Camping tent size guide: how to choose the best size

camping tent size guide

Table of Contents

Your buddies and you decide that you are going to do a weekend camping trip this fall.

You can’t wait to sit along a lakeshore, having drink, and telling stories well into the evening. A weekend like that is exactly what you need. Especially with work getting busy for the next couple of months, you need something to look forward to.

Problem is, you don’t have a tent. You don’t want to be the one who shows up with a ragged old tent that you bummed off your uncle.

Luckily that summer bonus is going to hit your account in a couple of weeks.

Now, just to decide which tent that you are going to be buying…

camping tent

Oh yeah, you don’t have a tent for a reason, you haven’t been camping in almost tent years. Even that was your college roommates one.

So how big of a tent do you actually need anyway? It’s just going to be you sleeping in it, so just a 1-person should do, right? Or should you go big and flashy with something like a 6-person tent? Really live luxuriously out there?

Deciding on the best tent size for you is not always as easy as it should be. But, it goes a long way in making sure your trip is the best that it can be.

Quick guide

# of people using tent

Backpacking Tent Size

Camping Tent Size

1

2 Person

3 Person

2

4 Person

6 Person

3

6 Person

8-9 Person

4

8 Person

12 Person

When it comes to choosing the right-sized tent, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

The first thing you need to know is what you are planning to use the tent for, camping or backpacking?

A big difference between the two will be weight and packability. So, if you are planning to use a tent just for car camping, you can afford to go with a bigger tent to maximize comfort.

Whereas lugging around a 4-person backpacking tent on the trail, to use by yourself, probably is not the best use of your effort.

My general recommendation for camping tents is to take the number of people using the tent and multiply it by 3.

With a backpacking tent, I would multiply the number of people using the tent by 2.

In both cases, this allows enough space for the number of sleeping pads needed, plus a little bit of personal space for each person.

camping tent

Considerations for backpacking tents

Since your backpacking tent will serve as your temporary home during your trip, there are a few questions to consider before settling on the right size.

Unlike car camping, you cannot just pack up and be back home (or to a hotel) within an hour or so.

What is your biggest priority for a backpacking tent?

Answering this question gets you on the right track to picking the tent size that is best for you.

If saving every ounce is the most important thing to you, then you can easily get away with a 1-person tent. I did this for years. Yes, the living space will be tight quarters, but you have all the space you need, with little room to spare.

If you like to have some extra space to stretch out at night (or store gear) then going with a 2-person tent is your best bet.

(Note: use the 1:1 or 1:2 ratio for the number of people that will be sleeping in your tent.)

backpacking tent

How long is your trip?

Roughing it in a one-person tent for a single night is much more doable than doing a month-long trip in close confines. By week two, you will likely be wishing you had just a couple more square feet on the tent floor.

Your tent becomes your home while you are backpacking, and larger tents are just more comfortable to “come home to” at the end of a long day. I recommend backpackers go with a larger tent on longer trips. (sticking with the 1:2 ratio) Luckily, there are a lot of lightweight 2-person tents available in free-standing and non-freestanding options.

The past few years I have been using a 2-person tent on backpacking trips, after using a 1-person for years. I was pleasantly surprised by how much more enjoyable the trips were with a bigger tent. If you are doing trips that are longer than 3 nights, I suggest going with a 2-person tent.

How much gear are you bringing?

This is a tough factor to consider because more gear equals less space in your pack. But, more gear also equals needing more room to store gear.

The square footage of a 1-person tent does not allow for much gear inside of your tent. Even if your tent has plentiful gear pockets and lofts, you may not be able to store everything that you’d like to on the inside of your tent.

Again, this is why a 2-person tent is ideal for a backpacker. There is more space to store gear inside, but the extra weight and the extra space taken up in your pack is fairly minimal.

Well, why not a three-person tent then?

At this point, you are making bigger space, weight, and financial investments for rather minimal returns. I have never spent a night in a 2-person tent wishing I had a bigger tent.

