By Michael Deming and the Sportsman’s News Team
The crackle and pop of a campfire and the brightness of the stars are something you really savor when you are out camping. You can unplug from the day to day rat race and get away from the electronic devices. You can enjoy the things that are so important in the big picture of life and that’s quality time with your family. Uninterrupted time seems to generate some of the very best memories that can last a lifetime, regardless if it is camping, fishing or hunting. Nothing puts you as close to nature and the family as putting all of you in a tent for a few days of fun-filled family activities together.
With everyone under one roof and no walls to separate you, it’s easy to communicate and as a father of three daughters, I will vouch for how much you can learn about your children on a simple weekend getaway in a tent.
The key to enjoying one of these weekends is to have a good family sized tent which is dependable, one that can endure some wind and weather should you experience a less than perfect weekend. I don’t mean a family sized tent based on the number of people the box says it will sleep. We all know that ‘sleeps 4’ really means that it’s probably comfortable for two. You want a tent that is comfortable for your entire family to relax, has room to store some gear and is not too crowded.
We know it’s hard to look at the box at your local Sportsman’s Warehouse and see if it is the kind of tent that will suit your needs. Sportsman’s News has taken a good number of the tents sold in the stores and online and put them to some real field testing this spring. Some tents are a few hundred dollars and some are significantly more. A family who only camps a time or two a year and tries to plan them around good weather shouldn’t spend a thousand dollars on a tent unless you have unlimited resources. For those of you that not only do family camping, but also hunt and fish and utilize this tent more as a second home will want to consider spending more on a tent. The higher price usually means that there are more expensive components in the tent and they are usually more durable in severe weather. Nothing will ruin an outdoor adventure more than getting soaked to the bone while you are inside your shelter. It will provide a lasting memory for all to share, but not a good one.Rustic Ridge Dome Tent
The Rustic Ridge series of dome tents is built with the budget-wise consumer in mind. This large footprint tent is the only family sized tent in our review which is priced at less than two hundred dollars. However, this doesn’t mean that it is cheap when it comes to the build of this tent. Although this is a dome style tent (which usually means that it has a couple of long poles that bend around the tent giving it its’ free standing ability) the Rustic Ridge dome tent has utilized multiple poles and hubs which attach at the corners. It makes for a more complicated setup, but the shorter poles provide a much more rigid frame to hold the tent up during higher winds and storms.
The 13’X11’ footprint gives you a whopping 143 square feet of living space, which is touted to hold 10 people comfortably. Of course, this would be head to toe and stacked in like cord wood. However, it does provide ample space for a family and gear for a weekend getaway. The addition four feet of vestibule space is a good place to store additional gear and still keep it out of the rain. It has two D-shaped doors in the front which is a good idea if you opt to use the included room divider. This provides the occupants from both sides to enter and exit without disturbing the other side’s occupants.
The bathtub style floor, which is made out of heavy duty PE material, will insure you stay dry from ground water and we put this to the test with over an inch of rain on our test outing. We endured a severe rain storm and some 25-30 mph gusts of wind and not only did the tent stay erect, it also kept everyone dry. There are three full sized windows and a mesh roof which provides great ventilation when the weather is good. The E-port allows you to run an electrical cord into the tent without having an open door. This proved to be a big hit for my girls when camping in the backyard, when they wanted their television hooked up for the big sleepover.
The Rustic Ridge Dome tent is well-built and ideal for the budget minded consumer who is going to camp out a few times a year. Truly the best value of the test.Coleman Jenny Lake Fast Pitch Tent with Closet
When I grabbed the Jenny Lake tent storage bag and saw that it had wheels, I knew someone had been thinking. Someone had traveled with their tent in and out of airports as a family and someone was committed to making the experience as smooth and family user friendly as possible. As this is a Coleman Outdoor Company tent, it is obvious that those individuals are the engineers committed to a long lasting user friendly product.
I loaded the Jenny Lake in the back on the truck and seeing that Coleman logo made me smile as nostalgia set in from all the memories of that whistling Coleman lantern so many years ago as the mantels lit up the night and smores were our after dinner snack.
As I pulled the tent out of the bag, I quickly noticed the intention of ease stayed consistent. The central hub sits on top of the fast pitch tent and this is where it gets its fast pitch name. In fact, on the directions it suggests that this tent can go up in eight minutes (one may need to be slightly faster than me, though). No need to walk back to the bag and assemble the usually separate fiber glass poles and slide them into a sleeve on top of the tent. These poles are already connected to the main hub and color coded slots are in-line, with the pole specific to the central hub. Literally, there is no way to confuse where each already slotted pole goes with each plastic sleeve that connects to the base pole, unless one is unable to see blue or red.
