How the size of your tent and the size of your family are related:
The size of the camping tent you need depends on how many of you are going to be sleeping in it, how much and the types of supplies you will be storing, and any physical considerations you need to take into account.
If you are going to be living in a tent, permanently or just for an extended amount of time, you want something with space for your belongings. If you are just camping, up to a few weeks, it mostly depends on the number of people you are with. If you are hiking long distance, the smaller and lighter you can go, the better.
Please note: all tents shown below are ones I am familiar with.
I either have personal experience with them and/or
know several people who’ve used them regularly.
The Solo Camper
If it’s just you, you’re good with sleeping on the ground and you don’t have a lot of stuff, you can easily go with a single-person tent.
This lovely tent is the Eureka! Solitaire. It is a wonderful tent, strong and durable. It even has a little bit of space for a few sets of clothes and a book or two. It’s even just over 2 lbs, so it won’t weigh you down. I have known many a camper over the years who love these tents, and I’ve never seen one get blown away in the wind.
However, if you are particularly tall, like having belongings around you, don’t or can’t sleep on the ground, or would like a tent with height, your best bet wouldn’t be a single-sleeper. If you are going to be living in a tent alone, look at 2-person tents.
Camping as a couple
You might be tempted to still use the tent above, but don’t. It’s not meant for more than one person, and neither of you will get any rest.
If there’s two of you and you still aren’t worried about storing a lot of items, or have a storage tent (a post for later), a sturdy 2-person would do you just fine.
As a great example of a starter tent: This is the Coleman Sundome 2 Person tent. I grew up in a Coleman Tent my grandparents had passed on to us. Colemans are great for new campers. They are just big enough to have space for both people, they are easy to set up, their fly attachments are always good, and their poles can last for years if taken care of (more on that in a later post).
2-person tents still require you to sleep on the ground, and unless your kid is actually still little, not quite big enough for both of you and the kid.
Don’t use a two-person. Please, please, please don’t. It doesn’t help your family grow closer, but it does cause a LOT of screaming that I hear from the other side of the gorge. If it happens in the middle of the night, I WILL yell back because you have (a) already woken everyone in a 6-mile radius up, and (b) probably don’t know enough about the local landscape to understand how to get to me if you’ve imbibed.
A good rule of thumb I’ve learned about camping with kids is that any kid over the age of 8 counts as a whole person when judging the size tent you need. Ages 3-8 count as anywhere from 1/2 to 3/4, depending on if they kick in their sleep. An adult counts as about 1 and 1/3. Whether or not you think you move in your sleep, you want to move around the tent while awake without stepping on anyone. For 5 people of any age, sleeping on the ground and with supplies, an 8-person tent will probably be worth the higher initial cost, if only to avoid the “stop touching me” arguments.
If there is just the 3 or 4 of you, you don’t need the 8-person tent, unless you like the extra room, need cots or physical accommodations, or have a lot of stuff (kids – we love them but some of them have supplies weighing more than they do).
A nice 3-person tent:
This is the OutdoorsmanLab 3 Person tent. Again, a good starter tent, lightweight, slightly harder set-up, but fairly simple and doable for 2 people, and a standard fly.
A 4-person tent:
Yes, this appears to be a different style, but a great tent. This creature is the Eureka! Midori Basecamp 4 tent. It’s a little more complicated, with two doors, and has more usable space than a lot of classic-style 4-person tents.
A word of warning if you’ve never set up a tent before: try to set it up once before you head out on your trip. Even just in your living room, or anywhere else large enough that is dry. When you bring your kids out into the wilderness they will wander off, and you want to put up your tent as fast as you can to keep the rain and bugs out and to reduce any chances of the kids running over it and ripping fabric. Having seen many a child laughing as their parents throw poles, you also don’t want to be the source of humor for any audience that might appear.
The 8-person Tent
Again, with a larger group you want more room. Unless the group is split into multiple tents, you want a larger tent than the number of people living in it.
This is also closer to the size you are looking for if you are with 2-4 people sleeping on cots. Most cots are at least 6-foot, and some styles have the legs sticking out beyond the bed.
First example: This is the Coleman 8-Person Red Canyon tent. It’s a standard-style tent, but as you can see, slightly more complicated. While it is possible to put this tent up alone, I wouldn’t recommend it. 2 people working together is nice, 3 or 4 would be preferable if the process is unfamiliar. As you can see, the sides are sloped and technically someone can fit there to sleep, but I would recommend putting your supplies along the shorter edges.
This beauty is the Eureka! Tetragon 10, it has 2 rooms but actually sleeps 10 people. Again, you want a little more than 1 whole person per person you’re camping with. This is also a more secure tent and is less likely to be blown over or away than most styles.
Family Living in a Tent
If you are living in a tent with your family, and you have a little bit of funds – or just a great opportunity to acquire one, buying a bigger tent will save you money in the long run. It will be less likely to tear, will have more space for any belongings you have, and will make it easier as your children grow. The quality of the tent is also important.
You may have noticed that more secure-looking tents I reference above are by Eureka! and there’s a reason. While they are more expensive than the standard-style tents, they also provide more fly coverage and better zippers. They are also less expensive than a lot of the ‘long-term tents’ you can find. A Eureka! tent will last, even with consistent and persistent use, for years while being a nice middle-ground on price.
Do you have a campfire story to share? Questions about making a go at camping or living in a tent? Leave a comment, I would love to hear from you!
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