Whether you have decided to upgrade your current tent, or are new to camping and are looking to purchase your first ever tent, the range on offer today is huge and the overwhelming choice can make deciding which make, model, style and size to purchase a difficult decision.
In this blog we’ll answer some of the key questions you might be asking yourself and guide you through the choice so that, hopefully, you’ll be confident when you see the dizzying array of tents on offer!
DOES SIZE MATTER?
Tent size is usually described by the number of people it can sleep or it’s number of ‘berths’. Sounds simple enough but don’t forget that the ‘berth’ refers just to the sleeping area, usually the size of a standard sleeping bag, and not the living area or space for storage of your gear. Think about the nature of your camping trips, are you hiking or cycling or planning family holidays? Think about whether you need to be able to stand up and move around inside your tent and check the height dimensions before purchase.
It is usually better to go for a tent with more capacity than the minimum berths you require but always bear in mind that the larger the tent, the heavier it will be to lift, the more space it will occupy in the car and the more complex it will be to erect. Don’t forget as well that many camp sites now charge extra for larger tents and some have a maximum tent size that they’ll accept during peak times (like us) so check out your favourite camp sites’ policies before buying to avoid disappointment.
Tents come in various materials but the three main types are cotton, polyester and polycotton.
Cotton is widely accepted as the best tent fabric with a long lifespan and great durability – but it does come at a higher price tag. It has natural waterproof properties but can have a water repellent applied for added protection. Condensation is minimal in a cotton tent as the weave allows moisture to pass through the fabric unlike synthetic tents which can become damp inside. Another pro is that on windy nights, cotton does not flap around noisily keeping you awake like synthetic tents do.
The down side of cotton is that is requires a lot of maintenance. New cotton does need weathering which involves soaking the tent by rain or hose pipe to activate the fibres which allows them to swell and contract. Seams on a cotton tent should be waterproof although they’re not actually sealed. The thread swells when wet to fill the needle holes but a dab of seam sealant will cure any small drips that occur. Oil, grease and bird mess may affect the way it reacts to water and should be removed and cleaned immediately. It should always be thoroughly cleaned and dried before packing away.
Polyester is lightweight, low bulk and cheaper than cotton. It has durable water resistant coatings applied to the inside surface and the seams are sealed so it should be very waterproof although this is often dependent on the type of coatings and base materials used. Maintenance of a polyester tent is minimal. Reproofing is not generally necessary and any patches which lose waterproofing can be easily treated with a durable water repellent spray. Grease and oil will not affect its waterproof properties but should be cleaned off as soon as possible.
However, it is susceptible to deterioration from UV rays and is not breathable so condensation does occur, especially overnight if there is not sufficient ventilation.
Polycotton’s weight and bulk falls midway between polyester and cotton and the fabric offers the best of both worlds in terms of comfort and user friendliness.
Like cotton, the fabric’s long lifespan means it is a cost-effective investment and the typical problems associated with completely natural fibres, such as lack of strength and susceptibility to mildew, are avoided by adding polyester to the weave, whilst benefits such as resistance to heat and UV degradation are maintained.
The vast majority of tents today have a fitted groundsheet. A good strong groundsheet is essential for a comfortable camping trip so check what it’s made of. It needs to be strong enough to withstand the odd flint from the ground beneath and should also be durable enough to withstand the wear and tear of campsite life.
Many campers these days also purchase a separate groundsheet or footprint. This is a piece of waterproof tarpaulin cut to the exact size of the bottom of your tent to give extra waterproofing, keep the underneath of your fitted groundsheet clean and it will also give you another layer of insulation, reducing heat lost to the ground.
These can be manufactured from aluminium or fibreglass, often depending on the type of tent purchased. Fibreglass is lightweight and offers the flexibility needed for dome or geodesic tents, while aluminium is more rigid and used generally in more structured, traditional frame tents.
TYPES OF TENTS
Dome tents are easily available, these are strong, dome shaped structures usually consisting of crossed over poles covered in tent fabric. They can be single domes, or more complex structures with different ‘rooms’ for family holidays. Despite being not always simple to erect, they have become increasingly popular in recent years, and are easy to find.
Pop up tents are smaller in design which does what it says on the tin – almost instant to pitch, easy and light to transport and often available in a variety of designs and colours. These are popular with festival, hiking and fishing campers, and can be a good introduction to camping for the beginner.
Tunnel tents are a more classic style of tent and often seem to be the choice of more serious campers. Using fewer poles, they are lighter than dome tents, but their design can make pitching more complex, as they usually need guy ropes for shape and support. Although less useful for extreme weather conditions, tunnel tents can make an excellent option for all round family holiday camping.
Geodesic tents are similar in appearance to standard dome tents and are a strong, modern design usually consisting of an aerodynamic shape made up of mutually supporting poles. These can be heavier than tunnel tents due to the increased number of poles but this does tend to make them sturdier in extreme weather if more difficult to transport.
Teepees or bell tents are becoming increasingly popular. There is now a wide range of sizes, styles and designs on the market. Given their shape and size they can provide extra headroom to those who feel cramped in a more traditional style tent and judging by general reviews, they seem to be an excellent option for families, children’s sleepovers or fun weekends away.
Inflatable tents can be expensive and surprisingly heavy. However, you can see the attraction when you see a proud owner turn up on site, simply peg out the corners, switch on the compressor and sit back to watch the ten t erect itself in just afew minutes and for this reason they are becoming very popular.
Frame tents – the flexible pole hasn’t done away with the traditional rigid frame tents – these still exist and are remain popular. They use a rigid framework of straight poles (usually steel) with angled joints and can still offer lots of space including good headroom plus stability when properly erected. On the down side, frame tents tend to be heavier and take somewhat longer to put up than other tents.
Trailer tents and folding campers are at the luxury end of the scale and can cost as much as a car or caravan but inexpensive units are available too. What they all offer is an accommodation unit that you tow behind your car (or even, in a few cases, behind your motorbike). All have proper beds and in all of them at least some of the occupants can sleep off the ground. Some need pegging out, others can be unfolded and used without any pegging at all, so they can be used on hardstanding as well as on grassy pitches.
Tent prices vary hugely but the old adage holds true – you get what you pay for.
For a small, two man tent which is lightweight and easy to carry and assemble, you could be looking in the region of £50 to £200. This will be something probably more useful for backpackers than holiday tents, unless you really don’t mind minimal ‘indoor’ space and tents at the lower end of this price scale won’t be particularly durable.
For most of us, holidays will involve a family sized tent with a bit more room to move. Again, pricing structure varies, but for a good brand, sleeping 4 – 8 people, expect to pay £300 – £900. At the top end of the scale, this should include an easy erection tent, with versatile sleeping space which can be altered to increase living space or create multiple sleeping areas. Made from top of the range materials, these should have lots of storage space, good options for storing the tent itself and good water proof abilities.
Less expensive options should still offer value for money with quality build and space, but may not include quite so many options to alter the space, or less spacious living areas.
Technology in this area moves pretty quick, so slightly older models can be available at a good discount and you will even find good secondhand options. Treat your tent well and it can last your family many, many outdoor holidays making even an expensive option very cost effective.