example, the seam taping on my Wawona has lasted me for about 2 years now, and is still going strong.

On the other hand, seam taping from my Ozark Trail fell apart in just a few months of storage.

Seam taping on the Ozark Trail Dark Room Instant Cabin 6
The seam taping on the Ozark started to yellow, and then fell off completely.

Waste Reduction

Buying an expensive tent and getting to use it for the next 5 years will definitely reduce the amount of waste being produced.

In contrast, buying a cheaper tent and having to replace it every year will result in much more waste, which is terrible for the environment.

Lifetime Warranty

Expensive tents also tend to have lifetime warranties (with the exception of REI, which provides only a 1-year warranty, and this seriously boggles my mind).

Peace of Mind

The better quality, waterproofed-ness, and longer warranties provide me more peace of mind. I can safely sleep in my Wawona knowing it won’t be rained out even in crazy storms.

The North Face Wawona 6 in heavy rain.
The Wawona in super heavy rain.

Are Expensive Tents Worth It?

Overall, expensive tents are worth it, because they tend to have more durability, much higher quality, are much longer lasting, can handle inclement weather much better, and provide much more peace of mind when camping in it.

The math behind an expensive tent also makes sense:

My Wawona 6 is more than 1 year old now, and will last me 5-10 years, easy. It has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $500 (which is how much I paid for mine).

  • Total cost over 10 years: $500

The North Face Wawona 6 brand new from Amazon.
Unboxing the Wawona.

On the other hand, a Coleman Sundome 6 will last perhaps 1-2 years under moderate usage. Every other year, you may have to replace it. It’s now at about $100, and will only increase every year due to inflation.

  • Total cost over 10 years? Likely more than $500.

The author unboxing the Coleman Sundome 6 Tent.
Unboxing the Sundome.

This is why I tend to buy more expensive camping gear (not just tents) nowadays, because the total cost in the long run is lower.

When to Buy an Expensive Tent

Who are expensive tents for, and when should you buy one? I’d highly recommend getting an expensive tent if you:

  • Camp frequently (multiple times a year, every year)

  • Camp in bad weather

  • Plan to go winter camping

  • Plan to go on expeditions

  • Have the budget for it now (please don’t go in debt for a camping trip)

How to Save Money on Expensive Tents

Expensive tents have price ranges between $500, and $1,000. However, there are ways to save a little more money.

Here are my favorite places and tips for saving money on expensive tents:

  • I get a lot of my camping gear on Amazon. I usually wait for a sale (if it’s not an urgent purchase), and the best sales will happen on Prime Day and Black Friday.

  • I also get a lot of my gear from REI Co-Op. Join the newsletter and become a member. I regularly get 20% member coupons. REI also has multiple sales every year, and the biggest one is during their Anniversary Sale (usually in May).

The REI logo on the REI Wonderland 6
The REI logo on my REI Wonderland 6.
  • After REI and Amazon, I love to check out Moosejaw. They send out 20% off coupons very frequently, which is great for urgent purchases that I will need soon.

To be honest, I rarely get any of my camping gear full price, and I usually get at least a 20% off. (I buy a lot of gear for my YouTube channel, so this really helps me out.)

When to Buy Cheap Tents Instead

On the other hand, are there any situations where I would recommend cheap tents instead? Yes, of course, and that’s if you are a:

  • Casual camper (camp no more than a couple times a year);

  • Beginner camper, and don’t know if you want to continue camping in the future;

  • Fair weather or backyard summer camper.

Is a Cheap Tent Okay?

In summer, good weather, and fair weather conditions, cheap tents are totally fine.

You may not get a lot of features and quality, but these inexpensive tents will hold up decently well (even Ozark Trail).

Ozark Trail Outdoor Equipment logo
The Ozark Trail logo on my Ozark Trail Family Cabin 10.

Expensive tents are needed only if you’re thinking of going against bad weather conditions (like heavy rains or strong winds).

Can I Find Affordable Tents with Good Quality?

Are there any affordable or inexpensive tents that are good quality? Yes, absolutely, and here are a few of my favorite brands:

  • Teton Sports

  • Alps Mountaineering

  • Eureka!

  • Kelty

These tents are quite as budget-friendly or as cheap as brands like Coleman, Core, and of course, Ozark Trail, but they’re also not quite as high-end as brands like REI, The North Face, MSR and Big Agnes.

In fact, I tested some Teton Sports and Alps Mountaineering tents out in my round-up review on the best tents under $100. These are some great quality tents on a budget or a lower price, and I hope that helps you find the right camping gear for your next camping trip.

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