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Best Family Tents for 2021

Best family tents for backpacking and car camping for 2021

Whether you’re new to camping or a seasoned pro, your first tent or your newest upgrade is one of the biggest and most exciting purchases. Your tent is your home away from home, and it’s important that it can fit your family and gear, and protect you from the elements.

If you live somewhere where it rains or can get gusty, you will thank yourself for squeezing a little more room into your budget for this item. Some items you can just go grab something from the grocery store and make do, but your tent is your shelter. And camping with kids, ensuring you have somewhere you can stay warm and dry is of the utmost importance. Choosing the best tent for your family is worth the cost and effort.

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How to choose the best tent for your family

Car Camping or Backpacking

What type of camping do you plan to do? Will you be “car camping” or backpacking? If car camping, weight and bulk are less of a concern and you can focus on space and comfort at camp. If you’re backpacking with kids, chances are you’re also carrying a lot of their gear and weight and bulk will be very important.

The differences between packed sizes of 4 person tents can be significant. Our go-to car camping tent is twice the weight and size of our backpacking tent. But the way those backpacking tents cut down weight is by using ultra lightweight materials (adding cost), and cutting out some “extras” (like pockets, vestibule size, etc.). If you’re just starting out camping, a solid car camping tent is a great investment.

Vestibule Size

Vestibules are great places to store your shoes and your packs (and for some families a great place for dogs to sleep). They can range from incredibly spacious and full height, to barely enough for your shoes. Many campers have strong opinions about vestibule size (I am no exception).

I find a giant vestibule to be a waste of fly fabric (which is bulky and heavy). Giant vestibules can also make getting into and out of the tent more of a process. But they can also be useful for tucking under and shedding your wet or muddy layers before entering into your dry cozy tent. If you have dogs this may be an ideal space for them to sleep, and you’ll prefer a larger vestibule.

Small vestibules on the other hand, can make entry into your tent on a wet day difficult. One of my tents has a vestibule so small that our shoes barely fit under it, and our packs go inside the tent instead. It’s shaving ounces to have no wasted fly fabric for the vestibule, but also makes use of the tent in the ran more of a hassle.

A good trick for entering small to medium sized vestibules in the rain is to take off rain pants or muddy/wet outer pants to your knees, unzip the tent inner, and sit down inside while you slip off your boots and outerwear for vestibule storage. We get pretty dirty at camp so having outerwear come off and only clean(ish) clothes go in is our rule.

Tent size and height

Kids are small, but we all know they can take up a LOT of space when they sleep. It’s a good rule of thumb to treat them like an adult person, especially since most tents that say 3p or 4p are actually pretty snug for that many adults. I have gotten my 3 young kids and myself into a 2p backpacking tent, but it’s not something I’m likely to repeat and certainly wouldn’t recommend buying less tent than family members; they’re only going to get bigger!

Most backpacking tents are substantially shorter than car camping tents. For many of us this is not a big deal, but if you have a taller family definitely look at the height of the tents. It’s not fun to have tent in your face while waiting out a storm in your tent.

Tents are often rectangular, which I prefer over square tents. With rectangle tents, I have options for which way to have us face, and how our camping mats fit best. We often face the short way, and sleep with double mats all the way across so the crack is at our knees not between us. Square tents take away this option.

Two Big Agnes double pads (choose the double size in that link) arranged to take up the entire tent length, with extra space on the bottom. Arranged the other way, there would be space vertically and horizontally and nothing would fit as snugly.

If you already own sleeping pads, double check the tent dimensions and make sure your pads will fit. If those are on your to-buy list also, it is SO great when you can get an exact wall-to-wall fit out of your pads so nothing slides around. The Sea to Summit coupler straps can also help secure mats. Double pads can also save you money, weight, and prevent cracks.

Marmot Limelight 4p with an Exped MegaMat Duo and an REI Dreamer Single that takes up the entire tent floor. These pads are more comfortable than my bed, and make for luxury car camping.

Water- and Wind-Proof

Since your tent is your shelter, you need it to protect you from the elements. These tents we recommend will ALL protect you from rain, and do an excellent job of that. These are all double-wall tents. Single wall tents

If you live somewhere that it rains a lot (looking at you PNW…) it’s essential to know that you’ll stay dry in your tent. Most come seam-sealed, or have an option to purchase seam-sealing. You can also do this yourself with seam sealant.

The downside to having a nice tall space to stand in your car camping tent is that it can act like a sail and be blown away by strong winds. For most car camping, this won’t be an issue as campgrounds you access by car often have good wind breaks. If you’re camping somewhere windy and taking one of the giant tents like the Kingdom, make sure you can anchor it. If wind is often a factor where you camp, consider a more aerodynamic tent.

