Free Guide How to Buy a Bell Tent

We’ve all seen them adorn the field of festivals, bunting and stoves at the ready. A seemingly floating hat upon the horizon with boho fashion statements lining every entrance. Perhaps the most intriguing is “How does that tent look better than my own bedroom?!”

Bell tents are a classic and historical design of a tent that is characterised by its simple single pole support structure over which the canvas walls are pulled taut and secured with guys ropes. They are similar to tipis but have walls that can be lifted up and down during use.

{read on to download our Free Guide on How To Buy a Bell Tent}

Choosing which Bell Tent to buy can be as important a task as buying a new home, or a new car, and considering some of them cost as much a small car it really is something you will want to buy with all the knowledge and preferences you need.

We were at the Womad 2012 festival in the UK and while we were setting up our 4-man camping tent in all its polyester blue glory, a solo lady strolled up near to us with just a trolley and couple of boxes. While we were finding our entrance and zipping everything together, she was putting her bell tent together. In our defence, this was a brand new tent to us and we were reading instructions at the same time, but considering we started 15 minutes before her, she was finished assembling her bell tent 15 minutes before us! She even had a double bed set up that put our own bed at home to shame.

Camping at Womad

via Rosalilium

Later a group of 6 girls showed up and together they pitched up their 3 bell tents with a touch less grace than the solo lady, but to be fair, it was done quickly and they looked like they had fun. Soon after, bunting was up, draped across their tents, drinks were flowing and music was playing.

There was plenty of traditionalists like us with our lightweight technical camping stuff but there was a striking beauty about the bell tents and how they looked on the campsite. While I felt we would fair better in an “end of the world” scenario, we weren’t yet sure how our first visit to Womad would turn out.

So as we look to the British summer, this year we’ve decided to buy our own bell tent and in the process have learnt a lot about what to buy. When they range for £250 to £900, it’s not a quick decision and given the non-technical cotton they are made from, pre-care, after-care and practicalities were important to undertstand.

How To Buy a Bell Tent: The Important Factors

1. Size

There are a few sizes for bell tents and they tend to work in floor space diameters. (Height might be a consideration for you but in general they are all roughly the same height.) Here’s an approximation on the ratio of size to people needed for your bell tent.

Size : People

3 metres : 2 people
4 metres : 4 people
5 metres : 6 people
6 metres : 8 people

Guide to Bell Tents

Bell Tent UK x Chris Edmunds

2. Ground Sheet

In the past the upper part of a bell tent was not securely attached to the groundsheet, this meant that if it rained or the ground got muddy, it could make its way into the tent and get messy. Also bugs could get in and they were not very secure. These types of bell tents are sometimes called “Peg-in” groundsheets.

Some bell tents have the much safer permanent attached groundsheets called “Sewn-in“. Others have “Zip-in”, which does what you image it does – the ground sheet zips onto the upper tent.

Our preferred option is zip-in as this way you can close out the outside world but also let it in when you want. It’s a semi-permanent ground sheet giving you the best of both worlds.

Awesome Wave Guide to Bell Tents

via Soulpad Flickr

3. Weight

This might not seem important but it all depends on how you are going to use your bell tent. If you are driving to a site and pitching next to your car or can drive to your pitch then weight doesn’t matter so much. But trying to hike 30kg of solid fabric up a hill could be quite tough. For festivals, I’ve seen a lot of people use trolleys with their tent and a couple of boxes for their other supplies.

In general, the weight increases with size.

The top suppliers (as mentioned below) do several versions per size and getting to grips with which one suits you and your budget can be tough so I’ve put together almost all of them in a  free little guide for you (see download link at the bottom of this post). We have no affiliation to any of the brands but hope this helps you make your decision if you decide to buy a bell tent this summer!

4. Poles

Guide to Bell Tents

Almost all bell tents have a Mid-pole. This is one long pole that is positioned right in the middle of the tent to hold it up and give its peaked shape. This is what makes it so easy to put up.

There is however one system unique the supplier Bell Tents UK have on their smaller 3m bell tent. The is a 3 way system that extends from the centre of the roof and forms a type of roof and stands up at the side. It’s exclusive to Bell Tents UK 3m tents at the moment and a great contender for those using them at festivals as you won’t be bashing into a pole while you clamber about morning or night.

All bell tents have an “A-frame” around the entrance which makes them more efficient than Tipi tents as this draws the rain away from the entrance. Tipi tents allow water to drain over the entrance, which while they are easier to put up, aren’t fun in the rain.

Guide to Bell Tents

Bell Tent UK 3m 3-pole system via Camping with Soul

5. Brand

There are some various reputable retailers of bell tents in the UK that all give some guarantees and warranties, these are :

Bell Tents UK
Soulpad
Nordisk
Robbens

Buying from one of these or first-hand from a distributor means that you should have some support should anything go wrong with your bell tent. (note: we cannot vouch for any company as we haven’t used them ourselves, we’re just sharing our research)

Bell Tent Guide

Robens Klondike via Robens

6. Stove Flue

For those of us wanting to heat up the tent and potentially do some cooking on a stove, you’ll need an outlet for the pipe to extract the smoke and excess heat. These are not standard and for most tents require additional work to be done on the canvas. Of the tents we have included in this guide, only the Robens Klondike comes with it as standard. Soulpad also do a version of their larger tents called “Genie” and this basically means that the hole is already made in the fabric and ready to use. They also offer a retro fit service to put these. Having the “Genie” outlet costs about £55 extra. For us this is quite important as we get cold and a nice fire would be lovely in the cold. Nordisk don’t support a stove.

7. Fireproofing and Care

Considering some of these tents are built to house a fire stove, it would be a good idea to check that they are fireproof. Traditional camping tents are not in anyway. They are notoriously dangerous. Thick Poly/Cotton fabric as Bell Tents are made from, are not so bad. Bell Tent UK ensure their fabric is BS5852 standard which means that a cigarette won’t burn it and it will take approx 5 seconds against a naked burner to set it alight. If you need truly fireproof then they also do a high-standard “Fireproof” version of some of their tents though these are considerably more expensive. Soulpad and Robens do not comment on fireproofing and Nordisk don’t support stoves.

When you initially use a bell tent, you will have to go through some “weathering”. This means allowing the fabric to get wet and then dry out a couple of times. It’s possibly some water droplets may form on the inside while this happens. All the fabric is pre-treated and should be re-treated every year. Due to the nature of the fabric it is important to look for mould and treat it like a garment of clothing, cleaning off any spills and stains as quickly as possible.

FREE Guide to Bell Tents

It includes our RECOMMENDATIONS for the different was you might use your bell tent including Festival, Camping, Eurotrip and Long Stay Bell Tents.

Awesome Wave Guide to Bell Tents (Click here to download PDF)

Awesome Wave Guide to Bell Tents

via Soulpad Flickr

We hope you find our free guide useful!

Have you bought or stayed in a bell tent before? Let us know what you think.

Happy camping!

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