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How to choose a tent

If 4 people are camping, what sized tent would you buy?

I just read something like this in my daughter’s reception numeracy book. She answered 4, so I sent her to her room without any supper. If we’re going to run a family business, you’ve got to stop this sort of thinking early.

If 4 people are camping, don’t buy a 4 person tent unless you like someone else’s saliva dribbling in your eye at 2.00am. 4 people in a 4 person tent is cozy. 2 people in a 2 person tent is cozy – don’t do it. The manufacturer’s recommendations are a little on the snug side.

So why have those manufacturers deceived us in this way?
Well, since tents were originally used for backpacking, and weight and pack size requirements were the main criteria, manufacturers quoted for the minimum size required for one person, which is the width of a sleeping bag on a mat. This is still fine for hikers (they love to cuddle) because all they are doing is sleeping in there (I think). After 20 miles on the trail a bit of cramped sleeping is the least of your worries.

These same measurements are used for all tents and that is why for family camping, a 4 berth tent is not a 4 berth tent.

I would say that, for grown-ups (that’s us by the way), you will need about 2.5 feet (75cm) width for sleeping, this makes your average 4 berth tent really a 3 berth, 3 berth 2 berth etc.

My advice, and this is not just to make you buy extra from us, is add a couple of berths to the tent you want to buy and then there will be plenty of room.

There are a few exceptions to this rule.
1. If you are going to a festival, buy the cheapest tent you can afford. You’re drunk and your mates are going to fall on your tent for a laugh.
2. Young couples… having very little room is good.
3. Ant and Dec – you’ll be fine with a 2 person tent

The Porch
Most family sized tents have biggish porches. If you’re going camping for more than a weekend then you need a porch that’s big enough for you to complain about the weather in.

If you going camping for a couple of days and you’re going to be out and about, then a porch is less important. It’s a good idea to have a tent with at least a small porch so you can cook in the doorway if needed or store any muddy boots etc . If it’s a festival tent with a few mates buy a cheap tent then go to the burger van…

In the UK we camp in the rain. It’s the holidays; the rain is lashing into the boot of your car, drenching your sleeping bags, as you struggle in with the tent that you couldn’t get fully into the bag last time. The pegs are all over the drive. The wife and kids are in tears inside, but this is the moment you decide to dig deep. This is the moment, for once in your life, you decide to utter the most positive utterance you’ve ever uttered in the whole of your utter life.
‘Don’t worry you lot…..It’ll clear up’
‘But Dad, what about the severe weather warnings issued on this morning.’
‘What d’they know,’ as you march out into the deluge with the dinghy.

You see, we’re Brits, we know about rain and it doesn’t scare us. If we know our tent is going to keep us dry, then we’re happy, aren’t we? For Dad’s everywhere, data is what we’re interested in.

If the tent is 1500mm HH (hydrostatic head) then it’s waterproof and you’ll be fine in most conditions in the UK. The more expensive the tent the greater the hydrostatic head. Most £400 family tents are around 3000mm. If you’re still getting complaints from the kids, try this

‘Listen son,’ try to use a deep voice, ‘the British Ministry of Defence’s definition of a waterproof fabric is 800mm of hydrostatic head, our tent is 2000mm, we’re gonna be okay.’ Then punch him lightly on the chin in a manly way and walk off like John Wayne.

Sewn-in Groundsheets
If your tent has an inner tent that all larger family tents do, then the groundsheet will be connected to the sides of the compartment to keep crawlies and draughts out while you are sleeping.

Some of the more expensive tents extend these sewn-in ground sheets to cover the whole of the tent. This is great for warmth and stopping the creepies but they also cause a little more condensation since during the night there is no fresh air getting into the tent.

Condensation is often confused with leaking. In some weather conditions, condensation is inevitable and it accumulates on the inside of the tent throughout the night. Tents with fully sewn-in groundsheets are worse for this, but once the tent is opened up in the morning it will quickly dry out.

Other Considerations
How big is your car? If you own a Hummer H2 16 seater with gull wing doors and a chrome seven-slot grille then forget about pack size and throw in your double bed and disco lights.

If you have a more environmentally friendly machine (smaller), then a huge tent will mean the kids will have to go in the top box.

Larger tents are less stable in high winds than smaller tents. They are trickier to find flat pitches for and they are more expensive on the campsite. They are also heavy to lift out of your Hummer and drag across the field and, finally, take a little bit more time to put up. .

But when you get them up and are having a game of five a side football in the porch it’s worth it.

Thanks for reading.

Ian Young

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