Buying a tent: what size do I need?
See also: Buying A Tent: Ultimate Guide
When it comes to choosing a tent, size matters.
And the first thing you will need to ask yourself when you start looking at tents is what size you will need.
Tents come in all shapes and sizes – tiny solo shelters, two and three-berth models for couples, and four, five and six-man tents for long family camping holidays.
Some family tents are absolutely huge, with loads of space for furniture, such as inflatable sofas, coffee tables, sideboards and cupboards.
The biggest tunnel tents have three zones:
- A front porch area that can be either enclosed or open and is often used as a kitchen
- The main living area – often fitted with side annexes and wings for even more usable space
- A sleeping area which can be separated into individual bedrooms or left as one large space
The size of tent you buy will be determined by a number of factors, such as how many people will use it, how long your camping trips are likely to be for, when you go camping and how much space you have in your car.
HOW MANY PEOPLE WILL BE USING THE TENT?
The size of a tent is usually defined by the number of sleeping berths it has but it’s not quite as simple as that.
It is often a source of frustration among campers that tents advertised as being for six people, for example, are simply not big enough for that number.
A six-person tent might technically have enough room for six beds, but realistically it would be better suited for five. And for a really comfortable experience, you should generally be looking at a maximum of four.
Some manufacturers have recognised this problem and have introduced a “Sleep Comfort” rating for their tents, to give you a more realistic idea of how many people your tent can sleep. A five-man tent might have a sleep comfort rating of four.
The industry standard is 60cm wide for each person in a sleeping berth but most Coleman tents, for example, allow 70cm per person.
You should take into consideration the age and size of the campers, too. Tall people are going to need more space to stretch out at night, so make sure the sleeping compartment is long enough. You should be able to find the measurements in the tent spec.
A couple of toddlers can comfortably fit in a space that one older child would need, but don’t forget they will grow, so if you expect your tent to last a few years, think ahead.
And if you are camping with teenagers, they will need as much room as an adult – and ideally would sleep in a separate part of the tent to give them – and you! – more privacy.
As a rule of thumb, for a family of four we would recommend a six-man tent, a four-berth for two or three campers and solo campers should consider a two or three-person tent.
WHAT WILL THE TENT BE USED FOR?
The next factor to take into account is what you plan to use your tent for. For longer family holidays then a large family tent, with spacious living and sleeping areas would be ideal.
On longer trips you need enough space for the whole group to relax comfortably. And don’t forget you will need storage space for your baggage and gear.
If the weather is poor, that extra space will really be appreciated as you’ll be spending more time inside. The same goes for trips earlier and later in the year when it gets dark earlier.
An area within the tent that kids can use is a real benefit as it will keep the main living section tidier.
A large tent, like the Coleman Weathermaster 8XL, provides plenty of flexibility and comfort for longer breaks but there are other factors you need to take into account.
They can be bulky and heavy so make sure there is enough room in your car to get them to the campsite. The bigger your tent, the more you’ll be tempted to splash out on camping equipment, so you’ll need to consider how to transport that as well. Even if you drive a large car, it might be worth considering a trailer or a roofbox – or even both!
Check the dimensions of the tent’s footprint – some campsites will limit the size of tent you can put up on a pitch or will charge extra if it exceeds a certain size.
Pitching a large tent can be hard work, even for two people, and it can take a long time to set up camp.
If you expect to use your tent mainly for short weekend breaks or for touring holidays where you travel from place to place, then a smaller tent that is quicker to pitch and takes up less space in your car, might be a better choice.
Finally, if your trips fall into the adventure camping category – trekking, backpacking, cycling, canoeing, etc – then you'll need a more technical tent.
Some campers have two tents (or more) to suit the different types of camping – a large model for the main summer holiday and a smaller one for weekend breaks. Another option is to have a smaller tent for short trips, but buy an awning or extension to create more living space for longer holidays.
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