Camping is the perfect way to get outdoors so you can reconnect and recharge. Bring along friends and family for a social adventure, go with just your significant other for some personal time, or on your own for some quiet reflection.
If you’re looking at purchasing a tent, you’ll need to make sure it fits your needs in relation to your typical camping style. This includes the number campers, the weather you usually encounter, the seasons when you like to camp, and more.
But how much space do you need in a tent? The most used method is based on capacity, but you could also look at square footage, and we will cover both methods in this post. We’ve also included information on features that make your tent feel larger, as well as situations where you shouldn’t follow the rule of thumb.
Recommended Tent Capacity
For your quick reference, here’s a table on what we recommend for tent capacity vs. number of campers. Keep in mind that this generally follows the rule of thumb, which is to increase capacity by at least two campers. If you’re looking for lots of room or even a glamping situation, you could easily double the number of campers to determine what size tent you should purchase. If you want the full explanation of where these numbers come from, information on square footage, and any exceptions to the rule, please continue reading.
|Group Size||Recommended Tent Capacity|
|7-8||10-12 person or two 5-6 person|
|9||12-person or two 6 person|
|10||12-person or two 6-8 person|
|11||two 8-10 person|
|12||two 8-12 person|
|13+||oversized canvas tent or multiple 12-person tents|
Shop For Tents By Capacity
- Best 4 Person Tents
- Best 5 Person Tents
- Best 6 Person Tents
- Best 8 Person Tents
- Best 10 Person Tents
- Best 12 Person Tents
Questions to Ask Yourself
Here are some questions to ask yourself while you decide which tent capacity fits you best:
- What kind of camping will you be doing? Car camping and backpacking require two very different kinds of tents, but you also need to consider if you’re typically in established campgrounds or if you dispersed (a.k.a. wild camp) more often.
- Where will you be camping? While it may be tempting to buy the biggest tent you can afford, keep in mind that not all campgrounds have oversized tent pads. We’ve been to a few where even our 4-person tent didn’t sit properly in the designated space, so take a minute to think about the places you will camp (or have camped) and see if you can remember the size of the tent pad.
- When will you be camping? Since most people camp in the spring, summer, and fall, the most popular tents are 3-season tents. If you want to camp during winter as well, you would probably need a 4-sesaon tent or sometimes you can use a 3-season tent in winter. Read more about the differences between a 3 vs. 4 season tent here.
- How many people typically camp with you? You could take into consideration the normal amount of people that accompany you, but you should also look at the maximum number of people that would ever join you, and that may give you a better idea of what size you need.
- What do you sleep on when you go camping? The average backpacking sleeping pad only allows for about 20 inches of shoulder space, while a camping cot or blow up air mattress will take up significally more room per person.
How to Buy a Tent Based on Capacity
The most popular measurement of tent size is capacity, or the number of campers it will sleep. Companies calculate this number based on the minimum amount of space a camper could possibly need to sleep, so you’ll often see people sleeping shoulder to shoulder, or even head to feet in small backpacking tents. Basically, the designated capacity on a tent is going to give you enough space for sleeping in close quarters and nothing more. It’s as if you’re going backpacking, where the average sleeping pad is only about 20 inches wide, which makes anything more seem generous.
For example, the photo below is the intended sleeping arrangement for the Eureka! Copper Canyon LX 12-person tent, which made our list for best 12 person tents. As you can see, the tent measures 168″ x 144″ (14′ x12′) and they’ve squeezed twelve people into that space. This allows only 28 inches for the shoulders of each person, and 6 feet for the height of each person.
Comfort Vs. Capacity
There are a few situations where you shouldn’t size up (see below), but for the most part we recommend taking the number of campers and adding at least two. That means a group of 10 would need a tent that’s at least a 12-person, or larger depending on what kind of sleeping arrangements you like.
In order to be comfortable, you could size up by more or even double the capacity. Using the example 12-person Eureka tent above, that tent would be a great option for even just a few people, and that would give you plenty of space for larger sleeping arrangements, gear storage, or even having a living space. See the photo below, where this couple has ample space inside this 12-person tent.
Camping Tent Size Based on Square Feet
The average backpacking tent gives each camper about 15-18 square feet per person and this is enough for situations where the weight of your gear matters more than extra space. But when it comes to car camping, you should allow for at least 25-30 feet per person. The average queen sized air mattress would allow for 30-34 square feet per person, which is even more generous.
