Wondering which tent type is right for your family? Check out our easy-to-follow guide of the types of tents available for camping and which one suits your family best!
A camping tent is one of the quintessential pieces to include in your camping packing list.
Sure, you could camp out on the open ground, in the bed of a truck, or in a hammock outside. But that way of camp lodging may not be for everyone.
There are plenty of different types of tents to choose from when you’re shopping for your family camping trip. But before you get overwhelmed with all the options, know that choosing the right tent is more simple than you think.
When choosing between the different types of tents for camping tent, there are two questions you need to ask:
- How many people will be sleeping in my tent?
- What kind of weather will I be using my tent in?
Knowing those answers will help you decide between the different types of tents and choose the one best type of tent for your family.
Size of Tent
The size of a tent on the tent label can be misleading. Most tent manufacturers post a tent capacity, but those are usually over stated by two people.
The capacity of a tent stated on the packaging is assuming everyone is crammed in there with zero gear. The reason tent manufactures do this is one of the great mysteries in life.
As an example, a four-person tent can fit four people, but there would be no room for gear.
Three people would fit side by side, with the fourth person at their feet. Technically, four people fit in the tent, but not comfortably. I would consider a four-person tent to hold two people maximum, including their gear.
We have been using a six-person tent for my family of three for a few years. We could fit a fourth if we wanted to and still have some room for gear. Once we need to fit a fourth camper, I’ll start shopping for a larger tent.
Do I need a rain fly?
Most types of tents will come with some sort of rain fly. A rain fly goes over your tent to protect it in case it rains as well as provide privacy, shade, and darkness.
You’ll want a rain fly for your tent for privacy reasons. If you are staying at a busy campground, people will walk by your tent often enough to require some privacy. Assess your tent without the rainfly set up. If you decide that those windows provide your neighbors with too much of a view, set up a rain fly.
If you are more removed from other campers, and you expect the weather to be nice and clear, then don’t bother with the rain fly. You will have a much better view of the sky, and get plenty of fresh mountain air.
No matter what you decide, though, consider the weather. When a tent advertises that it is water resistant, it’s usually assuming you are using the rain fly. The rain fly will protect you from most moderate rain, wind, and snow. If you are going camping in more extreme conditions, though, I would expect you to find a more rugged tent.
A dome tent is your classic, easy to set up, multipurpose tent. Most dome tents will have two poles, making a cross. That cross results in a tent that is the shape of—you guessed it—a dome. Most dome tents will have a third, smaller pole for the rain fly.
Dome tents are one of the most popular types of tents and are available in simple one room tents, or multi-room tents.
The multi-room tents are creeping on the cabin tent definition, but do come with additional rooms for your gear or camping roommates. Multi-room dome tents are almost always your larger capacity dome tents, fitting eight or more campers.
The best thing about a dome tent is that they are easy to set up, and most of them can be setup by one person singlehandedly. The only downfall is most of them have lower roofs, requiring more squatting or bending when moving around in your tent.
When to use a dome tent?
Simple dome tents are a perfect introductory family tent and are great for housing less than four campers. I purchased a Coleman four-person tent over 15 years ago. It’s required some duct tape here and there, but has performed beautifully when it was just me or me and my wife.
We upgraded to a six-person Coleman tent recently, and it fits our family great. The six-person tent fits our bags and gear, and keeps the rain out. These tents are not the best for snow, with a heavier snow fall collapsing my tent a few times in the middle of the night.
Cabin tents are taller and larger. They can be more complicated to set up than a dome tent, but are still easy to set up with the modern technology driving these tents. If you’re looking for a larger type of tent, consider a cabin tent.
With a cabin tent, your walls typically are more straight with a peaked roof, resulting in more headroom. Cabin tents even have a larger door style opening, making coming and going into your tent easier.
There are some really cool canvas cabin tents on the market that are designed to last a long time. If you have camping cots, or larger air mattresses, you should consider a cabin tent. A multi room cabin tent can almost feels like two large tents with a common wall.
