Fast and fantastic – or a lot of hot air? Our guide to quick pitch tents

inflating tentTalk about tents these days and you’ll end up talking inflatable. Pretty much every manufacturer has jumped on the bandwagon and created a line of tents that use integrated inflatable ‘beams’ instead of the regular poles. We wanted to know if the hype was all just a lot of hot air, or if these tents really did offer something revolutionary for campers.

So, we’ve taken a close look at what’s available in quick to pitch tent systems – inflatable, pop-up and quick-erect poles – and compiled our findings into an easy guide for tent buyers.

Quick-erect tents

Coleman instant tent

The Coleman Instant Tent Tourer 4

Our favourite quick-erect tents these days are the Coleman instants. They’re nice-looking fast-pitch tents with pre-attached poles, at around £160 for the largest, which sleeps four to five. These are compact tents without a separate living area (extensions available), but are very light and simple to use.

Khyam’s system of quick-erect Rapidex tents is unique. The tents have built-in poles that enable the tent to be folded up a bit like an umbrella and then clicked into place.

Some of the Campfire team have used the small two-person Highlander and the old-style Wayfarer (2008), which is a Flexidome four-person tent. The nearest to the Flexidome Wayfarer in the present catalogue is the Rigidome Chatsworth.

Khyam Chatsworth tent

Khyam used to be our number one choice, but they’re starting to be left behind a little, so are pipped into first place by the Coleman.

Inflatable tents

The main difference – apart from overall tent quality – between the inflatable systems used by manufacturers is whether the air ‘beams’ are separate or connected. Vango’s range, for example, has three or more separate beams that you inflate independently of each other. The Outwell range has a one-go inflation system for their Smart Air tents, which is made up of three connected tubes with isolation valves.

Sunncamp Invadair tent

Sunncamp Invadair tent – bizarre name!

While the Outwell people believe this makes everything faster and easier, the Vango people are convinced separate beams are better because, should there be a problem with a valve or air tube, you only need replace the one section. Outwell counter with the fact that their tubes have isolation valves so that if one fails, the whole tent won’t collapse.

For us, any talk of things going wrong with valves, punctures or leaks is a bit scary. Snap a regular pole while camping in the wilds of Portugal and you can always rig something to keep your tent upright. We weren’t sure how quick and easy it would be to find a leakage problem and fix it on-site, let alone get a replacement part.

This really comes down to confidence in the tent manufacturer, so we would certainly advise against buying an unusually cheap inflatable. And, if the materials or design seem a little low on quality, we would definitely not take the risk that their inflatable system would be trouble-free.

How do they work?

You lay the tent out in position and inflate the air beams using the two-way pump (supplied by most manufacturers). The beams fill with air and the tent rises magically. You then shut off the valves. To unpitch, you open the valve and the air races out under pressure, though there may still be a bit of squeezing out to do to get a tight pack.

Vango Airbeam tent

Vango Airbeam Revello 500

The Vango Airbeam range is pretty gorgeous. They use separate airbeams. They’re very quick to pump up, and deflate instantly. Price from around £370 to £1,600. The Revello 500 shown here is around £500…and very pretty.

Kelty inflatable tent

The Kelty Mach 4 Air Pitch tent

Kelty – Newish to the UK, Kelty has a four-person air-pitch tent for around £280. Head height is reasonable, there’s a small living area and a weight of under 10kg. However, reviews are mixed and there seem to be problems with leaking air. It’s a shame because we really liked their shelter tent. Another one with poor reviews (although it looks fabulous) is the Neumayer. One to avoid!

The Quechua Air for four people.

Quechua at Decathlon have an Air series with two, three, four – and even a six-person option. Very cheap and some good design features, such as the lightblocking lining on the Fresh and Black range. Some Quechuas can also be customised with extra rooms, a shelter roof, awnings and so on.

Outwell Tomcat tent

Outwell Tomcat tent

Outwell’s air range…is baffling! There are 26 to choose from and three systems –Advanced Air Tube, Power Air Tube and Rigid Air. They range in price from around £400 to a whopping £2,000. The choice, though, means you can select the ideal combination of size, quickness-to-pitch and weight. Our favourite is the Tomcat in cool grey.

Coleman FastPitch tent

Top choice: Coleman FastPitch Valdes

Top pick inflatable

Coleman’s FastPitch air tents come in a choice of four sizes. We like the blackout bedroom feature for sleeping-in past dawn, and we REALLY love the hinged doors. In fact, this one is one of our favourites, despite being a bit boring to look at.

