CAMPING | Tips for Choosing The Right Size Tent for Family Campers – Family Tent Guide

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Choosing a family tent represents a big investment and one you’ll want to get right. For first-time campers in particular and with so many different sizes, styles and brands of tent out there, we’re here to help you choose the best tent for your family camping trips.

Tips for Choosing The Right Size Tent for Family Campers - Family Tent Guide

For the purpose of this article, we’re going to begin by defining an average camping family. This imaginary average family might not quite be the same as yours, but it will give you some idea and should still help you to choose a tent for your own family.

We will assume a few things about our average camping family, as follows; 2 adults, 2 kids and let’s throw in a dog for good measure. Mum and dad sleep on a double air mattress and the kids both have single air mattresses or SIMs (self-inflating matt).

The family have a moderate amount of camping furniture, including 4 folding camp chairs, a folding camp table, a small kitchen unit and a couple of large plastic-lidded boxes, they stack and use for storage inside their tent. They manage to fit all of this into their large family SUV.

Choosing a tent for family camping

When choosing a tent for family camping trips, we believe bigger is always better, without exception! So if you have space at home to store it, and of course, if you have space in your car to transport it, going bigger will always provide you with more practical space so you’re not tripping over each other and your camping furniture.

Tent manufacturers rarely factor in real-camping conditions, so remember that when they provide a person rating (e.g. 5-person) it’s unlikely to take into account practical or comfort considerations.

For our imaginary family then, we’d recommend at least a 6-person tent, with an awning or a gazebo/event shelter. Alternatively, you could choose a 6-8 person tent with plenty of space for everything including the kitchen sink.

If you can, opt for space!

Our personal preference when we camp is to choose space every time. Our most used tent is our beloved Vango AirBeam Stargrove 450. Styled like a classic tunnel tent, it has 3 distinct zones, including a blackout bedroom, a centre living area with big windows, a side door and a large front door with a mesh screen which opens up into a front section.

The front section is perhaps our favourite part of the tent, although there’s no groundsheet, the very front opens up fully and the door rolls away, providing a covered awning with sides which is perfect for setting up our kitchen area, or for retreating under on our chairs in wet weather.

Things to think about when choosing a family tent

  • Do you have teenagers wanting some privacy, for example when getting changed?
  • Will you want to have your own space and privacy?
  • Do you have very young children who will need to go to bed earlier and remain as undisturbed as possible?
  • Is any of your camp furniture very bulky or oversized?
  • Do you need space to cook?
  • Will there be enough room to allow for tidy storage during your trip?
  • Are any members of the family particularly tall and require additional headroom?
  • What time of year will you be using the tent and should you get an extra footprint groundsheet or fitted tent carpets?
  • Will there be space to put wet and muddy boots?
  • Will the tent still feel spacious enough on a stormy day with everyone stuck inside?
Tips for Choosing The Right Size Tent for Family Campers - Family Tent Guide

More essential tips for choosing a family tent

An awning or event shelter is a must

We can’t express how important it is to ensure you have space, including outdoor space that protects you from the elements.

Having just returned from a particularly wet and windy bank holiday camping trip, we noticed that the vast majority of family campers had either a tent with a built-in porch canopy, or they had an event shelter.

Wet weather is unfortunately just part of the camping experience in parts of the world where the weather is unpredictable, and there’s nothing more miserable than being stuck inside a tent that’s too small.

A porch, canopy or event shelter is an absolute must, so if your family tent doesn’t have something built in that will protect you from the elements but still allow you to sit and enjoy the views, you’ll need to invest in a freestanding shelter/gazebo, but of course, that will take up additional space.

Consider too that cooking inside a tent isn’t safe, so you’ll want somewhere that’s undercover to allow you to keep all of your cooking equipment, making a tent porch/canopy or a shelter/gazebo a must for this reason along.

Kitchen area inside tent

Consider a second smaller tent for older kids

Older siblings may enjoy sleeping in their own tent together, providing them with their own space, adding to their sense of adventure. Additionally, sharing a tent with older children, in particularly teenagers, can be a little awkward and won’t be much fun for a 15 year old that likes their own space.

Taking a smaller second tent with you not only gives them their own space and sense of freedom, but it confines their mess (mostly) to their own tent too. Genius right?

Wet weather and bugs

When encountering wet weather, you may also encounter an increase in biting insect activity. Guard against midges and mosquitos by ensuring you have a family medical box containing some essentials like bug spray, plasters and other essential medication.

The addition of antihistamines and even midge nets could come into their own and trust us, you’ll thank us for the forward planning should you face a deluge of midges!

Family tent choices

Similarly, wet weather can mean mud, so you’ll want to ensure each member of the family have wellies and rainwear. You will also want to consider tent shoes and having somewhere to keep and dry wet clothes and shoes and a sewn-in groundsheet is a must for UK family campers and those camping in similarly wet climates.

On camping trips, we always plan for rain and this approach has stood us in good stead over many decades of camping.

Family Tents On Amazon

Choosing a family tent brand

Regarding tent brands, this will depend entirely upon how much you want to spend, but our favourite brands of family tents include Vango, Outwell, Coleman, Olpro and Quechua.

Every brand will provide a range of different tents at various price points. If we had to choose just one tent brand, then it would have to be Vango. I’ve been camping in Vango tents for decades and this is the brand I’ve purchased myself more often than any other.

They provide some excellent value tents ideal for family campers looking for something mid-range, whilst Outwell, retain their crown for undisputed premium family tents for those with more to spend.

Brands like Olpro also offer some excellent options (check out our review of the OLPRO orion pole tent) and are well worth considering, whilst brands like Coleman also offer some great options, across the budget to mid-range.

For family campers after a bargain then, Decathlon stocks a great selection of budget Quechua tents – you really can’t go wrong!

Rainproof rating

Cheaper tents start at a minimum of a 2000mm HH, meaning they keep you dry in light rain conditions. For family campers in a wet climate like the UK, we’d recommend choosing a tent with a HH of 3000mm and upwards.

HH ratings;

  • 1000mm – 2000mm Suitable for light showers and occasional rain.
  • 2000mm – 3000mm Good for moderate rainfall and extended use.
  • 3000mm – 4000mm Ideal for heavy rain and more challenging weather, generally found in most mid-range, branded family tents.
  • 4000mm + Excellent waterproofing for extreme weather conditions, like prolonged heavy rain or snowfall, generally found in premium tents.

Pole or inflatable?

Inflatable tents have our hearts. We find them so much faster to put up than pole tents and we like the lack of faff that they provide, but that doesn’t mean they are inherently ‘better’ than family pole tents.

To answer the question we get asked countless times, do inflatable tents burst or pop? Yes an inflatable tent can puncture (just like most tent poles can snap), but we have never experienced a puncture.

We currently have a large AirBeam and a smaller one and both have been used many, many times over the last decade. We’ve never had a puncture, though we have heard that this can sometimes happen, in which case the affected beam can be repaired using a simple puncture repair kit.

When choosing a pole or inflatable tent, do consider that inflatable tents tend to be a little bulkier thanks to the size of the inflatable beams/columns, leading to larger pack sizes.

Pole tents though, especially those with flexible fibreglass poles can take longer to put up in comparison, and I’ve had plenty of poles snap in stormy weather too, though they are easy enough to temporarily repair, and later replace.

There really is no right or wrong here and your choice is probably going to come down to familiarity, what you’re comfortable with and your budget as inflatable tents, especially larger ones, do tent to command a premium.

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Shell Robshaw-Bryan
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