Most people understandably opt for functional family tents, with defined areas for sleeping, cooking, eating and lounging. Some of the new mega-tents even have wardrobes. But while these tents are super-practical… they are often, shall we say, a little short of personality.
If the idea of camping with a bit of frontier spirit appeals, the two tents below will suit you. They are tough, and handsome, and a lot of fun.
Oh and while I’m reviewing these as family tents, both would also make a good bases for groups of friends walking, scuba-diving, cycling, rock climbing, birdwatching, scouting, or just enjoying the outdoors…
Safir 9 CP
Top-of-the-range (and top-dollar) model from Swedish firm Tentipi, with a classic tipi shape, but a single central pole like a traditional bell tent. Super-tough, to withstand Nordic winters and the harshest weather.
Fabric: Cotpolmex cotton/polyester, beige-brown
Floor area: 15.6 square metres
Size: 5.3m diameter
Sleeping compartments: Available as an optional extra (see below)
Made by: Swedish brand Tentipi, founded by Bengt Grahn after a canoe trip to Lapland and based on the tents used by Sami people of northern Scandinavia – nomadic reindeer herders.
What I liked
Design. The simple round space, with high ceiling, is a very pleasant place to be, day and night.
Space: My family of five fitted fine, with bags, crates of food, boxes of boots. There’s a bit of an art to keeping all this stuff in order, but that’s another story. There’s plenty of headroom inside.
Easy to pitch. The overall weight of 15.2kg is actually pretty light for a tent of this floor space – less than half that of the Apache, the other tent on test. It really does take only a few minutes and it can even be done by one person. Pegs are of high quality: really long and sturdy.
Everything is seriously tough and made to last. The robust fabric won’t rip in strong winds, and will tolerate long-term exposure to UV rays. (Polyester fabrics eventually weaken.) Simplicity and sturdiness are the watch words.
Weather-resistance is fantastic: the Safir is designed to withstand even the worst winter gales. The symmetrical shape is especially good in strong wind – which because of the shape has the effect of pressing down on the tent, rather than pushing it over.
The polycotton fabric is waterproof: the close-weaved fibres swell when wet, locking out moisture. Condensation on polycotton fabric is also minimal.
Unlike polyester fabric, breathable polycotton allows warm air to move through it.
Ventilation is pretty good. You can get the air moving inside the tent by opening three low vents (protected by mosquito netting; one of them is pictured above), and the cowl at the apex (which can be hoisted up to let warm air out of the top); and the ground sheet is not zipped but attached using toggles, allowing plenty fo air to move around.
The skirts of the tent are made of a tough synthetic fabric to shed lingering moisture – and prolong the tent’s lifespan. (This addition is one of the extras that make the Safir one of Tentipi’s top-of the-range models.)
On cold nights, it’s safe to use a portable solid-fuel stove for heat and cooking, which all adds to that sense of adventure.
The ground sheet (above) can be zipped back to create an area of bare ground and the cowl at the apex hauled up to ventilate the tent (ensuring the safe release of any toxic carbon monoxide fumes, which will naturally rise up).
You can even light an open fire, using the Hekla Firebox (above) that Tentipi recommend – to confine the flames safely (see extras, below). Burn small pieces of well-seasoned wood and the rising heat will lift most smoke straight out through the cowl.
What I didn’t like
You can’t see out unless the door is open. It’s a matter of taste, but for the most part I enjoyed the sense of privacy; although on rainy days it can feel a little confined, which left me craving a porch (see extras, below).
The slanted doorway is exposed, allowing rain straight on to the floor of the tent – making the extra expense of a canopy or porch essential in the British climate.
Cost. The tent is beautifully made, but do you need something this robust? Because it does come at a price. If you like the design, but aren’t sure you will get years of use from the tent, or need something as rugged as this, consider the less expensive synthetic fabric options.
As mentioned, you need to allow for extras: even a ground sheet is not included, for example, and costs another £340. Once you’ve added a top-spec porch, you’re looking at a total cost of around £3,000.
Like the Apache, below, the fabric is polycotton (albeit of a different type), which brings the same benefits – and possible hassles: namely, that the tent will take longer to dry if wet. That’s important if you want to avoid unsightly black mould stains developing on the fabric.
- Ground sheet £340
- The Canopy 7/9 CP (£425, ictured above) is a thing of beauty: a sail-shaped tarp that provides enough shelter for a table of six people, and valuable shelter for the door.
- The Zipped porch with doorway provides a valuable separate space for cooking and stowing gear, including wet boots and jackets. The polycotton version costs £685, or save a little bit of money and buy the nylon one (Porch Comfort 9 Light, £515).
