Should I Buy A Canvas Bell Tent?

Camping with Style Camping Blog | Activities • Glamping • Travel • Adventure

Bell tents are more popular than ever, but is a canvas or polycotton bell tent right for you? I share my personal experience and highlight some of the pros and cons of camping with a canvas bell tent, guiding you through the decision making process.

I’ve been camping in a canvas bell tent for more than 3 years now, and I love them. We also regularly camp in our modern Vango AirBeam tent, and in the past 20 years I’ve owned tents of all different shapes and sizes, so I’ve got a good basis for making a comparison.

Buying a bell tent can be a hard decision, as it is almost impossible to see an erected bell tent in a camping shop or at a tent show. My own bell tent, with it’s distinctive rainbow coloured panels, has drawn lots of admirers, many of whom have asked questions and wanted a look inside.

Inside our 6m Rainbow Bell Tent from Boutique Camping

Inside our 6m bell tent

Are Bell Tents The Hipsters Of The Camping World?

Bell tents certainly stand out, and whether you choose a the traditional beige or sand colour or go for a bright or a funky patterned bell tent like ours from Boutique Camping, they certainly do have a touch of hipster cool to them. Practically speaking though, bell tents are very fast and easy to put up. Whilst inflatable AirBeam style tents do come close to the set up time of a bell tent, when well looked after, a canvas tent also gives you extra durability.

Inside our 6m canvas bell tent

Take fire safety seriously when using a wood burner in a bell tent

Wood Burning Stoves and Bell Tents

One of the big positives of having a bell tent from our point of view, is the ability to use a wood burning stove inside one. If you are intending to convert your bell tent for this purpose, you’ll need to fit a flashing kit to the tent, which means, if you don’t already have an opening in your bell tent, you’ll need to cut a hole in the side of your tent. Take it from me, it’s a nerve-wracking but simple process – even I managed to fit ours without a problem.

Glow wood burning stove

Gizmo cat approves (this is his delighted face)

Bell tent flashing kitBell tent flashing kit for Frontier Stoves

  • A wood burning stove can only be used with a properly installed ‘flashing’ kit or vent. This creates an opening for the chimney to go through and allows smoke to be vented.
  • Your bell tent will still need to be well ventilated when a wood burning stove is in use, even with the flashing kit and chimney in place.
  • Wood burning stoves are made from cast iron and are, as you might expect, heavy, so do consider their weight and size before buying.
  • Check that your canvas has been specially treated to make it fire retardant. If it hasn’t, you can buy it and treat the fabric yourself.
  • Make sure you use a carbon monoxide alarm, take a small fire extinguisher and we also recommend a fire blanket, poker and heatproof gloves.
  • Thoroughly read the stove manufacturers advice and safety instructions before you use a wood burning stove.
  • Use an appropriate heat-proof base for your wood burning stove to sit on, we also recommend placing a thick rug under that so you don’t risk damaging your groundsheet.
  • Remember that not all campsites allow fires, so check in advance to ensure you won’t be breaking campsite rules by using one.
Bell Tent ProsBell Tent ConsBuying Tips & Recommendations

What’s Good About Bell Tents?

  • Very fast to put up and take down
  • Anything up to a 5m can be erected by just one person
  • They come in lots of different designs and colours, ideal for people who like to stand out
  • Canvas tents help to moderate temperature more effectively (no waking up on a summer morning feeling like an ill fated lobster)
  • Interior space is more flexible than many modern tents as inner tents can be purchased and positioned to suit your needs
  • With many styles of bell tent, the sides can be rolled up, ideal for hot summers days
  • There is a large amount of floor space, making bell tents ideal for sleeping lots of people
  • Most are compatible for use with wood burning stoves (you’ll need a proper chimney opening making for this however)

What’s Not So Good About Bell Tents?