Keep in mind that this is just space for sleeping, so if you want extra room for gear storage, a table/chairs, kids’ toys, or even a couch, then you would need to add even more space.
|Square Feet Per Person||Recommended Use|
|25-30||Campers with their own sleeping cot/pad|
|30-34||Campers on queen sized air mattresses|
|35+||More room for gear & toys|
How Much Space Kids Need in a Camping Tent
While you could count a child as a fraction of our adult recommended capacity, we would suggest counting them as a whole person. They may be small now, but they will grow and will continue to take up more space. Plus, kids may have even more camping gear between their toys and bikes, so they could use the extra space.
What about pets? For medium to large size dogs, we would count them as a whole person as well, especially if they get their own camping dog bed. Smaller dogs may not need that much space, but better to be safe than sorry.
Factors that Contribute to How Big a Tent Feels
Regardless of the designated capacity of a given tent, there are some other factors that contribute to how big the tent feels. The height of the tent is the biggest factor to consider, especially if you want the ability to stand up straight in your tent. The other factor to look at is shape, as the shape of a tent determines how much standing room the space can offer.
Height is going to be one of the specifications in a tent that makes the most difference in comfort levels: more headroom gives you the space to change clothes and stand up straight, while less headroom gives you a tent that you have to ‘crawl’ into at night. Here’s a breakdown of the range of heights you may see in a tent:
Sitting & Kneeling Height
Sitting height is most commonly seen in 1-3 person backpacking tents where extra headspace just means extra weight. The max heights of these tents range from 35-45 inches (2.9-3.75ft), which is enough space to sit on the floor or lie down. This turns changing clothes into a workout, but that’s all part of the fun. Unless you’re backpacking or looking for a super minimalist tent, we wouldn’t recommend getting a tent this short.
When you start getting into 4 person tents, the height of the tent increases to stooping height. You can be on your feet to change clothes but cannot stand upright, and will instead need to stay bent over. The average height of a 4 person tent ranges from about 48-66 inches (4ft. – 5.5ft.). This is more manageable with young campers and will be a tad uncomfortable for anyone less spry.
As we said earlier, the height of a 4-person tent is where the weatherproofing really peaks, since they are short enough to have a full coverage rainfly but not too tall to catch serious wind.
Tents that range from about 68 inches to 84 inches (5’8″-7′) allow the average person to stand upright, but usually only in the center of the tent. A lot of these tents will be dome-shaped, meaning the roof will slope downwards from the peak height. You can stoop closer to the sides of the tent, or stand upright near the center, and you’ll see this most commonly in 5-6 person tents.
Once we get into 8-person tents and up, we start to see roaming height. This is where tents are more high-profile and have near vertical walls and tall max heights. Combine these two together and you have tents that are over 6.5 ft. tall in the majority of the tent space, which gives you lots of space to move around, get changed, and spread out in the space. While it’s an extreme example, the White Duck Alpha tent below has some of the best head room available in oversized tents – you can see where you would easily be able to roam freely in this tent.
The shape of the tent is another contributing factor for how spacious a tent feels on the inside, regardless of the capacity or height. Different tent shapes lead to different max heights, and determine the configuration of sleepers and where the standing height fits.
Dome tents are going to be the most common shape, and are shaped like a traditional tent. Its peak height is in the center of the tent, and it will usually have a full coverage rainfly that slopes downwards into the stake points. While the tent itself will be rectangular or square, the stake points on the rainfly will make it look more geodesic in shape. The Coleman PEAK1 below is a great example, and it made our list for best tents for high winds.
Cabin style tents are more commonly seen in oversized tents that have standing or roaming height, like the CORE cabin tent below, which made our list for best tents with screen room. They will have near vertical walls with a tall max height, and are usually rectangular or square-shaped.
Tunnel tents are less common, but are still a really cool design. The Zempire EVO tent below is one of our favorite oversized tents in the 12-person category.
There are also some less common tent shapes like a wall tent, bell tent, and teepee. These are more commonly seen in hot tents with a stove jack, but can be found in traditional 3-season designs as well.
Wall tents offer some of the most spacious tents currently on the market. The White Duck example below comes in sizes as small as 8’x10′ and goes all the way up to 16’x24′. They sleep anywhere from 4 to 18 campers based on traditional capacity measurements, and their peak heights range from 7’6″ to 10′.
