Sunny days, bonfires and starry skies—family camping in Canada can be absolutely magical. Lying awake in a leaky, too-small tent? Not so much. That’s why we’ve rounded up our top shopping tips to help you find a tent for car camping or backpacking. You’ll learn everything you need to consider before choosing the best family tent to sleep safely and comfortably—and ensure that your little ones think fondly of their camping adventures for years to come.
Questions to consider before buying a family tent
1What size of tent do I need for my family?
Experienced family campers know that it’s typically best to get a larger tent than you think you’ll need. Tent sizes vary, but usually capacity is measured by how many people can fit lying side by side in sleeping bags.
A four-person tent could tightly fit four adults, but that would leave little room for gear or inflatable mattresses. A family of four would probably be more comfortable in a six-person tent or even larger to accommodate bags, a portable crib, queen-size air mattresses and the family dog. Generally, it’s best to aim for 30 to 40 square feet per person. But if you’re hiking or canoeing, you may be fine with snuggling so that you only have to carry a small, lightweight tent.
Follow this camping tent dimensions guide to get a rough sense of floor space:
|Labelled Capacity||Floor Area||Optimal Number of People|
|Two-person tent||30 to 45 square feet||One|
|Three-person tent||40 to 50 square feet||One or two|
|Four-person tent||Around 60 square feet||Two|
|Five-person tent||Around 80 square feet||Two or three|
|Six-person tent||90 to 120 square feet||Three or four|
|Eight-person tent||120 to 140 square feet||Four or five|
|10-person tent||140 to 180 square feet||Five or six|
2Should I buy a dome tent or a cabin tent?
|Dome Tents||Cabin Tents|
|Often lighter, so good for backpacking or canoe camping||Often heavier, so not good for backpacking or canoe camping|
|Sloped walls to better withstand wind and rain||A high centre and almost vertical walls to maximize space (which tall people may prefer)|
|More likely to have a rain fly that covers the whole tent for superior weather protection||Smaller rain fly often only covers the top of the tent and offers less rain protection|
|More likely to include a covered entrance area to keep wet shoes, boots and gear out of the tent||May offer removable room dividers or multiple doors|
3What family tent features should I consider?
Even if you’re only planning on sleeping outdoors for one weekend every year, investing in a high-quality tent will make each camping trip more comfortable. Keep these features in mind:
|Tent Feature||What to Consider|
|Rain fly and weather protection||
|Windows and vents||
|Poles and peg loops||
4What tent supplies do I need to bring?
Put together a bag or bin with the essentials that you’ll need to pitch the family tent:
Tent Set-Up Essentials
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5How do I keep the tent interior dry if it rains?
Start by choosing a family tent with a large rain fly and weather protection features as noted in the table above. When you arrive at your campsite, keep these tips in mind:
- Put your family tent on high ground: That way, rain won’t pool. You can often tell which ground is highest by looking at tracks from previous tents.
- Hang a tarp over the tent: Stringing up a large tarp several feet above your tent will provide rain protection as well as shade. Just ensure that the lowest point of the tarp is angled away from the corners of your tent, so water doesn’t pool and splash down.
- Protect the floor: In addition to the tarp underneath your tent, some campers put plastic sheeting on the inside floor of the tent for added protection.
- Stay away from the walls: Inside the tent, keep items away from the walls to avoid drawing water in.
- Hang a tarp over the picnic table: It will keep you dry while you eat and offer shade if it’s hot and sunny.
- Pack rain clothes: If you bring rain boots and raincoats, you’ll have fun even when it’s wet out.
6How do I keep my family warm in our tent?
Even after a hot day, Canadian nights can be surprisingly chilly—especially in late spring, early summer and the fall. It’s best to come prepared with the right sleep supplies.
- Clothing: Bring toques, warm socks and warm pajamas to sleep in.
- Sleeping bags: Choose seasonally appropriate sleeping bags. Summer sleeping bags are only warm enough for summer, while three-season bags work from spring to autumn. Winter or four-season sleeping bags are best for the winter months.
- Mats and mattresses: A sleeping mat will protect you from the cold ground. If you use an air mattress, consider putting a mat underneath it and a blanket on top of the mattress to insulate you from the cold air within it.
- Blankets: Bring extra fuzzy blankets to keep little ones warm.
7How do I maintain and wash my tent?
- General tent maintenance: Using a handheld broom and dustpan, sweep the inside and brush the exterior of your tent before folding it up. To avoid mildew and wear, only store the tent once it’s clean and dry. Wipe down the material, tent poles and zippers with a damp cloth and hand soap and then let everything dry completely before packing the tent away at home. You can also handwash a tent in cool water, but don’t put it in the laundry.
- Cleaning mould: If your tent is mouldy, remove the mould outdoors with a soft brush and spot-clean affected areas with a Lysol-and-water mix before letting your tent dry in the sun. Soak remaining stains with two tablespoons of non-chlorine bleach mixed in a litre of water or a quarter cup of lemon juice and quarter cup of salt mixed with a litre of hot water.
- Removing tree sap: Mineral oil or hand sanitizer should remove tree sap.
You might also like
- Wirecutter. The Best Car and Family Camping Tents.
- KOA. How to Choose a Family Camping Tent.
- Campetent. Family Camping Tent Sizes.
- Wilderness Pack. Dome Tent vs Cabin Tent—Which Style Is Better?
- CampShores. Dome Tent vs Cabin Tent: A Basic Guide.
- TripSavvy. What to Look for When Buying a New Camping Tent.
- Camping Habits. The Difference Between 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5-Season Tents.
- Love the Outdoors. Camping Checklist.
- REI Co-Op. How to Set Up a Tent.
- Eureka! 11 Tips for Camping in the Rain.
- TentCamping.Org. 20 Secrets to Keep Warm in Your Tent When Camping.
- Eureka! Tent Care Tips.
- TripSavvy. How to Remove Mold from Your Tent Camping Gear.
- REI Co-Op. How to Clean a Tent.
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