TRAVEL

Best inflatable tents to make setting up a comfy campsite easy

These inflatable marvels are just the ticket for hassle free holidays, says Karl Cushing

Camping trips often get a bad rap in the UK. Many of us are still mildly traumatised by childhood memories of washed-out trips with a cast of leaky tents, collapsing cave-ins and the kind of weather whose foulness was only matched by the dark moods of anyone trying to decipher tent pitching instructions. But no more.

Thanks in large part to the widespread take up of the AirBeam technology pioneered by Scottish outdoor firm Vango. Hail, the indefatigable rise of the inflatable tent – the camping market’s ‘air apparent’, if you will – which has made the pesky pitching process an effortless doddle, thus negating even the most diehard camping refusenik’s protestations.

With these labour-saving inflatable, air or airbeam wonders there are no pesky, fiddly poles to faff about with, the supporting role played instead by inflatable airbeams. Simply unpack, unfurl and pump on admiringly as the bulk of your pitching duty essentially takes care of itself.

All this does raise some obvious questions, however, such as how hardy are they? Are they suitable for anything but the flattest, softest, grassiest of surfaces? And what if I spring a leak or get a slow puncture?

Well, rest assured readers, the latest breed of inflatable offerings are generally hardy beasts. Plus, as it’s just the airbeams getting inflated, sharp objects on the ground aren’t such an issue although slow punctures do remain a long-term concern, not least with cheaper models. Using a protective footprint under the tent is recommended.

It must be noted though that airbeam tents can be remarkably heavy and bulky – the saying ‘light as air’ having little muster here – making them best suited to car camping. That said, pioneers such as Alpkit do feature lighter, more compact offerings better suited to hikers and cycle tourers. Prices also vary markedly from affordable offerings from the like of Decathlon to hardy budget-busting options like the €5,499 Euro Mavericks from Heimplanet. Ouch.

All that aside, the inherent plus points can be nothing short of game changing with 15 effortless minutes being typically ample to erect even the most lumbering, multi-chambered model singlehandedly – often a lot less – allowing for troublefree camping that’s pitch perfect every time.

Read on for more of a taste of what’s currently on the market and prepare to smile smugly as your tent breezily blows up in front of you on the campsite while others around you wrestle with their fiddly old school tent poles in the wind. Just don’t forget the pump.

Quechua four-person Air Seconds 4.1XL Fresh & Black

QUECHUA

Best for: airbeam tent for affordable family fun

Great value active and outdoors chain Decathlon currently features nine inflatable airbeam tents but for my money this model, suitable for small families, couples or anyone else willing to snuggle up in that 280cm-wide sleeping space, offers the best bang for your buck.

Sporting an elegant sand coloured, white-accented livery it answers some key asks at a keen price point. For starters, it’s got decent waterproof and windproof qualities. Indeed, Decathlon reckon it’ll deliver decent shelter in winds of up to 60 km/h. Moreover, that Fresh & Black material provides decent blackout performance for the sleeping area – very welcome on those bright early summer mornings – while the UPF 50+ sun protection helps keep occupants cool, or ‘Fresh’, aided by the ample high and low vents.

Inside, the simple layout feels pleasantly roomy, the 6.5sqm living area blessed with an extra generous 1.9m high ceiling, and features some very welcome mosquito netting. In case of rain that waterproof exterior will do a good job of repelling the droplets and you can simply raise the zipped floor at the entrance to keep out any encroaching water.

Weighing 15kg it feels surprisingly robust, comes complete with a five-year warranty and stashes away nicely in its handy holdall. While it’s not supplied with a pump the recommended Quechua 5.2 litre double action pump only costs £19.99.

£299.99,Decathlon

Price Comparison

Decathlon

£349.99

Argos

£400

Hi-Gear Lavvu Air Elite Tipi Tent

HI-GEAR

Best for: airbeam tipi tent for campers & glampers

Hi-Gear pitch this as the first tipi-style airbeam tent to hit the UK market and it’s great for two people, or possibly three at a push.

