As your family grows, it’s common for your family’s tent needs to grow, too.  For us, life before Mason was a lot simpler when it came to camping. My go-to for years was a 2-man backpacking-style tent from Sierra Designs. It got the job done and I slept many nights under the stars. Then came baby. It’s funny how a little person can take up so much room.

Life after Mason meant graduating to a 4-man Alps tent, which we loved hard for the last few years. But as of recent, our little family of three seemed to have outgrown this one, especially when camping in the rain or needing a little sheltered play space to tuck Mason into during the afternoon.

Photo: Arika Bauer/Zion Adventure Photog

I started to throw out the idea of something a little bigger, to which Mark, my significant other, rolled his eyes and insisted we didn’t need. But I when my sister showed up with her twins to camp with us, toting what looked like a circus big-top tent because it was so large, I had to admit I was a bit jealous.

Then we had an opportunity to try out a Big Agnes Big House Deluxe 4-man and it was a game changer. The first time we pulled it out of the bag and began unrolling it, Mark groaned and whined for the first minute. But within five minutes, we had popped it up. Then when Mark walked into the tent and could full stand up, he was sold and there was no going back. We were both sold.

While I am very aware these bigger tents also come with a bigger price tag, here’s what I’ve found with them: if you spend the money and pick the right one, this is a tent that can be with your family for many years.

Family Camping Tents – Top 3 Picks

Over the last year, we’ve been trying different “family-style” camping tents and decided on three we feel are completely worth every penny spent. I also include a runner-up tent that is at a lower price point.

Big Agnes Big House Deluxe, 6-man / 3 Season

If you’re looking for the easiest setup of all time for a large tent, the Big Agnes Big House Deluxe might be it.

There are two hefty poles that crisscross at the top. Lay the tent flat, cross the poles and feed them through a sleeve on top. Pop up and then snap the plastic hooks in place to secure it. This is one of the fastest tents to set up I’ve ever seen when it comes to large tents. There’s nothing complicated about the initial setup; however, like most large tents, you’ll want two hands on deck.

Photo: Arika Bauer/Zion Adventure Photog

What I especially love about this tent is its headroom at 6.5 feet. And the top is mesh, so if you are in a dry environment, this tent is amazing for stargazing. The mesh also keeps it very breezy inside the tent. I was a little wary of the fact that, unlike most tents I’ve owned, this one didn’t have a mesh door, so when you zip it closed, that’s it – it’s closed.

Another thing that makes this tent a great family option is the storage. There are mesh pockets running along the top of the tent just below the mesh roof, which are great for storing keys, phones and other things that you want to keep up and away from a baby or toddler crawling around on the floor. This is also a great place to slide a headlamp in for light inside the tent when you want to have light but don’t want a lamp on the floor.

Spacewise, there is tons of room in this tent for families of 3 and 4. As you get to 6, you might find yourself feeling a bit cramped, but there is a vestibule option ($139.95) that can be added on for an additional storage area if you have a lot of people camping in the tent or if you brought a pack n’ play, which can take up a lot of space.

The downside to this tent is the rainfly. We put it on during a bit of a windstorm in Zion National Park and found it to be a bit confusing to figure out the front and back. Also, there is a small tension pole that seems like it should be easy to slide in to hold the front of the fly out a bit from the tent so rain stays out of the tent, but it was really tight and hard to get in place. We felt like we were going to break the piece, so we put it in and actually have avoided using it since, which leaves us with a floppy fly. Luckily we have been mainly camping in good weather and we also have the vestibule, which means we don’t have to use this fly. This was pretty much my only complaint with the Big House Deluxe.

But despite the rainfly, there were a few pluses: the packing down is very easy. Just roll it up quickly and slide it in. There are two pockets –  one holds the fly and the other holds the tent. The two side sandwich together and buckle. It’s very easy to pack and head home. It’s also light considering the size. After hauling around a Coleman for a season, I was pretty surprised at how light the 13 lbs., 11 oz. family-sized Big Agnes was.

