Most people in the market for a three person tent are looking for a more space than a two man tent can offer. In the past, the extra space came at the cost of more weight and more bulk. But these days modern materials mean that the difference between the average 2 person tent and the best 3 person tents can be fairly minimal (we're sometimes talking extra ounces instead of extra lbs).
Editor's Deal of the Week
You notice (below) that I really rate the Kelty Dirt Motel 3 as a 3 person backpacking tent. There are a bunch of other contendors that I didn't mention largely because of price.
One of these alternatives is the Marmot Tungsten 3P. It usually retails close to $600 but you can currently pick it up direct on the Marmot website for just $340. It's a great 3P tent and, at that price, definitely worth checking out...
So if you're looking for a slightly more comfortable camping experience with more space for gear, more headroom or if you are fed up of being squished against the side of smaller tents, read on!
The Alps Mountain Zephyr 3 is a free-standing backpacking tent with a two-pole design. The total weight is 6lbs 2oz (trail weight is 5lbs 5oz). It has two doors, two vestibules and a host of storage pockets including a gear loft. The floor area is 45 square feet (7'5"x6'2") and it has a peak height of 3'5". ($$$)
The light weight of the Zephyr and its quick setup are two of its best features. The light weight makes it easy to pack and carry to a campsite, whether you are backpacking or car camping. This tent can be set up in about five minutes as well. Along with those two features, the sloping roof of this tent gives a little extra headroom for being able to sit up and move around as well.
The Zephyr is a little small for a true three person tent if one or more of the three persons sleeping in it is larger framed or over six feet tall. In addition, the fly might pool water and the vestibule is a little bit too small to truly keep your stored gear out of the weather.
You need a lighter weight backpacking tent for three averaged sized persons or need a little extra space for two. You might not be happy trying to sleep two or three larger framed individuals inside the this tent.
The Kelty Dirt Motel 3 is a 3-season, free-standing backpacking tent with floor space of 40 square feet (7'x5'10") and a peak height of 3'6". It has a total weight of 5lbs 8oz and a trail weight of 5lbs 6oz. It comes with stakes, a rain fly and a stuff sack. It packs down to 15" long x 7" x 7". ($$)
This is a great 3-person tent for backpacking. It is a relatively lightweight tent for its size; it weighs just half a pound more than the Kelty Dirt Motel 2 but offers about 42% more floor space. Setup is made super easy with the color-coded clips. It's perfect for two adults who want some extra space either for themselves or their gear. You can easily fit a queen sized mattress here if you're base camping. Or if you go light on the gear you can fit two grown ups and a kid. At the end of the day, it's the space:weight ratio that makes me think it's one of the best backpacking tents with a 3-person rating.
This tent also has two entrances (one on either side) for a little added convenience if one person should need to get up in the night. It's also got two sweet vestibules, both boasting 18 square feet of storage space.
But one of the coolest features, above and beyond the functionality as a backpacking tent, is that you can roll back some of the rain fly and fix it in place from the inside. This is perfect for a bit of star-gazing (or extra ventilation) but because you can just drop it back down again, it comes with none of the risks associated with fly-netting. So you get the best of both worlds!
If you love your backpacking but are a little bit fed up of sleeping in cramped quarters, this is a real winner! It gives you the extra space you're after while only adding a few ounces to your pack. The ability to roll back the fly only adds to the spacious feeling. And the price point makes this a really solid mid-range tent.
But if you have a few extra bucks and want an even more lightweight tent, be sure to check out the MSR Elixir 3.
The Marmot Limelight 3P weighs 6lbs 11oz and boasts 42 square feet of floor space. It's a free-standing design with vertical walls, two doors and two vestibules. The poles and clips are color-coded for easy setup. It comes with a rain fly which offers full coverage and a number of vents for good airflow. Inside, you'll find a bunch of mesh storage pockets. ($$$)
Given that a point of a 3-person tent is to provide a bigger space for more comfortable camping, Marmot do a really good job with their design. Let's start with the doors.
