David Lintern takes a look at a mixed selection of Family tents for group backpacking and holidays.
I’m not sure I’ve tested such a broad range of product in a single comparative review before.
We’ve got almost everything but the kitchen sink here, from vintage style, A-frame units to the latest in air beam tech, which replaces the poles themselves with inflatable tubes.
What we want from a group shelter is likely to be quite different to family tents, but there are crossovers – I’d argue we have at least two such units in this test.
A group shelter is likely to prioritise weight over comfort, since we’re likely to be moving with it, be that by bike, foot, or perhaps by ski in the winter.
It’ll still need to be well-built for the conditions we expect, but extra features that increase weight and pack size unnecessarily will be of less use.
When sharing a living space, porches and doors are good regardless, as anyone who’s had to cook in a downpour or climb over a sleeping partner at 3am will confirm, but the dimensions of these on a group shelter will likely be more modest.
Family tents are an expensive business and kids are tough on kit, and so I value durability and well as a few comfort-focused features in something that is too big and heavy to move day by day.
Components like poles, pegs, seams and zips may not need to be ultralight, but should be made for strength and longevity.
It helps if there are darkened sleeping areas to enable rest, and, equally, enough porch space to set up a small table and camp chairs.
A removable groundsheet in this space helps keep the mud on the outside and separates cooking, living and sleeping areas.
For something to be used on formal campsites, it’s also really handy to have window blinds and more than one entrance in family tents as both of features aid privacy and can help manage a change in wind direction.
The ability to attach an awning is also a boon, especially in poor weather.
Features to look for in Family tents and group shelters
Silicone-coated fabrics are light and durable, whilst PU coated nylon or polyester is heavier and less durable but cheaper. Cotton or canvas can be used, but may absorb water, making them heavy and slower to dry.
Breathable nylon or polyester resists drips from condensation and keeps out breezes. Mesh inners are cooler and airier but not as warm, and condensation can drip through unless the mesh is very fine.
Groundsheets should be made from heavier fabrics than flysheets and have a higher ‘hydrostatic head’ (the measure of how much water pressure can be applied before a material leaks).
Just like in a single-person shelter, the inner should be long enough that sleeping bags do not touch the end. Allow room for multiple mats as well as gear.
Headroom is usually less of a problem in family tents, but consider how many people might want to sit, crouch or stand up at once.
Poles should be easy to attach. Tents with sleeves should slide in place without sticking. If the poles are different lengths, they and the attachment points should be colour-coded, for ease of use.
Be sure to check these before your first pitch. Be wary of cheaper aluminium pegs, carry spares and pack a rubber mallet for use on formal campsites when the ground may be hard-packed.
The key to stability in high winds. Look for additional guyline attachment points and use them in poor weather – the larger surface area on a group or family tents can act as a sail.
As a bare minimum, the porch should be big enough for safe cooking and for storing wet gear and packs. It’s useful if at least part of the porch is unfloored.
On a shared tent, having more than one door is preferable. Components like zips, pulleys and toggles should be robust enough to survive the rough and tumble of family use.
Larger, shared spaces can build up a surprising amount of condensation. Look for rear and side vents, protected from rainfall, plus mesh ‘windows’ on doors.
Some tents pitch inner-first, some flysheet-first, others as a unit. Pitching a larger, inner-first tent in rain is liable to result in a wet inner, simply because of the dimensions.
Flysheet and unit pitching keeps the inner dry, but it can be harder to tension the inner.
