12 best kids’ play tents that make the perfect den for your little one

12 best kids’ play tents that make the perfect den for your little one
From toddlers play areas, to children’s reading nooks, let them hide out with the best kids play tents from Ikea, Jojo Maman Bebe, Hobbycraft and more

Dens have come a long way from the old tablecloth-over-the-chairs solution. These days there’s a vast array of play tents, teepees and wendy houses available, designed to give the kids somewhere to hide out.

Often, these play spaces work just as well in the garden on good-weather days as they do indoors, when they become reading tents and secret hideouts. And there are plenty of compact or pop-up options that work well when space is at a premium.

We tested a variety of play tents – from outdoor dens to over-bed canopies – with the proviso that they must be portable and able to be packed away easily or folded.

We also looked to include play tents that are suitable for toddlers, as well as those designed with enough space to accommodate older children. And we’ve aimed to cover budget-friendly options as well as investment pieces that can be stored in the loft for the grandkids.

Whichever play tent or tepee you choose, remember never to leave a young child unsupervised in a play tent, and to always check the safety instructions and age restrictions.

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The best kids play tents for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – The Den Kit Co cottage garden den kit: £45.00, Thedenkitco.com
  • Best budget buy – Ikea cirkustält children’s tent: £12, Ikea.com
  • Best for the environment – Kid-Eco cardboard rocket: £39.99, Kidecocrafts.co.uk
  • Best for nostalgia – Djeco fabric playhouse: £59.50, Jojomamanbebe.co.uk
  • Best for aesthetics – Great Little Trading Co zigzag play teepee: £49.14, Gltc.co.uk
  • Best for small bedrooms – Ikea kura dinosaur bed tent: £25, Ikea.com
  • Best for imaginative play – Hobbycraft wooden den kit: £25, Hobbycraft.co.uk
  • Best for the beach – Cabana Kids Lillie UV tent: £139, Cabana kids.co.uk
  • Best for the garden – Chairworks children’s play hide: £169.95, Chairworks.info
  • Best for quality – The Little Green Sheep kids teepee play tent: £99.95, Thelittlegreensheep.co.uk
  • Best for toddlers – Scandiborn kids concept play tent: £31.95, Scandiborn.co.uk
  • Best for a permanent feature – SoBuy children’s playhouse: £42.95, Manomano.co.uk

The Den Kit Co cottage garden den kit

Best: Overall

Hands-on kids will love this build-your-own tent from The Den Kit Co. Its DIY kits are designed to encourage children to get outdoors and pitch their own shelter using real tools, and each kit contains everything they need to do it – minus prescriptive instructions – inside a lovely old-fashioned haversack. And there’s a real focus on avoiding single-use plastics and sourcing natural products in the UK.

Our six and eight-year-old testers managed to assemble their tent in ten minutes using the jute rope, groundsheet, tarpaulin, tent pegs and wooden mallet provided. The end result was ridiculously cute – thanks, in part, to the pretty cotton bunting. We tried the cottage garden den kit, which would make a fantastic gift, but there are other options including the forest school den kit (£60, Thedenkitco.com), which includes extras like an enamel mug, compass and insect aspirator.

You’ll need trees – we packed ourselves off to the park to find some – or something to secure the rope to. But absolutely everything else they need for an afternoon of old-fashioned fun is right there in the bag.

Ikea cirkustält children’s tent

Best: Budget buy

You can’t really go wrong with a play tent this cheap and colourful. At £12, Ikea’s cirkustält children’s tent is a great option for toddlers aged 18 months and up. The cheery big top design won points with our two testers, and the pop-up structure got the thumbs-up from us – once we’d got the knack of folding it down again.

Unlike other pop-up tents we tried, the poles are threaded through channels on the exterior of the tent’s fabric and secured into place at the base – rather than tied in place on the inside of the tent – which made the whole thing feel quite sturdy despite the fact the tent is incredibly light. The front curtains are crying out for a puppet show performance, and the flag on the top is the finishing touch – even if ours is destined to be forever wonky.

Kid-Eco cardboard rocket

Best: For the environment

Kid-Eco is an expert in sustainable play products and all of its playhouses are made from up to 80 per cent recycled cardboard. We tested their play rocket as we were keen to try something our eight-year-old tester could stand up in.

Available in brown or white cardboard, the smooth surface is ready to be painted or coloured in – and our two testers happily set to work scribbling all over it. The rocket arrives in four flat-packed pieces that slot together with no need for glue, and fold flat again for storage. Little pop-out windows and space details add an element of fun, and once it’s up the rocket surprisingly sturdy – if a little cumbersome.

At full price it’s expensive for what it is, but providing you’re careful about what you stick on it in terms of decorations, it has the huge benefit of being both recyclable and biodegradable when you’re finished with it.

Djeco fabric playhouse

Best: For nostalgia

If you’re looking for a traditional wendy house, Djeco’s fabric playhouse fits the bill nicely. The soft fabric tent is covered in a whimsical design that brings the outside in, with trailing plants and little animals that encourage imaginative play. The roll-up windows were a big hit with our six-year-old tester, who had plenty of space inside for all her toys and teddies.

The playhouse is nice and compact when assembled, and packs down into a surprisingly small box – although there’s no storage bag included. We made the mistake of building the frame first, before realising it needs to be assembled inside the fabric. It’s not the easiest of tasks as you essentially have to get inside the tent – a bit like fitting an unruly duvet cover – and the frame is a very tight squeeze. But it does mean the fabric is nice and taut once it’s up.

