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Tents & Starparties

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With camping and star party season getting underway, would be interesting to learn what your criteria is at star parties and if camping, what influences your choice in tent? For example do you travel solo, therefore the tent may be a low priority compared to transporting astro equipment, or do you need to accommodate friends or family, which involves a little more compromise or ingenuity in terms of packing the car. 

The star parties that I have attended have all involved taking family. We had decided to retire our Vango 500 after nearly 12 years of extensive service and splash out on an Outwell MP 5 person tent in the recent sales. The camping aspect is important for the three of us in terms of space and comfort. The new tent has sown in ground sheet, is multi-pitch, roomy and has a porch entrance. We have even included the optional carpet - a bit bonkers considering the mud at Kielder, though we will be using the tent on numerous normal camping trips. If I was by myself, I would take one of my single hoop backpacking tents as the dob would be a priority.

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Hi Iain,

Outwell tents are brilliant, I have a Trout Lake 4 poly cotton tent, yes a carpet is essential to help keep the tent warm.

I also have a footprint liner under the ground sheet. I have bought some other little rubber backed mats, one or town live outside the tent to remove mud from my shoes.

I use rugs on the bed to help retain heat.

The packing of the car is an exercise in logistics......

I usually attend by myself, but the car is always fully loaded.

Of course at a star party, you always have the opportunity to view through other people's equipment, remember to ask first.

I will be at SGL9.

All the best.

Adrian

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I do a fair bit of camping so it needs to big enough for the three of us and stuff and easy to put up. As by the time the mrs has driven us to where we are going she is too tired to understand instructions so it's much less hassle to do it myself. We use a vango airbeam just stake it down and pump it up its a much more harmonious start to the holiday now that I don't need any help.

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It is good policy always to protect your groundsheet with something else like a good poly sheet, but small enough not to puddle water on itself.

I've tended to buy expensive tents for serious lightweight cycle and mountaineering trips and big cheap ones for car camping. (Big by my standards but not big enough to stand up in, usually...)I avoid proofed nylon groundsheets on car camping tents. The cheapo big tents often have cheap looking plasticky groundsheets which I have always found far more waterproof than proofed nylon. They are too heavy for lightweight tents though.

You lose far more heat to the ground than to the air so what you lie on matters most. Woolen blankets are good in car camping but Thermarests are a must for cycle tours. Airbeds are very cold. If you must use them put a blanket on them but Thermarests are way better and, to me, more comfortable. I know they're expensive but mine is twenty years old and has been used on four continets by bicycle and endless weekends and short trips. I have the seat conversion kit which is ridiculously effective despite its appearance! I can sit in it for hours.

For various reasons we now tend to cheat, though...

FIRST%20NIGHT-S.jpg

The Panda pulls like a train and declares war on Mercs with giant twin axle caravans on motorway hills. I try to reason with it but it won't listen...

Olly

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quote Olly: "The Panda pulls like a train and declares war on Mercs with giant twin axle caravans on motorway hills. I try to reason with it but it won't listen..."

Several years ago, a friend of mine had the 'original' square 4WD/4x4 Fiat Panda 1.0 - Whilst he was a away on holiday, I took it for a drive to ensure that he did not come home and have the expense of a dead battery. It certainlty was a nippy set of wheels.

Edited by Philip R

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Hi Iain,

Outwell tents are brilliant, I have a Trout Lake 4 poly cotton tent, yes a carpet is essential to help keep the tent warm.

I also have a footprint liner under the ground sheet. I have bought some other little rubber backed mats, one or town live outside the tent to remove mud from my shoes.

I use rugs on the bed to help retain heat.

The packing of the car is an exercise in logistics......

I usually attend by myself, but the car is always fully loaded.

Of course at a star party, you always have the opportunity to view through other people's equipment, remember to ask first.

I will be at SGL9.

All the best.

Adrian

It is good policy always to protect your groundsheet with something else like a good poly sheet, but small enough not to puddle water on itself.

Absolutely. This is another attraction to the Outwell range of tents. The footprint protects from mud and dirt, enhances insulation also prevents the groundsheet from undue wear. With this size of tent, our Nevada is much easier to clean tackling the separate foot print, than tackling the underside of the ground sheet considering the overall bulk. A quite necessary addition considering all the ground water particularly at Spring and Autumn star camps.

