The Mumsnet guide to buying a family tent

Our tent buying guide contains everything you need to know to avoid a <cough> challenging start to your family camping trip 

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Inflatable, pop-up, bell... What does it all MEAN?

The humble tent has certainly changed over recent years, with even the basic tent pole now deemed obsolete for some campers. Terms you'll see used include:

Air-tents which use inflatable 'beams' (yes really) instead of poles. Quick to erect (phnarr), lightweight and sturdy. You will, however, need to remember the air pump - every trip, without fail, or you're doomed. 

Pop-up tents just er, pop up. Typically smaller, and probably best suited to short breaks/a night in the garden.

Tunnel tents are based on a (you guessed it) tunnel design, where a series of poles - or indeed air-beams - form arches, giving plenty of headroom. Most 'family' tents are based on this design. 

Bell tents (of glamping fame) - think cotton canvas, a single structure and one large room (dividers can be purchased separately). Although they're easy to put up, bell tents take up a lot of space when drying out, and can be heavy to transport.

Trailer tents - old-school perhaps, but they hold their own in terms of the space offered. You'll need a tow-bar fitted to your car, but perhaps the biggest hurdle is where to keep them when not in use. 

"Pop-up tents are supposed to be straightforward to put up and tunnel tents are the easiest shape to put up if you don't want a bell. I'd avoid anything with pods or unusual shaped bits."


What should I be looking for?

Berth: The general consensus is always size up at least two people from what it says. A four-berth tent will be quite 'cosy' for two adults and two children, especially with all your camping paraphernalia inside.

That said, don't take it to extremes. You'll be amazed how much you'll need to take with you and that means finding space for all your clobber, plus the tent (and the kids) in the car. And despite your best efforts, you may well not get it folded away *quite* as neatly as when you first bought it.

Space/height: Unless you fancy crawling around a tent, look for one with plenty of headroom. Additionally, having a spare sleeping pod for 'stuff' can come in very handy.

"Always buy the biggest you can afford. Get plenty of living space with good headroom if camping in the UK, as misery is a cramped tent in the rain."

Canvas or nylon?

With the exception of bell tents, most family tents are made from nylon. You can purchase canvas tunnel tents, but these are slightly more expensive. Canvas is cooler but unless you're venturing out of the UK you might not enjoy the temperatures to appreciate this.

Do I need to buy new?

If you've never camped before it is worth borrowing or buying a cheapo second-hand tent (look on eBay and local selling sites) before you make a significant investment. Even if you're a seasoned camper looking to upgrade, there's absolutely no need to buy new with plenty of bargains to be had, especially at the end of the summer.

"Try and get to a camping or tent show. You can see a selection already pitched and if you see one you like they discount the models at the end of show."

What else might I need?

Groundsheet: The choice is between an integral (sewn-in) or separate groundsheet. Some campers prefer integral to keep the bugs out, others prefer being able to unclip and dry a groundsheet separately.

Footprint: Basically an extra groundsheet, cut to the exact size of your tent (you erect the tent on top). Not essential, but it will add an extra layer of warmth and waterproofing.

Awning: A little porch if you will.

"Get a tent with an awning and footprint: it gives you somewhere to leave muddy shoes where they won't get rained on, so the inside of the tent stays nice and clean (though take a brush and dustpan to sweep out before you pack up and go home)."

Carpet: Eh? Essentially a rug, but deemed a 'tent carpet' in camping circles. Some tents have specific carpets available to buy which fit the tent exactly. They do add an extra layer of warmth - but so too would a picnic blanket.

Do I need a dark tent to block out the sun?

Anyone with young children will appreciate how, erm, full of life they are first thing - and the thought of children up at the crack of dawn is enough to put anyone off the camping life. But be careful if opting for a dark tent:

"They don't let light through, but they do absorb the heat terribly - so can become stifling very quickly once the sun's up if you are lucky enough to have good weather. This is less of a problem with larger tents."

A more viable option from popular brand Vango is a range of tents with darker 'lights out' sleeping pods. Or, you could attempt to whip up your own bedroom liner with some blackout material and a few clothes pegs.

Alternatively pack something 'quiet' (portable DVD player, tablet, jigsaws) for the kids to do while the rest of the camp sleeps-in. And keep your fingers crossed that the fresh air and exercise works in your favour.

"My daughter is an early riser, at home she's usually awake by 6am but regularly sleeps till 8am when we are camping - which is sheer luxury for us! She charges around with the other kids till about 9pm then a quick supper and into bed by 9.30ish."


More advice for happy camping...

Family camping hacks: must-pack items

Mumsnet reviews: top UK campsites

Last updated: over 2 years ago