TCUK 2012 – tents & what you need

The Tippmann Challenge player’s pack is due for release tomorrow and the preview released on Facebook is full of dire warnings about the weather at Sennybridge. Despite the event being held in July the basic rule of thumb appears to be – prepare for it being cold, wet and windy.

That sounds exactly like the conditions we survived in a tent at the Battle of Britain event a couple of weeks ago, so I’m going to give everyone the benefit of my immense camping knowledge (ahem) which might help you to survive Sennybridge.

I’ve created a kit list, available here in .pdf format.

It’s worth considering what tent to get in some depth as it’s the most essential piece of kit you’ll be taking. There are no sleeping facilities on-site and campervans/caravans are not allowed, neither is sleeping in your car. So it’s a a choice between either commuting to the site from a hotel each day (potentially missing loads of night-time fun) or getting a tent.

When looking to buy a tent, the first thing to consider is what size to get. Manufacturers categorise tents based on the number of people they can contain, however assuming that a ‘2 man’ tent can actually accomodate 2 adults is a mistake. In the context of tents a ‘man’ is equivalent to a sleeping berth measuring 60cm (2ft) wide – which is very tight for even the skinniest of adults and doesn’t offer any space to store equipment. So for a single adult plus camping and paintball gear I’d recommend a 2 man tent as an absolute minimum, with a 3 man offering a far less cramped environment. Big tents (4/5 berth+) can be great for space, but being taller can be more susceptible to damage in high winds.

Second thing to look at is what design do you want? Pop-up tents are great for ease of pitching and can be fairly robust in high winds. Certainly there were a few small, cheap pop-ups which survived Hurricane BoB, while larger traditional tents were blown away. On the downside pop-ups tend to have less headroom and be made from cheap materials which may not cope with a prolonged downpour – so while those tents were still standing at BoB, I’d bet any money they weren’t dry inside. If you really fancy a pop-up, it’s worth spending a bit more to get a half decent one – the ‘2 seconds’ range from Decathlon have separate flysheets (the outside waterproof bit) and inners, which helps reduce condensation.

Personally having owned both I’d avoid pop-ups and get a traditional tent which requires some assembly. There are loads of styles available, but the things I’d suggest looking for are tents which you pitch either fly-first, or all-as-one. This allows you to get the waterproof bit up first, avoiding getting the inner tent wet if you’re pitching in the rain.

Also consider getting something with a sheltered porch/vestibule and more than one door. Having a door either end or either side is great in driving rain, as you can enter from the shielded side and avoid getting the inside wet. Having a covered porch will also give you somewhere to strip off waterproofs and store dirty gear, without mucking up your sleeping area.

A ‘bathtub’ groundsheet, where the sides of the waterproof base extend upwards by a few inches is also great – blocking any rain than might blow in under the fly. Also consider your guy ropes (the bits of string that hold your tent up), it sounds like a small thing but having brightly coloured, or even better luminous, guy ropes is great – helping people avoid them in the dark.

Third thing to check when buying a tent is the hydrostatic head (HH) of the material. Basically this is a measure of how waterproof the tent’s fly sheet is. It’s measured in mm and indicates the pressure of water needed to penetrate the material. Higher is better. I’d recommend a minimum HH of 3000mm, with 5000mm likely to protect you from anything this side of a monsoon. Some cheap tents will have a HH as low as 1500mm and are likely to be unpleasant, soggy places to be in heavy rain, avoid!

Having chosen your tent there are a couple of relatively inexpensive upgrades you can make which will really improve its performance. Check to see what tensioners are fitted to the guy ropes (the plastic bits that let you take up slack)- cheap tents tend to come with useless ones which slip. If your tent doesn’t come with them already (certainly some of the Vango line do), consider investing in some Line Locks, they’re superb. I’d also recommend ditching the pegs that came with the tent and investing in some steel rock pegs, they won’t bend in hard ground and being physically larger, tend to grip better.

It’s also worth considering a tent ‘footprint’ – this is simply an additional waterproof layer placed under your tent. It helps protect the base of your tent from damage and adds another barrier to water getting inside. You can buy custom footprints for many popular tents, but I found it far cheaper to buy a decent size tarp from an outdoor shop and cut it to size myself. If you do use one, make sure it doesn’t poke out from under the flysheet, otherwise it’ll channel water straight under your tent! 🙂

Ok, so you’ve got your tent, bought a few minor upgrades and you’re about to pitch it – what should you look out for? First, don’t pitch it on low ground, or anywhere that looks like it might turn into a swamp with some rainfall. Ideally pitch on gently sloping ground to allow the rain to run off. If you’ve got a compass and know the direction of the prevailing winds, pitch it ‘bum-first’ with the pointiest bit aimed into the wind, avoid having the door at the windy end! Get your tent up and peg out all of the peg points and use ALL of the guy ropes, even if you don’t think you’ll need them. Tension the ropes so they’re taut but not bow-string tight.

Other things that it’s worth saying a few words about:

– a pee bottle. I know it’s not a pleasant subject, but if it’s lashing with rain and you need a wee, do you really want to make the trek to a portaloo? Get a watertight bottle with a WIDE NECK 😉 , label it clearly and just wee into that at night if you need to go. Some anti-bac hand gel is good to have to avoid getting mucky.

– a sleeping bag liner. Having a liner helps add warmth to your sleeping bag and is also far easier to wash should you drag mud and paint into the bag with you. You can buy shaped ones for mummy-shaped sleeping bags, or for a square bag can even get away with using a single duvet cover.

– a mattress of some kind. The quickest way to lose bodyheat is to lie on the ground. The cold earth will sap your heat fast and a sleeping bag won’t stop it. A foam sleeping roll is a cheap solution, but isn’t particuarly warm or comfortable. Much better to get some air between you and the ground with a blow-up or self-inflating mattress.

– a drybag. If the worst does happen and your tent leaks or you get soaked getting to the campsite, a drybag is a god send. I can’t recommend the Ortlieb range enough – bombproof and excellent. Keep your sleeping bag and clothes in there until needed and you can guarantee they’ll be dry.

– a campchair. You’d be surprised at how much time you spend sat on your bum and having a chair makes it MUCH nicer.

– lights. The Brecon Beacons are going to be DARK at night. I’d recommend taking a taclight for your marker (with spare batteries), a lantern for your tent (with spare batteries) AND a headtorch of some kind (with spare batteries!). Having your hands free makes things a lot easier.

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