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How to choose a perfect family backpacking tent

Is it about time to start taking your children along with you for backpacking trips? How exciting! It's such a joy to spend time with family and share your love of the outdoors with them. And now, it’s time to put away your tarp/hammock shelter and upgrade your backpacking gear. Buying a tent for backpacking is a bit more complicated than buying one for car camping. A backpacking tent is your home in the backcountry, so there are many things to evaluate before making your final decision. Besides weight, you’ll want to consider styles, designs, sizes, features, and cost.

tent in the mountains

There are several reputable brands offering highly comparable tents for backpackers. Choosing a tent requires careful consideration to meet your family’s needs, budget, and comfort – both in sleeping and carrying it on the trail. Cutting corners on a backpacking tent can leave you unprotected from the elements, which isn’t the adventure your family is looking for. Steer clear of big budget cuts on tents for the safety and well-being of your family in the wilderness.

Where and when do you plan to backpack?

The first consideration is the type of weather conditions and overall climate you'll be using your tent in.

  • 3-season tents are for mild to moderate weather conditions.

  • 4-season tents are for rough, high-altitude, alpine conditions.

What is the size of your family?

The next factor is the size and stage of your family. With young children, you might prefer to share one tent, whereas teens may appreciate their own space after spending a whole day together. Besides they can carry their own tent! Also, ensure there is enough covered space to keep your shoes and backpacks dry on a rainy night.

Tip from the trail: It's advisable to sleep in one tent with your kids until they’re careful enough with zippers, etc. Pitching a 4-person tent can be challenging sometimes as it needs more space. Nonetheless, we chose a 4-person tent because it’s fun to gaze at the stars or listen to the sounds of nature together (and snuggle!).

What type of tent setup style is the best?

Backpacking tents come in various styles: freestanding, semi-freestanding, and tarp tents. Freestanding tents, usually dome-shaped with sturdy poles, can be set up without being staked. Semi-freestanding tents can stand on their own but must be fully staked to function properly.

Tarp tents must be staked using trekking poles for structure. Tarp tents are suitable for solo backpackers, who also have the option of bivy tents and hammocks.

Semi-freestanding tents are also good for solo backpackers depending on the terrain. My personal experience with semi-freestanding tents has not been pleasant. High winds pulled the stakes at night and it collapsed on me (yikes!)

a tent in the mountains at sunrise

For 2-person tents and larger, freestanding tents are the best choice. They have more room and can be used on most terrains.

What is the overall weight?

When choosing a backpacking tent, weight is a critical factor, especially for multi-day trips. The weight of a tent is inversely proportional to its price—lighter tents come with higher price tags. It’s highly recommended to use a footprint to protect the tent from sharp objects, which will add a bit more weight.

What must-have and nice-to-have features should you consider?

There are many features to consider besides the shape of the tent. Some features may involve compromises on cost or weight. Consider each feature carefully, as you and your family will spend many nights in it. A well-rested body is essential for an enjoyable backpacking trips.

Must-have Features:

  • Easy to set up and pack – makes it a fun family activity and essential during bad weather.

  • Good ventilation – essential for comfort on humid nights and to prevent smelly feet!

  • Dome style – enough room to sit up straight, especially in a 4-person tent.

Nice-to-have Features:

  • Dual doors – easy access from both sides.

  • Storage pockets – kids will never lose their stuff, making life easier.

  • Vestibule area – keeps shoes, slippers, and poles dry.

  • Bathtub floor – better protection from water by extending the waterproof material a few inches up the walls.

a tent next to a lake

Tip from the Trail: If you plan to make backpacking a family habit, a tent with all the additional features is worthwhile. We’ve survived bad rains because of the bathtub floor, and the vestibule kept our shoes dry. Dual doors and storage pockets are vital features for our family. It’s a good idea to buy a footprint for added protection.

What are the warranty details?

A tent purchase is like an investment, and a good warranty is crucial. A reputable brand with a solid product will offer a reliable warranty. This is another reason not to skimp on the budget for a tent.

Tip from the Trail: Buying your tent from a local store makes it easier to bring it in for repairs, replacements, and returns (in case it doesn’t work for you).

What do other users say about the tent of your choice?

Ensure the tent you choose has a solid reputation in the marketplace. Read reviews and watch videos.

Tip from the Trail: A trip to REI is valuable; the staff is knowledgeable and will give good advice. It helps to get started with your research at home.

Tent Recommendations

Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 4 Tent was tent when children were young. We loved this tent because its beautiful terracotta and silver colors look amazing in every landscape.

And a few other reasons:

  • Ample living space for my family, where everyone can sit and move comfortably.

  • Easy for my kids to pitch and pack.

  • Vents allow cross ventilation, keeping it fresh – much appreciated when four stinky hikers are sleeping in it.

  • Highly durable; with two high-energy kids, it has endured a lot.

  • Whatever Mother Nature throws at us, it has never failed to protect us from the elements.

  • Plenty of pockets to keep headlamps, phones, retainers, books, watches, eyeglasses, hats, gloves, and whatever you need handy.

a tent in the mountains

Nemo Dagger 2 person tent is my favorite now, it is ultralight, sturdy and backed by lifetime warranty.

I wish you all the best in finding your perfect shelter on the trails.

Happy trails!

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