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Best Instant Family Camping Tent

Typical Instant Family Camping Tent

The terms ‘Instant Camping Tent’ and ‘Pop Up Camping Tent’ are often used interchangeably.  In fact, they rely on quite different mechanisms.  What they do have in common is the speed with which they can be erected.

In this article, we are going to take a fairly brief look at the Best Instant Family Camping Tents. 

If you want a more information on pop up tents – check out our companion article – the Best Pop Up Camping Tents.

How Instant Tents Work

Instant tents work by embedding telescopic tent poles within the tent fabric.  To erect an instant tent it has to be unpacked, unfolded, and the poles carefully extended.  As the poles are extended they form the tent structure and shape. 

It’s difficult to describe or visualize exactly how these tents work so please watch the video below.

We choose the Coleman video deliberately as they provide a fantastic range of family camping gear.  You’ll love the beautiful English accent 😊

Comparison to Pop Up Tents

As we mentioned earlier, we have a companion article that deals with the Best Pop Up Tents.  If you don’t have time to check out that article, take a look at the video below for an example of how a pop up tent works.

Compared to a Pop Up tent, an instant tent takes a bit more effort to set up and take down.  You can still have an instant tent pitched, staked and all guy lines attached inside of ten minutes.

Folding an instant tent can feel like an exercise in origami. Making sure you get all the poles in the right place so you can pack the tent takes a bit of practice.

However, you do get some serious bonuses for the slightly extra effort.  In our view, pop up tents are not much use as a primary family camping tent.  They can be great as a back up tent or to provide extra space as the kids grow up and sleeping in the same tents as their parents becomes uncool.  In contrast, instant tents provide some real family camping options.

Essential Family Camping Tent Criteria

Before looking at any tent, it is much better to have a sense of the criteria you really must have from a tent.  As we say this so often we have created a post that provides an in-depth review of the CampingSage’s Essential Family Camping Criteria.

If you are new to camping it may be a good idea to take a look at that article and use it, either as the basis for you own set of criteria, or, inspiration and ideas on what is important to you.

At core, those requirements cover 5 aspects of your tent and camping requirements

  • Size
  • Features
  • Portability
  • Durability
  • Weather

We cover these extensively in several articles on this site.  You might like to take a look at:

If all that is too much trouble, keep one thing in mind.  For a family camping trip you need a tent that is rated for at least 2, and preferably 4 more people than are in your camping party. i.e.  If there is 4 of you you need a tent rated for 6 people.  We’d strongly recommend that you look at an 8 person tent as the minimum size if you intend to camp out for more than one or 2 nights.

One of the strong features of the instant tents (vs Pop Up Tents) is that they are available in much bigger sizes with lots more of the features you would expect in a traditional tents.

Best Instant Tents – the Candidates

Core Lighted 9 Person Tent

The Core Lighted range of instant tents all include built in LED lighting.  You have to supply the batteries buy you can expect to get up to 4days of good, controllable tent lighting.

The Core Lighted 9-person tent is actually the smallest tent we would buy for our tribe of 4 people.  It is spacious at14’ x 9’ and we really like the height at 78”.  We also like the optional room divider – you’ll know we are big fans of multi-room tents.

The spacious screen room also provides some option for adults to have a quiet, relaxing drink, safe from irritating bugs and mosquitos, at the end of the day.

Slightly surprisingly, the tent fabric is not waterproofed to the level we have come to expect in most traditional tents. It’s hydrostatic rating is just 600mm compared to the 3000mm we see elsewhere.  Thankfully, we find only positive reports of this tent’s performance in rain and poor weather.

All in all, we think this is an excellent instant tent – very well suited to family camping.

