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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 tell the story of our Red River Gorge camping trip and the visits from the bears, but that is a story for another day.
We’ve branched out a little since then (meet our RV we affectionally call Wanderlust Warrior), but real camping will always have a special place in our hearts.
To that end, I thought I’d share the best tents we’d found in our years of *real* camping based on performance, portability and size.
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. In heat, 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 tended to 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 Tents for Family Camping
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.
If you’re camping in Spring and Fall weather as most people do, more space is always helpful and if you don’t need the heat retention of a smaller tent, bigger is always better. 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.
Best Lightweight Tent 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 beats 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
- There are a lot more sleeping arrangements- kids in one tent, parents in the other, or splitting up parents with kids in multiple tents.
Backpacking Tent for Families: Our Pick
We prefer two of these smaller lightweight tents to a big one for backpacking.
They each only weight about 8 pounds and set up in under 5 minutes. They also collapse small and are easy enough for bigger kids to set up and carry.
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.
Quick Setup Tent for Families: Our Picks
This huge 8-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 idea 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.
This even bigger 9-person tent also sets up in about a minute. It has great ventilation and is big enough to fit two queen size air mattresses (though really, air mattresses are totally camping cheating!). Also a great choice for a drive-in trip or to keep with an RV for extra space.
Best Budget Friendly Traditional Tent for Families
The backpacking tent above is really budget friendly but if you want a bigger tent that doesn’t break the budget, there are some great options.
Budget Friendly Tent for Families: Our Picks
This budget friendly 8-person with a rain flap. It isn’t anything fancy, but it is a solid tent that only weighs about 17 pounds. The traditional set up takes a little longer than the instant set up tents above, but it may be worth it for the affordability. Only downside is that there aren’t windows and ventilation isn’t great. Better for cooler weather camping for this reason.
We also like this 8-person tent with more ventilation. It also takes a little longer to set up but fits our family and doesn’t break the bank.
Best Hanging Tent
We almost didn’t include this one because it is so unusual, but we love our Tentsile hanging tent. This isn’t the average camping tent and it is a LOT more expensive, but 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.
Other Camping Gear We Love
I’m working on a comprehensive post of our camping gear for tent camping and RV “camping” 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 and 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.
Does your family camp? What gear do you use and love?