What Tent? (Again…)

UPDATE: Tuesday 24th April 2018

I’ve gone for the Vango Force 10 Xenon UL 2+ (significantly reduced in price from Go Outdoors down to £222 with a bit of price matching and their offer to undercut any online price by 10%). Pity it’s green but there you go…

Sunday 22nd April 2018

In the past 10 years, tents have featured many times on; I like to discuss them, as you can see from this list of tent-related posts:

Back Camera

The Vango Helium in Metz, France (2010)

Basically, for the first continental cycle back in 2010 I used a Vango Helium 100 (now renamed a Force 10 Helium Ultralight 1) but I found it far too small to hide in when it rained (which it often did in the summer of 2010) so for the second and third cycles I bought a Robens Osprey 2 (which seems to have now bitten the dust apart from in this variation with a large porch area and called the Robens Osprey 2EX). The Vango Helium was donated to a chap who was cycling somewhere in Europe and I never asked for it to be returned (as I didn’t plan on using it again) and the Robens Osprey ended up in the bin after it had been stretched to a greater extent than it had been designed to stretch and was increasing no longer watertight. In all fairness to the Robens, it had served me well and had had to suffer more erections and dismantlings than, I reckon, the majority of tents in existence; 66 times on the trip from Tarifa to Nordkapp alone.


The Robens Osprey in Cologne, Germany (2015)

The upshot of all this is that I am now in the market for a new tent and I need one quick as I’ll be camping at the Cycle Touring Festival at the start of May. In the absence of ‘What Tent?‘ (which, shamelessly, doesn’t seem to have yet been written, never mind published), I resort to Google and find this fine selection of two-person tents (I’m never going back to a one-person tent) at ‘the UK’s No. 1 camping store’, Camping World of which these are the top nine bestsellers.

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9 of the 33 two-person tents that they sell: the rest are here

I have to say that after two green tents, I wouldn’t mind a different colour but then again, choosing your tent by its colour is a bit like judging your book by its cover.

On the subject of books, here’s my own brief history of tents as it appeared in the ninth degree of Spain to Norway on a Bike Called Reggie. If you have any tents thoughts / advice of your own, please do feel free to offer it.

Tents must rank as one of the oldest forms of human habitation, just a few rungs up the ladder of longevity from the cave. They were not invented with forty-something men on recreational career breaks in mind; they were, of course, created out of necessity. At the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are the physiological requirements without which any human couldn’t survive: water, food and oxygen. But let’s face it, it’s also nice to wear clothes and have some form of shelter before we start to worry about such trivialities as safety, love and belonging. And this was just as true for the first humans as it is for their modern-day descendants. It seems a reasonable assumption that if you didn’t have a handy cave to sleep in but you did have a few animals that you were in the habit of killing for their meat, one day you would pull one of their skins over a branch to keep out the rain at night. The tent had been invented.

Scroll forward in time to the summer of 1980 and a large field near Benllech on the island of Anglesey, just off the north coast of Wales. A long line of canvas tents had been erected and in each of them were four 11-year-old children trying desperately to stay warm at night. In the morning they would spend several minutes flicking earwigs from their sleeping bags and several more minutes wondering why it had ever seemed like a good idea to sign up for first-year school camp. I was one of those children and I was experiencing my first-ever week in a tent.

In the several tens of thousands of years between its invention and my trip to Wales, the tent hadn’t fundamentally changed. It was still a large expanse of thick material lifted above the ground by a wooden pole. I dare say my tent in Anglesey was just as draughty, just as insect-ridden, just as heavy and just as difficult to dry as the tents of early man.

But look what has happened in the last 30 years. Should I be so inclined, I can drive to my local outdoor shop and, within half an hour, have purchased the kind of tent about which Edmund Hillary (and I in 1980) could have only dreamt. For a couple of hundred pounds I can buy a hydrostatic (waterproof to you and me), lightweight (under 3 kg) and fire retardant tunnel tent (with a porch no less) designed with a double skin and manufactured from a mixture of breathable polyester and siliconised nylon, all supported by alloy DAC (not quite sure what that stands for) anodised poles – and it will come complete with an earwig-resistant groundsheet (i.e. no gaping holes through which they can crawl). Should I have a friend (or get lucky on my travels), it will comfortably sleep two and the whole thing can be packed into a bag that’s only 41 cm long.

A couple of years ago, I did feel so inclined, and the description above is that of the tent I bought and have been using ever since. As with everything ‘outdoor’, many of its specifications were wasted on a casual adventurer such as me, but it was good to know that the innovations were there, should I ever decide to go commando. The fact that it would stay erect in winds of up to 150 kmh – that’s off the Beaufort scale by some way – was reassuring the next time it got a bit breezy.

Categories: Adventure, Cycling, Travel

8 replies »

  1. Hello-I haven’t commented in a long time. I own several tents. I took a REI Half Dome with me on my cycling tour in Italy. I also took a hammock. I used the hammock more than the tent. The weather was that accomodating. Seriously considering purchasing a hybrid hammock tent, which can either be suspended or erected on the ground. Yes, less space, but more comfort. The addition of a light tarpaulin can be set up as best needed. As with any kit, its all plusses and minuses.

  2. I have spent over 100 nights in my Hilleberg Anjan 2 and mostly single night stops. It still going strong at five years old. It has got enough room to comfortable in, which to me is at least as important as weight. I have spent a few wet rest days reading in it. It is a good compromise on space, weight, pack volume and durability, it very quick and simple to put up. They are very expensive initially, however mine is now a lot cheaper per night than typical camp-site fees.

  3. make your own lad. heehee – just a plug as I will be talking about tent making at the Cycle touring festival but if you are going to buy one my choice would be the Robens 2x Voyageur . Mind I would probably have a small tarp to put over the entrance in wet weather. It does have a nice roomy porch to it for cooking in.

    • I think my tent-making skills won’t be up to that challenge… I liked my Robens Osprey 2 and the Voyageur in this list is tempting although they do seem to still make the Osprey 2EX. I’ll compare the Voyager & Osprey more carefully. Just wish they weren’t green… See you in Clitheroe. If our talks don’t clash I’ll come and listen.

What do you think?