Trying to figure out the best family tent for your family? Before you get too bogged down on questions about pole structure and the benefits of nylon vs. polyester, remember that the best family tent is the one that’s going to get your family outside together the most often. For some families it’s going to be a tent that’s easy to set up after a long drive, for others it’s going to be a tent that keeps you dry even during a rainstorm. And for many of us, it’s going to be a tent that doesn’t break the bank!
For this roundup, we picked the best budget-friendly tents that fit common family priorities. We hope this roundup helps you find the best choice for your family, so you can be offline and roasting those marshmallows over a campfire in no time!
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IN THIS POST
- Our top 5 family tents for car camping in 2021
- Family Tent Buying Guide
- A Few More Family Tent Favorites
- What size tent do I need?
- Cabin vs. Dome
- Tent Maintenance Tips
THE TOP 5 BEST FAMILY TENTS FOR CAR CAMPING THIS YEAR
OVERALL BEST FAMILY TENT: COLEMAN CARLSBAD 6-PERSON DARK ROOM TENT WITH SCREEN ROOM
Our top pick is a solid budget-friendly fair-weather tent with some fun extras to make families happy.
It’s designed to be fast and easy to set up, always a plus after a long car ride. The darkroom feature keeps the tent cool throughout the day for nappers of all ages and just might encourage the whole family to wake up a little bit later. If anyone else has tried to keep a shouting 3-year-old quiet in a campsite at 6 am, you might also appreciate a design that aims to encourage sleeping!
The tent has an easy setup, awnings over the windows provide rain protection, a mesh “gutter” expels unwanted rain from the porch area, and materials that block the sun’s light and warmth speak to the tent’s craftsmanship. Priced under $200, this tent provides a lot of bang for your buck.
As a bonus, the “screened porch” creates a fun little insect-free hang-out space that expands your living area. If you’re planning on a couple of annual camping trips to warm and sunny destinations, the Coleman Carlsbad might be the perfect tent for you.
Full disclosure, we don’t own this tent, but ours is pretty similar! The interior space isn’t huge at 90 square feet, but it’s plenty of sleeping space for a family of four.
THIS TENT MAY NOT BE FOR YOU IF…
You like to camp in cooler climates. The mesh back window provides good ventilation, but it can get chilly in the tent overnight in cool temperatures. Likewise, the screen porch isn’t fully covered by the rainfly, so that area can get wet in the rain. It also would be nice if the peak height of 5’8” was just a few inches taller.
- Floor Space: 10 x 9 ft. floor with 10 x 5 ft. screened porch (bathtub style means actual floor space will be slightly smaller)
- Peak Height: 68 in.
- Weight: 22 lbs.
BEST FAMILY TENT TO KEEP YOU DRY IN THE RAIN: CABELA’S ALASKAN GUIDE MODEL GEODESIC 6
The top complaint of tent owners is that their tent didn’t hold up in the wind or a rainstorm. Most budget-friendly family tents that you’ll find on the market are three-season tents. These are more accurately one-and-a-half-season tents that perform best in fair weather.
If you’re looking for a family-size tent that will keep you dry in a rainstorm, consider Cabela’s Alaskan Guide Geodesic 6-Person Tent. Field-tested in Alaska, this four-season tent is made with rugged fabrics and a geodesic shape designed to stay stable, even in harsh winds.
Like other top-selling tents designed for wet weather, the full-coverage rainfly creates an integrated vestibule where you can keep gear and supplies dry while also protecting the tent’s entrance.
At just under $450 at the time of writing, this tent is at the top of our list from a budget perspective, but it’s a good value for a rugged four-season tent designed to keep you dry in harsh conditions.
THIS TENT MAY NOT BE FOR YOU IF…
You’re a fair-weather camper who likes an easy setup. The downside of the geodesic design is that it’s not exactly intuitive to assemble. If you purchase a geodesic tent, make sure to practice at home before setting it up at your site.
- Floor Space: 10 x 9 ft. floor (bathtub style means actual floor space will be slightly smaller)
- Peak Height: 75 in.
- Weight: 33 lbs.
WEATHERPROOF RUNNER UP: REI BASECAMP 6
Another tent highly recommended for keeping your family dry is the REI Basecamp 6. This tent also utilizes sturdy geodesic dome architecture and rugged materials for greater stability in rough weather.
