View Full Version : best tents for backpacking with kids

05-04-2016, 18:26
I'm a hammocker, but I'd like to introduce my granddaughters, nearly 7 and 4, to hiking and backpacking, and that means I need a tent. We'll start with sleeping out in the back yard, followed by easy trips of a day or two. So I've been looking at 1+ or 2-person tents for days, but find myself not much closer to a solution. I'd love to go with something lightweight (Tarptent, SixMoonDesigns, LightheartGear) but am concerned about how suitable they are for kids. Maybe I'm better off with something heavier but more durable, like the Kelty TN2. I and my son, the adults who are likely to use the tent on these trips, are both under 5ft. 5in., and the girls, of course are small. Ease of setup is a plus, of course.

Can anyone who has ventured out with advise me?

grumpy old man
05-04-2016, 18:53
Since you mentioned the Kelty, I'll offer something: If the adults are going to split the weight, you should check out the TN3. It is big and around 5lbs, but split the components between two adults and it is like carrying one of the other ultra light tents you mentioned. I really like the TN3 and really thought about it for hikes with my wife. But, I will also hike some with my old college buddies so that meant a solo tent. I only wanted to buy one tent, so I went with the LightHeart Duo. It's big enough for two but light enough for one to carry.

05-04-2016, 19:00
Yes, I'll check out the TN3. There may or may not be two adults on these outings, though; it might be just me and the older girl this summer. And I'm also thinking that if I get a light tent, my son (the uncle of the girls) could take it out for solos too. But the more situations you want to cover, the harder the selection becomes.

Has anyone out there used a very lightweight tent with young children?

Feral Bill
05-04-2016, 20:11
You might consider a large silnylon tarp, say 10x12. Add bug netting as needed. Also good fro a dining tarp with a large group, and not too heavy for a solo.It could work with your hammock and kids as well.

05-04-2016, 20:17
You can only expect about 1 mile per day for every year in age for kids.
Additionally, you don't want to weight them down with a pack that is more than about 20% of their body weight.

I found it difficult enough to stay within that 20% for my 7yo with him only carrying his sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and cloths (always carried the tent, food, and communal gear such as a stove).

I find myself nervous enough trying to be careful with my $$$ Copper Spur UL2 that I use for solo travel. So when travelling with the kids, I've always used a tent with the heavier material such as Kelty tents or Big Agnes "Superlight" or "Backpacking" level tents.

Sarcasm the elf
05-04-2016, 20:39
As much as I'm a fan of lightweight backpacking, I would be inclined to go with a more durable conventional tent for short trips with young kids. I'm a huge fan of Eureka! brand tents and many of their two person tents run in the 4-5lb range and I think their ratio of quality to price is one of the best. I used one for my first 50 or so nights section hiking on the A.T. and it worked like a champ. I would honestly recommend going to Dick's Sporting goods and seeing what they have on the shelf, I picked mine up there for around $100 on sale. Just make sure to look at ones that have metal poles, the make a few models with fiberglass poles and those shouldn't be trusted for backpacking.

05-04-2016, 22:12
My son and I, along with the 6-year-old and a 10-year-old husky, I recently hiked the Undermountain Trail to the Paradise Lane Trail, then south on the AT up and over the rocky side of Bear Mountain (in Connecticut), returning to the car by the Undermountain Trail. At home, we sat down and added up the mileage -- 6.7 miles for a child who will be 7 in July, and she had a great time. So yes, a mile for each year. She's athletic, and I wanted to give her the challenge of climbing up rocks. For this day hike, she carried her own water and snacks in her small school pack. I wouldn't expect kids to carry much; that would be the adults' job.

The tarp might work from the point of view of weight, but I doubt the kids would feel secure sleeping under it, at least not at first. They are apartment dwellers, so being fully enclosed at night is probably a better idea, at least until they get used to the idea of being in the woods.

I'll check out Dick's soon, Elf; great idea.

05-05-2016, 00:48
... She's athletic, and I wanted to give her the challenge of climbing up rocks...
My kids are not particularly athletic, but I've always found them to be pretty good hill climbers.

Great example was my then 6-3/4yo daughter on her first major trip in the woods. We were going to a place called LeConte Lodge in GSMNP. The hike to the lodge is a 5 mile climb of 2,500' in elevation change. We did the hike in less than 4 hours... and she still had enough energy to make the 2 mile round trip out to Myrtal Point.

I think it's simply a matter that their little bodies likely make for a better muscle strength to body weight ratio than for the average adult.

05-05-2016, 01:58
" It is big and around 5lbs, but split the components between two adults and it is like carrying one of the other ultra light tents you mentioned"
I see comments like that often enough but it will never be so.

