Tent buying guide for families

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.

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1What size of tent do I need for my family?

Follow this camping tent dimensions guide[1] 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

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.[2]

Diagram of sleeping arrangements for one-person tent, two-person tent, three-person tent and four-person tent

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.[3] But if you’re hiking or canoeing, you may be fine with snuggling so that you only have to carry a small, lightweight tent.

Our favourite tents

2Should I buy a dome tent or a cabin tent?

Neither tent is better than the other. The style you prefer will depend on the size of your family, the weight you’re willing to carry, whether you camp in all kinds of weather and more.[4][5]

Dome tent vs cabin tent comparison

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

Our favourite dome and cabin tents

3How 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 below. 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.[6]
  • 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.

Our favourite tarps

4How 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.[7]

  • 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.

Our favourite sleeping bags

Ozark Trail Five-Piece Camping Combo with family tent, chairs and sleeping bags

5How 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.[8]
  • 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.[9]
  • Removing tree sap: Mineral oil or hand sanitizer should remove tree sap.[10]

6What 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[11]
  • Waterproof rain fly should cover most of the tent
  • Heavy-duty seams and covered zippers
  • Covered entranceway or extended awning protects footwear
Windows and vents
  • Mesh windows on opposite sides will offer cooling cross-breezes on hot nights[3]
  • Ventilation prevents condensation when windows are closed
Poles and peg loops
  • Multiple doors may come in handy
  • Hinged door may be helpful for kids who struggle with zippers
  • Heavy-duty zippers won’t break with frequent use
  • Three-season tent: Most versatile; great for storms and all seasons except winter
  • Four-season tent: Best for winter; too hot for spring and summer
  • Five-season tent: Best for severe weather conditions

7What tent supplies do I need to bring?

Put together a bag or bin with the essentials[13] that you’ll need to pitch the family tent:

Tent Set-Up Essentials

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Safety Tip
Don’t neglect to peg the side guylines—the cords that keep the family tent sides from flapping in high winds.[14] Experienced campers often wrap a bit of aluminum foil around each line so they catch the light in the dark and don’t pose a tripping hazard.

Camping Essentials

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