October 24, 2020
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We love camping as a family for uninterrupted quality time out in nature (which has real health benefits!).
For a long time, my husband and I were camping purists. Camping meant carrying everything you needed, including the biodegradable toilet paper, deep into the woods far away from peasantries like running water and bathrooms.
Someday, I’ll have recovered sufficiently to tell about our Red River Gorge camping trip and the visits from the bears, but that is a story for another day.
Horror stories aside, if you’re ready for some ecotherapy but don’t own a tent (or need an upgrade), here are the best tents we’d found in our years of *real* camping based on performance, portability, convenience, and size.
Choosing a Family Tent: Features to Look For
Camping changes a lot (a LOT) when you have a family. These are the features I’ve loved in our tents (and ones I’ve missed when we tried some other models over the years):
- space for everyone to spread out (this is #1!) without touching the edges of the tent (which can lead to leaks)
- easy set up
- proven brand quality
- room to stand up in the tent (nothing like trying to help your kids in the middle of the night while crawling/crouching over!)
- pockets on the sides of the tent for organizing small items
- a loop or hook in the center of the tent to hang a lantern
- a pass-through opening (or two) for electrical cords/chargers
- excellent ventilation (because a hot, stinky tent is fun for no one)
- a solid rainfly with an overhang or screen room to cover the area where we take our shoes off. We also keep a weather-proof tote or two of extra gear outside the tent but within reach.
Best Tents for Family Camping: Our Review
In optimal camping scenarios, a family camping tent is essentially just a base tent to hold gear and to sleep in. Unless weather requires otherwise, you aren’t typically hanging out in the tent, but rather around the campfire.
We’ve tried a lot of tents over the years for a lot of different types camping, and I’ve broken down our favorites by type below.
Important Note on Tent Sizes
Many tents list size by the number of people they hold: 4-person, 6-person etc.
This is obviously based on the number of people sleeping shoulder to shoulder like sardines (without moving in mummy bags). It is not necessarily indicative of the number of fidgeting toddlers and moms trying to sleep with a nursing baby or full-size adult men trying to sleep comfortably!
Also, size depends on temperature to some degree. If camping in hot weather, you want more room for air-flow. If you are cold camping, you may want a more confined tent for heat retention.
For our purposes, we try to find the best balance between a big enough size to fit us all while still being light enough to carry in. In most cases, we’ve opted for a slightly bigger and harder to carry tent that made sleeping easier because I’d rather sacrifice on the hike than overnight.
For car camping, all bets are off and we typically choose a really big tent to have plenty of room to move around.
Best Lightweight Tents for Backpacking
Full-size family tents are decently heavy (like 40+ pounds! heavy!). This isn’t much normally, but when you are also carrying in several gallons of water, a pack with 40+ pounds of gear, and a baby, it is tough!
For hike-in camping, we’ve found that several small lightweight tents beat out a big tent for several reasons:
- The total weight is still less
- Several people can each carry a small tent instead of one person being stuck with the entire thing (a good time to use my favorite parenting rule)
- There are a lot more sleeping arrangements: kids in one tent, parents in the other, or splitting up parents with kids in multiple tents.
Our older kids especially appreciate having the increased privacy of their own sleeping area, so look at this option if camping with teens.
Backpacking Tent for Families: Our Pick
We prefer several of these smaller lightweight tents to a big one for backpacking.
They each weigh under 6 pounds and set up in under 5 minutes. They also collapse small and are easy enough for bigger kids to set up and carry.
The quality is also excellent and they have lasted a long time for us.
My teens also love this tent from the same brand because it opens up on both sides for open-air sitting.
Best Family Tent for Quick Set Up
For car camping or non-hiking camping when size and weight aren’t an issue, we prefer bigger tents with more room that are easy to set up. Growing up, my parents had an amazing canvas tent with metal poles. It lasted forever, but was SO heavy and tough to set up.
Modern tent designs allow the best of both worlds with large, yet easy to set up tents. These tents can be set up in 30 seconds to two minutes and would be great for camping with families or groups.
This huge 11-person tent sets up in under a minute and is easy to take down too! It’s a little heavy so it wouldn’t be the ideal choice for backpacking or hiking but it is great for other types of camping.
It would also be a great tent to keep with an RV for overflow space.
- Roomy enough for all of us
- Pass through for cords and chargers
- The extended screen room = out of sight storage for wet shoes, and a few totes of “stuff.” Also, gives double insurance against kids who forget to zip the tent and let mosquitos in!
- Too big for some tent pads at campgrounds – but we make it work
- May not be appropriate for high wind or extreme weather conditions
We used to have and loved this smaller 9-person tent from the same brand. It also sets up in about a minute. It has excellent ventilation and is big enough to fit two queen size air mattresses (though really, air mattresses are totally camping cheating!).
Best Budget-Friendly Traditional Tent for Families
Friends of ours have this 8-person tent and if we had a smaller family we would get it in a heartbeat!
This tent features great ventilation (and a view of the stars!) with its wide mesh roof panel. It also comes with a solid rainfly for excellent weather protection, making this a versatile and comfortable family tent for under $200 (and on sale at the time of this post).
Best Hanging Tent
We almost didn’t include this one because it is so unusual, but we love our Tentsile hanging tent. Think hammock + tent in one!
expensive, but we love it. It has made for some great adventures and is perfect for places where there isn’t level ground to camp or it is safer to be off the ground.
We also leave it up in the backyard all year round and it serves as an extra comfy hangout spot for reading, schoolwork, or a backyard campout. It’s almost like having a treehouse without having to have the know-how to build one!
Other Camping Gear We Love
I’m working on a comprehensive post of our camping gear for tent and RV, but in the meantime, a few of our other favorite items that always go with us when we camp are:
- Super bright LED Collapsible Camping Lanterns- bright enough to light up a tent, lightweight, and safe for the kids to use for nighttime bathroom trips. It’s also easy and compact to pack. We love them! (We also keep these around our house for when the power goes out.)
- Hanging Tent Lantern with Ceiling Fan– With a lot of people in a tent, this small fan helps keep air circulating and provides just enough light for everyone to get ready for bed.
- Portable Solar Powered Inflatable Light & Cell Charger– While I try my best not to buy plastic, this is one of the best camping buys we’ve ever made for camping with kids. They take up no space if backpacking and are lightweight and easy for kids to carry around or use as a lantern. It also works like an extra battery pack. Just put outside or in the window of your car to recharge.
- Backpacks and Survival Gear for each kid – Because mom and dad can’t carry everything! We also like each kid to have their own whistle, compass, and emergency gear (which we of course show them how to use before we head out).
Does your family camp? Do you have favorite tent features or reviews of camping gear I should add? Let me know in the comments!