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As a kid I was in the business of couch fort construction. However, that didn't naturally transition into an affinity for erecting tents as an adult. Building a shelter for sleeping in, outside in the Montana elements, seemed too intimidating — until last weekend.
I'd promised my new puppy I'd take him out of the city to go camping over the Fourth of July. So I went on Amazon where I found an entry-level tent that appeared to be as simple to set up as it was affordable. But to be safe, I made a reservation at the Red Lodge KOA where we could always check into a cabin if needed. I knew I could buy a tent, but could I build one?
Coleman Dome Tent
The first thing that sold me on the Coleman Sundome 4-Person Tent was the price tag. At just $45 for the basic model, it costs less than most cheap hotels. Even if I only got one use out of it, it was worth it. (I could have gotten the "dark room" version for $30 more, but I swear by this $10 sleep mask that blocks out sunlight, so that didn't seem necessary.)
The second thing I noticed was how many reviews it had. More than 7,000 people had tried it, making it Amazon's bestselling tent in the Family Camping category. More importantly, they liked it enough the tent has an impressive 4.4-star average rating.
Some assembly is required — but it's easy
IKEA should take notes: The tent's assembly instructions were so easy to follow I only looked at them three times before I had them committed to memory. Of course, it helps that there aren't many steps, or parts. There's no need for special tools either. I just used my hands and my feet (for putting the stakes in). It's also incredibly light. Between the poles, stakes, tent and rainfly, it only weighs 8.5 pounds.
Since I arrived at the Red Lodge KOA at 8:30 p.m. it was a race against the sun. Fortunately, setting up took me less than 10 minutes. What's more: I didn't utter a single four-letter word or even need to consult Google during the process. However if you need it, there's a helpful YouTube video that walks you through assembly.
For me the hardest part was tying down the rainfly. That said, if you can tie your shoes, you're more than qualified. In fact, it's almost disappointing how easy it is to assemble. Basically if you're looking to feel a sense of achievement after an hour of riding the struggle bus, this isn't the tent for you.
No frills, just smart features
Although this tent comes in several different colors and sizes, it's pretty basic. Even if you buy the biggest 6-person tent with dark room technology you're still spending less than $150. That said, it has everything you need for camping in the summer months. There's a waterproof rainfly and sealed WeatherTec floor to keep you dry, several strategically-placed vents to keep you cool and thoughtful interior touches like a loop for hanging your flashlight from the ceiling, a mesh pocket to keep your valuables off the ground and even an e-port so you can run an extension cord into your tent and charge your devices. (Unplug them though if it's raining!)
What this tent does lack is space and insulation. But isn't that the nature of most tents? Although it's sold as a 4-person tent, I think it's better suited for two people. You could probably get one queen-size air mattress in there. With bags and gear, it would be quite cozy. I also don't know that I'd use this tent in temperatures below freezing or in winds above 20 mph.
I'd planned for fighting off mosquitos, but I definitely didn't plan on befriending triplets during my camping trip. Still, as fate would have it my neighbors were three identical 7-year-old boys from Wyoming. Despite the fact the RV they were staying in was outfitted with all kinds of bells and whistles, they spent a fair amount of time at my campsite.
It probably had something to do with my puppy. But I also like to think it's because they thought I was cool (and young) enough to build fun forts.
For more camping essentials, check out:
- The 5 best mosquito repellents and bug sprays
- A portable pizza oven? Everything you need to make the outdoors great
- The best chairs for camping