This umbrella tent is great for shade whenever you are outside. The number one feature I love about this is the umbrella tent is easy to put up and take down. Whenever my family goes out for a picnic or camping we always throw one in the car. If you are in a windy area you may want to get some stakes to use with it.
Family camping is an excellent way to build lasting memories. Today there are so many electronic distractions – cell phones, video games, tablets, computers, and etc. Camping in nature is a way to temporarily escape from that world and go back to our roots. Not only is camping a great way to get out and see nature, but it is also a cheap way to travel. A hotel usually costs $100 per night. A campsite with full amenities is usually around $20-$35 per night for tent camping. This means you can spend 3-4 times more vacationing days by camping for the same budget. When traveling with your family you will need a really good tent. The best family tent changes as your family grows and develops. No matter what your family’s situation there are several things you should consider when finding the best tent for your family.
Qualities that make the best family tent
- Capacity – How many people does the tent need to hold? When a tent says the capacity is 6 people this usually means if you like to be packed in like sardines then you can fit 6 people, but to be comfortable you usually can fit 4 people. Sleeping capacity specified by the manufacturer usually means each person has his or her own floor mat to sleep on and all the camping gear is left in coolers outside or in a vehicle. I personally prefer a larger tent so I can inflate a nice air mattress up for my wife and me. Some tents on the market also have multiple rooms. This can be very nice when you are camping for more than a night or two because it gives some privacy. Adults in one room and children in the other. The walls in these types of tents are not sound proof in case you have any crazy ideas about what you want to do. In my own opinion a single room tent is best when you have infants camping with you. I have a new baby daughter and we take a portable crib with us camping. Having room for our air mattress and a portable crib in a single room is a requirement. As kids get a little bit older having a multiple room tent might make more sense. By the time your kids are teenagers they will most likely just want to camp on their own in a separate tent.
- Seasons – Most of the tents you can buy are rated for three seasons. Late spring, all of the summer, and early fall. If you are an extreme outdoorsman (or outdoorswoman) and plan on doing camping in the winter then make sure the tent you buy is rated for four seasons or specifically rated for winter temperatures. I have generally found that most family sized winter tents tend to be made from heavier materials to help retain heat and keep wind out. The thicker material does make your family tent heavier. Some tents can have heaters, but just remember that some heaters require good ventilation.
- Height – I’m 6’3″. Unless I’m backpacking I want a tent where I can stand fully erect and still stretch my arms a bit. My wife on the other hand is 5’1″. Our needs in tent heights are very different, but in this case the taller person usually wins. If you are in a place where you will be changing your clothes often, like a campsite near water and you will change from your regular clothes to a swim suit and visa versa, then having a taller tent gives you a very easy changing room. If the tent is not tall enough then you will be changing your clothes while on your knees or laying down on the ground. Another benefit of having your family tent taller than you is the ability to hang a lantern at the top of the tent. Before the days where everyone had a personal electronic device like a phone or tablet, there was usually only one light source in a tent. Either way having a camping lantern is a good idea because you can see in emergencies and make sure everyone is ready for bed at nights. The picture to the right is from a camping trip you can take in Thailand. I loved this tent because you can hang your backpacks on the sides and there are nice lanterns hanging from the ceiling.
- Doors & Windows – Consider how easy it is to get in and out of your tent. Having a door that also has a screen will help with ventilation. Are there windows on opposite sides of the tent that can let a cross breeze through during the warm summer? Does the door seal tight enough to not let insects through?
- Rain protection – Almost all tents are water-resistant and made from hydrophobic material. However, some tents are more water-resistant than others. If a tent you have doesn’t have a great rain fly there are some things you can do to waterproof your tent.
- Ease to assemble/disassemble – All tents are going to be a little bit of work to set up and tear down. What makes some tents far better than others is how easy the tent is to assemble and take down. A tent that is easy to put up will have all the poles either numbered or color coated. Sometimes the poles are always attached to the tent. The tent will then have marks that match the numbers or colors showing you where to put the tent poles. Fewer poles is not necessarily better either . . . having more poles that are smaller makes storing the tent easier. I have used a tent that would setup itself by simply pulling it out of the pack. Even though the setup of the tent was a piece of cake, the tear down was terrible. I had to fold the tent in just the right way and hold it in a very specific shape while I put the tent back into the carrying case. I quickly got rid of that tent. I like my tents to be easy in both directions, not just one.
