Camping Gear Tips

Buying a Tent for Family Camping

What size should I get?

Tents come in many shapes and sizes and are generally advertised according to the number of people they accommodate.  But even so they can vary wildly in size (volume) and footprint (the amount of space it takes up on the ground).

What size to buy depends upon what you want to do in it (sleep? cook? eat? have parties?), how many people and how much gear you want to get in, and how intimate (squashed) you are prepared to get.

Think carefully about how much space you actually need.

 

Two person tent

A two person tent can be a very intimate experience
Photo: Wild Camp in Cumbria

Tents designed for backpacking and touring tend to be smaller and generally of a one compartment design. This may suit you if you want to minimise the weight you carry, camp on small pitches or remain inconspicuous when stealth camping. However be prepared for a squeeze when everyone gets in, don’t expect to be able to stand up and pray there are no arguments. With this kind of tent you might consider going up a size for more comfortable family camping, especially if you’ve a lot of gear. For example you may find a six person tent more comfortable for a family of four.

In the early days we used a four person tent for two adults, a baby and a mountain of nappies and were very glad we did. Going large also helps future proof you, providing something to grow into as a family; today we’re squeezing five into that same tent for four. Although I think it’s nearly time for the kids to move out.

Going large can help future proof if you are a growing family.

 

Kids in a Tent

Remember, once you’ve got everyone in, and they’ve all grown a bit,
you won’t have as much room as you started with!

On the other hand some large family tents are monstrous spaceships with multiple bedrooms, communal areas, awnings and a space for camping furniture and the kitchen sink. These are great if you want a home from home or if you like to stand up in your tent, but they’re also heavy, bulky, require a large pitch and can be difficult and time consuming to put up and take down. But at least after arguing about putting it up you’ve all got your own space to retreat to!

If you’re not moving on every day and want a tent that’s a comfortable base for a few days or weeks then something like this may suit you well.

Beware the complexities of the monster tent especially if you plan on moving on day to day.

 

Putting bedding into tent

Whatever size you get, make sure it’s big enough to get your gear in
Photo: In the National Parks, West Coast USA

Next: Durability & waterproofing. Read Page 3

 

About the author

Stuart Wickes

Stuart's the adventure addict half of the team, always trying to persuade the family to get out, do more, go further. As co-founder and co-director he handles the business, creative, design, technical and publishing aspects of the project. He is our chief photographer and videographer. With training as a professional learning and development consultant. an engineer and musician, his contribution is eclectic and unpredictable!

17 Comments

  • A very comprehensive post !

    We run a number of camping trips throughout the year and tempt along many first time campers. I always recommend to either buy second hand or borrow for their first visit, I’ve lost count of the number of people who head to Tesco and end up with a cheap tent that simply isn’t up to the job…..and if the weather’s bad, can end up putting them off for life.

    I’ve had a number of tents over the years and have now graduated to a campervan, but still can’t help to get ‘tent-envy’ when I wander around a campsite.

    Roll on camping season!

    Chrissie x

  • Hi guys, thanks a lot for our brilliant post!!! You perfectly describe what we were thinking at: budget, dimension, stay dry…. actually we can’t wait to buy and start to camp!! Italy is summer 2013 destination…but still have to decide where!
    Let’s keep in touch
    Alessandra & the Toads Family

  • Many thanks for a really informative post. I’m in the market for a first-time family tent and your post has made me think about a couple of things I hadn’t previously considered.

    Thank you!

    Luke

  • Hi,
    Glad I found this as I was searching the net about tents and wild camping and found this 🙂

    Our family started camping for the first time this year and we love it. The weathers turning abit now, but the summer we’ve had has made it well worth while and perfect for camping.

    We started off with a Quecha pop-up tent (we’re a family of 4) but recently had to change it due to some issues we had with it.

    We’ve now changed it for a Vango Icarus 500 and I just wondered if anyone else has one of these tents and what they thought of it?

    We’d also love to try wildcamping but are clueless as to where best to go and also if the tent we’ve now got is any good for the job.

    If anyone has used this tent I’d love to hear your views.

    Thanks 🙂

    • That was an Ozark Trail tent we bought from Walmart while in USA. Don’t know if they still make that model but there look to be similar designs from them. It was VERY heavy but very cheap.

  • It’s so easy to get carried away when buying a tent, when you start considering how many extra rooms you need besides the bedrooms! But unfortunately the bigger the tent the harder it gets to put it up, and that’s no fun with small children!

  • Wow. So glad I found this. I’ve been battling with tent for days now. Your article and one from familytentcenter(dot)com are life savers.

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