Whether you’re a camping virgin planning your first trip with friends or a seasoned veteran of many a family vacation, there’s one thing you can always improve upon – picking the tent. The main problem I found during my many years of camping is not having enough room – no matter how big you go, you always realize you need more.
Hindsight 20/20, right? Finally, after a number trials and errors, I found out that the magic number is 8. That’s why I set out to write a guide that’ll help you choose an 8 person tent that you won’t regret buying.
OK, first thing’s first – just because it says “8-person tent”, that doesn’t mean it holds 8 people. There’s a good rule of thumb that applies to choosing your ideal tent – take whatever number of people it says it sleeps, and reduce by two. In other words, an 8 person tent will comfortably sleep up to six people, assuming you’re all adults or parents with teenage kids.
And this is exactly the main appeal of these tents – space! This extra room you get can be parceled up using dividers so that you get a measure of privacy (something your teen kids crave for, for sure) that smaller tents just can’t give you.
On a similar note, these puppies tend to be about 6 feet tall, at the least, which should go a long way to allowing you remain upright rather than stoop whenever you need to move around or grab a change of clothes.
In a nutshell, buying an 8 person tent differs very little from buying a smaller, even a 2-person one. Naturally, the single most important feature you want is space, but there are other things, such as weight, actual dimensions (rather than just approximation), the preferred closure, ventilation, bug control, waterproof floors and/or roofs, plus the little odds and ends that you’re not even aware you need until you do. The list goes on and on. However, it’s (almost) always best to start with setting a budget, so that’s what we’ll do. So, without further ado, let’s get stuck in.
The price of your tent is affected by its size, true enough, but most people don’t realize that the single most determining factor is the material. This depends upon its purpose, and in turn, affects not only the price but also the weight and packability.
For example, you can get a decent quality 8 person tent for just a wee bit over a hundred – just cut your kids allowance for a month or so, and you’ll have saved enough for a fair-to-middling tent.
On a more serious note, though, these puppies really don’t cost that much considering the advantages (no kids squabbling over who gets to sleep where, no aching back from stooping all the time, you know the drill), and ever a higher-end one won’t come near a thousand bucks (well, it might, but we’re really talking NASA-grade stuff here).
Now that the obligatory tent pun is out of the way (bonus points if you get the reference), we can get on with the guide. As you might’ve guessed, the second most important thing to consider when buying a tent (after the size) is its purpose - in other words, when and where you’ll be using it.
Painting with a broad brush, we can divide tents into three major groups, depending on the weather conditions they’re made for – summer, three-season and winter tents (the terminology may vary). Summer tents are exactly what it reads on the tin – lightweight and delicate material with lots of ventilation, while their 3-season counterparts are better able to withstand an off rainstorm and/or gusts of wind. Finally, the winter type, contrary to what its name claims, is not just for snow – think of it as a true all-season tent.
More often than not, eight-person tents will fall into the second category we mentioned above – 3-season. This means they’re well able to keep you and your gear dry during rainfall or even light snow, as well as keep the air flowing, so it doesn’t get hot and stuffy when the sun is shining.
Now, most of these tents are double-walled, meaning they have – an inner layer or inner tent and an outer layer, aka outer tent, aka rainfly. The inner layer is breathable and water repellent (allows vapors to get out, but doesn’t let condensation drip in), while the outer layer is there to protect you from the elements.
On the one hand, this makes them somewhat heavier and less breathable than their single-layer counterparts, but on the other, they’re much more durable and weather-resistant. If the choice boils down to this, always go with the double layer.
Speaking of rainflies, it’s important to point out that they’re typically not integrated into the tent, so you can just replace yours when it wears out. Another benefit is that they add to the structural integrity and stability of the tent overall, as they, too, are guyed to the ground.
Finally, one more advantage of getting a double-walled tent is that you’re essentially getting an added room in the guise of an antechamber (aka vestibule or porch), which lets you have a place to leave your wet gear or cook, or both, whichever floats your boat.
The previous section touches upon the small matter of added room, which is something quite close to the heart of every camper, I’m sure you’ll agree. Typically, an 8-person tent will have a single main area or room, and a one to three side-rooms. Of course, as we discussed earlier, this size can theoretically sleep 8, but it’d be a tight fit – for any measure of comfort, you’re better off with six people, and if you really want to enjoy, four is even better.
Here’s a pro-tip on how to actually calculate how big a tent you need – the average adult needs about 15 to 20 sq. ft. of space when backpacking, while the numbers may even double for family camping. So, you’re looking at about 30 sq. ft. for adults, plus anywhere from 15 to 20 sq. ft. for teens, (depending on their exact age, gender, habits, you know the drill).
Off-brand tents will invariably be less expensive than their branded counterparts, and you might even make a wonderful find that’ll pay for itself many times over. However, keep in mind that you’re buying a cat in a bag and that you’re much safer with something that has a good name and a matching warranty program behind it.
Now, speaking of names, some serious campers will scoff at the mention of Coleman or Eureka, but both companies are an excellent choice for anyone working within a budget, so to speak. Their tents have a great quality-to-price ratio, especially for car campers (Coleman) and backpackers (Eureka).
They’re not as high end as, for example, The North Face or Ozark Trails, which is a name you may have already heard, but the price tags are much more approachable. On that note, if you’d like something mid-range, you might want to check out REI.
Whether you’re buying online or in store, make sure you find out what it takes to set it up. Ask the retailer to show you, or, better yet, let you do it if you’re shopping in person. If you prefer to take your business online, read what other users say, watch a review or two on YouTube. If you can’t find one for the model you’re interested in, don’t worry – find a similar model and watch that. Some ins and outs may differ, but you’ll get the gist of it.
This is important as it will give you not only an idea of how big a footprint the tent has but also its height once fully set up. Typically, you’ll come across domes with anything between 5 ft. 6 in. and 6 ft. at the dead center, with sloping walls. Budget permitting, you should always go for the taller choice.
So there you have it, as comprehensive a guide to buying an 8 person tent as can be. As a longtime happy (and occasionally not so happy) camper, I found that you can never have too much room, especially if you’re married with kids.
That said, an 8-person tent would be a luxurious choice for a family of four and a comfortable for a party of six. Anything more than that, and you’d have to be really close and intimate with everybody in your group.
Do you think we covered everything, or is there anything you’d like to add? Feel free to leave a comment, and share the article if you like it. That ought to spark a constructive debate or two. Until then, happy camping!