Contents: A quick look at our family tents & group shelters
- TGO Best buy | Luxe Outdoor – Octapeak F8A
- TGO Recommended | Crag-hoppers – NosiDefence Kiwi tent
- TGO Recommended | MSR – Habitude 4
- TGO Recommended | Wild Country – Zonda 4EP
- Outwell – Dash 5
Five of the best family tents and group shelters
Outwell – Dash 5
- Price: £348
- Weight: 110kg
- Pros: Price, good waterproofness
- Cons: Some quality control issues on the test sample
- Rating: 3/5
Flysheet: 100% polyester, 3000mm hydrostatic head
Inner: 100% breathable polyester
Groundsheet: 100% double-coated waterproof polyethylene
Poles: 3x fibreglass
Pegs: 23 round aluminium supplied
Porch: x1, 210x 280cm, 195cm height, optional groundsheet
Inner: x2 sleeping areas (removable partition): 1: 210x150cm, height 150cm, 2: 210x120cm, height 150cm
The Dash 5 is the more economical family tent option in this selection, and it’s designed with formal campsites and small families in mind. It’s a traditional three-hooped pole, tunnel-style arrangement, and therefore easier to pitch with two people in attendance.
The darkened sleeping area can be split into two, and offers reasonable height and width, but taller people may find the sleeping space a little on the short side.
I’d suggest it’s more comfortable for three to four people, rather than five. There are three internal pockets in each berth.
The porch has a single, large front door, plus several windows – I’d prefer to see a side door in addition on a tent of this type, as it gives more pitching and privacy options on busier sites.
However, the porch is a very useful size, and accommodated a foldable table with chairs as well as another single chair, plus plenty of cooking gear and a few rucksacks, whilst the Scottish spring weather did its worst outside.
That weather more than proved the waterproofness of the flysheet; and a long, single rear vent meant we suffered no damp through condensation, either.
There are 12 guying points, which more than proved their worth in the high winds we experienced, although there were not enough pegs supplied, and I’d recommend replacing at least some of the cheaper aluminium ones included with stronger Y pegs.
We really put the Dash 5 through its paces during our Easter trip, and from a design point of view it has the capacity to be a good small family option, but our particular test sample suffered from what we believe was a poorly cut porch.
This put the front pole under undue strain and led to a damaged section (easy to replace with the spare supplied) and subsequently, a burst seam on a corner pegging point (not so easy to repair).
The fault was reported, and the brand has since renewed its quality control and dispatch checks.
Wild Country – Zonda 4EP
- Price: £1350 with carpet and footprint, £1,155 without
- Weight: 29kg
- Pros: Durable, roomy, wind-resistant, well-featured
- Cons: Weight, price
- Rating: 4/5
Flysheet: 150D PU-coated, polyester ripstop PU 6000mm, fire-retardant
Inner: 68D breathable polyester, fire-retardant
Groundsheet: 120g/m2 polyethylene, fire-retardant
Poles: 10cm diameter Air Flex poles
Pegs: supplied with 54 pegs, 3 types
Porches: x1, 240cm x 3m
Inner: 2 sleeping areas (removable partition): each 205cm long x 140cm wide, height 195cm;
Living room area: 180cm x 3m, height 210cm; 1 cooking area/porch (supplied with removable groundsheet): 240cm x 3m, height 210cm
The Zonda 4EP sits purposefully at the ‘family tents’ end of the spectrum. At nearly 30kg this is not a backpacking tent – but it is exceptionally well-designed and well-made.
The shape is a simple, large rectangle and it has a relatively modest footprint as a result, despite the roomy living quarters internally.
There’s ample headroom and three living spaces – a four-person sleeping area with a subdivision to create two rooms, both with plenty of leg room, a floored living space and a much larger porch (which can be left floorless for wet gear and cooking, or floored using the supplied groundsheet).
Anyone with kids will understand the benefits of dark fabric in the sleeping space, and there are plentiful pockets both inside and outside this area, as well as lantern hanging spots.
There are numerous windows. The porch and living ‘room’ have one door each, and the latter can be tied up to create a mini awning.
Features-wise so far, so good – but it was the build of the shelter that really impressed.
A long, high tent is liable to act as a sail, especially at exposed, beachside sites, but all pegging points are burly, 1in Dyneema and there are 13 guylines that run down each side and the rear (sleeping end) of the tent.
