This post comes from Tom Barlow of partner site DealNews.com.
It’s a time-honored tradition for American families to, at some point, pile into a car and drive to some great expanse of nature for a camping vacation. And despite your children’s pleas to go someplace cool (like an island resort or Disney World), it’s ultimately an enriching family experience.
So, if the numerous films in which hilarious/calamitous/horrific things happen while camping (see: “The Great Outdoors,” “Friday the 13th,” “The Parent Trap”) haven’t scared you away from the activity, then you’re probably prepared to make the financial leap into purchasing the essential tent for the coming warmer months.
Here are seven factors to consider when purchasing a tent for the whole family:
Higher-quality tents are better for windy, rainy camping
Most family tents are rated as three-season, meaning they aren’t appropriate for winter camping (a cold, dark activity anyway, which your children would probably loathe). Most three-season tents are made with lighter materials perfect for dealing with heat and some rain.
Anticipate the conditions you will face. Two enemies of tent camping are wind and rain, and if you plan to camp where these are frequent visitors, you would be well advised to look to higher quality, i.e. more expensive, tents to safeguard your vacation. Most people, however, choose to camp where winds are light and rain is infrequent, so no need then to break the bank on a model that runs up a bill with high-end features.
Buy a bigger tent than you think you need
Most family tents claim to hold a certain number of campers; a six-person tent, for example, is not unusual. However, these ratings are often unrealistically tight. An average eight-person tent might be 180 square feet, or 22.5 square feet per person. One sleeping bag and air mattress alone will take up at least 12 square feet, allowing little room for personal possessions. With a more reasonable 30-square feet per person, this tent would hold six people comfortably.
Also, beware of odd-shaped tents that may have a lot of floor area but little that would allow people to stretch out on their sleeping bags to full length.
You should also anticipate your family dynamics. Does Dad snore loud enough to wake the dead? Will the teens fidget and keep the rest of the family awake? If you can’t imagine all of them coexisting peacefully under one roof, you might want to buy two or three smaller tents instead.
Consider opting for more headroom
Family tents come in a couple of basic shapes. The cabin style has nearly vertical walls that will afford you the maximum headroom. The dome style has less headroom but will shed wind better. If you anticipate foul weather, a dome might be the preferred choice. If you don’t, the cabin style will give you more room to maneuver, a feature that can be invaluable when it comes to camping in large groups.