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The concept of an inflatable tent might seem odd. We get that. These tents are relatively new and often look a whole lot different from traditional camping tents with traditional metal poles. The primary appeal of an inflatable camping tent is that it is incredibly user friendly—quick and easy to pitch—and great for car camping, backpacking, and family camping trips. After all, the less time you spend setting up camp, the more there is for the real fun of camping.
Throughout this article we will answer all the key questions surrounding inflatable tents, and offer our top picks for the best inflatable tents for camping. Read on and enjoy!
What Is an Inflatable Tent?
It's just like a regular tent, but it features integrated inflatable "poles" instead of the typical tent poles that are usually made from fiberglass, plastic, aluminum, titanium or other metals to hold the structure up. And instead of connecting various pole segments, you attach an inlet valve to a pump, inflate the frame of so-called "air beams" inside the tent's structure, and voila, shelter.
Inflatable tents go by many names—interlinked frame tents, air beam tents, and air pitch tents are versions you might come across. Interlinked frame tents have air beams inside the structure that are connected. These types of camping tents are convenient as you only need to connect the inlet valve to a pump in one place. When you switch the pump on, the entire tent pretty much pitches itself.
Of course, inflatable tents aren't totally new and have plenty of parts that you'll recognize from traditional tents. These include the outer tent or rainfly, inner tent or tent body, groundsheet, guy lines, and tent stakes. Though they do have at least one or two one-way or non-return valves used for inflation.
Despite their airy structure, inflatable tents are surprisingly sturdy and stable, even in windy conditions. The air beams supply ample support, and attaching guy lines to anchor points in the ground—just like you'd do with a typical tent—provides added stability when the weather turns.
But inflatable tents have an advantage over their rigid counterparts, too. Because the air beams are flexible, they bend in stormy conditions. This reduces the risk of damage to the tent, and you'll never end up with snapped fiberglass poles that could rip up your camping tent or even potentially harm you, too.
With the basic breakdown done, read on below for our top picks for the best inflatable tents, followed by even more relevant information, like how to pitch an inflatable tent and what to look for in an inflatable tent, from size to shape and price.
Five Best Inflatable Tents for Camping
The Fistral is Heimplanet's inflatable version of a classic two-person backpacking tent. As such, it has an entrance and vestibule for gear storage on both sides and is completely waterproof with an integrated 40-denier ripstop nylon fly. It does weigh slightly more than pole versions at 5.5 pounds (many backpacking tents come in around four pounds or less) but pitches it in less than a minute and has the added durability benefit of the air tube structure.
The Cave from Heimplanet is immediately striking with its geodesic dome shape (this is one inflatable tent you may have seen on Instagram). The first design from Heimplanet, which is known for its inflatable tents, this model sleeps two to three people, and its pole apparatus inflates via a single valve in a matter of seconds. It's fully waterproof and remarkably sturdy and has five vents plus lots of interior pockets for stashing gear. The Cave isn't light at nearly 11 pounds, and it doesn't come with a pump, but does come with an adapter you can fit to one that you already have.
Vango's Odyssey Air 500SC has an indoor/outdoor design supported by three air beams, each with a separate valve. It's big—big enough to sleep at least five, though you can squeeze more into the dedicated living room and awning-covered porch spaces. You can also split the dedicated sleeping room for extra privacy, and there are windows built into the design, so you aren't totally secluded inside if you don't want to be. Despite its size, pitching the Odyssey takes under 10 minutes, and the whole thing packs into an oversized duffel when it's time to deflate. Like most inflatable tents, this one is rather heavy at just under 40 pounds, but it does come with a pump included. And really, what's extra weight if you're car camping?
Like other inflatable tents, Quecha's Air Seconds uses air-filled beams to support its structure instead of aluminum or fiberglass poles. This model has two of those air beams, and they aren't connected, which means you have to inflate each one separately, but it's still a fast process. There's comfortable room for four inside and a large awning-covered vestibule where everyone can keep dirty or wet gear. One thing to note here is that this inflatable tent isn't completely pole-free—there's one aluminum pole that suspends the roof of the vestibule. Another thing to note is that this tent is pretty heavy at 20.9 pounds, but on the flip side, it's far cheaper than most inflatable tents.
Quechua's six-person Air Seconds tent is an inflatable tent that'll fit the whole family (and the dog). It has four air beams, each with its own valve, that hold the structure up and is divided into "bedrooms" at either end with a central vestibule or "living room." It's somewhat modular too—you can set it up to have three two-person sleeping rooms or, if you want a larger living room, two. In addition to air beams, this inflatable tent also has aluminum poles to hold up its various awnings and an aluminum bar to make its ceiling more rigid. All its features don't come lightly, though; this tent weighs just over 55 pounds.
How Do I Inflate an Inflatable Tent?
Setting up an inflatable tent is simple: unfold it, stake it down, and pump it up. Of course, models differ and tent manufacturers will include instructions, and, despite long-held notions of self-sufficiency, you should read these before pitching your inflatable tent (the first time, at least). In general, though, these steps illustrate the process of setting up an inflatable tent.
Before pitching your inflatable tent, clear the pitch area. Remove anything that may damage the tent, like rocks and sharp twigs. Lay out and stake down the footprint/groundsheet or tarp if you are using one. Unfold your inflatable tent on top of the footprint and orientate it so that the door is where you want it to be, away from brush or dense vegetation. Then stake down the corners of the tent.
