If you plan on staying in a campground for any length of time that can be “driven to” (instead of packed to), then a family camping tent, also known as a cabin tent, is the tent for you. Unlike your typical backpacking tent, family camping tents are big, roomy and spacious. Some even have multiple rooms, allowing for some privacy.
Your typical family camping tent has evolved significantly from the way they were designed and manufactured years ago. Gone are heavy poles and thick canvas walls. In place are lightweight yet strong waterproof nylon taffeta and aircraft aluminum poles.
Todays family camping tents are generally very easy to setup, and surprisingly, rather light and packable. While far too heavy for backpacking, cabin tents today no longer require two strong men and a small boy to move and setup.
Suggested Features to Get in a Family Camping Tent
If you’re buying a larger tent suitable for families, it makes little sense to buy one that lacks the interior height for everybody to stand upright in. I suggest making sure that the “peak interior height” of any tent you get for families is a minimum of six feet. Such height allows most adults to stand upright in without problems.
This is an optional feature that really depends on your own living situation and camping needs. But for larger groups or families, the ability to attach rooms to the main tent is a huge bonus. Besides making space for additional campers, the extra room serves double-duty as a “private spot.” The kids can sleep in the main part of the tent while the adults sleep in the “attached room.”
For family or group camping, and where the tent won’t be packed down every day, it simply makes sense to get a tent large enough to allow for sleeping on cots or airbeds. Cots and airbeds, however, take up a lot more space than your typical sleeping pad.
A typical family camping tent is “rated” to be able to sleep a certain amount of people. However, that rating assumes the use of skinny sleeping pads and where people sleep very close together—or as some might say, people sleep like sardines.
Thus, if you plan on sleeping four people, give serious consideration to purchasing a tent rated for six people. The additional space is always handy to have and provides much more comfort. More importantly, though, the extra floor space allows for the use of cots and wider airbeds.
Tent Wall Construction
Tent walls come in two different “flavors.” Some walls are constructed from solid nylon. The advantage of solid walls is that they retain warmth and help keep moisture out. The disadvantage is that solid walls limits a tent air circulation and tend to keep the tent warmer than it otherwise would be.
By contrast, other family camping tents have walls primarily made from mosquito netting. The mesh keeps the bugs out while still allowing airflow. The downfall is that kids more easily tear the mesh and the tent is harder to keep warm.
There’s no right answer as to which type of tent walls to get. Each type of tent wall has is purpose. Anyone purchasing a family camping tent needs to determine their own camping needs to decide whether to get a tent whose walls is primarily mesh or primarily solid.
A vestibule is essentially a “roof” that extends beyond the door of the tent and provides a place to sit or store gear protected from the elements, rain in particular. Unfortunately, vestibules are only found on more expensive, very high quality family tents such as the “Kingdom Series” of tents by REI. While these tents are more expensive, the addition of the vestibule greatly adds to the comfort and versatility of the tent.
Good Brands of Family Camping Tents
You can buy large family camping tents at Wal-Mart if you want to. The problem? There are not just inexpensive to buy, but are also cheaply made. Worse, these “big-box” store tents often leak worse than the Titanic. Moreover, these cheap family camping tents are heavy and often a real pain to setup.
For this reason, if you’re going to buy a large tent for family camping, get a good tent right out of the gate. The tent will be lighter, easier to setup, won’t turn into a lake during a rainstorm and with proper care—will last a lifetime.
Good brands of family camping tents include tents made by Big Agnes, The North Face, Eureka, Ogawa, Marmot and Alps Mountaineering.
Where to Buy Quality Camping Tents
Offline, the best place to buy quality camping tents is at specialty sporting good stores, such as REI.
Online, a number of retailers sell quality family tents. I’d suggest looking at the following retailers.
Campsaver – Often has crazy-low prices on tents. It’s where I bought my backpacking tent at a whopping 50% off.
REI – Sells high quality tents, both for backpacking and family camping. Great return policy.
Cabela’s – They sell their own brand of good quality family camping tents, along with sort of a hybrid “family camping” and “outfitter tent.”