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Whether you and your compadres have your sights set on a weeklong adventure in the Grand Tetons or a starry night in the backyard, a roomy and easy-to-deploy tent is an essential part of the plan. The right family tent — one that’s suited for Mom, Dad, the kids, and maybe a few cousins — is key to a successful camping trip. This large enclosure will be a sleeping barracks, shelter against the elements, a storage space for gear, and a place in which the gang can sit and relax the day away.
Selecting the perfect family tent in which memories will be made requires more deliberation than buying one for a solo traveler or a small group of outdoorsy friends. Family tents generally come with a rating on the number of people the structure will comfortably hold. Experienced campers will tell you that many times these manufacturer ratings are inflated.
For example, a typical eight-person tent could be listed at 180 square feet, or about 22.5 square feet per camper. Where that rating falls short is in the fact that a sleeping bag and air mattress require about 12 square feet of space, possibly not leaving enough room for a camper’s personal gear.
Nothing can ruin a highly anticipated trip to Yellowstone more than a family sleeping on top of one another in tight quarters.
At BestReviews, we want to help you find the perfect family tent for your needs. We take immense pride in our work and the fact that we never accept free samples from manufacturers. Instead, we perform deep research on all of the products we recommend.
Keeping our finger on the pulse of the current market and its trends, we’re continuously studying various product lines, gathering owner feedback, and testing items in our BestReviews labs.
If you’re ready to push the buy button on a family tent, please examine the above matrix where we feature our top five picks.
For added information on family tents, we invite you to read on and learn more in our shopping guide.
Statistics from the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) suggest that more than three million people each year camp at national parks.
This type of tent looks somewhat like the roof of a house, with poles along each of its sides and a pole that runs across the center to hold the fabric in place.
Ridge tents are sold in a variety of sizes. They’re easy to set up and tend to be very stable. On the downside, this type of tent is short on headroom and is best only for sleeping.
The OIA says 32% of campers are searching for moments to wind down and recharge.
A dome tent is a semi-circular structure resembling a dome that’s held in place by non-rigid poles. Because of its vertical construction, a dome tent provides more headroom, especially for larger groups.
On the downside, some campers complain that dome tents aren’t as strong and supportive as ridge tents.
Mice can squeeze their way into your tent through a very small space thanks to their soft skulls. Keep your tent zipped tight at night; a mouse could get into your tent through a hole about the size of a pen.
Suited for those who lack the skill or patience to erect a more traditional tent, an instant tent is supported by a permanent, spring-coiled frame and can be set up in minutes. A relatively new invention, the instant tent is continually evolving its features — especially its durability.
Also relatively new to the market, inflatable tents take shape after their sides are pegged down and blown up using an air compressor. While they’re durable and easy to use, many campers complain that inflatable tents are heavy and expensive.
Skilled outdoors-people can tell temperature by counting how many times a cricket chirps. Count the chirps in a 14-second span and add 40 for the temperature in Fahrenheit, so they say.
Before we dive into other tent features, let’s take a look at tent fabrics. The tent fabric you choose is important. A tent made of manmade nylon differs vastly from a tent made of a natural fabric like cotton.
This synthetic fabric is far and away the most popular fabric for tents. While polyesters may come in various weights and with various coatings, you can count on it to be a lightweight, durable material.
A popular material for large family tents, polycotton has many of the fine properties of cotton canvas, but it has a manmade weatherproof coating. Polycotton tents tend to be lower in cost and lighter than pure cotton canvas tents.
Polyester is an excellent tent fabric choice because it does not fade or degrade in sunlight.
Another manmade material, nylon, is not as durable as polyester and requires a strong coating to make it last longer. Nylon tents vary in quality; cheaper nylon tents are more prone to developing holes which could quickly expand to damage the interior.
Prior to the advent of synthetic tents, cotton canvas was the primary material found in larger tents. Cotton canvas adjusts easily to different climates and tends to last longer than other materials. Notably, cotton canvas tents weigh more and cost more than other types of tents.
When shopping for a new tent, understanding your fabric choices is critical to making an appropriate choice.
