The best value tent for wild camping is pretty unanimous in the hiking community as far as I’ve experienced. I’ve been through a dozen shelters in the last four years of walking in the mountains, and whether you own this specific tent or not, most would agree, this is the best pitch for your money.
There are many ‘one person’ tents on the market. Some tents weigh under a kilogram but don’t allow you to sit up, some have a good size porch but weigh too much, some are just an odd shape, and some seem to have everything you want but then cost £555!
So, let’s first look at what you want in a tent that you will use for wild camping.
Let’s say you’ve camped on a site with the family; you may be used to a massive 4-6 man tent. Maybe it blew down in the wind passing down the Glenridding Valley or leaked in heavy rain, you bought that spray for £20 from the camp shop, and it never worked! You bought a carpet for it and sitting there at 6 am while everyone was asleep you relished in having a couple of ‘pockets’ for your car keys and a hook for the light. Excellent to have brought that fan heater to ‘hook up’ in the evening wasn’t it?
Well, those Ford Sierra days are gone, now it’s time to get yourself a sports car.
Wild Camping Tents
Don’t compare a wild camping tent to what you used on that National Trust campsite! These tents work correctly, for a long time, if you know what to buy.
Let’s consider what you need from a tent, one thing at a time. We’ll start as you put it in your rucksack and we’ll assume that ‘value’ means no more than £150, any more than that and I’m guessing you’ve probably been camping a half-dozen times, you’re making an investment, and you may as well go all in; buy the best tent you can get. That’s another blog.
You’ll probably have a bag the size of an Osprey Kestrel 68L. If your tent takes up half of this, it’s too big.
You want small right? Well, a small packed size either means that your tent is small when pitched, the elves made the material, the poles are carbon fibre (thinner but still durable), or you have forgotten the poles!
Tents under £150 are not made of elvish material so forget that one and the poles are definitely alloy, cheaper and they might even be fibreglass. For under a couple of hundred quid you are looking at the size of a standard loaf of bread, there’s no avoiding it.
I always say that if you lighten your bag you’ll go ‘further and faster for longer’, I’ve had friends who say ‘It’ll just make me stronger!’ and then cut expeditions short or not cover the distance they had planned in the time they had. It’s usually an excuse to not spend money they don’t have. Money will buy you lightweight strong breathable material and carbon poles. Money will buy you a 800g tent.
We don’t have ‘money’, we have £150 so the best material we’ll get is Ripstop polyester and the best poles we get are aluminium. This will come in at more like just under 1.7kg.
Getting it up!
All the tents I have had haven’t really been a problem getting up once you have read good instructions and practiced. You really MUST have a go in the garden. In these perfect conditions you have to get used to putting in the poles and the tensioning. What order do you pin it down? What angle do you fix the pins? When you’re in the mountains in rain with 30mph winds on your back you’ll really appreciate the time you spent learning the basics, even how to put a stake in the ground because hills are made of rock and you don’t have to go far under the turf to find some.
Your tent will probably have an inner and a flysheet, if these can be clipped together permanently and the tent erected in one go this is the way forward. Putting up an inner in the rain then the flysheet won’t wash. You didn’t buy one did you?
Some ‘coffin’ tents might be very lightweight and small when packed but they have no space in them at all. If you’re just getting your head down on a nice summer’s night maybe they would do but when you pitch at 5pm and have to stay in the tent for 12 hours because it’s dark, snowing or worse raining, I’ve done this many times, you can’t wait to be able to sit up again. Sitting up is a luxury!
Not just sitting up though, you have a rucksack and a pair of boots with you, you can’t leave them outside in bad weather. One fella I camped with brought a bin liner to put his bag in, outside! That just means that half of the stuff you want is outside. You need space for your gear, space to cook (in a porch area hopefully), space to lay your stuff out a bit and get comfortable. This costs you in weight and pack size but it’s a necessity I think. Don’t cut these corners unless you have tried it out and you’re OK with the compromise. I’m not. Hmm, sometimes I am but that will be in my ‘tarp’ article, not with tents.
DO NOT cook inside your tent. Full stop!
Burning ANYTHING other than water creates toxic gases which you obviously breath in if you’re doing it inside an enclosed area. Don’t tell my mum but when I was a kid I inadvertently connected both ends of a plastic coated wire to a battery, the PVC melted and smoked, I breathed it in and nearly passed out. I crawled to the door of the shed like the ‘walkers’ in The Walking Dead and opened the door for air. I think if I’d had the lock on the door I might have died LOL. Don’t die in your tent (or a shed).
Tents have a porch area. In the Coshee, in Winter conditions, I had no choice but to sit with my feet outside of the tent with the AlpKit ‘Jetboil’ style stove in between my legs warming the blood heading to my freezing B2 covered toes (I couldn’t sit up in this tent either!). You need a bit of porch space, have the door open even if it means the cold gets in at least the fumes get out. Cook, turn off the burning and get in your sleeping bag, zip up and then get warm eating your supper.