  • Due to their immense height, they do catch the wind
  • Their purchase price can be quite high compared to a basic ‘modern’ tent. Bell tents start at around £350 and go up from there depending on the size and brand you choose
  • Most bell tents don’t have windows, just the addition of calf-level vents, which means unless the front doors are open they aren’t great for people watching or admiring the view from inside
  • You don’t get a seperate kitchen, living or sleeping area, unless you invest in additional inner tents
  • Useable space can actually be less than you’d think due to the sloping sides limiting where you can put, for example, a kitchen unit or a table
  • 5m or larger bell tents can be difficult (heavy) to put up alone
  • You’ll need to invest in looking after the canvas and treating it every couple of years is recommended
  • Traditional cream/beige colour bell tents show up dirt and grass stains and can quickly look grubby
  • Many bell tent entrances are too low to walk in and out of without bending, which can be a pain for those with mobility issues

Bell Tent Buying Tips & Recommendations

  • Unlike most modern tents, some bell tents come with separate ground sheets, we prefer and would recommend the kind with zipped or sewn in ground sheets
  • Due to the nature of canvas, bell tents are rarely fully waterproof on their first use. To be fully waterproof, the fabric needs to be wet first, and once it dries the fabric knits together, making it fully waterproof
  • Some bell tents don’t have zipped or fully closable front doors and instead are tied shut – great if you want a bell tent for re enactment or LARP, not so great in terms of practicality, particularly in wind and rain
  • Depending on the modern style tent you have and the weight of poles, you may find bell tents are bigger and heavier to carry, so bear this in mind if you need to carry your tent any distance and this is especially true if the tent is wet during take down.
  • Wet canvas bell tents weigh roughly the same as a small planet
  • Expect to pay around £500 for a decent 5m bell tent
  • Buy your bell tent out of season. Like all camping gear, if you buy at the end of the year or over winter you’ll get a much better deal.
  • Ex-rental bell tents from glamping companies are often sold off cheaply on eBay, so do keep your eyes open if you’re on a tight budget or after a bargain.
  • Many bell tents do not have fly sheets covering the air vents or doors, so our advice is to choose a bell tent that does
  • If you have a 5m bell tent or over, some campsites will charge you extra for an oversize or even a double pitch
  • Canvas can take a longer time to dry than a modern tent does

Made Up Your Mind & Want To Buy A Bell Tent?

Here are some buying options you might want to consider. I mention Boutique Camping most frequently because I purchased a bell tent from them two years ago and it’s brilliant. Many of my friends also have bell tents by them, and are also extremely happy – so I  highly recommend their tents.

Bell Tent Boutique 5m Bell TentBell Tent 5 metre with zipped in groundsheet by Bell Tent Boutique £489

Robens Klondike Tipi TentRobens Klondike Tipi Tent from Winfields Outdoors £499.99

5m Rainbow Bell Tent With Zipped in Ground Sheet5 metre Rainbow Canvas Bell Tent with zipped in groundsheet from Boutique Camping £589

5 metre Canvas Bell Tent from Bell Tent Boutique5 metre Canvas Bell Tent from Bell Tent Boutique

Boutique camping bell tent5 metre patterned boutique camping bell tent with zipped in groundsheet £579

Heavy Duty Waterproof Four Season Sibley Tent from Cozy House from £490 Heavy Duty Waterproof Four Season Sibley Tent from Cozy House from £490

Touareg Tent £599.99 from Bell Tent BoutiqueTouareg Tent from Bell Tent Boutique £599.99

10T Desert 8 - 8 person cotton pyramid tent, sewn in ground sheet10T Desert 8 – 8 person cotton bell tent from Amazon.co.uk £314.15

 Bell Tent Boutique Emperor Bell TentEmperor Bell Tent from Bell Tent Boutique £527

Bell Tent 4 metre with zipped in groundsheet by Bell Tent Boutique Bell Tent 4 metre with zipped in groundsheet £399 from Bell Tent Boutique

 Robens Kiowa Tipi Tent

Robens Kiowa Tipi Tent £799.99 from Go Outdoors

Bell Tent Suppliers


If you have any bell tent related questions, do feel free to ask me below in the comments section or over on Twitter.

