There are many cabin-style camping tents described in this site, and I have also seen on the Internet questions like ‘what is a cabin tent’ or some variants of it. So it may be appropriate to write a text here, which I shall use as a reference for readers within this site.
It is unlikely that you will find a strict definition of a cabin tent. Usually, these tents are described through their comparison with the other generic type. So it appears that you have either of the two:
- Cabin-style tents.
- Dome tents.
But this classification is far from accurate. There are hybrids, so-called cabin dome tents which include some features of both groups, see for example this Wenzel Klondike 8 tent.
Below I give some essential features of the cabin tents and make comparisons with the dome tents, and I summarize with the comparison table between the two types.
Cabin style camping tents – essential features
Some claim that a cabin-style tent is a more static type, heavy, suitable for those who do not plan to move around with the tent. This may be so, but have you ever seen some of those instant tents for camping? Well, those also belong to the group of cabin camp tents, and I can tell you, they can get ready in under a minute.
So what are the most recognizable features of a cabin-style tent?
You will notice the following essential feature:
- They are usually with a very high ceiling. Some of them are with a peak height of 7 feet (2.13 m), see for example those tents from the Eureka Copper Canyon series. So this is something easy to appreciate, these tents provide a lot of headspace.
- They have many and usually large windows. So this is probably their best feature – you have nice views around, yet when you need some privacy you have panels and you can close them completely. Just see this great Core 9 Person Instant Cabin Tent as an example.
- Now, related to the windows, there is a downside of this great feature: the cabin camping tents are either without a rain fly or they have a very minimal rain fly. It is easy to realize why: you want unobstructed views when you have such great windows. But then, you may have issues with heavy rain and winds combined.
- The cabin tents are great for family camping (when you are with kids, it is a good idea to sizing up). In other words, they are with a big floor area, so you have them in sizes for 4 – 12 people and more. But this is not always so. As I mentioned above, you can have a small classic A-shaped tent for two, and it can be in this category as well; it has two vertical sides.
- In general, a family cabin tent is more livable and it offers more comfort than a dome-style tent.
- Some claim that dome-style tents are easier to set up. I do not share this opinion. Remember, this text is about large tents. So even with dome-type tents, you can have a lot of work with such a huge construction.
- The cabin tents are with more vertical walls as compared with dome-style tents. So this is one of the most important features. So you can have:
- Nearly vertical walls on all sides. See the Eureka Copper Canyon 6 in the picture below.
- Completely vertical or almost vertical walls on two sides. Here too, you can have (at least) two sub-types:
i) A tunnel-type tent with doors on the opposite sides and vertical walls on these shorter sides, yet nearly circular shape on the remaining part of the tent.
ii) Some even include the classic A-shape tents in this category. In principle, this is justified; you have vertical walls on the two shorter sides and the angled A-shape longer sides of the tent.
Here is one great example of a 9-person instant tent; the woman sets it up alone in under 4 minutes, and this is together with unpacking. She does it without a rush; you can see more about this tent here:
Vertical cabin tent walls – why does this matter?
There are several possible reasons:
- With such a wall design, you can have large windows just like at home.
- You utilize the space more effectively than with a dome. Just imagine, the tent furniture is usually rectangular by design, so this does not go hand in hand with a nearly spherical tent shape. You need straight walls simply because space is better used with such items. Imagine bunk cots, they are high and they fit better when you have a vertical wall behind them.
- Think also about the volume – a dome and a cabin tent with the same floor size, have quite different volumes. So a cabin tent is more livable than a dome tent and less claustrophobic.
- Quite frequently, the cabin tents have separate rooms, see for example this great Core 9 Person Instant Cabin Tent and the NEMO Wagontop 6 tent.
Are cabin camp tents weaker than dome tents?
The answer is not so simple. It depends on what kind of force we are discussing.
- The cabin tents come with very strong vertical poles, you can see those in the picture above, they are steel. But these tents are tall and with such straightened walls they make a bigger obstacle to the side winds as compared to a dome which is a perfect shape by all means; this is known from standard physics classes (yeah, I confess, I am a theoretical physicist). So the cabin tents may be less stable in very windy situations.
