Joan and I enjoy extending our outdoor time as much as possible.
And that often means the popularly used term of “car camping.” That typically does not imply a designated spot but a place off some BLM road near where we plan to hoist our packs and head into the wild places.
We’ll often camp out the night before a backpacking trip, enjoy some good food and some cold drinks, and wind down our work week in the best way possible – At a beautiful place and discussing the trip we plan to go on over the next few days.
To facilitate efficient use of our time, we’ll have separate gear rather than repack our packs. We’ll have them ready to go in the AM. This kit means dedicated car camping sleeping bags, clothing, cooking gear, and a tent.
And what do we use for a tent? I’ve long advocated that the most practical car camping tent is not a car camping tent but a budget-minded backpacking free-standing tent sized up for three adults.
A budget backpacking tent sheds wind well with its lower profile versus a car camping tent, often sturdier, will have a full coverage rain fly; the double-wall tent allows better ventilation in the rain vs. a single-wall tent and typically features aluminum poles versus cheaper and more prone to breaking fiberglass poles. A free-standing tent means a quick and easy setup, which is helpful when we have limited daylight getting to a camping area..
Now, I did not say a “cheap tent.” I mean a budget tent – A good bang-for-the-buck piece of gear that works well, lasts a while, and won’t melt the credit card too severely. Cheap tents would not last for what is rapidly approaching the one hundred nights we’ve used our budget tent.
And this current budget tent? An ALPS Mountaineering Chaos 3 Tent.
ALPS Mountaineering consistently makes serviceable bread-and-butter-gear that does the job well at an affordable price point.
The design is similar to our Big Agnes Tent Copper Spur UL, which is our mainstay backpacking tent – Double wall, two separate entrances (key for couple use!), and three sets of aluminum poles that give the tent excellent structure for wind and rain protection.
The first set of poles forms an inverted “Y” on both the head and feet sides of the tent and a middle third pole, giving the tent more rigidity overall.
The mesh allows for good ventilation.
We also can’t say enough about the chunky zippers that have withstood the Utah sand and have yet to fail.
A generously sized tent for two adults – 90 x 66” or 41 square feet with the shape design. I find it best to size up when considering tent size for camping.
In other words, a three-person tent is comfortable for two people, but three people would find it a bit too cozy.
There are plenty of gear pockets for stashing such things as a headlamp or phone at night and even an overhead gear loft (that we do not use.) The vestibule is also generously sized and provides excellent and full rain coverage.
We do not need the vestibule as much as backpacking. Still, we certainly appreciate the full coverage that makes for a less stuffy tent when zipped up during downpours.
At nearly 7 lbs., it’s a bit too heavy for backpacking far into the backcountry, even if split.
We’ve repeatedly stayed dry and warm in torrential and windy downpours. While not as tall as a car camping tent, it is tall enough that we can sit up comfortably if we find ourselves in the tent for an extended time.
Now, it is a budget tent.
It is less light than the similar, slightly bigger, three-person REI Co-op Half Dome Tent. The Alpine Designs tent also feels less refined than more expensive tents – The stitching is not quite as dialed in, and the clips and poles don’t seem quite as streamlined, either. But it’s also half the price or less.
Think of the ALPS Mountaineering tent as a sturdy Toyota Camry vs. the Lexus ES. The Camry-tent equivalent works very well for our car camping needs and has stood the test of many nights.
And, though I would not suggest it, in a pinch, the Chaos 3 makes a serviceable and spacious, if heavy, backpacking tent. It is helpful if you forget your backpacking tent rain fly at home and still want to enjoy four days backpacking in the Colorado mountains. Or so I heard!
Overall? The ALPS Mountaineering Chaos 3 tent makes a fantastic car camping tent for a reasonable price. It is well-made, durable, and works in many different conditions. We’ve spent many nights in this tent, from desert to mountains, from cold to hot weather, and in the wind and rain, and it never disappoints us. It feels like our weekend home, and we hope to use it for many more nights to come.
Disclosure – We paid for this tent with our funds.