Mom Goes Camping

Lightweight Tent for Family Backpacking? 4 Best Options

best family backpacking tents

Finding a good family backpacking tent is tough.  For starters, you are probably carrying most (if not all) of the gear.  There aren’t too many ultralight family tents, so your pack will likely end up very heavy.  Your tent also needs to meet your family’s requirements for privacy, features, durability and budget.   And these requirements will likely change as your kids get older!

It ultimately comes down to four options for family backpacking tents.  You can sleep in: two tents, a bug tent + tarp, a 4P tent or a 6P tent.  Here are the pros/cons of each option as well as my favorite lightweight tents for family backpacking.

 

Quick Comparison Table

TentSizeFootprintWeightBuy At
Alps Mountaineering Aries2P52x88"5lbs 15ozAmazon
Big Agnes Salt Creek SL2P52x86"3lbs 11ozAmazon, Campsaver
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2P52x88"3lbs 3ozAmazon, Campsaver
Marmot Tungsten UL2P54x88"5lbs 14ozREI, Campsaver
Sea to Summit Mosquito Pyramid2P66x94"0lbs 12ozAmazon, REI
DD Hammocks Trekking Pole Bug Tent2P51x78.7"1lb 9.8ozAmazon
Gossamer Gear UL Tarp2P84x116"0lbs 9.7ozGarage Grown Gear
NatureHike CloudUp2P51.2x82.7"4lbsAmazon
Big Agnes Salt Creek SL3P70x86"4lbs 11ozAmazon, Campsaver
Marmot Tungsten UL3P90.2x66.1"7lbs 1.2oz.REI, Campsaver
Alps Mountaineering Aries3P81x88"7lbs 4ozAmazon
NatureHike CloudUp3P70.8x82.7"5lbs 1ozAmazon
MSR Freelite 3P66x84"2lbs 11ozAmazon, Campsaver
REI Trail Hut4P88x90"8lbs 2ozREI
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL4P86x96"5lbs 11ozCampsaver
Marmot Tungsten UL4P92.9x81.9"7lbs 15ozREI, Campsaver
Alps Mountaineering Lynx4P90x104"8lbs 7ozAmazon
Eureka Space Camp 4P90x96"13lbs 15ozAmazon, REI, Campsaver
MSR Habitude6P100x120"13lbs 6ozAmazon, REI
Big Agnes Big House6P100x118"16lbs 7ozAmazon, REI, Campsaver
Marmot Limestone 6P100x120"17lbs 9ozAmazon, REI
Kelty Wireless 6P106x118"17lbs 3ozAmazon

 

Option 1: Bring Two Lightweight Tents

Big Agnes family backpacking tents

The Big Agnes Salt Creek UL (Left) and Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 (Right) are popular for family backpacking. 

Most parents (including myself) bring two tents when backpacking with their kids.  It gives you a lot of flexibility, especially as your family grows and needs change.

There are four people in my family.  We could all squeeze into two 2P tents.  However, I ultimately decided to go with a 2P + 3P tent.  That extra space really makes a difference if it is rainy and we end up hanging out in the tent.   It also means you have more room for gear or a friend to come along.

Tip: Choose backpacking tents with awnings.  Then you can put both awnings next to each other to create a “passage” between both tents!

Pros

  • Pitching Is Easier: It’s easier to find enough flat ground for two small tents than one large one.
  • Flexible: If you go on solo trips or only bring some of the kids, you can just use one of the tents instead of being stuck with a big tent.
  • Packing: It is a lot easier to divide two tents between packs than one giant one.
  • Privacy: This is especially important as your kids get older and will sleep in their own tent, or bring friends camping.
  • Nighttime waking: When my younger daughter was a baby, I slept with her in one tent and my husband and older daughter in another. This way they didn’t wake up during each nighttime feeding and diaper change.

Cons

  • Sleep apart: But the downside is that your family won’t all be able to sleep together.
  • Cost: It usually costs more to buy two tents
  • Weight: Two tents will usually weigh more than one tent. Though this isn’t always the case since it’s easier to find a cheap ultralight 2P tent but not so easy to find lightweight 4P tents.
  • Pitch twice: If your kids are too young to pitch their own tent, it will take twice as long to pitch.

Recommended 2P & 3P Tents:


 

Option 2: Bug Tents and/or Tarp

family backpacking tarp tent

If going lightweight is your main concern, then this is the best family backpacking tent option.  If you don’t mind bugs, you can leave the bug tent at home and just use a tarp.

Pros

  • Very lightweight: It really doesn’t get more lightweight than this.
  • Affordable: It’s fairly easy to find cheap UL bug tents and tarps.
  • Good ventilation: Condensation isn’t an issue when in a bug tent.
  • Hang out under tarp: If you get a large enough tarp, it creates a place to hang out in the rain.
  • Fast pitch: In nice weather, you don’t have to pitch the tarp – meaning a quick and easy pitch.

Cons

  • No privacy: If your family isn’t the type to get naked around each other, then this isn’t for you!
  • Hard to pitch: You’ll need trees or trekking poles plus a lot of guylines!