Coleman’s two- or four-person pop-up for around £70.

Pop-up tents

Pop-up tents are mainly thought of as children’s, festival or two-person backpacking options.

Coleman, though, now has a four-person Galiano pop-up that looks rather cool.

Quechua’s three-person pop-up.

Quechua, has added three-person options to its range.

Quechua pop-up tent

The Quechua fights back. You really need to watch the video!

The tents come in a circular pack and are held flat by Velcro and straps. You peg out a separate groundsheet and then release the fastenings on the tent package. The built-in poles ‘explode’ the tent into shape and you then fasten it down with pegs and guyropes.

Getting them back into the pack has always been the problem. Watch the video carefully!

What’s your fast-tent tent pick?

Tell us what tent you’ve chosen (or would like to buy) and why…and you could win a prize. Just leave a comment below and we’ll pick a winner on February 1.

We’re updating this article every so often, but apologies if prices change. The links will take you through to the latest options and latest prices. If you’ve got a tent recommendation, do leave a comment below.

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  1. Laurence Milton

    …..oooh, also consider, for lovers of plastic tents, the Slumit Flashframe series of tents. Very well thought of on various fora.

  2. Laurence Milton

    Bell tents, small ones such as Robens Fairbanks, and more traditional 2-3 metre ones are available, my 4 metre one (Blacks Solace), is 10-15 min pitch on my own, take any weather. Love them. Very quick to pitch, only one pole potentially.
    (Obviously not talking backpacking, but if you are, and want canvas, for around £30, yes £30, take a look at the Polish tent Lavvu/Pelerina Namioty (!)))


    Oztent rv series?

    Ed: They are nice-looking tents, but quite expensive. We hope to be reviewing their tents and awning very soon, and will report back on whether the cost is worth it. On first view, they do seem well-made, if a bit heavy.

  4. Overlooked in terms of ‘quick pitch’ but I would put one against a lot of these any day: tipi style. The ultimate Tentipi Safire 9 we can pitch in 10 minutes and take down in less.
    Also, the ‘daddy’ of inflatables not featured: Karsten. Yes you pay a lot, but you get a superb tent that will last long after these others have gone to the tent skip in the sky!

  5. Hi Doreen. Is this the sort of thing you’re after? It’s got good reviews?
    You might also want to ask the question over on the Camping and Campervan Chat group on FB.

  6. Can anybody recommend a small waterproof bell tent, for 2 or 3 people. Saw someone camping with one last week (one central pole – aluminium I think), but can’t track it down online Bendy fibre poles keep splitting, and I’m fed up with them. Ta!

  7. Try a bell tent, you’ll be pitched and sat having a cuppa before the pop-ups have untangled the guy ropes.

  8. A very disgruntled vango customer


    We bought a vango inflatable tent last year and one of the beams literally blew up in the middle of the day. We were stranded in Europe with no replacement and it rained – the tent collapsed and all our belongings were basically either destroyed and ruined. Vango were useless – they failed to replace the beam and then blamed us even though we had used it countless times and were well within the inflation guidelines. When I returned I found lots of others in the same boat. I will never buy one again. Buy a tent with poles at least they cant blow up!

  9. Pingback: What do we need? The real camping pack list - Campfire Magazine

  10. Mark Pittam

    I quite like the Airbeam tents; the fact I don’t have to faff about threading poles through fabric and worrying if the pole is caught on which requires someone else to try and sort out if its windy.

    I have a Vango Velocity 300 and a Vango Lumen V 400 and they are both cracking tents. Velocity is perfect for a quick pitch whereas the Lumen V 400 is great for either a long weekender or a week away from home.

  11. Cheap Camping Tents

    I do like pop up tents but I would never consider one if I was travelling or know that i’ll have to carry it for a while. The size of them is just too unwieldy, although they make great festival tents.

    Maybe i’m old fashioned but I just don’t trust the new inflatable tents. Poles – even the easily assembled ones – just seem more stable and as you point out, easy to bodge a repair when you’re in dire straights.

    I’ve never tried one though so I could be wrong!

  12. Matthew Hewitt

    We had a pop-up beach shelter last year and it put me off ever considering them again – just couldn’t get it packed away despite watching the video numerous times and the tems got damaged in the process of trying it out! The thought of arriving at camp and inflating a tent sounds fun, though…

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