Do you like waking up in a sleeping bag, a zipper-pull away from standing at the shore of a serene lake, or amidst a thick pine forest?
That’s what camping is all about. But we don’t want these moments to be overshadowed by being too crowded in the tent all night.
If you’re like us, you wonder about logistics. What size tent do I need for my group? Is a tent for four really like a tent for two?
At minimum, one person needs 15 sq ft of sleeping space in a tent. However, 20-25 sq ft per person is ideal for comfort and gear storage. Shape matters too with rectangular tents utilizing space most efficiently. For optimal comfort, buy a tent whose max occupancy is greater than what you need.
We have some experience sorting out tent sizes because of how we camp with our family. We hope you find this information helpful.
Tent Sizes and Capacity
When considering tent sizes, look at three important features: peak height, floor area, and floor dimensions.
Peak height only really matters if you want to be able to stand upright inside. But since most campers spend all day outdoors and only use their tent for sleeping or escaping the rain occasionally, peak height is more of a personal preference.
The floor area, however, is key no matter what.
When looking at the dimensions and then comparing that to the stated occupancy, there are potential problems. Advertised tent occupant capacities generally do not include comfort, gear, or sometimes even the physical shape of a human being.
Camping Tent Size Chart
RECOMMENDED: We bought and tested a bunch of canvas tents, here are the best ones!
How Much Space Do You Need?
On average, one person can sleep comfortably in a space that measures 30 in x 72 in (2.5 ft x 6 ft), or about 15 square feet. That is the approximate figure most tent manufacturers reference when determining a tent’s capacity based on the number of humans it can hold.
Backpacking tents usually measure very close to or a little less than 15 square feet per person. Whereas big cabin or family tents designed for camping by your car might be a little more generous.
In our experience tent camping as a family, though, 20-25 square feet of sleeping space per person is ideal. This helps to keep from kicking one another. And it allows space to step between bodies during late night calls of nature.
Now, if you want ample space for gear or supplies, 25-30 square feet of tent space per person should feel extra roomy. This would allow for a large sleeping pad and bag, as well as a duffle bag or backpack’s worth of gear per person all laid out on the floor with room to move about.
Real World Experience
Our family of five people and one dog fit comfortably in our 10 ft x 10 ft White Duck Canvas Prota tent. That’s about 20 square feet per person. It’s sufficient so long as we bring the two cots for Mom and Dad so we can stick bags, clothes, and gear underneath them.
Better yet, we recently acquired a Springbar Classic Jack 140 tent. It measures 10 ft x 14 ft and it feels luxuriously spacious for our family. With 28 square feet per person, we have plenty of room to kick without injuring one another in our sleep. We can keep all our gear inside and walk on exposed floor with ease. The dog has his own corner. And we even have room to put a wood stove in it to make a hot tent when it’s cold!
Besides looking at the square footage of a tent, you have to consider the shape.
Rectangle tents are better.
Hexagonal dome tents may be cheap and easy to set up, but they are terribly inefficient at allocating space to their human occupants.
Square tents are not a great shape for a tent. The geometry almost never works out for efficient use of space when human occupancy is maxed out. But if you get a size bigger than what you need, the square shape might be perfect to stow your gear.
For example, our 10 ft x 10 ft canvas tent is advertised to sleep six people. But it is nearly impossible to Tetris six grown adults into a perfect square unless everyone is shorter than five feet tall.
All kids? Maybe that could work.
The only way I see six people fitting in a 10 x 10 square is to have four people lay shoulder to shoulder against one wall. Then have two people lay down at their feet with plenty of width but only five feet of length. So they’d have to be kids.
That said, we manage to fit five people, a dog, and some gear in that same square tent comfortably. But there’s no room to spare.
Higher quality tents from reputable brands who think a lot more about the engineering of tents are often oddly shaped polygons. These designs attempt to maximize efficient use of space while creating a structure that stands up well to wind and bad weather.
Take my sister’s Nemo Wagontop tent, for example. It has both an interior and exterior vestibule. The walled-off interior space could sleep a single person, but they keep their dirty dog in there at night. The exterior vestibule can keep more gear, like backpacks or duffles, out of the weather without taking up precious interior tent space.
What might look like an odd bulge near the door of a backpacking tent is usually just enough space for a backpack to lay next to its owner.
What Size Tent Should You Get for Camping?
Answering a few basic questions will be a tremendous help in determining what size tent you will need.
- How many people will be in the tent?
- How much gear do you want to keep inside?
- What kind of weather will you be camping in?
The last question impacts size mainly because it can impact how much gear you take. You may need some extra space to place wet gear away from your dry stuff. Four-season campers will want a big tent, but even spring and fall campers will benefit from some extra space.
