‘Glamping’? Cobblers! A bell tent is a practical buy

I’m a bit weary of this ‘glamping’ business…

The wider appeal of camping can track its roots back to the increasing popularity of music festivals, surfing and rusting VW vans. It has gained momentum by guides such as the (admittedly, very good) Cool Camping series and bandwagon-jumping camping cookbooks and camping lifestyle checklists.

Someone then coined the bloody awful phrase ‘glamping’.

Hunter wellies (in pink, of course) and Kath Kidston tents and matching sleeping bags are becoming common currency on sites up and down the UK. That once widely-mocked holiday choice of the strange family up your street is now the vacation for all… even those urbanites seeking to do it ‘in style’ and insert a little bit of country into their field of experience.

Why, you may ask, being such a curmudgeon should I go and buy a canvas bell tent… the emerging shelter of choice for the new breed of glamper?

After two years of trying to find a new ‘base camp’, the bell tent was the best buy. Let me explain…

I’ve been the proud owner of a Suncamp APS 3004 for nearly ten years, in some ways a bit of a perfunctorary effort of a tent. No longer made, this four-man with a huge living room has kept the other half and I warm and (largely) dry from Dorset to Glen Coe.

A bargain at £200, it owes us nothing and is still going strong. I plan to donate it to a local scout group.

It did have a number of drawbacks though. It was difficult to get the door taught when closed, the groundsheet wasn’t sewn in and the condensation was awful. In a good wind, it could feel like it was raining on the inside.

Our next tented home would need to be canvas, or a modern polycotton derivative, which would breathe and have a zip-in ground sheet.

We spent two years looking at various models (some with heart-stopping prices) but could find no adequate solution.

We then came across BellTent.co.uk and after much deliberation, purchased a 4m ‘ultimate’ with a zip-in ground sheet. We bought an inner too.

All this came in just shy of £500… not cheap. I hope/expect it will last us ten years if looked after.

We’ve just spent a week in it near Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire. The weather ranged from scorching hot to daylong downpour and the bell tent coped admirably.

The treated canvas is heavyweight and appears to ameliorate extremes of temperatures… it’s cool in the sun but retains warmth in a chill night. Our spot was windy and the simple two-pole structure shrugged off some sharp gusts.

Best of all, though, was the lack of moisture on the inside, even on a still rainy day when we spent a good few hours cooped up reading and brewing tea – really testing conditions for our old Suncamp. The four half-moon vents on the low sidewalls are excellent, too, channelling a cool breeze through the tent that funnels up to the apex vents.

Water beads off the out of the fabric nicely and, when fully wetted out, the canvas feels mildly damp/cold to the touch on the inside. It’s not clammy, though – clothes don’t feel damp in the morning if left outside the inner overnight.

There are drawbacks. The bell tent is heavy, 30 kgs all in, and will take an age to dry. You must get it bone dry before packing it away, too, but that applies to synthetic tents so there’s no real difference.

More generally, the tent is not that well finished and lianas of thread hang of the seams around its perimeter. Easily remedied, but irksome.

It does get plenty of admiring glances, though, and prompts numerous conversations with fellow campers. Many don’t believe it’s waterproof until they are inside and the rain is hammering on the outside (well, it doesn’t really ‘hammer’ on the outside as the canvas is ‘quieter’ then synthetic fabric).

Many are dying to have a snoop around and we oblige, as one of the major problems of bell tent buying is not being able to see one in the flesh.

I draw people’s attention to the potential drawbacks, but I can’t help feeling that orders are being placed right now on the back of our ‘showhome’.


9 thoughts on “‘Glamping’? Cobblers! A bell tent is a practical buy

  1. I came across your blog, I have been looking through it, the gear reviews etc. -very nice. This caught my eye. Many years ago my first backpacking experiences with the Scouts was with a backpacking version of a bell tent like this. The Good Companion Major and Minor from Blacks. It was made of cotton but it was rather lighterthan 30 kgs ! We use to split the tent between the 3 of us.Mark

  2. I still use a Blacks Good Companion standard with extended fly…….I’ve had to wait nearly 50 years to get my own!!
    However, for a more comfortable base with my partner whilst canoeing, we too are thinking now of a 4metre bell tent (the GC, or a polish lavvu, will be used for more mobile trips)

    We are on the verge of buying a Blacks Solace 1, but as has been said, it’s a problem as one can’t get to see these in the flesh prior to purchase. Again, it’s been a long searching period to make our choice!!

  3. We have now ordered a Solace 1 from Blacks of Greenock with a tarp extension…be here just after Christmas.
    B of G have been very supportive in the face of a myriad of questions, do spares and repairs, and have made a very nice offer, so I took it!!

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