Whether you’re planning to pitch in the UK or abroad, picking the perfect tent can be a complex business. Here, Carolyn Budding, director of one of the UK’s leading outdoor gear innovators, Terra Nova and Wild Country Tents, gives her top ten tips to choosing your ideal camping kit.
1. Before investing in a tent, make a list of your priorities. Consider the duration of your trip and the comfort level you require, as this will narrow down the size and style of tent that would suit. Do you want to compromise on living space and have most of the space for sleeping? If you are planning on camping when the weather should be kinder, hopefully you’ll be living outside most of the time. Also consider how many sleeping compartments you need.
2. Consider the size of your car – remember that buying a tent is just the start of the kit list. Be realistic about what will fit in your car when choosing a tent – ask about the weight and pack size. A large tent can take up a lot of boot space and you still need to take sleeping bags, stove, personal items and clothing. A large tent and lots of comfort items, such as tables, chairs and kitchen gear, will probably mean you also need to invest in a car top box or large trailer! You may want to compromise the size of the tent slightly to allow space for more home comforts.
3. Don’t take the heat. It may seem unlikely, but when the weather is hot a tent can get very uncomfortable. Look for good ventilation to prevent the build-up of condensation. Good tents have plenty of ventilation points that have been designed so rain can’t get in either. Full mosquito net doors are a good design feature as they allow plenty of air circulation, while keeping insects out.
4. Make sleep a priority. A good night’s sleep is essential on holiday, if you are also investing in decent airbeds make sure you can fit the right number of mattresses in the compartment. A single airbed is usually 50cm wide and a double one 1.4m wide, it’s worth measuring up first.
5. Protection from the elements is vital, so waterproofing design features are essential attributes of a well-designed tent. The flysheet and ground sheet are usually polyester or nylon with the hydrostatic head (HH) being the measurement of how waterproof a fabric is. The figure is given in metres or millimetres. A 3 metre HH for a flysheet is a reasonable figure.
6. Look for a sewn-in ground sheet, ie. a ground sheet that is attached to the flysheet. This helps keep out bugs, draughts and rain.
7. Flysheets and groundsheets should also be seam sealed (ie. waterproof tape applied to the inner side of the seam). Essentially, seam sealing stops water seeping through the seam and it’s an important difference between good and bad quality tents.
8. Look for accessories to help make camping easier. For example, groundsheet protectors will help keep the bottom of the tent clean and dry, making it easier when packing up. If the groundsheet is wet and muddy and it’s attached to the flysheet (as most are nowadays) then it can be difficult to pack up without getting mud on the clean flysheet – and that means more work when you get home. A separate groundsheet protector takes the worst of the dirt and can be wrapped and packed separately at home time, keeping the main tent much cleaner.
9. Know your tent poles. For weekend tents, these will be steel, alloy or fibreglass. Steel poles, although heavier and more bulky, are durable and strong, providing an all-important stable tent – which is vital as we can get high winds at any time of year. Fibreglass poles are lighter and don’t take up as much room in the boot of your car, but generally are weaker and flexible, so you’ll have a tent that could rock in the wind. Alloy poles have the benefits of both, they are strong, lightweight and pack down to a manageable size. One other point on poles – look for colour coding or some other grading system that helps you identify easily which poles go where, to make pitching quicker and easier.
10. Once you’ve chosen your tent have a practise pitching it at home first or, even better, have an overnight camp in the garden so everyone can get used to it. Terra Nova and Wild Country Tents, like many on the market today, have pitching videos to guide you through the process. You may need to pitch in a hurry when you go for real, so best to be prepared!