Reviewed: best tents for family camping

If your are heading off for a camping trip this summer, what tent will suit your family or friends best?

These five tents sleep at least five people, and each offers something a bit different. As ever – shop around, as you may find some of these products at a significantly lower price…

16th June 2017
Valdes 6 tent

1. Easy…

FastPitch Air Valdes 6 tent, Coleman, £799.99.

Sleeps: 4-6
Structure: Inflatable – four valves
Fabric: Polyester, PU coated

Valdes 6 tent plan

 

 

 

Coleman’s Valdes range of tents is competitively priced – for inflatables; and they offer and one very notable innovation: blackout bedrooms. Even on a sunny day, these are distinctly dark, meaning you can have a late night by the campfire without being bullied awake by the sun in the morning.

A blackout bedroom in the Valdes
The bedrooms stay dark all day

During the day, though, some families might find that the blackout effect has distinct disadvantages – for example, if you like to use the sleeping area in daylight hours to lounge around reading, or your children retreat there to play on rainy days. Needless to say that for these purposes they become rather dingy spaces.  

Two bedrooms lie side by side with a third opposite, across the 2.4m by 2.8m living space. This third bedroom is inexplicably only half-coated with blackout material, which of course means that it’s not dark at all. This compartment can be removed easily to extend the living space (see pics); behind it lies a large door which when open makes the tent far brighter and more airy (and therefore also cooler on a hot sunny day).

For more space the larger Valdes 6 XL lays all three sleeping compartments side by side, opening up an airy 4.4m by 3.4m space in the front of the tent.

Pitching and packing are both quick and easy. The tent weighs a modest 20kg or so –  which makes it pretty manoeuvrable when packed, and the air can be quite easily expelled.

VERDICT

A basic tent for short stays, easy to pitch and pack. Be sure the blackout bedrooms suit you before shelling out.

 

Vango Illusion tent

2. Luxury...

Illusion 500XL Air, Vango, £1,400

Sleeps: 6
Structure: Inflatable ‘Airbeam’ – five valves
Fabric: Polyester – Vango Protex 420 Double Ripstop

Vango Illusion tent

The highly versatile porch is the main selling point of this big tunnel tent. There are seemingly endless configurations, too many to list here. Suffice to say that it can be zipped up and used to make two separate living areas, each closed to the elements. (The outer part can be used for cooking on rainy days, though bear in mind the normal precautions on carbon monoxide.) Or it can be opened up to make one generous area measuring 4.9m by 3.6m. On sunny days the large porch doors can be rolled up to open the tent to the summer breeze.

The Illusion with both doors open
Opening both sets of doors makes a huge open space

On that note: the fly sheet is polyester so inevitably the temperature within can rise uncomfortably on sunny days. Fortunately there are lots of ways to vent the tent and get some air moving around it. Apart from that huge porch, there are mesh doors on two sides, plus a series of shin-high vents.

How will the inflatable structure cope in high winds? Vango offers extra reassurance with a two pair of webbing straps designed to brace the tent when needed. Of course the very idea that your tent might flex in high winds might not reassure you at all; but I tend to think you’re better off with a structure that can bend under a heavy gust and then pop back into shape, rather than rely on metal tent poles that may bend permanently, or fibreglass ones that may break.

The make quality is high throughout and there are many details, including the skylights (which allow you to potter around in the buff unseen, while enjoying the sight of blue skies above).   

Skylights in the Illusion tent
Skylights allow you privacy, but let in sunlight – or moonlight

Pitching was easy. The tent weight a hefty 43.7kg, but the excellent bag with wheels makes it manoeuvrable.

And so we come to the not inconsiderable drawback.

Rolled up Illusion tent
The rolled-up tent dwarfs the bag it's meant to pack into

Packing was a nightmare. Seven attempts to compress and roll the tent small enough to fit back in the bag ended with miserable failure. Part of the problem is that the five separate valves can’t be locked open, so expelling the air is a painstaking, two-person job. But even then, no joy.

VERDICT

Wins on practicality rather than personality, but packing up will test even experienced campers.

 

Outwell Concorde tent

3. Ultimate… 

Concorde 5SATC, Outwell, £1,749.99

Sleeps: 5
Structure: Inflatable
Fabric: Outtex Airtech – polycotton (65% cotton)

Outwell Concorde plan

Wow. That’s a big price for a tent that is significantly smaller than for example the (less expensive) Vango Illusion 500XL (above).

But with this tent, the marginal gains that come with that high price really do start to add up.

Firstly, it’s made of relatively expensive polycotton material – that is, 65% cotton, 35% polyester. Polycotton tents are much cooler and more comfortable inside in hot weather because the fabric is more breathable. It’s fully waterproof, too, and while polycotton is heavier than polyester and takes longer to dry after a downpour, it also lasts much longer; polyester eventually weakens after exposure to sunlight.