- The Hekla 7 firebox (£55) contains your open fire safely inside the tent. You cook over it, too. Tentipi offer some useful guidance on safe use of fires inside tents.
- Tentipi’s Eldfell Pro Stove 5 costs £810, so may only appeal to those lucky folks who spend months outdoors each year. More affordable stoves compatible with Tentipi tents include Anevay’s Frontier Stove (£199.99).
These thrilling tents come with exhilarating potential for adventures in the wildest places. Their resilience and quality explains the price tag. They are also pleasant spaces which give you a strong sense of security, even when the weather turns bad. All of which makes them highly desirable.
This clever hybrid between a tipi and a bell tent cannily introduces some practical advantages, while retaining old-fashioned charm and rugged, adventurous feel.
Fabric: 35% cotton, 65% polyester, treated with water repellent.
Weight: 31.7kg (13.2kg poles, 18.5kg fly sheet and groundsheet).
Easy to pitch? Takes two. Instructions are misleading.
Floor area: max 460cm, x max 460cm
Sleeps: 10 (in expedition mode)
Sleeping compartments: Optional extra (see, below)
Who made it? Danish brand Robens is part of the Oase stable. In contrast to sister brand Outwell – maker of so many of those functional family tents mentioned above – Robens tents have a more adventurous and traditional feel.
What I liked:
Looks: I love the rugged, traditional feel. The tent is particularly handsome seen from one of the door ends; although seen broadside, it’s much less elegant.
With three A-frames, there’s no central pole to get in the way, and a much more open internal space, with bags of headroom.
The floor area is a little smaller than the Safir, but you wouldn’t notice as the improved walls are steeper, thanks to the A-frame design, which means that the margins of the floor space are more useable that the Safir.
Curtained windows at either end provide natural light, and protection from wind or rain when you need it; plus mesh doorways to keep out insects.
Ventilation is excellent, thanks to the doorways at either end. The cowl at the apex can also be hoisted up (see above) using internal guys, to provide a pleasant current of air which cools the tent down on a hot day.
For intrepid cold weather campers, it’s safe to use a solid fuel stove with pipe – there’s a sleeve for a stove pipe near the apex; obviously it’s important to stick to the type of stove recommended (see optional extras, below).
The heavy-duty groundsheet can be zipped to the centre and folded to leave bare ground on which to place a stove.
What I didn’t like
It’s hard to get enough tension on the doorways. The A-frame on each doorway can be extended to tighten the fit, but the single guy isn’t enough to bring tension to the surrounding fabric. See how slack it appears above. Perhaps there’s a knack to this.
The pitching instructions are baffling: they ask you to lift the main A-frame pole inside the tent while the flysheet is still attached to the groundsheet and pegged to the ground. After a lot puffing and a couple of bent pegs, I decided that was impossible. See above: there just isn’t room to lift the A-frame inside the tent – the picture shows how far it sticks out with the fly unzipped (ping pong bat for scale). The fault is quite possibly my own. But I can’t figure out how.
Anyway, common sense took over and I unzipped the flysheet from the groundsheet, raised the pole, then re-attached the flysheet; that was pretty easy, though two people are essential.
Once wet, polycotton tents like these are harder to dry. If you have to pack your tent damp, you’ll need to dry it out as soon as you get home, to avoid unsightly black mould stains developing on the fabric. With any family tent, that may be a big ask, especially if space is in short supply at home.
- The open Front Porch (£224.99) reaches the ground on both sides and provides just enough shelter for boots and bits and bobs: possibly to cook, too, but I haven’t had a chance to test this product. Made of the same polycotton fabric as the Apache.
- Robens’ Universal tarp porch (£179.99) extends the tent by a couple of metres and sits just off the ground; a good place to stay cool on a sunny day but slightly less effective for keeping gear dry in the rain; and it might be a bit breezy for cooking when the wind is up.
- If you like camping in spring or autumn, a solid-fuel burning stove is useful for cooking and keeping your tent warm. You’ll need one with a long stove pipe to carry fumes out of the sleeve at the top of the tent. Robens make their own Denali Tent Stove (£280) or have a look at Anevay’s Frontier Stove (£199.99).
This beautiful tent has bags of character. It has the rugged appeal of a tipi but some big practical gains – it’s easier to ventilate, has better headroom, the doors are more protected in wet weather, and there are windows to brighten up the interior on a dreary day. It’s more than robust enough for family holidays for years to come.
As ever, shop around for a lower price – many tents are heavily discounted.