4 person or 2 x 2 person tent?

2:08 p.m. on June 10, 2010 (EDT)
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I'm hoping to go backpacking with my wife and two kids this summer. We can't decide whether buy a 4 person backpacking tent or buy another two person or three person tent to add to our current two person tent (marmot twilight 2p).

Our kids are 2 yr and ~3 mo. so they don't take much space but we might need space to grow.

I've read the camping with kids article and really enjoyed the advice. The forums seems to give a few recommendations for tents but they all seem to be for car camping or large 6+ person tents. I already have a 5 person tent made by Columbia but I'd rather carry more food and my kid rather than lugging around a heavy tent.

So which would work better a brand new tent larger tent or a smaller two person in addition to my current two person?

2:32 p.m. on June 10, 2010 (EDT)
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At the age of your kids, I would go with the 4-person tent. When they get to the 10 yo boundary, they will start wanting to have a separate tent, and by 12 or 13, they will be demanding it (depending on whether they are willing to go on backpacking trips with old fuddy duddy parents at all ;>D). But recall what Mark Twain said - "when I was 16, I was ashamed at how ignorant my father was; but when I was 21, I was astounded at how much the old man had learned."

The boundary seems to be when they get to the age of carrying most of their own gear.

Eureka does make some reasonable 4 person backpacking tents, which will do fine as long as you take care of them.

5:21 p.m. on June 10, 2010 (EDT)
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I have a 6 year-old and 2-year-old and I'd recommend getting a four-person tent. Depending on what you choose, one four-person tent should weigh less than two two-person tents.

Consider your budget and see how light you can go for the money to shelter four people. Since you'll be carrying one kid and have another child who won't be carrying much of any gear, you'll really want to cut as much weight as possible. I've found it adds up fast, especially when you're carrying someone else, even without any extras.

You probably don't want to have to split up the adults between two tents. It will be easier to have everyone together, I think. At least it is for us at this point.

It will eventually get tight with the four of you in one four person tent, but while your kids are so young I'd go with one tent. Some day, when both of our kids can carry more gear, we can split ourselves up, but we're not anywhere near that point yet.

For summer backpacking you might want to consider a Tarptent. We have a Rainshadow 2 (actually a 3 person) that we can just barely (with strategic spacing) squeeze all four of us into still (one kid has to sleep across). You get a lot of room for the weight though. If they made a larger version, I'd get one for my family. (I just saw that there's now a Hogback for 4 people, but the Tarptent site has several different dimensions listed, so I'm not sure how much bigger it is yet. I'm going to have to consider this...)

We also have an REI Half Dome HC 4 we use for camping, non-summer use, and/or more room. It's heavy for backpacking, but we use it if we need to.

By the way, when both of your kids have their own sleeping bags (I assume the baby doesn't yet), get ones that zip together. Our kids both have Big Agnes kid bags, Little Red, that zip together, for plenty of warm room. We've been happy with both of those bags.

I hope that helps.

1:20 p.m. on June 11, 2010 (EDT)
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Bill and Alicia thanks so much!

I thought about getting a Tarptent for a while. This might be the nudge to get me to buy it! :)

1:32 p.m. on June 11, 2010 (EDT)
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You're welcome.

I think it ultimately comes down to balancing how much weight the adults are willing to carry against how much space you'll get and how much it will cost you. Everyone has a different idea of how much space is enough and how much is too heavy.

Having children has forced us to lighten our loads as much as (safely) possible, and we weren't luxury campers before. But, it's worth it, even if you just go on some short trips. We're planning some trips for this summer too.

FYI, the Hogback 4 doesn't appear to be out yet (though the Tarptent site is saying summer 2010). We're thinking about it, but can't decide if it really gives enough more space to justify a new tent and almost two more pounds. We may just try to squeeze all four of us into the Rainshadow one more year. One good thing about the Rainshadow is that it will still be a useful tent for us, even after our kids grow out of it.

Tell us what you use and how it works out.

Good luck!

2:34 p.m. on June 11, 2010 (EDT)
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What do you uses as sleeping pads for the kids? Lat year we used a yoga mat folded over and wrapped my son up in a few fleece blankets. He was really happy, but we stayed up all night worrying that he was cold.

3:10 p.m. on June 11, 2010 (EDT)
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We've got self-inflating Therm-a-rests (ProLite 3's I think, which have been replaced by the ProLite).

I'd see what's light and small (you'll only need 3/4 length) and on sale. You can also give the kids any "downgraded" patched pads of yours and get yourself a new one instead!

The Big Agnes bags tend to have less insulation on the bottom, so we have to use a decent pad. The BA sleeping bags have huge pockets underneath for the pads to easily slide in though, so everything stays together and there's no worry about the sleeping bag sliding off the pad.

I recommend our Little Red bags to others. My kids have slept warmly in them in late November in Maine.

4:17 p.m. on June 12, 2010 (EDT)
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My wife and I use 2 two person tents, but my kids are much older. By the time they reach the stage where the 4 person would be too crowded, my guess is you would be in the market for a new tent anyway. And Alicia is right, kids grow outta things so fast, buy the new gear for yourself and let them use the older stuff.

12:33 p.m. on June 14, 2010 (EDT)
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Hey we brought along my younger cousin on a hike (he was 5 at the time) and we didnt want to carry a larger sleeping bag so we ended up grabbing a half bag (im not sure what they are called exactly) that is meant to be put up to your waist and then a down coat worn on your top half. THe bag was older but was a perfect size for my cousin. And as far as pads we use some older thermarests as well as a few of the newer prolites.

12:43 p.m. on June 14, 2010 (EDT)
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Plus, if you give your kids the older gear, you won't feel as bad if they do damage any of it.

If anyone has a half bag, that is a good idea for a kid too, as Tulley mentioned. And if it's something you'd use at another point, it will do double duty.

2:03 p.m. on June 14, 2010 (EDT)
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... we ended up grabbing a half bag (im not sure what they are called exactly) that is meant to be put up to your waist and then a down coat worn on your top half....

They are called "elephant's foot", "pied d'elefant", or just "half bag". The one I had while Young Son was very young actually got a lot more use from him than it did from me. My current one (from Integral Designs, Primaloft fill) has only been "used in anger" a half dozen times on ultralight fast trips when an intentional bivouac was planned, and carried on a half dozen trips where there was a possibility of a bivy

5:21 p.m. on June 14, 2010 (EDT)
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They are called "elephant's foot", "pied d'elefant", or just "half bag".

Oooh I'd much rather call it an elephants foot than a half bag, it sounds much cooler 8)

10:51 p.m. on June 14, 2010 (EDT)
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C4B7

Not for nothing but as Bill previously stated get the 4 person tent it will be lighter weight and you can keep every one together and close for security yours and theres. I do believe Eureka does make a vestibule that connects 2 2-person tents as one equaling a 4-person tent. It may be a touch heavy for backpacking i'm not sure about that but it will give you the alternative for growth and separation later on.

July 31, 2014
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