Best Family Tent: Choosing Right

Types of Family Tents

Cabin-style tents.

This upright style offer the easiest in/out access, and theirEureka Copper Canyon 1610 near-vertical walls create generous livable space. Many include features, such as room dividers and an awning which make for a comfortable camping experience. However, generally this style of tent is best used for summer camping, as they give limited protection in bad weather.

Dome-style and Geodesic tents.

Mamot Limestone 4 dark cedarSimple to erect using lightweight flexible poles that thread through sleeves, these tents offer superior strength and wind-shedding abilities. Remember, though, that the higher the dome the more vulnerable they are in windy conditions. These tents stand tall, but have a slightly reduced living space due to their sloping walls. This type of tent is a great choice for the backpacking family, as light weight configurations are often available, giving generous living space, yet relatively small pack size.

Geodesic tents are similar to dome tents except that they have a different pole configuration giving them more strength in windy conditions.

 Hoop/Tunnel  tents

Hoop tents combine the best features of the ridge and dome tents in a single design. They usually have three hoops and an entrance at either end. They are roomy, light and strong.

 Ridge tents

Eureka Timberline SQ Outfitter 6A traditional triangular shaped tent, the ridge tent has a horizontal pole supported by the two end vertical poles. These tents are very sturdy with plenty of headroom along the centre line, but lacking the overall volume of other designs.


Tent Season Rating

Consider when you are going to be using your tent. Are you only going to be camping in the summer, where/when you can guarantee warm, dry weather? Do you like to camp in areas where the weather can be variable? Do you want to camp anytime from spring to fall?

Tents usually come with a season rating. Most cheaper tents are primarily designed for summer use, when the weather is more predictable. They often  come with just a partial fly and plenty of mesh, which gives good ventilation in hot weather. They may be waterproofed up to 800mm, which should keep you and your gear dry in light summer showers. However, the tent walls can become damp, so its advisable not to allow your gear to touch them. If you have wet and windy weather, you may find that rain can get up under the fly and through the mesh ceiling.

3-Season Tents

3-season tents can vary in terms of quality from brand to brand, and not all can be considered true 3-season tents. Additionally, the weather conditions in any season can vary enormously, too,  depending on location. It’s important to check the tent specifications carefully before purchase to ensure they will meet your requirements.

A good quality 3-season tent should be able to withstand heavy rainfall and high wind. It should feature a full fly with a minimum 1200mm waterproof coating. The floor , too, should have a minimum 1500mm waterproof coating. Good quality 3-season tents come with lightweight aluminum poles, specifically designed for strength, flexibility and low weight.

Although these tents are designed to cope with poor weather, they usually have plenty of mesh and fly vents to keep them cool in hot weather, too.

Tent Size and livability

The size of the sleeping area is paramount. The number of berths suggested by the manufacturer is based on very narrow hiking mats. If you want some comfort, then you’ll need to calculate your own requirements. You and your family’s height and build are a good place to start. Then think about the about the following:

  • Do you want a separate sleeping area? Separate gives you a bit more privacy and also gives the kids their own space.
  • Ask yourself what would it be like in the tent if it was raining? Is it big enough to sit around in and play games? Does the tent have a canopy, which could be left open if it rains? This reduces the trapped feeling from being cooped up in a tent. Maybe not a big problem on a weekend trip but could be claustrophobic for longer vacations.
  • Think about where you are going to store your gear. Extra rooms can be very useful for keeping items/clothes etc. stored out of the way.
  • What is the internal height of the tent? Unless you are hiking and saving weight, standing up in a tent is a must really if you are going to spend a bit of time in it. So check your height and the “inner” height of the tent. Some tents have lower heights for the bedrooms, which is fine for most people

A tent size that is too small for your family can do more to ruin your vacation than bad weather can. If you still want to be on speaking terms at the end of the vacation, think carefully about the livability of your tent. As a rule, you should look for a tent at least one berth larger than manufacturers recommendations.

Why not consider a second tent ?

If you have a large family, buying one big tent to accommodate everyone is not always the best option. Bigger tents are harder to set up and can be more vulnerable to high winds. What’s more, not all campgrounds can/want to  accommodate large tents. So it’s worth considering a day-room or pup-tent as an alternative to one very large tent. A pup tent is a small tent which you can pitch close to the main tent for the kids to go in. This gives you more space and privacy in the main tent and gives them their own play area away from the grown-ups. A day-room, or day-tent, is designed for cooking, eating and socializing in. With a day-room you can stay up chatting with friends into the small hours without disturbing the sleeping kids back in the main tent. A day tent also enables you to have a smaller main tent.