- On the other hand, many of the cabin tents come with a minimal fly which is positioned high, making a roof only, so they can be damaged by winds much easier than a dome-style tent with a full-coverage fly which goes completely to the ground, see this Kelty Trail Ridge 6 tent as one example. But the picture above shows the Big Agnes dome tent which is also with a small fly, very vulnerable with respect to winds. So the situation is not so black and white here.
- However, it is important to stress that some cabin tents do not have a fly at all; they are built as waterproof single-layer tools, see for example this Coleman Instant Tent 6 (but this particular model has a minimal-design fly as an option). So the argument about the fly does not hold in general.
- But the cabin tents roof is less strong with respect to vertical force than a dome, this is again some physics here. You have a large span between the side poles, and this is statically less stable. Does this matter? Perhaps not really, and here is why.
- The cabin tents are typically 3-season tools (there are exceptions of course). So you do not have vertical pressure in any case; you do not expect snow depositing on the roof, and the rain will go away in any case.
- Some cabin tents are with dome-shaped roofs, so the problem of vertical force is not there, well, almost. Remember, you still have vertical (or almost vertical) sides of the tent, so the dome sitting on top of this will transfer the vertical force to the sides. This means that side poles have pressure directed outwards, so they can bend or break (in theory) if a lot of snow is deposited on the roof or if the roof is heavy by itself.
This is why the churches with domes (and with vertical walls), have so many supporting arches and walls on the sides (yeah, physics again, I know, boring). With a completely dome-shaped tent, this problem is almost non-existent.
- The cabin tents are usually heavier. Compare for example this Big Agnes Rabbit Ears 6 and Eureka Copper Canyon 6. The former is a dome-type tent with 13 lb 5 oz (6.04 kg) and the latter is a cabin type with 25 lb (11.34 kg).
Even when you have a double-layer type dome tent with an inner tent and a full-coverage rain fly, like this Kelty Trail Ridge 6 with its 15 lb 10 oz (7.1 kg) of weight, the difference can be significant.
Why are cabin tents heavier?
There are several possible reasons.
- It is about the purpose; they are built for car camping and not to be carried in backpacks. So no need to use ultra-lightweight and expensive materials. Sometimes you have steel used for the main poles, see this Eureka Copper Canyon 6 tent as an example.
- The dome structure is more efficient for supporting the tent’s weight, therefore less heavy materials for the poles can be used in general.
- The walls on cabin tents are such large surfaces, so you have a lot of fabric there. This holds even when you have so many huge openings (windows and doors) – note that they all have a double-layer structure, a mesh plus panel for privacy and for rain protection.
See one more video, this time an ordinary cabin tent, the Eureka Eureka Copper Canyon 4:
A note on cabin dome tents
In this case, you have a dome-shaped roof sitting on a cabin-style tent, with the poles creating a structure similar to any dome tent. This type effectively incorporates the best of both designs.
Any similarities between dome tents and cabin tents?
There are a few:
- Nowadays, they are mostly freestanding tents, and this holds for both types.
- Regarding the setup; I have seen some writing that dome-type tents are easier to set up. Well, I have to disagree. As I already mentioned, the instant cabin tents are with an incredibly easy setup, they open almost like an umbrella. On the other hand, have you ever seen the Big Agnes Flying Diamond 6, a dome-type tent with its numerous poles which resemble a winter tent, but it is, in fact, a 3-season one?
This is everything but easy to set up, but there are good reasons for the design – it offers a lot of very useful storage area.
- Pricewise, I would say there are no big differences. In fact, my feeling is that cabin tents are more affordable in general. However, there is a downside of this – they are usually far less protective, and many of these inexpensive tents are for summertime only, hence the price.
- How about vestibules? Here too, I would not say that any group is better. In the links given here, you have some dome tents without vestibules although they have rain flies. Many cabin tents are also without vestibules, but have you seen the NEMO Wagontop 6 tent? Here you have a nice vestibule, almost like an extra room (and it already has two rooms inside).
Cabin tents vs dome tents – summary of differences & similarities
choose your plan
I wonder if you would agree with this summary, at least to some extent? Let me know, there is a comment box below. You might want to see my list of top 10 instant tents, many of them are the cabin type, have a look. Thank you for reading. I wish you a pleasant day.