Enjoy SGL9 Adrian, the Panda looks like a cozy alternative Olly.

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I do a fair bit of camping so it needs to big enough for the three of us and stuff and easy to put up. As by the time the mrs has driven us to where we are going she is too tired to understand instructions so it's much less hassle to do it myself. We use a vango airbeam just stake it down and pump it up its a much more harmonious start to the holiday now that I don't need any help.

Interesting I have not come across this Vango tent before although I believe that they are in principle quite easy to assemble compared with fitting poles through sleeves. Noticed that Outwell have just introduced a pump up tent the Tom Cat, at £999 pricey though.

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have had a Outwell Montana 6 for years and been on many astrocamps and family holidays, Outwell make very good tents, very sturdy and rain proof (very important), agree with others invest in a footprint and carpet, makes it warmer and easier to clean, also a extra  front awning is very useful to put the mounts in wet weather.

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Yes ours has a 4000 hydrostatic head which is good, I believe that the Montana has a 5000 rating.

Here are a couple of pictures of ours at Kielder, amongst the mole hills.

post-22819-0-19780500-1394365573_thumb.j

post-22819-0-05928400-1394365603_thumb.j

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When you cam over, do you keep your Telescope in the car or have it in the tent (Space permitting)? 

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My advice is buy a bigger tent than you think you will need - I don't do much camping but we opted for a Boston 500 - its a five man tent but we thought with just two of us it would be roomy enough.  We find its just about adequate rather than roomy and if I were buying again I would want probably 6-8 man capacity to give some extra space.

When the weathers foul a small tent is a bit like living in a space capsule - its cramped and every time someone wants to get something the other person has to move which starts to get annoying after a day inside because its pouring down out there.

Next time round I want a tent with enough space for a 'living room' that doesn't mean because I want a cup of tea the whole tent has to play musical chairs.

With two girls who want to do their hair, makeup etc and have a reasonable level of comfort (camp beds, heaters, carpets, chairs etc ) a bigger tent for us is a must.

We tend to hire a van when we do camping because there is no way we would get all the gear plus the scopes in our car. We dont travel light by any means with a cooker, water storage, portable loo, carpets, lights, gas heater, electric fire, camping beds, sound system, second mini cooker for the morning cuppa in the tent because I dont do a thing until I have had a cup of tea, cahirs, camping table etc etc etc it all adds up to a lot of weight and bulk.

We store the scopes in the van while we are camping but I sleep with my eyepieces cos they need love and huggles :)

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I travel on my own. The first year I had a small, but withstand anything, type tent. I found it a bit too restrictive having so little space. I couldn't pack anything too large due to car space.  I now compromise and have a 3 man tent that I can almost stand up in and has just enough room. It's a Nomad tent  that I've had for about 10 years now and is lasting very well. I then attach a separate vango awning where I keep my scope and table under cover. The rain will drive in a bit as it's such a large opening but works fairly well. You can see my tent and awning in the left hand picture above.

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When you cam over, do you keep your Telescope in the car or have it in the tent (Space permitting)? 

The good thing about star parties is that you would be surrounded by like minded people so it is generally safe to keep your scope set up.

Handy if it is an equatorial mount. I sometimes take both my dob and HEQ5 mount to star parties.

Because the dob is portable I usually store it in the car once the night is done, the scope on the HEQ5 simply gets covered with a waterproof sheet and held in place with a bungee cord. Outdoor furniture covers are good for that purpose. If windy conditions are expected it would be best to remove the OTA from the mount.

Sometimes my dob has shared the bed space next to me in the tent when I am camping on my own! 

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I  was had a Coleman trailblazer 5 that's a 5 man tent which is good for solo camping, but with 'The Mrs' in tow who can not understand 'packing lite' we have now got a 10 man tent,much more space and goes up in less than 2 mins!

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I am a veteran camper - have camped with parents all my life, done everything from family holidays in a trailer tent to motorcycle rallying - the only thing I've never tried is wilderness back packing.

