Choose Your Own Family Camping Tent

Ultimate Outdoors7 min readBuyers Guides

What are family tents designed for?

Although designed with families in mind these roomy and reasonably priced tents are great for any type of group and even couples. A family tent will have separate sleeping and living areas as well as having enough head room inside to stand. They all pack down into one or two manageable bags and are intended for transportation by car. It is for this reason they are also referred to as car camping tents.

What are berths and how many will I need?

Tent sizes are measured in berths. The ‘berth rating’ of a tent tells you the maximum number of people the tent can sleep. The name of the tent usually tells you the berth rating e.g.

  • The Micropitch 400 will sleep a maximum of 4 people
  • The Supersleep 8 will sleep a maximum of 8 people

In practice it is best to buy a tent with slightly more berths than you will actually need. This makes like easier and more comfortable by providing extra living and storage space.

What layout of tent will suit my family?

The first key factor to consider is the number and positioning of the bedrooms. For families, ‘who can share a bedroom with who’ is import, especially if you have guests or volatile teenagers. Also peace and quiet for mum and dad may require the kid’s rooms to be not be attached to theirs.

The other main consideration is the size and orientation of the living or storage space. You might need extra space for storing play and sports equipment, or for preparing and eating meals undercover. Before purchasing give careful thought to the type of holiday you want and to what facilities are available at camp sites.

Top Tip: It’s worth knowing that bedrooms can usually be removed to provide extra living or storage space.

Which tents are easiest to pitch?

Size – Bigger tents are generally more complicated to pitch and are more difficult to handle in windy conditions. It is important to have enough room in a tent but don’t be tempted to go too big, especially if you don’t have many capable family members to help with pitching.

Pole Structure – There are a number of different ways poles are used to support a tent. Tunnel tents use the poles to form a row of hoops and are the quickest and easiest to put up. Dome tents use two main poles that cross overhead and are little trickier to erect. Semi-geodesic tents have poles that cross a number of times and are the most complex to put up. This style of tent however is not commonly used for family tent.

Pitching Style – There are three main pitching styles, inner pitch first, outer pitch first and ‘pitch as one’. Inner pitch first tents are the trickiest to put up and consequently few family tents are made this way. Most family tents are outer pitch first tents and are quicker and simpler to pitch especially in the wind and rain. As the name suggests the outer is put up first the inner is then clipped in afterwards. With some outer pitch first tents it is possible to leave the inners clipped in permanently making then even faster to erect, these are call ‘pitch as one’ tents.

Which tents are best in the wind?

Size – The bigger a tent is the more it will be affected by the wind. This problem is usually alleviated by better guying, and more, bigger and heavier poles. Again it is important to have enough room in a tent but don’t go too big.

Pole Structure – The way poles are used to support a tent also affects its performance in the wind. Tunnel tents can perform well in the wind but rely heavily on good guying and benefit from being pitched nose or tail into the wind. Dome tents rely less on guying than tunnels and better withstand wind from any direction. With poles that cross a number of times semi-geodesic tents are the most stable in the wind but are not usually necessary on sheltered family campsites.

Pitching Style – There are two main types of pole used in family tents, ridged steel and flexible fibreglass. Provided they are of sufficient thickness and number flexible fibreglass poles provide good stability. This style of tent is designed to flex more to absorb the force of the wind. Ridged steel poles are heavier and more expensive but generally withstand the wind better and allow less movement.

Groundsheets – There are two main types of groundsheet, standard and sewn-in. All family tents have sewn-in groundsheets in the sleeping compartments and a standard groundsheet in the living area. Many models however now have an additional sewn-in groundsheet enclosing the living space as well. This has advantages over the standard arrangement by better preventing drafts and insects getting into the living space.

Which tents are best in the rain?

Waterproofing – The waterproofing of a tent is measured in hydrostatic head (hh). The minimum rating for a tent to be sold as waterproof is 1500hh. Although tents with higher hydrostatic head ratings are more waterproof the main advantage is that the treatment is tougher and therefore lasts longer. Some tent fly sheets can be rated as high as 5000hh, while groundsheets range up to 10000hh.

Groundsheets – There are two main types of groundsheet, standard and sewn-in. All family tents have sewn-in groundsheets in the sleeping compartments and a standard groundsheet in the living area. Many models however now have an additional sewn-in groundsheet enclosing the living space as well. This has the advantage over a standard groundsheet of prevent water running in during very heavy rain.

Seam Sealing – Most modern family tents are seam sealed on the inside of the flysheet with clear tape. This tape can be easily seen under close inspection.

Which tents have the most head room?

Additional headroom is easy to see if you are in a showroom, but if you are shopping online you can still get an idea which models offer this extra space. Pre-bent poles give a tent a squarer profile with steeper walls. Not only does this significantly improve head room down the sides of the tent but better allows the use of camping furniture like camp beds and wardrobes.

What are the advantages of poly-cotton/canvas tents over polyester?

Most modern family tents are made with polyester fly sheets however it is still possible to find canvas tents and their modern equivalent poly-cotton.

Advantages of Poly-cotton/Canvas Advantages of Polyester
More breathable Less expensive
Cooler in hot weather Easier to care for
More durable Lighter & less bulky

What Accessories are available for family tents?

Specialist Pegs – There are a number of specialist pegs that can help to improve guying. Soft ground or ‘V’ pegs have a bigger surface area and are more secure in soft ground. Hard ground or ‘rock pegs’ are thinner and stiffer for driving into dry or rocky earth. Groundsheet pegs have wide flat tops that fasten flooring securely without causing a trip hazard.

Mallets – Hugely useful but often forgotten. A mallet makes life much easier especially if equipped with a hook or ‘peg puller’ for the removal of stubborn pegs.

Porches & Extensions – Designed to fit specific models of tent these handy additions provide extra shelter or storage space.

Groundsheets – It can be a good idea to place an additional groundsheet under your tent to protect its groundsheet from excessive wear. Some tent manufacturers make these especially to fit their different models. These tailor-made versions are called footprint groundsheets.

Carpets – Some tent manufactures make carpets to fit their models of tent. These greatly increase both warmth and comfort.

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