- Storage – My parents have a big family cabin tent. When the tent is compressed and bagged up it takes up a lot of space. Three times the space of other tents that size. Although it’s a good tent and will probably last forever, you need to consider the storage space the tent uses. If you are vacationing with your family and plan on camping – a larger tent means less room for other gear or luggage.
- Accessories – With so many family camping tents available on the market there are also lots of various accessories with each tent. This includes but is not limited to built-in fans, repair kits, broom and dustpan, floor mat, sitting canopy, and electricity.
Top rated family tents
The best family tent is a tent that meets the needs of your family better than any other tent on the market. You need to decide what features are most important within the budget you have. The following are just a few of the great family tents available.
In the United States there are over 437 million acres of free camping. If it was one giant square it would be 830 miles X 830 miles. That’s about the same distance as walking from Philadelphia Pennsylvania to Jackson Florida just to walk one edge of the square. I don’t mind paying for camping periodically because paid campsites provide at least basic toiletries and a picnic table of sorts. Nicer campgrounds will even have showers available. When my family and I go on holiday (fancy way of saying on vacation) we usually do one night of free camping and another paid night with a shower. However, you can go to almost any truck stop and pay for a shower too.
Where is all this free camping?
There are three main areas where you can go tent camping for free in the United States of America. National Forests, BLM Land, and National Grasslands. Besides these three areas there are lots of free state and county campgrounds, but you just have to know where to look to find them.
In the United States there are 155 national forests that are composed of 188,391,233 total acres. National forests are owned by everyone who pays taxes. These forests are maintained by the United States Forest Service. There are paid campgrounds in national forests, but you can camp anywhere. The reason you are paying is because someone is maintaining that campground and the campground usually includes some basic amenities like toiletries, trash bins, fire pits, and picnic tables. To have these amenities usually costs between $5 to $25 per night. Camping in national forests is technically free and there is no admission charge to national forests. This free camping is called “dispersed camping,” and the rules vary a little in each national forest.. In most national forests, you must pitch your tent at least 100 or 150 feet from the nearest road, trail, or official campground. In popular areas sometimes this distance can be up to half a mile away from everyone. You can have fires in a pit, but you should check the fire restrictions for the national park you where you are camping. If there is a drought and no fires allowed – then DON’T have a fire. Some places also require you to have a permit to have a fire. Most national parks in California require fire permits. These are usually free to cheap and can be obtained online.
BLM stands for Bureau of Land Management and is an agency within the United States Department of Interior. The purpose of the BLM is to preserve land for the enjoyment of people in the United States. BLM’s managed lands are mostly in the western states and consists of 247 million acres of land.. You can go to any of the BLM offices and purchase detailed maps of public land. Because these lands are public you can go hunting, camping, practice using firearms, and almost anything else within reason. Some places do have restrictions so you will need to check with the BLM office in the area. When on BLM land you need to make sure that you follow the local states laws and ordinances, especially when you plan to use firearms or go hunting in any variety. I love to go to BLM land because it is a great place to practice shooting my guns. Just remember as it is public land other people have a right to be there as much as you do.
National grasslands are under the same category and group as national forests. The only difference is 20 national grasslands in the United States, which is about 1,028,000 total acres, are all prairie. The majority of the prairie land is in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, and Kansas. There are places outside this belt that have national grasslands, but they are magnitudes smaller in area. I am from South Dakota and have often camped in national grasslands. The biggest drawback to grasslands is there are no wind blocks and sometimes the wind can be ferocious. When the wind is bad it is not safe to have a campfire either. The prairies have their own beauty. One reason I love national grasslands more than forests is in the winter you can go snowmobiling across the vast plains. You can go really fast and generally don’t need to worry about going off a cliff or crashing into trees.
