Some of us have a tent for every camping scenario. Our resident gear junkie Martyn had at last count 5 tents (maybe he’s looking to open his own camping store!) If you go camping very regularly and have the money it makes sense to have tents each designed for specific purposes, e.g. wild camping, microadventures, winter camping, mountain camping, staying at a campsite etc. Most of us don’t live in this camping utopia and we have to make do with an all-round lightweight camping tent for a variety of types of camping.
We often get asked by our customers the question that I am meandering towards and that is “what makes a good all-round tent?”
Before I take look at the factors such as tent weight, size, durability and colour, please note that this advice is aimed at people who will require a tent suitable for backpacking. Please follow this link for advice about choosing a tent for family camping.
Choosing the best multi-purpose tent means making a compromise. A a feature that is beneficial in one type of camping is disadvantageous in another.
If money was no object and I could have one tent from our range for all-round use, I would personally choose Lightwave’s T20 Hyper mountain tent. It’s relatively light weight at 2kg, has a decent amount of room and is rated for four season use. However, with an RRP of £499 (June 2014) it is a large investment which would only make sense if you’re going to go camping very regularly.
There lies the biggest factor in this and most buying decisions, cost! It goes without saying that a lower price tent, such as Vango’s Helix 200 costing £110, will have a lower specification than the T20 Hyper mentioned above. Generally the more you pay the better you get. But the most important thing is to buy a tent and go camping! So let’s take price out of the equation. What factors are there to consider in buying an all-round or multi-purpose tent?
Weight and Durability – A Balancing Act
Having an all-round tent will mean that there will be times when you will be carrying it on backpacking expeditions. So at first glance you would think that the lower the weight the better! Our lightest backpacking tents weigh in at around a kilo, which would sound ideal. But is it?
Would you really be happy pitching your expensive, lightweight specialist tent on a campsite? With children playing or inebriated adults unsteadily making their way through the tents after the pubs closed. No? So let’s scratch ultralight tents from the list of all round tents. By the same token, walking long distances with in excess of 3 kgs of tent on your back with a campsite proof tent is probably not your idea of fun. This leads to the conclusion that a good all-round tent is a trade off between weight and durability.
On the subject of durability, your tent will need aluminium alloy tent poles and not fibre-glass poles. This is so that your tent can stand up to the winds experinced in the UK during winter, autumn and even late spring.
Space – Make Your Tent Feel Like Home
The next factor I think that you will need to consider goes hand in hand with weight and that is, how much space you require? In theory the smaller the tent the less weight to carry, but of course the less space you will have to live in.
The Inner Tent
You need to consider the size of the tent you want. Do you want a one person, two person or even larger tent? From the point of view of this post my advice is based on a two person tent. Most people buying an all round camping tent will want something that is versatile. A two person tents gives a little bit of extra space for a solo camping whilst allowing the option of inviting a friend.
The Porch or Vestibule
For an overnight camp or microadventure you can get away with a tent without a proper porch or vestibule. For an all round tent I think you would be making a big mistake if you buy a tent without a porch/vestibule.
A porch allows you to stow some of your gear outside your tent’s sleeping area whilst protecting it the elements. For multi-day treks this is a great benefit as you don’t have to sleep with your boots or rucksacks etc. making the sleeping area much more liveable. A number of two person tents come with two doors and porches which allow better ventilation and give you the ability to use one entrance/porch as a store. A porch can also be useful for cooking when the weather is rainy and/or windy.
With some tents it is possible to buy an additional porch extension. This can be taken with you or left at home depending upon your camping activity. Therefore it adds an extra degree of versatility to your tent. For example, all of our MSR Hubba tents, HP and NX, one and two man, are compatible with the MSR Gear Shed which adds an extra 2.46 square meters of ground space to your tent.
If you are buying a tent just to use on a campsite, height is not too much of an issue. The higher the tent the roomier it feels. For a campsite you would probably be looking for something with height around 1.5m to 2.0m. However, pitching a tent this tall whilst wild camping is best avoided. Your tent will stand out too much, going against the wild camping spirit! A taller tent is also going to struggle with the high winds which you will encounter when camping during the winter or in the mountains.
Conversely a wild camping tent with a low height, such as Snugpak’s Ionsphere at 0.6m, would also be unsuitable. There is not enough space to sit up properly and this would soon become uncomfortable if you are spending a week at a campsite or on a multi-day trek.
So for an all round tent you want the best of both worlds. That is something which is low enough not to attract unwanted attention when wild camping, but high enough so you don’t feel closed in on multi-day trips. I would say around the 1m mark.
Choosing a Colour
You may think that colour being a factor is a cynical attempt on my part to make this buying guide longer! But, it is a serious factor to consider when purchasing an all round tent. If you want to wild camp it is best to go for a darker colour tent which blends in with the environment. However, if you are camped on a campsite you may feel slightly out of place with all the large bright family tents around you. So for a general purpose tent, colour may be a trade off unless you don’t care if your tent sticks out.
What Choices of Tent Do I Have?
For someone buying a tent for the first time who wants to try camping and experience the different types available, going out and spending a lot of money (unless you have it!) may not be a good idea. So I have created a list of robust all round camping tents which won’t break the bank and will give you a really good idea of life in a tent.
|All-Round 2 Person Tents For Beginners|
|Vango Helix 200||1.85||1||£110||£88|
|TNF Talus 2 EU||2.67||1||£210||£168|
|Vaude Taurus 2P||2.85||1||£210||£168|
If you are a little more experienced and are looking for a more technical all round tent then the following are ideal.
|Technical 2 Person All-Round Tents|
|Snugpak Scorpion 2||2.65||1||£240||£192|
|Vaude Taurus UL 2P||1.9||1||£300||£240|
|Vaude Mark L 2P||2.9||2||£330||£264|
|Lightwave Hyper T20||2.0||1||£499||£449|
It is clear that the ideal all-round or multi-purpose tent is a combination of a number of factors, i.e. a trade off between weight, size, practicality, durability and colour. Its true that in a one tent household you will have to compromise in some areas. The T20 Hyper is a specialised 4 season mountain tent which is that good it can be used in more than its “preferred environment”. However the Hubba Hubba HP is about 10% lighter and has 2 entrances and porches. The North Faces Talus 2 comes with a free groundsheet protector and gear loft and although heavier, it benefits from being half the price of the T20 Hyper and Hubba Hubba HP.
Versatility, I think is the crux of the matter. Its no good looking at these tents as “jacks of all trades, masters of none” that’s way off! You wouldn’t look at “all rounders” Ian Botham or Andrew Flintoff like that! We need to look at these tents as being extremely versatile, they all have been designed for particular uses whether it be for the mountains as in the T20 Hyper, backpacking as in the Hubba HP’s and Taurus UL 2Ps or general camping in the Talus 2 EU. The designers have done such good jobs we can use them for many different activities.