Crucially here the use of airbeams does away with the need for a central pole, creating a truly open plan interior living and sleeping space complete with a sewn-in groundsheet and two cable access points. The use of two doors and six windows add to the overall impression of internal space and tall people will rejoice at the 290cm of head height.

Better still, the interior layout can be easily (and quietly) reconfigured using the magnetic close privacy screens to create inner zones. That main interior area further benefits from ample upper and lower vents while the darkened bedroom curtain helps with lie-ins and the separate porch area, complete with a removable groundsheet, is great for stashing gear.

The Hi-Gear Lavvu Air Elite Tipi Tent comes supplied with a tent repair kit, pump and carry bag. Optional extras include a tarp that fits onto the front of the tent to extend the footprint further and provide added cover or storage space.

Note that the design of this model, weighing 26kg with a pack size of 88cm x 55cm x 46cm, does require a longer pitch time than most airbeam tents of around 30 minutes, but it’s pretty straightforward, aided by nice touches such as the colour coded pegs.

£399,Go Outdoors

Adventuridge Four-Person Air Tent

ALDI

Best for: affordable four-person airbeam tent

Weighing in at 9.8kg the Adventuridge Four-Person Air Tent is among the lighter, more portable four-person airbeam tents on the market and it’s certainly one of the most affordable. Water resistant rather than waterproof, its Polyester and TPU material may not be the strongest or most premium but, hey, it’s that eyecatching sub-£200 price tag that got your attention, right?

Measuring 455cm x 260cm x 190cm it’ll accommodate up to four in the separate sleeping compartment, fronted by a porch area with two small windows that can be completely opened up or closed off at night to help keep out the elements and any unwelcome nocturnal visitors. I reckon it makes a nice affordable option for small families, couples or friends on an outing.

While you wouldn’t particularly want to brave a ferocious storm in this it’s a great fairer weather option and does a good job of delivering where it counts, with two windows, a sewn-in floor and blackout material on the separate sleeping compartment.

Taking a mere 15 minutes to pitch it also comes supplied with all the key accessories to get you going, from an air pump and a set of tent pegs to a carry bag and two-year warranty. Nice one, Aldi.

£199.99,Aldi

Vango Longleat II Air 800XL – 2022 model

VANGO

Best for: large groups airbeam tent for under a grand

Despite being capable of sleeping up to eight, squeezed in its two mirrored sleeping compartments located either side of the shared living area, this easy-pitch airbeam tunnel tent weighs a supremely manageable 22.6kg. Plus, it will be upstanding and outstanding in its field – or anywhere else for that matter – in under 15 minutes using the supplied double action hand pump.

All told, this Herbal Green goddess is refreshingly robust with Vango’s Tension Band System II (TBS) keeping the tent nicely rooted in any crosswinds and the central living area’s sewn-in groundsheet and storm skirt offering further protection from Mother Nature’s worst surprises.

I really like the layout with its two separate sleeping quarters and two separate doors – one featuring a mesh net to keep out bugs – which affords some very welcome privacy. The Nightfall coating on the bedroom areas also does a good job of blocking out the early morning light while the ‘diamond clear’ windows, complete with toggled curtains, help the occupants make the most of the surroundings.

Factor in all the other nice touches such as the hi-vis guy ropes and those handy stash pockets in the bedrooms and you’ve got a great all-round performer.

£519.99,Cotswold Outdoor

Heimplanet The Cave

HEIMPLANET

Best for: geodesic dome airbeam tent for couples

I can’t say enough positive things about Heimplanet’s artfully-designed products and this model is a case in point. Indeed, the Heimplanet The Cave two-to-three-person geodesic dome airbeam tent is where it all started for the German firm and it remains as sought after as ever.

You can pump ‘n’ pitch this bad boy in a minute or two with a decent large pump and that tough, weatherproof geodesic dome construction is remarkably strong and stable, with both the waterproof fly sheet and inner tent featuring RipStop fabric.

