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Family Tent Buyer’s Guide
We’ve put together a showcase of the best family-sized tents
From the pages of Camping Life Magazine
In this overview of outdoor shelters, you’ll find examples of family camping tents from top manufacturers that we have selected for their high quality and large-group livability. A couple of backpacking (or “trail” tents as we call them) are also included in this roundup for the hardier adventurers in the crowd. If you see something you like, more detailed information can be found by contacting the manufacturers’ customer service phone numbers or visiting their websites.
New from Coleman is the Hooligan 4 (pictured) tent, an easy to erect two-pole design with continuous pole sleeves for the two primary support poles, a large vestibule, lots of mesh for ventilation, plenty of headroom (58 inches) and storage, and a side-entry. The full-length fly still allows for breezy venting through a port system, and a third pole supports the fly and the vaulted ceiling for the vestibule. This is a good car-camping tent large enough (9x7 feet, plus vestibule) tent for the four-person family on the go, and features Coleman’s WeatherTec System to help keep campers dry when trapped in wet weather. The Hooligan 4 weighs 11.5 pounds. In addition, Coleman has also made two updates to its Elite Series of tents: roll-up-and-down windows that act like spring-tension shades, and a “negative angle” window that allows the window to be partially open during certain rain conditions. MSRP: $109.99. Coleman: 800/835-3278;
The WuHu series of high-tech tents from Sierra Designs include the WuHu 4 (pictured) and 6, and the WuHu Annex 4+2 and Annex 6+2. Annex’s offer an extended vestibule that could house two more occupants. This tent is a combination of dome and tunnel design, with the easy set up of a dome tent and the advantages of tunnel tents such as steep walls for more livable room. Sierra Designs worked with DAC, the manufacturer of the tent’s aluminum poles, to develop the new Jake’s Foot, designed so the pole end and tent foot “click” together during set up, making the tent easier to pitch and sturdy in the wind. The WuHu 4 measures approximately 93x83 inches on its floor, is 66 inches in height, and weighs 12 pounds, 9 ounces. MSRP: $329 (WuHu 4). Sierra Designs: 800/635-0461:
The Bugaboo II Dome from Columbia Sportswear provides spacious living accommodations on a 12x9-foot overall footprint offering 74 inches of stand-up headroom. Comfortably capable of sleeping five, the Bugaboo II features four fiberglass poles and color-coded pole sleeves for easy set up, Columbia’s GoBe Dry Ultimate Rain Protection system to keep occupants dry, excellent venting properties, a zippered port to string cables and cords inside the tent, and two large external storage “lockers” to keep gear out of the living space. A single D-shaped door provides access. The Bugaboo II Dome weighs 21 pounds. MSRP: $190. Columbia Sportswear: 800/547-8066;
Big Country is the name of this tent from Cabela’s and it’s easy to see why. Its two shelters in one. With a roomy 10x10-foot floor and 6 feet, 6 inches of headroom, as well as an attached screen room that adds another 6 feet, 9 inches of living space, the tent certainly is “big.” Fiberglass poles with pin/ring attachment, four gear lofts and a lantern loop inside, two huge mesh windows, and two D-shaped doors are among its many features. A 13-1/2-inch wide weather skirt and 12-inch steel V-stakes are included. The Big Country weighs 37 pounds, 9 ounces. MSRP: $349.99. Cabela’s: 800/237-4444;
Designed to sleep four to five persons, the Grand Manan 9 features a 12-inch vertical section of the tent stretching upward from the floor that provides more usable floor space. In addition, the tent also features roll-up sides on the rainfly to provide optimum airflow. A dome-style tent with fiberglass poles and two large D-shaped doors, the Grand Manan 9 tent from Eureka! measures 9x9 feet on the floor and 6 feet in interior height, and weighs 21 pounds, 7 ounces. The tent is also available in a smaller model, the 7, which is designed for three campers. MSRP: $339.99 (Grand Manan 9). Eureka!: 800/572-8822;