There are so many beautiful public places to go camping in every state. Just remember to be responsible. Character and integrity take a lifetime to build and don’t let it go even when nobody is watching. Don’t leave your trash or waste byproducts behind. Most national parks don’t have trash facilities or toilets unless you’re in paid camping. You will need to pack out your own trash and bury your feces. Bucket toilets are a very comfortable way to use the bathroom for women and men that need to go number two. The first time my mom ever went backpacking with my brothers, dad, and I she ended up with tons of pine needles attached to her butt. She had no idea until we got back my aunt’s house and she took a shower. She wished she had something besides old logs to use as a toilet seat lid. As camping in national forests are very primitive make sure you take plenty of water or a way to filter water. If you like RV camping you can usually just pull off the road and camp in most national forests. Freecampgrounds.com is another great resource for free RV camping. There was a law suit between KOA and Walmart a few years ago. KOA was suiting Walmart because Walmart was taking business away by letting people sleep in the Walmart parking lots. Needless to say Walmart won and you can also just camp your recreational vehicle in a Walmart parking lot for free. You have food 24/7 and toilets that flush.
Man’s best friend
Camping is an excellent chance to get away from the normal day to day grind of computers and working. When you plan your next camping trip plan on taking your dog. Most camping sites allow dogs on leashes and almost all hiking trails allow pets. When I go camping I make sure I have prepared everything for my family (including our little shitzu Kola). Having an emergency and not being prepared is one way to really tarnish a vacation getaway. In order to make sure my dog and family have a good memorable time I make sure I have the following list items when we go camping.
Dog camping supplies list
- Poop bags – Left over plastic shopping bags work the best. Most hiking trails and campsites are dog friendly. Just be polite and pick up your dog’s poop.
- Dog food – Pack your normal dog food in a bag. Your dog will eat this plus any leftovers from your camp cooking.
- Backpack for dogs – There are several type of backpacks you can put on your dog when you go hiking. Some of the dog backpacks have lots of extra pockets and room, ranging from sizes from small to extra large depending on your dog’s size. Having your dog carry its own food and water helps lessen everything you need to carry when hiking.
- Long leash – A longer leash is used when you are at your campsite to give your dog a larger radius of free roaming. These longer leashes can be something as simple as a rope cut to a desired length and tied to a bench or tree.
- Walking leash – You will want a shorter leash for going on hikes or walks. All dogs love hiking and are great at it. You will just need to keep them under control because they will want to run everywhere and mark their territory with every chance they get.
- Feeding bowl(s) – One bowl can be sufficient for your dog’s food and water (just not at the same time). One item that my wife and I love for our dog is a portable bowl set that goes flat and stores easily when we aren’t using it.
- First Aid for Dogs – We have first aid kits for our families – dogs just need a few extra items.
- Tick Medication – Ticks are very easy to contract in tall grasses.
- Flee medication – Being around other pets your dog can easily contract flees.
- Deworming pills – Dogs can pick up worms in public areas very easily. If another animal in the area has had worms and your dog decides to roll through it’s feces there is a chance your dog will contract worms.
- Dog probiotics – For diarrhea or dog allergies. Ultimately helps digestive problems.
- Old towel – Often times if you take your pet out hiking or walking it will get very dirty. When you are done camping and on your way home it will be nice to have an old towel or blanket for your dog to sit on, thus preventing the dog’s dirt from getting everywhere. Also if you go hiking anywhere with water you will need something to help keep your dog dry and stop it from spreading mud and filth to everything else.
- Dog snacks – You are out to have a good time, why not your dog? Any small snacks or chew bones are an added bonus for man’s best friend.
- Clothes – Sometimes in the high mountains the temperature gets cold fast at night. My dog doesn’t have a lot of insulation on him and we take a few extra dog clothes for him to help keep him warm.