Other great features: the poles are color-coded for easy setup and they’re all pretty straight forward, making setup in the dark a breeze. Having doors on both sides is a major plus if you don’t want to crawl over anyone in the night. The “welcome” mat at the front door is also a nice added touch and a reminder of just how family-friendly this company is.

To summarize:

    • Pros: Easiest setup, high headroom, lots of storage options, two doors, easy to pack up and carry at under 14 lbs.
    • Cons: Rainfly was hard to get into place.
    • Price: $399.95

Photos: Arika Bauer

Nemo Wagontop 4-Person

If you want a family camping tent that will likely last you until your toddler goes to college, Nemo is the one.

Known for building both high-quality and aesthetically pleasing products, this tent is just another bomber item from the company. Again, we were surprised at how easy this tent was to set up – after the first time. While the tent is actually quite easy once you figure out the pattern, what I personally found frustrating was that the directions didn’t really spell it out clear enough and assumed the user had set up a similar style tent before. Luckily, I recruited some help from a nearby site to rescue me from ending up a weepy mom mess in the middle of the campsite while my son ran around like a wild animal. So give yourself time, patience (and an adult helper) the first time you set it up. After that, it will be a breeze.

Photo: Arika Bauer/Zion Adventure Photog

I was solo camping on this first trip with the Wagontop, so I had to manage my tiny four-nado while trying to get a new tent up and the sunset was long gone and dark was fast approaching. Yes, horrible planning on my part and I definitely should have done a YouTube scan on how to set this tent up before arriving, but I had been spoiled by my experience with the Big Agnes tent, so I expected the same.

Once we figured out the crisscross pattern of the two very bizarre-looking poles, it was easy. I think the spidelike-ness of the poles can seem a little daunting until you have tried it a few times. The second time I set it up was easier, and then by the 4th time, I began to really understand why the designers did it this way.

Here’s what’s awesome about this tent: it’s rock solid. I feel like you could practically survive a tornado in it. Definitely my son torquing on the poles and leaning deeply into it for “fun” is similar to severe weather. The pole system makes this tent feel like you don’t need the guy lines staked down as seriously as other tents.

Another plus of this tent is while the tent only has doors on one side, there are two doors on the font, which means you don’t have to lean over your child or partner to zip out of the tent. And the headroom is awesome at 6.6 feet. It also feels a lot bigger on the bottom than many 6-person tents, so even if you have four people, you won’t feel crowded thanks to the design that flares out a bit.

The thing that Nemo does really well is the single wall setup. This means no pesky rainfly flapping in the wind. The window flaps and extra front door piece that you snap on after setup will protect you in a rainstorm. The lack of fly also means there is less to dry out when you break down camp. Add the garage on and you have tons of extra space for muddy boots and wet jackets.

If we have any complaints about the Nemo Wagontop (beyond the tricky first-time setup), it might be the weight (27 lbs. definitely makes this one a bit heavier to haul around) and zipping it into the duffel bag. You don’t have to be precise, but you do need to take time to pack it up or it may not fit in the bag. Once it’s zipped in, it’s super compact and really slides into a trunk well.

Another Nemo product we got to try was the Victory blanket. This is a waterproof mat that’s an excellent addition to throw outside your tent and stake down so baby can roll around on it with toys and not get dirty while you work your way around the campsite setting things up. Also, this is a nice layer inside the tent to keep the bottom a little bit cozier. It fits perfectly into the 4-man!

To summarize:

  • Pros: Tent is rock solid and sturdy; holds up well in rain or wind. Easy to set up (once you get the hang of it), tons of storage space with added garage.
  • Cons: Instructions not explicit, so we found it confusing to set up the first time; heavier to carry (though compact).
  • Price: $399.95

Photos: Arika Bauer

Therm-a-rest Tranquility 6

Are you a 2-parent, 3-kid family? The Therm-a-rest Tranquility 6 is the tent for you.

Weighing in at 18 lbs., this family cabin of a tent offers great space and privacy dividers to keep the kids in their own zone. What we liked about this tent from the moment we got our hands on it was how it packs into a backpack. This tent could actually be taken on a backcountry trip with an older child (OK, maybe pre-teen or teen) carrying the tent in for the whole family.

