Dome tents, the most popular style for camping with two to four people, have a rounded top that sheds rain and snow easily. This strong shape also withstands wind well, since there are no corners to get caught in breezes. Setup is usually easy, especially with shock-corded poles that just unfold to full length, plus color coding to show where the each pole goes.
The best dome tents for family camping have enough headroom in the center to allow campers to stand up. Usually dome tents are freestanding, so the only stakes required are for the rain fly -- a separate layer put on over the poles if rain or cold threatens. Experts recommend staking even a freestanding tent, however, in case the wind gets fierce.
The family dome tent brands recommended most often in reviews are Eureka, Kelty and Sierra Designs. However, Big Agnes, a brand better known for its small backpacking tents, makes the freestanding Big House 4 (*Est. $300) and Big House 6 (*Est. $360). Owners reviewing tents at two big retailers, REI.com and Backcountry.com, recommend both sizes of the Big Agnes Big House tent as comfortable, weatherproof and easy to set up. Reviewers like the two doors and ample storage pockets. The full-coverage rain fly (equipped with a window) protects against driving rain and extends the camping season into cooler weather. A big vestibule (*Est. $100) is available as an option for each tent.
Both professional- and owner-written reviews also recommend the less expensive Eureka Sunrise 9 (*Est. $225) or Sunrise 11 (*Est. $230). The names of these square domes refer to the number of feet on each side, not the number of sleeping bags that can be crammed into each tent. The Sunrise 9 provides 81 square feet -- larger than the 65-square-foot floor of the Big House 4 -- but the latter has two doors to make the floor space more convenient.
The rain flies on the Sunrise tents are more like awnings than full covers -- a design that's sufficient for light rains, but one that experts say can let a driving rain into the tent. Owners say this tent is well ventilated -- wonderful for camping in hot weather -- but can let too much breeze into the tent in colder weather. No vestibule is available.
Owners reviewing tents at LLBean.com like the King Pine Dome Tent 4P (*Est. $300) and 6P (*Est. $350), though they caution that neither tent is comfortable for as many people as the names imply. These dome tents have a screen room attached -- handy to use as a mudroom to help keep the main tent floor clean. The fly protects the main tent well, but owners say it lets some rain into the screened porch area. Some owners report broken fiberglass poles, but praise L.L.Bean for excellent customer service. (The tents carry a lifetime warranty.)
The same lifetime warranty covers the less expensive L.L.Bean Ultra Dome 4 (*Est. $190) and 6 (*Est. $190), which don't have screened porches but do have full-coverage flies. Owners say the larger tent is very easy to put up, even for one person working alone. These tents get mostly positive reviews from owners reviewing them at LLBean.com, with a few complaints about poles breaking.
Owners reviewing the Kelty Yellowstone 6 (*Est. $200) say it's a bit trickier to set up than some tents, but a good value for the price. One owner reports that it was one of only three tents that survived a windy night at a campground. There's no vestibule available and only one door, but the fly offers full coverage.
Less expensive family dome tents are available, but these have more drawbacks. For example, the Columbia Bugaboo II (*Est. $150) earns praise for good ventilation, but owners say it can also be too chilly. Still, this budget tent gets mostly good ratings from about a dozen owners reviewing it at Amazon.com. Last year, the preceding model was reviewed there by more than 90 owners. One owner with experience with both models says the earlier one had tighter insect netting and better construction.