Family camping is becoming ever more popular, especially as we adjusted to a socially distanced way of life during the pandemic. In order to have an enjoyable and stress-free experience, one of the things you really need to get right is deciding what is the best family camping tent for your needs.
If you’re a newbie to camping, or just haven’t kept up to date with the latest gear, then deciding on what’s the best tent for family camping can be tricky. That’s why we’ve written this guide to explain the options available and to help you with the decision making process.
Deciding on Tent Size/Sleeping Capacity
The first thing to determine is the tent size or configuration that’s best for your family. Are you planning on having your family all under one canvas, or are your children at the age where they can pitch their own tent next to yours for a bit of independence?
The advertised sleeping capacity is based on light-to-medium luggage being stored inside the tent, so if you’re going to be storing a lot of gear, you’ll probably need to choose a higher sleeping capacity tent. The same applies if dogs are going to be sleeping inside the tent, or if you’re just more comfortable and at-ease with more space when sleeping.
The best tent configuration for your family should also be carefully considered. Internal bedrooms that divide the sleeping areas between parents and children provide privacy and a bit of independence for the kids. A vestibule area between sleeping compartments is also great for storing bulky items overnight such as barbeques, or as a sleeping area for dogs.
Choosing the Best Tent Style
Family tents come in two main styles:
Dome-style tents: This is the more traditional style of tent. The sides slope inwards from the base to the central apex in the middle at the top of the tent. The advantage of this design is that they can withstand strong winds and rainfall, but the downside is that they can feel claustrophobic as the sloping walls make it difficult to stand up and reduce space.
Cabin-style tents: This style of tent has straight vertical walls, which provide good headroom and plenty of space. The downside is that they don’t fare so well in bad weather conditions, such as high winds and storms.
For families just looking to do car camping in sheltered camping spots during summer, when the chances of bad weather are minimal, cabin-style tents should be fine. But if you’re looking to make more adventurous trips, you may want to consider a dome-style option.
Understanding Tent Seasons
Tents are also graded by seasons, which means the type of climate and weather conditions they’ve been designed for use in. You’ll find the following 3 different season grades to choose from:
- 3-season tents: Most family camping tents fall into this category. These are tents that have been designed for use in fair weather and temperature conditions, during spring, summer, and fall. They will have plenty of mesh panels to allow airflow, to make the tent less stuffy during warm summer days and nights.
- 3-4-season tents: Also known as extended season or 3+, these are a midpoint between 3 and 4-season tents. They’re designed for use in conditions you’ll find in early spring or late fall, such as low temperatures, storms, and light snow. As such they have more poles than 3-season tents to provide more stability, and fewer mesh panels to retain warmth.
- 4 season tents: These tents have been designed for harsh winter conditions, including heavy snow and very low temperatures. They have more poles, thicker fabric, and very few mesh panels, to provide maximum stability and warmth.
Unless you’re planning on dragging the family out in the middle of winter to go up a mountain, you will not need a 4-season tent. Likewise, a 3-4-season tent would also be unsuitable for most types of family camping trips. Therefore, a 3-season tent makes for the best family camping tent in most scenarios.
Other Features You Need to Consider
Here are the other key features to consider when choosing the best family camping tent:
- Doors: The standard options are a single door at the front of the tent, or two doors, with one at the front and one at the back. If you’re camping with toddlers then having a tent with a single door makes it much easy to keep tabs on them and stop them wandering outside by themselves. Two doors, on the other hand, can provide great ventilation during really hot conditions.
- Peak height: This is the maximum headroom the tent provides, at the center of the tent. If you’re tall, then you’ll be more comfortable choosing a tent you can stand in, or only need to duck slightly in.
- Pole configuration and material: Poles that clip onto the tent fabric are much easier to assemble than poles that need to be threaded through pole sleeves, although they provide less stability, so a lot of tents combine both methods. In terms of material, aluminum poles are generally stronger than fiberglass poles.
- Rainfly: This is a waterproof covering that is separate from the main tent, which is handy to have during heavy rain. This comes in two options, roof-only or full-covering, and may be included with the tent, or need to be purchased separately.
Now you know how to choose the best family tent for your needs, why not check out our other camping resources. Tick off all your essentials with our guide to what to take camping with kids.