What do you look for when buying a wild camping tent? There’s such a selection available, and with so much marketing speak; what’s really important to get the most suitable tent for you?
Being waterproof is a given, Basically, the fabric’s tested in order to determine how much water it can withstand before leaking, and this is known as the hydrostatic head. Any decent tent will have a sufficiently high hydrostatic head to keep rain out. You need to be looking at at least 1500 mm rating, or even better for UK conditions, with some far exceeding that. However, I’ve used quality tents with ratings from 1500 to over 5000 and not had a problem. Just be wary if it’s a cheap tent!
One or two skins? Generally speaking, twin walled / skinned tents are the most appropriate for usual UK conditions. There are some single skin tents that are produced from breathable fabrics, but these are the exception and tend to have specific applications.
What shape? Tents come in all different shapes and sizes, each one with it’s advantages and drawbacks.
Ridge Tents. If you ever went to an outdoor centre when you were at school then chances are you’ll have spend a night in one of the orange Force Ten Classic ridge tents, which is one of the few ridge style tents still available.While these were sturdy beasts, sadistic instructors expected weedy teenagers to lug these up into the Glyderau at an eye watering 7 kilos a tent. That’s more than my overnight kit, possibly including water!
Dome Tents. These usually have two curved poles in order to create a simple dome. This is your usual £7.99 tent from Tesco, and tends to be less common these days in technical tents as other designs offer more sturdiness.
Geodesic Tents. Now we’re talking! These are essentially dome tents with two or more poles that are extraordinarily sturdy. They’re the type of tent you’ll usually spot at Everest Basecamp by the likes of Terra Nova (Quasar) and Mountain Hardwear (Trango), but also in deepest Snowdonia. The multiple poles cross each other in order to provide this strength, and you can make out these poles in the image below. This makes the tent heavy, but even a 4 man tent like the Trango 4 is only 2.5kg each between two people, and provides a luxurious space.
If you’re going to go all out for a geodesic, then there’s always the lottery winner’s base-camp options, such as the huge Mountain Hardwear Space Station providing standing room for 20 people and only weighing 32 or so kilos.
Semi-geodesic. These are a cross between a dome and a geodesic, offering more strength than the former and less weight than the latter. The Terra Nova Voyager for instance, has three poles, and is sturdy enough for winter conditions in the UK.
Tunnel tents. These are a simple design with two hoops that support the ‘tunnel’ and often a porch at each end. They’re quite spacious and often have generous porches.
Hoop Tents. A light tent that usually has one large hoop across or along the length of the tent. BEcause it has only one pole, these tend to be ligter than any other tent. The world’s lightest tent – the Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 is a hoop tent.
Tipi. Not just for overpriced glamping, but perfect for the ultimate wild glamp. They’re not overly sturdy compared to geodesics, but provide a superb weight to area ratio. The one pole in the middle can be a pain, but if you can hang it from a tree, you have even more room. They may lack a porch, but you can get some that divide the inside into an inner tent and a huge porch, ideal for bike camping.
When do you plan on using it? If you’re a fair weather camper, then the lightest hoop tent you can get away with, and afford, is all you need. However, for serious winter camping you’ll need a geodesic, or a semi-geodesic for less challenging conditions. Tipis are also excellent in heavy snow as they shed snow exceptionally well. You’ll then need to look for snow-specific features like snow skirts and so on.
Another consideration is the inner tent. If it’s made of a fine mesh, it may well keep the mozzies out but it’ll be draughty and less suitable for colder weather.
What Colour? There’s a school of thought that all wild camping tents ought to be green. While there are some areas (not in the UK) that limit you to natural colours, it shouldnt’ otherwise be a problem while wild camping. That is, assuming you’re pitching late and leaving early, it’s only the sheep that’s going to see you! Arguably, camp site tents in national parks are more of an eyesore if they’re in bright colours as they’ll be visible during the day.
This may be yellow, but it actually blends quite well with the grass compared to a green tent (compare it to the .
How Big? Tents may have a ‘man’ rating, but not all are created equal! Consider that a single bed is 90cm wide, and a Terra Nova Voyager is only 125cm wide at the widest end and 90cm at the foot; and is classed as a two man tent. I like around 90cm to myself, but you’ll really have to find somewhere that’s got the tent on display and pile in! In winter, the Trango 4 is big enough to sleep lengthways or across, and provides a luxurious 2.4m wide sleeping area! Check the length of the tent as well, especially if it’s particularly cheap, light or you’re tall.
The porch size is important if you’re sharing the tent, and more than one is even better. You may need to cook in the porch, and if you’re cooking separately to your partner then two porches make life easier. Of course, extra space usually means extra weight!
Don’t forget the tent height either. If you can’t sit up, you’ll have a miserable time. If you can sit up (in a chair!) you’ll be champion! If you can stand up, that’s as good as it gets. Tipis tend to offer better headroom than most tents.
Weight. Beware tents that advertise as ultralight. More often than not, it’s a meaningless description. A one man tent shouldn’t be much more than a kilo to be described as light, with some like the Terra Nova Ultra 1 weighing in at half that, but the price! A two man should be much lighter than two kilos, nearer 1.5 kg or lighter. Of course, a bit of luxury might be needed, but it’s fine to carry extra weight if you’re getting more space. I’ll carry a 1.8kg Golite ShangriLa, solo if the mood takes me, but it’s extremely spacious and light for two. As I’ve mentioned, 2.5kg apiece for a sturdy, huge winter tent is also OK as you’ve enough room to stand up or a chair, while being virtually bombproof. Considering that it’s a four man tent, that’s only 1.25 kilos each if you fill it to capacity.
For the record – here’s our current crop of tents, and we’re looking to go ‘retro’ this summer. Watch this space.