Hopefully our guide will show you, not just how to ‘choose’ the best tent for your family, but also how to buy it at the best price.
- Consider Your Needs
- Consider Your Budget
- Do your research & draw up a shortlist
- Visit a camping dealer or store
- Choosing where and when to buy
The Family Camping Trend
Family camping holidays are becoming increasingly more popular here in the UK. Every week thousands of families regularly camp across the country, preferring to holiday here in the UK, rather than jetting off abroad.
Whether you’re planning a short weekend away or a long summer break with the kids, a good quality family tent is absolutely essential – it needs to be your home away from home.
The good news is tent manufacturers go to great lengths to make their ‘family tents’ that little bit more luxurious, with little extras that help make the camping experience just that little bit better!
What Exactly is a Family Tent, Aren’t All Tents the Same?
Quick answer, No! —Family tents come in a wide variety of designs and styles and will typically be large enough to stand up in, will offer multiple bedrooms, a large living area and more commonly a porch or covered area in which to cook and socialise.
Additionally, family tents will invariably have a range of optional accessories available such as carpets, protective footprints and even extensions to add extra space and comfort. (More on these later).
Step 1: Consider Your Needs
Shopping for a family tent can, and should be an enjoyable and exciting experience. However, with prices ranging from about a hundred pounds up to a few thousand, you want to be sure you’re choosing the right family tent, with the right features, and getting it for a good price.
Before you even look at a tent, consider what your families particular requirements will be. Even if you think you know what kind of tent you’d like to buy, you may find that,
the tent you ‘think‘ you want, and the tent you need,
aren’t quite the same thing!
So, what size tent do you need?
The generally excepted wisdom on size is, if you’re using your car to go camping with you partner and the kids, then buy the biggest tent you can afford! You’ll appreciate the extra space, the increased headroom, and you’ll have plenty of room for the kids, pets and all your extra gear – and you will eventually have lots, trust me.
There is one caveat here though, and that is the tent’s ‘packability’, but more on this later.
If it’s just the two of you, opt for at least a three or four-person tent. Again, the extra space will not only give you more room for your gear, but also provide a larger living space, which you’ll really appreciate when it’s raining or too cold to sit outside. However, despite this being sound advice for most couples, there’s been a growing trend across campsites in the last few years.
With the increasing popularity of air tents, and their ease of pitching, many couples (ourselves included), are opting for even larger tents. Today, it’s not uncommon to see couples camping in five, six and even seven berth tents!
Savvy Tip: Tent manufacturers are notoriously conservative when it comes to specifying occupant capacity. Always opt for a tent at least one person bigger than you need, and always consider the bedroom configuration and layout – you may want the kids to have their own bedroom?
What style or shape to choose?
There are several popular tent designs on the market today, although the most popular are without doubt, Tunnel Tents and Domes. Of the two, tunnel tents are the more common choice for a family tent.
It would be remiss of me not to also mention Bell Tents in this list. These cotton canvas tents are synonymous with ‘Glamping‘ and are usually of very high quality. They are also frequently available to rent on campsites.
To be honest, I could write a complete article on the pros and cons of each tent design, and other have, but I have found, in reality, it almost always boils down to one thing – Personal Preference.
Weight and packability
If your using your car then weight won’t usually be an issue, but one area that is often overlooked – until it’s too late – is the ‘packability’ of your tent.
“Trust me, trying to pack a large family tent and all your other camping gear into a small hatchback is an art form, but it can be done!”
When you do eventually get to the local camping dealer and start drooling over the latest 9 berth tent and it’s huge list of exciting features – Remember – you need to ensure the tent AND all of your other camping gear will actually fit in your car!
What should my tent be made of?
Well, tents can be made of polyester, cotton canvas, polycotton or nylon, and poles may be aluminium, steel or composite materials.
Inflatable tents on the other hand, do away with conventional poles, instead utilising inflatable tubes as the tents main support.
Most family tents are made from polyester and have metal poles.
Canvas & Polycotton Tents
Canvas and polycotton tents, tend to be slightly more expensive than polyester, however polycotton tents are generally considered to be warmer in the cold and cooler in the heat.
They also don’t tend to suffer from condensation in the mornings, which can sometimes be a problem with polyester tents.
