Summer is a time for family and, with such good weather and the school holidays finally here, for many it is a time to think about camping. A holiday under canvas with your nearest and dearest is the perfect way to build lasting family memories but for some it can be a daunting experience too, especially when younger ones are only just growing up and your about to embark on your first proper camping holiday as a parent. Not only is there the campsite to think about but also all the camping equipment, do you have enough sleeping bags? can you fit everything in the car? And, most importantly, do you have a tent to stand up to the test?
To make life a little easier and to guide you down the well-worn path of family camping, we've teamed up with outdoor retailers Blacks to get their expert opinion on how to go about getting your hands on the right family tent from their wide range of available tents. We've asked their camping experts to put together a handy guide to buying your first family tent, so you can find a summer shelter that will take your staycation from basic camping to full-on Base Camp...
What Size Tent Should I Buy?
Naturally, this depends on the size of your family and the age ranges within it – it goes without saying that the more people you need to accommodate then the bigger your tent needs to be. However, a good rule of thumb is to always size up on the manufacturers recommended berth size. A Berghaus Air 4, for example, would be fine for a new family but a family with two teenagers will need a bit more space.
Let’s not forget, family camping is all about comfort, too, this isn’t the backcountry and you're unlikely to be lugging your tent around in a back pack. A family tent is more likely to be transported in the back of your car where the size and space is less of an issue than with two-person tents. With that in mind, investing in a bigger tent now saves you more money in the future... Just in case your camping troop gains a new member or two.
Finally, to really get a sense of size, nothing beats seeing a tent in the flesh. Metres, centimeters, inches... you can read all the jargon but going to your local Blacks shop or outdoor retailer will give you a better idea of exactly what you're buying so is always recommended. If you do buy it online, then be sure to do your research (like reading this here article) and you might even want to get a tape-measure and measure out the floor plan of the tent in your house to give you a grasp of the size you are buying.
The Tent Layout
There is no catch-all formula for the perfect tent layout, it’s all subjective. If you have older children, investing in a tent with bedrooms at opposite ends could save a few arguments. Tunnel tents, such as the Berghaus Air 6 afford this luxury and create a sense of space for everyone involved.
Conversely, parents with younger children or infants will want to be close by their little campers, for safety. So, tents with a single master bedroom are key. A great example of this is the Robens 2018 Country Cottage 500. Not only has it got removable bedroom dividers, for privacy, but let’s imagine you finally find time for an adult only trip and you don’t need all that sleeping space. Simply zip the bedroom in half and hey presto a cosy, two-person master bedroom. It’s called a universal bedroom and we don’t know why it’s not more, well, universal.
A good rule of thumb for family camping is to buy a tent with a living area and a porch area. That way you have a rain-proof space outside for cooking and mucky gear and an inside space for wet weather activities. This is particularly pertinent in the U.K. where the weather is less than reliable. The Coleman FastPitch™ Air Valdes 6 L solves both of these problems, with a deep porch area and a living area with standing room. When your camping in a group and the weather is really bad, you can also collapse the inner sleeping area in these sorts of tents, giving you an even larger general space to eat meals and take shelter.
Sewn-in Groundsheet vs Flysheet First
Some tents let you pitch the inner sleeping space (flysheet) first, before throwing the rain-proof exterior over the top and pegging down. Other tents have the inner 'sewn in', allowing you to pitch the waterproofing in one go. Flysheet-first pitching is fine in a country where camping is predominantly a dry weather activity. For this reason, flysheet first tents are popular on the content and popular for music festivals, too, where people can remove the exterior and cool off from daytime heat. In the rain, however, flysheet first pitching is a race against time to pitch the outer before your inner gets wet. It can be a stressful experience. Sewn-in groundsheets are great, no matter the weather when pitching, you can guarantee a warm and dry space to look forward to, for bigger family tents this is usually the design companies go for, but if you're buying a smaller tent for kids look out for it too.
Pole Tent or Inflatable Tent?
Since the turn of the century there has been a rise (pardon the pun) in inflatable tents, especially for bigger family structures. Whether to keep it traditional or go for new-fangled inflatable tents is a contentious argument and people fall on different sides of the fence. But here are the key points...
The inflatables have some clear benefits. Pitching time for one. Simply roll it out, anchor down, inflate and then peg out. A process which can take all of 20 minutes. Even less if you have a little helper. Pole tents, on the other hand, require a bit more TLC. Threading poles, realising you’ve threaded the wrong pole, backtracking, then re-threading the pole. Some people revel in this meticulous process; savouring campsite quarrels as, “all part of the fun”. Others might prefer to spend this time relaxing in their favourite camping chair.
There are some definite drawbacks to the pump-action tents; pack size being a big one. Beams are bulkier than poles, requiring extra-large bags. Fine if you’ve got a big car with plenty of boot space, more difficult if rolling in a tiny Cento. Similarly with weight, beams are, somewhat paradoxically, much heavier than their pole counterparts. In fact, most inflatable tent bags are too heavy to lift or carry on your own (manufacturers opt instead for roller wheels on some bags). As we all know, these are a pain when off-road. Pole tents, on the other hand, even a 5 or 6 berth, with their fibreglass poles, can pack down into something smaller – very practical if you’ve got a long way to walk to your pitch.
An Extra Reccommendation
Footprints & Carpets
The kit list can seem never-ending for a modern camper but if we were going to choose one of these extra little luxuries we would highly recommend a footprint. It saves so much time at the end of the staycation, cleaning your tent. Carpets, on the other hand, are a bit more of a luxury but they do feel great under feet and make the place feel homely. Footprints and carpets are specific to the tent model, however, so, for a flush finish, make sure you’re buying the right one for your tent!
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