Family camping conundrums: the thoughts and considerations of the perfect pitch

Buying a tent for personal use is one thing — you need to balance your priorities, but you’ve only yourself to please. Trying to settle on the perfect tent that will keep a technology-obsessed teenager, a bouncing 8-year old and a wife who’s only just come around to the idea of camping as a holiday happy… well, that presents a whole host of potential pitfalls.

And then on top of the tent itself there’s the furnishings, the accessories, all those little gizmos and gadgets that can turn a tent into a home (of sorts). Trail’s Ben Weeks has been going through this process, and here he’ll be talking through his decision making, offering some advice, and pointing out a few products that have been highlighted by exhaustive research…

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Our first ever camping holiday was in a teepee on the Isle of Wight. Because we were all in one space, the three kids niggled and fought, and the lack of a porch meant we cooked under the shelter of the car boot. The tent was a pale yellow, and as soon as the sun was up the inside glowed like a beacon, making sleep impossible. My wife was pregnant at the time. There were tears — lots of tears. She swore she’d never go camping again.

 A teepee was not an option this time around.

A teepee was not an option this time around.

Over the years her view has softened, not leas because the bump in her tummy is now an eight-year old with a hunger for adventure and being outside. But it’s always required a little arm-twisting, and she’s never been entirely happy. We changed our teepee for a larger two bedroom tent with a small living area, but we’ve outgrown that now; our eight-year old and sixteen-year old are no longer happy roommates. With another camping holiday booked for this August, we decided to take the plunge and upgrade.

Our search began online, scouring technical information on websites. This proved useful, but soon highlighted the need to see the tents pitched and have a proper poke about in them. The best place for us locally was our nearby Go Outdoors store, but any retailer that has a few tents pitched so you can wander around in them, check heights, sleeping space, the rigidity of the poles, the effectiveness of any windows, and get a general impression for the size and usability of the space, is worth visiting. Online dimensions will give you facts, but not the feel.

This proved a sensible and educational experience. After thirty minutes or so of in-store exploring we’d made several decisions and conclusions: 

  • So that my wife and I could have our space, and the two girls could have their own rooms, we needed a three bedroom tent. This meant looking at 6-person tents.

  • Because these are a higher price than smaller 4-person tents, this ruled out the inflatable beam tents which tend to be more expensive than traditional pole designs.

  • While price was a limiting factor, we still wanted a tent that would last and tolerate being used (and probably occasionally abused) by an outdoor family.

  • Seeing the tents pitched meant some of the cheapest models could be ruled out as their poles proved to be a little more flimsy that we’d have liked.

 Investigating a blacked-out bedroom.

Investigating a blacked-out bedroom.

This narrowed our choices down dramatically, but there were still other features to be considered. Several family tents feature ‘black-out’ bedrooms lined with a special fabric which, as the name suggests, blocks out more light and keep the rooms warmer at night and cooler during the day. Given our experience in the glowing teepee, this was a must. It would also make viewing a phone screen easier...

There were also bundle options on offer: the tent, a protective ‘footprint’ (to go under the tent), a carpet (tailored to fit the living area and make it a little more cosy) and an extension (to make the living space even larger) all for a discounted price. These represented a good deal, but although a footprint and carpet would be useful, the tents we were looking at were large enough and we’d no need for the extension. It’s also worth bearing in mind at this point that many campsites charge more for larger tents; make your canvas home too house like and pitch costs can soon escalate.

We’d reached a decision. The formula for the Weeks family’s perfect tent looked a little like this:

Good living space + 3 dark bedrooms + reasonable price + robust build
= 'tent x'

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For us 'tent x' was the Coleman Oak Canyon 6 (RRP £500, but available for far less from Go Outdoors with their discount card). You can read the full specs on the Coleman website, but here are the key stats including the features that appealed to us:

  • Berth: 6

  • Bedrooms: 3

  • Doors: 2

  • Flysheet Hydrostatic Head (mm): 4500

  • Pitching Order: As One

  • Number of Poles: 4

  • Pole Style: Steel & Fibreglass

  • Pole Composition: Mixed

  • Outer Height (cm): 210

  • Outer Length (cm): 500

  • Outer Width (cm): 445

  • Main Pack Size (cm): 71 x 35 x 35

  • Weight (kg): 27.2

  • Tent Features: Blackout/Darkened Bedrooms, Fire Retardant, Fly Mesh Door, Internal Storage Pockets

We've yet to put the tent up, and a full review will follow once we've had a chance to try it out. But for the first time ever my wife is looking forward to camping. And that's already a big win.

 
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Update

So the gear has been packed, pitched and used in anger in a full-on, genuine, family camping holiday. How did it get on? How did we get on? Are we still talking to each other? Check out the full reviews below!