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  • Brian MacPhee

    Suburban camping company has a full line of Bell tents. http://Www.suburbancampsite.com
    We specialize in pre – pitched glamping, events, backyard campouts, weddings and more! We also have tents available for sale.

  • Frederik

    http://www.canvascamp.com The Original Bell tent company since 2005.

  • Sophie

    You mentioned that you use the bell tent for weekend camping. I am looking for a weekend tent but wondering if it’s too much hassle to have to dry the tent after camping just for a night or two. Of course a polyester tent would be much easier to dry out but lack the wonderful experience of camping in a pretty bell tent. I have 2 little children so ease of use is paramount. Can you share your thoughts on this?

    • Sorry I missed your question Sophie! We don’t find the bell tent any harder to dry out than our modern tent – it perhaps takes a little longer, but as long as it’s dry and breezy and there’s a bit of sunshine, it only takes a few hours, so if you have space to dry your modern tent, drying a bell shouldn’t really be any hassle. We use ours mainly for weekend/short trips and just find it so much quicker in general.

      • Sophie

        Thanks for getting back to me. I had gone ahead and purchased a 5m bell from Camping and Canvas. We camped out over the weekend and the sky just opened up and chugged down thunder, lightning and rain. Not a single drop in our tent! Nontheless, we were totally heart broken to see our beautiful beige tent splattered in mud and soil. We came home and set up the tent in our garden in despair. Lo and behold to our amazement that as the tent dries up, all the soil literally slide off the fabric as we dust it with a brush. We are very happy now and love our tent 🙂 Thanks for your inspiring blog that help us make this decision.

  • You can also check this website Lian Heng Canvas Trading, they provide different tents, gazebo, canopy and other canvas materials.

  • Rob

    I have just brought a 5 meter bell tent and put it up in the garden for the first time to see how it to do and also try it out. I found about 8 or so holes/ladders or just general defects in some of the panels. I have contacted the company to ask about this. I was told that as canvas is a natural product defects are common and should be expected. Is this a bell tent expected feature or are they taking the pi..mickey?? I love the tent but feel let down by the fact every time I look up in the tent I can see these damned things!

    • Hi Rob, that doesn’t sound right to be honest. I’d expect some variation and for it not to look perfect perhaps in places, but holes just doesn’t sound right at all. Where did you get it from, and did you send them a picture of the defects?

      • Rob

        I got it from soul pad. Got a full refund. Very disappointed as we had to wait 3 weeks due to stock delivery put it up straight away and found the holes. Looking at other tent companies.

        • I’ve heard similar from a couple of other people recently, namely that after sales service was poor for them. Glad to hear you managed to get a full refund. My own Boutique camping tent has been a great purchase, we are well into our2nd year of using it now.

  • Mat

    Just word of advice, we bought a 5m Bell Tent last year from ‘Camping Under the Stars’.

    This tent looked great and arrived promptly. We checked if the tent needed weathering before we went camping, we were assured by the company, (verbally and in writing,) that this tent arrived weathered and that it was ready to use.

    Unfortunately, however, the first time we used it rained and the tent leaked heavily. This was only the start of our problems, the company had no sympathy and the ‘test’ they ran was to pour a few watering cans over the tent, this of course did not reproduce prolonged rain storm and did not provoke leaks. Leaving us with a tent that we know leaks and the circa £150 cost of waterproofing it before we go camping again.

    However they were happy with this and that was that as far as they were concerned. In the emails, the person I dealt with, was very frustrating, avoided answering even simple direct questions.

    I’m sure not all of their tents leak and if you get one that doesn’t I’m sure you will be very happy with it, however at the best part of £500 I would advise you don’t take the risk given the lack of aftercare/recourse the company offers and the potential for the cost to rise to effectively £650 if you want a tent that you can use in the UK’s climate.

