Tried & Tested: Camping carry-on: How long does it take to pitch a tent? Is a night under canvas ever comfortable? Our panel of open-air weekenders finds out

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The Independent Culture
IF YOU'RE stuck in a gale and you've 15 minutes to make camp before the light fades, which tent would you most like to have with you? For the benefit of open-air enthusiasts, we asked a panel of experienced and novice campers to spend a weekend under canvas, trying out a selection of tents to see how they measured up. All were supposed to be suitable for backpackers to carry, and to sleep two people - although some were rather more cosy than others.

THE PANEL

Nic Cicutti and Ken Mulkearn; Pauline Bennett and Laura Farningham; Tina Campbell and Sarah Cruddas; Naseem Khan and Sarah McAlister.

THE TEST

The panel gave ratings for how easy tents were to pitch, unpitch and fold away, and how comprehensible instructions were. Portability, size and the use made of space, plus style and value for money were also judged.

***KHYAM HIGHLANDER

pounds 139

Pitching time: 15-35 minutes

Unpitching time: 8 minutes

The manufacturers claim that their tents are the simplest on the market and can be erected within 20 seconds with practice. It took our panellists a lot longer. Most found it easy enough - it may have taken longer because they were pitching as night was falling - but one team had difficulty understanding the instructions. Once up, the umbrella-shaped dome, which is supported by four poles, was reasonably roomy. 'It was easy to erect, as the poles clicked into place. It's a bit wide for backpacking, so would probably suit someone with their own transport,' said Tina Campbell and Sarah Cruddas. The panel thought this was the best looking tent of them all.

**OUTBOUND TREKKER

pounds 35

Pitching time: 15-20 minutes

Unpitching time: 7-10 minutes

Despite its name, the panel thought this back-to-basics ridge tent was more suited to the back garden than to strenuous trekking. The tent, whose design will take you back to guide- or scout-camp days, was one of the two easiest to pitch and unpitch, beating more hi-tech and expensive rivals. 'Those of us in our thirties with no recent camping experience liked this tent - we knew how to put it up,' said Tina Campbell and Sarah Cruddas. However, it was not as portable or stable as others. 'No flysheet, so might not stay dry. OK for a fine night,' said Naseem Khan and Sarah McAlister. Panellists also thought the tent wouldn't make much of a style statement.

**** OUTBOUND JANUS .TX.- pounds 174

Pitching time: 15 minutes

Unpitching time: 7-9 minutes

This tent, in a geodesic-dome design, was the favourite. Weighing in at just 3.2kg, it is well-suited to backpacking. With the other Outbound tent, it was also one of the two easiest to pitch and unpitch. 'Very easy to put up, pretty sturdy, seemed comfortable with easy access. But a bit cramped for two people,' said Pauline Bennett and Laura Farningham.

***VANGO MICRO 4

pounds 269

Pitching time: 20-30 minutes

Unpitching time: 9-15 minutes

The winner on quality and spaciousness, but rather too expensive for our panel. The testers liked the design with its porches and two entrances. 'An excellent tent, designed to be hard-wearing and relatively luxurious. Good to have inner and flysheet all in one - much simpler to erect. Pleasant and airy to sleep in,' said Naseem Khan and Sarah McAlister. It might be a bit heavy or wide for backpacking, the panel thought. Panellists also commented on the plethora of straps attached inside: 'If you are into bondage, this could be the tent for you,' said Tina Campbell and Sarah Cruddas.

***LICHFIELD HORNET 2

pounds 149.99

Pitching time: 25-40 minutes

Unpitching time: 10-15 minutes

Another lightweight tent (less than 3kg), this time in a long and low tunnel shape. Pauline Bennett said: 'It looked good and seemed pretty sturdy. It would be OK for backpacking. Good quality and good value.' The panel thought, however, that two people inside was a squash. 'We felt quite claustrophobic in it, though it looked good and seemed pretty sturdy,' said Pauline Bennett and Laura Farningham. It was also difficult to sit up in, because of the shape. 'Only big enough for one in comfort. A nice night in it (alone) but I was surprised to find myself in the company of a number of flies in the morning, despite the mesh netting. How did they get in?' said Naseem Khan.

CONTEMPORARY GAMES

POP-TENT BACKPACKER

pounds 129.99

Pitching time: 7-30 minutes

Unpitching time: 10 minutes

This, 'the world's first self-assembly tent', which is intended to do away with fiddling with poles and ropes, turned out to be a damp squib. It has a revolutionary mechanism which, the manufacturers claim, lets you 'throw it in the air and watch it unfold and float down ready to use in seconds'. Although the tent did pop up as promised, the panel had difficulty sorting out the flysheet, hence the pitching time. One group found this one fun. 'A zappy, gimmicky little tent that is a terrific ice-breaker on a campsite. If all the tents were cars, this would be a beach buggy.' Other panellists were less impressed, however, and thought that two people in such a small tent (advertised as suitable for one or two) would have little option but to get very close

indeed. 'Intimate? We didn't like it at all. Not very portable because

of the way it folds,' said Pauline

Bennett and Laura Farningham.

NEXT WEEK: JUICE EXTRACTORS

(Photograph omitted)

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