You've got your typical D-shaped door on one side that folds up neatly and provides access to one of the vestibules. The other door is massive and basically opens up an entire side of the tent. It tucks into a special pocket to keep it well out of the way. And there are a few of reasons I like this feature.
Firstly, if it's hot and the bugs aren't out, it gives awesome ventilation.
The double door approach also means you don't have to climb over your partner every time you want or out of the tent.
But most importantly it really reduces the claustrophobia that you can get with some tents. Whether you want to catch more of the view, or watch the world go by, or just have easier access when organising your quarters, having a whole side that comes away is great idea that's pretty unique!
The vertical walls are also pretty ace! Yes, you have a much higher profile than most backpacking tents. But again, a low profile probably isn't important to you if you're investigating three person tents. The walls mean that you get so much more room than any tent with sloping walls. That's great for sitting up. And it's also great for gear storage. Although the vestibules offer just 9sq feet of storage apiece, the fact you can stack your gear without touching a sloping side, means you can fit quite a lot of stuff under cover!
It's a bit finikity to set up, but a couple of dry runs before you set up should see you well-practiced. I'd say it's probably a bit heavy for lengthy thru-hiking and, although you could easily split the weight with your buddy, I'd probably reserve it for long weekends or car camping.
If you're looking for a more comfortable camping or backpacking experience than you get with ultra-light gear but want to stay relatively mobile, this is a fantastic buy.
If weight is your primary concern, hit up the MSR Elixir 3 instead.
If you just want something for car camping, you could probably find something bigger and cheaper if you check out my list of 6 person tents (especially the Eureka Copper Canyon 6).
But if you want a spacious tent that will work for short backpacking trips, some car camping and maybe a bit of festival camping too, you won't go wrong with the Marmot Limelight 3...
Weight: 5 lbs.
Packed size: OK
The easy setup and durability of the Naturehike, as well as its lighter weight are features that might attract your attention. This tent does well in cool weather as you might expect from a 4 season tent. It can be easily set up by one person and is durable for those who make multiple camping trips throughout the year. Being one of the lighter 3 person tents, it can be used as a backpacking tent in a pinch.
The space in this tent is a little bit tight for a three person tent. A person of six feet tall will have both head and feet against the fabric of the tent during the night. Ventilation can also be a problem with this tent and it does not do well under heavy rain conditions.
You want a tent for car camping and occasional backpacking and need a little bit more space than your typical 2 person tent. You might not be happy if one or more of the persons using this tent are over six feet tall.
Packed size: Bulky
The construction and design of this tent make it easy to set up and also make it durable for the more intense weather conditions encountered with 4 season camping. It sheds heavy snow well without collapsing and keeps you nice and warm in winter conditions. It is an easy and quick setup, which will get you out of the weather faster.
Though this is a pop up tent, it is a little bit too hot for warmer weather camping unless it is pitched in the shade during the day to keep the heat from building up. The entrance door and vestibule overhang make it a little bit difficult for a larger adult to get in and out of this tent. It is also a little bulky for backpacking.
You need to stay warm in conditions that include snow and wind and its extra bulkiness and weight are not a concern. You might not be as pleased with it if you are using it for warm weather camping.
Weight: 3 lb. 9 oz. to 4 lb. 10 oz.
Packed size: OK
Easy pack in and setup along with durability are some of the features that set the Elixir 3 apart from other lightweight tents. This tent keeps you dry in the worst of conditions. The poles of this tent are of high quality material and provide the necessary rigidity. It is spacious enough for two average sized adults and a child.
This tent has some ventilation problems when being used in warmer weather. The design of the entrance flaps of the tent does not allow for ventilation underneath and tends to trap warm air where you are sleeping. Additionally, this tent is a little bit tight if one or more of the occupants are larger framed and taller individuals.
You get off the beaten path at higher elevations with your children or your spouse and need something that doesn’t weigh you down. You might not be happy with this tent at lower elevations in warmer seasons.
