Give me shelter…and make it multi-purpose

Camping kit that has a number of uses is a fine thing. That’s why we’re keen on the idea of a utility tent, screenhouse or shelter to add to our packing list. 

Here’s our round-up of  easy-to-put-up, airy things that can be gazebos, dining tents, sunshades, rain shelters or driveaway awnings for campervans….


Latest update:  July 2020

Coleman’s new Event Dome comes with mesh and zip-out sides and a choice of two sizes

Quechua’s affordable and versatile Arpenaz Base Fresh shelter gazebo


Now here’s an idea. The Sheltapod is an awning, tent and sunshelter all in one. It will fit on any vehicle (including cars) from 170cm to 240cm.


It’s based on a roll-up system so that you can be totally enclosed, as in a tent, or open to the air and sunshine. It has aluminium poles and comes with privacy panels, window blinds, a door panel, a groundsheet and an inner tent included.

All those panels and bits and pieces do make it a bit faffy, but putting it up is fairly quick. You need a large area to be able to handle the long poles.

  • Size: 230 x 200 x 180cm
  • Pack size: 84 x 24 x 22.5cm
  • Weight: 11.2kg
  • Price: From £195 and 10% off for Campfire Mag readers with code CAMPFIRE10


Three clever and affordable options

The Base Fresh Living Area/Gazebo

An exciting one from Decathlon. This is simple and versatile. A standalone 3m x 3m shelter with three opening doors and a mosquito net. Excellent head height too. Around £140.

The Arpenaz Base Fresh 

  • Floor size: 250x250cm
  • Height: 215cm
  • Weight: 7.7kg
  • Pack size: 57x18cm
  • Price: £80

The new Base Connect Fresh – a replacement for the long-gone, much-loved Base?

Everyone loved the old Decathlon Base. Now there’s a replacement. The Base Connect Fresh works as a living room extension for a tent, but is even better as an awning. Light and spacious, inflatable and around UV resistant.

  • Size: W250 x L250 x (max) H225cm
  • Pack size: 77 x 29 x 29cm
  • Weight: 13kg
  • Price: £200

Outdoor Revolution Cayman Pursuit

The unusual Cayman Pursuit is designed to work between two vans, but we think it has more to offer than that. 

It works as a freestanding gazebo, has lots of window light (plus LED lights for night!) and is quick to inflate.

14kg and a pack size of 78 x 41 x 34cm. Around £300.

Berghaus Air Shelter

Airy like a gazebo but with zip-down sides for shelter. It’s versatile and not too tricky to inflate (though it’s better with two people). We like the skylight panels.

  • Size: 300 x 300x 220cm
  • Pack size: 75 x 35 x 34cm
  • Weight: 11.1kg
  • Price: Around £350


Coleman make shelters that provide protection from the sun, the wind and the rain, thanks to their WindStrong™ system. The range has shelters of all sizes with vented canopies, shock-corded poles, patent-pending hubs and guylines.

Event Shelter

Coleman event shelter

A choice of large or XL with sunwalls and groundsheet options. There’s a fast-pitch model in two sizes as well.

  • Floor size: 360 x 360cm and 450 x 450cm
  • Max height: Around 230cm
  • Weight: 15 to 22kg
  • Pack size: 30 x 23 x 83cm to 100 x 22 x 35cm
  • Price: Around £165/£195 (£220 fast pitch)

Event Dome

The Coleman Event Dome is a lighter version of the original shelter, and there are two sizes available. The ‘power walls’ at the corners add stability. Weatherproof and foldable walls give more shelter from rain and wind.

  • Floor size: 350×350 and 450x450cm
  • Max height: Around 218/228cm
  • Weight: 11 to 15kg
  • Pack size:  64 x 22.5 x 22.5cm and 65 x 26 x 26cm
  • Price: From around £180

Alfresia gazebo – cheaper than the Coleman

The Alfresia costs around £90 and comes with mesh and side panels that can be zipped down and folded away. A two-person job to put up, but waterproof and sturdy.

  • Floor size: 350 x 350cm
  • Max height: 245cm
  • Weight: 8.7kg
  • Pack size:  Not stated
  • Price: £90

Coleman Instant Pavilion

Up in seconds thanks to the spring out poles, the Pavilion is for sunshade and mosquito avoidance as it doesn’t have rain sides.

Looks lovely for a garden as well as any warm weather camping. Well-made and up in seconds.

  • Floor size: 455 x 400cm
  • Max height: 215cm
  • Weight: 5kg
  • Pack size: 130 x 20cm
  • Price: Around £200

Coleman Cortes

Coleman Octagon tentNot exactly a shelter, but a tent with versatility – and one of our favourite tents, in fact.

The Coleman Cortes Octagon has six large windows and hinged doors that open like real doors. The flysheet can be removed to transform the tent into a bug-proof screenroom.

  • Floor size: 396 x 396 cm
  • Max height: 215cm
  • Weight: 20.7kg
  • Pack size: 85 x 30 x 30cm
  • Price: From around £185

Outdoor Revolution Outhouse Handi

This has the advantage of working perfectly alongside a van, or as a standalone utility tent. Plus, it’s affordable.

  • Floor size: 200 x 200 cm
  • Height: 180-240cm (van height)
  • Weight: 5.6kg
  • Pack size: 67 x 46 x 44cm
  • Price: Around £160

Vango Hogan shelter

An event shelter that can be totally open or fitted with (included) side panels.

Pole and sleeve construction, lots of space and the versatility of using it open or closed.

  • Floor size: 350 x 350cm
  • Max height: 225cm
  • Weight: 13kg
  • Pack size: 66 x 20 x 24cm
  • Price: Around £150

Quest Screen House Pro 4

Airy pop-ups from Quest. They say the spring-up frame system allows one person to get these set up in under a minute.