My current 'family' put it up for a longer than a weekend tent for three people is my 10 man Kyham Ultra XL - currently 18 years old, patched in several places, but still doing sterling service with a bit of TLC and plenty of Fabsil.  My best purchase after my first trip away in this with a green 'scrunchy' tarpaulin, was enough Army surplus, heavy, green waxed tarpaulins, which I cut and hemmed into shape - those on top of the green scrunchy plastic tarp. produce a floor that I've never bettered in a tent (my parents also had tarps for the floor in their Combi-camp trailer tent awning, but my brother had lost them during an intervening trip so I bought my own - they cost around £200, but its an investment I never regretted), the tent and the tarps have just been up for a garden party as its almost as big as a small marquee without the bedroom sections in place.  It does all go in the car, but for comfort and to take other holiday paraphernalia I have one of those dinky camping trailers these days.  The only problem with the Kyham is its so heavy I can scarcely lift it off the ground, but I'd still rate it against any other tent on a camp site to still be standing after an excessive gale.

I also have a old 5 man Litchfield green ridge tent which still looks fab when up (though the corners of the build in ground sheet now need a little tape)  I'd probably take still take this if camping on my tod for a few days due to ease of putting up.  This needs a plastic tarp in the awning area and I have a decent bit of black plastic tarp for this.  I did goat showing with this.  We used to take a 3 man Litchfield ridge on the motorbike that we made a extension for with a bit of nylon and a another pole, doubling the size of the tent to store stuff in

This year I bought a Coleman Spruce 4 (4 man) for taking my daughter around for Uni. visits when we need separate sleeping for two adults for one or two nights with easy put up and take down in a short time.  It's had teething problems and I haven't been happy with Coleman's QC in several areas - which is disappointing considering they have a good reputation.  However, those notwithstanding its not a bad tent - I particularly like the two separate sleeping areas and the 6' + high living space in middle, it also stood surprisingly well one really windy night - flexed everywhere and caused a noise, but not a peg out of place and no damage.  The two bedroom areas are designed to sit on the ground with a fit in ground sheet between them in the middle - I didn't want the bedroom sections muddy so I put down some cheap 'sacrificial' green scrunchy tarps under all the sections first and I think its well worth doing.  My son and I also did 4 nights in it a few weeks ago.

NB.  If I took my Dob camping and could leave it outside I'd take my Oxford Chimnea cover that I bought for it - A great object for covering a telescope - I can well imagine it being fairly weatherproof for a few nights.

Edited by JOC

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Joc, your circumstances are similar to mine. I have been camping since a child and survived everything the Great British weather could throw at me. Plus I have never gone wilderness back packing as well, as much as I would like to. Generally when I go on my own to star parties I use my vintage Lichfield Hornet 3 tent. It`s quite small, I can`t stand up in it and I can`t stow much astro gear in it but It`s convenient and packs down small, plus I`m rather attached to it. This tent has proved it`s worth and has got me through some heavy rain with no signs of a leak. The only worry is that the sown in ground sheet has aged and is now permeable so I have to rely on a footprint ground sheet. It`s a good idea to use one anyway, but if water was to get on to the footprint, the inside would start to get wet. I have resisted the urge to get a new tent but I am now seriously thinking of retiring the Lichfield to light duties. I sometimes worry that I may be disappointed by the performance of a new tent but I suppose if you spend enough money on something it`s got to be good enough, I guess? However me being the perpetual miser that I am I would rather spend a sensible amount of money and trust I made the right choice. I have recently been pondering one of the Vango tents. The short list is the Omega 350, Pulsar 300 or maybe the Beta 350XL. All of these tents are a three pole tunnel design with a side entrance to a living area so there is easily enough space to stow my 10" dob and other gear when I`ve packed up for the night. They look like they can resist a bit of wind, plus Vango have their Tension Band System, which is used to provide strength in high winds. Some of us know what Kelling Heath can be like! However, I would have to make a choice via the specs then go and have a careful look at one for real, just to be sure. Now might be a good time to go shopping for a bargain since the `normal` camping season is coming to an end.

 

Edited by Phil Fargaze

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35 minutes ago, Phil Fargaze said:

Some of use know what Kelling Heath can be like!

Kelling Heath used to be a regular weekend family camping haunt when we went as kids with mum and dad in the Combi-camp trailer tent - I agree it can blow in a tad vicious off that North Norfolk coast.  Although I won't be there its kind of nice that I can visualise where you will all be.

