Why Can't 4 People Fit in a 4-Person Tent? How to Find the Right Tent Size

How many times have you gotten into a tent and said "this is a roomy tent"? Very similar to an empty house, once you start loading things inside the tent it fills up quickly. When shopping for tents, it's important to know how many people will be using the tent and for how long. This is important to find the right tent size.

Lets take a look at a very common scenario. Four friends are going on a weekend fishing trip and will be car camping. They are wanting to save room in the vehicle for the rest of the gear and have decided to buy a single four person tent. One of the guys finds a great deal on a tent online and orders it. The tent arrives the day before the trip and gets packed into the adventure wagon. The group gets to their camping spot at their favorite fishing hole and sets up camp.

They set up the tent, throw in their sleeping pads and sleeping bags and head off for some fishing.  Many hours later they all get into the tent and find that there's hardly enough room for all of them and they end up sleeping in very close quarters. What should these guys have done differently?

They should have bought a bigger tent! Let us take a look at why four average sized guys have so little room in a four person tent.

what size tent

On average a single person requires roughly twenty to twenty five square feet of living space inside a tent to be comfortable. This is based on the area of a person who is laying flat and not laying on their side. This seems like a lot of room, but when broken down it's not as big as one might think. This ends up giving a person an area that is roughly two and half feet wide and a little over six foot long.  For the person of average height and average build they will have a comfortable night. If you're taller or just require more space, you'll feel super confined. Looking back at the four fishing companions example they would need anywhere between 80 to100 square feet of floor space in the tent to accommodate the four average sized adults.  This doesn't take into consideration storage for gear or various personal items.

Tent Sizes

Most four-person tents have floor space ranging from 55 square feet to 65 square feet.  According to our math from above we're looking at tents that are nearly half the floor space needed to accommodate the four campers laying on their backs. If the fishing companions slept on their sides or alternated who's heads and feet were at the head of the tent. Lining up everyone shoulder to shoulder creates the largest area and you will actually loose space as compared to alternating who has their heads at the head or foot of the tent. Granted not everyone wants to sleep next to their friends feet.

Tent Photo by Samuel Galoob


The fishing companions ordered the tent based on price and that it was listed as a four person tent.  They did not pay attention to the overall dimensions.  What should they have done differently? Most people have no idea the width and height of their friends so a nice little trick to making sure you have enough space is to take the number of people staying in the tent and add one or two spots to provide extra room. Also keep in mind that in this scenario there were four adults. If you're shopping for a tent and have kids you most likely would have enough room for four family members in a four person tent but it never hurts to have extra room.

Takeaway:

  • Always look at the actual dimensions of a tent and not just the number of people listed in the description.

  • If weight isn't an issue, size up so you have room for extra items.


For more help in choosing outdoor gear check out these resources:

Family Camping Guide
Tent Buying Tips
10 Camping Essentials Under $10 Each
Family Camping Gear: Bring These Luxury Items
Adam Nutting
posted by
Adam Nutting
Adam Nutting is a hiker and outdoor adventure lover who lives in Arizona. He shares his experiences, gear reviews and more on his blog: Hiking The Trail. You'll also find him chatting about the outdoors on Twitter. Team Sierra bloggers receive promotional consideration from Sierra Trading Post.
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