Our Best Family Camping Tents

Let’s be honest, the best family camping tent would hike itself into the backcountry, set itself up and… make dinner. Unfortunately that’s not an option just yet, so we’ve engineered the next best thing: Large family-style tents that make your life easier when adventuring with kids.

canoeing trip with best family camping tent

Spacious, durable and easy to pitch, these large-format tents include a host of features for comfortable living—such as wide doors and ample storage pockets. Each tent boasts MSR’s reliable engineering and reflects our backpacking roots. We’ve designed options for everything from dispersed car camping to family backpacking trips. And we gave each tent the dependability you need when everything else is, well, wildly unpredictable.

MSR’s Best Family Camping Tents

Model Min Weight Floor Area Intended Use Doors
Habitude™ 4 12 lbs (5.44 kg)
62.5 sq. ft
Car camping & river trips 1
Habitude™ 6 13 lbs 6 oz (6.08 kg)
83 sq. ft
Car camping & river trips 1
Elixir™ 4 7 lbs 15 oz (3.60 kg) 54 sq. ft Car camping at trailheads 2
Habitude™ Tents: Stand Up & Walk Around

6-person best family camping tent - Habitude 6

Our Habitude tents were built for adventurers who became parents—because, we know once kids enter the picture, extra space makes all the difference.

These expansive 4-person and 6-person tents boast 6-foot-high peaks, letting you stand up to change and roam about inside. Their vast floor space allows for large mattresses for everyone and lets you navigate piles of gear and duffels.

These roomy accommodations come with the strength to match. Habitude tents are built tough—they won’t topple in the wind like flimsier large tents. They feature rugged materials, a robust frame and stainless steel zippers to handle the rigors of primitive camping. In addition, their single (giant) vestibule allows them to fit nicely in smaller sites along river banks.

Despite their beefy nature, Habitude tents feature creature comforts. A built-in porch light* illuminates the entryway at night, and each occupant gets their own storage pocket. The wide door makes carrying loads of gear in and out super easy.

Practically packable cabins, Habitude tents provide a spacious retreat on everything from river trips to family rock climbing adventures.

*Porch light available on U.S. models only.

Elixir™ 4-Person: Camp with the whole crew

4-person trailhead camping tent - Elixir 4

The Elixir 4 is our staff’s favorite for car-based adventures. Incredibly durable, it holds up relentlessly to frequent use and abuse. With its massive 4-person volume, it makes an excellent choice for camping at trailheads, rock climbing walls or fire road pull-outs to access bike trails. Use it to camp with the whole family, or spread out with fewer people and the dog. The Elixir’s tough fabrics and strong aluminum poles give it long-term ruggedness and reliability.

The Elixir’s tent body features limited mesh, which increases its warmth and adds greater privacy when camping in more popular areas. Inside, the tent offers plenty of head and shoulder room for everyone. Additionally, the tent comes with its own footprint/ground cloth, which makes it an exceptional value for its level of quality.

The Elixir 4 makes family camping possible for those who don’t wish to set up a large “cabin” at the campsite or for camps with less available tent setup space.

How to choose a family camping tent

While backpackers may choose a tent based solely on weight, as a parent, you likely have a few more criteria to check before investing in a tent. First, consider where and how you’ll be adventuring. From there, look into these factors:

  • Size & Space: Do you wish to stand up inside? Changing kids’ clothes while lying on your side can be always a herculean feat, but not everyone wants a giant tent. Additionally, consider the types of sites in which you’ll be camping. For example, if you’re tucked into a primitive site on a river bank, you may need a tent with a smaller footprint.
  • Pole Configuration: Large-format tents can be unwieldy, but the right pole configuration makes them much easier to handle. Seek out a tent with an intuitive setup. However, don’t sacrifice strength for easy-to-pitch. Look for a tent that balances a sturdy frame with a simple setup.
  • Materials: Sand, dirt, paws, little fingers, other gear, wind, rain—they all take a toll on your tent’s longevity. That’s why durability is critical. Consider the tent’s construction, down to its detailing. MSR tents feature reinforcements in key stress zones, hard-wearing zippers and rugged, time-tested materials.
  • Rainfly Color: An easy one to overlook, the color of the rainfly sets the mood inside the tent. Bright yellows and greens dramatically illuminate the interior, making it tough to put kids to bed before the sun goes down. Neutral rain flies help diffuse the light, creating a dimmer interior for easier sleeping.
  • Creature Comforts: Consider everything from how easy it is to get in and out of the tent, to the amount of gear storage it has inside and out. Finally, added details like glow-in-the-dark zippers and hang loops for lights all add to your overall experience and comfort while camping.

Do you need a tent footprint or ground cloth?

tent footprint

A footprint is a smart, economical way to prolong the life of your tent. It protects your tent floor from wear and tear over time caused by rocks, sand, sap, branches, needles and more. The more frequently you camp, the more important it is to place that extra barrier between your tent floor and the ground. When you’re camping in the frontcountry or at campgrounds, weight isn’t an issue, so there’s really no reason to leave this protective ground cloth behind.

Other great family camping gear

Tent Shelter - MSR rendezvous

  • Rendezvous™ Sun Shield Tarp: Boasting a UPF of 50+, this giant wing provides excellent sun, wind and rain protection at campsites and gathering areas.
  • Flex 4-Person Cook Set: This complete cook set with pots, plates and mugs has groups of 4 or more covered. The whole set nests together for convenient packing, making it a great kit for river trips, road trips and every family campout.
  • Alpine™ Deluxe Kitchen Set: Every chef needs a tool kit and this deluxe set of cooking utensils, cutting board, knife and more equips you. Packed into its own ultralight carry case, it lets you slice, dice, stir and strain like a pro, whether you’re in the frontcountry or backpacking.
  • AutoFlow™ 10 L Gravity Water Filter: This extra-large gravity-fed filter system delivers 10 liters of clean water fast—all while you set up camp, prep dinner or relax. Its big capacity means you’ll have all the clean water you need for the whole family, including all cooking duties and drinking.

family camping trip

What is frontcountry vs. backcountry camping?

The National Park Service defines camping areas in two ways: frontcountry and backcountry. Frontcountry campsites are generally considered those you can access with a car. This doesn’t always mean an established campground with tables and fire pits. Frontcountry can mean trailheads or fire roads with dispersed, primitive sites. Because weight isn’t an issue, frontcountry camping allows you to bring all the extras in your gear kit for gourmet cooking and lux comfort.

Backcountry camping occurs when you pack your gear and hike in. Whether you’re backpacking, bikepacking, climbing or mountaineering, backcountry travel typically requires light and compact equipment.

But river trips and horsepacking adventures combine aspects of both frontcountry and backcountry camping. Ultimately, we consider them to be backcountry endeavors, but the assisted travel means you can pack a larger tent, deluxe cook set and other creature comforts of frontcountry camping.

Whichever you choose, the right tent makes adventuring with the whole family possible. And that just might be the greatest reward a parent can ask for.

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Updated. Originally Published August 6, 2020.

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