Bell tents are commonly used as glamping tents and are usually made from canvas instead of traditional tent materials. They offer standing height or roaming height depending on the size option you order, but either way they are quite spacious.
Teepee tents are much less common but are still available on the market. They will have significantly less headspace, especially since the peak height is blocked by the support pole.
Capacity Vs. Price
Generally speaking, the bigger the tent, the bigger the price tag. More material and longer poles come with a price, so it’s important to balance desired size with your budget. It’s worth noting that tents don’t have to be expensive, but keep in mind that cheaper options will not last as long. They will typically have thinner material, fiberglass poles, and less weather protection, which could leave you unprepared if you experience adverse conditions while camping. If you want a tent that’s built to last, then it could be worth splurging a bit to get the perfect fit.
Situations Where You Shouldn’t Size Up
While going up in tent capacity benefits most people, not everyone should size up. There are two main situations: backpacking and wind.
Backpacking Tent Size
Backpacking requires lightweight gear, and the lighter the better. It’s a given that increasing tent size usually increases the weight, and that’s a no-no when we’re trying to keep weight down. So if you’re using this tent for backpacking, we recommend getting your true capacity. It’s better to go light and tight rather than carry more weight than necessary.
Backpacking tents should have a generous vestibule (or two) that allows for gear storage without requiring a bigger tent and more weight. Yes, this does mean sleeping in close quarters, but that’s part of the backpacking adventure. Sleeping this close also can help conserve body heat, so it’s a win-win.
Note: backpacking tents aren’t generally bigger than 3-person, so for larger backpacking groups you would need several smaller tents instead of one larger tent.
The other exception is people who are regularly exposed to adverse weather conditions like wind and rain. If you aren’t the kind of camper who cancels their weekend plans due to weather, then you would fall into this category. This also includes people who regularly camp at high altitudes, where pop-up storms and high winds are a given. You should stay closer to your true capacity because smaller tents are able to handle these conditions more efficiently and larger tents are like a sail in the wind.
On the other hand, having enough space in your tent to spend time out of the elements could be a big benefit, so try to balance a bit of extra space while still maintaining weatherproofing.
In our experience, we found that the larger the tent the less weatherproof it was. The oversized tents we looked at had low waterhead ratings, a small rainfly, and fiberglass poles. If the tent was large but was made of better materials, it was very expensive. We think tents really hit their peak weather-proofing at 4-person capacity, as these tents are better at balancing a decent max height while still offering a full coverage rainfly and being an affordable price.
Now that you know all about tent capacity, square feet, and shape, you can make an informed decision about what size you should purchase for you and your camping group. Use the chart at the top of this article as a reference, and remember that the general rule of thumb is to purchase a tent that’s at least two campers larger than what you intend on having. That means a 4 person tent would be great for two people, and a 10-person tent would be great for 8 people or less.
What sizes do tents normally come in?
Tents normally come in capacities of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, and 12 person. Notice that we skipped 7, 9, and 11. For 13 people or more, tents that large do exist, but they’re quite limited and you’re more likely to enjoy two or three tents of the normal capacity numbers.
What size tent do I need for camping?
Tents are usually sold based on capacity, so it’s important to know the number of campers that would typically accompany you. In general, we recommend purchasing a tent that’s at least 2 sizes larger than the amount of campers (e.g., 6 campers would like an 8-person tent or larger).
How many square feet should a tent be?
If you’re purchasing a tent based on square footage, the recommended amount per person goes as follows: 15-18 square feet per person for backpacking, 25-30 for campers with their own sleeping pads, 30-34 for campers on queen sized air mattresses, and 35+ if you want ample space for gear, luggage, furniture, and/or toys.
What size is a standard tent?
When it comes to camping, there’s isn’t really a ‘standard’ tent size. They’re usually based on capacity, or the minimum amount of campers it would sleep in close quarters. A good rule of thumb is to increase the capacity by at least two – so a group of 4 campers would be better suited in a 6 or 8 person tent.
About the Author
Ashley is an adventurous soul who loves all things nature, especially warm sunshine, hiking, wildflowers, and mushrooms. If she isn’t writing content for Know Nothing Nomads, she’s probably in a forest looking at big mountain views and tiny pieces of moss on the side of the trail.