Gear Guy

Can you suggest a roomy six-person family tent?

What are your suggestions for the best five- to six-person family tent? My husband’s six-foot-three, so a tent with some height all the way around is preferable. Also, are budget tents at so-called “big-box stores” ever worth considering? Angie Auburn, Alabama

Whenever I think of family tents, I tend to think of Eureka!—they make some very reliable ones. Currently, for instance, you can get the really big Eureka! Blue Mesa 1610 from Campmor for $299 (, down from $329. It actually sleeps nine. But for you the real advantage is that it divides into three rooms for a semblance of privacy for one party or another, or a changing room, or a storage center. Your six-foot-three husband will still have to watch his head a little, but otherwise the Blue Mesa is a roomy, sturdy tent, with aluminum poles that save weight and add strength.

The Eureka Headquarters ($349; is a two-room, six-person tent with the advantage of exceptional head room—it’s six feet, 11 inches at the peak, and nearly as tall at the perimeter.

REI has also leaped into the family tent fray with the Hobitat 6 ($329; As the name implies, it can fit six (it also comes in a four-person version). It’s also a very rugged tent, with aluminum pools and tough fabrics. One nice feature: The poles are curved sharply along the perimeter of the roof, so the walls stay vertical nearly all the way up to the tent’s six-foot, six-inch peak.

You can spend less, of course. Wenzel and Kelty are two brands that hit a lower price than Eureka! and REI while still offering decent quality (you will find these tents at the big-box stores). Wenzel’s Castle Rock Family Tent ($118; sleeps six and has an area of 119 square feet. What do you miss with such a tent? The fiberglass poles are heavier and less rugged than aluminum, while its polyethylene floor will take less abuse than the heavy polyester in a tent such as the Hobitat. You’ll get decent use out of it (and it does have a ten-year warranty), but if you really intend to camp a lot, you’ll be well off spending a little more.

The votes are in: Check out the winners of Outside's 2006 Gear of the Year awards, including the year's hottest tent.

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