Jason Bean, from =) Bnpositive’s Blog, asked me the other day what my recommendation was for “a quality, yet affordable family tent for 4 people.” This was on Twitter, where brevity is key (Twitter limits posts to a maximum length of 140 characters), so I thought I would follow up on my response to Jason with a little more information about the two tents that I recommended; the Mountain Hardware’s Casa line and Kelty’s Green River model.
When looking for a family tent, the first question that you have to answer for yourself is whether you can live with a four person tent, or if your family will need something a bit larger. Both the Casa and Green River tents are available in four and six person sizes, with a price-delta of around $100 (including the footprint).
The Case for a Four-Person Tent
The general rule-of-thumb when sizing tents is to always get a tent rated for one size larger than the number of people you need to accommodate. While a four person tent will usually accommodate four sleeping bags just fine, there is no room left over for gear. Also, some tents have very low sidewalls, so while the footprint dimensions may look just fine, the sidewalls may be so low that some of the space along the sides of the tent is unusable.
This is not an issue with either the Casa or Green River models, which have near-vertical sidewalls. In addition, the rain fly on both of these models creates a large vestibule at the front of the tent, which adds about five feet of space for gear. With the gear out of the way, the Green River’s 9-foot by 9-foot and the Casa’s 6-foot by 8-foot floor areas provide enough room for a family of four.
The Case for a Six-Person Tent
Just sleeping in a tent is one thing, but it’s also nice to be able to move around a bit without having to step over people. For families in particular, parents and kids don’t always keep to the same sleeping schedules. It can be a challenge, in a four-person tent, to get in or out without waking everybody else up.
The six-person version of the Casa has an 8-foot by 9.5-foot main floor area and the Green River a whopping 13.5-foot by 9-foot area. You will really appreciate all of this extra space when getting dressed in the mornings and on those rainy nights, when the kids are sleeping and there’s still plenty of room for the parents to play cards, etc.
Depending on what type of camping you do, however, the size of a six-person tent can also be their shortcoming. With their rain flies (which creates the large front vestibule area) these tents are over 15-feet long. It can sometimes be a challenge to get 15-feet of uninterrupted level ground in a campground. It’s a particularly tall order out in the middle of the woods!
What’s the Bottom Line?
As with most camping gear, you get what you pay for and that’s the case with the more-expensive Casa versus the cheaper Green River. The Casa uses super-strong carbon fiber poles, while the Green River uses fiberglass. The Casa is really easy to setup, with its quick-pitch design where you setup the pole framework first, then just clip the tent to it. Lower-end tents, like the Green River, require you to thread the poles through channels in the tent material – a real and often frustrating challenge.
I know people are passionate about their tents, so if you think I’ve steered Jason in the wrong direction, let’s hear it!