Ease of Set-Up

With one exception (Tarptent), all the tents recommended here are easy to set up. Poles are usually color-coded, and easy to thread through sleeves and loops. Most have directions printed on the bag. Almost all tents have instructional videos you can watch before your first set-up if you’re worried about figuring it out while managing the kiddos. (And a note about that… involving the kiddos in tent setup early and always will ensure this is a smooth part of your trip!).

A note about pop-up tents (Ozark Trail/Coleman): While a 60-second setup may sound great if you’re intimidated by camping, these tents don’t preform great in the rain or with condensation. They’re huge inside, but you run the risk of having to stay away from the wet edges of the tent. The “fly”/canopy only partially covers the edges, and they act like a single wall tent. They’re also enormous to pack.

Best family car camping tents

These tents range from 8 to 21 pounds. With the exception of the Marmot Limelight, none of them are suitable for backpacking, but all will make an awesome basecamp for your car camping adventure. Many of them come in several different sizes, specs listed are for the 4p sizes. Remember to count your fur babies if they sleep in the tent with you, but if they’re vestibule sleepers all of these tents will have space for them to shelter.

All of these tents have two doors with the exception of the Vault, and all are free-standing. You can set them up without the rainfly for views or warm weather, and can set them up with just the fly if you want to use them as an open-air rain shelter. Some of them do not come with the footprint and this can be a surprise added expense if it’s something you use.

Marmot Limelight 4P

  • Weight: 8 lbs. 8 oz.
  • Floor Dimensions: 92 x 81 inches
  • Height: 54 inches
  • Footprint Included?: Yes
  • Price: $408.00

Pros: Spacious. Easy to set up. Large vestibules, but not so large that it seems overwhelming. The doors unzip in two directions and zip completely open (you can tuck the screen door down into a pocket) for ease of access and views. This would be wonderful in shoulder seasons to just let the air in through both sides of the tent. There are lots of clips to hang your stuff. Great pocket assortment, including two tiny triangle pockets on ceiling that are perfect for glasses, and lots of pockets on all sides of the floor.

Cons: None for car camping, though shorter than some of the other options (adults can not stand in it). Weight is a bit heavy (but doable) if using for backpacking.

Big Agnes Bunk House 4

  • Weight: 15 lbs. 8 oz.
  • Floor Dimensions: 92 x 90 inches
  • Height: 70 inches
  • Footprint Included?: No
  • Price: $479.95

Pros: This tent has more vertical room than the Marmot Limelight, and more floor space as well. The Big Agnes Bunk house is also available in a 6-person version.

Cons: Footprint is not included, poles have been reviewed as on the weaker end. Not aerodynamic.

Snow Peak Vault 4

  • Weight: 20 lbs. 5 oz.
  • Floor Dimensions: 111 x 208 inches (irregular shape)
  • Height: 59 inches
  • Footprint Included?: No
  • Price: $299.95

The Snow Peak Vault is a roomy 4-person tent. It’s the only tent here with only one entrance, and the entrance is on the side. Amelia’s family has no trouble getting into and out of this tent though, and it’s able to accommodate her whole crew.

The tent has a tapered design on both ends, and has a sleeping area and a gathering/play area.

Best family tent Snow Peak Vault

REI Kingdom 4

  • Weight: 18 lbs. 8 oz.
  • Floor Dimensions: 100 in. x 100 in.
  • Height: 75 inches
  • Footprint Included?: No
  • Price: $429

Pros: The REI Kingdom comes in three different sizes and is an excellent option for large families or families wanting lots of extra space and standing room. The Kingdom 6 has plenty of room for a family of 4 that uses cots and a pack n play.  The Kingdom is also available in a 4 and 8 person version. The vestibules have plenty of room for dogs in kennels and open up completely for easy loading/unloading. The “Garage”/”Mud Room” is definitely a worthwhile add-on for storing bikes, chairs, dogs, etc and fits in the included stuff sack. The stuff sack also has extra room for including all the extras (stakes, hammer, puller, etc).

Cons: MudRoom and Footprint not included. Height makes it susceptible to wind damage, need to use guylines and stake it out well if it’s going to be windy, and poles can be prone to bending.  Single person set-up can be a challenge.

Best large family camping tents

In addition to the tents above that come in larger 6p and 8p sizes, the following large family tents are sure to keep you and all your gear contained on your car camping adventures.

The North Face Wowona 6

  • Weight: 19 lbs. 4 oz.
  • Floor Dimensions: 120 x 96 inches
  • Height: 80 inches
  • Footprint Included?: No
  • Price: $450

Pros: Space! Lots of it and well laid out with pockets and height for tall folks. On clear nights you can remove the fly and have a starry night sleeping under the stars as the roof is all screen. No issues with condensation on cold nights, but insects love to get trapped between the fly and the mesh. The tent is reasonably aerodynamic for a tent of this size, and feels secure in wind. Jiana (Outdoor Family Chat member) says that after lots of research and testing, it’s one of the best large camping tents you can buy.

