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How big is a tent? What size do I need?

Tent 1 by Ali Halit Diker

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.

For example: Eureka Solitaire

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: Coleman Sundome 2 PersonThis 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.

Family Camping

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: OutdoorsmanLab 3 Person

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:

Eureka Midori Basecamp 4 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: Coleman 8 Person Red Canyon TentThis 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.

Second example:Eureka Tetragon 10

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!

-Mar


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Mar

I'm (now) an Affiliate, who blogs about the materials, gear and supplies needed for living in a tent and long term camping: http://longtermcamping.siterubix.com I also enjoy reading and sci-fi in all its many forms.

2 Comments

  1. Hey Mar,
    very informative informative post! I liked your whole tent selection, but I think I that Coleman 8 person tent would be a good fit for me and my family – even if our total “head count” is only 4. The little ones really like to mark their territory if you get my meaning. 😉 You clearly got loads of experience with this so I would really appreciate your input. What would be your top pick?
    Thank you for your time,
    JT

    • Hello JT,

      If you like Coleman’s, then their 8-person is actually really nice (it’s a tent I’ve spent a massive amount of time in).
      The height is comfortable, and with kids you can each mark out your own little space.
      Just remember, because of the access port: bring dryer sheets to keep any bugs out, and replenish/replace the sheets after every heavy rain or more than 3 days.

      They offer them in multiple colors now, so if you know you’ll consistently be camping in the same temperature ranges you can get the rainfly color you think would work best for your situation (or that everyone thinks is pretty). This tent, in particular, is not specifically meant for winter camping, and the wind gets brutal under 20 degrees; but most people don’t worry about that.

      There are, of course, other tents of that size; but I find this one in particular to be a good balance of quality and price. The Eureka tent I discuss is very nice (and I almost always prefer the Eureka rainfly), but the added price doesn’t really get an equally higher quality for the tent itself. It’s still not really meant for winter, and the shape only adds a small amount of functional room compared to the Coleman. And the same can be said about most other large tents, especially because their shape quickly becomes a disaster in heavy winds.

      So, all this rambling to basically say: the Coleman is my top pick for the size. If you’re new to camping, or if you have experience and just want a bigger tent, save the money you could blow on a monstrosity (and save yourself the aggravation of putting some of those together) and get the Coleman – I’m partial to the blue color scheme, but that’s because I lived in it!

      I hope you found this informative, and not too boring. Does your family sleep on cots?
      The Coleman is still good for it, but you’ll have to pull the cots a little further away from the sides than you might expect. A floor tarp will help keep the wear and tear limited by the cots’ feet (and kids’).

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