A roomy family-sized tent that's light enough to carry more than a few minutes from the car, yet sturdy enough to withstand the kids and at least a bit of weather... too good to be true? Well I've certainly struggled to find something matching that description, until now. In the past our family options have been at two extremes: either a huge heavy car camping monster that takes up half the boot, or a couple of small backpacking tents pitched side by side to give the illusion of shared space. But the new Habitude has gone a long way towards breaking that mould. It's the outdoor-worthy family tent I've always wished someone would make.
The Habitude is out early 2020, so MSR gave us an early preview here.
This head-height free-standing domed shelter looks and feels like a backpacking tent on steroids, but offers the sort of livable space that would normally come with a far higher weight penalty.
Two models are available, the 4P (person) and the 6P. We went the whole hog with the 6P, a decision I've yet to regret despite being the one who gets to carry it. With a bit of cosying up you could feasibly fit six adults in here, so as a family of four including two small kids it gives us heaps of floor space to spread out, separate warring siblings, scatter bedding and teddies all over the place, and even have a disco while the parents are trying to sleep.
By the standards of proper outdoorsy tents, this thing is vast. You get a single cavernous inner space, and a correspondingly commodious porch for cooking in, and for storing a family's-worth of wet jackets and muddy boots. The floor area of the 4P is quoted as 5.8m2, plus 2.18m2 for the vestibule; the 6P is a palatial 7.71m2 plus a further 2.27m2. The porch alone is nearly as big as your average compact 2-person backpacking tent, which come in at around 2 or 3m2. For an extended camp this much living space indoors out of the weather and midges is invaluable; you could even fit some folding chairs in here. And while the 6P is definitely overkill for just a night our two out in the wild, I can't see many families complaining that their tent is too spacious.
Headroom is equally expansive, with an interior peak height of 1.85m for the 4P and a towering 1.95m for the 6P. While that obviously tapers off to all sides the steep-walled dome shape does maximise usable headroom in the middle. At 1.83cm (6 foot) tall I'm used to ducking and hunching in tents, but there's no need here. Standing fully upright in a tent that I've been able to carry several miles is more than just a novelty. For taller adults the headroom is one of the Habitude's greatest assets, while the kids can bounce around like loons without ever coming near to the ceiling (believe me they've tried). Likewise, when lying down in a backpacking tent I'm used to my feet touching the end - but with an internal floor that's around 3mx2.5m there's absolutely no danger here, whether I lie lengthways or crossways.
To help keep things organised (we can all dream) there are loads of good sized mesh pockets and handy loops to hang things from. You also get a little mesh sleeve in the ceiling for a night light. On my review model a mini LED light is supplied, which fits on one of the door zippers. Oddly, it seems this feature is not available on Habitude tents bought in Europe.
Weight and packability
MSR's quoted packed weights are 5.72kg (4P) and 6.35kg (6P). Including pegs, poles and stuff sack I make it 6.7kg for the 6P. While this sounds a lot (and I can attest to it also feeling a lot of you're used to carrying a backpacking tent) it's a realistic load for an adult (that's me, apparently) to carry for several hours. An enlarged version of MSR's usual stuff sack is provided, an excellent design that is easy to cram everything into while still being relatively scrunchable via two compression straps. I've fitted it into a 45 litre crag pack for an overnight trip, still with room for my clothes, a stove and gas. My wife Pegs had all the bedding and the kids got away with carrying naff all. I sometimes think we go too easy on them.
If you only ever camped out of the car then you'd still have a really nice tent here, and one with what must be an unrivalled floor area to packed size. But the Habitude really comes into its own when you venture away from the road. A tent this big, yet also this light, isn't something that comes along every day, and it has really expanded our family wild camping options. For the sort of family backpacking that we do - a few miles at most from civilisation - it is pretty much perfect. But split between several adults, you could feasibly carry this tent on a group backpacking journey a lot more ambitious than that.
So it's realistically light; but the Habitude is still made sturdy. With a view to withstanding plenty of rough treatment from the kids, it has MSR's typically high build quality, and all the components feel suitably durable, from the chunky, smooth-running zips to the fabrics. Though this has been a short term test so far I can see this tent surviving many years of family life - the toughest test there is.
Putting it up is basically self-explanatory. You get three 7000-Series aluminum hubbed poles, one extra long set for the main dome structure and two shorter assemblies for the tent sides. Pop the pole ends into place and the inner is then fitted to the structure via a series of colour-coded plastic hooks, a principle with which most modern tent owners will be familiar. For a tent this large I think hooks are way better than pole sleeves, which would clearly be a clingy nightmare. The outer is then thrown over the top (tip: use the wind to your advantage), velcroed on the inside to the poles, and hooked into place at the four corners with ladder-lock loops which allow you to fine-tune the tension. All the other pegging points are non-adjustable.