    If anyone should be interested I will happily forward the full 5/6 month conversation so you can make your own mind up and not take my ‘opinion’ at face value.

    • Thanks for posting about this. I always think the mark of a good company is in how well they treat customers after they make a purchase; it sounds like the customer service wasn’t great in your case. I’ve not come across this brand before to be honest, but thanks for the heads up. Hopefully you’re able to use and enjoy your tent now, but it must have been very disappointing for that to happen!

  • disqus_RUzAUNinxm

    Hi, great post! I am thinking of buying a bell tent for me and my partner for weekends away, but not sure what size to buy – 4 or 5 metres. Which would you recommend, for two people? Thank you

    • Woodland Warden

      I work as a warden at a glamping site and lived in a 5m bell tent for six months of last year. Guests at our site had four metre bell tents (though this year we should have a choice). For a couple – for weekends away – I think a 4m bell tent is sufficient. Our 4m bell tents at Wild Boar Wood Campsite have a double futon-style bed plus two fold out single mattresses for kids (or extra adults) and a coffee table. Love the space of a five-metre tent – but for weekend camping trips (depending on how much stuff you have) – you may feel a little swamped. We use BCT Bell Tents – super all season and cannot recommend them highly enough. They have a plasticized/vinyl feel to the outside – not the classic white canvas – but this makes them easy to clean and hardwearing. We are into our third year of using the tents and they have never leaked. We have needed some minor repairs (expected as they are in near constant use for long periods of time) and BCT have always been brilliant. If you want to road test a bell tent before buying you could always book a stay with http://www.ecocampuk.co.uk – or take a look at the photos in our gallery to get an idea of what our BCT bell tents are like. Have realised that there aren’t any photos in our gallery that really show the space inside – will have to rectify that when camping season starts! 🙂

      • Great advice, agreed, 4m will be more than sufficient.

      • Martin Hampton

        Do you use the zipped in ground sheet? whats the advantage/disadvantage? Thanks

        • Woodland Warden

          Sorry for the slow reply! Yes we use zipped in groundsheets. It means the tents are really weatherproof. Having not used a bell tent without a zipped-in groundsheet – I’m not sure I can advise on the alternative! I have not found any disadvantages….

      • Pago

        I have a seasonal pitch (April to September) on the Island of Herm in the Channel Islands and was wondering how many seasons I would get out of a Bell Tent from BCT (supper all seasons). hope you can help thanks.

        • Woodland Warden

          Hey Pago! Our bell tents are into their fourth season – used for six months of the year… so my experience is that they would last at least three years. Through wear-and-tear there are a few things that need fixing or repairs after this time – for examples zips failing and canvas tags ripping where the ropes attach – but all fairly minor and we have found BCT to offer a useful and good-value repair service which we have used int he off-season to replace zips etc.

    • Thank you! I’d say it depends on how much gear you have, and if you will be buying
      an inner tent. We have a 5m for the two of us, and if we didn’t do the
      hobby we do, which requires us to camp with a lot of extra costume and
      kit, then a 4m would be fine.

      I’d probably say that a 4m will give you more than enough space for 2.

    • ferret

      I have exactly the same criteria and have just bought a 4 metre Blacks (of G) Solace 1 plus extension porch. Got a lovely deal after speaking with their sales director….

      The groundsheet is separate, but clips, not zips in …in a unique way……..

  • Sharon

    Thank you for this post! Helped me decide to buy a bell tent – and to convince my husband we needed one…

    • That’s great to hear, glad to help! Make sure you Tweet or Instagram us some pictures when you’ve got it!! 🙂

      • Sharon

        Have already got it – sitting tantalisingly in its bag – cannot wait to try it out! Just need to hold back on going too crazy with the accessories….

        • lol yep, accessories…I can’t get enough of them! I’ve just updated this post with a pic of our new wood burning stove!

