Our poor old ‘weekender’ tent finally reached it’s end this year, so we invested in a beautiful 5m Bell Tent. Here are my thoughts on the pro’s and con’s.
I say ‘invested’ because a bell tent is probably not the most affordable option. That said, if like us you go camping a lot, its a pretty good investment when you consider the long term savings in accommodation. Although I will say that as family camping continues to gain popularity there are more and more campsites charging a premium for a ‘back to nature’ experience, where you might pay the cost of a B&B for a pretty spot by a stream with a fire pit. Having spoken to friends who also have experience of both types of tent, here are a few of our thoughts on the pro’s and con’s.
Pro’s of a bell tent
- A bell tent looks beautiful!
If aesthetics is your thing, you don’t get much swaggier in the camping world than a bell tent decked out with bunting and fairy lights.
- It stays cooler in hot weather
Especially if you buy a ZIG (Zipped in Groundsheet) which can be unzipped, or separate groundsheet. You can opt to tie up the sides of your bell, leaving a ‘floating’ canvas roof and a cool breeze coming through. Canvas is natural, breathable and therefore moderates temperature better.
- A bell tent easy to put up
For me this is a major plus point – nobody likes the stress and arguments tent erection can generate. I’ve timed it… on a good day we can get ours up and pegged in 20 minutes, but I know people of more experience who can do 15! Try to avoid smug satisfaction as you relax with a glass of something chilled while your friends struggle with their poles and frames. (At this point you must do the right thing and lend a hand!)
- It feels very spacious
A Bell Tent feels a bit like a Tardis… from the outside it doesn’t look huge, but inside always feels open, airy and spacious. If you are a little claustrophobic, a bell tent could be your camping friend.
- Its a communal space
Sharing a bell tent with your family is a heart-warming feeling, it brings to mind traditional nomadic lifestyles where families live and sleep in a shared space. There’s something universally comforting about hearing your little one snuffling away at night. An ‘all’s right with the world’ sense of well-being.
Con’s of a bell tent
- It’s heavy
A 5m bell tent typically weighs around 30kg compared to a 6 man family tent which could weigh around 15-20kg. Its the canvas which adds the weight, and there is quite a lot of it. Also the groundsheet tends to be heavier duty (and therefore more heavy) than a standard family tent.
- It can feel chilly on a cold night
Because it is a single skinned tent and because of the height, it can get chillier when the temperature drops. However there are flexible inner tent options available if you prefer a bit of sleep time privacy, and that adds up to greater warmth at night.
- It could rot if left damp
Although the canvas is treated, its vital that your bell tent is completely dry before you pack it away for weeks. This can mean a rather boring unpacking/drying out/repacking process on your return home if you’ve experienced inclement weather.
There’s no doubt a Bell Tent costs a bit more than most traditional tents, unless you are talking about a pretty high-end, tech fabulous tent. But whether it is good value for money is another question altogether… I think so of course!
- There are lots of pegs
On very hard or stony ground that can be a bore.
So these are just mine and my friends opinions, things we’ve found to be true… what are your thoughts? Are you a lover of canvas or do you prefer the practicalities of a more modern setup? Let us know in the comments…
Bell tents are most popular in 4m and 5m diametres, but you can also get 3m and 6m versions. Personally for a family of 4 or more I would recommend a 5m if you’re going away for a week or more at a time. We purchased from camping store www.campingandcanvas.co.uk and were very happy with the service we received and the quality of the tent. The other tent brand suppliers I list below I have no personal experience of so this is not a recommended list particularly. I would advise everyone to make their own investigations as to what suits them best. One thing I would recommend is that you buy a good quality tent, don’t be tempted by cheaper offererings – some I’m sure are great value but I have heard reports of disappointing canvas quality and poor quality fixings.
Making it yours
There are also tons of ‘accessories’ with which you can spoil yourself and bedeck your bell tent. One accessory we have found really useful is the Glamp Clamp, a hook set which attaches to the central pole from which you can hang everything from mugs and tea towels to lanterns. If you’re a hardy camper you may want to consider purchasing a purpose made stove for your tent to keep things warm in winter months. You will require a flashing kit, and of course good ventilation and a Carbon Monoxide detector are essential.
If you’re still not sure which way to go, why not try a weekend glamping in a ready prepared bell tent. It will give you the experience of sleeping under canvas, although it will probably be far more well equipped and glamorous than you would manage for your own family camping trips. Or check out some of the bell tent forums you can find online.
Camping and Canvas – www.campingandcanvas.co.uk
Soul Pad – www.soulpad.co.uk
Lotus Bell – www.lotusbelle.co.uk – offer a more modern, funky version of the traditional bell tent
Karma Canvas – www.karmacanvas.co.uk
PodPads – www.podpads.com