Me showing off my new Regatta Vester 4 tent at Noisily festival, wearing a fringed kimono in the sunshine

How To Choose Your Tent – what to look for and why

I apologise that it’s taken me so long to write this post! Especially considering the name of my blog, I get asked all the time: What tent do you recommend? What style is best? What are the differences? Surely I can just get one from a supermarket for £25… it’s only a few days after all? The answer to the last one is decidedly NO. A tent is a great investment, even if you currently are only booked for one festival, you will get the bug and want to do more. I absolutely hate the use once, throw it away mentality. Spend a little more money and you’ll have a tent to reuse for years! The right tent will keep you dry, mud free, have space for a friend or two plus bags, be light, be easy to erect & pack away, and it might even have a few extras. Cheap tents do none of these things and you will have a bad time in the cold and wet.

What I’m going to do in this post is describe the different styles of tents and give them pros and cons. I’ll then give you my recommendation for the best tent in that style.

Photo of Shambala campsite from Claire Smith, Sheffield


Different styles of tent:

Pop-Up Tent

These are one of the most popular style of tents you see at festivals now, for the obvious reasons that they are light, and easy to erect (I’m going to use that word a lot in this blog post, try not to giggle each time!). It’s important to know that a lot of these are not very well made, very small, and will not survive well in bad weather as they are usually single-skinned. The final downside is that folding/wrestling pop up tents back into their bags at the end of the festival is a skill! I’ve spent many a final festival morning giggling, watching people struggle with them (before I go over and help of course!).

Best one I’ve found: Gorilla Glow Tents – RRP £79.99

These bright tents from Gorilla break the pop-up tent curse! They are sold as ‘3-man’ but I would say are lovely and spacious for two people with big festival backpacks, they are dual skinned with a good groundsheet (hallelujah!), there is space for muddy boots between the door and bedroom, and they even come with a “Tent Finder” – a light that flashes when you press a keyring to light up your tent in the field! It is easy to put up, well built with good guy ropes and poles, and once you have the knack, it’s easy enough to fold back down (though you might need assistance from a friend to hold while you fold!). This is now my go-to short stay tent, and I never thought I’d recommend a pop up! They’re £79.99 and come in a range of designs, I went for the emoji one!


Square shape (cross over pole) Dome tent

These are also extremely popular and come in different styles. The main way to identify them is the bedroom is made from the poles in an X shape when erect. This shape usually means the walls are nice and taut on the tent, helping keep it waterproof. However, square/dome tents are the classic style that is used for the cheapest of tents. As always, check that the tent you’re buying is double-skinned, and has a porch area to put muddy/wet clothing. I would also not recommend choosing a dome tent that has a square “hat” as a vent. Back wall vents opened with guy ropes are much better:

As I mentioned at the beginning, I really hate that people will buy a tent for single use at one festival. Honestly, spending a little more money and getting a tent you can use time and time again will mean you’re much more comfortable! There are a lot of cheap dome tents being sold by supermarkets etc but I would stay away from these entirely! They will break and you will get wet.

Best one I’ve found: Vango Sigma 300 – RRP £130

Though I don’t own this myself, a friend does and it seems the perfect small/medium size dome. It’s a 3 man (again, good for 2 people + bags) with a good size porch. It’s nice and light (4.7kgs), well designed for maximum wall taut-ness, linked in groundsheet, and has an expandable tent bag – you will be so thankful of this when packing it away after the festival! There are pockets inside to keep things like toothbrush/glasses in, and something essential is the ‘lip’ on the door to the porch. This lip keeps water and mud from free flowing into the porch as the door does not zip down to the ground.


Tunnel Tent

My choice of tent style for many years! These have 3 or more poles bent into semi circles but the poles don’t cross. They are pulled apart into a tunnel-like shape, have a bedroom at the back and various sizes of porch. The main thing with these tents is being able to use the guy ropes properly to peg it down. You need to pull the front pole forward and the back pole backward to make sure there is tension in the canvas between the poles (unlike the pop ups/cross shapes which do it for you). I like these because they tend to have good size porches which are great for sitting and socialising in if it rains.

