Under the canvass.
Ok, first of all I am not old enough to have owned a canvass tent, mine have all been lightweight, modern materials, however I did once sleep in one when I was an Air Cadets, many years ago. My memories are it was cold and cramped and it seemed very heavy when I was putting it up, so thank god tents have evolved to the lightweight, space saving designs we have now. I just hope the Cadets have also upgraded!
I have to admit, I really do like tents. I mean I love camping, but part of that is because I really like tents. I’m not sure what it is, but I am constantly checking them out online, comparing them on campsites and if there’s a tent display in a shop, well I’m in heaven!
I think if you’re backpacking or hiking, your form of shelter is probably the most important kit for me. If it’s crap weather and you’ve got crap shelter, chances are it’s not going to be a fun trip, so you definitely need to choose wisely. It’s not even about spending so much you need to remortgage your house either. There’s some great budget tents out there that will be very competent for pretty much all circumstances you’ll find yourself facing in the UK, so choose wisely.
Over the years I’ve had 5 tents, 2 tunnels, 1 semi geodesic, 1 wedge (my current) and my first ever 1,which was a single skin dome. I think it was bought for about £10 from a garden centre and I think it was probably only used in the garden, so it possibly doesn’t count?
My first proper tent was a 3 man tunnel from Eurohike. As an intro tent it did the job for what it was tasked with, group backpacking. It was heavy, but then you could split the load. It was brilliantly spacious, 3 men and full kit with enough room for anyone else who joined the trips to come and sit inside and enjoy dinner when the weather went a bit south outside. The only other disadvantage to the weight was the fiberglass poles. I’ve never rated them and eventually after one storm too many they snapped, so good bye Eurohike 3 man tunnel and hello Robens 3 man tunnel!
Now this really was an upgrade, an absolute corker of a tent! Alloy poles, lighter than the Eurohike and stronger and more stable, but with just as much space! It served me really well over a good few years and I absolutely fell in love with the quality and design of Robens. I took it everywhere, it never leaked, it never broke, it just always did what was asked of it, keep its inhabitants safe and dry and it did it superbly!
I’m not entirely sure what eventually happened to my Robens tent, but I know I found myself looking for a new shelter at some point. Maybe it was changing circumstances or requirements as this time I went for a semi geodesic, two man dome tent. Now seasoned campers may scoff at what I’m about to say next, but this really was the best tent I’ve ever owned and guess what, it was made by Karrimor! Not exactly renowned for their tents, but the Karrimor Beta 2 man was an absolute beast, a real bomb proof, throw anything at it type of tent and I loved it!
First of all design wise it was light and so easy to carry for 2 people, secondly it was a dual door/porch design meaning loads of space and access for both inhabitants, and thirdly as it had a crossover alloy pole, it was as sturdy and stable as a house! It was brilliant, it never faltered and for over 10 years, yep 10 years, it never went wrong. I will admit towards the end it had a few rips and tares, and it was starting to get a bit leaky, but 10 years, what a tent!
Eventually it came to replacement time and I decided I wanted to go even lighter, but still 2 person. My other parameter was I wanted adaptability and flexibility, so was looking for something that could be extended or added to. I wasn’t too fussed about budget, so after much searching, I narrowed it down to 2, the Vango Banshee Pro 200 and the MSR Elixir 2 v2. Both lightweight, both adaptable, the Banshee with a Gear Store and Trek Tarp and the Elixir with its Gear Shed. Both had their pros and cons, but in the end despite the reservations about its 2 man credentials, I settled for the Banshee. I’ve had it just over a year now and I haven’t regretted my decision. Ye, it’s a little cramped with 2 inside, but I’ve got the extensions, which kind of solves the issue and that’s its only real problem. The rest of it I love, it’s sturdy, strong, well built and light. In fact when I’m soloing, it’s light enough to carry on my own and actually very spacious. It’s starting to remind me of the Beta and if it puts in the same years of service as my beloved Karrimor did, it might just steal the crown as my favourite!
With the Banshee you really get the feeling the folks at Vango, being based in Scotland know how to make a solid tent and that’s really why I chose it over the Elixir. I really love the incredibly clever design and features of the Elixir, but for me the flysheet just doesn’t hang low enough for the slightly changeable weather in the UK. Fine for California, but not for sideways rain in Eskdale or Edale. I see plenty of folks have gone for the Elixir, but I’m pretty sure one day it’s going to be blowing a gale and whipping the rain around and it might just not be so dry inside. In my Banshee, I might be having to play twister with my companion just to get a chocolate bar out of the side pocket, but at least I’ll be dry and I’ll take that all day long!