Considerations for camping tents

Camping tents have fewer considerations than backpacking tents. Since you will be able to park your car right next to the camp spot, (or very close by) size and weight are not important factors. Unless you are trying to haul a tent big enough for an army platoon, you should be fine.

campground, tent

Car camping allows you to ditch your trip if something goes wrong or the weather doesn’t cooperate. Backpacking does not give you this option. So where finding the best backpacking tent size has multiple things to consider, camping tents are a bit simpler.

Setting up

Larger tents can get rather tall, some are tall enough to stand up in.

Trying to guide tent poles through sleeves (or into clips) on a tent that is taller than you are is difficult. Having a larger tent makes for a super comfortable camping experience, just make sure that you have help setting up the tent or are able to do it by yourself. 

This is a big reason I recommend sticking to the 1:3 ratio for camping tents. You won’t end up at a campsite unable to actually put your tent up. (talk about an embarrassing start to your camping trip)

Factors to consider when choosing the best size for you

Capacity

Do you need enough room for 2 people? 3? 6?

Tent capacity is quickest way to narrow down your search. You don’t need a 6 person tent if you are sleeping by yourself in the tent. Conversely, you will not be able to comfortably accommodate 4 people in your 2-person tent.

The capacity of a tent only really tells you how many people could sleep inside. That does not mean that that many people will sleep comfortably.

shopping for tent

My recommendation is to use a 1:2 or 1:3 ratio when selecting your tent. 1:2 for backpacking tents and 1:3 when picking out a camping tent.

Sticking to those ratios maximizes your comfort without adding too much weight.

Floor space

Not all tents are the exact same dimensions, even if they are rated for the same capacity.

This is why paying attention to the floor space and dimensions is important.

For example, the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 is 88″ long and has an average width of 47″. Whereas, the ZPacks Duplex is 90″ long and averages 45″ wide.

camping tent

Both are 2-person tents, but it may be more advantageous for you to have a little extra length or width.

It is not as if all tents of the same capacity have the exact same square footage. So, digging a little deeper into the specs can help you decide which tent is best for your circumstances.

Usage

You want to make sure that your tent size matches what you are planning to use it for and the conditions that you will be in.

Having a crammed tent on a weeklong trip in an area known for rain? Better err on the side of sizing up.

Weekend trip with plenty of water sources and dry, temperate weather? A good chance to minimize the weight.

As you can tell, more ideal conditions means less camping gear and less space needed. Less ideal conditions means that you will probably have more equipment and will spend more time in your shelter.

Car camping gives you a ton of flexibility. Other than being a bit difficult to set up, there is nothing stopping you from getting an 8-person tent to use for yourself. (some big tents can be tall, making them hard to set up by yourself; hence the 1:3 ratio)

camping in desert

FAQ

My general recommendation for getting the right tent size is to take the number of people sleeping in the tent and multiply that by 2 (for backpacking tents) or 3 (for camping tents).

Technically, a 2-person tent will work for two adults, but know that there will be very little extra interior space. I would only use that tent size if you prioritize weight savings and are on a short backpacking trip.

I recommend having a little bit larger tent capacity for camping compared to backpacking. Since you aren’t hauling the tent around on your back, you can afford the extra weight and space.

The common range for 1-person tents is between 7-7.5 feet long and 35″-40″ wide.

Conclusion

Deciding what size of tent you should buy is not an easy decision.

There are a lot of tent options out there, but narrowing down the size that you need should be your first step.

You should stick with the 1:2 ratio for backpacking trips, and 1:3 for car camping trips. I have found that these ratios give you the best balance between weight and comfort.

Camping tent sizes do vary a bit, so use the capacity as a starting point. Make sure that you double check the floor space (square feet) of the tent. You will find some brands have slightly bigger/smaller tents than other brands. (even if they are both listed as the same capacity)

Whether planning a solo backpacking trip in the mountains or a family camping trip at a nearby state park, having the right sized tent will make sure you have the best time possible!

view from hiking trip

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