I always have a big tent, I’m known for it. I always buy a 4+ man tunnel tent that is tall enough to stand in (190cm). There are a few downsides to these: they’re expensive, they’re very heavy, and they take two people to put up. My previous tent was one of these but a cheaper version and only lasted me 6 festivals before someone fell on it and it ripped 🙁 This year I treated myself to the awesome Regatta Outdoors beauty you see above and it is just perfect!

Best one I’ve found: Regatta Vester 4 – RRP £310

When I got this tent, I was a bit disappointed that it was slightly less tall than my usual ones (150cm rather than 190cm). However, after using it for a summer, I can say that it is actually the perfect compromise! I saved over 6 kilos in weight from my previous tent – it’s only 6.7kg! (my last one was almost 13kg). It means it’s much easier to carry, and when erect I can still walk into it, just ducked down a little, and there is plenty of room in the porch for bags and socialising. I fit 5 of us in there all sat in chairs when it rained at Boomtown Fair! It’s the little things with this tent – having a side door is an amazing addition to a tunnel as typically the front entrance can cause leaking when used in the rain. It also means more space in the porch. There are hooks for lamps/torches, lots of pockets, a darker bedroom area to combat early sunrises, a clever way the porch groundsheet attaches to the outer fly, great vents and windows… all in all it’s just fab. My main tent now for longer festivals/when one or two friends are staying with me.


Vis A Vis Tent

These are called vis a vis which literally means face to face… because they consist of two bedrooms facing each other with a porch in the middle. A good style for those wanting to share a tent but still have their own space/not share a bedroom. The problem is usually that the bedrooms are rather small, and that the back wall sags onto the inner bedroom wall on the cheap ones meaning water leaks through. However the big pro of these tents is most definitely the porch. Usually they are some of the largest, and have doors on both sides allowing for a through breeze and good place to nap in the heat of the day.

Best one I’ve found: Coleman Spruce Falls 4 – RRP £310

I like this as it is tall enough to walk into, and the bedrooms are a good size. There are lots of pockets inside, and the doors are a good style to avoid rain and mud getting in to the porch area which can be a problem with a vis a vis tent. Finally, there are guy ropes on the outer bedroom walls to stop the sag I mentioned before.


Bell Tent

The traditional canvas bell tents are gorgeous, spacious, and if looked after well will last you many, many years. I would absolutely love one! They are the palaces of tents. Anything up to a 5m size can be easily erected by just one person. Canvas is breathable, and will retain/repel heat as you need. The three main downsides to bell tents are: they are expensive, they are very heavy, and they need regular maintenance – you cannot pack them away when wet as they will get mildew and rot. Bell tents aren’t really ideal as a ‘first tent’, but anyone who’s ever stayed in one will tell you how fabulous they are. If you invest it one and look after it, it will last you a lifetime. For a really good in depth guide on bell tents (including different materials, sizes, price options), read this blog from Camping with Style.

Best one I’ve found: boutique Camping Harlequin 5m Bell – £600

Baby blue and purple? Of course I had to pick this one! But I promise it’s not just the colours (they do a range if this isn’t your style!). This tent is made from the best canvas, has a 2m high door, has vents and windows, and the walls can even roll up to allow a full through breeze for those hot mornings. There’s a mosquito net inner door to stop bugs coming in if you want to keep the door open whilst inside, and there’s enough room for 4 people with a lot of stuff. This is my dream bell tent! Maybe one day I’ll invest. I would also suggest investing in a trolley to pull it along in, as most bell tents weigh in at around 30kg, a bit much to carry the long distance from car to festival campsite at a place like Glastonbury, but doable if you’re sharing pulling it along with friends.


Photo by @marissaaaah

I’ll summarise with the following list:

The main things to look for when choosing a tent:

  • Double skinned – absolutely essential if you care at all about staying dry
  • Lots of strategically placed guy ropes – remember tautness = dryness
  • Good size porch – at minimum big enough to store muddy boots but I say the bigger the better
  • Expandable tent bag – very helpful on the Monday when you’re trying to pack it up
  • Detachable ground sheet – you’ll need to clean this every year or so
  • Good door design – no water/mud sliding under the door. Look for raised doors/’lips’

And finally, I’ll say once more, spend a little more on a decent tent and then

REPACK AND REUSE IT! 

 

I was given the Regatta Vester 4 tent to review over summer 2018. All views are honest and my own.

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