Thinking about going camping in a tent with your family in the summer? Great.
Since you’re going in a tent, a tent is of course, the most important gear that you’ll bring. This is why you need to choose the right one. You don’t want a tent where the whole family kinda fits like sardine, and by the break of dawn you all wake up running out of oxygen. You want to create a good comfortable environment for you so you don’t have to dread night time in a tent.
Here are some of the things that you need to consider for your situation when shopping for a new family camping tent:
When looking into product description or the side of the box, keep in mind that “tent capacity: 4 person” actually means, 4 people in a sleeping bag can fit side by side inside the tent. But that’s about it. There is no room for gear or anything else. So you want to make sure that the tent will fit comfortably.
Rule of thumb is: add another 2 extra person capacity on top of your actual family size i.e. if you are an average family of four (or five including young kids), 6 person tent would be good. Check out my review of best 6 person tent.
The head space is quite important if you don’t want to constantly duck inside the tent. This helps when you want to change clothes or help the kids change clothes etc. Try and find a tent with good head space for the tallest person in the family.
Think about what sleeping gear you have as well. Sleeping bag and sleeping mat? 4 people will fit cosily in a 4 man tent (I’m talking about parents and 2 young kids). inflatable mats (with foam) that is generally around 70 – 80cm wide? well you’re going to need 6 person tent to fit 4 people comfortably.
Also, you have to remember that bigger size tent will weigh more. Instant tent like the Coleman 6-Person Instant Cabin Tent will take some space in the car – it doesn’t fold down as small as the rest of the tent due to its ease of setting up (company claims it takes less than 60 seconds to set up). Of course, if you go car camping you shouldn’t be too worried about the weight of the tent. In fact, you should put more weight into the comfort of the tent.
Different style has different use. There are three basic style of family camping tent:
This is my favourite type of family camping tent. I have one. It’s very easy to set up and generally it’s more affordable too. Due to its shape, it would have slopes so generally the middle of the tent has the highest peak point and that’s it. But due to its shape it is one of the best tent against strong wind and bad weather. The best part it, it normally comes with the normal tent pole so if one of the pole breaks or the shock chord somehow breaks, you can easily replace them.
Dome tent style is probably best for shorter camping trips (a weekend away, a long weekend etc).
This is probably the best one to use for longer trips and if the campground you book allows you larger ‘site’ for your tent. This style generally looks the most like a temporary ‘house’ since most of these type have room dividers, and semi straight-ish wall so you will be able to stand and walk around inside the tent. If ‘roomy’ is on top of your list, you can probably check this type of tent.
The only drawback with this style is that it’s normally harder to set up – it’s not as easy as dome tent. It’s not as good in super bad weather either.
The best part of this style is of course: the ease of setting it up. Instant tent like the Coleman 6-Person Instant Cabin Tent is so easy to set up (the manufacturer claims it takes 60 seconds even though realistically it’ll take about 10 mins). It’s very strong and it’s quite cool. It is also the most pricey (maybe for the convenience) and it requires space – it doesn’t fold down to super small carry-bag like the dome tent. Of course, it’s all because it doesn’t come in ‘parts’. It generally just instantly set up.
Now despite the ease of setting up, it’s not that challenging to take it down unlike the pop-up style. So I would certainly recommend this style if you have the space but you can’t be bothered setting up tents the ‘conventional’ way.
If you do get this one, make sure you get the ‘rainfly’. It’s a no brainer, but somehow I think the rainfly is actually sold separately for the Coleman one. It’s just as bad as some tents don’t come with footprints which you obviously need (Well I need one).
I really wouldn’t recommend this style for family camping. Generally pop up tents are on the smaller side and is probably better used for 1 or 2 people hiking/camping trip. Despite the fact that it’s ‘pop-up’, I actually think it’s quite challenging to get used to it. Setting the tent up is easy, putting it back down and into its own bag would need practice.
3. divided room or enclosed ‘veranda’
When choosing your family tent, decide whether you need to buy the separate ‘vestibule’ or just buy the tent that comes with ‘divided rooms’ out of the box. My tent is a 4P plus, so it’s a 4-man tent, but with a separate ‘room’ where I can put my chairs and my gear. With a 6-man tent, you may already have enough room in the ‘tent’ itself so you may not need it, but it’s always a good idea to consider if you like to put a ‘potty’ or some sort in the separate room. (See my post Camping Portable potty – when you need to go at night)
Also, if your kids are more ‘independent’ or if you like your own room, then tent with divided ‘room’ will give you that. The divided rooms will also fit things like sleeping cot better so you’re not limited to just use the sleeping mat.
Pay attention to the ventilation – how many windows/entry or exit points. Bug mesh? What about a little point where you can hook camping lantern in the middle of the dome tent? These are all features those are nice to have and will be necessary or not depending on what you like.
If you spend quite a lot of time in the tent during the day or if you have a small baby that tends to sleep during the day inside the tent, you’ll definitely need one with high ceiling and plenty of ventilation. This is to make sure the tent is not going to turn into ‘sauna room’ in the middle of the day. Of course if you have the choice, you can always choose a ‘shady’ site to set up your tent (if you book campgrounds with modern and good amenities, generally the site is allocated to you).
Also, a separate footprint is nice to make sure you have extra insulation from the ground. You can always cover the tent ground with insulation foam to make sure you are warm and comfortable at night. A rainfly is a must.
Lastly, I would strongly recommend getting some cool Tent Tools Guyline Adjuster Kit – 50ft of Reflective 2.44mm Tactical Nylon Cord with 10 Aluminum Tensioners (Yellow, 50). It’s great for night time to make sure you don’t trip on guylines on the way to the toilet – especially great for little kids who are just like, smaller-size drunk adults.