Ease of Setup and Access

Most family tents these days are freestanding, which means Kelty Gunnison 4.1they don’t require stakes to set up. They are quick and easy to set up, using poles and clip attachments or sleeves, or a combination of both. Generally, the fewer the poles, the quicker the set-up.

Find out how many people it takes to pitch the tent. Some tents can be easily pitched by one person; others not. Although there might be two of you, who will be looking after the kids at the time? Some tents, although more expensive, are specifically designed to be pitched solo, fast and with the minimum of effort, so look out for these if it is a big requirement for you.

Does the tent have one door or two? What shape is the door, and how easy is it to zip open and shut? Cabin-style tents tend to have great access. Two doors are generally more convenient than one. Who wants to scrabble over the children in the dark to pay a nocturnal latrine visit?

Rainfly and Ventilation

Kelty Trail Ridge 6 flyA rainfly is a separate waterproof cover designed to fit over your tent. Roof-only rainflies are common on cabin-style tents. Designed only to cover the mesh roof, they rely on the tent’s waterproof walls to keep out the rain. Full-coverage rainflies offer better rain protection, but slightly reduce ventilation.

Depending on how the tent is designed it will either pitch inner-first or fly-first. Inner-first means that if it is raining the inner section is going to get wet; fly-first gives you more protection from the rain. Fly-first is often more desirable in many peoples’ opinion. Although with smaller tents this tends to be less of an issue as they can be pitched quickly or with a lose flysheet over them for temporary cover.

In hot weather, you can always opt to skip the rainfly. The inner tent is then basically a giant bug net, allowing lots of cool air to circulate, and great for stargazing.

A poorly ventilated tent will give you condensation problems. Look for meshed ceilings, windows and doors that enhance cross-ventilation and help manage condensation. Some tents come with closable roof and wall vents. Big doors can produce good ventilation, but without mesh they are useless at night as the inside light will attract every bug around!

Packed Size and weight

Weight is generally less of a concern for family camping as most family tents are carried only from car to campsite. However, if you are backpacking as a family you’ll need to pay particular attention to the packed weight. Many manufacturers produce a light or ultralight tent especially for the backpacking family.

Size matters. How big is the tent when packed? How are you transporting it? Small-car campers should take care when making their choice as many tents can be real space eaters in your trunk.

Vestibules, Footprints and Guyout Loops

A  vestibule is an invaluable feature if you want to store Eureka Grand Manan 9muddy/wet gear (or dog) outside of your dry, clean tent.  It can be either an integral part of the rainfly or an add-on item that’s sold separately. You can also purchase a removable groundsheet for your vestibule which can be easily taken out and cleaned.

A footprint is a custom-fit groundcloth that sits underBig Agnes footprint your tent floor. Although tent floors are designed to be tough, camping eventually exacts a toll. Footprints are designed to extend the life of your tent floor and they are cheaper to replace or repair than your tent itself. Footprints are sized to fit your tent shape exactly, that way they won’t catch water which could flow underneath your tent and seep through the tiniest holes in the floor fabric.

Higher-quality tents will include loops on the outside of the tent body for attaching guy lines. Guy lines reduce the likelihood of your tent taking off in high winds.


How much should you pay for your family tent?

You can buy family tents at incredibly low prices in discount stores across the country. However, go to a specialist camping  store and you may pay anything up to $400 plus.  At first glance they look pretty similar, so what’s the big difference?
Well, I guess you get what you pay for.

A bargain tent may suffice for a few trips in good weather, but the real difference will become apparent when the weather turns nasty or after you’ve taken a few trips out. That’s when you’ll wish you’d bitten the bullet and paid the extra for a quality product. If camping is a regular family activity, or you intend to camp when/where the weather is unpredictable, then you should consider the long-term advantages of having a quality tent.

So, what should you look for in determining a superior quality tent?
  • Floor design – bathtub and/or factory seam sealed.
  • Fly – Full-coverage rainfly for better weather protection.
  • Poles – DAC Aluminum, Atlas UL Aluminum. Stronger and more durable than fiberglass.

Click here for more info on Tent Fabric and Water Resistance



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