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:  October 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

Lumaland instant gazebo with optional sides

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
  • Price: Around £110, £25 for extra panels

Decathlon‘s 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

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.

Kampa Air Shelter

Easy to pitch, thanks to its inflatable columns. This Kampa shelter comes with four removable side panels.

  • Floor size: 300x300cm
  • Height: 225cm
  • Weight: 6.5kg
  • Pack size: 64 x 30 x 30cm
  • Price: Around £330, including side panels

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 £330


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 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
  • Price: From around £180

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


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
  • Price: Sold out for 2020, but taking preorders for 2021. They’re offering an early bird price of £350 (full price £399) and 10% off for Campfire Mag readers with code CAMPFIRE10

The  Base Connect Fresh

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

Cadac shelter gazebo

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
  • Price: Around £100


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

Quest Screen Houses – basic and Pro

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
  • Price: Around £200 but becoming hard to find. An alternative is the Elite 5, which is the same system.

Quest Screen Shelter

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. Plus it’s only £130

  • Floor size: 300 x 300cm
  • Max height: 230cm
  • Pack size: 173 x 20 x 25 cm
  • Weight: 10.8kg
  • Price: Around £130 

Outdoor Revolution Screenhouse

A simple shelter that pops up and has optional privacy panels. Also available in larger sizes.

  • Floor size: 180 x 180 cm (size 4)
  • Height: 195cm
  • Weight: 10kg
  • Pack size: 178 x 22 x 18cm
  • Price: Around £130

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.

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: around £90

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

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.

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!

Cinch pop-up tents

The clever Cinch Hub has an optional built-in solar panel, LED lights, great materials and can be set up in less than a minute…and now meet the new generation of Hub

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! Costs around £250, plus £80 for the solar pack.

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.

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.

Tent and tarp poles made to last

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

Clever fasteners

Buy yourself extra tarp clips and ball bungees to make your tarp even more versatile.

Choose from screw-down tarp clips or our favourite slide-shut ‘clingon’ type tarp clips are our favourite.

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 (around £65 with side panels)

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One Comment

  1. Hi, great info there. Which of these does best in the wind? ED: Thanks, Sian. If the sides are completely open, then most will be stable in the wind, but you may need to peg and guy them. With sides down (especially just two or three), the wind can get ‘trapped’ and that’s when you definitely need to to peg and guy – using elasticated bungee cord helps. The other thing to consider is the poles themselves. The Colemans and Cadac shelter are particularly strong. The Kampa air is sturdy too. We’ve used the Lumaland in fairly windy conditions and the strap between each leg helps keep it stable. The pop-ups (like the Quest) billow a fair bit in the wind.

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