How to Choose the Right Family Camping Tent

Will a lousy or poor quality tent ruin your camping trip? But shopping for the right tent can be very confusing and frustrating as there are dozens of styles, designs, sizes, and features to consider. This article aims to help you avoid that frustration…

A few questions you should ask yourself before you go shopping:

1. How many persons the tent must accommodate? Your answer will help you to determine the appropriate style and size of the tent you’ll be looking for.

2. How much tent interior space do you need? You should take sleeping space, storage and comfort into consideration.

3. How often will you be using the tent? If you are planning to use the tent more frequently, you will need a stronger, more durable tent.

4. What kind of conditions you expect the tent to handle? Three-season tents are built to handle strong winds and rains (but not snow loads), and are used from spring through fall, whereas four-season tents are intended for all 4 seasons. You should buy a tent that can handle the most extreme conditions you may encounter.

5. How will the tent be transported? Is weight an issue? This helps to determine how durable the tent needs to be.

Check out Glossary of Tent Terminology if you are unfamiliar with the camping terms that are commonly used by campers.

Types of Family Camping Tents

Family Camping tents typically accommodate 4, 6, 8 or 10 people. However, if the tent spec states that it’s a 4-person tent, it just means for 4 persons to sleep inside and with no room for storage of your camping/hiking gears & supplies! If you need additional space for storage purposes, consider buying a tent 1 or 2 sizes larger.

When you look at the tent’s floor space, be sure to check the dimensions (length and width), not just the square footage because tall people need a longer layout and stout campers need more elbow room.

The basic family camping tent styles are “cabins” and “domes”, both noted for their convenience and comfort.

Cabin-style tent
A typical cabin-style tent
1. Cabin-style tents:

These tents have upright designs with near-vertical walls that provide the maximum livable space. Some models come with additional features such as room dividers, a vestibule door, or an awning. Cabin-style tents offer the easiest access (get in and out).

The main drawback of cabin tents are their weight and large foot-print.

Dome-style tent
A typical dome-style tent
2. Dome-style tents:

They look similar to backpacking dome tents but much bigger. Also known as “umbrella tents”, this type of tents offer superior strength and have good stability in wind. Dome-style tents have sloping walls which slightly reduces the livable space than cabin-style tents. Some models employ a modified dome configuration called a tunnel.

Price:

Prices of family camping tents vary significantly based on quality, size, style and features. You can buy a tent for $100 to $200 at the lower end of the market, while those from top quality brands often cost upwards of $500, or even $1,000! You get what you pay for. In fine weather, any cheap tent may do the job. But in bad weather you’ll be glad if your tent is built with high quality materials. The best thing to do while tent shopping is to match the tent up with your needs.

Essential Features of a Modern Family Camping Tent

You should consider ALL these features:

1. Ease of setup and repack: Ideally, you want to look for a tent that can be set up by one person. How long it takes to set up depends on how experienced you are. Some tents can be set up in mere minutes! But normally, it should not take longer than 30 minutes even for the largest tent. Tents with shock-corded poles, color-coding and quick clips will allow faster setups. It’s also nice to have a tent that’s easy to take down and repack.

For easy setup, one tent that outperforms others is the Coleman Instant Tents.

2. Freestanding: Freestanding tents are easier to pitch because they are erected without the use of stakes. (Note: Almost all family camping tents are freestanding these days)

3. Bathtub floors to keep the tent a few inches above the ground to prevent water from seeping in.

4. Factory-sealed seams for rain protection.

5. No-see-um mesh for keeping out tiny insects.

6. Double-track door zippers so that the user can unzip the fabric door and leave a screen in place to prevent insects getting in.

7. Doors: Single or Double? Double doors increase ventilation and minimize having to climb over someone else to enter or exit the tent. They also help decide how to pitch the tent to get better views and resistance to wind and rain. Single door is lighter but reduces the comfort or livability factor of a tent.

8. Pole Materials: Fiberglass poles are found mostly on cheaper, light-duty tents. They are heavier, less durable and prone to splintering. Aluminum poles are preferred, as found in most good quality tents, are stronger and lighter than fiberglass.

9. Tent Materials: Use of rugged higher-denier (High-D) fabric. If you need a tent that’s tough enough to handle the most extreme conditions, canvas (such as Hydra-Shield canvas used by Kodiak Canvas) will be the best and most durable of any tent material.

10. Tent floor materials: Seam-taped and high-denier fabrics minimize the chances of leakage.

11. Footprint: Most tents have an optional shaped-to-fit footprint which you can buy for protecting the tent floor from rocks & twigs. It’s always cheaper to have a footprint ‘cos it costs much less to replace than a tent.

12. Rainfly: A rainfly is a separate waterproof (usually nylon and coated with polyurethane or silicon) cover designed to fit over the tent body with a few inches of space remaining between it and the canopy to allow airflow, for use whenever rain or dew is expected.

Two common rainfly types

  • Roof only rainfly offers lesser rain protection but allows more light and views.
  • Fully covered rainfly offers maximum protection from wind and rain.

13. Good Ventilation: Larger mesh panels in the ceiling, doors and windows to enhance cross-ventilation and help manage condensation during hot, humid climates.

14. Guyout loops: High quality tents usually include loops on the outside of the tent body for attaching guy lines. Guylines provide extra stability in wind and rain.

15. Ample headroom: Headroom will be dictated by wall slope. Do you want to be able to walk upright from end to end inside the tent? Check the amount of headroom, “peak height” or “center height” the tent offers. Typically, cabin-style tents have more headroom than domes.

16. Vestibule: A foyer or awning attaches to a tent for storage or hanging out in nice weather. The vestibule can be an integral part of the rainfly in some models. If optional, you may consider buying it separately.

17. Ceiling loops: Often placed at the top-center of the ceiling, are great for hanging lanterns or lines for drying socks and clothes.

18. Interior pockets: Most tents come with an inner pocket or 2 to let you keep small items off of the tent floor. Need more storage volume? Get a gear loft.

19. Gear loft: An optional item which can be purchased separately (doesn’t cost very much), for storing your valuables up and off the tent floor. Keep your headlamp, book, and bug repellent safely stored overhead where you can find it easily.

20. Tent weight and packed size: Weight is normally not an issue for most car campers. However, you should give it some thoughts if the campsite is far from where you’ve to park your car, since most family camping tents are heavy (40 to 100 pounds). A foldable trolley cart should help. Motorcycle and small car campers should also check out the tent’s packed dimensions.

Final Thought

In general, it’s wise to choose a tent that’s designed to withstand the worst possible conditions you think you’ll face. For instance, if you’re a summer car camper in a region where weather is predictable, an inexpensive family or all-purpose tent will likely do the trick, especially if a vehicle is nearby and you can make a quick dash for safety when bad weather swoops in. If you like to car camp in all seasons, you’ll want to buy something designed to handle more adversity.

Anyone who plans on car camping in good weather can choose from a wide range of jumbo-sized tents in the Amazon Sports & Outdoors Store that will accommodate all your little ones with room to spare. A wide range of capacities is available for three- and four-season tents. Remember, though, the bigger the tent you buy, the heavier it will be, although it’s easy to break up the tent components among several people in your group. It’s also helpful to compare the volume and floor-space measurements of models you’re considering. Happy Camping!

Featured Tent Reviews:

Coleman Instant Tents

Coleman Montana 8 Tent

Coleman Evanston 8 Screened Tent

Coleman Red Canyon 8-Person Tent

Coleman Sundome 4 Tent

Kodiak Canvas Flex-Bow Deluxe 8-Person Tent

Eureka Titan 8-Person Tent

Eureka Copper Canyon 6 Tent