How to Choose a Family Tent (REAL Pictures & 8 Questions)

If you’re in a dilemma on how to pick the best family tent, this blog post goes through 8 key guiding questions to help narrow down your choices.

And don’t worry, I’ll also give you recommendations on which exact model of family tent to buy. Let’s dig in.

How to Choose a Family Tent (Featured Image)
My TNF Wawona 6 in heavy rain. This is real rain btw, this picture wasn’t edited at all.

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RELATED: Best Family Camping Tents

1. Budget: How Much Should You Spend?

First and foremost, we’ve got to talk about money. What is your budget when it comes to buying a tent for you and your family?

I’m going to talk about 3 main types of tent brands that you can buy with different budgets:

  • Highest quality tent brands

  • Mid-range tent brands

  • Budget-friendly tent brands

High-Quality Brands

High quality family camping tent brands will cost you at least $500 to $1,000 for a 6-person tent. This is the MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail price) without any discounts.

REI Co-Op logo
The logo of my REI Wonderland 6.

Here are some high quality tents with their full MSRP:

If you’re not in a rush to buy your tent, you can wait for a sale. I find REI and Moosejaw’s sales to be fantastic in this aspect, and I’m usually able to snag anywhere between a 20-30% discount code for some of my family tents.

Mid-Range Brands

Mid-range family tent brands will run you back, on average, about $300 to $400 for a 6-person tent. Again, this is the full MSRP without any discounts.

Eureka Copper Canyon LX 6 logo
The logo of my Eureka Copper Canyon LX 6.

Here are some great examples of mid-range family tents:

Budget-Friendly Brands

The 3 main budget-friendly tent brands are Coleman, Core Equipment, and Ozark Trail. These brands sell their most popular 6-person tents for anywhere between $100 to $200.

The logo of the Coleman Instant Tent 4.
The logo of my Coleman Instant Cabin 4.

Here are some great examples that you can check out (I tried to pick the most popular model of tent from each brand):

Take note here that you generally get what you pay for.

Budget-friendly family camping tent brands are not going to perform as well as high quality brands, and I’ll go on to give you way more examples throughout this entire blog post. (Keep this in mind as you continue reading.)

2. Tent Capacity: How Big is Your Family?

Now that you have a rough idea of how much you want to spend on your family camping tent, you need to decide the exact capacity of your tent.

Take note here that the marketed capacity for each given tent is based on the maximum number of family members that can be squeezed into the tent side by side (like sardines!), on single sleeping bags or pads.

For example, in The North Face Wawona 6, you can actually fit 6 single sleeping pads into the tent, side by side. Check this picture out:

What 6 single sleeping pads look like inside The North Face Wawona 6.
2 double pads and 2 single pads in the Wawona 6.

However, this is usually extremely tight and claustrophobic for most folks. Me included.

Pro-Tip: So, as a general rule of thumb in the camping industry, you’re to take the maximum capacity minus 2, and this will give you the optimal tent capacity in any given tent. You can also ‘minus 3‘ or even ‘minus 4‘ if you like to have much more space.

So, for the Wawona 6, the maximum number of adults to fit into this tent will be 4 (6 minus 2), so 2 adults on each queen bed:

What 2 queen beds look like inside The North Face Wawona 6.
2 queen beds in the Wawona 6.

Alternatively, you can have just 2 adults on 1 queen bed, and the Wawona 6 will be like some kind of camping palace.

What 1 queen bed looks like inside The North Face Wawona 6.
Just one queen bed!

Now, if you have a family of 4, the tent capacity that you actually need would be at least a 6-person tent.

If your family likes to have way more tent floor space, you can upsize to even an 8-person tent (or perhaps an even larger tent size from 10 to 14-persons).

That’s the gist of it.

RELATED: Best Large Family Tents

3. Seasons Rating: Summer or Off-Season?

Now, the next question is this – what season do you plan to go camping in?

There are 3 main seasons-ratings that each family tent falls into:

  • 3-season

  • 3+ season

  • 4-season

3-Season Family Tents

3-season tents, unlike what the name suggests, are meant to be used in purely summer camping.

