If you’re in a rush and want to find out what the best desert tent is, we recommend the MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 Tent.
Desert camping is one of my favorite ways to enjoy the outdoors. It often comes in the form of dispersed camping, is less crowded, and provides easy access to a clear, night sky. Not to mention, sand is a lot more comfortable to sleep on than hard dirt and rocks!
However, there are some extra considerations that need to be put into your shelter before you head out. What are they, and how do you know what makes for a good desert tent? We’ll answer these questions below, and share with you some of our favorite tents to use for desert camping.
In this article we’ll be reviewing the following desert tents:
- Big Agnes Copper Spur UL3 Tent – Best Tent with Awnings
- Marmot Limelight 2 Tent
- Nemo Aurora 3 Tent
- MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 Tent – Best Bang for Your Buck
- REI Co-Op Trail Hut 4 Tent – Best Large Tent
- Gazelle T4 Instant Tent – Best Shelter with Instant Setup
- Naturehike Cloud-Up 2 Person Backpacking Tent
- The North Face Stormbreak 3 Tent
Desert Camping: Pros and Cons
So, you want to try your hand at desert camping? Congratulations, you’re about to jump into one of my favorite ways to camp…and also one of my least favorite. Allow me to explain.
I know we’re here to talk about the best desert tents, but there are just a few points I’d like to make before we get into the traits you need to look for in your shelter. Camping in the desert is drastically different than camping anywhere else, so here are the pros and cons to keep in mind:
A soft place to sleep.
Honestly, this is the main reason why I love to camp in the desert. Sand is so much more comfortable to sleep on than regular earth (which can be hard, uneven, full of rocks and roots, etc.) I often equate it to memory foam, in the sense that the sand just kind of sinks in where you’re lying. So if you’re the type of person who struggles to fall asleep in a tent, desert camping just might do the trick for you.
And by that, I mean there are few critters to worry about getting into your food. You won’t exactly find bears, racoons, foxes, or other similar animals out in the desert, so you don’t have to be as concerned about food storage. Which is good, because there really aren’t any trees that would let you hoist your food out of reach anyway.
That’s not to say there aren’t any creatures at all, though. Still be prepared to encounter snakes, scorpions, spiders, beetles, and plenty of other desert dwellers that may want to infringe on your personal space.
Clear view of the sky.
Getting away from the city lights is one of the perks of camping. I love stargazing, so lying in my tent with the rainfly off is one of my favorite things to do on a clear night. However, I find that there are few places that actually offer an unobstructed view of the night sky. In the forest, the trees can get in your way. In the mountains, clouds come and go at the drop of a hat. In the desert, though? Clear skies are the norm, and the stars are incredibly beautiful.
Water can be a concern.
It’s the desert, so more often than not, you’re not going to have a convenient location nearby to refill your water supply. For long treks through the sandy wasteland, this can be a major problem that you’ll have to work around. If you’re just spending a night or two in the desert, though, just make sure you pack more than you think you’ll need.
We often imagine the desert as a hot place, and that’s certainly true. When possible, I wouldn’t suggest walking around between 10am and 4pm, simply because your feet (and the rest of you) will get scorched. Sunscreen, baggy clothes, and a way to create shade are all very necessary.
However, many folks seem to forget that the desert cools off just as dramatically. Once the sun goes down, the sand is freezing to walk on while barefoot, and the air will become unbearably brisk if you don’t have proper clothes to wear.
What to Look for in a Desert Tent
Desert camping is a lot different than normal camping. The conditions are more extreme, so you need to take extra measures when it comes to your shelter. Here are just a handful of qualities to look for in your next desert tent:
All tents provide some measure of shade, but the more you can create, the better. Tents with awnings are some of my favorites for desert camping because the awning creates an escape from the sun, while still allowing you to enjoy whatever breeze might be blowing through.
There aren’t many tents with this capability, but it might also be worth looking into one that has heat reflective technology. If you plan on keeping your tent pitched during the day, it would be worth it to invest in any feature that can help keep your shelter from turning into a sauna.
Unlike dirt, you’ll find that sand blows everywhere when the wind picks up. When you return from your camping trip, you’ll probably be scraping sand out of your hair, ears, fingernails, and gear for weeks! Needless to say, you’ll want a tent that does a good job of blocking its entrance. Otherwise, you’ll be taking much of the desert home with you, not to mention sleeping in it all night.
Bathtub style floors work well to keep the sand out, and are helpful to have in wetter climates as well. Because, who wouldn’t want a versatile tent that can be used in multiple biomes? You may also consider getting a desert tent that doesn’t have as much mesh, as this is going to be the primary place where sand will try to slip in. It’ll reduce your visibility and ventilation, but can be worth it depending on how windy it is.
Deserts might not be known for inclement weather, but strong wind gusts should be expected. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve slept at the base of a dune and woke up in the middle of the night because I thought the tent would collapse from the strong gusts. Thankfully that’s never happened, but that just goes to show the importance of buying a tent that withstand a beating.