What to do with a camping tarp
A camping tarp can be used for several different parts of camping. If your tent does not have a rainfly or seems to leak a little bit of water when it rains outside you can put a tarp over the tent and tie it down effectively making it act as a rainfly for your tent. I usually don’t do this as I prefer to just have a nice rainfly with my tent and I just spray it down with a waterproofing spray. However, if you buy a tent at a yard sale and it’s missing a rainfly then this is a good alternative. Another thing you can do with tarps is put them under your tent. Most areas usually have some form of ground moisture that sneaks up on you at night and can make for a wet experience if you don’t have a great bottom on your tent. I have a friend who had a tent where the bottom started to wear thin. He went out camping and laid his phone on the ground next to him. There was enough ground moisture that came up through the bottom of the tent that it short circuited his phone. I usually always put a tarp under the bottom of the tent to protect from ground moisture and it also helps preserve the bottom of the tent from sticks, rocks, or other sharp objects. One mistake I see people often make is when they put a tarp under their tent they don’t roll the edges of the tarp under the side of the tent. You DON’T want to see the ground tarp sticking out of any edge of your tent because if it rains the tarp then acts like a giant cup and just collects the water and pools it right under you. You want to just let the rain run off and flow into the ground. Another use for tarps is to make a quick shelter from them. With just a few sticks or rope you can make a small a-frame canopy that can protect you from the rain. This type of tent/shelter is super light weight and easy to carry if you go backpacking, but it generally doesn’t protect you from wind or insects.
What to look for in a camping tarp
There are generally two different types of camping tarps. Canvas, which is very durable and thick. I really like canvas tarps, but the biggest problem with them is when they get wet. The tarps are pretty water resistant, but they get very heavy. Canvas tarps are the heaviest type of camping tarp normally and are even worse when they are wet. The second type of tarp is polyethylene (plastic). These are the most common tarps you see for sale in the stores. They are very lightweight, very water resistant, and the cheapest of the tarps you can buy. One thing you need to do is pay attention to the tarps mill (thickness).
A mil is a measurement that equals one-thousandth of an inch, or 0.001 inch. Most human hair is One-thousandth of inch, or 0.001 inch. The most common size in the thickness rating for plastic sheeting is 6 mil. This is 6-thousandths of an inch, or 0.006 inch.
The thicker the camping tarp is the better (in most cases). I have bought thin tarps just because they are cheaper and I have had the wind completely destroy them. For a few extra dollars it is worth getting a thicker tarp. The only drawback with a thicker tarp is it does not fold into as small of a space as a thinner tarp. The weight difference is pretty negligible between low and high mills. The size of the tarp does matter too. If you get one for the bottom of the tent you should generally get one that is slightly larger than the base of the tent. Too big doesn’t matter, but too small can. If you are going to use a tarp as a rainfly then you will want one that can cover the top as will as the top parts of the side. Rain doesn’t always fall vertically from the sky and you won’t want one side of your tent to just be soaked.
Thermarest Gear (Therm-A-Rest)
Thermarest is really a company named Therm-A-Rest and they produce top notch air mattresses for camping, highly rated sleeping bags, backpacking pillows, and camping pads for sitting. Lately when I go out camping people have just started calling their sleeping pads ‘thermarest pads.’ Just how we call all adhesives for cuts bandaids even though there really is a brand called BandAid. When I was a kid my dad bought himself a new thermarest pad. My brothers and I were all jealous because he had the most comfortable sleeping pad out of all of us. The company Therm-A-Rest makes some really great products. My favorite are the thermarest sleeping pads, but there are also thermarest sleeping bags, chairs, and pillows. I personally use the thermarest trail pro pad when I go backpacking. It is so light weight and easy to setup and teardown. The more weight I can cut off when backpacking the better and that is one of the best feature of thermarest gear in general — it is so light. Thermarest products are very popular and on the more expensive side. You might be lucky and find a used item for sale, but I have rarely ever seen used thermarest gear for sale and when I do see it the price is not much cheaper than buying the item brand new. With low depreciation costs any of their products would be a great investment.
