Family tents for wildcamping
Our experiences of finding the ideal family backpacking tent
I don’t know if the idea of backpacking with young children is plain unthinkable to most tent manufacturers or if there is just not a market they think is worth pursuing, but there is, in general, a serious lack of good 4 person tents that are well suited to backpacking. One person tents; easy, two person tents: no problem, three person tents (that you can actually fit three people in): getting tricky, four person…. well!
A backpacking tent needs to be a few things:
- Light weight (because you are carrying it)
- Bug proof (unless you like getting midge bites)
- Waterproof and strong (because you can’t guarantee the weather)
- Big enough (so you can all sit up and not go stir crazy when your little one is jumping on you pretending to be Spiderman when it’s raining)
With the difficulty of finding a suitable tent in mind, we actually started wildcamping with our son using a cheap supermarket tent – you know the type, a basic dome tent typically in orange and grey and about £20 or less. To be honest this was a great choice and one I would highly recommend if you are just starting out because of its low cost. It does however have some drawbacks. It wasn’t particularly waterproof (in that it leaked quite a bit), nor windproof, and the midge netting was not fine enough to stop midges, so we got eaten overnight on one trip. Having said that it worked well to give wildcamping a go in fine settled weather.
Once we were sure our son would enjoy wildcamping we decided to upgrade to a better four person tent. The contenders we considered were:
- Tarptent Hogback (www.tarptent.com/hogback.html)
- MSR papa hubba (http://www.cascadedesigns.com/msr/tents/experience-series/papa-hubba-nx/product)
- Big Agnes Copper Spur UL4 (https://www.bigagnes.com/Products/Detail/Tent/CopperSpurUL4)
- Black Diamond Mega Lite and inner (http://eu.blackdiamondequipment.com/en/tents-and-bivys/mega-light-tent-BD8005070000ALL1.html)
- Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 4 and inner (https://www.hyperlitemountaingear.com/hiking-climbing-shelters/mids/ultamid-4-person.html)
Pretty quickly we homed in on the Tarptent Hogback as the best option for us. It is very light (1.85 kg), relatively low cost, has no centre pole unlike the pyramid designs, and has an ‘all in one pitch’ which is great in the British weather as you can easily put the tent up keeping the inside dry.
Here is a more detailed review of the Hogback and our experiences with it:
First of all, unlike many traditional tents in the UK, the Hogback has an all mesh inner. At first we were put off by this thinking it would be cold, drafty, damp and so on. In reality though we have found that it is really not a big deal at all. The wind is well deflected by the design and the airflow actually helps to keep you dry by minimising condensation. We really have no concerns over the all mesh inner in the UK.
When we first pitched the tent, which is as easy as the video on the Tarptent website makes it look, we were sceptical there would be space for four. The footprint looks tiny but this is really deceptive as inside it is spacious. The compact footprint is actually a real bonus as it means we can fit our 4 person tent onto most of the spots you can fit a two person tent onto. The single hoop pole and corner strut design is taken directly from their smaller shelter, the Scarp 2, which has a dedicated following here in Europe. In fact the corner struts, which are made up of two struts at each corner to form a triangle, really add strength to the design and increase the head height at each end making the internal space feel large.
The design sheds rain and wind well. We normally pitch the tent so that the side of the tent is presented to the wind, although I don’t know if this will make much difference. In any case we have experienced very little flapping, even in relatively strong winds so really trust the design. The shelter is made of sil-nylon which is very strong but does sag a little when wet. If you pitch in the rain you might need to wander round after an hour or so and re-tighten the guy lines. Despite the on-paper quite low hydrostatic head (waterproofness), in reality it must be much more than this because we stay totally dry even in heavy rain, and when we kneel on the groundsheet on wet ground, none comes through.
Internally there is loads of space. We can fit four full size ground mats in with ease, or as we normally do, we take the three for us, and use the extra internal space for our stuff. Seriously there is loads of space. If we were to ever expand to a family of four this tent will easily accommodate us. There is a lot of internal length, so fitting bags either above your heads or beneath your feet is also straightforward unless you are a giant. We have lots of headroom, with our son being able to stand over a good area of the tent, and us being able to sit over a similar area. I would think you would be fine sitting unless you happen to be a 6 foot 6 plus giant (we are not, being somewhat more hobbit-like in stature). Another feature I really appreciate is the ease of packing the tent away. You simply remove the pole, gather up all the corner struts and roll it up around these. Fitting it back in its bag has never posed us a problem using this approach which is a pleasant change from some tent bags.
Tarptent are a great company for customer service. You will typically get replies direct from the owner, Henry Shires, and the word on the web is that they are normally only too happy to help their customers with any problems (although we haven’t had any need to). Also it is reassuring to know that the Hogback was designed by someone who loves backpacking and wanted a tent himself so he could take his family. That definitely inspires confidence in the tent.
There are a couple of downsides worth mentioning. First the Hogback is only available direct from the USA so you may need to pay import duty to get it into the UK. Second, as with all sil-nylon tents, you will need to seam seal it before first use to make the seams waterproof. Tarptent sell a simple kit and it is not a difficult process, or I believe you may be able to get them to do it for you for a small cost.
We would highly recommend the Tarptent Hogback as a great family backpacking tent well worth the investment if you intend to wildcamp as a family often, but remember you don’t need to splash out loads of money just to have a go.
Disclaimer: None of the manufacturers named here have supplied us with any support/equipment/financial incentive for this review, it is simply our experiences as a keen outdoors family.