The Family Tent Buying Guide

The Family Tent Buying Guide – Page 2

On this page, we look at other tent design details that you should consider before buying your tent.

Click here see a menu of what’s in this guide.

Camp Bed in Wolf Lake 7
The Outwell Wolf Lake comes with a large living space and porch

Living and Storage Space

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.)

Wolf Lake 7 wardrobe with Luggage 80
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.

Easy Camp Boston 600A 2015

Tent Windows

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.

Outwell Tomcat MP and LP
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.

Entrance

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.

check that the rain wouldn’t pour rain pour in if you opened the door
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).

Other things to look for

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.

Tent Materials

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.

 

Tent Poles

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.

  • 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

Colourful Bell Tents at Botany Camping
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.

This Tipi was very warm when I took this photo thanks to the wood burning stove
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.

Next Page: Tent Extras - Are they worth it? >>

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6 Comments
  1. We have an urban escape tent and they are pretty sturdy with quite a bit of room too. Also they come with a 5 year manufacturers guarantee

    7:18 pm on March 31, 2015

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