It’s also nicely roomy inside, considering the smallish footprint, with ample storage offered by the smallish front vestibule, the internal storage compartments and the ‘gear loft’ sitting beneath the inner tent roof which, as Heimplanet suggests, you can also put your lamp inside to create a soft ambient interior glow.

Plus, there are five closable vents to help regulate the temperature inside. With a packed weight and size of 4.8kg and 40cm x 32cm x 23cm it’s not the lightest or smallest but it’s certainly manageably portable. You’ll also need to buy your own pump.

Price in Euro.

£999,Heimplanet

Berghaus Kepler 9 Nightfall Air Tent

BERGHAUS

Best for: large family-friendly airbeam pod tent

New for 2022, this palatial pod tent features three large bedrooms, each benefitting from Nightfall blackout fabric, a large living area and a roomy front porch. The latter features a drop step on the main door, affording pram and wheelchair access, with an additional door located behind the rear bedroom pod.

Another nice feature is the curtained skylights in the living area which do a great job of supporting the five windows and make it much nicer to hang out inside the tent.

The Kepler 9 Nightfall both erects and packs up easily, the quick release air valves offering quick deflation, and the internal layout allows for some jiggery pokery by removing bedroom pods to make more space.

The checklist is all there, from the fully taped, sewn-in groundsheet and dual cable access to the reinforced webbing straps offering added stability in rough weather and the mix of high and low-level vents, which do a sterling job of regulating air flow.

The tent also comes with the main required accessories such as an air pump, pegs and a wheeled carry bag which you’ll certainly appreciate given this thing weighs 42kg and is a not insubstantial 90cm x 66cm x 60cm when packed. Stockists such as Blacks often feature money off coupons to further reduce the price, too.

£1119,Blacks

Price Comparison

eBay

£1399

Outwell Lindale three-person tent

OUTWELL

Best for: premium airbeam tent for a couple

Across its Prime, Superior and Imperial Air collections the Danish brand Outwell specialises in big roomy airbeam tents but in this case I’ve plumped for one of its smaller offerings.

A great premium airbeam tent for a couple, possibly with a small child, this one-bedroom, 16.4kg model doesn’t come cheap, despite being an entry level offering, but like all of Outwell’s offerings it’s built to last and well designed, from the quick and quiet doors that avoid waking fellow occupants when exiting or entering to the discreet cable entries.

The bedroom area can be divided into two or three sections using zipped dividers, which can be rolled up when not in use, with a generous two metres of standing height in the main living area.

The Outwell Lindale three-person comes with a cyclone tent pump and two-year limited warranty and I’d definitely recommend checking out the various optional additions you can buy for it too, including an attractive tent carpet (£62.99) and a protective and insulating Polyethylene ‘footprint’ to pitch it on (£36.99).

New for 2022, users who find themselves needing more space can go large by investing in an attachable Universal awning, thus named as its fits all Outwell’s inflatable tents (£ 311.99; 14.7kg), although if you think you might need more space in future you could always just shell out an extra £60 for the five-person model of the Lindale.

£690.99,Amazon

Coleman Weathermaster Air 8XL Air tent

COLEMAN

Best for: airbeam tent for larger families and groups

This massive but cosy and robust tunnel tent, which comes supplied with a wheelie bag and a pump, is great for larger groups and gatherings. Its sleeping layout effortlessly transforms from one sprawling area to up to three separate pod bedrooms with the option of adding another in the living area, sleeping up to eight. I particularly like the generous amount of shared ‘hanging out’ space, including a roomy porch area that can be zipped up at night to keep all that lovely nature and worsening weather outside.

Weighing an eye-watering 44.4kg it’s a big old unit but in return you get a whopping great big dwelling with a 32m2 footprint akin to a small apartment. Plus, it’s with these large, complex tents that you see the maximum speed savings offered by inflatable pitching, this six airbeam colossus going from bagged beast to pegged and pitched beauty in around 15 minutes, the storm straps and handy hi-vis guy ropes offering added stability.

Inside there are ample hanging hooks, storage pockets and ventilation controls while that zippable porch door nicely complements the spread of windows.