On this same train of thought, you’ll also need particular tent stakes to keep your shelter from flying away. Normal stakes work well in dirt, but they’re worthless in the sand. Instead of the cylindrical stakes that you’re probably used to, you’ll want some with a flatter design, ideally with holes down the spine. Sand will fill in these holes, further locking the stake in place. If you don’t buy these specialized stakes, you might as well not bring any at all.
Best Desert Tent Reviews
Every time I look at the Big Agnes Copper Spur, I can’t help but think, “This tent was designed for use in the desert.” As you can see, there are makeshift awnings on each side of the shelter that can be propped up using trekking poles (or other similarly shaped items). They create a luxurious respite from the beating sun, if you’re in the mood to relax outside of the tent. Otherwise, they really open up the airways to flush out any hot, stagnant air that might have accumulated inside the actual tent body.
Considering it’s a 3 person tent, you might expect it to be relatively heavy. However, at just 3.5 pounds, it’s on par with many 2 person tents that you can locate on the market. And despite the thin material, it’s surprisingly sturdy, able to withstand strong wind gusts without tearing or having the poles break. At night when the wind picks up, you’ll be glad to have this strength while you lay there listening to the sand pelt the outer walls.
If you want to cut back on weight even further, there’s a handy option available to you. The tent floor is removeable, so you could opt to leave it at home while bringing the rest of the tent body and footprint (which is not included, sadly). However, you’ll probably want to keep the tent floor when you’re on the sand, because of the bathtub design. This works to keep the sand from blowing in as easily, so you have less cleanup to worry about later.
– Spacious design
– Lots of storage options
– Sturdy and weatherproof
– Ventilation could be better
Though it’s heavy for a 2 person tent, coming in at about 6 pounds, you’ll be happy to have the extra durability. The Marmot Limelight is a tanky tent, able to withstand the strong winds that blow across the desert. And as you can see, the mesh doesn’t start until halfway up the tent, providing excellent protection against the sand.
Some of the weight also went into the extra space that you’ll have. Typically, a 2 person tent is designed for a solo camper and their backpack, not for two adults to sleep comfortably next to each other. In the Limelight, however, you’ll have some extra breathing room. The vertical walls help with this by creating added headroom, so you can sit up comfortably without needing to be in the middle of your shelter.
Obviously, my biggest complaint with this tent is going to be how heavy and bulky it is. While not ideal for backpacking, you can make it work by dividing the weight between you and a friend. Ultimately, though, I wouldn’t bring it with me on long treks where I’d be hiking a dozen miles every day, especially in the constantly shifting sand. If you think it’s hard hiking on normal ground, just try hiking up a massive dune with a heavy pack on your back. It’ll feel like walking up an escalator that’s going in the opposite direction!
– Lots of space
– Sturdy and durable
– Great ventilation
– Convenient doors and vestibules
– A little heavy and bulky
Like Marmot, Nemo is one of my favorite brands when it comes to high quality products. Once again, while the Aurora is a bit heavy for serious backcountry desert camping, the durability is well worth the weight. Even if you got caught in a sandstorm, this shelter would still be able to keep you safe and protected against the strong winds and pelting sand.
As you can see, there aren’t many openings in the tent that would allow for unwanted elements to make an entrance. That’s when the rainfly is on it, though – when you take that piece off, the ceiling and walls are all mesh, allowing for good visibility and airflow. On clear nights with minimal wind, this is a nice feature for those of you who enjoy stargazing.
With how thoroughly the rainfly covers the tent, you might think that there would be issues with condensation. Amazingly, this isn’t the case, as the tent better ventilated than you might expect. Unfortunately, I’m not too fond of the zippers, and there aren’t many places to store your personal items inside the tent, but there’s little else to complain about.
– Spacious and durable
– Good ventilation
– Tent doors can easily be rolled up
– Effective at blocking sand
– Waterproof (for when you need it)
– Zippers are a little irritating
– Not much interior storage
Despite the funny name, the MSR Hubba Hubba is hardly a laughingstock among its competitors. For a 2 person tent, it’s actually quite spacious, able to accommodate you and a friend with room to spare (a rarity among 2 person designs). Some of this extra room can be attributed to the floor, which stays the same width from one end to the next, instead of tapering near the feet. However, at 3.5 pounds, it’s still light enough to take on a backpacking trip in spite of the extra room. In fact, I’d probably feel comfortable going on a solo expedition with this shelter, depending on where I was going.
While there’s more than enough room for you to store you gear inside the tent (especially if you’re camping on your own), don’t feel like you need to. There’s a large vestibule on either side of tent that can easily fit your pack, boots, and anything else you don’t want to bring inside. Granted, all of that gear will still be somewhat exposed to the blowing sand, so you may want to keep everything inside anyway. It just depends on how much clean up you want to do the next day.
The poles and fabric are durable enough to withstand strong winds, and the mesh doesn’t begin until partway up the tent. That way, you’ll still have good ventilation without letting too much sand get in – especially if you’ve got the rainfly on. It’s also easy to setup, with a hub and pole design, and the compression sack makes it easy to pack away again to carry.
