How To Choose A Tent for Camping With Family

Going away camping for a few days is a lovely break with children and once you have the initial equipment it doesn’t cost much either. The most important investment is a tent. Ideally you will want one which will last you for a long time and they can be expensive.  This means it’s important to buy the right one for your family, but what do you need to think about when buying a new tent?

A range of tents making it hard to choose the right one for your family camping trip
How do you choose the right tent for you?

How To Choose A Tent For Family Camping


Tips for Buying A Tent


If the range of tents available is too baffling then it’s worth going to a few shops with a display of pitched tents you can look at. Shops like Decathlon and Go Outdoors will normally have a limited range, but it can be enough to give you an idea. We are lucky enough to have a shop (Camping World) near us in Collier Row with a HUGE range of pitched tents on display. You can go in them and see what you think and get a better idea of space. 

Borrowing a friend's tent is another great idea to find out what you want. It’s from doing this that I realised I needed enough height to stand up and we wanted one large sleeping area so I didn’t end up in one pod with all my children and my partner sleeping in comparative luxury on his own.

There tends to be more availability of tents in the Spring and early Summer, but looking later in the season might mean you get a better deal if retailers want to clear some space. You can also find (new and secondhand) tents for sale on sites like eBay and Gumtree. 

How To Choose The Right Tent For Your Family


What Size Tent Do You Need?


There are 4 of you going camping so you need a 4 man (or berth) tent right? Nope. The number of people a tent can sleep doesn’t include equipment and is based on people getting pretty cozy. You will probably want to go up at least one or two sizes so for the 5 of us we are looking at a 6, 7 or 8 man tent to have plenty of space in the daytime. Some tents come in modules so you don’t always have to put the whole tent up providing extra flexibility.

There are 2 important considerations (besides cost) to consider when thinking about the size of your tent: car space and the tent’s foot print. I’m writing this assuming you are going to a standard campsite where you can drive up and pitch. If you will be hiking or travelling some distance with your tent and kit before pitching your biggest priority will be a light, compact tent rather than a luxurious one.

Car space 

A bigger tent when pitched generally means a bigger tent when folded away. You will probably be taking a lot of things camping already so filling half your car boot with a tent might not be ideal.

Footprint

Obviously larger tents need more space to be pitched in. Some campsites have limits on the size of the tent or you can need to pay more. Tents also come in different shapes including: tunnel tents, t-shaped and dome, which all have different benefits, but for most family camping trips they will all work fine.

Sleeping Pods in The Tent


Some tents are all one room inside, but others have one or more separate sections for sleeping in. Depending on the shape and size of the tent the sleeping areas can be next to each other or spaced around the tent. I much prefer tents with separate sleeping areas because I can keep that area zipped up during the day to ensure children don’t climb all over where we will be sleeping with wet clothes or food. It also keeps insects out; no one wants a child screaming about a wasp or spider at 4am. With younger children they will probably want to sleep in the same section as you so having one sleeping area is good, but with older children/ friends you will want separate sleep areas for some privacy. 

Some tents now have black out fabric for the sleep pods which is a good idea knowing my children often rise with the sun at the crack of dawn. 

2 children cuddling in a tent with the zip to the sleeping pod open and looking to the communal area
Having a separate space for sleeping can help keep your tent more organised (and clean)

Communal Space


Whether your tent has one big inside space or sleeping compartments, if you are camping in the UK you will probably want a communal space tall enough for you to stand up in and ideally for you to all sit around in chairs as well as storing all your food etc. If you would prefer a smaller tent another option is to get a sturdy gazebo with sides to use for storage as well as relaxing in if it is very wet or sunny.

A porch area where you can take off wet boots etc and avoid getting too much wet stuff into the tent is ideal or you can leave the wet items near the door. Some tents have an awning that comes out over the door which will help keep rain out when going in and out of the tent.

Ease of Putting The Tent Up 


Who will be putting the tent up? If one adult might some times put it up on their own then it’s worth reading descriptions for ones which say they are easier to put up. Larger tents often require more hands. Tents that inflate rather than use poles can be easier to use and I have friends which love these, but I’ll be honest; I’m still a little wary of them deflating in the night even though I haven't heard this even happen.

When struggling to put our tent up on my own in the past I have often been offered help by campers nearby, but this can't be relied on.

A girl in a waterproof standing next to a tent on a campsite looking at tents
It tends to rain when we camp so having a tent that is waterproof and has space inside is essential for us.

Make Sure Your Tent Is Weather Proof


How you put your tent up will generally dictate how well it lasts in different weather conditions (NB learn to use the guy ropes properly) but do remember to check the hydrostatic head before you buy. The hydrostatic head is a measure of how waterproof the outer sheet is and you will want at least 2000MM. Lower scores can still technically call themselves waterproof, but they will struggle to handle the surprisingly heavy rain we get when camping in July and August.  

While most tents have the ground sheet attached to the sides in the sleeping areas the communal area often has the groundsheet separate. Separate groundsheets (or footprints) make the tent easier to clean and provide some ventilation, but they sometimes let water in when it’s very wet (especially if your tent is pitched on a slope). They also let in more insects and a surprising number of slugs on my last camping trip.

If you tend to go camping on exposed areas then you will need to think about a tent that will stay secure in high wind, but this isn't likely to be an issue in family friendly campsites.

There is a lot to think about when buying a tent and paying more wont necessarily mean you get the perfect tent for you. A bit of thought about the size and layout before you get distracted by the details should ensure your comfort when you go camping with your family, we find that whatever happens we have happy camping memories.

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