The waterproofness of your new tent is a key feature, especially if you’re planning on camping in rainy Britain. Look for the “hydrostatic head” rating of a tent’s outer material – this is usually measured in millimetres, and anything over 1,000mm will stop rain seeping in and keep you dry. The floor of the tent should also be fully waterproof – look for a sewn-in groundsheet with a coated nylon floor.
Working out the right sized tent for a growing family can be confusing. Be wary of the number of people a tent claims to sleep (e.g. “four man” or “six man”) – this usually means how many adults you could squeeze in at a push, sardine style. We recommend halving the number to work out how many the tent will sleep in comfort, so a six or eight man tent will usually fit a family of four nicely, with plenty of space for gear and cooking kit.
Separate bedrooms are great for longer trips, or if you have older children or teenagers who need to their own space. A roomy porch, especially one with plastic windows, is great for hanging out in on wet days, and some standing room is a big help for sorting out gear.
Big family tents are heavy, take up space and can be fiddly to erect, so make sure you’ve got space in the car to store a weighty model. Newer family models are now often inflatable with pumps instead of erected with traditional poles. These “air” tents can be a real time-saver if you have a decent pump.
If you’re staying at one campsite for a week or two, a heavy but roomy tent is worth the weight, as you’ll only have to pitch it once. If you’re moving a lot or are only going away for a weekend, you may want to pick something lighter and more portable. It’s worth having a go at putting your new tent up in the garden before your holiday too, as big multi-room tents can be fiddly to erect.
If you’re after something a little different, consider investing in a canvas “glamping” style bell tent instead of a polyester one. While they tend to only be water resistant and won’t withstand torrential rain, canvas tents are ideal for hot weather, as they are cool and breathable, and they also tend to be very spacious, with plenty of head height. It’s the ideal option if you’re off on a camping holiday in the Mediterranean or for taking the family to a summer festival.
Key specs – Weight: 17kg; Size: 4 man; Material: Polyester; Waterproofing: 4,000mm; Bedrooms: 1 or 2
We’re impressed by how much you get for your money with Mountain Warehouse’s Buxton tent, which includes one roomy bedroom that can easily be converted into two as children get older.
The living space isn’t huge but there is good headspace, and the tent was one of the most breathable we tested, with plentiful vents for hot nights. We also found the Buxton easy to pitch, with colour-coded poles making it intuitive to erect.
The compact Buxton might not be a tent you spend lots of time in, but as a comfy base on camping adventures it’s great, and comes in at a very affordable price.
Decathlon’s own-brand Quechua tents are brilliant if you’re on a budget. Our top pick from the range is the Air Seconds, an inflatable family tent best suited to a family of four.
If you struggle to get a good night’s sleep in a tent (especially if you’re woken up by smaller campers), one with blackout bedrooms like this option is a sensible choice, and the two well-sized bedrooms in the Air Seconds are separated by a wide living space with good head height.
The Air Seconds is surprisingly quick and easy to blow up too (it’s possible to blow it up alone but far easier with two), and we found it stood up against wind and rain with no issues, performing very well for its affordable price tag.
If you’re buying your first family tent and are feeling a little overwhelmed by the sheer choice available, Regatta’s Karuna is a fuss-free and affordable option suitable for a family with one child or two small children for use on shorter weekends away.
The Karuna is a nice size and weight for smaller cars too, and is easy to store at home. A whopping 5,000mm of waterproofing means rain won’t stop play, and we love the wide arch design, which gives a feeling of space inside and makes the open outer porch a great place to sit or cook.
If you’re planning a camping holiday in the UK, it’s best to be prepared for mercurial weather driving you into your tent at times. If it does, you’ll be pleased to be in the Hi Gear Vanguard, which has one of the best living spaces we tested, with plentiful standing room, big roll-up windows and a thick sewn-in groundsheet.
The outer flysheet has an impressive 6,000mm of waterproofing and the material over the bedroom’s a massive 8,000mm – not a drop of rain will get inside, even in a serious downpour.
