Here are my recommendations on a family tent. They won’t suite everyone.
For a start, if you are reading this from somewhere where temperature is a constant 30 degrees and the sun shines 300 days out of 365, then stop reading. This review is for people living in semi-temperate climates and who might have one or two small children (or dogs – they are much the same) who want to join you for camping adventures.
My budget was a maximum of £140. If your budget is in that range then we are looking at sale items from places like Amazon, gooutdoors.com or looking to pick up a bargain on ebay.
The low end
For not much over £100, entry-level HiGear or Regatta tents will do the job, although they will tend to have fewer features than some more expensive tents.
For example, if you are looking for an occasional tent to put up in the back garden to sleep Dad and three excited five year-olds on a sleep-over, then walk your fingers to Argos.co.uk and get a Regatta 4 man family tent for £85. Seriously, that’s all you need. Six sunny summers, maybe more if you remove all sharp objects from your bunch of little fivers!
In these cheaper tents, the hydrostatic head (which is nothing to do with head height, but resistance to water) might not be as great as some more expensive brands, but it should deal with the average miserable british weather and still keep you dry. Tents sold under the brand Proaction is pretty much the same tent. I have a Regatta 3 man dome tent and it’s perfect for me and the boy. But a bit tight for all three of us in our family though!
When researching your tent, do please ignore the bulk of reviews that curse the build quality or the weather resistance of your next budget tent purchase. Most of the time, it’s not the tent that is at fault. The fault os more likely caused by the way the tent has been put up, or where it has been put up, or the type of nutter it has had to put up with.
The higher end
At the more expensive end of the scale (£200-500), the hydrostatic head and general quality increases. As does the accuracy of how many people it will sleep comfortably. The larger Coleman and Vango family tents can actually sleep a small car as well as the family that travelled in it.
For these type of tents you should be reasonably committed to camping on a regular basis and have the patience of a saint when it comes to pitch it or pack it away. The larger tents are heavy, and bulky when packed – you won’t have much room in the boot for anything other than a few mars bars, and you’ll need to feed those to the Sherpa who will be carrying your tent to the other side of the tent field.
Chances are, you’re like me – looking for something in between the two. Something sensible, that won’t break too easily, or let you down the first time the weather takes a turn. Something that won’t drive you to distraction or have you cursing through clenched teeth, or wishing you had spent an extra £50 on that other model.
OK then. Let’s spec it out…
My must have’s
The items in bold are my ‘must-have’s for a family tent. It’s worth holding your ground once you’ve decided on them.
We wanted a double skin tent (an outer flysheet and inner sleeping compartment suspended inside). The inner should have a sewn-in groundsheet made of tough durable material (10,000 hydrostatic head). And the flysheet (outer skin) should be fully waterproof (3,000 hydrostatic head) and fire-resistant. If I could get an outer with a bucket groundsheet, that would be a bonus. A bucket groundsheet clipped to the outer flysheet prevents rivers running through your tent and keeps the creepy crawlies on the outside of the living area.
Being able to stand up in the living area (about 200cm high) and in the sleeping pod was one of my “things”, as was having enough room to actually sleep four people. Room to house all our bits and bikes in the living area AND still have room to sit and drink a Gin and tonic while admiring the midges would be just peachy.
So a mid-range tent that does all that without taking the piss at the till is…
Yes, I’m a Scout, and I’m biased. But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.
Do a little research and you’ll likely find that the Vango Icarus 500 (£185-£265) is hands down the best family tent for its money – it is a good tent and a wise choice. Gooutdoors.co.uk often has the best deals to be found on new Vangos, often cheaper than Vango direct for some bizarre reason.
But the Icarus is a bit of a monster, and out of my budget. The Icarusaurus would eat the boot space and the back seats of our Fiat Punto and we’d have to think about getting a roof rack for our son.
After careful consideration, we decided we couldn’t afford a roof rack.
We looked at the Vango Icarus 400, and while it has a generous footprint, it wasn’t tall enough for us. The Vango Harewood 600 is currently on offer at £140 at GoOutdoors which is a great price for a good tent, but is too big for our needs.
So off I went to ebay, looking for a used Vango Tigris 400 or a used Vango Oregon 400.
And I got a second-hand Vango Oregon 400 (the spec can be found here).
So. Time to test it. Let’s go camping!
Once we found a suitable site to pitch (thanks Kilbarchan Scouts), we got down to business.
On opening the bag, we found that two poles have been taped (and not very well) but apart from that the tent is like new. It fitted in the boot fine and we didn’t have to strap our son onto the roof, although it’s still an option I’d consider.
Pitching is easy for two communicating adults working in collaborative harmony.
The sleeping pod comes with a handy divider to separate bouncing kids from static adults. It can be removed, but for the life of me I can’t think why.
Packing away: easy in good weather. You’d need to peg it to a sizeable washing line to make sure it dries after a damp weekend.
It has a huge living area, and it was a bonus to find it came with two steel poles that can lift the front door up to create a huge awning. No mosquito net on the front though, so if you use the front door as an awning, prepare to swat a few critters out of tent come bed time.
Because it’s a Vango, it’s great in the wet. Just sit back and wait for the rain to pass. Better still, get the wellies on, and be happy to know you’ll return to a nice dry tent.
And providing you pack it dry, keep pointy things and hot things well away, you will be able to pass it down the line some day.
It cost me £85 from a private seller on Ebay.
FYI I am not associated with Vango & it’s quite evident no-one paid me to write this. But if someone at Vango, or Argos or Go Outdoors would like a tent tested and reviewed, I’ll be more than happy to show it some elements.