My first tent was inherited from my Dad who, together with a collection of lightweight camping equipment purchased it in 1939, had a planned to go cycle touring in Europe. Timing is everything in life and unfortunately shortly thereafter WWII put a stop to that plan, however, about 27-years later I was to become the new owner of his camping gear which I then used often until about 1972. As it was originally intended for cycle touring the tent had one important feature – it was lightweight – which in 1939 meant proofed cotton. The bell tent style was a single skin, with a central two-piece bamboo pole and no groundsheet but in 1939 was nevertheless considered state-of-the-art. I never used it for cycle touring myself but I hitchhiked all over the UK and Europe with it in the late 1960s and early 1970s and had a lot of fun.
In about 1974 I purchased my own tent, the now famous Vango Force-10 (above) which is still popular today and at that time was being made in Scotland where I was living. It was initially used for climbing and walking trips and thereafter during motoring holidays around the UK and Europe. It was and is still regarded as an outstanding 2-person ridge tent, which has an inner and outer tent made of proofed cotton and a plastic groundsheet. Used on many challenging occasions I can testify to its robust nature but it was really still too bulky to be used for cycle touring. I still have this tent but have not used it for many years and doubt that I ever will again but I just can’t bear to part with it as it holds many happy memories – maybe good for the garden and grandchildren one day?
In the following decade and by now a father of two children, we owned and used a very large 5-person French frame tent for family holidays. Made of treated heavy cotton supported by aluminium poles, this tent was very heavy and awkward to transport even by car, to say nothing of being cumbersome and difficult to erect. In recent years we used it for camping based cycle holidays in France, during which it still proved its worth in some substantial thunderstorms. However, recognising that it had become too much hard work and was unlikely to be used again, it was finally sold it on eBay in 2015 – I’m pleased to say that it was bought by a young family for their holidays.
Like so much of modern life, changes in camping equipment have been driven by increased wealth, leisure time and perhaps most of all, new materials and design. And so in 2008 the aforementioned frame tent was replaced by another Vango, this time a 4-berth Tigris 400 tunnel tent made of ultra-lightweight synthetic materials; the tent fabric itself is very thin but is exceptionally strong, watertight and light. Likewise the tent poles are made of fibreglass, which though long are light and strong. Notwithstanding, this tent is still much too large and heavy for cycle touring but we have often used it like the frame tent for longer stay, camping-based cycle trips during which it has also fared well in some large storms.
Despite all the aforementioned camping and cycling trips, it was only in 2010 that I eventually purchased my first tent specifically for cycle touring – a Vango of course! The Banshee 300 is described as a compact entry level tent, which though factually correct in my opinion does not do it justice. Using modern, lightweight materials the design of this 3-person tent is clever and was quite an eye opener for me. It has since been the foundation of most of my cycle camping trips until recently and has always performed very well.
Weighing in at just 2.75kg I have found it to be an ideal one-man and pretty good 2-person tent for cycle touring; though probably a bit too cosy for three + luggage. Panniers and helmets can be stowed in the front space between the outer and inner tent, using a zipped flap to access the otherwise dead space. Clothes and sleeping gear are of course kept dry in the inner tent and I store a Trangia and related cooking and drinking bits and pieces along one side, where a useful space has been cleverly created between the inner and outer tents. Being small space is inevitably limited in the Banshee 300 but it is still comfortable, though good organisation is essential to make the best of the situation. The main drawback of this small tent is its 107cm height but you get used to it. It is easy and quick to erect, stands up well to the worst of wet and windy weather, whilst drying out rapidly thereafter. Currently retailing at about £120 it’s an outstanding cycle touring tent for the money but when I purchased it in a winter sale for £50 it was a steal!
Over more than five years I have successfully used the Vango Banshee 300 in the UK and Europe for cycle touring and still love it but looking for a bit more room and storage space I recently purchased what is considered by many to be the Rolls Royce of lightweight tents – The Hilleberg Nallo 3GT. This ultra-light tunnel tent provides more than twice the floor space of the Banshee but, depending on configuration, only weighs between 2.60kg and 3.10kg. The inner sleeping tent is about the same size as the Banshee but then there’s an enormous inner lobby in which to store luggage and if necessary shelter from bad weather in comfort; I have seen solo cycle tourists store their bike in the lobby overnight.
Because of knee problems I have not been able to use the Hilleberg for touring yet but last year we used it a few times as a camping base for walking and cycling trips and found it to be excellent. There is one slight disappointment in that it can be very prone to condensation but by experimenting with the numerous weatherproof vent-flaps this can be controlled. At 105cm it is no higher than the Banshee but because of the tunnel design there’s more of it in which to move around. Made in Sweden the attention to detail and quality is excellent but it comes at a price – more than 8-times that of the Banshee!
Fortunately my wife and I still both enjoy camping and I have little doubt that our present collection will last us out. I particularly find the combination of a tent and cycling to be an exciting experience, being totally self-contained and independent. I have been fortunate to travel the world, stay in some of the best hotels and eat at some of the best restaurants but for me cycle-camping beats them all; arriving under you own steam, pitch on your chosen space – if you’re lucky with a good view – knock-up some food and then drift off to sleep in the best bed there is!