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Perhaps the most important gear choice for an outdoor getaway is the family camping tent. It's your home away from home when you venture outside. Families and friends come in every size, shape and color—as do tents. That's a beautiful thing, but with literally hundreds of options, it's hard to know where to start.

Types of Tents

We'll focus on tents for car camping here, but it also helps to understand the full range of tent categories:

For quick picks, read Best Camping Tents of 2020. Below are some additional factors to think about.

Tent Sleeping Capacity

Seems simple: Going with one friend? Get a 2-person tent. If you're a family of 4, then get a 4-person model. Keep in mind, though, that these designations don't allow much elbow room. So a lot of people upsize, getting, say, a 6-person tent for their group of four. If you're between group sizes, go bigger.

Tent Living Capacity

  • Roominess: If spaciousness matters to you, compare the floor area and floor dimensions between tents you're considering. This information helps you visualize how you might set up sleeping bags and other gear inside.
  • Headroom: If you want to stand up inside the tent, then make sure the peak height is taller than you.
  • Shape: Rectangular floor plans offer more usable space than circular floors (such as in dome tents). Cabin-shaped tents also offer more wall-to-wall headroom than a dome.

Tent Season Ratings

When a tent is designated as 2-, 3- or 4-season, that simply hints at how sturdy it is and how sealed up it can be. A 3-season (spring/summer/fall) tent is designed for milder weather than a 4-season (spring/summer/fall and winter) tent.

Tent Features

  • Doors, windows and vents: Every tent has one door; more doors will make it easier for campers to get in and out. Mesh windows help with ventilation, so you enjoy fresher air and less condensation buildup. A few tents also have additional vents to aid the cause.
  • Vestibules: Some tents have covered storage areas that extend beyond the doors. Vestibules range from alcove niches to garagelike spaces. Room-size vestibules might also be available as an add-on accessory.
  • Interior loops and pockets: Having places to stash or hang essentials—like toiletries and clothes—keeps things tidy. Accessories such as gear lofts give you even more storage space.
  • Rainfly: This separate waterproof barrier covers the top of a tent. Some rainflies cover only the roof; others extend down the sides to guard against windblown rain.
  • Guyout loops: Located midway up the sides of the outer walls, these loops let you attach guylines to secure the tent in strong winds.
  • Tent Accessories

    You can find a wide variety of products to help make your tent a little homier and keep it in good shape.

  • Footprint: This is a groundsheet that offers additional protection on the bottom of your tent, which gets more wear and tear than any other area. You can use a tarp for the same purpose, but each footprint is custom sized to fit a particular tent.
  • Other tent accessories: These range from utilitarian (extra stakes, guylines or a repair kit) to decorative (mats and LED light strings).
  • Fans and heaters: If you really want to glamp it up, you can get climate control products that are specifically designed for the confined sleeping space of a tent.
  • More Reasons to Shop at REI

    REI carries top brands like Big Agnes, MSR, REI Co-op and NEMO. We also offer skills articles, care and repair articles and checklists to help you get ready to camp.