The Complete Guide To Buying A Tent
Camping provides you with freedom, adventure and the chance to get closer to nature – and of course it is great value for money. But if it’s been a while since you bought a tent or you’ve never camped before, it might all seem a little confusing. Things have moved on a lot since the days when a tent was basically a couple of wooden poles propping up a sheet of canvas. That’s why we’ve gathered together all the information you need to choose the right tent... from learning the jargon to picking up a secondhand bargain.
From vis a vis to tunnel. Panaoramic views to tinted windows. Blackout bedrooms to XXL dorms. Skylights to built-in LED lighting. These are just some of the latest features designed to make camping more comfortable that you’ll find in the brand-new tents in the shops right now. And then there’s the inflatable v poles debate.
Versatility is often the key factor in choosing a tent, so instead of buying one huge unit that is great for a fortnight away but totally impractical for a weekend break, many campers are going for a smaller model and investing in an extension or awning for longer trips. There are many benefits to this approach – a smaller tent is quicker and easier to pitch, takes up less space in the car boot and doesn’t take as long to dry out when you get home. They are also considerably cheaper and even buying an extension can be less expensive than purchasing a vast tent, especially if the retailer can offer you a discounted package.
What is important is that you choose the tent that is right for you and your family. What will you use it for? How often will you go camping? How many of you are there?
These are the sort of questions you need to ask before you splash the cash. Our quick guide should be able to provide the answers you need, and there are plenty of links to provide you with more detailed information if you need it.
The first thing to decide is what kind of tent you need and there’s a couple of basic types to consider – family and weekender.
What's the best tent for your family?
Tending to be larger, with all kinds of family in mind, but generally designed for longer term pitching than just the occasional night. Likely to have at least one bedroom (also known as inners) and a large living area. Their design also means they’re most suited for transporting by car. Tunnel tents are currently the most popular and common type of family tent, but you can also get larger dome tents. Many are now inflatable. Look out for family-friendly features, such as darkened bedrooms, designed to stop kids waking up as soon as it gets light in the morning. Coleman's BlackOut bedrooms are particularly succesful at this.
Also known as tourers, these are smaller tents with less living space but are quick and easy to pitch and pack away, making them ideal for shorter breaks when time is at a premium. They tend to be for a maximum of four or five people but work especially well for couples who want a little more space to spread out. Also included under this title are instant-pitch tents. Also known as quick-pitch or pop-ups, these literally do just pop into shape as soon as they’re taken out of their bags; after that, they just need pegging out.
Is big better?
Of course it’s great to have all that extra space when you’re on site. But, bear in mind there are pitch size restrictions on some campsites, and the larger the tent the longer it takes to put up, take down and look after. Bigger tents tend, also, to be heavier as well as bulkier when packed. That’s something to think about in terms of how much luggage capacity you have to spare in your car, also taking into consideration other items of gear you want to take with you when you go camping.
Something else to consider, is how much room there is for seating, possibly around a table, and other furniture. Also PVC windows can really brighten up and improve the feel of your tent, especially if you are stuck inside during the day because of the weather. Panoramic windows let you sit inside and watch the world go by.
Which style is right for you?
Two, three or four poles (fibreglass, steel or alloy) provide the tunnel shape that is so popular in larger family tents. Colour-coded poles make them easy to pitch and they have plenty of room for both living and sleeping. Some models have extended porch sections that can be used to store bikes and gear.
Although inflatable tents have been around for many years, they really came into the mainstream in 2011 when Vango launched their AirBeam range. Nearly all the major manufacturers now do their own version, mostly in the tunnel style. Rather than using fibreglass, steel or alloy poles, these tents are supported with air-filled chambers that mean you can have a large family tent pitched in a few minutes. The downside is that they are rather heavy and currently quite expensive.
Vis a vis
These are the main alternative to tunnel tents and also come in both poled and inflatable versions. Basic designs have two inner tents at opposite ends separated by a central living section, and are particularly popular among families with older kids as they offer more privacy than tunnel tents where the bedrooms are all next to each other. In some cases, one inner tent can be removed to provide even more space as and when it is needed.
For a while pod-style tents were becoming the most popular model for family camping, but they have gone out of fashion somewhat in recent years. This is mainly because they have a very large footprint, meaning some sites will charge extra, and they can be difficult to pitch. They have a central living area with several sleeping pods leading off. The main benefit is that they allow everyone to have their own personal space in the tent while still having plenty of room to congregate at meal times.
Click here for more information about different styles of tents
How much should you spend on a new tent?
You can buy a basic four-berth family tent from a budget supermarket for less than £100 but you get what you pay for, and for your first tent we’d suggest spending a little more than this (£300 - £500) to get something that will be better quality and ensure you are warm and dry. A six-berth model will provide extra living space and take the cost up again - you could spend between £400 and £800 depending on the features.
If you’re looking to upgrade your existing family tent then you can easily spend up to £2,000 on a quality model, especially if you go for something in canvas or polycotton.
Traditional poled tents tend to be far less expensive than inflatable models, although the cost of these is coming down. You can now buy a six berth inflatable for as little as £400 , although top of the range models can come in at around £1,500.
Whatever you are looking for, the key is to shop around for a bargain.
How you can spread the cost of a tent
Camping is generally an affordable way to explore the country and enjoy the great outdoors, but with family tents getting bigger and ever more luxurious, models at the top of the range from brands like Vango, Kampa and Outwell can be expensive. But fear not! There are affordable ways to pursue your passion and take to the road in style.
Most major camping retailers, both chains and independents, offer finance to help you spread the cost of big purchases and you can sign up in store or online. Sales people are usually keen to get you signed up to finance agreements, so it’s worth bargaining. Try and talk them into a discount or persuade them to throw in some accessories like a carpet or furniture for free.
Some shops offer interest free credit and this can usually be paid back over six, eight or 10 months, with a typical deposit of around 10%. For example, a £1,000 tent paid for over six months on interest free, with a £100 deposit, would cost you £150 per month. There would be no final payment at the end of the six-month period and the tent would be yours
If interest free credit isn’t available from your retailer of choice, interest bearing credit is another option to make an expensive tent more affordable. Compare the APR % interest rates before committing and be sure to check deposit and final payments too. The cost of the finance will also increase the total amount you pay for the tent.
As an example, a £999 tent at an APR rate of 9.9% over 12 months with a £100 deposit, would set you back just under £79 a month. That would result in you paying a total of around £1,046 plus the deposit for the tent, meaning the total cost of the tent would be £1,146 compared to the £999 cash price.
Do you need insurance?
Camping is often considered as a cheap alternative to a package holiday abroad, not to mention the fact that camping equipment is as cheap as it’s ever been. So is it really worth forking out for special insurance? But, have you ever stopped to consider the value of all your camping gear when it’s put together? A collection that has grown over the years could cost thousands of pounds to replace should something happen to it.
Our guide to camping insurance will give you more information.