For those of us who enjoy sharing the outdoors with our young families, we have to tailor the experiences to suit the smaller members of our expeditions. This often means shorter, more accessible adventures, often accessed by throwing camping equipment into the car or four-wheel drive and heading off for a weekend getaway where there’s not too much hiking or too much climbing involved.
One of the benefits of driving to your destination rather than walking to it is that you don’t have to carry everything on your back. All of a sudden you don’t have to look for the lightest and most compact camping gear on the market… no, now you can start looking for features that will offer maximum comfort and convenience when you’re camping. This will not only give the kids the best chance of enjoying a family outdoor adventure, but also the adults charged with being responsible for the successful getaway.
One such piece of equipment that doesn’t have to be superlight and compact enough to fit in your backpack is a tent, which is just as well, because with a family in tow you’ll want something significantly bigger than a lightweight hiking tent. But size isn’t the only consideration; family tents offer a number of features that can mean the difference between a great family escape and a miserable weekend.
Oh, and don’t skimp on a family tent; you’ll need to open the purse strings if you want a tent that will handle inclement weather and last for more than a few short trips away.
TENT SIZE AND WEIGHT
The size of the tent you’ll need for family getaways will obviously depend on the size of your family, but you should also consider how long your trips will be; the longer they are the more gear you’ll likely need to stow in the tent.
In its erect state, there’s more to take into consideration than simply the overall size of the tent; does it have separate sleeping quarters, a vestibule/wet area and/or an awning? Features such as these can be extremely important to ensure everyone gets a good night’s sleep, especially if there’s inclement weather.
Although you won’t be lugging it around on your back, the weight of the tent is still something to consider in a family tent. You’ll not only need to be able to easily put it in your vehicle and then take it out again to manoeuvre it into position, but you’ll also need to ensure it doesn’t tip your vehicle’s payload into the red zone.
You’d be surprised at just how little weight many modern vehicles can legally carry; your vehicle’s payload can soon be exceeded just by filling it with occupants, fuel and a moderate amount of luggage, so by the time you throw in camping gear such as a fridge/ice box, food, water, some tools and vehicle recovery gear, you can soon be over the limit.
Finally, it’s important to examine the size and shape of the tent when it is packed for transporting to make sure it will fit in your vehicle. Some tents fold up into several smallish bags that can be packed around other luggage in your vehicle, while others will pack in such a manner that they can only be transported on your roof racks; what you choose will depend on the size and design of your vehicle and how you intend to transport the tent.
BEST TENT FEATURES
There are a number of features in family tents that are designed to improve the camping experience. As with any tent, a family tent is primarily designed to protect you from the elements, so it must offer excellent weather protection. There’s a huge range of family tents on the market manufactured from a variety of materials, from tough poly-cotton canvas to lightweight polyester and nylon. Weatherproofing features to look for include sealed seams, PU coated materials, flies, awnings and bucket floors.
Just as important as weather protection is ventilation; remember, with a whole family sleeping in the one structure you’re going to want plenty of fresh air, not just for odours but also to ensure you don’t have a build-up of condensation. Most family tents will offer plenty of fly-meshed windows/doors to ensure you get good flow-through ventilation.
If your trips usually see you camping in different locations night after night, you’ll want a tent that can be set up and packed away quickly and efficiently, but if you intend to stay in the one spot for several nights, chances are features such as an awning and separate wet area/vestibule could be more important to you.
The quality of materials and construction will have a big bearing on how well a tent will stand up to tough conditions, rough families and years of use and abuse. Take a close look at stitching, seams, zippers, fly screens, poles, guy-ropes and even pegs.
FIVE OF THE BEST FAMILY TENTS
Here’s a sample of some very different family tents. The one that best suits your needs will depend on many of the factors listed above such as your vehicle type, the style of camping you intend to do and where you intend to travel with your family.
1. BLACK WOLF
Black Wolf offers its Turbo range of family tents in either poly-cotton canvas (Turbo Plus) or lighter rip-stop polyester. Turbo tents are also available in a range of sizes.
Features include heavy-duty PVC floor, fold-away interior curtain divider, gusseted windows for ventilation, fibreglass fly screens on the windows and doors, taped seams, roof vent, fly, awning and zippered power-cord access.
There are a number of accessories available including screen rooms, side panels, front panels and an awning gutter that allows two tents to be joined together. Black Wolf also offers a range of smaller dome-style tents suited to families with smaller vehicles. They are made from polyester with a polyethylene floor.
The Wanaka draws upon Macpac’s geodesic design principles and is claimed to be a very stable freestanding six-person tent that’s quick and easy to pitch and features dual doors and a dividable floor space.
The fly is made from PU-coated polyester, the floor is PU-coated nylon and total weight is just 11.4kg. A small vestibule gives you space to stow wet/dirty items without having to drag them into the main tent area.
Plenty of meshed areas and a gap between the fly and the ground are designed to minimise condensation.
The Wanaka is well suited to families with smaller vehicles or those who want a simple tent design that’s easy to erect and pack away.
The Oztent RV range is ideal for those who want a tent that is quick and easy to set up; simply lay it out, pull it up in one motion and peg it into place. The Oztent RV offers excellent interior space with enough room to stand up and features a standard awning area. It is made from waterproof 8oz rip-stop poly-cotton canvas and has a heavy-duty heat-sealed PVC floor. There’s good ventilation via fly-screened windows and door opening.
Oztent offers a number of models and a heap of accessories, including side awnings, side panels, flies, awning connectors (so you can join two tents) and more.
The packed length is quite long at 2m, so the Oztent will have to go up on a set of roof racks, and a family-size RV weighs just over 20kg.
4. SOUTHERN CROSS CANVAS
Southern Cross Canvas tents are made from rot and mildew resistant canvas and feature UV stabilised fly screens and heavy-duty vinyl tub floors.
The Ultimate range has a centre pole design that allows for easy set-up. There are a number of models in the range catering from 2-3 people through to 6-8 people. The basic tent design has big meshed windows and door, and features such as internal dividers. You can add a number of accessories including a range of awnings.
Southern Cross also manufactures a range of Cabin tents ideally suited to families who generally spend more than one night in the same location. The Hut sleeps 3-4 people and the Sleeper sleeps 4-6 people. These are big tents with big awnings, and accessories include awning walls and additional awnings.
All Southern Cross Canvas tents are covered by a five-year warranty.
5. THE NORTH FACE
The Kaiju 6 from The North Face is an easy-pitch tent made from PU-coated polyester with a PU coated polyester floor. As such, it weighs less than 9kg which is quite amazing for a tent that is rated to sleep six people.
It has a three-pole tent design with a separate pole for the fly. With the fly erected the tent features a big vestibule, enough height that you can stand inside, a number of handy pockets for stowing items, internal hanger loops and more.
Big mesh areas offer great ventilation and space between the fly and the ground minimises condensation.
This tent is ideal for those with smaller vehicles who are after the ultimate lightweight family tent.