(Don’t ask me why they’re called 3-season tents when they can’t be used in spring or fall; I have no idea why either.)

These 3-season summer tents usually have partial rainflies, along with lots of mesh panels.

My favorite 3-season family camping tent is easily The North Face Wawona 6.

The North Face Wawona 6 without its rainfly.
The Wawona without its rainfly.

It doesn’t have just a mesh ceiling, it also has a front wall made almost entirely of mesh, plus a removable partial rainfly on days where it doesn’t rain, and you might want more breathability.

Another great example is the REI Wonderland 6.

Just take a look at the enormous amount of mesh there is on this tent, it’s fantastic for hot day ventilation:

The REI Wonderland 6 without its rainfly
The Wonderland 6 without its rainfly.

3+ Season Family Tents

When it comes to the 3+ season rating, these family tents are meant to be used in the off-season (only in spring and fall), and not in summer.

These family tents typically have full-length rainflies, fewer mesh panels, and much more tent fabric. This is the complete opposite of the summer-camping family tents above.

My favorite 3+ season family tent is easily the REI Base Camp 6. It’s my only family tent that has a full-length rainfly, which extends all the way down to the ground.

The author's heavy rain test of the REI Base Camp 6
My heavy rain test of the Base Camp.

This, coupled with the large amount of fabric to mesh ratio on this tent, makes it the perfect family tent for off-season camping. I’ve also seen folks use this tent in light snow.

The REI Base Camp 6 without its rainfly
The Base Camp without its rainfly. There’s a monkey in the background too!

4-Season Family Tents

When it comes to strictly 4-season family tents, there are not a lot of options being sold. Most tents in a family-size are not 4-season tents.

4-season tents are meant to hold up against incredibly inclement weather, such as strong winds and lots of snow. Many family tents do not need such protection.

A great example of this though, is The North Face’s 2-Meter Dome Tent. I had the chance to see some of The North Face’s expedition tents in a showroom before, and here’s what one of them looked like:

The North Face Geodome 4 in a tent showroom
The North Face Geodome 4.

Notice that there are more poles crisscrossing over each other to give you that strong geodesic shape?

This would also give you a ton of space inside the tent, enough for your family of grown adults if you guys want to go on a base camp hike or winter expedition.

Inside The North Face Geodome 4
Inside the Geodome.

4. Weather Protection: Rain or Shine?

No matter the season that you’re camping in, this is one important question I need to ask you – how much heavy rain and strong winds do you expect while camping?

Heavy Rain Camping

If you’re expecting heavy rain and strong winds, I would strongly recommend buying one of the higher-quality tents that I talked about before (in question #1).

My favorite pick so far is The North Face Wawona 6, and here’s a list of all the amazing rainproof features it has to help me deal with wet weather.

First, the entire tent was perfectly seam taped. During my heavy rain test, it flooded in my yard, and one of the corners of my Wawona was sitting in 2 inches of water.

One of the corners of The North Face Wawona 6 submerged in water.
The corner of the Wawona in water.

But after my heavy rain test, there wasn’t a single leak through any of the seams in the tent.

Second, it has a waterproof coating of about 1,200mm for the rainfly and tent body, which was enough to survive 3 days of heavy rain (it was damp on the last day though).

The North Face logo in heavy rain.
The Wawona in heavy rain.

And third, it has the highest quality DAC MX aluminum poles that I’ve ever seen in any family tents. I managed to get it through 50mph winds, and while the poles bent a little, it wasn’t too obvious at all.

What the poles of The North Face Wawona 6 look like after 50mph winds
What the Wawona’s poles look like after 50mph winds. The first black pole to the left is supposed to be bent, there others aren’t supposed to be. Notice there’s only minor bending here.

Usually, the more you pay for your family tent, the more waterproofing you’d get, and the better equipped you would be to deal with bad weather.

Fair Weather Camping

On the other hand, you should buy a budget-friendly tent only if you’re expecting to camp in fair weather, with hardly any rain at all.

You could get away with about 30 minutes of heavy rain in the Coleman Sundome 6 (my favorite budget-friendly tent), but nothing more than that.