FeatureCore Lighted 9 – Person
Size Set Up – feet14 x 9
Height – max  inches78
Weight – pounds40
Sized Packed – inches48 x 11 x 11
No of people – claimed9
No of people – practical4-5
Key Features2 doors, 4 windows, low level vents designed to create flow of air through the tent
Additional thoughtsRoof of tent is mesh.  With the rain fly removed you can lie and watch the stars

Core Lighted 9 – Person – What we like

We like practically everything about this tent 😊

  • Well sized for a family tent
  • Optional room divider gives a good degree of privacy when required
  • Integrated lighting is an innovative feature
  • Set up inside of 2 minutes

Core Lighted 9 – Person – What we don’t like

  • Some reports of broken poles.  Given how instant tents work, some degree of damage to the poles is probably unavoidable over time
  • A few people complain that lights don’t work – again, this is something that we will monitor.  The lighting is one area we would expect to suffer from several cycles of folding and unfolding.
  • Packed size.  48” x11” x 11” is a pretty big package.  It may not even fit in the trunk of a lot of family cars
  • Weight – 40 pounds is pretty heavy.  You will not be able to move this tent far from your car so make sure you can park right next to your pitch.

Core Tents – a Few Words

Core produces some excellent tents and have an outstanding reputation in the camping community.  If you are newer to camping you may not be as familiar with them.  As you will see, Core is a dominant producer of Instant Tents.  They have offerings for instant dome tents, as well as instant cabin tents.

They also produce instant tents rated for all sizes from 6-person on up to 12 person tents. We only include 2 of their tents in this review.  However, once you are sure of your personal family tent requirements, it will be worth checking out other options.

Gazelle 26800 T4 Plus Pop Up Portable Camping Hub Tent

To us, the Gazelle T4 plus range are not the best looking tents.  And yes, we know that looks shouldn’t matter at all.

Where it counts, this Gazelle 26800 T4 Plus Pop Up is a great instant tent.  Despite the name, it is an instant, rather than a pop up tent.  To be a pop up tent, the tent needs to erect itself as soon as it is released.  This Gazelle T4 needs you to unfold it and extend the telescopic poles.

It’s a big tent with 14’ by 7’10” dimensions.  Gazelle are proud to tell you that this is over 110 square feet.  This is in fact quite a bit smaller than the Core Lighted 9-person reviewed above. 

The Gazelle prioritizes daytime living area by providing a large screen room.  This is great for meals and playing cards and other games if the weather turns bad.  It does meant there is less sleeping area and we think that 4 people is the most this tent can manage for family use.

FeatureGazelle T4 Plus
Size Set Up – feet14 x 7’10”
Height – max  inches78
Weight – pounds47
Sized Packed – inches63 x 11 x 11
No of people – claimed9
No of people – practical4
Key Features2 doors, 5 windows, detachable tub floors (separately detachable for each section of the tent
Additional thoughts 

Gazelle T4 Plus Hub Tent – What we like

We like practically everything about this tent 😊

  • Large screen room – suitable for day time activities in poor weather
  • Seems to be well made and robust
  • Set up inside of 2 minutes

Gazelle T4 Plus Hub Tent – What we don’t like

  • Some reports of the tent being susceptible to strong winds
  • Unless you are going to use the screen room for sleeping, the sleeping area is pretty small.  We wouldn’t want to use this tent with 4 big, strong adults.
  • Packed size is very large.  63” x11” x 11” is a big package.  This won’t fit in most family cars so it is going to best suited to those who drive trucks
  • Weight – 47 pounds is heavy.  You will not be able to move this tent far from your car so make sure you can park right next to your pitch.
  • Folding and packing this tent requires a degree of origami.  This is a complaint common to most instant and pop up tents.

Ozark Trail Dark Rest Instant Cabin Tent

The Ozark 10-Person Dark Rest tent is another large family tent.  In fact, we think this tent just about checks every box in our family tent criteria.

Two doors, eight windows and several skylights.  The ‘dark technology’ means you can cover the windows and skylights to make the inside of the tent dark.  If you don’t like waking up at first light, the dark technology is a real bonus.

There’s room for 2 queen air mattresses do are confident that it’s a good size for a family of 4 or 5.  The optional room divider allows more flexibility in sleeping arrangements and helps provide a little privacy.

Where this tent score over many of its instant tent rivals is in the provision of decent storage compartments and a hanging orgainizer.