There’s a large bedroom for grownups and a snugger one for kids, making this best for families of four rather than six. The Vanguard does take about 30 minutes to pitch but comes in two bags, which is useful if storage is tight.
Key specs – Weight: 4.75kg; Size: 4 man; Material: Nylon and polyester; Waterproofing: 5,000mm; Bedrooms: 1
Dreaming of camping far from crowds and busy campsites? Wild camping with kids can be fantastic fun, but sleeping on a mountainside or remote beach doesn’t lend itself to huge palace-like tents.
Try packing the Cave. Despite the cavernous name, this smaller four-man tent from Snugpak is about as compact and subtle as you can get while still sleeping two adults and two small children comfortably (you’ll want to pack light though).
It’s also very lightweight, waterproof and quick to pitch – perfect for roaming away from the beaten track.
This is our favourite “blackout” tent on test, coming with three roomy and pitch-black bedrooms that mean kids won’t wake up at dawn (well, it won’t be the tent’s fault if they do) and are still delightfully cool and breathable on hot days.
Ideal for big families, the Mackenzie can sleep five or six with plenty of room for gear (there’s even a built-in clothes rail), and we love the generous living space with standing room and wide doors on each side. Every element of the Mackenzie feels like great quality, but it does take a while to get the knack of erecting it quickly.
Key specs – Weight: 41kg; Size: 12 man; Material: Cotton canvas; Waterproofing: Water resistant; Bedrooms: 1
If you find most tents claustrophobic, you’ll love this beautiful bell tent, which at a push can sleep 12 people and is a very generous six metres by four metres in size. The Emperor has six windows, huge front doors and a side door, and was the coolest and airiest tent we tested to sleep in – ideal for really hot weather.
It’s water resistant too, and has a great sewn-in groundsheet, so it will stand up to bad weather – but it does take a while to dry out before it can be stored. An optional integrated stove flap (an additional £65) means you can bring a wood burner for really posh glamping.
Key specs – Weight: 31kg; Size: 6 man; Material: Polycotton canvas; Waterproofing: Water repellent; Bedrooms: 1
The Luna is the ideal first canvas tent to invest in for annual summer holidays and family festivals. It’s a lovely spacious size for a family of four, with tons of head space and big circular windows, making the inside feel airy and light.
It’s best used in summer, but we did find the canvas water resistant enough to withstand a shower on test. All that thick canvas makes the Luna heavy though, and the tent is easiest put up with two people. Good guy ropes and aluminium poles make the whole thing feel reassuringly sturdy when erect, even in windy weather.
Key specs – Weight: 31.85kg; Size: 6 man; Material: Sentinel dura; Waterproofing: 4,000mm; Bedrooms: 3
The brilliant Taiga Air tent ticks all our boxes. It really does comfortably sleep six in three roomy bedrooms (these can be converted into two or one larger bedroom, too) – ideal for a big family or one with older children.
It’s waterproof to a very decent 4,000mm and has a strong sewn-in groundsheet underfoot – this is a tent ready to deal with the foulest weather without a fuss. “Airbeam” blowup poles make it easy to inflate with the included pump, despite its hefty size and weight.
The generously sized and light living space is brilliant in bad weather, and the outer porch can be folded open as a canopy, which is ideal for cooking. A fantastic quality tent that will last you for years of camping adventures.
Key specs – Weight: 41.9kg; Size: 8 man; Material: Polyester; Waterproofing: 6,000mm; Bedrooms: 3/4
The weightiest and most expensive tent we tested is also one of the very best. Vango’s excellent Illusion eight-man tent is your best bet if you have a large boot, a large budget and are planning to camp in one spot for a week or two.
Vango reckons it takes 12 minutes to pitch the Illusion – we weren’t that speedy but with practise it’s easily done in under half an hour, using a pump to erect the air poles. Once up, this is a veritable palace.
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Three large bedrooms (you can also add a fourth) are coated with blackout material for a longer night’s sleep. Enormous plastic windows let tons of light in to the massive living area, and 6,000mm of waterproofing and a sturdy groundsheet mean the weather isn’t an issue either. Impressive stuff.
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