Weight: 8 lbs. 5 oz.
Packed size: OK
The Sundome is a spacious tent that doesn’t break your back to carry it and it is easy to set up. The spaciousness of this tent is able to comfortably sleep one or two larger framed and taller adults as well as a smaller person. It is still tolerable in weight when it comes to packing it a short distance and is pretty simple to set up. The quality and durability for the price can’t be ignored either.
A complaint of the Sundome is that the design of the entrances is such that when unzipped it falls to the floor where it is apt to be damaged with coming and going in the tent. Ventilation is also an issue with this tent when camping in warmer weather.
You need more room for car camping or are packing it a short distance to a remote camp site and need to sleep two adults and a child or just two large adults. You might not be completely happy with this tent when camping in warmer weather do to ventilation issues.
Why do people buy 3 person tents?
A three person tent is sort of an odd character among tents because most families tend to want more space for 2 adults and 2 children and opt for a four person tent. Where the three person meets a need is for couples who want a little more space than a two person can provide or average sized adults who have a small child. Backpacking with a small family or a couple and a dog is possible with a 3 person tent because you can still get a lighter tent with some additional space to spread out in.
What to look for in a 3 person tent?
When it comes to purchasing a three person tent, your main objectives for choosing it over a larger four person or a smaller two person tend to be associated with finding a balance between the two. Weight and packing space, floor and head space, and value matched with durability are all factors to take into consideration. As ever, the tent stakes that come as standard are rarely high quality, so do check out the alternatives I review here.
When it comes to backpacking most people tend to choose a two person tent because of its lighter weight, but a two person tends to be a little bit less spacious. On the flip side, moving up to a four person tent tends to add a lot more weight to the backpack. Finding a three person tent that isn’t a lot heavier than a two person, but still lighter than a four person is the balance you need to find.
How Compact When Packed
Another issue typically related to using a three person tent for backpacking is related to how much space the tent takes up when it is packed. Here again, the smaller two person will take up less space in your pack and the larger four person will take up more space. Finding a balance in packing size is another characteristic to look for.
Choosing a three person tent, for most people is about space. A lot of people who use a three person tent aren’t using it for three persons, but for additional room for two persons. Those who truly need to sleep three in a tent will want to look toward tents with greater floor space, while those who are looking for a little more space for two persons might be able to fit in one that is a little less spacious.
Budget always plays a role in making a purchase. Price needs to be balanced out with quality in order to be truly happy with what you have purchased. A budget tent might not have all of the features and benefits that you want, so prioritizing those features most important and getting what you pay for are factors to keep in mind.
Durability becomes more of an issue with people who camp a lot. The components of your tent will wear with use. Someone who does a lot of camping will want to look for a very durable tent with longevity so that they do not have to purchase a new one every few years. On the other hand, someone who camps a couple of times a year will get a lot more years out of a less durable tent.
Good Brands to Look For When Buying a 3 Person Tent
There aren't a huge number of options when it comes to 3-person tents. Most manufacturers aim to supply the backpacking community with smaller tents or to supply families with much larger tents (check out my reviews of 12-person tents here). But there are a few companies that put effort into serving the smaller 3 person market.
Marmot have been making gear for over 40 years and they have a huge range of tents. Although in the tent reviews above I look at the Marmot Limelight 3P, they actually have a much larger selection in all different shapes and sizes.
When it comes to purchasing tents that provide the quality and features you are looking for at a mid-range, you will want to look at ALPS mountaineering as a trusted brand.
Because Coleman has been in the camping business for a very long time, they tend to be able to offer a decent quality tent at a lower price than most of their competitors. Their range is huge, so if the Coleman Sundome 3 Person Tent doesn't feel right for you, do go check out the others they have on offer.
Lighter weight tents that are better for backpacking, but still have the design quality and construction to withstand the elements are going to be found in MSR tents, though you might have to pay a bit more to get your hands on one. I really do think the MSR Elixir 3 is one of my favorite tents on the list (even though it's one of the pricier ones).