Should I Buy A Canvas Bell Tent?
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 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.
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.
Gizmo cat approves (this is his delighted face)
- 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.
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 Suppliers
- Bell Tent Boutique
- Canvas Tent Shop
- Go Outdoors
- 10T Outdoor Equipment
- Camping and Canvas
If you have any bell tent related questions, do feel free to ask me below in the comments section or over on Twitter.