Weather and wind
You can tell that some tents just won’t handle a gust, even if they look like they would when you lined them up properly in the wind.When the wind changes direction you’re screwed.
Before you chance it think carefully about having to deal with a collapsed tent at 3am, it’s raining and 40mph gusts are dragging it below freezing. I’ve been there, it’s horrible, you just want to be home, or at least be in the car.
Read the reviews, if they start off ‘I’ve not used it much’ or ‘I haven’t been up high in it or in bad weather yet’ don’t even read the rest, that’s not a review, that’s someone who want to hear their own voice.
Basically, good value tents for under £150 won’t fair well in 50mph wind! To survive snow storm after snow storm and gail force winds you must spend money; and go for one of the ‘bombproof’ tents like the Hilleberg Akto.
So, in our budget, we must err on the side of caution and start low, work your way up the weather and see how far your tent will go. Hillebergs are used in the Antarctic, I’d confidently take an Akto to a summit whereas something in our budget I would simply drop down the valley a bit and knowing the forecast I would shelter from the wind, e.g. by a tarn with wind coming from the South-West (tarns, face North-East, Google it). Remember also, if wind passes over a tarn it will cool and bring moisture with it so camp on the other side of a tarn, lake or boggy area.
When you get over £100 you assume that the water isn’t going to get in but look out for figures of at least 3000mm but more preferably 5000mm. This is how much water could sit on a material before the weight would push it through the fibers.
We’ve had two 6 man tents that just let water in after a couple of seasons, they’re cheap crap, doing the job for two weeks a year until the warranty runs out. Wild camping tents even at the top end of our budget have to put up to being used on more trips in the first year, branded tents have a reputation to uphold.
If you lie in a concealed space for 12 hours with cold weather outside, condensation will build up. You breath out moisture and this is unavoidable, so the question is, how do you get rid of the moisture?
The answer is ventilation. A breeze passing thought the tent will take the moisture out, but that also brings cold air in. If you don’t ventilate the tent enough to start with condensation will build up inside the roof of the tent and then start dripping onto your sleeping bag. If your sleeping bag gets wet you’re in trouble, this moisture will suck the heat out of you. Been there as well! Froze, no sleep, cut the ridge shot the next day having run out of food trying to keep warm
You need a tent with good ventilation, opening the door will just be too cold. Some tents have vents at the top and tail, some doors zip open at the top as well as the bottom, this is handy.
If you can pitch the tent so the fly has a gap at the bottom this can also help.
So if you’re letting cold air enter the tent are you not going to freeze? This is where you must think of your sleeping bag as your heat pod and your tent merely a shelter from the weather. Have a sleeping bag that fastens up nicely around you so that just your face is exposed and there is no heat being lost through convection. Read my article on SLEEPING WARM.
All of the points above are more important than what your tent looks like. There are nice shapes and daft looking tents of course, that might actually stop you in your tracks but usually they look fine. Most tents come in green so that you don’t show up like a sore thumb but I tend to go for something different. I owned a nice sand coloured Akto (the red one is also quite fetching) and now I camp in a tangerine Trailstar tarp (useful as an emergency group shelter as well as some of you know). I tried the bright orange DD tarp but it’s TOO bright so I stick to the green. I make tarps myself now and I’m going for the black ‘stealth’ approach.
Considering all of the above and keeping to the £150 budget I would choose the Vango Banshee Pro 200 handsdown. With a 5000mm hydrostatic head it’ll stay waterproof for years. Really importantly, there is enough space in it for your gear and boots inside because actually it’s a two man tent. Ventilation is fine and I’ve not had a problem with condensation when I’ve used either of mine. Keeping the fly and inner together, it’s pitched in 10 minutes or so. The key to that is practice at low level.
I’ve seen Banshees withstand some awful weather, even snowstorms, but I’ve also seen someone get buckets of snow in, I think because the wind changed direction and came at it from the side. The key is to batten down the hatches and point it the right way, check the forecast and if the wind is going to change you may want to be sheltered or lower down off a ridge.
The above photo shows three tents on Haycock that shouldn’t really have been there, the first Banshee caved a bit and let snow in the porch area (she had to literally dig herself out!). These tents weren’t made for such harsh beatings but we pushed things to the limits and have great experiences to write articles about.
You can sit up in the Banshee. If you have 20 small cheap tents in a field and set fire to the ones that you can’t sit up in you wouldn’t have many left. The Coshee for example would be dust! It’s cheaper, lighter and smaller but you’ll kick yourself for not spending an extra £40.
The Banshee 200 is a good looking tent and even has a door on either side, one for the sun setting and one for it rising next morning(?) It is at the top end of the budget but I think it’s worth it.
There are loads of tents out there, maybe something about one gets you. I tried a good few out before I found what I like but that’s how I roll, don’t mind losing a few quid along the way because it’s paying for experiences like Haycock, Blencathra, Ben Vorlich, Ben Lawers.
Whatever you choose, good luck and post us your photos when you get out.
Take a look at the specs and current price of the Vango Banshee Pro 200.
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