Great Little Trading Co zigzag play teepee

Best: For aesthetics

This teepee looks great in our tester’s bedroom, and there’s a whole range of matching accessories – from rugs and toy storage boxes to bean bags. It’s made of sturdy cotton canvas with plastic-coated metal poles. These are quite light compared to wood, which makes life easier when assembling it as you need to slide the poles into the canvas from the top. There’s a bit of fiddly work needed to thread the tie through the poles and the eyelets, but once that’s done you’re good to go. The square shape means this one fits nicely into a corner and quickly closes up when you pull the poles from the top.

You can also buy a separate storage bag for £20, and unlike the bags that often come with the tent, this one is designed to fit the tepee when it’s assembled – saving you the faff of collapsing it down when you want to store it away.

Ikea kura dinosaur bed tent

Best: For small bedrooms

Ikea’s mega-popular Kura bed gets an upgrade with this over-bed tent, suitable for children aged six and upwards. Once you’ve slotted the poles into the fabric and secured them in place with Velcro fastenings, there are clips to secure the tent onto the sides of the bed frame to create the canopy. The panel drapes over one side to create a den beneath, without taking up any floor space at all.

As the Kura bed is reversible, you can raise the height of the mattress to the top to create a sort of sleeping tunnel – which is how our tester used it – or keep the mattress in the bottom position to create a much larger den space. The tent is open at either end, which means there’s plenty of airflow, although with the mattress in the top position there’s not a great deal of head-room if your child is inclined to get up lots in the night.

Hobbycraft wooden den kit

Best: For imaginative play

This simple wooden frame requires some imagination, and that’s exactly what’s so nice about it. Our eight-year-old tester assembled the poles after a few minor hitches figuring out which of the plastic fixtures to use, then got to work turning it into a den using old blankets, pegs, and whatever else he could find.

It’s really quite a big frame – our two testers played easily inside it and the six-year-old could stand up – and as there’s no fabric it packs down quickly into a relatively small box. It’s a good price for something that has the potential to be different every time you build it and a great way to encourage creative play.

Cabana Kids Lillie UV tent

Best: For the beach

All Cabana Kids play tents and teepees are made from heavy cotton canvas with added ultra anti UV, so they’re a great option if you want something that can double up as a sunshade. We tried the Lillie tent and we were really impressed at the quality – from the heavy cotton canvas to the chunky wooden poles. It’s not cheap, but we’d consider this one a long-term investment – especially as the classic design won’t date quickly and it works indoors and outside.

There’s a range of six very classy colourways to choose from, and although we loved the light and airy ecru we’d recommend the midnight blue if you plan to use the tent outdoors, as it doesn’t show the dirt. If you’re keen to save on space, consider the Hettie teepee (£152, Cabanakids.co.uk) instead – it ticks all the same boxes and is slightly more compact.

Chairworks children’s play hide

Best: For the garden

If you’re looking for something specifically for the garden and don’t fancy a plastic eyesore, this simple tent is worth a look. It’s made from two hand-woven willow panels that fasten at the top with hook and loop hinges. The design blends in nicely in a natural space, especially if you’re green-fingered and can grow some climbing plants up the sides. It gives a nice bit of shade with plenty of airflow due to the woven design, and it’s hardy enough to leave outside year-round.

You can adjust the head height inside just by changing the pitch of the roof, and it folds flat if you need to save space. Chairworks also sell a very cool wigwam (£299.95, Chairworks.info) and castle playhouse (£299.95, Chairworks.info) if your garden has plenty of room to roam.

The Little Green Sheep kids teepee play tent

Best: For quality

This teepee has a really luxurious feel but the price isn’t as steep as the other premium options we tried. We tested the grey version which is a nice go-with-anything shade, and the pretty frilled edging on the doorway sets it apart from the others. We particularly liked the fact it’s roomier than a lot of teepees, thanks to a five-pole design that gives it a hexagonal – rather than square – shape.

Assembly was straightforward and the chunky wooden poles join at the top with a tie that’s attached to the heavy cotton canvas, which is great as it means there’s no chance of losing it. It all packs down into a matching storage bag that comes with the teepee, and there’s also a circular floor mat available to buy separately, although at £49.95 it’s quite a high spend compared to the teepee itself.

Scandiborn kids concept play tent

Best: For toddlers

This pop-up tent goes up in a jiffy and doesn’t take up much floor space, so it’s a good option if you’re looking for something compact that can be packed away easily. The poles inside are collapsible and secured with Velcro, which makes assembly really fast. And the muted grey tones mean it’ll work in most spaces and make a nice gender-neutral gift for a younger child.

We took ours out into the garden for the afternoon, and thanks to the light grey colour and mesh windows, it provided a decent bit of shade and didn’t get overly hot inside on a sunny day. This being the UK, it also got lightly rained on and lived to tell the tale, although it’s not explicitly described as waterproof.

SoBuy children’s playhouse

Best: For a permanent feature

This is the only play tent we tested that requires screws to assemble, so it does have a degree of permanency once it’s up. But it took our eight-year-old tester all of five minutes to put it together and take it down again with the allen key provided plus a screwdriver, and it packs down nice and neatly if you keep the cardboard delivery box.

We loved the classic tent shape and compact size – it’s only a metre deep and fits neatly into corners – and the wide opening on the doorway means it fits over a ready-bed or inflatable lilo for extra-special sleepovers. The play tent comes with a slightly padded floor mat, and although the coated cotton fabric gives it a bit of a crunch, it wipes clean really well.

The verdict: Kids’ play tents

The cottage garden den kit was the most popular play tent with our two testers. They were totally taken with the DIY element and the fact it comes with tools, although it does require outdoor space. Our indoor vote goes to the Great Little Trading Co’s zigzag teepee because it ticks so many boxes at a reasonable price, closely followed by Cabana kids’ Lillie tent if you’ve got a bit more space. And for pop-up options, it’s got to be Ikea’s cirkustält tent – which is compact, cheap and cheerful.

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