Choosing a tent for cycle touring is difficult, because there’s a heck of a lot of choice out there. Ultralight tents, freestanding tents, 3-season, 4-season, double wall, solo, with and without awnings – and at a whole range of prices from next to nothing up to hundreds of pounds or dollars.
It’s natural to look for other people’s recommendations when choosing a tent for cycle touring. But before you get bogged down with what other people think is best, here’s one important thing to remember:
The word ‘best’ only has meaning within the context of your bike trip.
- Are you looking to spend a few hundred pounds on a tent for a huge transcontinental trip, or are you on a tiny budget for a few weeks of summer adventuring?
- Are you riding as a couple who like plenty of living space, or as a minimalist solo rider?
- Do you like nice campsites or wild camping in the woods?
- Will it be warm climates only, or will all-season pitches be required?
There’s no ‘best’ until you know the answers to questions like these, and the answers will vary from person to person.
With all of that in mind, however, I’ve listed below a collection of frequently-recommended tents that covers lots of these bases.
We’ll start with low-budget solo tents for short and simple cycle touring, and work our way up to uber-tents for couples on a worldwide bike tour of many months or years.
(These are not the only tents that’ll do the job – I used a Vaude Hogan Ultralight tent for several years, for example, which is a long way from the most popular tent for cycle touring. They are, however, representative of what people are out there using successfully.)
If you’re riding alone, looking for a lightweight tent that can be pitched in temperate climates, and you’re not expecting much in the way of living space, the Gelert Solo tent is well worth a look, not least because you’ll be able to pick one up for well under £50. Coming highly rated by bushcrafters and hikers, it’s small, inconspicuous, waterproof and very lightweight.
Since Gelert’s acquisition by Sports Direct, they’ve become more difficult to find. Check eBay* first, and also look at the Amazon* listing’s “Also Viewed” section for several identical tents with different logos on them.
Vango Banshee 200/300
Vango‘s Banshee 3-season tents are a step up in quality and features from their basic tents, come in a good shade of green for wild-camping and provide more living and storage space than the Gelert Solo while remaining on the lightweight and minimal side of things. Two- and three-person versions are available, the former ideal for a soloist and the latter for a couple.
REI Quarter Dome
If your tour is kicking off in the States and you’re looking to reduce your excess baggage fees when flying there, you’d do well to leave the camping gear at home and head to the nearest branch of REI after you arrive. This outdoor co-op manufactures a range of really well-rated gear and sells it without the third-party mark-up, so you get a lot for your money. Their Quarter Dome range, available in 1-, 2- and 3-person versions, was the most frequently-cited cycle touring tent from Stateside survey respondents, with the Half Dome range also mentioned as a lower-budget alterntive.
It’s available from REI.com* by mail-order for $299, or from any of their 132 retail stores in the USA.
MSR Hubba Hubba/HP
The 2-person MSR Hubba Hubba was the single most popular tent in my survey. Along with the rest of the Hubba range, it has now been replaced with the Hubba Hubba NX (significantly lighter and as-yet untested in the long term for durability). Damn.
However, the slightly more protective HP versions of MSR‘s back-country travel tents are still available and equally popular in Europe, coming in 1-, 2- and 3-person sizes. Expect them to last for years, with top-quality weatherproofing and ventilation, superb build quality, and super-easy pitching with a variety of pitching options for differing climates.
The RRP for the Hubba Hubba HP is £420 GBP – we’re into ‘serious’ tent-buying territory now. In the UK, you can get it from AllOutdoor.co.uk (the best price I could find by quite a margin). US-based readers should check out the very similar REI Quarter Dome (above) or Big Agnes’ Copper Spur tents.
Terra Nova Voyager
A British design that’s been doing the rounds for donkeys’ years, the freestanding classic Voyager is likely the most dependable long-term favourite among British world tourers, in part because Terra Nova don’t feel the need to change the design of or discontinue perfectly good tents at random (like certain other manufacturers seem to do), allowing the tent to build up a second-to-none reputation. Top-class construction, weatherproofing and liveability is the order of the day here. There’s an XL version with an extended porch if you’re after maximum living space.
Hilleberg Nallo 2/3/GT
The most lusted after (and expensive) tents for long-haul trips for which durability is the key consideration are undoubtedly those from Swedish tentmakers Hilleberg. They’re not the most lightweight, nor the best performers in hot climates, but they do have an unmatched reputation for quality and longevity. The Nallo 2 and its extended GT version came highly recommended for solo tourers, with the Nallo 3 GT representing the epitomé of luxury on-tour living for couples. Minimalists should check out the Akto if staking out is a reliable possibility, or the more versatile freestanding Unna if it isn’t.
In the UK, the Hilleberg range is available from many of the high-street chains, including Snow + Rock*, Ellis Brigham* and Cotswold Outdoor*, all of whom also sell the tents online. (They’re more difficult to find elsewhere online, and rarely discounted.)
Alternative Sleeping Systems
Tents aren’t your only option for outdoor slumber on tour. Bivvy bags, hammocks, or simply going to sleep outside (if it’s warm and dry) are entirely feasible alternatives. Check out my article on alternative sleeping systems here.
Which tent(s) have you successfully used on tour? Which would you most highly recommend to a friend planning a trip? Let us know in the comments.