Your 5 lbs tent, no matter if carried by one person or two , remains 5 lbs.

Hint, half a 3lbs tent is 1.5 lbs (...) , you carry the tent and give the other person something of yours that is about 1.5 lbs, say you mat. Now you have split the weight in half.
BTW, my comment has nothing to do with the tent the OP should get.

mark schofield
05-05-2016, 06:35

I actually use to use one of these, Cheap and bomb proof. And possibly big enough for two kids. I switchet to a tarp tent contrail but have good memories of this thing.

05-05-2016, 09:31
Back when I hiked with the kids and we all slept together, we invested in a Sierra Designs Sirius 3 tent. It definitely fit one adult and two older kids. Since then I have used the Sirius on maybe 30 groups camping trips with Girl Scouts and it is still holding up beautifully. It's not the lightest thing out there but it's incredibly roomy and I highly recommend it!


05-05-2016, 13:09
Franco, would you care to comment about the suitability of ultra-light tents for young kids? You work for Tarp Tent, no?

05-05-2016, 13:48
I have camped with my sons, now 18 and 11 years old, since they were each roughly 9 months old. At ages 4 and even 7 they were not ready for progressing down a trail. We did lots of hiking. Lots of stopping, rock throwing, exploring ect. Rather than finding a light tent to backpack, consider taking any old shelter to a state park with trails, streams, lakes ... Campfires and smores trump backcountry experiences at that age. My boys can still throw rocks into Lake Superior for hours and never get bored. They really weren't ready for backpacking/hiking until they were nearly 10.

I also hammock camp. When we needed a tent for a family backpacking trip to Isle Royale ( my youngest was 9, he carried only a bookbag with 1/2 liter of water and snacks) we got a Tarptent Stratospire 2. The Stratospire 2 is nice for our purposes in that it will accommodate 3 if necessary. It is spacious with great headroom if the kids just want to hangout and play in the tent. It has stood up well to use by my sons on Boy Scout trips. It is easy enough for my wife to set up alone. It is available with poles or can be set up with hiking poles. (I am already carrying hiking poles so, adding the tent to my pack is not too burdensome).

Again, I'd advocate car camping at this age but, the Stratospire 2 would serve you well. https://www.tarptent.com/stratospire2.html

Good Luck

05-05-2016, 14:02
At ages 4 and even 7 they were not ready for progressing down a trail... They really weren't ready for backpacking/hiking until they were nearly 10.
Obviously each kid will be different. What you have to do at a minimum is first take them on some local day hikes to start judging how well they are taking to the trails.

Depending upon how they did with day hikes, we started trips with our kids when each became 5 or 6. Their 1st over-night trip at that age was a hike to LeConte Lodge in the middle of GSMNP where they didn't have to carry packs. Then the following year, start them on the overnight backpacking trips where I carry everything but their sleeping gear and cloths.

It's taken a few year of watching for sales (especially between Christmas and Easter) but I've now got a variety of tents. I've got my Copper Spur UL2 as my 1 person tent, an "oversize" two person tent with tons of room for just me and one of the kids, a Kelty Gunnison 3.1 with lots of room for me and two of the kids, and a 2nd 2 person tent where the boys can share one tent and I sleep alone, or take the two 2 person tents for 4 of us to all go.

05-05-2016, 15:46
My daughter has camped/hiked with me since she was 5 or so. The first year or two was car camping with an old "4" man Eureka tent. When we progressed to overnights in the backcountry I picked a Stratospire 2. It's got plenty of room for the two of us and our gear. Three would fit but it'd be tight and you'd have to keep the gear in the (ample) vestibules. The dual-sided entry may be beneficial with two kids to minimize the scrambling over each other (and you). The SS2 is not hard to setup but I wouldn't classify it as easy either. I find it tough to get a consistently good pitch on the first try.

Once they get too big for three of you in the tent you have other options: them in the tent, you in the hammock. Get them their own hammocks (kids LOVE sleeping in hammocks). My daughter and I have managed to hang on the same pair of tree side by side (single tarp) which works well if the trunk is broad enough. I wouldn't recommend it with a kid on either side though :)

05-05-2016, 18:31
It's interesting to see how things have worked out for everyone. Right now, I'm thinking mainly of short trips with the older child, who seems very ready to hike six or seven miles a day and spend the night in the woods. The three-year-old MIGHT sleep out in the back yard, if we get lucky, but she isn't ready for a serious grandma adventure of this sort. I guess ideally I'd like to purchase a tent that would cover many situations in the next few years, but I may be better off just solving the specific problem at hand for this summer.

