The Family Tent Buying Guide
In this guide we cover what everyone ought to know before buying a family tent
These days there is a huge choice of family tents, but that’s also a problem: which one do you choose?
A lot will depend on your circumstances: number of kids, age of kids, boys/girls/a mixture, and type of camping trips you want to undertake.
This guide provides you with information to help you choose your ideal family tent.
We’ve put together this guide to help you choose the right tent for your family.
The Family Tent Buying Guide Contents
Tent Size and Bedrooms
- Tent size – make sure you get one that’s big enough but not too big
- Tent layout and bedrooms – did you know that the age of your children can help determine the best tent layout for you?
Tent Design Considerations
- Tent living space – Will you have enough room?
- Tent entrance – Don’t overlook this important part of the tent
- Tent windows – These can have a big impact on how your tent feels
- Other Design Details – Here’s a list of other useful items to look for in a tent
- Tent Fabrics – What matters and which is best
- Tent Poles – Read this to see if you have a preference
- Traditional Tents – Are you after the retro look?
Tent Extras & Which are worth buying</h5
The first thing to ask yourself is what size of tent do you need?
Tent materials and designs have improved over the years, but so has the size of family tents. There are some massive ‘tent palaces‘ available. They’re so big that they can make caravans look small and cramped.
These big tents are ideal for family camping holidays as there is plenty of space for your family, plus all the gear to make things comfortable. But they have their downsides:
- They can be heavy and bulky to take. Do you have enough space in the car for one? Is it too heavy even for a trailer?
- They can take a long time to put up and will need at least two of you. Who will supervise the kids while you are both putting up the tent?
- Because they are so large, you buy more things to fill them, and the more stuff you take, the more time you need to set up camp.
- Some campsites will not let you pitch a really large tent, or insist you hire two pitches.
If you are planning a camping family holiday where you are staying a handful of nights or more at one campsite, then investing in this type of tent is worth considering.
some families have two tents
Think of it as a mobile holiday home.
On the other hand, if you are just planning the odd one-nighter, a much smaller tent will be better. Some campers have two tents for both types of camping, leaving their big tent for one or two weeks camping in the summer, and using a smaller tent to for quick overnight stays at weekends.
At the end of the day, it is very similar to buying a house: you have to choose what is right for your circumstances, what your budget can afford, and be ready to make some compromises.
In our video below, we take you through some large and some smaller tents.
Read on to see other things to consider when buying a tent that may help you decide.
When choosing a family tent, start by thinking about the number of bedrooms you need, instead of the number of people the tent accommodates.
Tents with a higher number of bedrooms also tend to have more storage space – an important aspect for family camping.
Some manufacturers, such as Outwell, report a ‘Comfort’ level for the number of people a tent sleeps. For example, a tent reported as a 6 person, may only have a comfort rating of 5 people.
If you have a young child (baby up to early school age) consider getting a tent where Mum and Dad’s bedroom is next to their’s, and the divider between the bedrooms can unzip.
The reason you want to consider a separate room for them is so that you can put them down to sleep earlier without them being disturbed (or distracted) by others.
Unzipping the divider is a godsend in the night as you can quickly and easily reassure them if they wake, often without even needing to leave your sleeping bag!
The four-person two-bedroom tent is fine for a family of four, but as kids get larger, or if you have 3 or more kids, then you need more bedrooms in your tent.
Many three-bedroom tents have the layout above, where you still have a side-by-side layout but also an extra bedroom.
We point out these limitations in our family tent reviews. In the example above, the bedroom in the right is narrower and so we suggest it’s best just for a single child.
When children hit secondary school age they want a lot more independence. If you have a mix of teenage boys and girls, you are going to need separate bedrooms, and they won’t appreciate a dividing wall that is easy to remove. The ability to have some independence from Mum and Dad, and independence from each other, may be a way to ensure they still want to come camping when they reach that age.
If you have older children, then a good tent to look out is the Outwell Middleton 8A.
Of course, an alternative is to get your older kids their own small tent for maximum independence. One such tent is the Easy Camp Antic range, that is ideal pop-up tents for teenagers and are great for summer camping.
[pullquote style=’right’]The Outwell Wolf Lake comes with a large living space and porch[/wpsm_quote]
Sleeping is just one thing to think about when buying a family tent.
Families acquire is lots of ‘stuff’. Where do you put it all when camping?
When thinking about the layout, picture where everyone’s bags and other bits are going to fit.
Is there enough space for eating or playing games if it’s pouring down with rain? (Though don’t consider cooking in your tent. Click here for details on how to set-up your camp kitchen.)
Tents such as the Wolf Lake have a good living space and built-in porch that is roomy enough to put a small table and chairs in – or a camp bed as shown here. It also has a built-in wardrobe, so somewhere to keep a lot of the gear without having to keep tripping over it in the tent.
An important aspect in making your family tent more inviting is ensuring there’s plenty of light in the living space.
