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Family Tent Buying Guide

There is a huge range of family camping tents available on the market. Sometimes the choice can be a little overwhelming. To try to help you choose the perfect family tent for your camping trip, we have put our heads together to produce this guide, letting you know some of the things to look out for.

Types of Tent

Family tents can be broadly split into two main categories, based on the way that the tent structure is formed; tunnel tents, dome tents, pop-up tents and inflatable tents.

Dark Green Dome Tent - Coleman Kobuk Valley 4 Tent

Dome Tents

Dome tents are tents where the poles cross over each other, giving the peak height at the centre of the tent. The layout of dome tents can vary dramatically, from a simple festival tent with two poles and one room, through to larger, more sophisticated satellite tents, with multiple bedrooms radiating from a central living area. Because the poles cross over, the tent structure tends to have more strength.

Purple Tunnel Family Tent - Vango Illusion TV 800XL Tent

Tunnel Tents

Tunnel tents are tents where the poles run parallel to each other across the beam of the tent. These are generally easier to put up than dome tents, as a lot of the structural assembly can be done with the poles on the ground. They also tend to have head-room right the way along the length of the tent. Like dome tents, tunnel tents can range in size from simple single roomed tents through to larger tents with multiple bedrooms and living area.

Pop-up Tents

Popular with festival-goers, and those having to put their tents up on their own, pop-up tents take the hassle out of having to thread poles through your tent. Pop-up tents fall into two main categories. There are those with one continuous pole, where the tent springs into life straight out of the bag. These are usually smaller two or three man tents. Alternatively there are tents where the tent poles have hinged joints, which snap into place as you put the tent up. These are usually larger family camping tents.

Green Inflatable Tent - Vango Capri Airbeam Herbal

Inflatable Tents

If fiddling around with tent poles sounds too much like hard work, then a tent with an air-filled structure could be the one for you. Simply inflate the inner tube style beams, and the tent takes shape. Nice and simple.



The flysheet is the outer waterproof layer of fabric, which protects you from the elements. The level of waterproof protection provided by a flysheet, or it’s ‘Hydrostatic Head’ measurement is described as a figure in mm (sometimes described as HH), ranging from 1000mm up to 10,000mm. The higher the number, the better the waterproof protection. Flysheets on most family tents are made from either polyester, cotton, or a mixture of the two; polycotton. Polyester tents tend to be lighter, and offer greater waterproof protection. Cotton and polycotton tents tend to be harder wearing and are more breathable, and tend to be cooler on warm summer days.

Inner Tent

The job of the inner tent is to provide additional insulation and privacy in the sleeping area of the tent. Usually made from lightweight, breathable polyester with a harder wearing ground sheet section sewn in. On smaller tents, the inner tent fills almost the entire internal space of the tent. On larger tents, there can be a number of smaller inner tents, forming bedrooms or sleeping pods, around a central living area.


Most family tents have poles made from either fibreglass or steel. Fibreglass poles are generally lighter, and offer greater flexibility.

Be aware that any poles will break if a great deal of force is exerted on them when you are putting the tent up, or during strong winds. Fibreglass poles can fatigue and split through the normal ‘wear and tear’ of the tent. Pole brakes are not covered under the manufacturer’s guarantee.


The groundsheet is the layer of fabric that forms the floor of the tent. Many family tents have ‘bath tub’ or ‘sewn in’ groundsheets, where the groundsheet stitched to the flysheet of the tent. This helps to reduce draughts and water seepage during bad weather, and dust and insects in warmer weather. This often means that you have to step over a threshold to enter the tent.

Some tents have loose groundsheets in the living areas, meaning that there can sometimes be a small gap where the flysheet meets the ground. This is great for ventilation in the summer, not so great in bad weather.

tent feature - self rolling curtains for windows tent feature - clothes rail tent feature - hanging storage pockets

Handy Features

There are a number of handy and imaginative features available on many family tents on the market today. These help make your camping experience and trouble free and comfortable as possible. These include: Cable entry points for electrical hook-ups. Hanging storage pockets. Porches over doors to help keep the inside of your tent dry. Self -rolling curtains to cover your windows. Clothes hanging rails.

Tent Accessories

There are a few commonly available optional extra accessories for family tents which help to make your camping experience that little bit more comfortable.

Tent Carpet

Tent carpets are a great way to improve the level of comfort and warmth within your tent. The carpet usually consists of a soft fleece top with a tough waterproof backing. Usually designed to fit inside the living area of a large family tent, a carpet helps your tent feel more like a real home. Perfect for families with young children or those who like to take their dogs on holiday with them.

Footprint Groundsheets

Designed to augment the protection provided by your tent’s groundsheet, a tent footprint is usually made to fit underneath a specific model of tent. They help to keep your tent clean, and protect your tent from water ingress when you are camping on a damp pitch.

Canopies and Extensions

Desigend to give you additional space for storing gear, cooking or relaxing out of the glaring sun, many family tents have optional tent canopies or extension. They can usually be attached either by zip or by webbing straps.

Here at Complete Outdoors we have a fantastic range of small or large family tents in a variety of styles as well as a collection of tent accessories and extra to make your family camping experience as comfortable as possible.


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