Inflatable, blow up or air tents are becoming increasingly popular in the UK, mainly because they are much quicker and easier to pitch.
These tents utilise air filled tubes or beams to provide a firm rigid structure in place of traditional poles. The tubes are filled through valves using either a hand pump or an electric one – both of which allow the tents to be set-up in a matter of minutes.
The video below shows Outwell’s Smart Air system and is a good example of how easy air tents are to pitch.
Generally speaking inflatable tents are the most expensive, with the larger family models ranging from around £800 to as much as £3,000.
Finally don’t get confused by all the different names you’ll see for inflatable tents, such as Outwell’s ‘Smart Air’, Vango’s ‘AirBeams’ and Kampa’s ‘Pro Air’ to name a few. These are simply the manufacturers unique proprietary names for their inflatable tent range. And, whilst technically they are all slightly different, in reality they all do pretty much the same thing – support your tent!
You may also see from some manufacturers, a tent with the same layout, available in different materials – polyester or polycotton for example, and more recently in both traditional pole and inflatable versions.
Design Features and Optional Accessories
The design features and optional accessories of a tent can make a big difference to the quality of a family camping experience. Whilst none of them are absolutely essential, I would recommend you try to ensure as many of them are either included with, or available separately for your choice of tent.
Integral Groundsheet: An integral (sewn-in) groundsheet will not only keep out the bugs and creepy crawlies, but will also stop draughts and rain from entering the tent.
Bedrooms: The size and configuration of the bedrooms within the tent will be an important consideration for a many families. When children are younger a shared bedroom is often okay, but as children grow older, particularly if you have girls & boys, then separate bedrooms suddenly become a whole lot more important.
Windows: Nice easy one this; more is better, tinted is nice and curtains are essential.
Sun Canopy: A sun canopy creates a nice shaded area to sit under whilst enjoying the sunshine during the day and a covered area for socialising in the evening.
Covered Doorways & Side Canopy: These have become a common design feature on a lot of modern family tents. Smaller canopies simply help prevent rain entering the tent as you use the doorway, whilst larger ones, such as the one feature on the popular Outwell Montana 6P, can actually provide a small extra space inside the tent that can be used for storage, cooking or with kids – very often an emergency or overnight toilet!
Footprint (Optional): Basically an extra groundsheet, cut to the exact size and shape of your tent (you erect the tent on top of it). Not essential, but it will add an extra layer of warmth and protection to your tent.
Carpet (Optional): Yes, carpets! Similar in design to a picnic blanket, these ‘tent carpets’ provide an extra layer of warmth and a nicer feeling underfoot. They are also more pleasing on the eye than a drab black groundsheet. Most of the large manufacturers have a specific carpet available for each of their tents models, and each is designed to fit the interior of the tent exactly(ish).
Some manufacturers also offer special multi layered, thermally insulated carpets and even heated (yes, plug in the mains, heated!) versions.
Porch (Optional): Again, designed specifically for your tent, a porch is essentially an additional sheltered area that attaches to the front of the tent to provide additional space for cooking and socialising.
Awning (Optional): Similar to a porch above but, usually larger and designed with a door so the extra space can be closed. Essentially this adds an extra room to the front of the tent.
Roof Protector (Optional): As the name implies these covers are designed to provide protection from damaging elements like UV-radiation, bird poop and tree sap. Some manufacturers also offer dual coated versions, with one side being silver and the other black to counter the effects of extreme temperatures and condensation.
Step 2: Consider Your Budget
How much to spend?
Family tents can be expensive – you can spend a lot, as much as £3,000+ in fact. However don’t be drawn into spending more than you are comfortable with. It’s all too easy to let your desire to buy the best family tent in the range, overrule simple common sense.
Make an honest assessment of your available budget, and bear in mind that buying a tent on finance or credit may make a tent more affordable in the short-term, but paying ‘cash’ is often the cheapest way to buy one in the long run.
As well as the initial purchase price, remember to factor in the cost of all the additional camping gear that you will need, such as sleeping bags, airbeds, cooking equipment, lighting, etc (more on these here).
Step 3: Do your research, draw up a shortlist
Once you’ve narrowed down your needs – and any other criteria, such as style or brand – it’s time to start researching the most suitable models available in your price range.