The major downfall with a cabin tent is they’re usually a bit harder to set up than a dome tent, and can be heavier and bulkier to pack.
When to use a cabin tent?
I recommend using a cabin tent if you have a bigger family, need more room for your gear, or you’re simply tired of crouching down in your dome tent all weekend.
Many cabin tents also have a second room, so you can put your kids to bed, while you stay up playing adult camping games. When you go to bed, you won’t disturb your snoozing kids.
The cabin tent is also great for longer camping trips or more challenging weather. Some canvas cabin tents are designed to have a wood burning stove in a corner. If you are camping for a week or more, this wood burning stove is a huge benefit of the cabin tent.
Truck tents come in two forms—a rooftop truck tent and a truck bed or tailgate truck tent.
The rooftop tent rests on top of your vehicle using a ladder to gain access. These tents are typically connected to your roof rack, and will open up once you get to your destination. Remember to make sure your vehicle is flat, otherwise you might roll.
The truck bed or tailgate tent uses your truck bed and often has a portion just outside of your tailgate. Some of these tents even connect to an SUV with an open back. The idea is that you can be standing in the tent and then use the bed of your SUV or truck for your mattress and bag.
The best thing about truck tents is that they are fun and totally different. A truck tent adds even more adventure to camping, while allowing you to use your truck or SUV as a camping tool. The biggest downfall is that if you have your tent connected to your truck or SUV, you won’t be able to go for an off-roading adventure without disconnecting or taking down your tent.
When to use a truck tent?
These tents are usually not meant for larger camping parties, but would make a great tent for a cross country trip for you and one other person.
Consider using a truck tent if you’re able to get your truck or SUV where you’d want to set up your tent. Additionally, the truck tent is a great type of tent to use for a fun camping experience, but only if you don’t expect to use your vehicle for off-roading adventures.
If you are looking for the glamping experience, you will need a glamping tent.
Glamping tents are typically roomy, high quality, and comfortable. They tend to use canvas as the tent material and fall into the cabin style tent, or the bell style tent. There are even resorts that will do all the work for you.
Glamping tents are becoming more and more popular and there are a lot of products out there. Just be ready to spend a little more money for the glamorous camp experience.
Ridge tents are the old style, stereotypical version of a camping tent. When you were a kid and you drew a camping tent, this is probably what you drew. There are to poles with a rope or cord tied between them. This rope results in a ridge that the tarp or fabric rests on.
If you are going for a family camping trip, you will probably be happier with a dome or cabin tent, as most ridge tents are smaller and harder to set up. I have not found too many ridge tents on the market.
Tunnel tents are a cross between a dome tent and a cabin tent, and are not very common. Instead of a cross of the poles, a tunnel tent will have multiple parallels poles resulting in a half cylinder shaped tent.
A new type of tent, called an air beam tent, is often a tunnel type tent. Air beam tents are relatively new on the scene, and use inflatable air beams in place of metal poles for stability. The air beams are inflated using a hand pump or electric pump and are considered to be a quality and stable tent.
Geodesic tents are the amped up version of dome tents. They typically have numerous poles or triangular building pieces that results in a very sturdy dome shape tent. Geodesic tents are not as common as the dome tent. You will probably be better off getting a dome or cabin tent.
Some of the geodesic tents on the market are very fancy, and could also be considered a glamping tent. Geodesic tents are pretty to look at, roomy due to their shape, and structurally sound for moderate weather.
What type of tent should I buy?
If you’re still not sure what type of tent to buy, get an affordable dome tent rated for slightly higher capacity than your camping party. For your party of two adults and two kids, a six person Coleman dome tent will serve you just fine. I have yet to be disappointed by a Coleman tent, and they are very affordable.
After you get a few camping adventures under your belt, you can upgrade your tent to a cabin tent or a larger-size dome tent. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the truck tent or the geodesic tent. Your tent should match your camping needs, so consider what your family needs for a fun camping adventure and plan accordingly!