We went for a stroll around a camping fair held in a field at the back of Middle Farm, near Lewes. Dozens of tents were pitched for the inspection of prospective buyers, from the Vango Dart 200 – a pop-up festival tent – to the enormous Wolf Lake 7, a grand’s worth of polycotton aircraft hanger.
Pitched on long grass, the zipped-in groundsheets were swampy underfoot, and the bigger the tent, the looser and sloppier they felt. I don’t like tents that pretend to be houses. They remind me of vegetarian sausages. Why pretend to be something you are not?
Thirty-three years after Bob Gillis revolutionised the industry by inventing the first geodesic backpacking tent, the Oval Intention, this camping fair seemed intent on taking a big step backward, being more in the spirit of those despised tan-and-orange monsters of Vintage Camping. The Oval Intention used tension to provide integrity to its structure, following the geodesic dome popularised by Buckminster Fuller. Here the design of large tunnel tents like the Outwell Florida 6 owed more to Wisteria Lane – superfluous weight added to make a tent that looks like a suburban terrace, pitched with a rotary clothes drier in the yard to add to the air of domesticity.
I have a strong aversion to tents with windows. A tent is not a house. You should not be sitting in your tent peering out at your neighbours through a thick sheet of plastic. I don’t want a tent with a wardrobe either. Or a carpet. Outwell’s wall-to-wall carpet comes in a box illustrated with a picture of a happy couple laughing sensuously. Because that’s how in-tent wall-to-wall carpet makes you feel. This is campsite as temporary suburb.
We wandered into the camping shop. We are in the market for a table but none of the tables on show survived five minutes with the boy toddler. We are also in the market for less stuff. That’s what camping teaches you – that you don’t need all that stuff. After an hour, I bought a five quid foot pump, ignoring the motorised ones. Let my children inflate an airbed. Let them know what that feels like.
The highlight of the fair was Outwell’s Indian Lake tent, a teepee with a porch, erected around a thick central pole. I would have liked to have a crack at pitching it, to test the promise of it being “easy to pitch and pack”. Like the little conical hat atop the Vaude Badawi II, the peak is meant to aid ventilation, although the design of the Indian Lake felt like a pretentious hotch-potch where the Vaude Badawi II is a more elegant evocation of the nomad. Of the others on show, we like the Vango Tigris 800 and 600 tunnels, cheap and very easy to pitch for a family tent, although the extension looked like a right dog’s dinner slung onto the back. How long before some enterprising firm decides to cash-in on the British habit of suburbanising everything they touch by manufacturing a conservatory that attaches to the side of your tent?