Some tent layouts give better lighting than others. For example, the Easy Camp Boston 600 includes large windows at the front and side, making the tent light and airy.
But just as large windows give you plenty of light, they don’t give you privacy. Check that windows on areas where you get changed have blinds that are easy to close. Some tents, such as many Outwell models, have tinted the windows to improve privacy.
Try to find tents that have darkened sleeping areas, as the early morning light in the summer can wake you up a bit too soon. Look at the roof of the tent. Ideally, you want light material over the living area and dark material over the sleeping areas.
[pullquote style=’right’]Tents such as the Tomcat have a small porch over the side entrance, as the main door could let in water if opened in a downpour.[/wpsm_quote]
Have a close look at how you get in and out of your chosen tent.
Many tents have a large opening that is great when the weather is sunny but think about what it would be like getting into your tent if there were wind and rain.
Think what would happen to the rain falling on the tent. Would it just drip inside your tent as soon as you open the door?
In the past, this has been a flaw in the design of many tents but is now being addressed by manufacturers.
Look for a storm entrances and rain shelters, or gullies to direct the rain away from the door opening.
[pullquote style=”right”]check that the rain wouldn’t pour rain pour in if you opened the door[/wpsm_quote]The Easy Camp Boston tent layout has a large entrance porch that is great, and tents such as the Coleman Da Gama have a smaller but similar storm entrance. Other tents, such as the Tomcat (pictured here) have a small shelter over the side entrance, as the main entrance doors wouldn’t work so well in the rain on this type of tent design (though the updated Tomcat design now has a front canopy to address this).
There are lots of little things that can help improve a tent. They’re not essential, but they do make a difference.
- Hooks for lantern – some tents have a small hook in the roof of the living area so that you can hang a lightweight light.
- Stowage pockets – a small pocket in the bedroom is ideal. Many tents have extra storage pockets throughout the living space too.
- Entrance for electric cord – if you are going to use Electric Hook Up, ideally the power cord should come in via its own cable entry that’s not going to let in water if it rains, rather than taking the power cable in through an open door.
- Mud valance – this is a ‘skirt’ of material around the bottom of the tent. It is useful in directing rain away from the bottom of the tent in a downpour.
- Guyline tidies – these can make life simpler when putting the tent away and for the next time you get it out again.
- A ‘no trip’ entrance – on some tents the groundsheet lays flat at the entrance. Many tents the groundsheet can be a trip hazard every time you go in and out of the tent. (And many kids end up tripping over it).
- Easy to pitch – ideally you want the tent to be both simple and quick to pitch.
Concentrate on the layout and type of tent that is best for your family before worrying too much about tent materials.
Here’s a quick summary.
Most tents are made from Polyester, but there are different grades of polyester material. For tents, we usually look at the Hydrostatic Head. This value indicates how waterproof the material is. The higher the number the more waterproof.
Some more expensive tents are made from Polycotton – a blend of polyester and cotton. Compared to polyester, these tents stay warmer when the weather is cold and cooler when the weather is hot.
If you want to learn more about tent materials, click on the following articles below.
Flexible Fibreglass Tent Poles
Cheaper and smaller tents use flexible fibreglass poles. Some brands have better fibreglass poles than others.
- Cheaper and lighter tents
- Fibreglass poles can break but are easily repaired.
- In strong winds, a tent with fibreglass poles may bend and even get flattened.
- Not so good on very large tents.
Rigid Tent Poles
Some tents use steel tent poles (though typically they are made from a metal alloy).
- This will make the tent more rigid in strong winds.
- Metal tent poles can support larger tents.
- Generally found on more expensive tents (though not always).
- Can add to the weight of the tent you have to transport to the campsite.
- Can take longer to pitch (though not always – we could pitch the Steel Framed Coleman Da Gama 6 in about 20 minutes).
- Much harder and costly to repair, as most steel poles are made for a particular tent model made in a specific year.
Inflatable Air Framed Tents
Finally, there are some tents where you have no tent poles: you simply inflate the tent frame with air.
Air Framed tents may be known by different brand names, such as Vango AirBeam or Outwell SmartAir, but the principle is generally the same.
- Can make pitching your tent so much quicker (click to see our video and review of the Outwell SmartAir Hornet XL).
- Could make a large tent lighter to transport (as you don’t have steel poles). However, they don’t tend to be much lighter due to the thick heavy material is used in the air chambers.
- The inflatable option is only found on more expensive tents, though the price of air framed tents is dropping each year.
One criticism people make is that they assume they are not as stable as a rigid steel framed tent in strong winds.
From our experience of the Outwell Hornet XL, we’ve not had any issues at all, and the tent has been stable in some pretty strong winds.
Traditional Tents: Tipis and Bell Tents
Traditional tents such as tipis are quite popular at the moment, especially for the retro-looking glamping campsites.