Recommended Bug Tents and Tarps:

  • Sea to Summit Mosquito Pyramid: Available at Amazon, REI
  • DD Hammocks Trekking Pole Bug Tent: Available at Amazon
  • Gossamer Gear UL 2P Tarp: Available at Garage Grown Gear

 

Option 3: One 4P Tent

tent floor covered with four sleeping pads

It’s a tight fit in this 4P tent!

The third option is to find a 4P family backpacking tent.  While you won’t realistically be able to fit four adults in a 4P tent, it should fit two adults and two kids.

Tip: Get a 4P tent with a two doors and two vestibules.  It will make your tent much more practical to use with four people!

Pros

  • Sleep all together: This is good if you have very little kids.
  • Only pitch one tent: This makes setting up camp a lot faster.
  • Footprint still small: A 4P tent doesn’t have a huge footprint, so it’s easier to find a flat spot for pitching.
  • Lots of budget options: It’s really easy to find a cheap 4P tent which is “good enough” for backpacking.

Cons

  • Crammed inside: Even if your kids are small, a four-person family will still be a tight fit in a 4P tent!
  • Crawl over each other: Depending on the layout of the tent, your family members may crawl over each other to get in/out of the tent.
  • Privacy: If you need privacy, you’ll have to take turns getting dressed in the tent.

Recommended 4P Tents:

  • REI Trail Hut 4P: Available at REI
  • Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL4: Available at Campsaver
  • Marmot Tungsten 4P: Available at REI
  • Alps Mountaineering Lynx 4P: Available at Amazon
  • Eureka! Space Camp 4P: Available at Amazon, REI, Campsaver

 

Option 4: Lightweight 6P Tent

big agnes big house 6p family backpacking tent

If you need more space but still only want one tent, then a 6P backpacking tent is the way to go.  There aren’t too many lightweight 6P tents though.  It’s going to be a tough tradeoff between space and weight.

Pros

  • Everyone sleeps together: Good for family bonding
  • Less claustrophobic: It won’t be as cramped as in a 4P tent.
  • Large enough for hanging out inside: If it rains, you’ll appreciate a tent large enough to hang out inside.
  • More headroom: Most 6P family tents have good headroom, so it’s easier to get dressed inside the tent.

Cons

  • Heavy: Even lightweight 6P tents are pretty heavy.
  • Large footprint: It can be hard to find somewhere large enough to pitch a 6P tent.
  • Few options: Therea aren’t many lightweight 6P tents available.
  • Expensive: The few options tend to be very expensive.
  • Durability: For a 6P tent to be lightweight, it must be made out of UL materials. These can’t always withstand the abuse a little kids put on them!

Recommended 6p Tents:


 

Advice for Choosing a Family Backpacking Tent

Be Realistic about Family Backpacking

Chances are you won’t be doing the same kind of backpacking you did before family life.  My family definitely ends up spending a lot more time hanging around camp than hiking.  So, it’s nice to have tents with a more space and features like pockets, good ventilation and headroom.

Ultimately, it all comes down to you and your family having an enjoyable backpacking experience — something which won’t be possible if you are all crammed together in a too-small tent for your family!

 

Make a Floor Plan

Look at the tent floor dimensions.  Then make a “floor plan” showing how your sleeping pads will fit in the tent.  A lot of 4P tents barely fit four pads – and most won’t fit 25” pads.

 

Four People Need Two Doors

If you are going to put your entire 4-person family in one tent, then you will need two doors. Otherwise, you will probably have to crawl over each other to get in/out of the tent.   With two doors, I can help my younger daughter get out to pee at night without waking the rest of the family.

 

Can It Withstand Your Kids?

Ultralight tents can be very fragile.  They don’t always withstand the abuse that kids put on them.  I really wouldn’t want to put my kids in an expensive UL tent. Instead, I opted for a cheaper tent.  See these cheap UL backpacking tents.

 

 What family backpacking tent do you use? Let us know in the comments section below.


Sources:
https://www.reddit.com/r/Ultralight/comments/kxm34p/family_4_person_tent/
https://www.reddit.com/r/Ultralight/comments/ac70pg/looking_for_a_4_tent_for_my_family_and_i_me_my/
https://www.reddit.com/r/Ultralight/comments/8k3iej/looking_for_tents_for_a_family_of_five/
https://www.reddit.com/r/CampingandHiking/comments/sd4cyq/family_backpacking_tent_suggestions/
https://www.reddit.com/r/Ultralight/comments/8k3iej/looking_for_tents_for_a_family_of_five/
Image credit: “Cleveland Hike: Goathland House campsite” (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) by Pickersgill Reef
Pryamid Tarp” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Umnak
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About the author /


Diane Vukovic grew up camping and backpacking in upstate New York. Now, she takes her own daughters on wilderness adventures so they can connect with nature and learn resiliency. With dozens of trips under her belt, Diane is an expert in minimalist camping, going lightweight, planning, and keeping her kids entertained without screens.

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