– Hub and pole system
– Great headspace
– A couple large vestibules
– Large doors on each side
– May have some issues with the poles when the product is shipped
One of the larger tents in this review, the REI Co-Op Trail Hut is a 4 person shelter that’s great for families who want to dabble in desert camping. Considering its weight of 8 pounds, I wouldn’t try to do too much backcountry camping with it, even if you spread out the weight between a couple people. An exception to this could be the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, which allows dispersed camping beyond the first ridge of dunes. It’ll still be a tough mile to hike with so much weight, but it’s certainly possible.
At this point in time, you’ve probably noticed that most of the tents we’ve reviewed have a common factor – the walls are solid close to the bottom of the structure. That is to say, the mesh walls don’t begin until you get to the ceiling. It’s a great way to keep sand out, and water as well, if you plan on using the tent in a variety of biomes. Especially when the rainfly is attached, there are practically no gaps where unwanted grit can slip inside.
Despite how closed off the interior of the tent is from the outside world, ventilation isn’t a problem. Of course, if you keep the rainfly on all day in the desert, it will get steamy inside regardless of airflow. But condensation overnight? Practically nonexistent. On top of that, it’s incredibly simple to put together. As such, it makes a great shelter for beginner campers who might not have much experience making camp yet.
– Simple setup
– Good ventilation
– Sturdy design
– Spacious interior
– Plenty of storage opportunities
– Tent stakes are a bit flimsy
Fair warning, this tent is very heavy. For anyone looking to backpack through the desert, I would urge you to skip the Gazelle instant tent and take a look at the others that we’ve reviewed. However, I also recognize that backpacking isn’t the only way that someone can enjoy camping in the desert, which is why I thought this tent would make a nice addition to the list.
With a 6.5 foot peak height, there are few people who would need to duck in order to stand upright inside. And the 61 square feet provides enough room for 4 adults to spread out comfortably, along with their individual gear. While the tent does weigh 38 pounds, it can be setup in roughly 90 seconds (with a little practice) by yourself. This is thanks to the instant design, created by the hub and pole system, allowing the tent to pop into place with minimal effort.
The structure is solid against wind, and as you can see from the picture, it’s effectively sandproof as well. Additionally, the floor is removeable for easy cleaning, which is something you’ll be glad to have after you return home. However, the velcro straps that attach the floor to the rest of the tent seem a bit insufficient for the task, which is my biggest complaint overall.
– Tall peak height
– Plenty of internal space
– Few openings for sand to enter
– Instant setup
– Removable floor is only attached via velcro
While not ultralight by any means, the Naturehike Cloud-Up is still a 2 person tent that falls inside a reasonable weight range. At the very least, 4.6 pounds is barely anything to complain about when the tent itself is so affordable.
Setup is foolproof, and perfect for beginners who might not have much experience putting a tent together. All of the poles are connected, and there’s only one way to fit them into the tent, so it shouldn’t take very long to get everything ready. I also appreciate the fact that it comes with a footprint, despite this piece of gear being somewhat useless when camping on sand.
As it is with most of the tents in this review, the mesh walls don’t extend all the way to the floor. This helps keep the sand out, while still allowing you to get a clear view of the sky when the rainfly isn’t attached. Normally this design limits ventilation, but there’s a handy slit in the back of the rainfly that allows for air to move through the tent. Not perfect by any means, but still enough to keep condensation to a minimum while offering sufficient protection against the elements.
– Relatively lightweight
– Comes with a footprint
– Good against the elements
– Well designed
– Little room inside the tent, and small amount of storage space outside the tent
Big and roomy for 2 people, or cozy for 3, the North Face Stormbreak 3 tent is a good midsize option for car campers or those who don’t plan on hiking far. Its total weight of 7 pounds compared to its size just barely pushes it outside of backpacking territory.
I do like how spacious the vestibules are. For a tent designed to hold 3 people, the vestibules are certainly large enough to accommodate the same number of people’s gear. There are also enough nooks on the inside of the tent for personal belongings to be stored.
Considering the size of the shelter, though, I would have appreciated a better door system. Since the entrance/exit is on the side of the tent, that means you’ll have to crawl over a friend in order to use the bathroom during the night. Compared to a shelter that has the doors located at the head and feet, I’m not too impressed with the design. In its defense, the D shaped doors are quite nice, spacious enough to get in and out of without too much difficulty.
– Good sized vestibules
– Holds up well in rough weather
– D shaped doors
– On the heavy side
– Rainfly likes to absorb water, instead of repel it
Camping in the desert is a fun experience that I believe everyone should try out. Where you go, and how long you stay, will require different levels of experience to ensure a safe journey – however, it can be very beginner friendly when done right.
Regardless of your proficiency with camping, a good shelter is a must. But, considering how different desert camping can be from regular camping, it can be hard to know what to look for in a shelter. Ultimately, the MSR Hubba Hubba stole the show for us as the best desert tent in this review. Lightweight and portable, you can bring it over as many dunes as you want to conquer without issue. It’s also quite spacious, with large vestibules on the outside for you to store your gear. All this without compromising on durability, and the ability to resist water, wind, and sand.