Ozark 10-Person Dark Rest Tent – What we like

Just as with the Core Lighted 9-Person Instant tent, we like practically everything about this tent 😊

  • Large screen room – suitable for day time activities in poor weather
  • Seems to be well made and robust
  • Dark rest technology
  • Room divider
  • Storage pockets and handing organizer.
  • See through panels on rain fly – lie in bed and watch the stars in the sky – whatever the weather
  • Copes well with rain and wind
  • Packed size just 43”x8”x8”.  That’s small for an instant tent of this size.

Ozark 10-Person Dark Rest Tent – What we don’t like

  • Takes a little longer that some of its competitors to set up
  • Folding can be a challenge.

Coleman Cabin Tent- 10 Person Instant

Coleman are probably the most well known tent and camping gear manufacturer in the World.  It is no surprise that they produced a strong range of instant tents – mostly in the smaller sizes.  Our choice of the Coleman Instant tents reflects our experience and philosophy – a larger tent makes for more comfortable camping.

This model is rated as a 10-person tent.  The proud boast is that you can fit 4 queen sized air mattresses in this tent.  While technically true – we calculate that if you cram all the airbeds together, you would have 2 strips of space to spare.  One would be 8” wide.  The other strip, at 90 degrees to the first, would be just 4” wide.

In reality, as with just about all other tents of this sort of size, they are suited to a family party of 4-6 people.

Coleman have chosen to include lots of features in this tent.  It uses their Dark Room technology to help keep it a little cooler during the day.  Dark room also means the inside of the tent stays dark in the mornings meaning you can rest beyond the dawn.

There is a room divider provided which can help with your organization and adds that bit of extra privacy.

FeatureColeman Dark Room 10-person Instant
Size Set Up – feet14 x 10
Height – max  inches79
Weight – pounds20
Sized Packed – inches48x9x8
No of people – claimed10
No of people – practical4-6
Key Features2 doors, dark room technology, luminous guy lines
Additional thoughts 
Coleman Dark Room 10-person Instant 

Coleman Dark Room 10 Person Instant Tent– What we like

Just as with the Core Lighted 9-Person Instant tent, we like practically everything about this tent 😊

  • Dark room technology
  • Room divider
  • Storage pockets and handing organizer.
  • See through panels on rain fly – lie in bed and watch the stars in the sky – whatever the weather
  • Copes well with rain and wind
  • 20punds weight That’s small for an instant tent of this size.

Coleman Dark Room 10 Person Instant Tent – What we don’t like

  • Too many people report problem with waterproofing
  • Quite a few complaints about build quality
  • Packed size just 48”x8”x8” – that’s borderline for getting in the trunk of many cars.

Conclusions

It has been quite a few years since we reviewed instant tents.  At that time most of the tents were small and had a terrible reputation for unreliability.  It’s devastating when your telescopic pole breaks as you are trying to quickly erect your tent.

This review has been  awe inspiring.

The range of instant tents available has grown enormously.  The size of instant tents has also increased dramatically.  So much so that all of the tents in this review are sized at what we feel is appropriate for comfortable family camping. 

You can now get almost everything offered in a traditional tent in an instant tent. Trouble is, it comes at a cost.

  • Instant tents are heavy. You will not be able to transport most of these very far from your car parking slot
  • The packed size of these family sized tents is big. They are going to challenge the trunk space of smaller family cars. Not a problem if you have a SUV or truck.
  • They are much more expensive than traditional tents. Typically 2-3 times as much as you would pay for the traditional version.

CampingSage – Best Instant Family Camping Tent

The quality and features offered by all the tents in this review has been wonderful. It has been incredibly difficult to select one tent as the CampingSage – Best Instant Family Camping Tent. However, the winner is:

Ozark Trail Dark Rest Instant Cabin Tent

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Keith Longmire

Keith Longmire

I’m the guy that loves camping, insists on family camping trips, and the editor and owner of Campingsage.com

I love camping and the outdoors. Through this site I hope to help you enjoy it too.