You never have to carry family camping tents very far -- just from the car to the campsite. Because of that, small size and light weight take a back seat to the qualities that make a comfortable car camping tent: Plenty of room for the whole family (plus gear), easy setup, and a sturdy design that can stand up to rambunctious kids, teens and pets. Some family camping tents also have separate rooms and multiple entrances so that restless family members or early risers can come and go without disturbing everybody.
A good car camping tent will be sturdy enough to stand up to bad weather. However, because they're built for camping right beside your vehicle, there's an implicit assumption that if conditions were to get truly awful to the point of danger, you'd just get in the car and leave instead of depending on the tent for shelter.
Of the family tents we evaluated, the Big Agnes Flying Diamond 6 (Est. $650) (also available in 4-person and 8-person versions) packs the best combination of size, easy setup and sturdiness. It gets a "Top Pick" designation from the picky hands-on testers at OutdoorGearLab.com, who say it did the best of all the family tents they evaluated at handling snow, wind and rain. The Flying Diamond 6 has two connected "rooms" with a stowable privacy wall between them, for a total floor area of 90.5 square feet and a peak height of 66 inches -- high enough for some people to stand up without bowing their head.
Users say you can easily fit a queen-sized air mattress and plenty of gear in the main room of the Big Agnes, and a Pack 'n Play or teen who wants privacy in the second, smaller room, which has its own exit; there's even a ground tether for dogs. The whole tent is easy for one person to set up, thanks to a common-sense pole arrangement and color-coded buckles, although the second room does need to be staked out.
The Big Agnes flying Diamond also gives you another 26.5 square feet of area from the vestibule outside the main room -- plenty of space for stripping off your outer layers or storing wet gear. Testers with OutdoorGearLab.com love that the vestibule's storm door can be turned into an awning on sunny days. The trail weight on this tent (poles, tent body and rainfly only) is 17 pounds, 10 ounces. That doesn't count the reflective guylines or the 20 hook-style stakes, which everyone agrees should be replaced with something sturdier; MSR Groundhog Stakes (Est. $20 for 6) are a consistent favorite. Total weight will be at least 18 pounds or a little more, depending on which stakes you use.
Several owners update their reviews after using the Flying Diamond in a thunderstorm, reporting that it doesn't flap around in high wind, and was often standing strong after other tents were damaged. There's just one weak point: The zipper on the front vestibule tends to stick and if you're not careful, it'll break. The good news is that all Big Agnes tents are backed by a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee, and customers say the company does a great job of backing that warranty up.
If you want more space to stand up in, consider our runner-up in this category, the REI Kingdom 8 (Est. $530). This stable, freestanding tend pitches easily with two hubbed pole assemblies and one crossover pole to join them; it has a whopping 104 square feet of floor area and a peak height of 6 foot, 5 inches that will rival even some tall cabin tents.
The Kingdom 8 scores an "Editor's Choice" award from OutdoorGearLab.com, along with a nod from GearPatrol.com for being one of the best car camping tents; they say it feels more like a mobile cabin. The giant vestibule at one end and the durable floor are both huge hits with families, along with the sun awning over the other door on the far side. The near-vertical walls create lots of livable space inside the tent, but also give it a high profile that doesn't perform well in high winds.
Still, users like being able to pack tall items like double-high mattresses and big dog crates into the tent. The Kingdom 8 also has a privacy screen that can separate it into two rooms. The front section is mostly mesh, acting like a sort of breezy sunroom even with the full-coverage rainfly on, while the rear section can be closed off to make a warmer sleeping area in chilly conditions.
The entire tent weighs about 22 pounds, including stakes and guy lines, although you'll need to buy more of both because reviewers say that the manufacturer doesn't include enough of either to fully stake out the tent. You can get it put up with what the manufacturer includes, but it won't have the most stable/taut pitch possible, which is important for withstanding both wind and rain. Users say that one person can put the Kingdom 8 up alone, although the job is much easier with a helper. The only real criticism is that it's not the best tent for high winds, and the breezy front room can be too chilly once the nights start getting cool.
Another great option, especially if you know you'll be camping in bad weather a lot, is the Marmot Limestone 6 (Est. $500). Both user reviews and the editors at Switchback Travel praise this tent's full-coverage rainfly for standing up to bad weather without sacrificing comfort and space inside; one user had it out in an hour of 40 to 50 mph winds and rain with no problem. Meanwhile, the top of the tent body is all mesh, which makes for great stargazing on clear nights.
The Limestone 6 draws praise for its great ventilation, too. The testers at OutdoorGearLab.com say the light poles tend to bend easily, though and, although one person can easily set the tent up on their own, it sometimes takes two people to get it stuffed back into the carry bag. The Limestone 6 offers 83 square feet of floor area with a peak height of 6 feet 4 inches and weighs between 16 and 17 pounds once you factor in the stakes and guy lines.