How Big Should Your Tent Be?
If you’re looking to buy a new tent, you may be pondering a number of different options. There are any number of tent types for you to choose from, with different designs and using different tent materials.
However, before you get into the fine details, the most basic question you need to answer is “how big should my tent be?”. Get that wrong and your camping trip is likely to be memorable for all the wrong reasons.
How Are Tents Sized?
There are a variety of different ways to size tents. The most commonly used is a “number of persons”. You’ll often see manufacturers refer to their tents as 2 person, 4 person, 6 person etc.
Manufacturers are scrupulously honest when sizing their tents, but it’s important to realize that the “person rating” assigned is based on how many backpacking sleeping bags can be laid out on the floor of the tent.
Here’s an example floor plan for a Wenzel 8 person Klondike tent:
As you can see, it’s certainly possible to fit 8 people into the tent – but they are packed in cheek by jowl. Everyone would need to be on friendly terms – and you would hope nobody snores too loudly.
In fact, it’s quite a reasonable way to size tents – as long as all you’re planning to do is sleep in the tent or take shelter from (hopefully infrequent) inclement weather.
However, if you’re planning a family camping trip, or if you have any reasonable amount of gear to be kept dry and secure, it’s not such a good way of sizing the tent.
In fact, if you want to use your tent for anything other than sleeping, you’re probably best to divide the number of persons stated by the manufacturer by two. That will give some allowance for stowing your gear and leave a little room to move around in the tent.
So a 4 person tent becomes a 2 person tent, an 8 person tent becomes a 4 person tent and so on.
Most manufacturers will provide a floor plan, as above. Failing that, the floor plan dimensions should certainly be available. If you want a more accurate assessment of your required tent size, you could sketch out the floor plan and then superimpose the items you intend to fit into the tent.
For example, you might want to sleep on a cot or airbed. That’s definitely a good idea as sleeping directly on the groundsheet will mean that you lose a lot of heat into the ground. If you allow 7′ length by 4′ width for a single cot or airbed, and then add a little space around the sides for movement, you get to a figure of 30 square feet per adult.
That’s a fairly reasonable rule of thumb – allowing 30 square feet per adult, or teenager, will give you a tent that is reasonable in size. If you have younger children you could consider reducing their required space, but letting them have a little extra room is not a bad idea.