  • lexista

    I’m interested in buying a 4/5m bell tent and would like to know if i could potentially use the top bit only as a canopy only ? Or is the base fixed to the top of the tent ?

    • It depends on the brand you go for. You’d need one with either a separate groundsheet, or better, a zipped in ground sheet. That allows you to pitch the top part without the bottom, you can then roll the sides up and use it more as a canopy than a tent. Boutique Camping tents can definitely be used that way, as can any of the others featured above that have a zipped in ground sheet.

  • Harry

    Hello. May I ask a couple of questions?
    i) Are you able to recommend a stove which you can cook on?
    ii) Would a 5m bell tent, with stove and chimney fit in the boot of a VW Golf with roofbox (or failing that in a VW Transporter van which we might be getting access to soon)?
    iii) How is the chimney transported? Does it compress like a telescope? Do they generally come with the stove?
    Many thanks.

    • Melody Norman

      the frontier stove (for example) has a chimney that comes apart into sections and then fits inside the stove itself. But the flue isn’t very wide and has a tendancy to get sooted up and you have to clean it every 2 days or so.. so swings and roundabouts!

  • Anyone know and good sellers in Australia? Cheapest I can find is $600 but it looks heaps smaller than this one.

  • core

    You got to think about all the costs involved, not just the price of the bell tent, but all the fittings, I purchased a Robens Fairbanks Outback Tipi Tent
    this year, but I also had to buy, an outdoor BAR BQ (that was cheap B&Q) coir mats for the flooring, (AMH imports. Ltd) and a car trailer (that was not cheap from Brian James) because I drive a Micra!!! Think on, thats my advice, you have to consider these additional costs if you are Glamping this summer. Have a good time 🙂

    • Great points! Coir matting for a bell tent, whilst by no means essential, does take up a lot of extra space, and they are bigger to transport too. I hope you’re still enjoying your Robens tipi tent!

      • ferret

        Would love to hear more about the Fairbanks, really look fabulous………some piccies too would be nice!

  • ferret

    A lot about bell tents…but not about canvas tents en general, ridge, tarps, bivis, lavvu/poncho, frame tents, vintage….and so forth?.
    One may think that big bell tents are the only canvas camping around……

    • The article is called “Should I buy a canvas bell tent” and that’s why the article is about canvas bell tents. Ichose to write it because I have a lot of personal experience with canvas bell tents. I can’t advise on other styles of canvas tent as I don’t have the expertise to warrant doing so.

      • ferret

        Indeed you are right and I stand chastised.
        It wasn’t meant as criticism, just an observation to perhaps widen things out?
        However, I have just ordered a Blacks Solace 1. Canvas AND Bell………with the support of your piece in my researching, so thank you !

        • You’re more than welcome; I try not to write about things I don’t have first hand experience of, but it would be great to do a future feature that looks at the pros and cons of other kinds of tent too 🙂 Glad to hear about your recent purchase, you’ll have to share a pic of it all set up when you next go camping!

          • ferret

            Will do…may have to wait a bit? It would be great to hear more about “Core’s” Robens Fairbanks…a tent long on my radar!

          • Same here, actually, I love the look of them and might be testing one at some point next year fingers crossed!

          • ferret

            …it arrives end of Jan………

  • David Jacobs

    Decided on buying a bell tent, but really need advice on bedding/mattresses. I’d really like to avoid airbeds, self-inflating mats, campbeds and the like and make the jump to a proper cotton or futon-like mattress. However, I see mixed reviews with many saying they’re uncomfortable and not padded enough, whilst others say they’re great. Any views?

  • David Jacobs

    Decided on buying a bell tent, but really need advice on bedding/mattresses. I’d really like to avoid airbeds, self-inflating mats, campbeds and the like and make the jump to a proper cotton or futon-like mattress. However, I see mixed reviews with many saying they’re uncomfortable and not padded enough, whilst others say they’re great. Any views or recommendations?