Why Waterproof a Tent
When I turned twelve I was finally able to go to scout camp. This was my first time away from home and really camping by myself. I took a cheap tent purchased from a garage sale. The material of the tent was like paper for lack of a better way of describing it. After two days at scout camp there was hail and heavy rains. My tent was completely torn to shreds and soaking wet on the inside. There really is nothing like being wet and everything you have soaking wet to really drop moral. The following year I took and built what all my friends called the biodome. I simply took lots of plastic sheets and wrapped the tent. I made a small entrance into it. This ultimately kept me dry from the rain, but not the condensation or humidity. At nights all the moisture from my breath was trapped inside my plastic sphere. By year three I figured out how to stay dry. I got a tent that had a good rainfly on it that I could pull off and let the inside cool. The rainfly was not 100% water resistant and so I used a water proofing spray to give it the extra punch that I needed. Now with every tent I have purchased I use this spray once a year to make sure my family and I stay dry.
How to Waterproof a Tent
There are several ways to waterproof a tent. While I prefer to buy either a nice canvas tent or a tent with a rainfly, I will always spray the tent down with Scotchgard Outdoor Water Shield, 10.5-Ounce. This helps give the finishing touches for your waterproof tent.
- Tarp (Tarpaulin) – Any generic tarp usually works well. Just remember you pay for what you get. I have gone through several thin cheap tarps over the year because any wind and they take a pretty bad beating. I generally prefer the thickest available or even a canvas tarp.
- Plastic Sheets – Plastic works great and is really cheap. Just get a couple of rolls and tape them together to make a large tarp. The biggest drawback to plastic is it does not breath well.
- Water Shield Spray – If you use just your tent with no tarp or just the rainfly with the tent I highly recommend spraying it down. I have never had water leak when I do this.
- Heavy Canvas – Heavy canvas tents usually resist water for a long time before getting soaked. I personally think they are comfortable, but they are heavy and expensive. Also note that canvas is heavy when dry. It is even heavier when it is whet.
- Rainfly – While you can buy rainflies after the tent is purchased, the best is to just get a tent with a great rainfly.
- The Ground – There is a common mistake I see campers often make and that is they have a tarp or plastic on the ground and they don’t roll it under the tent. If you forget to stuff the excess tarp or plastic under the tent then all the rain water the tent receives goes down the sides and right between the tent floor and the tarp below. This will make for a very wet and unpleasant experience.
What makes the best hiking poles
Walking poles are great for helping people stay balanced when hiking. As some of us get older poles can help take off some of the weight from your knees and help increase your mobility. The best reason for hiking poles in my opinion is using them for a tent. All you need to take with you is a sleeping bag, two tarps, and rope. Then you can string a tarp into an A-Frame cover using the hiking pole or walking stick as a pole in the A part of the frame. What I look for when I want a hiking pole is several things. The first and most important is hiking poles need to be made of strong metal. If you put weight on it or use the pole for anything arduous then they need to be strong. The second attribute is to be foldable. If you don’t want to use them when hiking easier parts of a trail then a pole needs to be compact and just slipped into a backpack pocket or belt. Being compact makes purchasing a hiking pole better than using a carved wood hiking stick because a wood pole can’t fit in your backpack if you don’t want to use it. The last thing I look for is to make sure that it won’t rust. I have had poles in the past that have gotten wet and rust started leaking from the inside. This usually won’t hurt you but can leave a nasty stain on your clothes and the metal does get weaker over time as the metal oxidizes.
Recommended Best Hiking Poles
List of hammocks for camping
Depending on where you go camping will depend on the type of hammock you will want. Camping with hammocks is a great experience because they are light weight and there is nothing quite like sleeping under the stars to bring a person closer to nature. One thing to remember is if you plan on strapping your hammock to live trees to sleep through the night please consider hanging straps rather than rope to help protect the trees. I highly recommend a full cloth or nylon hammock as apposed to mesh hammocks. Mesh hammocks are fine for lounging around your house, but when you need a good nights sleep they are not very comfortable and you will wake up looking like you were tattooed by all the ropes. With the fabric there are generally two types of hammocks. One that wraps you up in a cocoon and the other that has a bar at each end that makes the hammock more like a bed. The following will demonstrate.