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….
Khyam are famed for their umbrella-style set-up that really is super-quick. So, you consider Khyam’s simple Screenhub. These are quick erect gazebos, but they make great awnings and offer more versatility too (garden party, anyone?).
A couple of the team used the older Screendome over a summer of sun and rain for their VW California Beach. They loved how fast it was to install – 20 seconds! Lots of head height, big windows and two full side doors, plus a sun canopy that can be attached to the side of your van using tarp clips and bungees (or another clever workaround of your choice!).
The Screenhub offers all these advantages, but less condensation and better design all round. You can add bedrooms, remove the side panels or clip in a groundsheet. It’s actually our top choice for versatility, but is a bit big when packed and one of the heaviest we’ve tried.
- Size: W300 x L300 x H210 cm
- Pack size: 108 x 32 x 32 cm
- Weight: 22kg
- Price: £400
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.
A range of sizes – from family-sized to massive with sunwalls and groundsheet options. There’s a fast-pitch model in two sizes as well.
- Floor size: From around 300×300 to 460x460cm
- Max height: Around 230cm
- Weight: 15 to 22kg
- Pack size: 30 x 23 x 83cm to 100 x 22 x 35cm
- Price: From around £70 to £350
The Coleman Event Dome is a lighter version of the shelter, and there are two sizes available. Weatherproof and foldable walls give more shelter from rain and wind.
- Floor size: From around 350×350 to 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 £170
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.
- Floor size: 396 x 396 cm
- Max height: 215cm
- Weight: 20.7kg
- Pack size: 85 x 30 x 30cm
- Price: From around £200
What a lovely-looking gazebo shelter. In a choice of colours, a single inflation point (three valves), three large side doors and six mesh windows. Detachable groundsheet and pump included.
- Floor size: 340 x 390xm
- Max height: 240cm
- Weight: 14kg
- Pack size: 70 x 37 x 37xm
- Price: Around £360
An event shelter that can be totally open or fitted with (included) side panels. Pole and sleeve construction in a choice of large or medium size. Groundsheet available separately.
- Floor size: 350 x 350cm (280 x 280 M)
- Max height: 225cm (210 M)
- Weight: 9.43kg
- Pack size: 66x20x24cm
- Price: Around £200 (L) £140 (M)
Wenzel is a US company but they sell through Amazon and have lots of really good-looking models to choose from. They’re smart and offer great protection against midges and mosquitoes. They also do a choice of sunshade-style shelters, including the rather nice-looking, but flimsier Fairweather.
Mesh walls and shock-corded fibreglass roof poles for easy set-up. Apparently, you can set it up and then lift it into place (over a picnic table, for example).
- Floor size: 11.7 sqm
- Max height: 213cm
- Weight: 7.9kg
- Pack size: 67 x 20 x 20cm
- Price: About £95
This dome-style shelter has fibreglass poles, four large side windows with curtains, a sewn-in groundsheet and large front and rear doors. The doors can be set up as a canopy. Some people complain of the build quality, but it’s a cheaper option.
- Floor size: 290 x 290cm
- Max height: 200cm
- Weight: 7.9kg
- Pack size: 75x21cm
- Price: Around £65
Cheap and cheerful pop-up options from Quest. They say the spring-up frame system allows one person to get it set up in under a minute. Getting it back down…that’s always the tricky part. There are Pro versions of the two screenhouses that are a bit lighter and more refined.
Elite Screenhouse 4 and 6
With optional sidewall blinds.
- Floor size: 244x244cm and 350x350cm
- Max height: 210cm
- Weight: 11.5kg and 15.5kg
- Pack size: 167x16x16cm and 185x18x18cm
- Price: Around £160 to £240. Also have a look on Ebay (new as well as secondhand)
Something a bit different – a sort of pre-arranged tarp from Outwell. The height can be adjusted by bringing in the sides, but we wonder whether it’s more limited in use than just a normal (versatile) tarp. It does have fibreglass poles and sandbags for beach use.
- Floor size: 200-350 x 350cm
- Height: 150-205cm
- Weight: 5kg
- Pack size: 62 x 14cm
- Price: Around £90
In two sizes and easy to pitch, thanks to their inflatable columns. They come with removeable side panels.
- Floor size: 300x300cm and 400x400cm
- Height: 225/230cm
- Weight: 6.5/8kg
- Pack size: 64 x 30 x 30cm
- Price: Around £300/£350
Decathlon’s own brand is famed for its small pop-up shelters like this £30 two-second one (150cm wide and 110 cm high).
An exciting one from Decathlon, though getting hard to find. This is simple and versatile. A standalone shelter with three opening doors and a mosquito net. Excellent head height too.
- Size: 300x300cmx220cm
- Pack size: TBC
- Weight: 14.9kg
- Price: £130
If you’ve found a multi-purpose shelter you love – easy to put up, strong and handsome – do let us know. Oh, and have a look at our driveaway awnings choices too.
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….the tarp range at OutdoorGear is great. 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 £18, which isn’t bad, but might work out expensive if you need a
few to create a cargo net effect.
Get yourself some lightweight tarp poles that are height-adjustable – it’ll give you more options for using your surroundings.
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