05-05-2016, 18:34
"Franco, would you care to comment about the suitability of ultra-light tents for young kids? You work for Tarp Tent, no?"
My intention wasn't to spruik about Tarptent, just to debunk the idea that if you split the weight in half you get the same weight as a lighter shelter..

There are plenty of hikers using TT shelters with kids, Henry Shires for one, as can be seen in our gallery.
A peculiar one was a family of four doing all of the AT inside a Strato Spire 2 , a tent designed for two adults or occasionally 3.
From memory the kids were 6 and 8 or something like that.
BTW, our 30d silnylon is stronger than most of the polyester used on heavier tents.

05-05-2016, 18:41
Good to know, and thanks for the response.

05-05-2016, 19:05
I forgot you were the OP...
Our Double Rainbow could be a good choice. If in an area were you get a lot of condensation add the Liner so that you don't brush your head against a wet roof area.
It takes 2x long wide mats , has two vestibules/entry points and is symmetrical so top and tail works just as well as two heads side by side.
If using trekking poles anyway, then the StratoSpire 2 would be a good choice particularly if you are OK in setting up tarps or non freestanding tents.
I have used the SS2 just for myself on several trips because packs pretty small and it is still light enough. (great in the rain...)

05-05-2016, 19:31
I'm in the humid Northeast, and there's lots of condensation in summer, generally. Freestanding does have a certain appeal, but it's not a must. I was looking at the DR, the Double Moment, and the Scarp1. I'll look at the SS2 as well. "Great in the rain" is a huge plus.

05-05-2016, 19:55
Great in the rain (for me...) has to do with the large vestibules, I cook under them , the fact that I can often leave one at least partially open (rain protected floor) and I have plenty of space inside to look at maps or play cards.
The two "spires" are offset so two (tall adults) can sit up facing each other .
Some find it tricky to set up, however takes me two minutes to do.
Henry does it a different way and some do prefer his way. (just depends on how you "see" the shelter)
My way :

In all but fine weather you need to stake out the apex guylines. The lines are provided but I suggest using separate stakes for those lines and to set them up along the apex line not down to the door panel (better tension/stability that way)

05-06-2016, 00:44
Came across this on Facebook, someone posted in the JMT Group:

One of these tent "leaped" off the page at me:
Alps Mountaineering Lynx 2 (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B008J4AZSQ/)
Now this is a pretty heavy tent (almost 6 pounds), but it's got two great things going for it:
1. Size (37sqft while the typical 2 person tent is closer to 29sqft).
2. Cost. Amazon has the 2015 model selling for < $110.

The other one that stands out for giving you the most bang for the buck in terms of weight is the Tarptent Double Rainbow.
At <$300, every other tent that is lighter costs at least $100 more.

The next cheapest contender is the REI Quarter Dome. slightly more expensive than Tarptent, yet weights 1 pound more.

05-08-2016, 15:10
I've always just instilled in my kids the need to be careful with my UL gear and to treat everything gently. I.e., we don't jump on sleeping bags and pads, we are careful walking around the tent, etc. I haven't had any issues ...at least not yet...though my kids are not the destructive type. (I have plenty of nieces and nephews who are though...I would never loan out my stuff to that family).

So, my family uses cuben shelters mostly. We are a family of 5...usually bringing the MLD supermid and inner to sleep 4 of us and as our 'party tent', with one person sleeping in something else.


I've had no issues with a duplex either if its just like me and my son.

05-08-2016, 15:18
Oh, I also wanted to add...someone said to expect 1 mile a day for every year they are old. Which...is more or less true if you were hiking all day. But most young kids don't want to hike all day. If I have a 4 year old with us, usually a 2 mile trip in, camp, then 2 miles out is about right. 6 year old....3 miles in is fine, then back the next morning. I don't think either of them would want to do hiking all day. My 8 year old can though. Of course, every child is different.

But....especially for the young ones....you NEED a campfire (just make it small) and smores, and preferably camping at a lake to throw rocks in, etc. Seems that is all they care about at that age.

05-11-2016, 18:57
I took my two daughters out when they were 7 and 9. I can't imagine having to deal with a 4 year old on the trail. Make it fun and make sure they are comfortable in their "nest". The biggest problem they had was a number "2" in the woods. I would get the cheapest, most waterproof tent (for the weight) because kids don't care about hiking gear brands (ok maybe TNF get them some socks).

05-11-2016, 21:43
I finally made a decision and ordered a TT Double Rainbow. The older child and I will do a grandma backpacking adventure sometime this summer. The younger child? We'll probably stick to excursions, and possibly, if she's feeling really brave, sleeping out in the backyard. Car camping may also be in the cards. Thanks again, everyone, for all the good advice.