Fr. Matthew Cashmore

Priest in the Church of England. Trustee SPCK. Father, husband, son. "Small acts of Good change the world."

Tag: Tent

Top 5 tips on buying a new tent

Buying a new tent can be incredibly difficult. There are so many choices out there that it can be very confusing if you don’t know what to look for.  As the northern hemisphere heads into spring, and camping becomes a comfortable alternative to the B&B again I wanted to share some tips on how to chose a good tent.

If you enjoy this review, I have some others you may like

I made a little video about choosing a tent which you can watch at the bottom of this post, or over on YouTube.

1. How far from help are you?

Before you decide how much you want to spend, work out why you’re buying the tent and how far away from shelter you are. If for example you’re travelling in a Land Rover, then your tent – whilst being your primary shelter – is not as important as it is if you’re camping 10 miles from anything else on your own. Ask yourself, how near shelter am I if the tent fails? The further from help, the more you want to spend, and the more consideration needs to be taken.


2 . Materials

Simple enough, do some research on what materials work best in which senario. Are you going to be spending time in the desert? What about rain? A good tent for northern Europe, may not be the best bet for the hot climbs of central Afrrica. A swag bag works wonderfully in the dry conditions of Australia, but is simply not suited to a wet trip in Canada.

3. Size, weight and dimensions

Are you carrying the tent on your back, on the back of a motorcycle or in a car? If you’re carrying a tent you’ll need to explore high-tech options with suppliers like Exped and Tatonka. Both companies offer options with light-weight short poles and highly compressible materials – ideal for hiking and the motorbike.

If you’re in the car you have a greater range of options – consider a tent that goes up in seconds from Quecha or something designed to fold out from your vehicle in a few simple steps from people like Oz Tent.

4. Accessories

You’ll be amazed how many tents don’t come with the essentials. Make sure you have:

  • Ground sheet / footprint
  • Good quality pegs
  • Strong poles / pole repair kit
  • Material repair kit (for fixing holes)

The ground sheet will really help with keeping condensation to a minimum – they also act as a barrier between the cold ground and your butt, but most importantly they protect the material of your tents bottom from sharp stones on rough ground. A good ground sheet means you can keep your ventilation vents open in most weathers.

Pegs are so important – many tents ship with really weak simple pegs that will not drive into hard ground and have no grip in soft ground. Try a v shaped titanium peg from people like Alpine Kit – they don’t have to be expensive! Make sure you drive the peg in at a 45 degree angle.

5. Design

There are really three major tent designs. Geodysic, dome and tunnel. Depending on what type of camping your doing you’ll need to consider the different types.

Tunnel tents generally pack up very small, they also tend to have very short poles and are quite often very easy to erect. They do however require some thought when pitching – they can be badly affected by wind and you should try to pitch with the front or back facing into the wind – if you get caught side on in a gale it can not only end in a very noisy night- but can also bend the shape of the tent inwards, affecting it’s thermal capabilities and how much rain it can deal with. This is the type of tent that it is really important to buy the best of – money really does have an impact here and the more you spend generally gives you a very sturdy, tough option with all of the benefits.

Dome tents tend to be the cheapest option. You’ll see them in the supermarket for very little cash and for many applications are the ideal option. Their pack size is small, they generally only have two poles and can be purchased as an inside up first option or a fly up first option. In wetter climates the outer (fly) up first option is ideal, but in dryer hoter climbs you’ll find the option of being able to pitch the inner tent without the outer ideal – it keeps the bugs off, and lets the heat escape more efficiently.

Geodesic tents can be rather complicated to erect – but once you’ve worked out the knack they are without doubt the most stable shelters around. They tend to be more expensive and they’re what you’ll see the professional expeditions using as they head out into the great wilderness. They deal with very bad weather well, will see a gale through with hardly a twitter, these are the best options to ensure you’re safe and snug inside.

Finally I’ll  come back to that first tip when choosing your tent – remember that it’s your primary shelter – if you can sleep somewhere else if it flys away or gets soaked through then don’t stress it – if you HAVE to get a good, warm, dry nights sleep then spend some money.

The best place to start is with a reputable supplier – I recommend Travel Dri-Plus – call and ask for Les – he’s the most knowledgeable person I have ever talked to about tents – if he doesn’t know it – it’s not worth knowing about.

If you enjoy this review, I have some others you may like

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Coolabah Swag bag – the wet weather test

As I couldn’t go camping with Mrs Cashmore this weekend – I decided to take advantage of the hideous weather to give the swag a good wet test.

