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….
Read on for our favourites.
Latest update: March 2021
All our reviews at Campfire Magazine are independent and honest.
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Gazebos and Shelters
OUR TOP PICK
It takes around 60 seconds to get The Hub opped up and ready to peg. The best thing is that it’s the tallest pop-up tent around. You can actually stand inside (unless you’re over 190cm tall, that is).
It’s also roomy at 230cm x 230cm and weighs around 8kg.
We liked its simple shape and the versatility of four zipped sides. The new generation has larger canopies for better rain protection, silent(ish) zips, better fabric and an optional (£70) inner tent for sleeping.
The pack is a round bag, so a bit cumbersome at 86cm, but it’s virtually flat. Thank goodness that getting it back into its bag has been made easier with a colour coding system!
Now here’s an idea. The Sheltapod is an awning, tent and sunshelter all in one. It will fit on any vehicle up to 2.8m.
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: 97 x 30 x 30cm
- Weight: 12kg
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.
A smart, surprisingly sturdy and affordable option. The Lumaland gazebo comes with one side wall and you can buy the others separately as needed.
Comes in a minimal black, a vibrant lime and a rather nice blue. It takes less than 30 seconds to set it up or take it down. It’s waterproof and includes a bag and pegs.
- Floor size: 250 x 250cm
- Height: 190cm
- Pack size: 120 x 14cm
- Weight: 5.9kg
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
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.
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.
No sides on this one, but it’s big and affordable. We’ve had our Cadac stove for four years, so a reliable brand.
- Floor size: 425 x 425 cm
- Height: 235cm
- Weight: 8.4kg
- Pack size: 72 x 20 x 20cm
Airy pop-ups from Quest. The basics are fine but have mesh walls. The Pros come with zip-in sidewalls. 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 practise, practise! Getting it back down…that’s always the tricky part.
- Floor size: 244 x 244cm (Pro 4 – there’s also a 6 in both styles and a Westfield 5)
- Max height: 220cm
- Pack size: 173 x 15 x 15 cm
- Weight: 8.5kg
A lighter and simpler version of the Quest Screen House, this is the Quest Screen Shelter 4. 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.
- Floor size: 300 x 300cm
- Max height: 230cm
- Pack size: 173 x 20 x 25 cm
- Weight: 10.8kg
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 and weighs around 2.8kg
Most beach shelters are just for sitting in, but this Easthills shelter has a bit more headroom.
It’s simple to erect and doesn't cost the earth. 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
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
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.
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: 5kgs
- Pack size: 130 x 20cm
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 mesh 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
Not 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. Also available in a wide range of colours which always helps.
- Floor size: 396 x 396 cm
- Max height: 215cm
- Weight: 20.7kg
- Pack size: 85 x 30 x 30cm
Need something more permanent shelter in your garden? Check out our guide to Hard Top Gazebos
They’re always discreetly khaki and very good in the rain (check out our Waterproofing your gazebo article), 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.
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!
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.
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.
The Unigear tarp poles are the best we’ve found if you need something more packable than the ones mentioned above. They’ll give you between 40 and 240cm of height and are made with lightweight (800g in total) but strong aircraft aluminium. They also have some good bits of design to add strength and make it easier to set up. They come in a set of two.
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
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.
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.
Fishing umbrellas for shelter?
One of our readers told us they used a fishing brolly instead of a tarp. It’s a great tip.
We like the Zebco storm brolly as it’s very tall (with side panels)