Ask Me: What Are the Best Tents For Backpacking With Kids?
Thanks for the great stories and tips for family trips. I came across your blog as I was scoping out a family backpacking trip in the Sierra for this summer. We are taking another family out backpacking that has done a number of dayhikes, but has not been backpacking before, along with a 20-year-old, foreign-exchange student who, while fit, has also not been backpacking. The boys on the trip will both be eight—they will carry no more than eight to 10 pounds in a decent daypack (our son has an Osprey Jet that has worked well for the past couple of years). Bottom line is that I expect that I will carry some extra weight. Our tent is a Black Diamond Vista—a great tent but heavy for the Sierra in August. Any thoughts on three-person, three-season tents that are relatively durable and lighter than the Vista? I was looking at the Big Agnes Copper Spur as a potential option but figured I would ask you, with all of your experience.
My wife and I have a fair amount of experience—we had been backpacking/camping for a number of years before our son was born and have also been taking our son out since he was one. We want to ensure that we are doing something that everyone can enjoy.
Thanks in advance and keep up the great stories (Iceland looks like it has to go on our list).
Los Altos, CA
Low weight has always been my top priority for tents (and most gear) when backpacking with young kids, because young kids don’t take up much space in a tent and they don’t carry their share of the gear and food weight.
The Big Agnes Copper Spur tents are a good choice in terms of stability and space for the weight; I’ve reviewed the Copper Spur UL4, which I’ve used with my family (four of us).
Depending on your numbers of people, I also recommend using two-person tents for a family because they allow you the flexibility of giving kids their own tent instead of everyone sharing one tent, as they get older; you also avoid carrying excess tent weight when just two people are going backpacking; and there are good, lightweight models out there, like the Exped Mira II Hyperlite and the Big Agnes mtnGLO tents (with built-in lighting) like the Rattlesnake SL2 mtnGLO or one of the Copper Spur tents. See my reviews of the Sierra Designs Tensegrity tents and the MSR FlyLite, and the Sierra Designs Flash 2 and the updated Flash 3.
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Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 tent
Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL 2 mtnGLO tent
Exped Mira II Hyperlite tent
MSR FLyLite tent
Sierra Designs Flash 2 tent
Sierra Designs Flash 3 tent
Sierra Designs Tensegrity 2 FL tent
See also my stories:
“Why and When to Spend More on Gear: Part 1, Packs and Tents, and Part 2, Rain Jackets, Boots, and Sleeping Bags”
“The Simple Equation of Ultralight Backpacking: Less Weight = More Fun”
“Buying Gear? Read This First”
“5 Tips For Spending Less on Hiking and Backpacking Gear”
“My 10 Most-Read Gear Reviews”
“Ask Me: How Do We Begin Lightening Up Our Backpacking Gear?”
Sounds like you have a good approach to backpacking with kids. I always considered it smart to carry more weight myself (and my wife did, too) so my kids could enjoy backpacking more when they were small. One of my rules in my “10 Tips For Raising Outdoors-Loving Kids“ is: Let them ask to carry more. I found that my kids eventually wanted to carry their own backpack by around age nine because they wanted to emulate us. At first, they would carry just their own bag, pad, water, snacks, and clothing—removing significant weight and bulk from parents’ packs. My kids are now 15 and 12 and small for their ages, but close to carrying their own share of food and gear.
If you’re looking for kids backpacks, you should read my review of the Osprey Ace packs.
And yes, I do highly recommend Iceland. I’m eager to return, with my family this time.
Thanks for writing and good luck.
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Thanks for the response. Greatly appreciated. I will look at the Sierra Designs Flash tents as well a couple of the other models that you mentioned (we will ensure that we lie in them before we buy).
I have been thinking about using a couple of two-person tents, but we are still a couple of years away from where we will be able to do that effectively—one of the reasons why I am looking for a lighter, three-person tent. We have a vintage Walrus two-person tent that we love and have used on many memorable trips prior to the addition of our son to our family. I expect that we will purchase another two-person in a few years.
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Regarding carrying more weight so that your kids enjoy backpacking and want to continue to experience the outdoors, I could not agree more. While both my wife and I are in good shape, we are finding that any way we can reduce weight and maintain comfort is fine by us. I read through your ultralight piece “The Simple Equation of Ultralight Backpacking: Less Weight = More Fun” and found it useful. We do not have a rigidly defined packing list (we make it trip dependent). I appreciated your perspective on the amount of gear that you carry and food planning.
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