    • Sorry about the delayed response we had an issue with not receiving notifications for ages. My own recommendation is to go for fishing beds. After years of faffing around with airbeds and camp beds, I’ve recently purchased one and they are SO comfortable I can’t imagine ever bothering to use anything else now. It really depends on how much space you have though. I’ve seen people take Ikea futon beds camping, but they take a while to set up and take up lots of storage space! As ever, if you can try something out in a real shop before you buy, it really is worth it, but a good quality fishing bed definitely gets my vote.

    • ferret

      I like the idea of those although they seem massively expensive. However there were available until recently from Military Mart, Czech Army sleeping pads which were heavy duty roll up with straps, futons, with waterproof bottoms They weren’t expensive, nor suitable for back packers!!.
      Alas I can’t find them now and have asked MM to keep me advised if they get them back in.
      PS the reviews I have found of tem for comfort have been very favourable…..

  • Clare

    I’ve just bought a camping and canvas 5m ZIG bell tent and now it has arrived the colour is almost beige. Darker and browner than I thought. I expected it to be cream. Not sure I like this colour. I am just imagining that bell tents are usually cream? Does anyone have experience of the colour of camping and canvas tents?
    Thanks a lot
    Clare

    • Bell tents vary massively in colour. It’s true to say that most are in a natural creamy/beige colour there is a lot of variations and some bell tent companies specialise in bright colours, like our bright flower print bell tent and our rainbow bell tent.

  • John Stanley

    Thought you may be interested in our range of bell tent stoves

    http://www.vestastoves.co.uk/shop/Bushmaster-camping-stove

  • Hi Dee. How old is your tent? Honestly I’d be very surprised if the colour ran into the cream panels. We have a bell tent with different coloured panels and in heavy rain the colours don’t run, and they are now a little faded too so I’d be very surprised if that happened, but I guess it does depend who you bought the tent from – I know that tents from Boutique Camping and Bell Tent Boutique for example don’t suffer from colour running, but I’ve never dealt with GlampTex.

    I’ve had very mixed reports of bell tent cleaning services, including a friend who’s bell tent was completely destroyed. I’ve had mixed reports on http://www.washandwaterproof.com/textile-tent.html and heard lots of bad things about Pristine Awnings however, I’ve heard good things about North West based http://www.tentvaletingservices.co.uk/

    I am most likely to clean my bell tent myself (though haven’t yet), and there are different schools on thought on what’s best, but I’ve got friends who use a pressure washer on theirs then just re-waterproof with Fabsil!

    The best I can advise is that If you are planning to use a mould/mildew product yourself, water the solution down (they can bleach colours a little) then I’d suggest you try it out on a very small area first to see what happens, and make sure you are using a mould/mildew product designed for canvas like this http://amzn.to/2jPagKL rather than a household one.

    I hope that helps a bit!

    Please let me know what you decide to do as I’d like to write a feature on bell tent cleaning tips 🙂

    • Dee

      We only brought it in July last year but we put it away slightly damp and it has some mildew on it from that. The zip broke after the 3rd (and final) time we used it. So upset as I loved having a bell tent!
      I’ve attached a photo of the one we have. Most of the companies wash the tents by submerging in water which I think would allow the colour to run. ? https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/5f615244302f425020d7b19b720bacd68a1207b0256221d14a058ccbb5aa608c.jpg

      • What a cool tent! I think it would probably be best to contact a local tent cleaning company, (though most do courier collection) and ask them about the technique they use to clean and I’m sure they will be able to advise you.

        It might still be worth submerging and cleaning a small area yourself to check it’s coloursafe as really the only guarantee on that would need to come from the manufacturer, who isn’t responding to you, so without testing it’s just guess work.

        I’ve never heard of a coloured bell tent running when being cleaned, though that doesn’t meant it can’t happen, especially if corners have been cut in it’s manufacturing (as the broken zip could indicate).

        Good luck, I hope you can get it cleaned and will get more use from it this year 🙂