In less than five minutes, the tent is standing and upright. Now since this is a family tent and inspired by ease and comfort, you will find the next step in putting up the tent is to lock in the closet. Seriously, this tent has a closet for the special lady; she will have shelves and a place for hangers on her stay. Three poles later and a couple of stakes and you have your very own travel closet fit for an outdoor adventure.
Having been an outfitter for 15 years growing up, accustomed to tents that can withstand wind and severe elements, I did notice that this is not that tent. The central hub is a very fast set-up system and the closet adds for some extra comfort, but keep in mind that this tent is high profile and is not made to withstand strong winds. While on our Arizona desert trip we did encounter 15 mph gusts and it was obviously very capable of keeping our nights pleasant, but in the back of my mind I made a note to not take it to Alaska on my next adventure.
There is a fiberglass rod that encompasses the main access door and adds some solid stability as well as allows for a two door hinged affect, again more of the comforts of home. The fly goes on smoothly with plastic clips on nylon straps and in less than 15 minutes, you are ready for a family vacation. It is important with this tent, due to the central hub, to have all the stakes in place as well as all the engineered illumiline guylines staked down.
Overall, this a tent creating an experience built for comfort. Complete with a 6’ 8” center height and an overall footprint of 13’x9’, not including the 2’x2’ closet, this tent is spacious enough to comfortably fit up to eight sleepers. I would add that those sleepers need to be somewhat comfortable with each other and some small people would be best. So once again, after another successful and pleasant Colman experience, I packed the tent up in the case and smiled as I rolled it to my truck.Browning Camping Glacier Extreme Tent
So, in providing full disclosure, we have more than our fair share of experience with this Browning tent. This is a tent the Sportsman’s News team has used on many of our outdoor experiences over the past five years. We can definitely vouch for its’ quality as well as durability in all weather conditions. Several years ago, we told one of our Alaska drop camp outfitters about this exact tent and all the positive feedback we had. He purchased over fifty of them to be used in the extremely windy tundra country and he is adding to his inventory each and every year because of its high quality performance. His experience tells us that a well staked out tent, using all of the guy wires, will endure consistent 40 mph wind and some 60 mph gusts. Now that’s performance.
This tent is a 10’X10’ (100 sq. ft.) footprint with almost vertical side walls, which gives you a lot of living space. There is another 66 sq. ft. of vestibule space which is designed as one in the front and one in the back. We usually use the front door for access in and out and stake down the back for dry storage area. It is rated to sleep five adults on the box and we have used it for two adults and three girls as a great family tent. This is my go-to tent on a good majority of my hunts and it is ideal for two guys, oversized cots and all your gear.
This is a free standing, 2-pole design tent with a center hub. The poles are lightweight 25mm aluminum, but able to withstand some harsh conditions. The bath tub style floor is made of 210D Polyester Oxford with 2000mm coating and with years of experience in some severe thunderstorms, I’ve never worried about getting wet through the ground. The fly is also made of 210D Polyester and numerous extra guy rope attachment points. If you’re going to be camped in an area with the possibility of severe weather and high winds, I recommend that you use all of these. It will insure you stay dry and comfortable and your tent stays in one piece. The total weight of this tent is right at 27 pounds. However, it isn’t what I would consider an entry level tent. It sells for $499.99 at the stores located in the lower 48, but it’s worth every penny. You will replace numerous substandard tents before you replace this one.Browning Camping Bighorn Tent
In today’s world, nothing says family like ordering in a pizza with everyone sitting at the dinner table taking bites while in between snap chats. Not sure why it has come to this, but alas, here we are. Except as you all know, it doesn’t have to be this way and thus was the Friday night as me and my family of two bounced down an Arizona back country, holding a memory of two summers ago drawing us back to roadrunners and noisy javelina.
It was dark upon arrival and I questioned my ability to put a brand new tent up in the headlights. My excited, yet tired family of two and I rolled the Browning Big Horn out of the bag and my first thought was, «wow, excellent, it’s shaped like a square”. It was simple to fold out on the ground and I only had to find two black rods that cross in the center sleeves and one gray rod that runs the width. No challenges here and the rods slid evenly into the sleeves. It was obvious that Browning had a completely different idea of what in today’s world actually says family.
I locked in the angle couplings and connected the base. Now here is where I am glad I had help; the 10x15, 8-person tent would have been challenging in this moment to put together had I not had some helpers. I steadied the tent, applying pressure to lift the frame by bending the fiberglass rods in an arc, as my helpers ran around and locked in the base. With the needed help and due to the simple nature of the design that tent went up in just under 15 minutes in the dark. I stood up in the middle of the tent and wondered again, “what if dads all over the world knew how easy it was to set up a tent?” I even made a mental note to camp more.
