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Ask Me: Got a Family Backpacking Tent Recommendation?

Ask Me: Got a Family Backpacking Tent Recommendation?

Hi Michael,

We discovered your website about a year ago, and have loved getting inspired by your stories!

We have planned a family backpacking trip on the Teton Crest Trail this August, based on your past trip, and need to replace our old tent. Our kids are ages 8 and 10, and we need something that will fit the four of us, as well as being light enough to be reasonable to backpack with. We do trips regularly in the mountains around home (Aspen, CO) and in the Utah desert, in spring through late fall. Occasionally we’re out in snow, and sometimes amidst  serious bugs. Can you recommend anything in particular that you’ve tried and liked?

Many thanks!

Best,
Rebecca
Aspen, CO

Hi Rebecca,

Good for you heading to do the Teton Crest Trail. It’s one of my favorites. I’m delighted you’ve seen my two stories (with photos) about it at The Big Outside. Great trip for families. My kids are now 12 and 10, but they were 8 and 6 and 10 and 8 for our two backpacking trips with them in the Tetons.

I agree with placing a premium on weight-savings and low bulk for family backpacking gear. Lightweight tents cost more, of course. My favorite 4-person, lightweight tent, one my family has used many times, is the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 4. It’s pretty sturdy and big enough for four, though not with much room to spare.

But something to consider is that you buy a tent to last several years, and your kids will change a lot over those several years. I often recommend to people that instead of a 4-person tent, you get two lightweight 2-person tents. While your kids may prefer to share a tent with a parent now, within a few years they may want their own tent, and then you get to share a tent with your husband again. Plus, there may be times when only two of you head out and you wouldn’t want to carry a 4-person tent then.

When sharing a tent with one kid, I’ve liked the Sierra Designs Flash 2, which is relatively roomy for being under 4 lbs., and the Brooks-Range Foray, which is even lighter but also more cramped than the Flash 2 (which I don’t mind, but some people wouldn’t like). Right now, I’m using the Big Agnes Slater UL 2+ (2 lbs. 11 oz.), a nice tent that I’ll review soon at The Big Outside. The Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 3 is so lightweight that it’s worth buying even to use primarily as a 2-person tent, giving you the flexibility of having a 3-person tent, and the Copper Spur UL 2 is even lighter, of course.

One caveat: None of these are winter tents, but all would be fine if you’re camping on snow only in summer conditions.

Have a wonderful and safe trip. I’d love to hear about it afterward.

Best,
Michael Lanza

Michael,

Many thanks for your tent recommendation. We just now ordered a Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 4, and are looking forward to using in in the Tetons. It’s great to have your input and know we’re getting something that will work well for this trip and other upcoming adventures. We already own a couple of 2-person tents, and its also great to know we’ll be able to put them to use again in coming years as the kids get older and want their own tent.

Rebecca

[In Ask Me, I share and respond to a reader question. Got a question about hiking, backpacking, gear, or any topic or trip I write about at The Big Outside? Send it to me at mlanza@thebigoutside.com or tweet it to @MichaelALanza. I will answer the ones I can in a post, using only your first name and city, with your permission.]

 

About The Author

Michael Lanza

A former field editor for Backpacker Magazine, Michael Lanza created The Big Outside to share stories and images from his many backpacking, hiking, and other outdoor adventures, as well as expert tips and gear reviews to help readers plan and pull off their own great adventures.

5 Comments

  1. Dan

    An advantage to two, 2-person tents is being able to split the loads a little more (parents get the tents/flys, kids get the poles). Although splitting the poles among the kids with parents splitting the tent and fly for a 4-person tent works well.

    Reply
    • MichaelALanza

      I agree, Dan. We still often take the two-tent approach for family backpacking. But depending on the four-person tent model, you may be able to split the rainfly and interior canopy between parents, too, with one parent taking poles and the other the stakes, or working the tent parts into your overall division of weight.

      Reply
  2. ferdinand

    Nigor Wickiup 4 or the Golite Shangri La version.

    Reply
  3. hikingalong

    I agree with Michael about backpacking with 2-two person tents. This is how we backpack with our kids (and car camp because my kids, 12 and 8, love to share a tent together by themselves and have for a long time). Plus fitting all four of us and our dog in our four person is too cozy.

    Reply
  4. Brian Reyman

    Good recommendations for sure. Our 4 kids share a BA Copper Spur UL4 and it treats us well.

    A few other options to consider:
    – TarpTent Hogback (4 person, but even lighter than the Copper Spur)
    – A Pyramind style tent, especially if you use trekking poles. Mountain Laurel Designs has a 4-person version or 2 person versions. You can get them with the tent + bug net inners. Super flexible, lightweight and high quality;

    Reply

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Hi, I'm Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside and former Northwest Editor at Backpacker magazine. Click my photo to learn more about me and my blog. Sign up for my free email newsletter in the blue box above. Click on Subscribe Now! in the main menu (top right) to get full access to all of my stories on America's best backpacking, hiking, and outdoor adventures. And click on Ask Me in the main menu to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

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