If the setup sounds familiar so far, here's where it differs. Find the one-way valve. As previously mentioned, some tents have one valve that is used to inflate the entire tent. Other tents, especially larger ones, could have more than one valve that needs to be used to pitch the tent's various sections. If the tent has more than one valve, ensure that all the valves are closed except the one you'll be pumping air into. Even though these are one-way valves, they are designed to release the air when you are ready to collapse your tent. That means that small amounts of air could leak out of these valves if they're not closed. (It's a no-duh tip, but trust us, this one's easy to overlook.)
The air pump could attach to the one-way valve in one of three ways depending on the design. It'll either push-in, screw-in, or click-in. Some tent manufacturers even supply multiple types of fittings along with the pump—just make sure to use the correct fitting with the type of valve on your tent for best results and to avoid damaging the valves.
Once the pump is securely attached to the one-way valve, you can start inflating your tent. Most inflatable tent manufacturers will specify how much air needs to be pumped into your tent as a specific pressure either in BAR or PSI. You can use a pressure gauge to ensure that you don't over or underinflate the tent. Underinflating will leave your tent flimsy, while over-inflating could affect the tent's lifespan, and in extreme cases, cause the air beams to leak or burst.
Having said that, a high-quality inflatable tent can handle (and requires) a large amount of air pressure to keep it sturdy. It will also have a pressure releasing valve (or a few). These valves release small amounts of air to avoid over-inflation. They also release excess air if the pressure in the tubes increases when the air inside the air tube expands in hot weather. When this happens, the air beams may sag a bit once the weather cools down, and you may need to add some more air to get them back to optimal pressure.
As you pump air into the air beams of your inflatable tent, the structure will start to take shape (if you've ever witnessed a bouncy house being inflated, it's sort of like that). If you're setting up in breezy or windy conditions or have a larger tent, you may need to help the inflation process by pushing the air beams up into place.
Once the tent is inflated, you can add guy lines. Attach the lines to the tent and stake them to the ground. Leave some slack in the lines when you stake them and tighten them afterward. This will help ensure that you secure your tent equally on all sides instead of having one or two guy lines pulling more than the others, leading to a lop-sided shelter.
Features to Look for in Different Types of Inflatable Tents
This refers to the floor area it takes up when set up, how much space it needs when it's packed, and how much it weighs. If you're car camping or going on a family camping trip, larger and heavier tents won't be a big issue, but you'll want to opt for a lighter and smaller model for backpacking.
You also need to consider the sleeping area. Even two-person tents can be a tight squeeze for two people when you add in sleeping bags, camping gear, and clothing bags. A larger family tent may be a better option if you're looking for comfort and aren't too worried about weight and packing space—it all depends on how you typically camp and how you aim to use the tent.
Most tents are waterproof to some degree. Still, tents with a higher hydrostatic head, measured in millimeters, can withstand heavier rain. Good tents have a rating of around 3000mm. In addition to this, you could get a rainfly if one isn't included with your tent.
A hand pump that typically comes with an inflatable tent will make for a new addition to your camp pack list. Some pumps have a built-in PSI gauge that shows how much air you have pumped into the air beams to avoid overinflation. Compressor pumps can over-inflate an inflatable beam, so we recommend that you don't use a compressor pump to inflate an air tent. There is a happy middle ground though: an electric air pump. An electric air pump is a good compromise between setting up your inflatable tent quickly without compromising its integrity. Remember that these pumps can break (and electric pumps can run out of battery), so it's always a good idea to have a spare on hand if you're out on an extended trip.
Air beam tents tend to be more expensive than traditional tents, and you may need to purchase the air pump separately, which adds to the price. You can still pick up a quality inflatable tent at a reasonable price—Quechua's four-person Air Seconds tent is priced similarly to typical tents at $379, for example—you just need to do a little bit of research.
Benefits & Drawbacks of Inflatable Tents
The number one benefit to inflatable tents is that they pitch much faster than most typical versions that use multiple poles. The first few times you set up your inflatable tent may take between 10 and 15 minutes. Once you get the hang of it, though, pitching your tent will only take a few minutes, if not much faster. Air tents are easy to set up—even larger family tents can be erected and collapsed by one person.
The next best thing about inflatable tents is that they're great in rainy and windy weather. While the air beams flex and bend in windy conditions and could bend into the tent body in extreme wind, the flexibility of the tubes ensures that the whole thing stays intact once the wind subsides. Most inflatable bubble tents are waterproof to protect from rain too, and you can always maximize protection by using a rain fly.
Now for the drawbacks. Inflatable dome tents are still relative newcomers to the camping equipment scene. The technology is still new, so air tents are often more expensive than conventional tents. The good news is that the demand for air tents is increasing. With this growing demand, technology and production are increasing, and prices are becoming more and more affordable.
The newness of the air tent concept has another downside in that you may not always find spare parts or people familiar with fixing these tents should you run into an issue. Usually, though, tubes just need a dab of adhesive to seal any holes or leaks, just like inflatable sleeping pads. For the most part, air tents are strong and durable, and fixing them is similar to fixing a bicycle’s inner tube. (Repairing any rips in the material of the body of your tent is the same as a standard pole tent.) You should consider keeping a repair kit, extra tube cap, or a spare bladder on hand to repair any leaks that may occur when you are out camping.
One more thing. It might seem contradictory, but inflatable air tents, especially large, family-size ones, can be heavier than standard tents that use poles. They also tend to take up more packing space when they are stuffed into their bags due to the extra material of the air tubes. Then you need to account for the air pump, which will take up even more packing space. So, generally, consider inflatable tents as larger and heavier than typical tents.
Overall, inflatable tents make for an innovative alternative that has the potential to enhance your camping experience. They're strong and waterproof, able to withstand windy and rainy weather. The inflatable structure takes the sweat out of setting up your camp, leaving you more time to explore and have fun on your next family camping trip. Plus, they look pretty darn cool too.