Last winter and spring I spent a lot of time looking into the “perfect” family backpacking tent.
I know, finding such a thing is like searching for a snowflake on a beach, but I was looking as our family had some backcountry travel planned for the summer and the two man Marmot Swallow we were given as a wedding gift 13 years ago was not going to cut it for our (then) family of four and the dog.
Finding a four man backcountry tent is a bit of a challenge – finding one that is actually being used by a FAMILY was nearly impossible. I found a number of reviews on various tents but most of the time the users were all adults.
The information was helpful but certain assumptions are made when planing a trip with adults – like that the tent will be split up amongst four people, and that everyone will be carrying fullsized packs.
Our reality is quite different. We need light weight, packability and durability – not because we’re ultra minimalists but because we have one adult that carries almost everything.
Yes you read that right. Curtis is our pack mule, and for the foreseeable future that is how it will stay.
Our plans included a guys camping trip for Curtis, multiple family car-camping trips, at least one overnight backpacking trip and a five day canoe trip. We wanted one tent to do it all.
To complicate it a little more when we’re out backpacking at this point one of us is carrying an infant or toddler in an infant carrier (we have an awesome Osprey Poco Premium for that job) which significantly limits that adults carrying capacity. Once the bag is packed with enough diapers/clothing/baby supplies for overnight then it’s pretty much full.
This leaves the other adult carrying EVERYTHING ELSE – meaning tent, food, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, kitchen items, cook stove, clothing, and any other general gear needed to travel into the backcountry on foot overnight with 4 (now 5) people.
Yup. That’s us.
So as I searched and searched and searched I found very few options that fit the bill and that I was comfortable enough to spend our hard earned money on.
Lets face it, good backcountry tents aren’t cheap. Good 4 man backcountry tents can break the bank and no one wants to end up with a dud.
We have always believed in purchasing good quality gear, over the years those decisions have paid off again and again as we’ve seen some of our gear literally last for years beyond it’s expected lifetime (like the Marmot Swallow mentioned above).
Enter the MSR Pappa Hubba
MSR has long been known for building top quality gear including bomb proof tents.
As I looked at my options the Pa Hubba kept coming to the top of the pile and here’s why:
The Hubba Series tents are known for being spacious – but still weigh in at reasonable weights. In fact at 6lbs 8oz for total packed weight and the fast and light option dropping it to a minimal 4lbs 11oz it was lighter than our old two man tent.
I found it amongst the lightest available for a tent of its size while still using top quality mesh’s and nylons.
When I started looking at the durability of the fabrics used the Pappa Hubba was using higher denier nylons and meshes than most other tents in its category meaning that it would offer a bit more durability than some of the lighter weight options.
Durability is important when more than half your main users are little people who don’t think about things like taking their shoes off before entering, or that might try and poke sticks/pinecones/pine needles etc. through the mesh. (But our kids would “never” do that…)
Another feature we really liked was the vestibules. They are spacious.
It’s one thing to be crammed into a small tent with your three closest friends and their gear on the trail. It’s another when its two adults, two kids, a baby, a dog, a baby backpack, a full sized pack, a kids pack, their blankies and other kid related items that consume space but are necessary evils of camping with kids.
The baby carrier in particular consumes a lot of space so needs to be left outside to maximize interior space but MUST stay dry. The vestibules on the Pappa Hubba could accommodate this. Add the optional Gear Shed, and all of a sudden you can do a happy dance in your vestibule :).
The Gear Shed for the MSR Pappa Hubba
Yup you read that right. MSR makes a Gear Shed as an optional add on for their Hubba tents. It is not actually made for the Pappa Hubba (the specs specify that on the MSR website) but we thought we’d take a risk and order it anyway.
Wow am I ever glad we did. Talk about expanding your space!
With very minor modifcation we were able to attach the Gear Shed to our Pappa Hubba – the most notable “fit” problem was that the grommet on the Gear Shed meant to attach the shed to the tent’s ridge pole does not line up on the Pappa Hubba. We solved this problem easily with a loop of paracord and a small accessory biner.
By adding the Gear Shed we added minimal weight but more than doubled our storage.
We’ve discussed also adding the Mud Room floor – a ground sheet meant to totally cover the floor of the vestibule. We believe that in doing so we could accommodate at least one more adult or even two kids SLEEPING in the gear shed without having to carry a second tent. NICE.