We didn’t encounter any adverse conditions in the Arizona desert, so I can’t speak from experience as to the tents ability to withstand a 40mph wind, but we did enjoy a very large very relaxed atmosphere, made available by the Big Horn Tent. It can be a bit of a mental block to consider such a large family size tent, until one has the privilege of abundant space while enjoying their favorite campsite. I brought the cots and they neatly slid into place and if I had to guess, the whole family from roll out of the truck to asleep was just under an hour, not bad for a first time set up.
We were a small family, but it is designed to fit eight sleepers and has a nice privacy divide that segments the tent into two halves. Just a reminder though - it is not a sound proof barrier. With only three of us, we used the back half to store our gear and our dry goods and still had plenty of room for cots. I ended up a little biased on this tent and would have no problem recommending the tent to anyone and here are a few technical reasons why.
First, one of the most irritating things about many tents are those small easy to jam zippers. Well this Browning Big Horn has big zippers and two very large doors that go with those zippers and I put the zippers to the test and they performed very well. Second, the tent is built with uniformity and symmetry which makes setup intuitive. We are, after all, only human and this tent was built by someone who understands the human mind. Third, tent poles are 12.5mm fiberglass rods and .19mm steel, making them very durable. I have busted a few poles over the years and I would say that these would be very difficult to break. Fourth, it is really nice to be able to stand upright in a tent and this one has an extra tall 7’3” center that is actually just way too much room for once. And finally, equally as impressive as the set-up was the take down. The bags are actually big enough to fit the whole tent and you don’t have to be a genius or a robot to stuff it back in the bag, it just simply fits nicely. Just to be clear, this is how Browning says family, a giant, way too much room, easy to set up, 10’x15’ home at your favorite campsite. It has nothing to do with no eye contact meals and snap chat.Kodiak Canvas Flex-Bow Deluxe Canvas Tent
Canvas wall tents are an iconic form of camping, used by many over the past century. Coming back to elk camp and seeing the large canvas wall tent brings back some of the best memories I have growing up. They are large and spacious, the heavy canvas keeps the wind, rain and snow outside. Wall tents are very spacious and allow many people to enjoy each other’s company, however they are very heavy, usually take more than one person to set up and take up important space when travelling to your favorite camping spot.
Kodiak Canvas offers a smaller canvas tent that is more portable and easier to set-up than a traditional wall tent. Created with Hydra-Shield, 100% duck canvas, this canvas will help keep out moisture from rain or snow. At the same time, it allows the material to breath to help regulate temperature inside the tent and most importantly, keep you dry. The cotton duck canvas is also very durable. Weather, combined with the sun and wind are the key factors that can destroy regular dome tents. The canvas can last for many decades of use, so long as the owner makes sure not to store the canvas wet.
One of my favorite features of the Kodiak Canvas tents is the ceiling height. At 6’6”, it allows most people to stand up even on the edges of the tent without crouching. The tent is super easy to setup and can be done by one person if needed. The ridge poles and spring bars go in first and then the side poles erect the tent. Very easy and very effective. Two large doors in combination with the large YKK zippers, make accessing the tent very simple. No-see-um mesh windows offer good ventilation and privacy at the same time. Funnel flow vents are located at the corners to help manage the air flow and keep the tent from building moisture on the inside. Staking down the tent is very important, because the tent is not freestanding. Always make sure that your tent is secure in its setup to withstand anything Mother Nature has to offer.
The polyester floor is reinforced and super easy to clean up. This durable material helps with weight and will help keep your floor in service for many trips. The Kodiak Flex-Bow Canvas tent is not light and tips the scale at 79 lbs. This tent is not designed to hike into the backcountry, but serve as a portable wall tent. The tent is really spacious and comfortable. Never store the tent away wet or with moisture on the canvas. Mildew is the leading cause for failure on the canvas material. Make sure to let your tent dry out before storing and even set it back up at home to let it dry out before storage. Take care of your canvas and the Kodiak Flex-Bow Canvas tent will last for the majority of your camping career.Springbar Highline 8 Tent
Camping is my way to go and recharge my internal battery. And taking my family with to enjoy the wilderness without the distractions of today’s technologies is well, priceless. So, selecting a tent that will accommodate a large family, yet hold up to the weather and keep us dry is a serious concern.
Canvas tents tend to be heavier than the new traditional nylon tents, but for good reason. If I can get 3-4 good years out of my dome tents without starting to see some major wear, I’m doing good. The heavier canvas tents will last for many, many years.
