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
|Alps Mountaineering Aries||2P||52x88"||5lbs 15oz||Amazon|
|Big Agnes Salt Creek SL||2P||52x86"||3lbs 11oz||Amazon, Campsaver|
|Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL||2P||52x88"||3lbs 3oz||Amazon, Campsaver|
|Marmot Tungsten UL||2P||54x88"||5lbs 14oz||REI, Campsaver|
|Sea to Summit Mosquito Pyramid||2P||66x94"||0lbs 12oz||Amazon, REI|
|DD Hammocks Trekking Pole Bug Tent||2P||51x78.7"||1lb 9.8oz||Amazon|
|Gossamer Gear UL Tarp||2P||84x116"||0lbs 9.7oz||Garage Grown Gear|
|Big Agnes Salt Creek SL||3P||70x86"||4lbs 11oz||Amazon, Campsaver|
|Marmot Tungsten UL||3P||90.2x66.1"||7lbs 1.2oz.||REI, Campsaver|
|Alps Mountaineering Aries||3P||81x88"||7lbs 4oz||Amazon|
|NatureHike CloudUp||3P||70.8x82.7"||5lbs 1oz||Amazon|
|MSR Freelite||3P||66x84"||2lbs 11oz||Amazon, Campsaver|
|REI Trail Hut||4P||88x90"||8lbs 2oz||REI|
|Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL||4P||86x96"||5lbs 11oz||Campsaver|
|Marmot Tungsten UL||4P||92.9x81.9"||7lbs 15oz||REI, Campsaver|
|Alps Mountaineering Lynx||4P||90x104"||8lbs 7oz||Amazon|
|Eureka Space Camp||4P||90x96"||13lbs 15oz||Amazon, REI, Campsaver|
|MSR Habitude||6P||100x120"||13lbs 6oz||Amazon, REI|
|Big Agnes Big House||6P||100x118"||16lbs 7oz||Amazon, REI, Campsaver|
|Marmot Limestone||6P||100x120"||17lbs 9oz||Amazon, REI|
|Kelty Wireless||6P||106x118"||17lbs 3oz||Amazon|
Option 1: Bring Two Lightweight Tents
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!
- 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.
- 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:
- Alps Mountaineering Aries 2P: Available at Amazon
- Big Agnes Salt Creek SL: Available at Amazon, Campsaver
- Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL: Available at Amazon, Campsaver
- Marmot Tungsten UL: Available at REI, Campsaver
- MSR FreeLite 3: Available at Amazon, Campsaver
- NatureHike CloudUp: Available at Amazon
Option 2: Bug Tents and/or Tarp
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.
- 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.
- 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:
Option 3: One 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!
- 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.
- 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:
Option 4: Lightweight 6P 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.
- 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.
- 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.