Photo: Arika Bauer/Zion Adventure Photog

The tent slides out of a backpack and reveals three separate attached sleeves to put poles in (there are three sets of poles), so everything stays neat and tidy in there. The poles can feel a little overwhelming upon first glance, but the directions were great and we were able to quickly pop the tent up. We didn’t try it solo, but it seemed like this is actually one of the few behemoth tents that can be set up with just one person, making it a rare family option for the single parent. The key thing that makes this tent easy to raise is that there are hard plastic loops on the poles to hook tent clips and rainfly into on the top of the tent to make it secure and raise quickly.

Once you pop it up, you’ll notice a lot of great features. We love the boot and flip-flop prints at the entrance of the door, indicating the best spot to put your shoes before entering the tent, which is a good reminder for little kids popping in out with dirty shoes. We also loved the storage inside the tent. There were plenty of places to slide in a phone or keys up high and out of the way of little hands.

The length of the tent make having a front and back door key. This one is a bit like a caterpillar and definitely feels like a 6-person tent. Another great part of this tent was the zipped-in separation area, allowing for a kid and adult zone. This can be zipped open and tucked away or closed easily.

This tent gets an A+ for stargazing. Again, we see the rooftop mesh, which is a great feature for families at night, especially when a little one can’t sleep. And if the rain comes in, the fly is relatively easy to slide on in a hurry. We suggest watching the excellent video that Thermarest has on their site to see how to attach the fly quickly.

Another side note about this tent is that the poles, add-on floor mat and rainfly can actually act as a sun shelter without the tent if you want to use it for a day outing. This makes the tent multi-purpose and allows you to ditch the heavy pop-up tent you have been hauling to the beach.

This tent has the least height of the three we reviewed with 6.3 feet in headroom, which is still plenty tall for most families. There are also additional accessories that can be purchased to increase size in the tent if you need more storage and poles that can allow you to turn the rain fly entrance into a stand-up awning to protect the entrance from rain and making it easier to enter the tent.

We didn’t experience any windstorms in this tent, but we have read and heard it can withstand heavy gusts well. Based on the design and how sturdy it felt setting up, we would guess this one would do well in heavier weather.

One last thing we would like to note is that we expected this tent to be a hard one to break down and put away (three tent poles, pretty long, seemingly tight backpack bag), but we were pleasantly surprised at how well this one packed down quickly and everything had a place within the pack. We were able to take it from brand new and pack it back down pretty close to what it looked like when we started. (Check out the picture below of Mark carrying it to see the size of it on a 5’10” man’s back for perspective.)

If the price tag on this one scares you away, consider bumping down to the 4-man if you don’t need the 6-man tent. We also tried the 4-man out and it felt incredibly roomy and had the same standup height of the 6-man.

To summarize:

  • Pros: Dividers for privacy, packs easily into backpack, fairly light at 18 lbs., clear setup instructions, amazing for stargazing, rainfly can double as sun shelter, high headroom and sturdy for all-weather.
  • Cons: More expensive than others on this list, but the features (combined with quality) are totally worth it for larger families.
  • Price: $599.95

Photos: Arika Bauer

Family Camping Tent – Runner-Up

While we know these aren’t in everyone’s budget, we’re confident they’re some of the best when it comes to larger tents. If budget is an issue, here’s another suggestion we tried out and liked in a lower price bracket.

Coleman Carlsbad 4-person Darkroom with Screenroom

The Coleman Carlsbad offers a great price point option with the added bonus of being a dark-out tent, so it’s great for midday napping toddlers. Downside: it’s hot. This tent doesn’t breathe, even with the fly off, so don’t plan on using this in Southern hotter regions. It’s great for the Northwest or New England. Be aware that the lines inside the tent poles are a little weak and seem to snap easily.

Price: $199.95

Photo: Coleman.com

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What are your favorite family camping tents? What type of gear review should we do next? Comment below!

2 thoughts on “The New Era of the Family Camping Tents

  • Jenelle Canny

    We got the REI coop kingdom 6 person. It comes in a backpack. I actually set it up by myself. We splurged for the garage attachment which came in handy when it downpoured one evening. Big enough for a queen size mattress! There are so many good options!

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