 It did take us a tad longer, but practice, practice! Getting it back down…that’s always the tricky part. 

  • Floor size: 244 x 244cm
  • Max height: 220cm
  • Pack size: 173 x 15 x 15 cm
  • Weight: 8.5kg
  • Price: Around £255 (though have a look at new and used on Ebay, where there are more sizes and accessories too.)

Quest Screen Shelter

A lighter and simpler version of the Quest Svreen House, this is the Quest Screen Shelter. It’s a fast pop-up again, with two mesh doors and two removable waterproof curtains.

We love this one for its speed and simplicity. Plus it’s only £130

  • Floor size: 244x244cm
  • Max height: 220cm
  • Pack size: 173 x 15 x 15 cm (173 x 20 x 25 cm)
  • Weight: 8.5kg (10.8kg)
  • Price: Around £255 (though have a look at new and used on Ebay, where there are more sizes and accessories too.)

Hewolf instant tents


An incredibly cheap ‘umbrella’ style pop-up tent that sleeps three (four snugly!). The Hewolf tent (silly name, eh?) has a feature that we really like, which is that you can use it as a shelter without the inner.

Packs up very small, weighs around 5kg and gives head height inside of around 5′. Best bit? It’s under £90.

Fishing shelters

They’re always discreetly khaki and very good in the rain, so have a look at what fishing bivvies have to offer.

The downside is that they’re usually only for one person – and that person is usually sitting down a lot.

Kelty Screenhouse

Kelty Screenhouse

Very handsome and well-respected. 

  • Floor size: 274 x 335cm
  • Max height: 188cm (M), 193cm (L)
  • Weight: 6kg (M)
  • Pack size: Around 25 x 60cm (details vary)
  • Price: Around £200

No longer recommended

Sad to say, we can’t recommend the Zempire shelter or the similar dome shelters by Trespass. They looked promising, but haven’t stood up to use. The Airgo shelter is also, in our opinion, a no-go, at least in anything above a light breeze!


The Cinch Hub is big enough for around five people and takes seconds to pop up and away.

You can even add solar power with a special roof port with a power pocket to charge all your gadgets. Although the panel’s not included in the basic price, four LED lights are included.

There’s a removable groundsheet, four entrances to allow for different uses and for connecting to a van and a generous bag to keep it in. 
  • Floor size: 230 x 230cm
  • Height: 196cm
  • Pack size: 86cm round
  • Weight: 8.6kg
  • Price: Around £200-£270 

Easthills instant shelter

Most beach shelters are just for sitting in, but this Easthills shelter has a bit more headroom. 

It’s simple to erect and costs less than £90. Options of pale blue or beige. Very lightweight. It comes with a porch extension, bag, stakes and guylines.

  • Floor size: 250 x 135cm
  • Height: 145cm
  • Pack size: 100 x 21 x 21cm
  • Weight: 3.6kg
  • Price: £85

AND don’t forget the multipurpose tarp!

A simple tarpaulin, a couple of poles and some rope could be all you need to create shelter from the rain, a sunshade, a bit of extra space….we use this Unigear tarp.

Bungee cords for guylines

Thanks to ex-para and now car-camper Tommy Graham for his tip on using stretch rope or bungee cords when tying down tarps and other shelters. Go for reflective or bright-coloured

Tarp poles

Providing you have the tarp clips, guyline and trees, it’s pretty easy to make yourself a shelter. But for extra versatility, add a few tarp poles like the Noorsk above to your kit.

Go for as light as possible and don’t forget to check how many eyelets your tarp has to accommodate the pole ends.

This Justcamp tent and tarp pole is fantastic for height (it’s telescopic up to 95 to 230cm), so it would work as the central pole in a lightweight bell tent or tipi.


Just discovered Looprope too – an ingenious way of tying down loads or tarpaulins, and with a hundred and one uses. Never tangles and safer than hooked bungees. They start at around £20, which isn’t bad, but might work out expensive if you need a few to create a cargo net effect.

Clever fasteners

Buy yourself  extra tarp clips and ball bungees to make your tarp even more versatile. Also have a look at our 66 ways to use a tarp, for inspiration.

Fishing umbrellas for shelter?

One of our readers told us they used a fishing brolly instead of a tarp. It’s a great tip.


The Ultra fishing umbrella has zip-on walls and good coverage (around £40).

We like the Zebco storm brolly as it’s very tall (around £65 with side panels)

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One Comment

  1. Where can I get the Wenzel Horizon ( around £100 ) and the Easycamp Day Tent ( Also £100 )or the Kampa( 350sq at about £150 ),,

    Also any reader reviews.

    I want a fairly robust tent to use as an extra room for my Motorhome….Thanks.

    ED: The Horizon is listed on Amazon at just over £100. The Biscayne is slightly better thought of by readers. People do love them, but you need to remember that they were really designed for clement weather, so don’t expect them to withstand gales and downpours.

    The Easycamp Day Tent is another model best suited to fair weather, but still quite cheap. The Wenzel wins out for most readers, though.

    The Kampa Shelter isn’t really going to give you an extra room, as it’s designed more as a gazebo with optional sides. Sturdy, though. The Day Room isn’t currently available, I’m afraid. We’ve left the link in place in case it returns!

    The Kelty ones are probably the best for your needs, but rather more expensive. So, if you’re looking for a spare room mostly for good weather camping, we’d choose the Wenzels. If you want it to be useable in any weather, have a look at the quick-to-pitch tent article for some more ideas – some of these would do the trick? And how about an awning? We’ll be reviewing these very soon (subscribe or follow us on Facebook to get updates).

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