The author's heavy rain test of the Coleman Sundome 6
My heavy rain test of the Sundome 6.

As for Ozark Trail, I had 2 of their tents, and their waterproofing is pretty much non-existent.

The seams for both my Ozark tents would start feeling damp after just 15 minutes of very light rain. So, unless there’s no chance of rain at all, I wouldn’t recommend Ozark Trail for your family tent.

You can easily waterproof your budget-friendly family tents though, and here’s what I would recommend if you want to stay dry on a budget:

5. Spaciousness: How Much Space do You Need?

Now, apart from the tent capacity that we talked about in question #2 above, you’d also need to look at how spacious you want your family tent to be.

The spaciousness in each tent is mainly affected by 3 things:

  • The type of tent (so, dome style tents or cabin style tents)

  • The peak height in your tent

  • Whether your tent has a vestibule

Dome Tents or Cabin Tents

Dome tents are usually set up with 2 main tent poles that crisscross over each other in an X-shape. This gives you that rounded dome shape.

The most popular dome tent that everyone’s probably heard about is the Coleman Sundome 6, and here’s what it looks like:

The Coleman Sundome 6 without its rainfly
This is the Sundome 6 without its rainfly. It has two main fiberglass poles that are set up in an X-shape and give you that dome shape.

On the other hand, cabin tents have almost vertical side walls, on all four sides of the tent. And you might have guessed, this would give you way more room and livable space inside the tent.

What the side walls of the Eureka Copper Canyon LX 6 look like.
One of the vertical walls of the Eureka.

The right tent for you will likely fall under either the ‘dome’ or ‘cabin’ tent category. That’s why I didn’t go through any other types of tents here (like tunnel tents, teepee tents, etc.)

Peak Height

The main difference in a dome and a cabin style tent is the peak height.

Dome tents tend to have slightly shorter peak heights, and this peak height is usually only at the center of the tent, and the rest of the tent tapers down.

For example, the peak height in my Coleman Sundome 6 is only about 74.5 inches.

The author standing under the peak height of the Coleman Sundome 6
Me under the peak height of the Sundome 6.

And the moment I take 2 steps away from the peak height, my head would touch the top of the tent. If you’re tall, this lack of peak height may make any dome tent feel like a small tent.

The author hunching over in one of the corners of the Coleman Sundome 6
Me hunched over at the corner of the Sundome 6.

On the other hand, cabin tents tend to have much higher peak heights, and if the tent is constructed well, you will get the peak height almost throughout the entire tent.

A great example of a 6-person cabin tent is the Eureka Copper Canyon LX 6. It has a peak height of a whopping 84 inches (a full 7 feet!), 10 inches higher than the Sundome.

The author standing under the peak height of the Eureka Copper Canyon LX 6
Me under the peak height of the Eureka.

The lowest height right at the corner of the Eureka LX 6 was still a whopping 66 inches, which is still taller than my height (I’m just 5’3), so I could literally stand up everywhere inside this tent.

The author standing in one of the corners of the Eureka Copper Canyon LX 6.
Me still standing upright, even at the corners!

Pro Tip: The bottom line – if your main priority is a spacious tent, get a cabin-style tent.

However, just take note that cabin tents tend not to do well in strong winds, because their vertical walls catch a lot of wind.

The Eureka Copper Canyon LX 6 blowing over in a light breeze.
My Eureka blowing away in a 5mph light breeze because I hadn’t staked it down yet.

Vestibule Space

Another feature to look at when it comes to spaciousness is whether the tent has a vestibule.

I find these vestibules to be incredibly important for wet weather camping, but it’s also a luxury for fair weather camping when you want to lounge around outside the tent.

Of the 30 family tents that I’ve tested so far, only 3 of them have vestibules (these are not a common feature!), and these are:

  • The North Face Wawona 6 (51.0 square feet)

  • REI Base Camp 6 (52.4 square feet)

  • REI Skyward 4 (23.6 square feet)

In short, the best vestibule I’ve ever tested is The North Face Wawona’s. It may be slightly smaller in terms of square footage when compared to the Base Camp’s, but it’s way more livable.

