Picking out one or more tents for family camping trips means considering more than just the usual features common in general shelter selection. While material, construction, ease of use, suitability to the climate and price must all be right, family camping tents meant to be transported by vehicle and used for more than a day or so should be selected with more thought to comfort and convenience and less to ease of transport by foot.
Being an avid camper myself, I know the primary factor that determines the comfort level of a family tent is its size. Area, however, does not tell the whole story, nor do manufacturer’s labels designating a particular tent as “one-man,” “two-man” or “three man.” Choosing the right size tent for a family camping trip means considering every dimension: height, width and length.
Count the kit
Car campers carry far more equipment than backpackers and canoe users, and all this stuff has to go somewhere safe when not in use, particularly at crowded campgrounds. Leaving things in the vehicle is one option, but the more common plan, especially for clothing, is keeping it in the tent with the camper. This means that tents meant for minimally equipped adult car campers should be about three square meters in area per camper. For better equipped groups, even more space will be required.
The most surface area for a given perimeter, meaning the most floor area of tent for a given amount of wall material, is shaped like a circle. This is not, however, the best shape for a family camping tent, particularly if the tent walls and ceiling approximate a sphere. Such tents truncate the linear area available to tall campers and leave large dead spaces at the sides. A straight-walled tent with a slightly smaller floor area actually has more usable area that a spherical tent.
Family tents should be purchased long enough to comfortably accommodate the largest person who will use them. The United Nations says the average height of Australian males is 179 centimeters. In tents 210 cm square, that average male has 10.5 centimeters of leeway at head and foot. This is inconvenient for all but the quietest sleepers, and leaves precious little space for storage. Such small tents may be perfect for children too old to share their parent’s quarters, but adults should consider something longer.
Family tents are often used in crowded campgrounds, making privacy an issue. This means that the tent should really be large enough for its tallest resident to stand up in, at least at the peak. While A-shaped tents that extend to the ground are common, wall tents with short vertical sections beneath the sloped roof provide more usable storage area near the edges, which means more people space toward the center.
How big is too big?
A tent needs to be big enough to shelter people and possessions, but excess size can be a problem. To set up a tent, campers must first find a level, open area of the right size, and appropriate areas grow scarcer as the size of the tent goes up. This is one reason, even beyond privacy, that it is a good idea to have several smaller tents with two or three campers each rather than one behemoth that might be difficult to site. Smaller tents are also less expensive, all other things being equal, and may be somewhat easier to erect
Choosing the right size of family camping tent is not a simple matter. Tents must be evaluated for their suitability to their purpose, and a large part of that suitability lies in the particular tent’s dimensions. A family should carefully consider the height, width, and length of each tent purchased for any camping trip to make the experience as much fun as possible for everyone.