At Blacks, we've been designing and selling tents for over 150 years. We know that the right tent ought to last you for years of adventure, so here's a 'fundamentals' guide to help you make the right investment for your own Life Outdoors.
With so many ingenious new tent designs on the market, spontaneous escapes, family camping holidays and serious expeditions have never been more comfortable. But everyone's Life Outdoors is different - the most important thing is choose a tent that's right for you.
As part of our Life Outdoors Camping Season, we thought we'd run through some of the main factors to consider when choosing a tent. Some of them might sound obvious, but it's wise to carefully consider the bare basics before you're tempted to buy the first tent you see.
This one sounds obvious, right? A 2 Man tent for 2 people, a 3 Man tent for 3 people and so on? Not quite. When you think about it, there are reasons why you might prefer more or less space to play with. Tent size is measured according to the number of people able to lie down and sleep inside the tent only - 1 Man, 2 Man, 3 Man etc. This is also called the berth of the tent. But when choosing your tent it's important to consider:
- What you need to take with you - Will you need extra space for luggage in your tent? Are you planning to take loads of equipment on your adventures? If so, consider buying a slightly larger berth of tent so that you'll have plenty of room to stay organised. If you're going solo and need to keep size to a minimum, look for a 1 Man tent with a gear store, porch or external storage system.
- Future-proofing - If you're buying for a festival or one-off camping trip, think about how you might use the tent on other occasions. A 2 Man tent for one summer trip might not be big or small enough to cater for next year's plans. The same goes for family tents - will the kids need more space for play next year?
- How you want to spend your trip - If you're pitching up for a proper holiday rather than destination hopping, you might want a bit of extra space for eating inside, chilling out and sheltering on rainy days without going crazy. It can be really pleasant spending time in a tent if you have room to spread out - that's why even some couples choose family tents for their longer camping holidays.
- What you can transport and carry - Always check the weight and pack size of your chosen tent, to make sure it's possible to get it where you need to go.
Once you've decided how many people you want to allow for, consider what style of tent is best for you. The shape of your tent - tunnel, dome, etc - can make a huge difference to both the performance of your tent and the atmosphere inside. And thanks to some smart innovation from leading camping brands, there are some innovative new structures to choose from too.
- Tunnel tents - generally feel more spacious, because their height runs the full length of the tent. The design is simple to pitch because none of the poles cross over - however this does usually make for a less stable tent. Good attention to your guy ropes will help you stay standing. Great for family camping, chilled out backpacking and campsite use.
- Dome tents - Dome tents are great all-rounders. They're simple to pitch, stable in high winds (with no corners for gusts to catch on) and are therefore ideal for a season of spontaneous camping trips in a wide range of conditions. You will of course find less headroom in dome tents, but this isn't always a great concern if you're main priority is comfort in all weather and on any terrain.
- Semi-geodesic and geodesic tents - The complex structure of these more technical designs makes them incredibly stable and solid - designed to stand strong in all manner of conditions and underneath the worst kinds of storms. That said, you'll find that a range of options are available in the geodesic style - from lightweight options for trekking twosomes, to huge family tents such as the Eureka Outside Inn Plus RS Tent (as close as you'll get to a house).
- Inflatable tents - Inflatable tents have to be one of our favourite outdoor innovations - eliminating the need for tent poles by using simple, inflatable tubes instead. That's right: No poles, no hassle and record pitching times - perfect for stress-free holidays, last minute breaks and those who have a knack for breaking tent poles. More and more shapes and sizes are coming available, to suit all party sizes and activities. From the family-sized Vango Airbeam® Evoque 600, to the backpacker-style Heimplanet The Cave in the geodesic style.
- Tribe tents - If you're looking for a whole new camping lifestyle and not too bothered about extreme weather or mountain tops, check out what we call 'tribe tents'. Think wigwams, cabin shapes and other unique styles that are comfortable, spacious and quirky. Designed to provide sociable space and headroom, our range of tribe tents from Nordisk are popular with camping friends, families and festival goers alike. Great as a shared investment too.