Tent sizes determine the space available for sleeping and gear. Circumstances determine variations. Sometimes you’ll need the bare minimum and a small tent will be just right. Other times you’ll be packing more and you’ll need to go up a size.
When to Stay Small
Here are some scenarios when sticking with the smallest possible tent will serve you the best:
- Minimalists – If you’re the kind of person who likes minimalist camping, you may indeed shop for a 1-person tent because all you’ll need is room for a sleeping bag and a light to read Thoreau before bed.
- Backpacking – If you are walking a great distance to your site and carrying a tent for one, and if you only plan to use it to crawl into for sleep and back out for everything else, you’ll want a small, lightweight tent.
- Summer only – If you’re a summer only camper, you can probably get away with a smaller tent if you don’t mind sacrificing a bit of comfort because you can usually leave gear outside without issue, and you only really need to sleep inside the tent.
When to Size Up
Sometimes sizing up will make a world of difference in terms of comfort. Here are a few examples:
- Winter camping – If you’re camping in the winter you’ll be taking extra gear to keep warm. Unlike a summer campout, leaving gear outside in the winter isn’t really an option. You’ll need extra space for the clothing, boots, and cold weather gear so you can hang it up to dry when it’s not in use.
- Baby on board – If you have a baby, you might need extra room for supplies. Our rule of thumb for a situation like this is to go up a size. A couple and a baby might opt for a four-person tent, plus you might need a spot to rock the baby back to sleep during the night. When we had our third kid we got a 10 ft x 12 ft so we could have a playpen and a chair inside for nursing late at night.
- Adults only – Four adult friends out on a long camping expedition might take a six-person tent or larger. They’re going to want adequate space to hang out and relax (and sleep) without being on top of each other. Plus gear for 4 grown-ups takes up a lot of space. Depending on how close you are, you might just want two separate tents!
- Families with kids – If you are camping with your partner and children, you should always consider going up in tent size. Don’t simply picture the sleeping bags laid out, but also all other necessities that could come into play. You need a place for shoes, books, and toys. And we know kids aren’t the tidiest, even at home. Why would this change in the woods? It won’t, so size up.
In the end, we all know our likes and dislikes and habits. Camping is all about space and organization.
How Big Should a 4-Person Tent Be?
The answer to this commonly asked question nicely sums up all the info covered above.
A 4-person camping tent should be rectangular in shape with an area of 60 sq ft at minimum, but that will feel very tight. For added comfort and interior gear storage, a tent for four people should measure between 80 and 120 sq ft inside, which will likely be advertised as a 6-person tent or larger.
It seems logical that you could fit, well, four people in a 4-person tent, right? Maybe.
In most cases, an advertised 4-person tent can fit four people VERY snugly as long as they’re okay sleeping hip to hip and no one brings a bag inside. But if you want to be able to roll over or bring your gear into the tent with you, you’ll need a bigger tent for four people.
So what can you fit in a 4-person tent? Referring to our chart, probably three people with their sleeping bags and pads. Or two people on pads or cots, a dog, and a couple of bags.
If it’s really four people that you need spots for, go for a 6-person tent instead.
Our 10 ft x 10 ft canvas tent would be very comfortable for four people and their gear. A 12 ft x 8 ft tunnel tent would also be plenty spacious and optimally shaped.
Are There Campsite Tent Size Restrictions?
Most campgrounds will have sites for specific kinds of camping. There are sites designed for RVs and there are separate tent sites. These usually have space for a vehicle, a fire pit, a picnic table, and space for a tent.
While most campgrounds do not explicitly restrict the size of tents allowed, they often restrict the number of people per campsite to no more than six or eight. A typical tent pad measures 15 x 15 feet, which is unsurprisingly just large enough for one 6- or 8-person tent, or two smaller tents.
However, we’ve already explored that these tents most likely won’t hold that many occupants comfortably. So a 15 x 15 foot pad can comfortably accommodate six people, but eight people would be pushing it.
Certain campgrounds have their own particular rules, though. Yellowstone National Park has large tent-only sites that will only accommodate one 12 x 12 foot tent or two 8 x 8 foot tents.
Campgrounds reserve the right to create their own rules. So it’s always important to research potential trips in advance. That way you don’t show up with too much equipment or too many people.
Pack Right, Sleep Tight
When trying to figure out what size tent you need for camping, look at the square feet available and not just the number of people in the tent description. And I always like to add one or two spots just so we have plenty of space and no one is punching each other in the middle of the night whenever they roll over.
Camping can be a beautiful and relaxing experience, but only if you pack right. You need the right gear for the right occasion, beginning with the tent. Use our chart to get you started. Then adjust the size of your tent up or down depending on your needs.