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Whether you have happy memories of childhood’s spent camping, or recollect soggy holidays away, in a tent not fit-for-purpose, you should be advised: the tents of 2021 are a stark improvement on the tents of yesteryear.
Exercise canny judgement and you can find a tent roomy, waterproof and comfortable both to sleep and hang out in. Indeed, with individual chambers, you can even solve the issue of buying a family tent when you have a teenager who doesn’t want to be sharing an enclosed space with the rest of the family: just leave them enjoying their own, cordoned off area while you get on with roasting marshmallows and watching the stars.
What should you look for in a family tent?
Multiple bedrooms are an excellent idea when you’re shopping for a family tent, especially if you have teenagers in need of their own space. Standing room is a big help when you’re sorting out the myriad bits of kit involved in camping with children, and a spacious living area will give you somewhere to hang out and play games on rainy days.
A porch or anteroom is also useful for popping muddy boots in. Look for a sturdy, sewn-in groundsheet with a coated nylon floor to keep you warm and dry, a waterproof rain fly (this is the outer layer of the tent) and plenty of guy ropes for stability.
What does tent size mean?
Tents are sized according to the amount of adults they can feasibly sleep (i.e four-person, six-person). That said, two adults and two or three children will usually find a six-man tent the best fit, especially if you’ll be camping for a week or two at a time.
What are the downsides to a family tent?
The larger the tent the heavier it tends to be, of course, and the longer it’ll usually take to put together. You’ll see inflatable (sometimes labelled ‘air’) tents on sale as well as traditional designs using metal poles – air tents use a foot pump to inflate their structure, and are quicker and less stressful to erect.
If you’re hopping around lots of different campsites on your holiday then weight and pitching time are factors definitely worth taking into consideration, but if you’re just headed to one campsite and your car has a roomy boot, it’s worth going as big as you can afford and not worrying too much about weight – you’ll only have to pitch your new home once, after all. The pitch times suggested by manufacturers are usually optimistic, so expect a bit of trial and error the first time you erect your canvas palace.
We’ve tested out a range of sizes and found our favourites: great quality tent options to suit most budgets, ranging from portable tents suitable for wild camping to multi-room mega-tents.
Lichfield Eagle 6 Air Tent Package
Key specs – Capacity: Six person; Bedrooms: One; Weight: 32kg; Pitch Time: 15 minutes;
There’s lots of things we like about the reliable Lichfield tent, but where it really stands out is in its easy pitching and its great weatherproofing.
Despite being a large and heavy six-person model, this tent can be pitched in ten minutes flat by pumping up the well-designed inflatable Airbeam poles.
Once erect, the Lichfield feels very sturdy and weatherproof.
A tough plastic groundsheet keeps the inside of the tent warm and dry even when pitched on wet ground, and the tent’s thick outer fabric is fully waterproof and withstands wind and changeable weather, making it a sensible choice for summer camping holidays in Britain’s ever-unreliable summer weather.
While the Lichfield will sleep six, there are only two bedrooms, so we’d recommend it for a family of four or five.
Decathlon Air Seconds 4.2 XL Fresh & Black Tent
Key specs – Capacity: Four; Bedrooms: Two; Weight: 18.2kg; Pitch Time: 15 minutes;
If you hate the rigmarole of pitching enormous, heavy family tents, Decathlon’s Air Seconds 4.2 XL tent is here to make your next camping trip far simpler.
The outer skeleton of this rather futuristic-looking tent is inflated using a pump (not included), and the two roomy bedrooms are pre-assembled and pop up ready to use in no time.
Decathlon’s Fresh & Black tents all use blackout material to line the bedrooms, and this really does keep them darker and cooler than your average tent, which is a big help on baking hot summer holidays (or just when you’re trying to get kids off to sleep).
We also liked the large central living room complete with wide door and windows, ideal for eating and hanging in in bad weather, although there isn’t much spare headspace to speak of.
BerghausAir 6XL Polycotton Tent
Key specs – Capacity: Six person; Bedrooms: Two or three; Weight: 36.7kg; Pitch Time: 15 minutes;
Air tents don’t really come much better (or much bigger) than Berghaus’ palatial Berg Air 6XL. This is a huge (and heavy) family tent – you’ll need space to store it at home and a large car boot to transport it on camping trips, as it weighs a hefty 36.7kg.
But if you like to have as much space as possible when you get to your holiday destination, it’s a great choice, and will sleep six adults in comfort. While the Berg Air 6XL isn’t lightweight, it is quick and simple to erect its inflatable poles using a pump.
Clever dividers mean you can split the tent into different blackout bedroom arrangements – either two bedrooms sleeping two and four, or three bedrooms sleeping two each.
There’s plenty of headspace throughout, and huge windows make the tent feel light and airy – it’s perfect for retreating into in bad weather, and proved waterproof and strong in the face of high winds when on test.
Vango Stargrove ii 600xl Pole Tent
Key specs – Capacity: Six person; Rooms: One-three; Weight: 22.5kg; Pitch Time: 25 minutes;
Summer time, and the living is easy in Vango’s Stargrove ii. We were impressed with how thoughtfully the Stargrove has been designed – this sturdy tunnel-style tent stands at lofty two metres tall and is also wide enough inside to allow for plenty of storage, head room and living space throughout.
‘Nightfall’ blackout bedrooms can be customised with dividers to create one, two or three bedrooms – it might be a tad snug for six but this is a very generously sized tent for four or five campers. Wide windows in the double living room, a tough waterproof flysheet, mesh insect panels and the option to pitch the side door as a canopy make it a pleasure to use the Stargrove in rain or shine alike.
Coleman Cortes Octagon Eight Tent
Key specs – Capacity: Eight; Bedrooms: One or two; Weight: 24.7kg; Pitch Time: 15 minutes
The rather futuristic-looking Coleman Cortes Octagon is as fun to camp in as it looks. Inside, one huge octagonal room makes an airy living space, and this can be divided into two rooms come bedtime. If you dislike dark, cramped tents you’ll love this tent’s generous standing room and wall-to-wall windows, which can be fully opened to let light and air in and offer a 360 degree view. The inner mesh tent can also be erected on its own on really hot nights. With or without its fully waterproof outer fly, the Octagon also works as a brilliant playhouse in the garden or as a beach shelter when you aren’t camping. While the Octagon isn’t lightweight at 24.7kg, its carry case has handy wheels for easier transportation.
Easycamp Palmdale 600 Lux
Key specs – Capacity: Six people; Bedrooms: One or two; Weight: 21.2kg; Pitch Time: 25 minutes;
The Palmdale 600 Lux is one of Easy Camp’s bestselling tents – and for good reason. This is the Goldilocks of our roundup – it’s a good-sized tent sleeping four or five in comfort or six at a stretch, but it isn’t prohibitively bulky or heavy, and is straightforward to pitch and dismantle.
There’s one huge blackout bedroom that can be divided into two if you want to give kids their own space, and the tunnel-style living area has generous head height.
A big protected porch is perfect for storing kit or for cooking in wet weather.
You get an impressive amount of quality and space for your money here – on test we found that the Palmdale 600 Lux performs as well as tents at twice its price.