If you plan to camp in areas where wind and/or rain is prevalent, make sure you get a tent suitable to withstand the elements. Weather-resistant family tents may cost more, but they’re a wise investment that can provide insurance against a ruined vacation.
Be extra careful with campfires since one can hit 900°F or more in just a few hours.
The seams and finishes on the edges of your tent’s material are crucial to keeping it waterproof and preventing the outside from coming in — bugs, critters, and most significantly, water.
Coverings or flaps on the window and doors keep rain from seeping in.
Zippers should also have sufficient flaps over them to help keep the inside out.
During tent setup, never force the poles into place. Even if they appear sturdy, they can chip or break if forced into position.
Consider the number of doors and windows a tent has before buying it. Two doors lead to better traffic flow, and multiple windows promote cross-tent ventilation.
If privacy is a goal, consider a tent with a partition that allows you to create two or more separate rooms.
For added protection from the sun, consider a family tent with an awning.
How much storage do you need inside your tent? The number of storage shelve and pockets is an important factor for some campers.
If you plan on trekking through the mud, an anteroom to clean off your muddy shoes is a nice tent add-on.
Wildfires are extremely dangerous, and they can travel as fast as 14 miles per hour. Check advisories well before heading out to a campsite.
Proper setup, takedown, and storage of your large tent will ensure it provides you with many years of outdoor fun. Follow these tips for maximum enjoyment.
Start by finding a campsite that has been used before. If the previous camper took care in his or her usage, it will be flat and free of debris and rocks that could harm your tent.
Consider laying down a ground cloth, often referred to as a tent footprint, as a base and flooring for your tent. A high-quality footprint protects your tent from ground damage.
Even if the manufacturer of your tent says it is ideal for use in sunlight, avoid long periods of exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the U.S. with more than 11 million visitors in 2016.
Never force your tent’s zippers. If they get stuck, gently use pliers to get them back into their groove. Consider using a lubricant like WD40 on the zippers to keep them fresh and in working order.
Be careful with leftover foods. If not stored properly, you will invite small (or large!) creatures to chew into your tent for nourishment.
Leave your shoes outside if you have been hiking. Small stones and pebbles in your shoes could easily damage your tent.
To clean your tent, use a gentle sponge, cold water, and a soap without detergents. Lightly scrub the dirty parts of your tent, taking time to focus on areas that are coated with protective sunscreen or bug repellant.
Allow your freshly washed tent to air dry completely before storing.
If you don’t want to spend money on a new tent footprint, consider cutting a poly-based tarp you already own down to the size of your tent.
How big is your family? If it’s just two of you, there are plenty of options in this lower price range. For well under $40, you can grab a waterproof tent that’s cozy for two at about 3.5 feet high and nearly seven feet wide.
In this same budget price range, there are options for tents that provide shelter on the beach. More like a cabana than a tent, this class of outdoor gear is heavy on UV protection.
Jellystone Park Larkspur has won acclaim as one of the best campsites in the U.S. for families.
A good-sized tent with many bells and whistles will likely provide a comfortable camping experience for a crowd. A tent of this caliber also has a higher price tag.
During the course of our research, we found eight-person tents from reputable brands like Coleman that cost close to $300. We also found tents from highly regarded brands like Kodiak that cost up to $650.
Q. Should I buy a tent with more than one room?
A. Some larger tents feature multiple “rooms,” or partitioned areas within the tent. These wall dividers allow you to create separate areas for sleeping or dining, should you so desire. If privacy is a concern — or if you’re simply intrigued by the thought of having a tent that resembles a real cabin — you may wish to consider a two-room or three-room family tent.
Q. How much space should I figure each person needs in a family tent?
A. The rough estimate, depending on each person’s size, is about 24 square feet of space.
Q. What material is best for tent poles?
A. Steel may be the sturdiest metal for tent poles, but fiberglass and aluminum alloy cost less and are quite durable.
Q. How long should my family tent last?
A. The lifespan of a good tent varies depending on how many times you use it each year, the degree of care you take in maintaining it, and the conditions to which you subject it. Some people report that their tents last more than 30 years with careful use.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.