Its two extra-wide doors make it easy to get in and out without crawling over anyone, and the pole design stretches the ceiling height so that the sloping walls are a bit less angled than other dome tents. The Basecamp also includes aluminum poles which are less susceptible to breaking under stress than the Alaskan Guide tent. Reviewers love the Basecamp’s 14 well-designed storage pockets.
If you want a solid tent that will keep the whole family dry, the Basecamp might be another great option for you.
BEST FAMILY TENT FOR EXTRA ROOM: OZARK TRAIL 10P DARK REST INSTANT CABIN
Finding this tent reminded me of the time I returned to my old apartment in New York after living in Virginia. I’d romanticized my beloved Brooklyn home, only to find a room in which a double bed touched all three walls and took up over half of the space. Similarly, I once cringed at the idea of a car camping with a huge family tent. But then I started shopping. And now I’m a little obsessed with this Ozark Trail 10-Person Dark Rest Instant Cabin.
The maximum height is 78”, and with near-vertical cabin-style walls, the average person will be able to comfortably walk throughout the tent without stooping. With a removable divider, the roomy 14’ x 10’ space can be divided into two rooms that will each fit a queen size air mattress.
As with the Coleman Carlsbad above, the tent was made with dark fabric which keeps the tent cooler throughout the day and encourages sleep.
I love that the design also has translucent windows on the rain fly so you can unzip the roof to reveal skylight panels. This concept is pretty cool, allowing you to have natural light in the tent and even stargaze without having to remove it. This also makes it a warmer option than tents with mesh roofs walls and a rain fly cover.
Last, but not least, the “instant” feature means that the tent has a quick and easy setup (some say under 5 minutes with practice). All in all, this large tent was designed for family comfort and convenience throughout.
THIS TENT MAY NOT BE FOR YOU IF…
You plan to camp in less than fair weather. It’s called a three-season tent, but it’s really more like a warm and sunny weather tent. Designed for the occasional camper looking for a comfortable and budget-friendly family tent, the quality of the tent fabric is mid-range. Unhappy tent owners mention “holes” found in the tent walls. Some of this is spots of sunlight peeking through the dark fabric, but it’s worth a careful inspection before your first trip.
- Floor Space: 14 x 10 ft. floor
- Peak Height: 80 in.
- Weight: 20 lbs.
The Ozark Trail Dark Rest Instant Cabin Tent also comes in 12 person model.
LARGE TENT RUNNER UP: COLEMAN WEATHERMASTER 10 PERSON TENT
Another very popular large tent option is the Coleman Weathermaster 10. Some of my outdoorsy mom friends who have mastered the art of comfortable camping swear by it.
As you’d expect, it has plenty of room for a large family with 153 square feet of floor space, a maximum 6′ 8″ height, and a cabin structure. There are two doors, one of which is hinged for easy in and out access, and a tent divider allowing families to split the interior space in two for extra privacy.
Like the Ozark Trail, this is a fair-weather value tent, but it will provide plenty of comfort for the whole family in warm and sunny locations.
BEST FAMILY TENT FOR EASY SET UP: CADDIS RAPID 6
If just the thought of a complicated or time-consuming setup process makes you want to avoid the campground, an instant tent like the Caddis Rapid 6 could be for you. Once you know how to use it, the setup process can be completed in as little as one minute! It’s also an ideal tent for solo setups if you’re on your own with the kids. The quick setup is the star quality of this tent.
The feel of the interior space comes next. The peak height of over 6.5 feet and vertical cabin-style walls makes the interior space feel as roomy as 100 square feet can get.
Made with better quality materials than many of its competitors in the instant-tent category, the Caddis Rapid 6 is a great option if you want a quick and easy camp setup that won’t cost you a dollar for the swear jar.
THIS TENT MAY NOT BE FOR YOU IF…
This is a no-frills fair-weather tent. You should be fine in light rain, but it’s not designed for a storm. The tent is made with quality materials, 190D polyester on the roof and rainfly, 210D polyester on the floor, but coverage is minimal. With a mesh roof offering beautiful night sky views and windows on all sides, you will be happy and well-ventilated in warm and sunny locales.
- Floor Space: 100 sq. ft.
- Peak Height: 80 in.
- Weight: 25 lbs. 8 oz.
