Festival equipment – tents

A friend of mine will be attending her first music festival soon.  As I go to at least two festivals every year, and have been camping all my life, she asked me to advise her what gear to buy.  I thought it might be worth blogging about.

This post talks about tents.  I’ll cover bedding in the next, general gear after that. 

I’ll finish with some stuff that you might like to consider to make things more comfortable/affordable. That means, enabling to you avoid at least some festival-priced drinks and food.

You know what I mean by festival-priced.  Rip-off.


Golden rule

My general rule, as with everything in life, is to buy the best gear you can afford.  You may be able to buy good gear cheap, but that’s very different from buying cheap gear.  You’ll thank me when you’re in the middle of the sort of storm that made Glastonbury 2005 famous.


Don’t

I’ll start with some don’ts:

Don’t get a tent that is advertised as “ideal for festivals” (unless it meets all the guidelines I give here).  All too often, “ideal for festivals” translates as “they’ll be too drunk to worry about being soaked to the skin.”

Talking of skin, don’t get a tent that has just a single skin. That’s not a  tent, it’s a Wendy house.

Finally, don’t buy a tent as part of a package with sleeping bags and other gear. There are usually lots of compromises.  It’s much better to pick the item in each category that really suits your needs.


What sort?

You’ll almost certainly be getting a dome tent, which is supported by two or three long bendy poles.  There are lots of different designs, but they all perform the same basic function. It should have a sewn-in groundsheet and consist of an outer tent (or flysheet) and an inner tent.

The alternative is a pop-up tent.  These are quite seductive, and may be just the thing for you.  Details later in this post, but the general principles are the same.

The tent will be held to the ground with metal pegs, some attached to the tent itself and some via cords called guy ropes – ideal for tripping over at the end of the evening.

Zips will be involved to get in and out of the thing.


How many people?

My recommended tent-to-person ratio for friends is one person per two man tent. Anti-social, I know, but you really only want to share a tent with someone you’re comfortable in close physical contact with.

If you’re so loved-up that you are definitely going to share, then consider getting one described as a three-person tent – manufacturers are notoriously optimistic about the minimalist midgets they expect to be using their gear.

Or if it is a two-person model, then at least make sure it has a nice big porch, where you can put wet and/or muddy gear.  Otherwise you’ll have to be very disciplined about packing yucky things into plastic bags to keep your bedding clean.  It can take a lot of discipline

And going to a festival isn’t really about being disciplined, is it?


How much?

If you think you might go camping over a period of many years, and certainly if it’s likely to be on the hills at any time, then I’d recommend thinking of spending around £100 or more for a two-person tent.

What?!

Well, the Vaude Space II that I bought twelve years ago for £150 (and that was worth a lot then, ee lad…) is still going strong and has withstood gales and storms (including Glasto ’05), with me inside warm and snug – and yes, I admit – smug too.  I guarantee that over that period I’d have gone through four “suitable for festival” excrescences – and been much less comfortable the whole time.

As well as Vaude, I’ve been impressed by gear by Blacks, Khyam, Robens and Vango (this isn’t an exclusive list).  There are also some high end manufacturers such as Jack Wolfskin and Terra Nova.  If you can afford their gear, great, but it’s really made for mountain use/very light weight etc.

If that sort of money is out of the question, there are lots of tents on the market at around £40 – £50 that should still do a reasonable job.  In fact, I’ve just bought one.


How waterproof

One important technical point is the hydrostatic head figure.  This basically tells you how waterproof the material is.  You really want 2000mm or more.  Look for this figure in the specification. It they don’t list it, don’t buy it.

Of course, that’s only how waterproof the fabric is.  The quality of manufacture will determine how waterproof the actual tent is in practice.


Try it out first

If at all possible, go to a shop where the tent can be set up for you.  If you’re planning to share it with another person, take them too.  Each equip yourself with a big holdall or rucksack.  People and luggage all get inside the tent, zip it up and then try to take off your jumper.

You’ll soon get an idea if the tent’s big enough.

If that sort of road test isn’t possible, then look at the dimensions in the specifications and try to recreate them somehow in the comfort of your own airing cupboard.


Want me to tell you what to get?

If you’re not sure about wanting a tent for the next two decades, or you’re confused by the huge range of models on offer, let me make one specific recommendation.

I recently bought one of my several sons (all of whom are festival veterans) a pop-up tent, as he was going on a three week drama camp.  It’s only had one outing so far, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen.  It’s a Quecha 2 Seconds XL II (£49.99).

I got the XL – the extra large one – as it will usually be shared by two teenagers. They’ve already given it an outing at Camp Bestival and it was great.  But one person should be comfortable in the smaller two-person versions, which are porchless.

Full details of the whole range at the Quechua site, which also plays birdsong as you browse.


Up and Down

The joke about these tents is that they go up in two seconds, but take two hours to fold away.  It’s true that there’s a knack to it, but I’ve folded ours away and into its bag in less than a minute.  Here’s proof that it can be done (that’s not me in the video, by the way):

The advantages for festival use, when you really want to be installed and off to the bar or the main stage, are obvious.  And when you’re feeling a little bit jaded at the end of the event, packing away in the time it takes others to pull their guy ropes out will be heavenly.

Frustratingly, Quechua tents are only available at Decathlon stores. If there isn’t a store convenient for you, it doesn’t seem like you can buy them online.  Other manufacturers such as Gellert have jumped on the pop-up bandwagon. You might find their tents easier to get hold of but I can’t speak for the quality.

The only drawback I can see with the Quechua tents is that, rather than the traditional cylinder, they pack away into a disk-shaped bag, .

This makes it harder for them to attach to a rucksack, and the all-in-one construction means you can’t split the weight between two people.

But if you’re festivalling rather than mountain walking, I can’t see that being a problem.


Shakedown camp

Whatever tent you buy, don’t let the festival be the first time you put it up or sleep in it.  Have a practice camp in a garden or nearby campsite, and give yourself plenty of time and daylight to become acquainted with the poles and ropes.

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