We bought our 5-metre bell tent back in 2016 after a couple of years of squeezing our family of five into two, two-man tents. It was a big investment initially, but for a family of festival-goers who camp a few times a year – it was a good investment. So, after five years of use – we feel we are knowledgeable enough to pass on our advice – a survival guide for bell tent owners as it were.
Bell tents are sturdy, spacious and robust and surprisingly easy to put up. Ours has survived strong winds, thunder storms and heavy rain as well as a heat wave during our first trip in it. They are versatile in the fact that the you can lift the side walls fully to let air flow through if it is a sweltering day – and you can also install a wood-burning stove inside with a chimney, which is a godsend on cold evenings.
How to pitch a bell tent
Bell tents are pretty heavy, they weigh about 36kg when they are folded up in the bag with the tent poles and pegs etc. We transport ours on a pull-along trolley if we can't park up next to our pitch.
One person can single-handedly erect a bell tent with no problem at all.
First of all go for a nice flat patch of grass – unpack the canvas and ground sheet from the bag and lay it out flat – our bell tent has a zipped-in ground sheet, but if yours isn't you will have to lay the ground sheet first and then lay the canvas on top and zip them together.
Rotate the tent so the door will be facing in the direction you want it to be. Also make sure the loops for pegging it down are on the outside and the guy ropes should also be on the outside.
Using the slim metal tent pegs, start banging them in through the holes on the edge of the groundsheet with a mallet, whilst making sure the ground sheet is pulled taut.
You'll need to tunnel in under the canvas through the door and take the thick main straight centre pole with you, find the centre of the cone at the top of the tent and push the pole and tent up until it’s vertical.
Put the A frame together and slot it inside the door, the spike goes through the hole at the top of the doorway and the bottom feet slot into pockets.
Zip the door shut and, using the large, thick metal pegs, attach the first guy rope above the door. Then attach the rest of the guy ropes around the whole tent, these should follow the seams of the tent.
Once all the pegs are in, adjust the guy ropes with the sliders to tighten them, doing this will leave your tent crease free and looking great. That's it, you're done!
Depending on where you are camping will depend what facilities are available. Campsite may have more facilities such as kitchen areas but if you are camping at a festival you may need even more gear. We jam the car boot, foot wells and roof box full with stuff. But below are a list of basics that should get you by.
Things to invest in
Camping chairs. A must in our eyes, much more comfy than sitting on the ground and you can take them inside the tent and fold them down when they are not being used. Ours were from Mountain Warehouse.
Awning or sun shade. We always get asked about our awnings. We have a watermelon one and a strawberry one. These are called sunshades from a company called FieldCandy – but we have found that they work really well as an awning over the doorway to the tent.
Camp beds. We used to have inflatable beds but have invested in army-style camp beds. They are very basic, like a stretcher on a metal frame. They can be annoying to put together but they are compact and it means you are sleeping off of the ground. Plus they are around £10-£15 each and last forever. I think we bought ours from Halfords.
Thick sleeping bags. The temperature drops very quickly in the evenings and I have woken up to a daughter with chattering teeth. The best sleeping bag we have is my husband's army sleeping bag. Take extra blankets too and a pillow each. We also tend to wear a fleece onesie and thick socks too.
A wood burning stove. Another investment but it is a great one for comfort. We bought a wood-burning stove from a company called Anevay. These are designed to be used inside bell tents with a flue pipe (you can buy the flashing kit for your bell tent - see my review). Not only do they keep the tent warm but you can also cook on them, toast marshmallows in it and make a cup of tea without going outside the tent.
Fire bowl. These are perfect for sitting around in the evenings outdoors, toasting marshmallows and just watching the flames dance around. You can also use it for cooking on outdoors too. We also have a little camping hob if you just want to boil up some noodles.
Lanterns and torches. We have battery powered torches and fairy lights around the central pole. Small lanterns also work well and head torches are good for late night trips to the toilet.
Dustpan and brush. You will forever be brushing dry grass out of the tent so we keep a dustpan and brush with us. We also take a folding table and a cool box. The table acts as a little makeshift kitchen, boxes and bags can be stored underneath and you can use the surface for preparing food. Some old towels are useful to dry wet feet and also to wipe the tent down when packing it away.
Footwear. Wellies are a must – just for the cold dewy grass in the mornings and shoes that slip on easily like flip flops. Make sure everyone takes their shoes off before entering the tent.
Smaller tent. It is a good idea to take a small one-man tent and use it as a storage tent so you'll bell tent doesn't become cluttered with things. You could keep your food or even your clothes in here.
These basics should see you through your camping trip.
Non-essential items but stops festival-envy
Bunting and windsocks. The amount of times I have been envious of people's festival camp set-ups is too many. Waterproof bunting and fairy lights as well as flags and windsocks will help your tent to stand out.
Blankets and throws. Seriously, some people look like they have set up a full Bedouin village, more aesthetic than practical but the blankets could all be used as extra bedding.
Hammocks. Again not a necessity but lovely to relax in if you are camping near a wooded area.
How to pack up a bell tent
What goes up must come down. Not my favourite part of camping, but my husband is a pro at packing the tent away. Make sure you sweep out and dry the groundsheet as best as you can before packing it away.
Firstly you will need to pull out the guy line pegs, dry them off and put them away in their little bag.
Next remove the A frame poles from the doorway and take down the centre pole, put these away in their bag (every part will have its own bag).
Being careful not to get the canvas wet or dirty pull out the pegs from the ground sheet and put them away in their bag.
The tent is now down and this is the tricky part.
Fold the tent in half, so it looks like a semi circle. If you can wipe away any dirt or moisture from the underside of the groundsheet.
Fold the tent onto itself again so that it is the same width as the tent bag, wiping it down as you go.
Fold the tent in half, onto itself (short end to short end) making sure it is as clean and dry as possible. Start rolling the tent up as tightly as you can.
Slip the tent bag over the top of rolled tent and start guiding it in, this is easier with two people. Once the tent is in add the bag of poles and pegs and zip it up.
The basic rule of being a bell tent owner is keep the tent clean, dry it as best as you can after use, pack it away nicely and keep all of the accessories together. You will be a pro in no time!