CHOOSING A FAMILY TENT

Research, research, research – these are the first three things to do before buying a tent. Put temptations aside and think carefully about what you need – this approach will save you money in the long run. Visit specialist retailers and shows to nose around displays of pitched tents and talk to the experts – it will help you familiarise yourself with styles and features. Join Internet communities to seek out ideas and opinions. Chat to any camper you meet – we’re a friendly bunch who generally love to talk about our pastime!

There are a myriad of family tents to choose from but you can narrow down choice. Sit down with the family and have a chat about use. Some points to ponder are:

• Are you going to camp for your main two-week holiday, or snatch long weekends away, or both?
• Are you confining your camping to the summer months or will you camp later in the year?
• How many people do you need to accommodate and who can help pitch your tent?
• Have you room to store, dry and transport your tent in comfort?
• Have you a fixed budget to work to?

Most answers to the above will help you decide on the size tent that’s best for you. However, the last point is important for you want to get the best quality for your bucks. This does not mean you have to buy the most expensive tent possible but you should check out the manufacturer’s pedigree and see if they are campers designing product for campers or just selling a generic tent purchased off the shelf from abroad. 

Remember, spending a few extra pounds in a reputable brand may significantly increase ease-of-use, safety, stability, comfort and the longevity of the tent. It will prove a wise investment of your hard earned cash and provide a passport to freedom for all the family for years to come. 

Numerous styles of tent appear to swamp the market but, unless you’re taking part in an outdoor pursuit that demands a tent with semi-geodesic and geodesic stability, suitable tent designs fall into just a few categories.

New materials have moved small tents away from the traditional A-frame/ridge variety and the generic shapes tend to be dome, tipi and tunnel. 

Domes provide good sleeping space and an extra hoop is often used over the entrance to create a large porch for storage. A single hoop tends to be used to create very small and light tents. Tunnel tents tend to have less space than a dome but are easier to pitch. Of course, there has been a resurgence of traditional tepee designs and these prove popular with campers looking for something a little different, but living space requires a different take to camping.

We tend to use a mix of domes and tunnel tents for our smaller tents but restrict the choice to the tunnel design in our larger family tents. This is due to the fact that tunnel tents are a lot easier to pitch – often by one person, which is a real benefit if there are young kids to look after! Check out the pitching video of our large Boston 600 family tent at and you will see how easy it is!

Our use of fibreglass poles allow us to keep the pack weight and size down – important considerations when storage and transport space is at a premium. These use pre-angled joints to create the steeper sides needed to maximise interior space and height.

When buying a tent check that the materials are fire retardant, the seams are sealed and that the hydrostatic head is reasonably high. The latter is a guide only for much of a tent’s performance over time also depends on the quality of the fabric and other treatments, like UV-filters that stop the fabric degrading in the sun. Unfortunately, there is no way of checking this except by falling back on price and a brand’s pedigree.

Other design considerations include the exterior doors – what are they like for convenience and are they protected from the elements? Is there standing height in the bedroom if you find it awkward to dress sitting down? Is there ample room in the living area to sit out bad weather and to store your gear? Is the tent easy to take down and pack away?

Features fall into a number of categories. Some, like high visibility guylines and extra exterior doors, enhance safety. Others improve the camping experience, like big windows and large, well-placed vents that make a tent feel light and airy while minimising condensation. A key feature for many campers in this category is the sewn-in groundsheet that stops draughts and bugs entering the tent. Finally, some features, like organizer pockets and ports for an electric cable, are there for convenience rather than necessity so should be viewed as an added bonus. TIP if a tent has loads of bonus features yet the price tag is low then quality and build may be compromised to meet that price.

  

  East Camp tent footprint

Optional extras should also be checked out. Many campers now consider a carpet for above the groundsheet and a footprint for under the groundsheet essential for they improve underfoot comfort and provide protection against wear and tear, making cleaning and general maintenance easier. 

Another ‘essential’ is the awning or extension that adds valuable extra space to a tent. In fact, these items are so popular that it is hard to find stock if you want to retro fit rather than buy at the time you purchase your tent!