2 camping chairs in the vestibule of The North Face Wawona 6
2 camping chairs in the Wawona’s vestibule.

I could fit not just 2 pretty big camping chairs, and I still had enough leftover space for a huge camping table.

On top of that, I could stand up everywhere inside the Wawona’s vestibule. (The tallest height comes in at 74 inches, the shortest height was about 65 inches, which fit me perfectly!)

The author standing in the vestibule of The North Face Wawona 6
Me standing under the shortest height of the vestibule.

In contrast, the Base Camp’s vestibules could fit no more than 2 camping chairs, and I couldn’t stand up everywhere like the Wawona, because it tapers down quite a bit.

A camping chair in the front vestibule of the REI Base Camp 6
Notice the Base Camp’s front vestibule fits only 2 chairs, and nothing else. The back vestibule (not pictured) couldn’t fit a single chair.

Pro-Tip: So, if a vestibule is your thing, your best pick would easily be The North Face Wawona 6.

I think the 4-person Wawona doesn’t come with a vestibule, you’ve got to buy it separately. So, don’t get that one.

And I wouldn’t recommend any budget-friendly tent if you want a vestibule, they tend not to come with.

6. Features: What Features do You Need?

Again, I found that higher quality tents tend to come with way more features than budget-friendly tents. Here are the main tent features that we’re going to talk about:

  • Storage

  • Dividers

  • Tent doors

  • Power ports

Storage Options

When it comes to storage options, I find that I usually need both interior pockets (to store gear or hold my phone/books, etc.) and interior loops (to hang lanterns and room dividers from).

High quality tents (like The North Face and REI) tend to have an excess number of storage options. For example, my REI Base Camp 6 has a whopping 14 pockets and 20 lantern loops. And that’s for a 6-person tent!

Storage pockets in the REI Base Camp 6
On these 2 walls of the Base Camp 6, there are already 7 pockets you can see here. (6 red arrows pointing to 6 pockets, and my hand in the 7th pocket.)

Mid-range tents like Eureka and Caddis tend to have just enough storage. So, my Eureka LX 6 has 6 pockets (4 pockets and 2 gear lofts to be more specific) and 5 loops.

The storage pockets and gear lofts in the Eureka Copper Canyon LX 6
Me hanging up my 2 provided gear lofts in the Eureka. You can also see the other 4 pockets in this picture.

And budget-friendly tents like Coleman and Core tend to have too few storage options. For example, my Coleman Dark Room Instant Cabin 10 has just 2 tiny pockets and 1 lantern loop. For a 10-person tent. How is that enough?

One storage pocket of the Coleman Instant Cabin Dark Room 10
One of the storage pockets in my Coleman 10. There’s only 2 of these!

Room Dividers

If you need a room divider to create separate rooms in your family tent, bear in mind that only the bigger 8 to 10-person tents tend to have these dividers.

Smaller 6-person tents tend not to have them. One exception is the REI Wonderland 6, which came with a decent quality room divider. But this is my only 6-person tent to have a room divider.

The author zipping up the room divider of the REI Wonderland 6.
The room divider of my Wonderland 6.

And I’ve never seen a room divider in a 4-person and smaller model.

An example of a great room divider is in the Columbia Mammoth Creek Cabin 10. It’s completely full-length, it’s almost completely opaque, and it provides a lot of privacy.

The room divider of the Columbia Mammoth Creek 10
The awesome room divider of the Columbia 10.

I could use one room for sleeping, and the other separate room as an extra living space. And there was more than enough space in each room.

High Quality Doors

As for the quality of the doors in each family tent, again, higher quality tents tend to have higher quality doors. The best doors I’ve ever seen come with the REI Wonderland 6.

It has 2 huge doors for tons of cross-ventilation, the doors are 72.5 inches tall so I never had to duck, and both doors had a completely snag-free, one-handed zipping experience.

What the 2 doors of the REI Wonderland 6 look like.
The 2 doors of the Wonderland 6.

Most higher-end tents tend to have multiple doors, no snagging, and these doors are huge.

On the other hand, I’ve had a mixed experience with both mid-range tents and budget-friendly tents. They tend to be much smaller, a little snaggy, and there’s usually only one tent door.