Springbar has been building tents in Utah for over half a century. This kind of longevity has evolved their tents into an easy to set up, rock solid canvas tent. The Highline 8-Man Tent, truly means 8-man tent. Most dome tents can barely fit six, let alone eight full size adults. I can even squeeze a queen size air mattress and have over half the tent left to store our gear. You can also stand up inside the Springbar, even around the edges, which is a major plus. I’m 6’ tall and when I have used traditional dome tents, I find myself crawling on my hands and knees to maneuver through the tent.
Springbar tents use aluminum poles throughout their construction. The set-up is actually quite easy and can be done by one person if needs be: After you stake the outside perimeter of the Springbar, put the top poles in place and raise the sides to lock in position. That’s how simple it is. It comes with an awning that you can roll up and store on the tent itself or use two more poles to give you some shade.
Some of my favorite memories are sleeping in wall tents, as my dad experienced when he was a young boy. The wind and weather seem to be held at bay when inside the canvas. The weight and design can take a beating from the rain and snow, all the while brushing it off and getting ready for more. Springbar tents are not designed to put on your back and haul for miles from the truck, but rather a secure and solid tent that offers plenty of space to sleep up to eight adults comfortably.
Springbar’s Highline weighs in at over 80 lbs. Springbar incorporates a Sunforger boat shrunk marine finish duck canvas in its construction. This double-filled cotton canvas is treated with a dry-finish silicone to help repel water and keep mildew from growing. The walls use an 8.5 oz shelter duck and a 10.1 army duck for the roof and window panels. This superior double fill canvas has two yarns twisted together for a one up, one down weave to make the canvas water tight. For decades of use, Springbar dips the canvas twice in Sunforger to ensure your Highline tent will keep you dry and relaxed in any weather conditions.BAREBONES Outfitter Safari Tent
Nothing says camping quite like a wall tent. The glow of a wall tent on a moonlit night has provided me hundreds, if not thousands of great memories. I’ve been using them for many of my camping trips and hard core hunting trips for over thirty years. So, I would consider myself pretty well versed when it comes to setting up one of these types of structures.
A wall tent tends to be a bit larger and bulkier than your standard weekender type tent. They are also more durable and if taken care of, can be expected to last a lifetime. This is the reason a good majority of outfitters and guides use them as their base camps. They are also quite a bit more expensive, but if you were to average out the cost per use, I’m pretty sure the wall tent would come out on the winning side and this specific tent would really do well.
When we pulled this tent out of the box, it was obviously a different sort of animal than we have normally seen.
Traditionally, the canvas tent is one giant piece of material which drapes over a frame and is staked down from there. The Barebones tent fabric is a very unique nylon/polyester fabric which is pretreated to be fire retardant and mildew resistant, as well as water repellent. The other unique thing about this tent is that it isn’t all one giant piece of fabric, making it more manageable from a weight standpoint when you are camping with a family and don’t have multiple men to muscle the large piece of canvas around. It is constructed as the top and sidewalls as one piece, a front door assembly and a back door assembly, which zip on with heavy duty zippers and Velcro attach once totally set up.
The frame is built with durable, but lightweight aluminum poles and attach together with nylon joints. The poles secure into these nylon joints with a detent pin on each end of the poles. This insures the frame stays together until you decide to take it down. There are also some cross member braces on the ends which give added support. Unlike traditional wall tents, this unit not only has the four walls and a roof, but also a floor. The entire tent, including the floor, secures to the frame, making one of the most rigid wall tents I’ve ever assembled.
Barebones claims that their tents can withstand wind gusts of 90 miles per hour when fully staked down. We didn’t get the pleasure of testing to this extent, but the tent was pitched in our lot in Cedar City, Utah where 50 to 60 mph gusts can be consistent and the tent stood strong until we took it down. During our testing we saw, rain, snow, sleet and lots of wind. The rain fly protects it very well, but even without this installed, you can expect to stay dry. This tent had a drying period which was a quarter of the time of what your standard canvas wall tent would be. This is super helpful when it comes time to store your tent after usage. You never want to store a tent of any kinds wet and the quick drying ability of this fabric gives you a good chance of not having to set the tent up again at home to let it dry on a sunny day.
As with most wall tents, it is equipped with a stove pipe hole to accommodate your heating stove. It also has great ventilation throughout the tent. The eight windows, as well as the two huge doors, give you plenty of good ventilation, but also allow you to see the great outdoors. The 6’ sidewalls and the 9’ roof make this a very roomy tent and make the most out of its’ 10.5’ W by 12’ L footprint. The entire unit weighs in right at 160 pounds and stores in three separate bags.
Whether you are a professional outfitter or just someone who wants a high quality tent which will last you a lifetime, the Barebones Safari tent is truly the way to go.