There are also four 1in Dyneema storm straps – two at each end – to really pin this to the ground.
There are no poles as such – instead, one inflates four 10cm diameter chambers using the supplied pump to 7psi. I was sceptical but they seem very wind-resistant, and repair materials are included in the case of punctures.
Even the supplied pegs seem especially tough. All zips have chunky ring pulls.
The fly hydrostatic head is more than enough to keep rain at bay and the groundsheet is thick and should prove very durable.
PU-treated polyester fabrics are less breathable than silicone-treated ones but there are vents on three sides of the sleeping area and another four in the living area.
The manufacturer warns of possible condensation, but there is several centimetres of clearance between the inner and outer
at the sleeping end, and we weren’t troubled by any.
The Zonda is very heavy and expensive, but otherwise I cannot fault it. It’s clearly been designed with young, active families in mind and it makes a fantastic base camp.
Luxe Outdoor – Octapeak F8A
- Price: £329 (+optional pole at £50)
- Weight: 3kg without pole, 3.5kg with
- Pros: Weight, space, flexibility
- Cons: Smaller porches
- Rating: 4.5/5
Flysheet: 40D / 260T nylon ripstop fabric with one side PU-coated and one side siliconised
Inner: high-density nylon mesh
Groundsheet: 68D nylon taffeta (built in) PU 4000mm
Poles: not supplied, but the ‘strong adjustable tarp pole 231X’ is recommended
Pegs: 8 supplied (ours came with 16!), Y clamcleats
Porches: 2, 200x60cm approx
Inner: 300x230cm, height 197cm
The Octapeak is the only pyramid-style (actually an octagonal shape, as the name suggests) tent in this review; and, I’d argue, it’s the only family tents or group-sized shelter that is of a weight suitable to backpack longer distances with.
We’ve used it over the last 4 years for family wild camping on foot or bike. It can be pitched inner or outer-first (an advantage in rainy conditions) and used with or without the inner.
We have the standard F8A, which is bundled with a single, four-person inner (half solid, half mesh, with a shallow PU bathtub floor), but there are several other options available, with anything fromhot tenting chimney ports to two inner vestibules.
The central sleeping space is huge, with enough room to (almost) stand upright in the middle, and a single pole hole (with a long gusset to prevent groundwater ingress) for the central support.
Inside the inner, the four pockets aren’t the best and there’s a single hanging loop.
There are two doors and two porches. These are ample for stashing rucksacks and boots and can also be cooked in, although care is needed to do so if the doors are closed.
The shelter vents are above the doors but we’ve yet to suffer condensation in the roof, or anywhere else. One disadvantage is that because of the sloping walls, driving rain can enter the inner when the doors are fully open.
There are 15 pegging points around the base of the shelter, and a further eight places to attach guylines. We currently have four guys attached, and high mountain camping would warrant the additional four.
Zips have all proved very durable. It does need seam-sealing and I’d recommend the stronger pole (not supplied) and extra guylines, but don’t let any of that put you off.
We tend to use it less at formal sites because of the smaller porch space, but otherwise the Octapeak is a superb-value, lightweight, flexible and robust family tent, which has withstood plenty of remote camps in all weathers on or below the treeline.
Crag-hoppers – NosiDefence Kiwi tent
- Price: £550
- Weight: 8.2kg
- Pros: Good headroom, good wind stability
- Cons: Single door, no porch
- Rating: 4/5
Flysheet: polycotton blend, (65/35) treated with PFC DWR and Eco Anti Mildew, 500mm hydrostatic head
Groundsheet: 420D recycled polyester with PU coating, 10,000mm hydrostatic head
Poles: 2x steel
Pegs: 20 steel
Inner: 1 living area, approx. 255x188cm, centre height 148cm, side height 42cm
Sleeping in this classic A-frame tent is a bit like kipping in a time tunnel, and took me right back to my first, week-long camps as a Scout (this definitely dates me).