QUICK SET UP TENT RUNNER UP: 6P COLEMAN CABIN TENT WITH INSTANT SET UP
A more budget-friendly alternative to the Caddis Rapid 6 is the Coleman Cabin Tent with Instant Setup. Like the Caddis Rapid 6, the Coleman Instant Cabin has pre-attached poles and sets up in under 2 minutes. The Coleman Cabin has an integrated rainfly, so you don’t even need that extra step unless you choose to purchase the rain fly accessory. One of the biggest complaints about this tent is that the solid, coated polyester roof doesn’t always protect well in the rain, so you may want to consider that additional purchase.
The Coleman Instant Cabin also comes in a 4 person version and a 10 person with darkroom technology.
BEST FAMILY TENT ON A BUDGET: COLEMAN TENT SUNDOME DOME
This classic tent has been popular with all kinds of campers for years. This list has several relatively inexpensive family tent options, but if all you need is a simple budget-friendly tent to get your family outside, you can’t go wrong with the Coleman Sundome Dome.
First introduced in 2011, it ticks all of the essential boxes. Its 100 square feet of floor space can easily sleep a family of four.
This is not a tent that you’ll want to hang out and walk around in, but if you’re happy spending most of your time outdoors and just need a tent to get you and the family there, this is a great value option to consider for warm-weather camping.
- Floor Space: 10 x 10 ft. floor (bathtub style means actual floor space will be slightly smaller)
- Peak Height: 6 ft.
- Weight: 7.3 lbs.
The Coleman Sundome Tent also comes in a 4 person version.
FAMILY TENT BUYING GUIDE
Family tent criteria are very subjective and based on the type of camping that you plan to do. For this post, we decided to focus on some of the most common needs of car-camping families. We placed a high priority on space, comfort, and value and chose to leave the backpacking and crossover tents for another day. All of the tents reviewed were designed to accommodate 6 or more people and we capped our budget at $500.
Specifically, we focused on the following criteria when comparing over 50 of the most popular car-camping tents on the market:
If there’s a good chance of wind or rainstorms where you’ll be camping, or it just gives you peace of mind to know that your tent is ready in case of a surprise storm, a tent’s weather resistance will likely be a top priority for you. In addition to the durability of your tent’s materials, you may want to swap out the spacious feel of a cabin-style tent for a dome shape designed to deflect wind and shed rain.
Weather-proofing will be the main reason to upgrade your tent purchase to include waterproof fabrics, stronger pole materials, full-coverage rain flies, and vestibules. You may also want to purchase some extra cord, tougher stakes, and get in the habit of staking out the guy lines to keep you from scrambling around if a storm hits.
We’ve definitely been there a time or two, and once even had to retreat to the car to keep dry!
If you camp in areas that are hot and humid, you’ll probably be looking for tents that provide good ventilation even with the rain fly on the tent.
For ventilation concerns, look for tents with mesh features that provide for excellent star-gazing on clear nights in addition to allowing for more fresh air.
Also, consider a tent with two doors or large windows on opposing sides of the tent. This way you can try to set it up to catch a breeze so that you get cross-flow ventilation throughout the day. Tents with large screen “porch” options are helpful in that you can leave doors open while ensuring that the creepy crawlies stay out.
SET UP AND EASE OF USE
I’ve never met a camper who didn’t appreciate a tent that was easy to set up and takedown. Arriving after sunset after a long drive, the last thing anyone wants to do is spend a long time setting up.
Some “instant tents” have poles that are permanently connected to the tent body, resulting in set up times under 5 minutes. With a tent like this, setup can even be a responsibility passed onto the kids.
These tents might be bulkier to store, but some car campers will be happy to trade in trunk space for quick and easy setup at the campsite.
When it comes to how spacious a tent feels, there are two things you need to consider: tent height and the square footage of the tent floor.
Tent height is the peak height at the center of the tent. How spacious the tent feels from there depends on whether the tent has vertical walls which allow for the tent height to continue throughout the interior space, cabin-style, or dome walls that curve down from the center.
When it comes to the tent floor, note that a manufacturer’s tent capacity is based on how many sleeping bags can fit side by side in a tent. The average 6 person tent is 80 – 100 square feet, with enough room for 6 standard sleeping bags to fit next to each other on the floor.
For this post, we chose to only include tents with a 6 person capacity or greater. This allows enough flexibility for a family of four to bring in plenty of duffels, the option for an air mattress, and flexible sleeping configurations.
If you’re in doubt of the right size tent for your family, most advise going against your backpacker instincts and sizing up.
