Choosing The Right Tent For Your Family

There are a lot of camping tents on the market. Use this guide from the Hunts to pick the right size and temperature rating for your family before your first trip.

By Corey Hunt
Camp Ambassador

Tents are the first piece of equipment most families buy for camping trips.

If you are new to camping, the selection can seem overwhelming. Many outdoors stores carry a wide selection of tents for every outdoor endeavor, but choosing the right tent for your family can make or break a camping trip. Being uncomfortable and cold does not bode well for future camping trips. Before making a tent selection, first consider the camping needs of your family.

Photo: Corey Hunt

The first consideration when purchasing a tent is the type of camping your family will be doing. If your family plans to camp within 100 feet of the car, your tent can afford to be more luxurious than a backpacking tent. Backpacking tents are created to be lightweight for the miles you will be hauling them along the trail. Car-camping tents usually come in dome shapes or cabins so campers can stand up in them to move around. Dome-shaped tents are built to withstand more wind than upright cabin tents.

After you have decided what type of camping your family will be doing the most often, consider the time of year you will go camping. The most common type of family tents are three-season tents. These are perfect for most climates from spring through fall. These tents have mesh paneling on the sides to allow for ventilation during warmer weather and can be used for car camping or backpacking.

A four-season tent can be used year-round but is built for winter durability, meaning low temperatures, high wind and snow. These tents are heavier than three-season tents and won’t have the ventilation capabilities that a three-season tent will, so they will be hot and stuffy in the summertime.

Most people camp from spring through fall and will be fine in a three-season tent. If you are worried about getting cold, another possibility is to buy a sleeping bag that is rated for 15 degrees or below and sleep with the rain fly on the tent to keep you warm if the temperature dips below freezing.

Photo: Corey Hunt

The next step when choosing a tent is to consider the size of your family. Most tents are categorized into sizes like two-person, four-person, etc. According to the Kampgrounds of America (KOA), a “good rule of thumb is 20 square feet for each person who’ll be sleeping in the tent. However, it’s smart to take that suggestion as the absolute minimum size when shopping.”

When we first started taking our kids camping, they were less than 2 years old. Back then, two dogs, two kids and two adults fit nicely in our four-person tent and we had space left over to store our gear.

Now that the kids are 9 and 7, we are very squished in our tent and leave most of our gear in the truck. If your family includes dogs, older kids or tall individuals, you may need more room than the suggested allowance the tent is sized for.

Photo: Corey Hunt

The best way to see if a tent will fit your family is to take it for a test run at the store. Several stores will allow customers to set up the tent in the store, and I highly suggest taking them up on this offer. Setting up the tent is a great way to not only get the size right, but will also allow you to try out the ease of setup.

Some tents are more complicated than others, and trying to figure out what pole goes where on the trail is not advised. Also, if you have tall members of your family, let them try stretching out in the tent to make sure it will accommodate their height. If heads or feet are touching the sides of the tent, condensation could soak your sleeping bag.

Photo: Corey Hunt

One last tip for new campers: If you have young kids or dogs, consider purchasing a tent repair kit. The first time we took our new tent out, our Labrador made a doggie door by jumping through the mesh paneling. Thankfully, we had duct tape with us, and now we use that door as a window.

Family camping can be an enjoyable activity year-round. When purchasing a tent for your family, consider the season when you will be camping, the size of your family and where you will be camping most of the time.

Trying out the tent in the store if you can is a good way to determine if everyone in the family will fit and how comfortable the tent will be. Take your time weighing the options — your family will thank you.

Photo: Corey Hunt

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