What Size Tent Do I Need?

With the warmer weather upon us, it's time to start planning your epic summer camping trips! Here are a few tips to consider when choosing your tent size!

Two tents in the dark with a fire and chairs nearby.

Photo by Tommy Lisbin

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Whether you're starting fresh or upgrading current gear, picking the perfect tent size can make or break your camping experience. Not only does it shelter you from the elements, but choosing an appropriately sized space to sleep and relax away from bugs or other campers is the first step in ensuring a successful trip. Here are a few tips to consider as you weigh the options:

Where are you going?

A tent pitched on an overlook with a body of water visible nearby.

Photo by Daan Weijers

You might think the first step is determining how many people will be sleeping in the tent, but it's equally important to figure out where you're going—and how you're getting there. If you're packing up the car and driving to a spot, it's worthwhile to look at tents that offer a little more space. These options will likely be heavier, but generally, your campsite is just steps away from the parking area, so a few extra pounds is not unbearable, and the interior space you gain makes for a more comfortable experience. If you do opt for a supersized tent, be sure to check the dimensions of its footprint and confirm it is within the regulations of the campsite you're reserving. Some pads are only meant for a certain size tent so an oversized option may not work.

If you’re the adventurous type that treks up to the highest peak with everything in your pack, a backpacking tent with the minimum space required will be a better choice. You will appreciate the lighter weight and smaller packed size as you try to fit it in with your sleep and cooking system, clothes, and food. If you do want more space to stretch out after a long day on the trail, you can always lighten the load of a larger (heavier) tent by splitting the poles and tent body between two people.

Who will be using it?

Three people running near a tent that is pitched in an open plain.

Photo by Mattias Helge

Okay, this may seem obvious—two adults should be looking for a two-person tent, right? Maybe, but this size is going to offer a place to sleep and not much more. Tent manufacturers specify capacity ratings in their product descriptions, but keep in mind a two-person tent means it will adequately house two regular-sized sleeping pads, placed right next to each other. Maybe a little too cozy for those who like a little personal space, but perfect for a single adventurer who likes more room or a couple that is backpacking and trying to keep their load light.

In general, a good rule of thumb when car camping is to size up by two people for added comfort, meaning those two adults might consider a four-person tent. These larger options often have more than one door, which makes gear loading, entry, and exit much easier for multiple people, and extra pockets/vestibules that helps to keep personal items separate and organized.

A family of four will have different needs. Two adults and two toddlers can squeeze into that same four-person option, but kids grow quickly and two teenagers will require a more spacious tent. Look for one with room dividers for privacy or screened-in porches and large awnings for extra space to play games or enjoy a meal away from siblings or pesky parents! Some +10-sized tents can accommodate several cots, queen or king-sized air mattresses, and many other comforts from home if that's what your style of camping requires!

A few other things to keep in mind are the individual needs/preferences of each person. Is anyone taller than average, likely needing a longer or taller tent? Are they an active sleeper who prefers a wide sleeping pad? This would alter the size, because, as mentioned above, a two-person tent is designed for two regular-width size pads.

The inside of the North Face Homestead Super Dome Tent.

The North Face Homestead Super Dome Tent

Does anyone have special needs where easier access and more headroom would come in handy? The North Face Homestead SuperDome is 56 square feet, boasts three doors, fits a queen-sized air mattress, and has nearly vertical walls! It also weighs just over 13 pounds, so it’s a nice option for car camping. Considering the needs of each person will help tremendously when choosing a tent size to accommodate every circumstance.

How much space do you have in your car?

A black truck in front of some red rocks.

Moab, Utah. Photo by Kate Wilson

A large tent may not seem like it takes up much space, but the bigger you go, the more you'll be tempted to fill it up. Air mattresses and sleeping bags will be the bare minimum, but an oversized tent with extra rooms or screened-in porches may tempt you to fill it up with tables and chairs, extra coolers, games, speakers, dry packaged foods, etc. Keeping it simple is key if you have limited space, and staying organized is a must if you do have a larger vehicle to transport more gear.

What type of climate will you generally be camping in?

A tent pitched in the snow.

Photo by David Schultz

Do you plan on camping in mild climates or only during the summer months? What about in the shoulder seasons or at higher elevations where rain, wind, or snow is likely? If it's the latter, keep in mind you may be spending more time in your tent during inclement weather. While a two-person tent is sufficient for sleeping, it can get pretty cramped if you and your partner are stuck inside for hours with barely enough room to sit up!

Choosing a durable tent that is sized up a touch will ensure you still enjoy your time in the great outdoors no matter what the weather!

What type of camping will you be doing most?

A family around a firepit near a lake. The boy is roasting a marshmellow.

Photo by Brooks Rice

Will you be using your tent once a year for lengthy family reunions or for several trips where you will stick close to camp? If your family considers their campsite a home away from home, it may be worth it to purchase a large and comfortable, heavy-duty shelter. Any downside like setup time or cost will be forgotten as you relax while the kiddos run in and out, play games like hide-and-seek, or have a cozy place to nap.

Also, will you be setting up camp for several days and calling it home, or road-tripping to a few destinations? Keeping it light and simple may be the way to go if you'll be moving frequently, after all, setup and tear-down of a large tent can take a lot of time!

There may be times when you just want a quick romantic getaway and others that are more family or adventure-oriented. Some tents offer an add-on that extends the overall space, if necessary. The MSR Gear Shed fits several MSR tent models and transforms vestibule space into a larger, protected area for more gear storage or sleeping space for the kids.

Thinking ahead about the types of trips you will be taking can greatly increase the likelihood of purchasing the right tent.

Let's grab our gear and go!

Keep Curated in mind as you plan your outdoor adventures this year! You can reach out to a Camping & Hiking Expert for advice on the perfect-sized tent for your needs, along with our top recommendations on other gear, too! Together we will curate a setup that will help you make some of your best camping memories to date!

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20+ years of camping, mountain biking, winter sports, climbing, fly fishing, backpacking, hiking and traveling - there's no place I'd rather be than outside. Here are my favorites (so far!) ​ CAMPING: Blue Mountains, Australia. HIKING: Mt Cook or Nelson, New Zealand MOUNTAIN BIKE: Moab, of course! F...

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