MSR say that one person can pitch this tent, but in our experience if it's breezy then the procedure is much more easily accomplished with two (preferably without 'help' from the kids). This is a high tent, so shorter adults might struggle to fit some of the higher clips. That said, for a tent that's comfortably family sized the Habitude is a damn sight easier to erect than most car camping models, as the basic technique is the same as you'll find on a lot of backpacking tents. It took us about 15 minutes on first try, and with familiarity I think we've been able to knock a bit off this time.
There had to be a catch somewhere, and for northern European use here it is. For our first night in the Habitude we picked a remote cliff-top spot on Skye - all very scenic but, it soon became clear, entirely at the mercy of the elements. Of course as a fair weather camper I had checked the forecast first, but the wind speed down on the point was a lot higher than expected, gusting to (at a guess) a good 20mph. At each gust the tent bowed and billowed alarmingly. How long could it keep it up? For a while we were looking at either abandoning ship (with sunset not far off and a three-hour walk-out with tired kids, not appealing); bodily picking up the whole thing and relocating to the doubtful shelter of a nearby dip (would that even be possible with just two adults?); or spending all night in shifts standing up to brace the windward corner. Luckily the wind soon died, and we could get on with enjoying our palatial real estate with enviable views. But our brush with a relatively benign breeze highlighted the Habitude's limitations. Pitch it in shelter, and avoid stormy forecasts.
To help mitigate this there are several guy points. However, only two guy lines came supplied with our sample. I'm told that's standard on the retail version too, in which case you'll need to buy more lines and the pegs to go with them (not cheap if sourced from MSR). At this price that seems stingy.
Even if it was fully guyed out, the inescapable fact is that compared to a backpacking model the Habitude is huge, and inevitably catches the wind. Though the poles and guys between them provide a good bit of structure, the length of the pole spans and the sheer area of fabric have inevitable consequences when the walls want to start acting like sails.
Furthermore the fly sheet is very high off the ground at the sides. This is great for increased ventilation in a hot climate, but less convincing for Scottish wind and wind-blown rain. On the other hand the inner tent is not as meshy as many a warm-weather-oriented American-designed tent, so it's less draughty inside than you might fear on first seeing the high fly: You get plenty of mesh in the ceiling for ventilation, but the side walls are largely fabric, which helps cut down the through-breeze.
The fly is a 68D ripstop polyester, a good deal thicker than you'll find on backpacking tents - and I guess it needs to be. With a PU coating and DWR, this has a hydrostatic head of 1500mm. If you're thinking that doesn't sound a lot compared to most tents then you'd be right. We address this question every time we review an MSR tent, and to date we've never got wet in one.
It's worth repeating what they once told us:
'[In] every other market except Europe, the rating is around 1000-1500mm for rainflies and 3000mm for floors' they said.
'While our tent designers recognize that the perception is that a higher number equals being more waterproof, their extensive quality testing does not support that theory. A thicker coating may increase the mm rating, but at the expense of fabric tear strength. As fabrics become increasingly light to meet demand, tear strength becomes even more important to the durability of a tent. MSR's goal is to balance waterproofness, weight, and strength in every tent they make.'
'Our extensive in-the-field testing takes place in a very wet climate similar to Britain's (Seattle, Washington); we do not get wet in our tents, and stand behind their durability.'
On the inside it's a 68D taffeta polyester, which again feels suitably tough for a big family tent, while the groundsheet is 68D taffeta polyester with a full 10,000mm hydrostatic head. That's plenty even if you're camped on a bog.
The Habitude is a brilliant tent, pulling off the unlikely combination of a family friendly size with proper outdoor credentials. Roomy enough for comfortable car camping, it's also manageably light if you're venturing a few hours away from civilisation. Despite MSR's foul weather claim few large tents are great in proper wind, and the Habitude is no exception. It's best used on a fair forecast (pretty much a given for family camping anyway), and pitched in shelter. The elephant in the very spacious room is the price. At £520 (4P) or £610 (6P) this is very far from being a budget option. You could certainly get a half decent car camping palace for a lot less, though I doubt that many family tents with this sort of higher end build quality are significantly cheaper. Top-end tents simply do cost a lot. What you're getting here though is arguably unique, in terms of size vs packability, and for a certain user group - namely adventurous families - that would make the Habitude a brilliant investment. It has massively extended our family wild camping options; and those are the sort of life experiences that it's hard to put a price on.
Parents seeking to pass their love of the outdoors on to their children now have a home base for just that. Built strong, Habitude tents hold up to family adventures and foul weather (no toppling in wind). And their expansive, standing-height interiors keep everyone—even pintsized explorers—happy and comfortable.
- Price: 4P £520 6P £610
- Weight: 4P 5.72kg 6P 6.35kg (our weight is 6.7kg)
- Floor/vestibule: 4P 5.80/2.18m2 6P 7.71/2.27m2
- Interior max height: 4P 1.85cm 6P 1.95m
- Fly: 68D ripstop polyester 1500mm Polyurethane & DWR
- Inner: 68D taffeta polyester & DWR
- Groundsheet: 68D taffeta polyester 10,000mm Polyurethane & DWR