Swooping nylon and linked poles, zippered doors, screened windows, and stakes in the dirt holding it down — the humble formula for a tent has long prevailed as an ultimate outdoors habitat for humans in need of a temporary home. But today’s campground cabanas are far from the basic designs of decades past. Indeed, leaky roofs, clammy quarters, and complex setups that take away from your fireside time are not a trait to any quality tent today.
This column highlights new tents made for families of four or more. Be it in the backcountry, on a canoe trip, or car camping at an area state park, one of these shelters is sure to fit your family’s preference for sleeping outside under the summer stars.
Big Agnes Flying Diamond 8 Tent
This top-end shelter accommodates eight adults and is marketed as the “grand daddy of all base camp-style tents.” Made for year-round use — winter camping included — the Flying Diamond features a zippered partition wall to create a two-room suite. The tent body is a breathable polyester with nylon mesh windows. Its rain fly and floor are made of polyester rip-stop nylon with a waterproof polyurethane coating. There are 10 mesh storage pockets and a vestibule off the main room. For setup, the behemoth comes with a total of 20 lightweight aluminum stakes. Price: $599.95. Contact: www.bigagnes.com
Kelty Yellowstone 4 Tent
A budget buy from Kelty, the Yellowstone 4 (available for $144.95 on sites like REI.com) is a freestanding four-person shelter good for car camping or canoe trips. It packs for transport to a manageable 10 pounds, 14 ounces, and its nylon walls are watertight, as expected. A mesh ceiling promotes breathability on hot nights. Put on the rain fly and this three-season tent will ensconce you and your little campers even if gray skies and rain drops try and ruin your weekend away. www.kelty.com
Gear storage is the name of the game with the Asashi, a 63-square-foot shelter that sleeps four and has an optional “garage” vestibule attachment big enough to set up beach chairs inside or store bicycles standing upright. While the garage is optional — it costs an extra $139 — Nemo includes a standard vestibule and four large interior pockets. A gear loft, which hooks to the ceiling and adds a mesh shelf inside the tent, is an extra $18. For dog owners, the Asashi can be fitted with Nemo’s Pawprint floor, a polyester covering that snaps on and protects the fabric from dog claws running in and out of the nylon den. Price: $399 (tent only). Contact: www.nemoequipment.com
Eureka N!ergy 9 tent
Light up the backcountry with this two-pole dome tent. The Eureka N!ergy 9, touted as a “powered home away from home,” is compatible with the company’s E! Power Pack batteries. Charge up the pack at home. Then at your campsite pick from a fan, lights, vacuum cleaner, and other accessories. Further, a 12v DC (cigarette-lighter type) outlet lets campers power items such as laptops, iPods, cell phones or air-mattress pumps with the appropriate plugs and adaptors. The tent weighs about 15 pounds and sets up to a nine by nine foot shelter to sleep four to five people. Price: $209 (tent only; accessories extra). Contact: www.eurekatent.com
Sierra Designs Lightning XT 4
Backpackers take note: This mesh tent weighs less than seven pounds but can accommodate four campers and their gear. With 57 square feet of floor space the Lightning XT 4 — which comes with a rain fly for bad weather — is an ultimate big tent for use on the trail. Divvy up its contents — stakes to one hiker, poles to another — and each person only has to add two pounds of weight to his or her pack. (Exact total tent weight is 6 pounds, 13 ounces.) Two doors and two vestibules add easy access to gear stowed outside. Price: $449. Contact: www.sierradesigns.com
–Stephen Regenold writes a blog on outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com.