So what do folks think of these pump up tents.  I must admit I personally can't see them having the same longevity as old style pole based tents.  I spoken to people with them - they have become quite popular on camp sites and apparently you can buy replacement tubes if you get leaks and they fit into the sleeves sewn into the tent, but I can't get my head around their possible lack of rigidity and lack of weight in a gale.  As a seasoned camper I can't see myself ever trusting them enough to buy one, I just hope for the sake of new campers that are buying them that they do get a good experience from them and don't get put off camping by a poorly performing tent.

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I use a Berghaus Air 4, really easy to pump up and take down. This has held up to stormy north Skye weather. Our son borrowed my old Icarus 500 and came back from stormy June Skye with 6 broken poles. I can recommend the Air range thoroughly 🌧Nick.

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I had approached pump up tents with caution. I don't trust air beds because of punctures so I use a self inflating air bed. Although if air tents can be repaired with replacement tubes, is it possible to travel with spares in case of a puncture. I once saw a guy preparing to put up quite a large tent on his own and I was going to offer help but then he pulled out a pump and he had the thing up in minutes! Interesting to hear that Nick had a positive experience with an air tent in stormy weather.

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21 hours ago, Phil Fargaze said:

Interesting to hear that Nick had a positive experience with an air tent in stormy weather

Very much so.  I always felt with my Kyham that it's ability to stand firm in the worst of storm was largely down to its sheer weight advantage and sheer thickness of its poles.  Neither being something that a pump up tent would have. Can they really be a tent that is as rigid in a storm as one with 'traditional' poles?

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I will be taking my Outwell Bear Lake 4 up to Kelling for the seventh time this autumn. It is a fabulous tent - big enough for my family of four but can be put up single handed.

The poly-cotton fabric moderates the fluctuations in temperature that I use to suffer in my previous nylon tent and also muffles the sound - not a problem at star parties but a blessing on family holidays.

The downside is that it is quite a heavy beast. It has a zip in main groudsheet and I use it with a footprint groundsheet as well and a side extension. It feels palatial when I'm in it on my own. I'm 6'4" and can easily stand upright across most of the tent so no aching back

I have snapped a pole trying to put it up single handed in a gale at the IoW star party this year - not a mistake I'll make again!

Having said all that if I were buying now I would seriously consider an inflatable. Having talked to several owners it appears that they are essentially wind-proof. Rather than rigid poles or semi rigid fibreglass rods that snap or crack when put under enough pressure the inflatable tubes just give as much as they need to and then spring back into shape. They can be put up single-handed.

IMG_7435.JPG

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Is rigidiy the answer in a storm? I'm thinking, rigid, rigid, rigid... snap.

One thing you can say for air poles is that they won't break. With normal flexible poles the thing that distinguishes the cheap ones from the good ones is that the good ones will tolerate a lot of fexure.

The bigger a tent the more vulnerable it is, so the option of small tents for sleeping and a large simple one for living remains attractive. If the weather turns wild you can take the living tent down and still sleep easy.

Olly

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We have a Vango inflatable drive-away awning for our motorhome.  

Image result for vango idris

It's way more rigid than the old fibreglass poled one we originally had.  It flexes a MUCH less them any tent with fibreglass poles and I suspect it flexes no more than a tent with steel poles.   It's a bit bulkier when packed away and it was definitely more expensive than an equivalent one with fibreglass poles (about 50%).  However, I am pretty confident it would stand up to all but the very worst weather the UK could offer.

Edited by michaelmorris

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I got one of these;

http://www.gooutdoors.co.uk/hi-gear-airgo-solus-horizon-4-tent-p360420

For last year's SGL party. It was OK I suppose, and straightforward for one cack-handed bloke to put up, after Rowan46 showed me what was what (The lack of meaningful instructions with said tent didn't help). Pumping up the tubes made it a lot easier that it would have been if I'd had to thread poles through.

All I can say is, if I had the parking space I'd buy a middling campervan, something around the £25k mark S/H.

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It seems like the starting point for inflatable tents is 4 berth and up. Considering I usually go star parties solo, my 3 berth is fine. (when they say 3 berth they mean sleep like sardines!) So I don`t know if the manufacturers will eventually make 3 berth or under inflatable tents or is it even practical for them to do so. The poles on my Lichfield must be of decent quality to survive as long as they have, plus I consider that the shape and size of my tent helps it to withstand a strong breeze.

Here is the Lichfield in action. With it being quite low, I use windbreaks and the car to shield it.

 

 

IMG_1836.JPG

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