One look at the Shiro from Kelty and you can plainly see this is no ordinary tent. Two sleeping compartments with a common area in between for big gear such as bikes, dual arch-shaped doors, an internal organizer wall to keep small items organized and handy, and four large mesh windows in the tent body for good ventilation are key features. Four DAC DA17 aluminum poles keep the Shiro standing sturdy, and the tent’s full-coverage rainfly (pictured) has attachments points so you can hook up your Kelty Carport or CarTarp to it for extra shade. What you can’t see until you get close-up are the company’s high-tech trail-tent construction and design methods that have been transferred over to Kelty’s line of family size Basecamp tents. The Shiro is available in two sizes: 4 and 6 (persons). The 4 weighs 22 pounds, 5 ounces; and measures about 16 feet across and 8 feet, 10 inches deep, with a height of 6 feet, 6 inches. MSRP: $549.95 (4). Kelty: 800/423-2320;
If you’re looking for a bombproof trail tent likely to last a lifetime, that can handle the worst Mother Nature can toss at it, take a look at the Hilleberg Kaitum 3. This low-slung tunnel design, lightweight (5 pounds, 15 ounces), three-person shelter features an inner and outer tent, and offers all-season capability using Hilleberg’s own waterproof Kerlon 1200 outer tent fabric and extra beefy 9 mm aluminum poles. The tent’s single-opening, continuous pole-sleeve design makes it quick and easy to set up. Two entrances and two roll-up vestibules provide convenience and extra storage room; and the inner tent is highly breathable, so it offers good ventilation, yet is still water repellent. Its main living space measures 87x73 inches with a height of 42 inches; overall size of the tent is about 167x73 inches. MSRP: $775. Hilleberg: 866/848-8368;
The Andromeda II trail tent from Exped is an excellent choice for a couple who enjoy romantic backcountry get-aways. Snug but comfortable and easy to live in, the Andromeda II is a serious four-season tunnel-style shelter that’s ultra sturdy and lightweight. Key features include buff DAC Featherlite NSL 9mm aluminum poles, easy pole-sleeve set up, high walls due to the tunnel shape, and a vestibule over the single entrance large enough to comfortable seat two people and store lots of gear out of the weather and out of the sleeping space. Its canopy can also be unhooked and pushed back for extra floor space. The sleeping area is approximately 83 inches long, 61 inches wide at the head, tapering to 48 inches wide at the foot. Overall, the tent measures about 160x65 inches, and weighs 6.9 pounds. MSRP: $525. Exped/Outdoor Research: 888/467-4327;
We highlighted the huge Board Room tent new from MSR/Cascade Designs last year. This year, MSR has developed a few new add-ons for the Board Room to extend its living space and convenience. Among these new Board Room accessories are the Bunk Room 2P (two-person) and 4P (four-person, pictured) that create a zip-in, enclosed and bug-free extra room for the already big Board Room. The new Mesh Wall accessory for the Board Room tent is a zip-in divider for additional privacy and bug protection. MSRP: $249.95 (Bunk Room 4P). Cascade Designs: 800/531-9531:
This tent manufacturer offers a handful of excellent family size tents including the popular Promontory that has a 12x10-foot floor space with a 7-foot height. New this year from Paha Que is something a little different, though. Take a look at the Food Tent (pictured), a mini-tent designed to keep insects off your food that is out on the table during cooking preparation or meals. The 36x20-inch floor covered by a 20-inch tall dome of no-see-um mesh is propped up by two small 7mm fiberglass poles. The Food Tent has two side doors, and weighs 3 pounds. It’s perfect for the camp picnic table. MSRP: $19.99. Paha Que Wilderness: 888/700-TENT;
Keep fire and all heat sources away from your tent. The tent can burn. Never cook or use candles inside your tent.
If you pitch the tent in the wind, anchor the tent before you put the poles in. Just placing gear inside may not hold down your tent even in light winds. In high winds anchor every stake loop and guy-out.
When staking and guying out in rocky terrain, find one large and one small rock. Tie cord from the stake or guy-out point around the small rock, place large rock on top of cord next to the small rock, pull back until cord is tight.
Dry and wipe off tent and fly before rolling up for packing, this will help keep the tent from mildewing.
Even if the tent maker touts “sealed” seams, buy some tent-seam sealer product and seal up all the seams, you won’t regret the minor investment of money and time when the rain starts to fall.