Guest Author - Kimberly Misra
Planning your first family camping trip this summer? Here are some things to look for when you go shopping for the most important item, your tent.
Cost: There's a tent for nearly every budget. You can pick up a simple model at a discount store for less than a hundred dollars or spend four times that on a high-end tent from a sporting goods store or catalog. Generally, more expensive tents are made of stronger materials with better poles and zippers. If you plan on using your tent regularly, invest in a good one. A quality tent properly cared for will last many years. If you are just starting out and not even sure your family likes camping, it might make sense to get a low-end tent (or borrow from a friend first). You can always upgrade later if needed.
Size: Tent sizes can be deceptive. They are usually rated by how many people can sleep inside, but these numbers are ambitious at best. A good rule of thumb is to take your family's size and add two people. This will give you more elbow room and also allow kids to bring along a friend. If anyone in your family is tall, check the vertical dimensions of your tent to make sure they will be able to stand up inside.
Number of tents: If you have older children, you may want to invest in two smaller tents for more privacy. Most campsites will allow a maximum of two tents per site, but double-check before you go.
Tent configuration: If the kids aren't quite ready for their own tent but you want more privacy, consider a two or three room cabin tent. Another option is a tent with an attached screen room. This area can double as a bedroom, plus it makes a nice bug-free place to sit. If muddy shoes are a concern, a tent with a vestibule gives kids a place to take them off before entering the tent.
A rainfly: Unless you live in an area where it seldom rains or gets cold, a full rainfly is a must. It keeps your tent warmer and drier. Look for one that extends to the ground on three sides and a bit over the front to keep the entrance dry.
Quality of zippers and poles: This will be easier to judge if you can see the tent in person. Many large sporting and outdoor stores will have tents set up for you to try out. Check out the quality of the zippers, do they seem sturdy? How easily do they move on their track? Make sure they don't snag or feel cheap. Also check out the construction of the poles and the ease with which they fit together.
When will you use the tent? The general advice is to get a 3 season tent. These work well from spring through fall. If you plan on winter camping (hey, more power to you), you'll need a four season tent made of much sturdier materials.
Number of windows: Three season tents usually have several windows; four season tents have fewer. If you like to stargaze, look for a tent with a mesh window on top (but don't forget to have your rainfly handy just in case).
When you have purchased your tent, try setting it up at home for practice and to make certain all pieces are included. Be sure to never pack your tent wet (bring a towel to your campsite for this purpose). A well-cared for tent should last many years.