Family camping, or car camping, is a great way to enjoy the outdoors with your children and pets. How do you pick the right tent from the hundreds on the market? Many factors come into play such as ease of setup, size, separate rooms, and affordability.
Coleman Instant Cabin
This is a roomy cabin-style tent with super-fast setup time. According to ireviewgear.com, you can set this tent up in about one minute. They gave the Instant Cabin a five-star review and stated, "I can't find many things that I would want to change."
- Priced at $180 through Amazon
- 10 x 9 feet with a 6-foot center height
- Sleeps six (also available in four- and eight-person models)
Pros and Cons
The attached telescopic poles make setup a breeze, and the cabin-style straight walls afford stand-up room throughout. Freestanding design allows setup without pegs and you can move the tent without taking it down. A large door allows easy access and the four windows provide good ventilation.
On the downside, some user reviews state the roof leaks without the rain fly, so buying the optional fly at an extra $20 is recommended. It comes with just a single door and no vestibule for outside storage. Also, there is one room with no privacy divider and it only has two storage pockets.
Eureka Copper Canyon 6
- Available from Eureka! for $260
- 10 x 10 feet with a 7-foot center height
- Sleeps six (also available in four-, eight-, and 12-person models)
Advantages and Disadvantages
This tent is also freestanding, sets up quickly and easily, and has a large door and straight, cabin-style walls. Four windows and roof vents allow for good air circulation. It also comes equipped with a gear loft for storage and internal clothes line loops.
A few downsides include a single entry point, no outside storage vestibule, just one room with no divider, and only two storage pockets.
North Face Wawona 6
Complete with a large, weatherproof vestibule for storage, the North Face Wawona 6 is easy to set up and has lots of headroom. Outdoor Gearlab found the Wawona 6 one of the most comfortable and weather resistant tents they tested.
- Price is $400 at REI
- 10 x 8 1/2 feet with a 6 1/2-foot center height
- Sleeps six
Benefits and Downsides
The positives include fast and easy setup, freestanding design, two doors, and two windows and top vents for ventilation. Heavy duty poles add stability and it comes with storage pockets, dry lines, hang loops, and a lantern hanger for convenience. Important features of the Wawona 6 are the large, weatherproof storage vestibule with two doors, and an additional smaller vestibule by the side door.
A notable drawback is that this tent has just a single room with no divider. You'll also find that the windows need to be closed from outside.
REI Co-op Base Camp 6
This sturdy tent comes with a weatherproof storage vestibule and has two doors. The rain fly ensures that you stay dry and the aluminum poles and dome shape resist wind. Reviews on Trailspace are very positive for the Base Camp 6. One person calls this an "outstanding car camping tent," describing it as "roomy, very sturdy and nicely put together."
- Available for $430 through REI
- 10 x 8 feet with a 6-foot-2 center height
- Sleeps six (also available in a four-person model)
Positives and Negatives
This tent has a lot of good points, including easy setup, freestanding design, two doors, two vestibules for storage, and interior storage pockets and gear hanging loops. A full coverage rain fly ensures water tightness, and door and ceiling meshes provide good ventilation.
A common trait among most tents, there is just a single room with no divider with the REI Co-op Base Camp 6. It could use a few more storage pockets, and there are no side window openings when the rain fly is installed.
Kodiak Canvas Flex-Bow Deluxe
Designed to last a long time, this old-school style tent is made from watertight, breathable, heavy-duty canvas and comes with steel poles. The Flex-Bow was chosen number one in the Top Five Choices list of eight to ten person tents by Tents & Camp Gear. The reviewers especially liked the ease of setup and the environmentally friendly cotton construction.
- Available from Amazon for $650
- 10 x 14 feet with a 6 1/2-foot center height
- Sleeps eight (also available in four- and six-person sizes)
Features and Drawbacks
This tent has many positives including a gear loft and pockets for lots of storage. Two doors, four windows and ceiling vents provide good air flow, and there is an awning over the front door area to keep things dry. Its heavy-duty, long-lasting construction with steel poles is designed for year-round use.
That said, the Flex-Bow is big and heavy, weighing in at almost 80 pounds, and comes with two carrying cases. It is not freestanding and requires proper staking and securing to ensure stability in windy conditions. It is not as easy to set up as some other designs. An exterior storage vestibule is not included but is available at Competitive Edge Products Inc. for $90.
Big Agnes Flying Diamond 8
If you don't mind paying more and spending extra time with setup, the Flying Diamond 8 from Big Agnes is almost perfect for families. Both the main and "kids" rooms have their own doors and storage vestibules. The Flying Diamond 8 received a five-star rating from the overwhelming majority of reviewers on Amazon.
- Priced at $800 from REI
- Main section is approximately 10 x 9 feet with a 6-foot center height; additional room is about 7 x 4 1/2 feet with a 3 1/2-foot center height
- Sleeps eight (also available in four and six-person models)
Flying Diamond Pros and Cons
Another freestanding tent, the Big Agnes is weather resistant and durable with full rain fly coverage. The main room and "kids" room can be separated with a privacy divider. Each room has its own access door and weatherproof vestibule for lots of storage space. Screened doors and six vents provide good air flow. It has 16 interior storage pockets and gear loft loops - the loft is sold separately.
It's worth mentioning that this tent is more difficult to set up than some other tents, but is sturdy, rainproof, and provides lots of room.
Considerations and Tips
There are a few things you should consider before making your purchase, and a few tips that could make your family camping trip more enjoyable.
- Size: Before buying a tent, outline its measurements on your floor with masking tape. Position your beds and sleeping bags, and outline areas for pets, storage, and so on. Do you have enough room?
- Spaciousness and storage: You never seem to have enough room. If you think you'll be okay with a four-person tent, consider buying one for six people. Lots of storage pockets come in handy for the children. Hanging loops and lines will give you an indoor place to dry wet items.
- Weatherproof vestibules: Strongly recommended! You will need lots of room for items such as muddy and sand-filled shoes, wet clothing, towels, toys, and wet dogs.
- Setup: You don't want to spend hours at the campground trying to figure out how to erect your new tent. Do a trial run in your backyard or living room before your first camping trip.
- Strength: Children and pets love to play and there will be bouncing off the tent walls. Buy the best tent you can afford with sturdy poles, zippers, and tie-downs.
- Doors: If you don't want to crawl over each other in the middle of the night when nature calls, consider a tent with more than one door.
- Knots: Learning how to tie a few simple knots will make setting up your tent, tarp, and clotheslines less stressful, and being able to untie the knots easily is a bonus.
- Repairs: Accidents will happen, including rips, spark holes from campfires, and broken poles and zippers. Buy a good repair kit with everything you may need.
- Pegs: Upgrade your pegs to ones that do not pull out of the ground easily or won't bend when they hit a rock. Six-inch spiral, galvanized spikes with washers are a solid bet.
Camping Trips Are Great
Setting up camp with the family is one of the best ways to make lots of memories. Children love playing and sleeping in a tent. Buying a sturdy tent with adequate sleeping and activity room, lots of storage space, and a good waterproofing system will help to ensure all your memories are good ones.