This is not a tent with bags of personality. The design values are all about utility and functionality – but you do feel you are in safe hands. It’s very well made, robust and highly practical. Is that grey colour scheme restrained – or dreary? I’ll leave that to you to decide.

There are lots of impressive details, though, from tinted windows to the mesh pockets in the bedrooms.

Storage pockets in the Concorde
There are lots of sturdy storage pockets in both the bedrooms and the living area

The layout is similar to much cheaper tents, offering plenty of flexibility – including a side porch entrance and an additional mesh door on the opposite side. There is no porch but a simple canopy, and here’s the rub. With a living area of a relatively modest 3.2m by 2.6m, experienced family campers would no doubt be eyeing the front extension, available separately. It is fully enclosable, and adds a generous 4m x 3.6m of space – for a cool £869.99, pushing the overall package to more than £2,600. So this really is one for the committed camper, who plans years of long camping trips ahead.

Pitching was extremely easy. You’ll need to heft the 46KG bag into place – a two-person job – but then you plug in and inflate from a single point, which is a major benefit. Once up, Outwell say it’s stable enough to withstand force 10 winds. Packing was very straightforward, too – expelling the air from the series of valves was simple and effective, and all packed away in the bag easily.

VERDICT

The tent for serious family campers who love to spend long holidays under canvas – and are happy to invest for comfort.

 

Whitecove 6 tent

4. Affordable…

Whitecove 6, Outwell, £509.99

Sleeps: 6
Structure: fibreglass
Fabric: Polyester

Whitecove 6 tent plan

This highly practical tunnel tent comes at a relatively low price. 

The three sleeping compartments are of a decent size and there’s a large living area measuring 3.6m by 2.7m – but no porch.

With that in mind, I would consider the extra £174.99 for the front extension essential if you plan to spend more than a few days in this tent; the front extention is big (2.8m by 3.9m) and open and will give you somewhere to cook, eat and lounge in sunny weather.

Materials are fairly basic but sound. Poles are fibreglass and flex in high winds but should be a match for most UK weather conditions, if you are conscientious with your guys. I can vouch for the ability of even that open front extension to withstand bad weather, having nervously sailed this tent through a storm in Cornwall last year, while other tents around us folded under the pressure.

The fly sheet is polyester, so it’s frankly sweltering inside the tent in hot weather, but the mesh side doors and big front doors help bring in some cooling fresh air.  

Pitching does take a little time compared to the inflatables tested on these pages. The weight is a manageable 22.6kg but, inevitably, there’s a certain amount of fiddling with poles and fitting them in their sleeves. If its breezy you’ll probably want to deploy every available guy, of which there are a seemingly endless number.  

VERDICT

Practical, affordable, simple, spacious – but sweltering in hot weather.

 

Robens Klondike

5.  Alternative

Klondike, Robens, £599.99

Sleeps: six
Fabric: Polycotton
Weighs 16.1kg

Klondike tent plan

The world seems to divide between those who opt for conventional modern tents and the minority who prefer retro alternatives: bell tents, canvas ridge tents, occasionally even tipis, and so on.

Tents like this do actually have distinct benefits as well as some disadvantages. There are the practical things: they are often made of polycotton, which, as discussed above, is far cooler in hot weather than polyester. On the other hand, this takes longer to dry, and will develop nasty grey mould stains if packed damp.

Aesthetics come into it. Tents like this are arguably more beautiful and if you believe camping has some romance to it, that will matter to you. (This particular tent has a more robust sort of image than the bunting-draped bell tents common on Cool Camping sites: you can imagine a pipe-smoking prospector squatting outside, swallowing whisky and grits for breakfast before a day’s panning for gold.)

Finally, they require a slightly different philosophy. For one thing, they tend to be more communal than modern tents, having one area in which to live and sleep. (Although a separate inner tent with two sleeping compartments is available for the Klondike, for an extra £219.99.) So if you have the sort of family that likes to do things together – talk, tell stories, play cards, have a sing-song – they are great.

Of course, you can add a tarp shelter to the front of the tent, and use this for shelter while you cook. Robens do their own 4m by 4m tarp for £219.99.

But personally, while I think the Klondike is ideal for sleeping and lounging in, in a perfect world I’d probably want to pitch a second tent alongside to cook and eat and sit around in. (In fact, Robens also make just that tent, the Prospector.

But then, we’re all different, which is what makes the world wonderful. 

Pitching is easy; pitching well another matter. In the brochure the tent looks crisp and taut; mine sagged and billowed. Perhaps with practise. At any rate, it’s a simple case of pegging out the base and pushing the main pole up inside; adding an A-shaped pole to create the distinctive shape, then attaching the guys.

The ground sheet is a very substantial PVC; and if you are love camping enough to do so in the colder months, you may, in the spirit of Jack London, even fit a wood-burning stove: the cowl at the tent’s apex is designed to accommodate a stove chimney.

VERDICT

Handsome and full of character, pleasant in hot weather, affordable price.

 

 

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