The single door of the Coleman Sundome 6
The Coleman Sundome 6 has just this single door.

Blackout Fabric

If you’re looking for a tent with blackout fabric, that aren’t that many tents for you. Not many tent brands sell them, and the main ones are from these 3 brands:

  • Coleman

  • Decathlon

  • Ozark Trail

I like Coleman the best (from what I’ve tested so far), and I would recommend the Coleman Sundome Dark Room 6 as a great budget-friendly dark room tent.

What the Coleman Sundome Dark Room 6 looks like
What the Coleman Dark Room Sundome 6 looks like in the middle of the day.

The other tents I tested with blackout fabric aren’t quite as good.

Power Ports

As for power ports for electrical cord access, I’m not sure why not all tents have them. Even most of my higher-end tents don’t have them, but somehow my more budget-friendly tents do. Weird.

7. Ease of Setup: Regular or Instant Tent Setup?

Some folks swear by their instant tents, while others don’t really need that feature. Here’s how easy it is to set up a non-instant tent, compared to an instant tent.

Non-Instant Dome Tent Setup

I’m able to set up a no-frills, simple, dome tent like the Coleman Sundome 6 in about 11.5 minutes.

However, a feature-rich, huge-front-vestibule dome tent like The North Face Wawona 6 took me 20 minutes to set up instead.

The author setting up The North Face Wawona 6
Me setting up the Wawona 6.

Non-Instant Cabin Tent Setup

When it comes to a non-instant cabin tent, the typical setup time takes about 14 minutes. This was the 1-person timing for my Eureka Copper Canyon LX 6.

More difficult to set up tents like the REI Wonderland 6 took me 19.5 minutes instead.

The author setting up the REI Wonderland 6
Me setting up the Wonderland 6.

Instant Cabin Tent Setup

Finally, what about instant cabin tents?

Well, the best instant tent that I have is the Gazelle T4 Hub Tent, and that took me just 5 minutes to set up on my own. This tent also comes in a T8 model, which I estimate will take 10 minutes to set up instead.

This is because all the poles of the Gazelle are pre-attached, so all I had to do was to pop open the hubs around the tent, and then put the rainfly up.

The author setting up the Gazelle T4 Hub Tent
Me setting up the Gazelle T4.

My runner-up instant tent, which is the Caddis Rapid 6, took me about 9.5 minutes to set up, but that’s because it has a much longer rain fly than the Gazelle.

The author setting up the Caddis Rapid 6
Me setting up the Caddis Rapid. Notice the much longer rainfly length.

Essentially, an instant tent can decrease your set up timing by anywhere between 50% to 100%. Is this worth it? That’s for you to decide.

8. Portability: Car Camping or Backpacking?

Now, here’s a quick word about portability when it comes to family tents. Most families tend to go car camping, and that’s why all the recommendations I made above are all strictly car camping tents.

Backpacking Family Tents

If you need to go backpacking with your family, a backpacking ‘family’ tent typically doesn’t come in a larger than 4-person size. (Family tents are usually at least 6-person in size and above. Hence the inverted commas.)

Here are some that you can check out:

But be warned, backpacking tents tend to be much more expensive than regular car camping tents. You won’t find a cheap tent here.

Car Camping Family Tents

A no-frills car camping tent like the Coleman Sundome 6 weighs about 16.0lbs. On the other hand, a standard cabin tent like the Eureka LX 6 weighs about 22.4lbs.

Instant Family Tents

One last word on instant tents – they are a little heavier, and a whole lot bigger. If you’ve decided to buy the Gazelle T4, bear in mind that it weighs a whopping 34.0lbs, and has a packed length of a whopping 68 inches.

Look, it’s taller than me:

The author standing beside the packed up Gazelle T4 Hub Tent
Me standing beside the packed up Gazelle T4.

The Best Family Camping Tent for You

With all that said, I think you would better understand now how to pick the best family tent for your family’s next camping trip.

And before you click off, here’s a quick summary of the family camping tents that you may want to get:

I also bought and tested the best family tents in the market, in this other blog post here, so check that out if it’s more your speed.

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