Like everything else, choosing the most durable tent materials is going to depend on how you plan to use your tent. If you plan to take a few fair-weather camping trips per year, your decision is going to be different than if you are hoping to camp throughout the year. Nylon is stretchier than polyester, for example, so it is more likely to hold up to strong winds. However, the more affordable polyester is less susceptible to UV damage, which is a common problem for car campers who often leave tents up all day in sunny weather.
When thinking about durability, many are thinking about tent pole materials as well. Again, your choice will depend on your tent use. Aluminum poles are popular because they are lightweight, flexible, and strong. In a windstorm, they are likely to bend rather than break, which just might keep your tent up long enough to get back home and fix or replace them.
Fiberglass poles are less expensive than aluminum and are very common in car camping tents. These poles are going to be heavier than aluminum because the material is more fragile requiring the poles to be thicker to achieve similar strength. Other tents have steel poles that are stronger and less likely to shatter than fiberglass but are also heavy. It’s not uncommon to find tents with poles made of different materials so that they take advantage of the best qualities of each.
Another durability factor to consider is the thickness of the canopy, floor, and rainfly fabrics. Floor thickness is the most important of the three, as it’s going to be the layer that rubs against roots and rocks. This is one reason footprints are so important. Two lighter layers are more durable than one stronger one. A footprint is relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of your tent and is much easier to repair or replace than a tent bottom if it tears.
Are expensive tents worth it? Most families can get everything they need within the $150 to $400 range. How you value some of the upgrades and comfort features found in more expensive tents is going to depend on how often you camp and where you enjoy camping.
Campers who camp in all weather conditions are going to want more expensive materials to avoid wet interiors and broken poles. Most of the tents featured here are best suited to the average fair-weather car-camping family, so we chose tents that are priced no more than $500 at the time of writing.
FEATURES AND EXTRAS
Though you can undoubtedly camp happy in a no-frills tent, extras like well-designed storage pockets, screen porch areas, and tents with darkroom technology can be fun and enhance your comfort. We took note of tents that offered bells and whistles that seemed to be both fun and useful.
WHAT SIZE TENT DO I NEED?
Like everything else, the answer to this question is going to depend on your camping style. The tent capacity stated by the manufacturer is based on the number of adult sleeping bags that can be laid side by side in the tent. Thus, if you actually have 6 people, you’ll want a bigger tent to allow some room for your things and to move without tripping over others.
Our family of four currently has a 6 person tent with a floor space that is 90 square feet. Though it wouldn’t be impossible, I don’t think it would be very comfortable to go any smaller. For this reason, we decided to only look at tents with a capacity of 6 people or more in this post.
CABIN VS DOME?
PROS: CABIN TENT
- Near vertical walls extend the tent’s peak height throughout the tent interior. This allows you to walk around the tent without stooping.
- The high tent ceiling provides a roomier overall feel.
PROS: DOME TENT
- Better in bad weather because the wind blows over and around the rounded shape.
- Most rain flies offer greater coverage on dome tents. Domes with full rain fly may also have vestibules, which come in handy protecting gear and an entrance in the rain.
- Most, but not all, have a more straightforward set up and can be set up by one person.
CONS: CABIN TENT
- Not designed for storms. Wind hits a cabin wall directly and has a greater chance of knocking down the tent and even breaking your tent poles. The flat roof of some cabin tents allow water to collect, increasing the likelihood of leaks.
- Most, but not all, cabin tents are more difficult to set up and take down than dome tents.
CONS: DOME TENT
The stated peak height begins to slope down immediately. Most adults cannot walk through a dome tent without stooping.
TENT MAINTENANCE TIPS
When weighing how much to invest in your tent, you may be wondering how long a tent usually lasts and whether a more expensive tent might last longer. As with everything else, it depends. In this case, how hard you are on your tent and how much you pay attention to tent maintenance can make a big difference in a tent’s durability.
The following are some tips you might want to keep in mind if you want your family tent to last for years. Photos of kids enjoying s’mores by a campfire added below for a break while reading about tent maintenance.
BEFORE USE AND DURING SET UP
- It’s a good idea to set your tent up in the backyard before your trip. Take your time and make sure you have all the stakes and accessories you need, and that there are no visible tent defects that can cause headaches during your trip. Experienced campers suggest purchasing more rugged stakes and ropes for the guy lines, as manufacturer-provided stakes are often low quality.
- Sweep out the campsite before setting up your tent to get visible rocks and needles out of the way. This will help protect the floor of your tent from abrasion, and may make for a more comfortable sleep if using sleeping pads instead of a mattress.
