The Breton Bikes Tent Destruction Derby, or 'What We Look For in a Tent For Your Cycling Holiday

Cycling Article Index

Or - 'why tents keep me up at night'...


As I've said on these pages before, we give our tents a very hard life. Not only are they used for weeks on end by customers often unfamiliar with lightweight equipment, but also they are put up and down ever day. This wear and tear exacts a terrible toll on tents and in our 'tent graveyard' is a pile of broken poles, ripped flysheets, broken zips and porous groundsheets.

For us a tent must fulfill certain criteria.

1 - It must first of all be reliable – for me a broken bike means a drive out to fix it during the day and a customer happy with our back-up. A broken pole in the middle of a rainstorm at 3.00am in the morning leaves a wet and unhappy customer wondering why they ever came on holiday with us... Sadly some tents from well known manufacturers have left us in this situation – some so badly that within a few weeks of introducing them into the fleet we have had to withdraw and effectively bin a batch of tents. And as I feel it fair to name names, the two worse were the Jack Wolfskin 'Pocket Hotel' and the Vaude 'Taurus'* – tents that looked perfect for us but proved so unreliable that not only did they cost a considerable amount of cash, but left us with unhappy customers – happily the former is out of production, but the latter is not (though hopefully with better poles) – see - now just look at the extreme bend on that front pole and you won't be surprised that few lasted more than two weeks.

*Both companies also produced tents that performed very well for us – just not those two!!!

2 – It must be easy to erect – there's a big difference between owning your own tent, where you can learn it's foibles and perfect how you put it up, and a tent you rent from us and have to put up 'cold' on that first night! Some excellent tents fall at this simple hurdle – odd length poles, complex guying or just unexpected shapes will throw people unused to lightweight tents.

3 – It must be roomy – sounds obvious, but many lightweight tents are little more than 'canvas' coffins. Whilst if you are backpacking and need the lightest possible tent, or are in the Himalayas (or Dartmoor) and need something utterly stormproof you may compromise this, but for cyclecamping in Europe, where the bike doesn't mind the odd extra kg and where if you are hit by a hurricane there are always shelters nearby (e.g. a toilet block) the compromises you can make are different. For me you need to to be able to sit up, and have room to bring your gear in with you and make a mess. With that in mind we do tend to use 2-person tents for 'solos' and 3-person tents for 2 people. If you count every gramme then you are welcome to disagree.

4 – It needs to last – for most private individuals a tent with a life expectancy of 10 weeks will probably cover them for several years. For us 10 weeks is ½ a season. In fact many, many tents will begin to fail after 10 weeks. The most common being pole breakages – something related to the radius the poles are bent through and the number of joints in a pole. Add zip failures – again sometimes a design problem as zips can be put under unreasonable strain, or the design of a door can encourage people to half open a door then squeeze out – often straining or tripping over the zip and weakening it very quickly. The other tent killer is the Sun. UV light degrades polyester and how vulnerable a tent is depends on the quality and treatment of the fabric – after 10 weeks in full Sun you'll frequently find that stress points like corners begin to pull and fail. After 20 weeks the same material will be so weak you can just pull it apart like tissue paper.

5 – Cost – It's possible to spend almost any amount on a tent, from 10 Euro to 1000 Euro. Very expensive tents tent to be very lightweight, very weather proof, but also complex to pitch and frequently require rather more care with their super-lightweight materials. Regardless of the cost this sort of tent would be unsuitable for us, and I'd suggest, hardly perfect for most cycle-campers. For Breton Bikes we use what I would call 'mid-price, high quality' tents – less specialized, easier to look after and erect, roomy and simple.

As I've had a go at a couple of utter failures (and there were others) in these criteria I though I'd list the tents we've used over the last 23 years that have been successful but which are often out of production

Vaude Space 2 and Monolith –

both brilliant but out of production – both heavy and material vulnerable to UV.
Jack Wolfskin 'Dragon' and 'Spirit' – the former my favourite cycletouring tent of all time the latter similar to the 'Space 2' – both out of production, I'd give my eye-teeth for a new Dragon:-)
Salewa Micra – wonderful roomy and light one-person dome. My favourite tent for a long time, but a batch came with chocolate zips which cost us dear and we therefore stopped using them.
Decathlon Ultralight 3 – twin hoop tunnels from the big French outdoor chain. Light, roomy, easy to pitch but pole life only average partly because of the desire to provide a short collapsed pole with lots of joints.

Current tents – these are what we've gone over to in 2014 and with a season behind them we can report back!

Robens 'Lodge 2' – As our main 2-person tent this is the one that gets the most hammering. I won't beat about the bush, but this is the best and most reliable tent we've ever used in Breton Bikes. Not one pole breakage, not one dodgy zip, no leaks, easy to put up and hugely popular with our customers. In essence it's a conventional two arch hoop with a short pole to extend the porch like many others, but the devil is in the detail. Top-quality DAC poles (with long sections so few joints) and fittings, very UV resistant material, easy clipped flysheet, decent zips etc all make for the only tent we've ever had that is beyond reasonable criticism...

Robens 'Star 2' - - nominally a two person tent with “plenty of room” this is in reality a one-person tent in mybook. Very easy to pitch and bomb proof with similar reliability and attention to detail to the Lodge the snag, as with any such 2 kg tent is space. There is just sitting-up room and the fabric is close to both feet and face when lying down such that in very wet conditions the foot of your sleeping bag may become wet especially given the propensity to condensation. It's a good tent and I've happily used one, but it's not exceptional like the 'Lodge'. Full review to follow.

A Small Favour

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