You might be surprised to learn that this type of tent can be very expensive, and traditional tents can be big and bulky to transport to the campsite as they use heavy canvas and wooden poles.
There are more modern designs though that are cheaper and lighter. They use materials such as polycotton (a blend of polyester and cotton) and metal alloy poles that can slot together.
Another appeal of this type of tent is that in some you can have a wood burning stove, making it nice and cosy even when the weather isn’t so warm.
Pitching this type of tent is different to a lot of family tents, but in some ways, it is very simple as most rely on inserting a single long pole in the middle of the tent.
Tent porches give a much-needed weather entrance if one doesn’t exist already on the tent, and a very useful place for storing wet clothes and muddy boots, which you should keep out of your tent.
However, adding a porch is an extra effort after pitching the main tent.
A porch may provide extra shelter, but some tents have fully enclosed extensions.
These add a larger living area or can add another bedroom.
As with porches, if you can budget for it, get the tent that meets your need so that you don’t need an extension.
However, knowing that you can extend your tent gives you the option of expanding it as your needs change, and, in theory, spread the cost over a few years.
The downside with that strategy is tent manufacturers are always refining their designs, so extensions for models are hard to find a few years after the tent model has finished (though you may get lucky on e-bay). Click here for a guide to fitting extensions from other tents.
You could also get a smaller tent that is ideal for shorter weekend camps, and purchase the extension so that you use the tent for the main family camping holiday.
Buy the extension for your tent when you buy your tent
A carpet in the tent may sound extravagant, but for family camping we really recommend it. It will make the tent feel a lot different and will make it feel warmer as the carpet will insulate you from the cold ground.
For more info read ‘Are tent carpets worth it?‘
Additional protection under your tent is very useful, especially if the ground has been wet, and it means the hassle of drying a wet tent is greatly reduced.
We use a relatively cheap tarp under our tent (see details here).
If you have an irregular shape tent, a footprint is worth investing in though as regular tarps will not fit without a lot of time spent folding them into shape.
Again, you could find a package deal that means you get the footprint at a much-reduced price.
A footprint could also protect the underside of your tent from damage caused by sharp stones and sticks. However, you should always check that there are none of these before pitching anyway 🙂
Which is the best tent brand for family camping?
This is both an easy and hard question to answer.
We started out with some very cheap tents, and they were absolutely fine. However, I do know of others that bought too cheap and lived to regret it. Some ‘own brand’ tents look like the more expensive ones, but can sometimes be poorly made – but not always. So it’s a risk you take.
The good news to you is that tent quality is improving all the time, and there are a great many good tents out there.
All brands have cheaper starter models as well as ‘premium’ tents.
However, to narrow it down here’s my opinion based on our experience and experience of others I know.
I think the market leader for family camping is Outwell.
They’re well known for quality, and they have designed a lot of features into their tents to help improve family camping. You can find a lot of the extras mentioned in this guide in a lot of their tents.
If you can afford a tent from the top of their range, you’ll be getting a fantastic family tent for camping holidays. However, they do require more investment.
You can find cheaper entry level tents in their range, and while there are still some good design features, you’ll get more the higher up the range you go.
Vango makes tents for backpackers, Scouts, D of E, and family camping.
For the family tents, they have a similar price range to Outwell, with both cheaper models and more expensive premium tents.
The Vango tents we have used have always been good, though personally, I find a few more family-friendly features on more of the Outwell range of tents, which is why I give Outwell the edge over Vango for family camping, but some might argue there’s not much between it.
We’ve camped with Coleman for over a decade.
For many years we used the Coleman Coastline 6, which is a basic entry-level tunnel tent. It stood up to a lot of battering and a lot of camping.
More recently we’ve been camping in the Coleman Da Gama 6. This is generations on from the Coastline and has lots of good features, and as well as being much bigger than the old Coastline, was actually quicker to pitch.
Even the Coleman premium tents are much cheaper than either the Outwell or Vango premium tents. Though with the lower price you may find lower quality (but not always).
From our experience, if you can’t afford a decent Outwell or Vango tent, then something like the Coleman Da Gama could be an option.
Easy Camp Tents
Easy Camp specialises in entry-level tents.
They are actually a sister brand of Outwell.
If your budget is tight, then you may want to check out some Easy Camp tents, such as the Boston 600.
Robens produce a lot of adventure tents, but there are a few models that are good for family camping.
For example, they have a range of Tipi tents at an affordable price (…for Tipi style tents that is). In some of these tents, you can even have a wood burning stove, enabling you to get your family out camping a lot more throughout the year.
This is not an exhaustive list of course – there are many more brands of tents.
There are my current views on some popular brands of tents, which I hope helps answer the question when you are trying to work out which tent to buy and why some are more expensive than others.
Finding a Family Tent
So after reading this Family Tent Buying Guide, you should now have a better idea of what sort of tent you need to get for your family.
Happy Camping! 🙂
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