Talk about tents these days and you’ll end up talking inflatable. Pretty much every manufacturer has 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 tents – inflatable, pop-up and quick-erect poles – and compiled our findings into an easy guide for tent buyers.
Quick-erect tents – Coleman, Khyam, Queedo, Slumit
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 and stunning too. The tents have built-in poles that enable the tent to be folded up a bit like an umbrella and then clicked into place. They really couldn’t be easier to put up and take down.
Some of the Campfire team have used the two-person Highlander and the unusual Screenhub Chatsworth for three-four people. The Chatsworth is a versatile ‘gazebo’ with windowed sides that comes with a bedroom annexe.
Khyam’s smaller tents are gorgeous. Who wouldn’t want a black and orange tent. The Freelander, shown here, sleeps three and has that useful porch/canopy area.
From around £160.
German company Queedo make a range of four Quick Up system tents. These are very affordable. The Pine sleeps three; the Maple sleeps four, the Ash sleeps two, and the Oak sleeps three.
They have a similar system to the Khyams, with preattached and hinged poles that lock into place.
The largest (the Maple for four) packs down to 88x18cm and takes around 10 seconds to put up (minus guys).
A bell tent? Really?
A bell tent can be surprisingly easy to put up because there’s usually just one central pole. The rest of the work is in pegging and guying. The advantage is the space and headroom. Lots of choice – from heavy, but durable canvas to lightweight polyester – and from less than £200 to thousands. We’ll be taking a closer look soon, so do keep popping back or follow us on Facebook for updates.
Thanks to reader Mike, who suggested the Slumit tents. These have a Flashframe system that means you can pitch both the inner and outer in less than a minute.
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, for example, uses three or more separate beams that you inflate independently of each other. In fact, that’s true of most of the bigger family tents. Some, however, have connected tubes with isolation valves – Outwell, for example.
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, peg it loosely 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.
Inflatable tents do tend to be a bit heavier than those with poles and the bags can be quite big – in fact, some of the larger family tents come with wheeled bags.
Quechua at Decathlon have some of the most unusual-looking and most affordable inflatable tents.
The Air Seconds (that’s seconds as in time, by the way, not slightly faulty ones!) series offers tents to sleep three to eight people.
We love 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. A 10-year guarantee is great.
Prices from £120 to £700 for the biggie.
There are 21 tents to choose from and range in price from around £550 to a whopping £2,250. Some combine inflatable with steel poles and some with fibreglass.
There are models for three to eight people and the choice means you can select the ideal combination of size, quickness-to-pitch and weight.
We like the. five-person Middleton 5A for its extra headroom. Great awning (no sag) and lots of light. Around £1300.
The Vango Airbeam range is pretty nice-looking. They use separate airbeams and the 19 models are quick to pump up. They deflate well too.
Prices start at around £300 and go up to £2,000 for one with kingsize bedrooms, a lighting track and lots of features that turn camping into glamping.
Zempire’s tents are some of the most attractive around and the range is also huge – from an enormous family mansion for around £4,000 to light and breezy two-person inflatable tents.
The best prices we’ve found are for Zempire tents on Ebay (new ones, of course). Go Outdoors stocks the most popular models but their prices seem a little high. Try Amazon for special offers. At the time of writing, they were cheapest for the six-person Aero TXL (around £750).
They’re full of nice touches like blackout bedrooms, storage pockets and no-noise zips! And they even do a polycotton canvas model for around £900.
Although the Easycamp range is often the cheaper end of the market, they do some nice-looking inflatable tents.
Their three- or five-person Blizzard is popular and costs less than £300/£450, and the five-or six person Tempest has great access. Separate inflation tubes and nice light porch areas, though better suited to three or four people. Around £400/£650.
Thanks to another reader for their recommendation of Outdoor Revolution‘s affordable family inflatable tents.
The ranges are the Airedale, the O-Zone and the Cruiz and there are options for between two and more than seven people.
The things that mark them out are the big windows and the amount of space inside. Prices range from about £350 to around £1200.
Keeping their range short and sweet, Coleman do the FastPitch Air Valdes in a four- and six-person version, with a large and extra-large option on the six-person. Valdes prices are around £500-£800.
We like the black-out bedrooms and we LOVE the hinged door Coleman is using on a lot of their range (including our favourite octagonal pole tent, the Cortes).
Pop-up tents are mainly thought of as children’s, festival or two-person backpacking options. Coleman, though, now has a two and four-person Galiano pop-up that’s simple and costs £60/£100.
Quechua, has added three-person options to its range.
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. Don’t try to get them back in the pack without having first watched the instruction video…you’ve been warned!
What’s your fast-tent tent pick? Or are you a pole person?
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.