Cons: Only drawbacks are of course the amount space it takes up, both in your car and on the ground. Some campgrounds may not have space to accommodate such a large footprint.

Nemo Wagontop 8

  • Weight: 30 lbs. 3 oz.
  • Floor Dimensions: 180 x 100 inches
  • Height: 80 inches
  • Footprint Included?: No
  • Price: $749.95

If you have a large family or want tons of room in a spacious tent, the Nemo Wagontop is a great choice. It is available in a 4, 6 or 8 person version.

Pros: The Wagontop has two rooms for sleeping, so the kids can have their very own room! You’re just a zipper away, but Andrea’s (Outdoor Family Chat member) kids get a kick out of having their own space and it means the adults can turn on a light after the kids have gone to bed. At 6 foot tall, Andrea’s husband can stand up straight everywhere in the tent and garage. The walls are unique in that they are nearly vertical on all four sides.

Large built in vestibule + oversized attached garage (sold separately) give you tons of space; the garage will fit a 6 x 9 outdoor rug in it and it became the perfect place to store bikes and ALL the toys. The huge screen windows are great for views and cross-ventilation. Most of them also close up so when the weather cools you can keep the heat in. The tent has lots of pockets, high and low, for stashing the little things you don’t want to lose on the spacious floor. Nemo has a lifetime warranty so you can feel secure in your investment!

Cons: Size can be too large for some campsites, price.

Best family backpacking tents

Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL4*

The Big Agnes Copper Spur is widely regarded as one of the best family backpacking tents you can buy. While none of us here at TMM have one yet, we all want one…

  • Weight: 5 lbs. 11 oz.
  • Floor Dimensions: 86 x 96 inches
  • Height: 50 inches
  • Footprint Included?: No
  • Price: $649.95

Tarptent Hogback*

  • Weight: 4 lbs. 2 oz.
  • Floor Dimensions: 86 x 86 inches
  • Height: 49 inches
  • Footprint Included?: No
  • Price: $479.00

Tarptent is a relatively new company started by thru-hiker Henry Shires in 1999 after he couldn’t find a tent that met his specifications and decided to make his own. It has since become synonymous with wonderfully light innovative tents. The Hogback is their largest option; most Tarptents are geared towards 1p and 2p ultralight hikers.

Pros: By over a pound, this is the lightest 4p backpacking tent available, and feels very spacious inside. This tent is best for family backpacking, and is well suited to rainy weather because it features an “all-in-one” set up with the fly attached over the inner so your inside stays out of the elements. The fly features rigid triangular poles at each corner. This setup does make it more difficult to set up in the wind, but once up this handles wind beautifully. The optional crossing pole is advised for wind, but we’ve used the tent in very windy conditions without it and been very impressed. This tent can also handle snow load, with the optional crossing pole. There are two inner tent options, one partial solid (pictured here) and one that’s all mesh, better suited to warmer climates.

Cons: To take off the rainfly (for views or ventilation) you need to un-stake the fly, then stake in the inner part separately (and then remove those stakes when you put the fly back on). Not an intuitive setup and doesn’t come with directions; this is the first tent I have ever looked for directions for. The vestibules are nearly non-existent. Velcro and clip attachments seem at odd angles and locations (and make me miss regular tent clips and tie backs), and the inside hangs rather loose without many attachment points to the fly if the pitch isn’t perfect (and I’m still perfecting the pitch).

When you get in, unless you velcro the fly out of the way, it doesn’t stay folded over the top, and if it’s raining it will drip water into the inside while you’re working on getting into the tent. There are only two tiny mesh pockets inside and they’re right under the door.

The bathtub floor is not taught, but “floats” because of how it is attached to the fly. I love a taught floor and it keeps the mats in place better, so this is a little bothersome. There is no groundsheet option aside from a heavy Tyvek sheet, and because this tent is square my other groundsheets won’t fit it as well as I’d like.

Fly peeled back and mesh staked

Though my list of cons is quite large, I am picky when it comes to tents and I still really love this tent. I can’t help but love it, there is something fun and different about it. I love that it was one man’s vision for a better and lighter tent and due to the persistence of his fans it grew into a company. And it packs down SO small. It’s half the size and weight or the Marmot Limelight 4p mentioned above.

REI Half Dome 3+*

  • Weight: 5 lbs. 11.7 oz.
  • Floor Dimensions: 90 x 78 inches
  • Height: 44 inches
  • Footprint Included?: Yes
  • Price: *Currently Unavailable*

They now make this in a 2+ and 3+, I own the old version of the 2p, though the design of this tent is similar and I’ve loved all the iterations of it.

Pros: This is a really well designed tent that is a great choice for backpacking or car camping for smaller families. We’ve used the 2p size comfortably with one adult and one two small children, though if between sizes the 3p would be a great size for a growing family. Setup is intuitive and it handles the elements well. Lots of mesh makes for great views.

Related Posts

Best car camping tents for families and backpacking tents for families

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