Here is a list of some popular tent manufacturers where you can check out their latest catalogues…
Check prices online
Even if you’d prefer to buy locally or from a camping dealer, do collect quotes from several sources as prices vary enormously across the country – and you may find your local dealer will price match or beat a price to secure a sale.
Once you have enough information, draw up a shortlist of two or three of the tents you’re most interested in, along with the best prices you’ve found for each.
Step 4: Go visit a camping dealer or store
Done your homework? Good. Now I highly recommend you go visit a camping dealer that has the tents you’re interested in set up, so you can have a look inside. Trust me, looking at a tent in a box in the warehouse, just isn’t the same! Call and ask!
Remember, it’s one thing to read about a tents dimensions and occupant capacity, but quite another to walk around inside one. Sometime a tent that ticks all the boxes on paper simply doesn’t feel right in the flesh.
Visiting a dealer also allows you to make comparisons and ask questions, such as how easy a particular tent is to pitch for example. Whilst most tents these days are pretty intuitive, some are easier to set-up than others – especially in bad weather – a dealers advice here can often be invaluable.
Step 5: Choose where and when to buy
While you may be more familiar – and comfortable – with the idea of visiting your local camping dealer or store to buy a tent, it is also relatively easy to buy a tent entirely over the Internet.
There are pros and cons to buying in-person and online, and the right way for you will depend greatly on your circumstances and the deals on offer at the time.
Buying from a Camping Dealer
If you are buying in person at a dealer, go well-prepared. That means knowing (ideally) the exact model and options/accessories you’d like, and how much you should be paying.
Remember: the price you see on the website (or on the price tag), should be viewed as a starting point for a negotiation with the salesperson.
Sales teams and dealers nearly always have some room to manoeuvre on price, so push hard for a discount and if they don’t offer one (or some sort of other incentive, such as free footprint, carpet or other desirable extra) be prepared to walk away – there’s usually another place to buy your new family tent.
Savvy Tip: If you also intend to buy camping gear, such as sleeping bags or a stove for example, buy it with your tent! You are far more likely to get a reasonable discount on a complete package than just buying the tent alone.
A key advantage of buying online is the ability to compare prices from dealers all over the country without necessarily having to haggle with them in person. Websites such as Ebay can also be a good starting point and very often serve as a good benchmark of what you can expect to pay elsewhere (both new and used).
Remember though, if possible don’t buy a tent that you have not seen setup.
Savvy Tip: Even online dealers will often give you a discount – the secret here is to actually ask for one. Drop them an email or give them a call, explaining you’re a ‘new camper’ and are interested in x, y & z and ASK if could they could offer any sort of discount or incentive. You may be surprised at the result. Savvy retailers love loyal, repeat customers who will buy from them again in the future, so gaining a new one is always a win for them.
If you’ve never camped before and are a little unsure if you’ll actually like it, then I always recommend you consider buying a cheap second-hand tent first, (try Ebay or Gumtree). It’s definitely worth gaining some family camping experience, before making a significant financial investment on the new tent you want.
If on the other hand you’re a more experienced camper looking to upgrade the family tent on a budget, there are lots of great deals to be had buying second-hand. Just remember to apply the same rules as buying new – do your homework, and NEVER buy a second hand tent without seeing it pitched.
When to buy?
Generally speaking the best time to buy a tent is at the end of the summer, when demand is lower and dealers use discounted incentives to make sales. At the beginning of the year however, camping and tent shows are well worth a visit as they will not only have a selection of the latest family tents on display for you to see, but many of these display models are sold off at the end of the show, at discounted prices. Don’t be afraid to ask!
Savvy Tip: Most dealers will usually have a few of ‘last years model’ tents left in stock, which are often identical to, or only marginally different from the current version. These end of season tents are often attractively priced with discounts of as much as 20-30%. However, buying one can sometimes mean a shorter warranty – again don’t forget to ask!
If you take the trouble to follow these 5 easy steps and look around for the best deal on a new family tent, your first family camping experience is far more likely to be a good one. One hopefully filled with memories you will treasure for the rest of your life.
Did you get your perfect family tent? or were you left saying “…but it didn’t look that big in the photos!”
Maybe you got an awesome deal, and if so tell us where – we’d all love to know…
Share your experience of buying a new family tent with us in the comments below.