Other nice features include the ‘condensation baffle’ designed to spirit away said moisture while the WeatherTec fabric offers dependable waterproofing and bedroom blackout duties, the SPF50 rating helping protect against the sun’s harmful UV rays.

Smaller group? Save some pennies by opting for the smaller 6XL or 4XL versions.

£1215,Winfields Outdoors

Vango Anantara IV Air TC 650 XL

VANGO

Best for: luxury, extendable family airbeam tent

Vango certainly cut no corners creating this luxurious six-man extendable family airbeam tent, launched to celebrate the 10-year launch anniversary of the company’s tent-peg-banishing AirBeam technology, and it proudly sits atop the company’s 36-strong stable of airbeam tents.

Everything is premium and well-designed from the technical cotton construction to the Single Point Inflation System, making pitching it in around 15 minutes a breeze. Those near vertical walls help deliver an impressively roomy interior, aided by the 225cm head height and 440cm wide x 805cm long footprint, and it’s flooded with light thanks to the windows and skylights. Rest assured though that come night-time the Midnight bedrooms offer excellent blackout qualities while the windows are tinted to promote privacy.

Better still, those windows feature a three-layer Climate Pro system to keep the air flowing and the occupants comfortable, aided by the tent’s AirZone panels, while keeping the creepy crawlies at bay.

One of the biggest features that sells this model is its flexible footprint, from maxing out the front porch space with its Multi-Flex door to the ability to zip on Studio pods to add more space.

Just bear in mind that even when packed it’s humungous, measuring 82 x 58 x 60cm and weighing a whopping 63.9kg.

£2145,Vango

Nova Air Dome – Canvas Lite 200 – three-metre version

BOUTIQUE CAMPING

Best for: airbeam tent for glamping fans and romantics

There’s a little bit of indefinable magic and romance that happens when you sleep under a classic canvas tent such as a bell tent or yurt and the Nova Air Dome brings all the fun of that fair to the market at an affordable pricepoint.

Sitting alongside the larger four-metre and five-metre versions, this smaller member of the Nova Air Dome family is indeed a little piece of loveliness that fully reflects the Boutique Camping moniker of its manufacturer. Launched back in Covid-curtailed 2021 the range has gathered momentum since, capitalising on the UK’s seemingly unsatiable demand for glamping.

Aside from its classic canvas looks the three-metre version features two metres of head height and a nice big door which, along with the three nicely sized windows, features mesh screens to keep out bugs. Plus, said windows are shielded by external flaps to channel away any downpours. As it doesn’t have an annoying central pole you can easily fit a nice and cosy double mattress in the open plan internal living space.

All that’s left is to conjure up some soft lighting, a chilled bottle of something salubrious and a Spotify soundtrack of some chirping crickets or somesuch before letting mother nature take care of the rest.

£699,Boutique Camping

Alpkit Aeronaut 1

ALPKIT

Best for: one-person airbeam tent

While inflatable airbeam tents are typically bulky and heavy, making them unsuitable for bikepacking and backpacking, no-one seems to have told the dependably great value brand Alpkit who’ve thrown out the rulebook to create this eminently light, packable and remarkably affordable solution.

Alpkit call this 1.2kg one-person airbeam tent a three-season shelter and it pitches in minutes, that single central airbeam inflating easily with a bike or foot pump. Inside it feels nicely stable and refreshingly roomy, complete with a porch area for stashing muddy kit.

Alpkit have not scrimped on the materials either, as evidenced in the durable ripstop nylon used for the flysheet. Plus, should the unfortunate happen and you can spring a leak you can repair the inflatable pole with any old bike puncture repair kit, which is super handy when you’re camped out in the back of beyond.

Better still, the tent compresses into a teeny tiny package for supreme portability. I’d also recommend investing £29.99 in the optional footprint that sits underneath the tent for added protection and insulation.

Oh, and there’s also an Alpkit Aeronaut 2 if you fancy a slightly larger version.

£169.99,Alpkit