First of all I wanted to play around with configurations to keep as much of the water off the bag as possible – that resulted in this set up:

Bottom of swag under basha

A simple rip-stop nylon basha combined with a ground sheet and a couple of poles. A simple solution that for about six hours in moderate winds kept 99% of the rain off the canvas.

However, I then left the swag, and having not tied the ropes down properly, the basha came lose and exposed the swag to the full fury of a coastal South Wales storm. Got up this morning to a small water problem. I’ve called this the second ‘test’, when in fact it was my stupidity forcing one.

Good stuff wet canvas

The canvas inside was dry, as was my sleeping bag and mat. I got in and gave the canvas a good prodding. Nothing got through. Must admit I was surprised and very impressed.

I then rolled the swag up, and left it in the back of the car for about six hours for the journey home. Just unrolled it and the water has started to seep inside. Not a great result, but proof if I needed it that I have to ensure that the bag just doesn’t get this wet – either by avoiding camping in the worst weather on the road – or by ensuring I get the basha set up properly and securely.

On a more successful note…. the poncho works!

Matt in Poncho

Coolabah Swag Bag Review

Choosing a tent to take overland is never an easy task, do you go for weight? What about material? Cost? All very important questions, but ultimately I think it boils down to how you work with the tent and how it works for you in return.

I know, slightly strange to be talking about forming some sort of bond with something as silly as a tent, but after all this small, insubstantial shelter is going to be your home for the next goodness knows how long, why not take some care in what you chose? Why not take into account how you feel about your home?

Coolabah Swag BagWith that in mind may I introduce the first tent that has made me feel something about how it’s put together – the Coolabah swag bag from Burke and Wills – distributed in this country by www.theaussieshop.co.uk

It’s completely made of canvas, both it’s best and worst point. I remember when I was a kid camping with my dad, a massive six person tent that took up the entire rear of the car, and took about a week to put up. It smelt bad when it rained, if it rained for more than a couple of hours you’d get a fine mist working its way through the material. But it seems even with the oldest tent material in the world we can have a bit of an update.

I couldn’t tell you exactly what it is, but it’s more ‘waxy’ and even though I’m yet to test it in the wet I can quite believe the claim from Burke and Wills that once it’s been wet, the seams expand and it’ll deal with everything but the worst of the weather. They suggest before you use it you take it out and give it a good hosing. Makes sense.

It’s certainly a ‘choice’, once I’d decided that I didn’t want to take a tent that took a lot of time to put up, and decided that I didn’t need a tent that I could get changed in etc, then the one man options became more sensible, the problems as ever boiled down to how you get in and out when it’s raining and where do you sit if it rains.

I’ve looked at a lot of one and two man tents, but all the modern ones just seem to be far to complicated. I’ve been looking for something that I can pull off the back of the bike un-roll and get in – complete with sleeping mat and bag. With the Coolabah I’ve finally found it. It ships with a foam mattress that frankly I’d be comfortable with as my main bed, but practically it’s just too big and doesn’t roll to a sensible size. I’ve now replaced that with my Exped Downmat (from Traveldri-Plus) and my sleeping bag – it now rolls up to half the size but it’s still fairly wide. If you’re on a narrow bike with no panniers you may struggle to find a way to fit it on. My bike, just like me, is quite wide and with 54 litre panniers on either side this isn’t going to cause me a problem.

Top entranceThe attention to detail is superb. As you get into the tent through the very accessible top door and put your head on the pillow you notice immediately how well put together it is, how close all the stitching is and how good the material is. I was very impressed when I saw a handy little loop for my torch and a series of pockets just above my shoulder for those little things like phones and glasses. I was slightly concerned about storage for things like my camera, but actually there’s so much room down by your feet that I stowed both my stills and video camera there without noticing them during the night.

There’s enough space inside to comfortably move around during the night and even change your undies and put some trousers on, but putting a top on is a bit difficult and you’ll need to poke your head out to achieve the more space conscious dressing activities.

The design is perfect, rather than the usual crawling into your tent you use a door on the top of the tent, very coffin like. In reality this means you can lie down and look out at the stars, either directly or through the mosquito net before pulling the canvas door over your head for a totally dark night. There is a door at the very end you can crawl through – but frankly – I don’t fit – I do like the fact you can leave the canvas on the end open with the net down however.

Coolabah swag bag on back of bikeIn summary, a great tent, very well made and once you’ve pulled out the supplied foam mattress and replaced it with a more sensible version just right for putting up each night very quickly. The only issues are with the size once rolled up – if you can deal with that and can find a sensible way to cover yourself in the rain (think tarp and poles off your bike) then go for it.