In rainy weather having the Gear Shed gives us all (read the kids) a dry place to take wet pants, coats, and boots off without dragging excess dirt/wet/ick into the tent.
We find we can store ALL of our “gear” – packs, dry bags, PFD’s, bikes, paddles, etc. in the Gear Shed without impeding our ability to enter/exit the tent with ease.
It has also made a great little change room for wet kids emerging from the lake and needing warm dry clothes. Then they can get changed out of the wind but not soak the inside of the tent.
With the addition of the Gear Shed we comfortably fit our family of 5 (Mom Dad and baby on a Queen sized airmattress and older kids on Therma-rest’s on the floor) as it enables us to reserve the interior space solely for sleep items. With everyone on Therma-Rest’s the dog would happily fit too, likely in her traditional camping spot…right between Curtis and I.
EASY SET UP
We found set up EXTREMELY easy. One adult and our oldest (then 4) could set the tent up easily within a matter of minutes. One adult could probably do it more quickly on their own, but you never turn down an eager 4 year old helper on a camping trip 🙂
The first time Curtis and I set the tent up ourselves in the yard we had it done 5-10 minutes. The colour coded and connected poles are awesome and make it super easy to do.
When you’re camping with a bunch of littles quick easy set up is a HUGE plus. We experienced the truth of this on our Otter Lake camping trip this summer when Curtis set the tent up alone in the dark while it was raining cause my hands were full with the baby and the other kids were waiting around in the car.
It definitely needs to be WELL guyed out to avoid having the fly sag and touch the body of the tent in the rain. This is not a huge surprise as it’s a pretty big tent but if you happened to find yourself on a small site in the heavy rain you’ll want to be aware of this because you’ll be tripping over the guy lines ALL. THE. TIME.
Truth, it rained pretty much the whole time we were out at Otter Lake in September, and with the tent set up and well guyed out we were bone dry inside for three days and nights. We of course played outside in the rain during the day – cause who wants to hang out inside a tent with three kids all day long for three days straight – but overnight we were nice n dry, even with little monkeys who seemed incapable of resisting touching the sides of the tent.
We found the side vents require the use of an accessory biner to actually get them open properly (see pic) to vent well – but this is minor!
A Few other Notes
We have found that despite using top quality materials the mesh gets little pulls in it very easily. On our FIRST trip in Manning Park with the tent in 2015 the velcro clasp at the top of Eden’s sleeping bag caught on the mesh and created a pull in it while she was sleeping at night.
This has just gotten worse and worse over time as we’ve used it. It hasn’t torn, or ripped yet but I have a feeling that it’s just a matter of time before it actually goes. This is something that’s happening in her sleep (she sleeps under her sleeping bag like it’s a blanket and the velcro rubs the side of the tent) and we’ve tried a bunch of different things to prevent it but short of cutting the tab off the bag which I’m hesitant to do it seems like something we’re just going to have to accept.
THE GEAR SHED ZIPPER DRAGS ON THE GROUND
Maybe this is just because it’s not actually meant to be used with the Pa Hubba but we’ve found that the door on the Gear Shed drags on the ground when you open the door. This became a problem on our most recent trip to Otter Lake in the rain because the zipper then got full of dirt/grit/sand/mud and then we couldn’t open and close it all the way.
This may be less of an issue with a group of adults using the tent as they’d be more careful about keeping the door out of the dirt. Kids do things with reckless abandon (especially our two year old, but that’s a whole nother story) and that zipper just got mashed with mud and dirt in the pouring rain on our trip.
If we’d had a day or so of dry weather while we were out we probably could have cleaned the teeth and gotten it moving smoothly again but that just wasn’t in the cards for that trip so we dealt with not being able to open and close the Gear shed all the way.
All in All we LOVE this tent. It’s Spacious, like uber spacious.
We’ve used it backcountry camping and car camping, as a family of four and now of five, on Therma-Rests, and with Curtis and I (and the baby) sleeping on an air mattress while the older kids sleep on their Therma-Rests on the floor.
We’ve had the dog in the tent with us (she’s a 55lb Chocolate Lab) and we’ve also had her sleeping in the car if we’ve been out car camping.
If you’re looking for a good family backpacking tent, or you just want something smaller so that you’re not maxing out your packing space on a car camping trip this is a great option! MSR makes a bomb proof product and this tent is a great tent!