Choosing The Right Family Tent

Family camping holidays offer a chance to get close to nature and enjoy life at a more tranquil pace. To provide protection against the elements – and an environment supporting day-to-day activities – it’s important to choose a good family tent that’s fit for purpose and keeps all occupants happy. 

As well as helping with the selection of a tent, this guide looks at a broad range of subjects including space planning, tips to prepare for a turn in the weather – and ways of keeping the accommodation clean and dry.

  1. Tents can get very warm inside in hot weather, so have a look for temperature moderators which will help turn the heat down. They act as a barrier to the sun helping to keep the inner tent cooler and also reduce the effect of UV light and falling tree sap on the flysheet. A temperature moderator is a cover which fits over the flysheet, the air gap between it and the flysheet heats up helping to insulate the tent against the sun. The inner tent will still be warm but the difference in temperature between a tent with and without a temperature moderator is noticeable.
  2. Consider the duration of your trip and the comfort level you require, as this will narrow down the size and style of tent that would suit. Do you want to compromise on living space and have most of the space for sleeping? If you are planning on camping when the weather should be kinder, hopefully you’ll be living outside most of the time. Also consider how many sleeping compartments you will need.
  3. Again, looking at sleeping arrangements – when considering comfort think about what you will be slumbering on. For short trips a 50cm wide self- inflating mattress may be sufficient, but for longer trips a proper airbed, which can be up to 1.4m wide, maybe needed. Bearing this in mind, look at how wide the sleeping compartments are, to make sure you can fit the right number of mattresses in there for the right number of people
  4. Be realistic about what will fit in your car when choosing a tent. A large tent can take up a lot of boot space and you still need to take sleeping bags, stove, personal items and clothing. A large tent and lots of comfort items, such as tables, chairs and wardrobes, might mean a new car or large trailer! You may want to compromise the size of the tent slightly in order to be able to take more home comforts with you.
  5. Choose tent poles carefully. For family tents, these will be steel or fibreglass.
  6. Steel poles, although more bulky and heavy, are durable and strong, providing an all important stable tent – which is vital as we can get high winds at any time of year.
  7. Fibreglass poles are lighter and won‘t take up as much room in the boot of your car, but generally are not as strong and are flexible, so you’ll have a tent that isn’t as stable and could rock in the wind.
  8. One other point on poles – look for colour coding or some other grading system that helps you identify easily which poles go where, to make pitching quicker and easier.
  9. Fabrics – the flysheet and ground sheet are usually polyester and will be waterproof. Hydrostatic head (HH) is a measurement you may see – this is a measurement of how waterproof a fabric is and is given in metres or millimetres. A 3m HH for a flysheet is a reasonable figure.
  10. Look for a sewn- in groundsheet, ie. a groundsheet that is sewn into the flysheet. This helps keep out bugs, draughts and rain.
  11. Flysheets and groundsheets should also be seam sealed (ie. waterproof tape applied to the inner side of the seam to stop water seeping through). Where seam sealing is concerned the devil is definitely in the detail. The attention to design and quality of construction is what sets more expensive tents apart from the cheaper ones on the market. Unfortunately this detail is not what you might look for when choosing a tent (or know what you are looking for), but it’s the detail that stops water seeping down zips and into the inner or dripping from toggle points on the inner floor. This may seem a minor point now, but when you are camping and it’s wet, it is really important as drips can be very annoying.
  12. Ventilation is important in a tent to prevent the build up of condensation, which inevitably occurs. Good tents will have plenty of ventilation points (that have been well designed so rain can’t get in either). Full mosquito net doors are a good design feature as they allow plenty of air circulation, while keeping insects out. (Some tents have just half net doors).
  13. Look for accessories to help make camping easier. For example, groundsheet protectors will help keep the bottom of the tent clean and dry, making it easier when packing up. If the groundsheet is wet and muddy and it’s attached to the flysheet (as most are nowadays) then it can be difficult to pack up without getting mud on the clean flysheet – and that means more work when you get home. A separate groundsheet protector takes the worst of the muck and can be wrapped and packed separately at home time, keeping the main tent much cleaner.
  14. Once you’ve chosen your tent – have a practice pitching at home first and have an overnight camp in the garden so everyone can get used to it. You may need to pitch in a hurry when you go for real, so best to be prepared!



For more general advice on buying a tent, try our ‘Choosing the Right Tent‘ guide.

If you’ve still got questions, please feel free to contact us.