The Joy of Tents

“You want to talk Camping!” I hear you cry, “in this weather?”. Well, Yes! You see I’ve just been to Camping World to look at tents, which to the initiated, in the ‘camping world’ is something of a treat. So many tents, so little time… you can tweak the guy ropes, zip and unzip the zips, frown at the lack of this and admire the inclusion of that, and in my case bemoan the lack of double skin tents being made.

All things change. When I first went camping as a Brownie and later in my friends back garden it was in canvas tents. They were heavy to carry, prone to mould and mildew if not dried out before storing and if not pegged out properly, quite undignified in the way they abandoned their post in high winds. We still have canvas tents, of course, and for some people polyester just won’t ever cut it, but my oh my, the art of Tent Camping has progressed so far. Tents are now designed to defy our English weather, they can be shaped aero dynamically, and on a good brand the poles can withstand no amount of heavy rain, high winds and even snow… you still have to make sure you peg it out right and understand about tension and load points but each year we get better and better at designing tents for those who don’t. I have one of those festival tents that folds into a flat circle and somehow magically untwists into a small two person tunnel tent, the problem is I have to phone up the eldest who seems to be the only one who understands how the hell it folds and twists back into a circle when it comes to packing away! Still, it’s a fabulous thing and very useful as tents go.

Over the past ten years, tents have got so big they are like mini home from homes, you can even have electricity for lights, your fridge and cooking! This new breed of barn like tunnel tents and geodesic domes with no amount of ‘pods’ attached, are primarily for large families and people who just like space and head height and lots and lots of space to put their kit, pets and/or children.

Back in 2001, I rediscovered camping but Mr B’s two person Vango (a simple seventies look, tan coloured A-Frame affair was not quite my idea of camping heaven). I purchased a dome-shaped Eurohike and then a vis-a-vis cotton canvas tent which was lovely, until we spent a weekend at Tom’s Field nr. Swanage and I spotted an Outwell. It looked like quality, not only did it look good but it took so little time to put up. Discovering the Outwell (I was so busy being awestruck I have no idea which one it was) was transformative; sewn-in ground sheets! Far less rogue insect invasions, no smell of wet mud and grass, far less mud ingress into the tent… oh I was smitten. I spent two months researching on Ebay and reading tent reviews on the and looking at specs, made a few failed bids and then voila! I was the proud owner of an Outwell Hartford Xl and also a Hartford L (errm, yes, quite). Mr B. who was neither as smitten, nor as impressed as I, reluctantly agreed to help me assemble the massive Hartford XL in our not so massive garden, mumbling about the money wasted the entire time. An arched porch led into a spacious dome with three bedroom pods off it. It proved to be everything I’d hoped for and more. In rough, blustery Devon weather it remained standing and we remained dry and cosy. In Southern Ireland when we realised we’d pitched it partly over a bog created by a leaking stand pipe we simply unpegged it, and moved the whole tent to a drier spot much to our friends and the other campers amusement (Germans, Irish, Dutch), it’s geodesic design kept it’s shape. It even withstood ten rowdy teenagers when we took a youth club on a camping trip to Kent for a weekend. Everywhere we go, people want to see inside it. It is still cosy and warm and magical to be inside.

That said, I’m ready to move on, partly age and partly the futurist in me yearns for something new. Mr. B has ruled the budgetary implications of a hotel stay or renting an idyllic cottage out, sadly and, Camper vans are fun but impractical for us and where on earth would we put a caravan? So, there I am browsing Camping World and genuinely admiring the airbeam tents. I mean it sounds like a stupid idea, a tent held up by air-filled pipes, right? Madness! Where’s the stability in that? But they are solid tents. I really liked the Kampa Airbeams, one of which was reminiscent of our Outwell Hartford. I didn’t like the new Outwells, they looked plasticky and all this sun window nonsense is no good at all in our british summers, I felt cold standing in them with so much window and not much privacy – I don’t need people to know how disorganised I am when I unpack my stuff thank you very much.

On our camping holiday last summer we made friends with a lovely family from Chester (in the tent next door) the girls got together with Thom (honourary boy of the tribe) and wrote a lovely story about a mermaid and treasure and pirates. Our tent was also a gallery for the illustrations they came up with. Tents need creativity, good design and good weather handling capabilities. My ideal tent, would have sleeping pods that don’t let in the light so the kids don’t wake up with the lark, sewn – in groundsheet, a good-sized porch that meant you could use the cooker outside the main tent body but are protected from the inevitable rain and wind and have plenty of hanging points inside for drying clothes… Hello! Hello? You still there? Sorry, but you know sometimes these things, well they just have to be said don’t they?


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