Big, inexpensive tents tend to be difficult to set up, take up a lot of space in the campground, and on top of it, they leak. We’ve had a Kelty Green River 6 family camping tent for several years now and have used it half a dozen times. It’s large enough to hold two queen-sized air mattresses, but every time we’ve had more than a sprinkling of rain, we’ve found it to leak like a sieve. We’ve also managed to rip two of the pole sleeves during set-up, despite being careful feeding the poles through.
Contrast that with our 2.5 person Sierra Designs mountaineering tent, purchased in 1992, repaired from squirrel damage half a decade later, and still bomb-proof through all sorts of nasty weather. I can also set it up myself in 5 minutes in the dark.
I want a family camping tent that has it all: enough floor space and headroom that our five-person family can sit in a circle and play board games in nasty weather; relatively easy to set up, take down, and pack; doesn’t leak; and has good ventilation. I spent several hours scouring reviews on a number of sites, including various online retailers and outdoor magazines. The customer reviews on REI.com were more useful to me than any of the ones published in outdoor magazines, which tended to be regurgitations of the same specs I could read for myself.
I briefly pushed for us to use our existing small tent and add a four person tent, as there’s a lot more variety on the market in that size, but Andrea really wanted a tent big enough for all of us to shelter in during weather, so I shelved that idea and concentrated on 5 and 6 person family camping tents. Limiting myself to aluminum poles with a crossing pole design, full-coverage rainfly, adequate ventilation, and some amount of privacy so no full-mesh bodies, immediately narrowed the field considerably. In the end I decided to compare the Marmot Limestone 6 and the Big Agnes Flying Diamond 6.
When I visited an REI store on 3 July, they had temporarily stopped carrying the Flying Diamond, so I was only able to set up the Limestone in the store. It set up pretty easily, but had a very full stuff sack when I took it down and re-packed it. I decided to go out on a limb and try the Flying Diamond, so I ordered it directly from Big Agnes. It arrived a few days later, in the middle of 3 solid weeks of rain.
The bag is very nicely organized, with separate pockets for the poles, the rainfly, and the tent body. I also got the footprint, which has its own stuff sack, which easily fits in roomy rainfly pocket. We first moved all the furniture out of our living room and had just enough room to set the tent up inside. It’s easy to set up and take down, and is mostly free-standing; the small back area requires a couple of stakes on the corners, since the poles don’t go all the way to the edge on that side. The kids were excited about it, and wanted us to leave it up in the living room so they could camp inside. A good sign!
A few weeks later, it was finally time for our camping trip with another family to Keowee Toxaway State Park, at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in South Carolina. The forecast called for rain, so we knew there’d be a good chance of getting a proper test for our new tent. It was sprinkling a little bit when we arrived in the early evening, so we quickly set up camp to the sound track of distant thunder. I put in a couple of guy lines on the back section, but otherwise just relied on the perimeter stakes and poles.
The kids went to bed at dusk, and we followed not long after, still waiting for the rain we knew was coming. I dozed fitfully until the storm hit at around 11:30 PM. Strong winds and heavy rain and the Flying Diamond held up well, with no obvious leaks or body deformation. Everyone else seemed to be asleep, so I didn’t want to wake them up by obsessively examining the floor seams and corners for small leaks. I again dozed fitfully until the storm died down around 1:30 A.M.
The next morning, I got up and carefully checked everything for leaks. The vestibule and main tent body were both dry, though it was raining hard enough that there had been some sandy splash on the tent body. There was a bit of leakage in the rear section where the girls were sleeping, but I could see it was due to a suboptimal staking and guying job on my part. I loosened the fly all around, adjusted it slightly towards the rear of the tent, guyed the rear section out more carefully for full coverage, and then tightened the rest of the fly from back to front.
It held up extremely well the rest of the weekend. The whole family really likes the Big Agnes Flying Diamond 6 and we expect to be using it until the kids have grown up and left home.