Now spring has arrived, we’re thinking forward to camping again. Our camping trip with friends is booked, although some are dragging their heels about getting organised and actually booking. People are also indecisive whether husbands are going too. Secretly I’m hoping that we have rainy weather in the run up and then beautiful weather from the day before we go and during our break. Because then the farmers will all need to harvest and won’t be able to come. Evil, but much as I like the husbands, it was lovely just to be away with the girls.
Because this is our third year, we’re pretty much sorted with camping equipment now. I just need to find where I’ve put it all because it’s been spread all over the house…in the depths of the under the stairs cupboard which will need emptying to get it out again). But I’m debating buying the extension for my tent to give us a bit more space undercover. Buying a tent is a hard thing to get right, so here’s my tips on how to choose a tent.
How to choose a tent for family camping
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1. How many people is it for
Tents always seem to be a tight fit. Always try and get a tent for at least 1 person more than you need. Bear in mind you’ll need room for your kit as well. We had a 4 man for our summer camping trip, but I upgraded to a 5 man for that extra bit of space – and there’s only usually N and I who go. Having a slightly larger tent may allow for friends to come camping with you.
2. Decide your budget
Tent prices vary enormously. Air beam tents are straight away more expensive, although I’d expect these to come down a bit over time. Buying out of season will mean less choice (and very little chance to check tents out in shops), but you’re more likely to get a sale price. But different brands are more expensive, so there are options if you want to go cheaper, you just might be buying a retailer’s own brand, or a brand you’ve not heard of before.
Also think about campsite costs. Some have 1 rate for all pitches, others charge extra for larger tents because you need a larger pitch. So don’t go all out huge if you’re worried about ongoing costs of camping.
3. Are you driving to the campsite
If you’re lugging equipment across fields at a festival you don’t want a heavy tent. But most family campsites let you park next to your tent, so the weight is less important. Do make sure the tent (and all the equipment) will fit in your transport, especially if you’ve a big family and a small car (think roof boxes if so!)
4. Do you want separate bedrooms
Most family tents now have bedrooms. These can be separate chambers off the main living area in bigger tents, while in tunnel tents, they’ll be set off at the back end of the tent. If you want to be slightly separated from your children (or snoring OH), then many tent bedrooms have a fabric curtain separator. If you want more defined bedrooms, go for bigger ‘chamber’ tents.
5. Standing room or smaller
Unless you want a small pop up tent, or can guarantee brilliant weather and have a gazebo for your living area, always buy a tent with standing room for adults. Our first tent wasn’t quite tall enough and it was really annoying not to be able to stand upright.
6. Do you want the tent to grow with you
A porch is a good idea to keep rain outside the tent. And many tents nowadays have options to extend the tents, so even if you don’t buy one to start with, buying a tent which can be extended, future-proofs it.
7. Easy to pitch – all in one pitching or air beam
I’m all for an easy life. I’ve pitched old fashioned tents at guide camp, A-frame pole tents in my childhood summers, and tunnel tents (*affiliate link). I can pitch our current 5 man tent on my own (unless it’s really windy) in about 15 minutes because the inside is clipped in. So much easier than doing it separately and less chance of the inner getting wet if it’s going up on a wet day. Most tents I’ve seen have all in one pitching.
The alternative for quick and easy pitching, is the newer air beam models. These are more pricy, and require a pump, but are seriously fast to put up. We’re talking minutes if you know what you’re doing. I’ve never slept in one, or seen one at the campsites we’ve been to, but they seem to be the way lots of companies are going with their ranges.
8. Think about the extras
I always think a sewn in groundsheet is essential (see no. 7 above), but I know people who like them without. Look for storage pockets, ventilation, hydrostatic ratings (the number rating that says how good it is at keeping rain out), zip flaps for the doors, opening for electric cable.
9. Ask around
I always think it’s surprising how many people I know who go camping. It means there’s a whole wealth of experience of people to ask advice for buying, tents themselves and any other camping questions. Find people to ask who do the same type of camping that you want to do.
10. Try some out
If you’re not sure whether you’ll enjoy camping, ask around to see if you can borrow one first. But make sure they’re complete as often pegs are missing as we found out on our first camping holiday with friends when one had borrowed a tent and was missing half the number of tent pegs)
Internet shopping is brilliant, but to make sure you know what you’re getting, it’s better to get out to a shop or event with tents set up so you can get a real idea of size. Unfortunately most stores don’t put up tent displays until well into Spring/around Easter time, but Go Outdoors are usually great for tent displays, as are PJ camping in the UK. The alternative is visit a camping exhibition like the Camping and Caravanning Show I went to last year. There’s every tent imaginable set up and you can sometimes get some extras thrown in (or ex demo tents for a discount at the end of the show). If you buy a tent and find it’s not quite as you expected after the first time of using it, you can quite easily sell them on afterwards for a reasonable price.
If you want to know what tent we use, we are Vango fans. We started off with a 4 man Beta XL* and have upgraded to a *5 man Padstow. I’ve since bought a Vango Edoras 5 man air tent, but we’ve not been camping since buying it, and I’m just hoping it’s safe and hasn’t been chomped on by mice wherever the OH stored it.
Hopefully this guide helps if you’re starting out on your camping adventures.
If you’ve any other tips, or tent recommendations, do let me know in the comments.
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