It’s made from polycotton and therefore has a low hydrostatic head; but in this case the tendency for the cotton to absorb water, rather than give it up, means we stayed completely dry on our test.
The DWR treatment has worked well so far, but the brand warns that this is a tent for use in ‘mainly fair weather’. What you lack in technical waterproofness, you gain in breathability.
It’s really comfortable and airy to sleep in, with none of the clamminess and condensation that can beset plastic fabrics. It even smells nice!
Unlike my old canvas Scout tent, the floor in this single-skin shelter is sewn in. There are four capacious pockets, the pegs and poles are thick steel, and there are eight pegging points and another eight guys.
There’s a single entrance protected from the elements by a slight ‘beak’, the door of which opens from left, right or on both sides.
Each side has a full-size mesh window, and there’s an additional two side vents low down on the long sides of the tent – again with mesh windows.
Each opening has zips and toggles, and every component is beautifully made and very robust. ‘Sustainability’ has obviously been a priority.
The A-frame design means it’s a cinch to pitch and it’s actually very wind-resistant, even in sudden gusts. Given the sturdy build quality, the carry weight isn’t too onerous, and it helps that a comfortable polycotton rucksack is supplied.
What would make this better? A door at each end would be far more practical, as would at least one porch – the beak could simply be extended, which would create a cooking and storage area.
We’d struggle to get our family of four in without fisticuffs, too – it’s more like a 2-3-person, with gear.
But despite its obvious limitations, the Kiwi tent turns out to be the most fun shelter we’ve used in a long time, and I’ll be sorry to see it go.
For retro ‘I’m sleeping in a Wes Anderson film prop’ atmosphere, nothing else comes close!
MSR Habitude 4
- Price: £590
- Weight: 5.44kg
- Pros: Good headroom, good overall size
- Cons: A single door, ventilation
- Rating: 4/5
lysheet: 68D ripstop polyester, 1500mm polyurethane & DWR
Inner: 68D taffeta polyester & DWR
Groundsheet: 68D taffeta polyester 10,000mm hydrostatic head polyurethane & DWR
Poles: 3 aluminium 7000 Series
Pegs: 9 supplied, a further 4 needed for extra guylines (not supplied)
Porches: x1 (unfloored), 140x125cm, sloping roof
Inner: 1 living area, approx. 233x233cm, height 185cm
The Habitude is a freestanding tent designed for four, which combines excellent proportions inside with a compact, rectangular footprint to squeeze it onto smaller pitches. It pitches inner-first, with three split poles, to create a semi-geodesic type structure.
The first pole runs corner to corner on the living area, whilst the remaining two pull out and strengthen the sides, hooking into ‘beaks’ front and rear, to create a very roomy sleeping space.
There are three guying points on the sides and rear, plus two pegging points on the porch. As a consequence, the flanks of the tent are nicely resistant to cross winds but the corner poles seem more prone to flexing.
I would prefer to see adjustable guying points for the corners as opposed to fixed lines, but I was pleased to note four additional guying points on the fly, which should help matters considerably.
The nine pegs supplied are strong and well-made, and the zips are equally robust.
Inside the sleeping space are 11 stash pockets of various sizes plus numerous hang loops. The inner is made of a high cut groundsheet, solid taffeta and mesh zones, and the fly is also cut high to improve ventilation.
However, in certain conditions, we experienced a little dripping from condensation, from the PU-coated fly and through the mesh inner.
There’s a single door to a porch that’s more than ample for cooking and gear. The fly is a darker, teal colour which allows for less disturbed sleep with excitable youngsters.
Our family enjoyed the Habitude – it’s roomy, robust and a reasonable weight for a group shelter.
Given it is freestanding and pitches inner-first, I think it’s ideal for cycling tours and beach camping in less rainy weather; but I’d definitely add those guylines first for security on more exposed sites.