- Use a footprint to protect the floor of your tent from rocks and roots. Not only will it help reduce abrasion on your tent floor, it will also keep moisture and mud from the underside of your tent. This keeps you dry and makes re-packing your tent much more pleasant! Your footprint shouldn’t extend beyond the perimeter of your tent, so it won’t collect and pool water during a rain shower. If you make your own footprint out of a tarp, be sure to trim or fold the edges so it’s the correct size for your tent.
- Watch how much direct sun your tent gets. Though people writing reviews are usually upset by wind or rain damage, the most problematic element for car campers is the sun. UV rays can degrade fabrics in the canopy and rainfly. Try to set up your tent in the shade if possible. If you’re planning to camp in sunny unprotected sites, consider polyester materials which hold up better to UV rays than fabrics like nylon.
WHILE USING YOUR TENT
- Be nice to your zippers. Outside of leaks and other weather fails, most unhappy reviewers really hate their tent zippers. Try to be patient with them, and never force them if they get stuck. If the zippers on your tent feel cheap, you might want to see if an upgrade is available.
- Keep it clean. Leave shoes outside so stray dirt and rocks won’t scratch or puncture the floor of the tent.
- It’s a good idea to keep all food and fragrant toiletries outside the tent, so critters won’t be tempted to gnaw a hole in the side to find your goods.
- Never pack up a wet tent. Try to hang it out to dry before you pack it up to give any built up condensation a chance to dry. If you can’t do this at your campsite, hang it out when you get home. Make sure your tent is completely dry before you move it back to storage so it doesn’t mildew in between trips.
BREAK DOWN AND MAINTENANCE AT HOME
- Do a basic cleaning after a long trip, or at the end of the season if you go on a few shorter trips. Tents are always hand-wash only. Avoid fragrant soaps if possible. REI has a helpful guide to tent cleaning.
- Reseal leaky seams. Most tents come pre-sealed by the manufacturer, but many experienced campers like to reseal with a seam sealer just in case. Make a habit of glancing at the seams before or after each trip to see if any of the seams are in need of some freshening up.
A FEW MORE FAMILY TENT FAVORITES
There are so many great tents out there, with features designed for every family wanting to get outdoors. I couldn’t let myself close out this article without also bringing your attention to these other great family tent favorites.
REI KINGDOM 6
A favorite of frequent campers and review sites alike is the REI Kingdom 6. At just over 83 square feet, the tent isn’t physically larger than other family tents, but something about it feels roomier to its fans. In addition to vertical walls with a peak height of 73”, the base is rectangular rather than square resulting in a half-barrel shape that can be utilized differently. The Kingdom 6 also comes with a zippered room divider that can be hung from various parts of the tent, so you can divvy up space in the way that makes the most sense to your family. Other interior features include a whopping 22 pockets that ring around the entire tent interior, so everyone can keep stuff organized and off the floor.
For a large family tent with vertical walls, the Kingdom 6 also does pretty well in rainy weather. The 75D polyester taffeta rainfly covers most of the tent all the way to the ground, though beware of its reputation for easily catching wind! The tent also has two huge doors at either end, which can be used to add a vestibule and a weather-protective awning. This used to be included but is now sold separately.
One reason that I didn’t put the Kingdom 6 higher on this particular list is that at $499 at the time of writing, its price is at the very top of our budget criteria. This is before adding on extras like the $100 mudroom vestibule and $65 footprint. This is a high-end tent with features that will be most appreciated by families who camp often.
- Floor Space: 100 sq. ft.
- Peak Height: 80 in.
- Weight: 25 lbs. 8 oz.
EUREKA! COPPER CANYON LX 6
The Eureka! Copper Canyon LX 6 is a great family tent for tall families. With a peak height of 7 feet and a cube-like cabin shape, it’s one of the most spacious in its class. Like other cabin tents, it’s not the best option if you’re going to be camping in stormy weather, but it should keep you protected on an average rainy night.
One thing I love about the design is that the fly protects the ceiling and juts out to steer rain away from the walls, but it’s not needed for privacy like some other tents. The large windows can be open for 360 views when you want them, but they also can be closed for plenty of privacy if you’re at a campsite within view of your neighbors. Then, when you’re camping in good weather, you can leave the fly off at night for wide-open nighttime stargazing through the mesh roof without worrying about covering any see-through mesh walls.
- Floor Space: 10 x 10 ft.
- Peak Height: 7 ft.
- Weight: 21 lb. 15 oz.
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