One of my favorite ways to connect with my inner Clark Griswold is to pack up the family and scoot down the highway to find reprieve in the form of a polyester dome shelter, a campfire, and the messiest s’mores on Earth. In fact, years ago we started a tradition of heading out on a camping trip the day after the last day of school—it’s our way of officially kicking off summer. Last year we visited Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. This year, we’re exploring the rivers and lakes around Bend, Oregon.
I’ve learned the key with any family camping trip is comfort, and comfort begins with a reliable tent. But with so many tent designs, materials, and features available, it can be tough to know which shelter might suit your family best. To help, here is a list of family-sized, dependable, and affordable tents to consider before heading out on your first overnight in some remote corner of the woods, or in your own backyard.
Holds Two Queen Airbeds
This model has welded floors and inverted seams to help you keep dry. Coleman
I’ve been on more than one camping trip where the biting bugs were so bad we had to hide out in the tent. We didn’t get bit anymore, but felt like we were trapped inside. That’s why I like tents with a small “porch” that’s separate from the main sleeping area. The Coleman WeatherMaster has a 9×6 foot porch with screens that stretch from the ground to the top of the tent, which is great if you want to enjoy fresh air on a cool evening. Inside, there’s enough room for two queen-sized inflatable mattresses and there are lantern hangars and mesh storage pockets. Though it’s certainly not the least expensive or lightest (32 pounds) family-sized tent on this list, the WeatherMaster is rigid, built with durable materials, comes in an oversized carry bag, and doesn’t take long to set up.
A rainfly is included with this choice, as well as a carry bag. Ozark Trail
Ozark Trail took a cue from portable hunting blind designs when it created its Instant Cabin, and proves that assembling large, multi-room tents does not have to be complicated. The unique feature of this shelter is the frame poles are already attached to the tent, and all you need to do to set it up is extend the corner supports, and then raise the roof like an umbrella (or hunting blind). Ozark Trail says that done correctly, set up time averages around two minutes, which is great if you’re trying to corral a wild child, or bad weather is on the horizon. Inside are three separate doors for private rooms large enough for inflatable queen mattresses, screened windows, gear pockets, electrical cord access (if you’re plugging in or running a generator for power), and a bug-free porch. A small rainfly and carry bag is included.
Large Front Doors
Keep your gear in place with the hanging wall organizer. CORE
Because the pole design is similar to Ozark Trail’s Instant Cabin, CORE claims you can erect their Instant Cabin Tent in 60 seconds, which is much faster than the estimated setup times of any other tent shown here. But the other nice feature about this model is the extra-wide door, which zippers down the middle and opens almost as wide as the entire front wall. The tent fabric is heat sealed at the seams and treated with CORE’s H2O repellant to keep moisture out. Inside there is overhead storage, mesh pockets along the wall, and adjustable vents. A small rainfly which mainly covers the top of the tent and a storage bag are included.
For Six or Eight People
Awnings keep rain out while still allowing air to circulate throughout. Coleman
It’s hard to think of camping and not think of the name Coleman. For decades the company has produced reliable, affordable outdoor gear and they show no signs of slowing down. Their Dome Tent is an inexpensive option if you have a small family that doesn’t mind sleeping together in one room, and you like the idea of having a small, screened, porch-like area off the front door. The area also makes for a great storage space, especially for dirty shoes that otherwise muck up the living quarters. There are storage pockets along the inside walls and the rainfly has window awnings so you can leave the windows open for ventilation while it’s raining.
Lots of Area
All seven windows on this one are fully closable. Ozark Trail
If your family likes to go big or go home when it comes to camping gear, then this tent from Ozark Trail might be for you. Built on the same easy-setup pole design as their 6-person Instant Cabin, the L-shaped 16×16-foot version is the largest and heaviest tent on this list. It also has two entries, three separate room dividers, a large front awning, seven windows, electrical cord access, and oversized ground ports for ventilation—or an air conditioner, if roughing it isn’t your style. Ozark again claims a setup time less than two minutes, and the layout is great if you like to custom arrange your camp with something like a “family room” in the middle, with two sleeping areas branched off to both sides. A rainfly and carry bag is included.
Straightforward to Pitch
Despite its large size, this camping home weighs just 15 pounds folded up. Winterial
If your kids are like mine, there’s no end to what they see, hear, and do when their imagination takes over. Sometimes all they need is a good jumping-off point—and what better way to kick start their camp-time creativity than by telling them you’re all camping in a teepee. The six-person model from Winterial has the look and feel of a traditional teepee, but it’s made with modern materials, and it has a full-length rainfly, to keep everyone inside safe from the elements. It’s easy to set up and take down, and if you’re OK with losing a small circle of your lawn this summer, it’s a great shelter for your kids to host backyard sleepovers or all-day imaginary adventures.