Facing the Weather: Wind
The styles outlined above should help you choose a tent that's stable enough for your conditions. Remember, wind is always a bigger problem at higher altitudes, in exposed positions such as cliff tops or hillsides. If you pitch your tent properly, chances are you won't have any problems as long as you're not camping in a particularly exposed position.
- Choose a sheltered pitch, even if it's not windy when you arrive - this will also reduce wind noise in your tent
- Choose a dome tent or semi-geodesic/geodesic tent - if you're likely to be pitching high-up or in an exposed position
Facing the Weather: Rain
If you're camping in the UK, you're in denial if you don't expect at least some chance of rain. The good news is that today's flysheets (that's the outer part of the tent) are so resilient that you only really need to worry about your tent fabric's 'hydrostatic head' (that's a technical measurement of waterproofing) if you're facing a risk of a serious downpour. A 2000mm hydrostatic head is perfectly capable of keeping UK rain out. Any hydrostatic head measurement over 3000mm should assure you of reliable protection even in the worst downpours Europe can throw at you. To be honest, it's the design of your tent and the way you can use it that's most important for your rainy day enjoyment:
- Groundsheets are usually made from high strength polyester with a very high waterproof ability. A sewn-in groundsheet (as opposed to a standard, separate one) helps to keep drips and groundwater (and insects) out.
- A tent design with a porch makes it much easier to store gear, remove wet clothes before entering the tent and keep rain well away from the interior of your tent.
- Any kind of gutter or shelter over the main opening will help prevent rain water from running in.
- Flysheet first pitching means you can put the waterproof outer of the tent up first, then complete the inner in dryness.
- Larger family tents with clear windows let you carry on enjoying your holiday and soaking up the scenery even when the heavens open.
Living and Breathing: Condensation
Familiar with condensation? In camping terms, it's what happens when warm bodies live and breathe inside sealed tent walls. When warm moist air hits a cold surface, the moisture condenses and turns to water. That's what happens when the warm, moist air from our breath and bodies hits the inside of a cold tent wall. Why is condensation is a problem? Because it causes beads of water that roll down your tent's inner wall and dampen your gear. Some condensation is always going to be likely, but tent designs can alleviate the problem in several ways.
- Double skinned tents - Double skinned tents have two layers - a waterproof outer flysheet and a breathable inner tent. Instead of condensing on the inside of your tent, much moisture passes through the breathable inner and away from your precious kit - instead settling on the inside of your tent's outer flysheet.
- Standard groundsheets - Sewn-in groundsheets are great because they protect against draughts and insects, but they do also reduce the amount of air circulating in your tent and therefore create more condensation. A standard groundsheet on the other hand leaves a gap between it and the tent's flysheet, allowing air to circulate and also creating a place for condensation to escape.
Warm Climate Camping: Ventilation and Insects
Heat can cause as much discomfort as cold unless you keep a close eye on tent ventilation. If you're camping in humid climates or close to water (especially in the Scottish Highlands), you'll need to make sure your tent is insect-proof overnight. Luckily, there are several options for ensuring your tent keeps the air flowing through, without letting the insects in.
- Ventilation flaps - are usually adjustable so that you can control air flow to suit the conditions you're in.
- Vents at a higher level in the tent - (such as Vango's Airzone systems) allow warm air to rise and escape - keeping the inside of your tent cooler and fresher. These are usually sheltered to avoid an obvious opening for insects.
- Mesh inner doors - are the smartest way to keep your tent ventilated and insect-proof. Air can easily flow through the fine mesh, but insects won't get a look in meaning you can effectively leave your tent open at all times if the temperature's rising.
Hopefully these fundamentals will put you on course to find a tent that's ideal for your Life Outdoors. Of course, all tents have their own features and details... so get browsing.
Preparation is key to every kind of camping trip. Buy your tent well ahead of your first trip – your break will go much more smoothly if you've had the chance to practise pitching your tent a couple of times. You'll also have the chance to work out what accessories or storage you might need to organise your belongings and cooking gear. Enjoy.