bell tent buying guide
Bell tents are known for their versatility and durability, offering an expansive space inside, a quick and easy set-up time, they stand up well to extreme weather conditions, and of course they have huge aesthetic appeal!
Bell tents are used for many purposes other than camping. You can set your bell tent up in the back garden as a temporary room for guests, or as a personal relaxation space, or a workshop/retreat space.
They look beautiful scattered with cushions, and with the side walls rolled up for a chill out space, or for an all day beach shelter. Bell tents are also a winner for children’s parties and birthday sleepovers, adorned with bunting, fairy lights and other party decorations!
A bell tent really is a blank canvas to create a space that you can stamp your own personality on! You may even choose to decorate the exterior of your bell tent with weather-proof paints and turn it into a work of art! They look beautiful with the natural silhouettes of nature on the canvas as the sun moves throughout the day, and when they’re lit up inside at night they give off a beautiful glow!
The rise in popularity of bell tents over the last few years has also seen a growing industry in bell tents for hire for private events, weddings, and music festivals, as well as glamping weekend packages, and accommodation options on AirBnB. There really are endless possibilities with a bell tent!
History and design
Bell tents have been around ever since Henry Hopkins Sibley patented the first bell tent in 1858! His design was based on the North American Indian tipi, with the bell tent featuring low vertical side walls, a higher doorway and guy ropes. The longevity of the design comes down to durability, ease to pitch and elegant aesthetic.
Bell tents are generally 2.5-3 metres high at the central point, giving plenty of head room to move about inside the tent comfortably. Bell tents ordinarily feature half moon windows in the side walls, which unzip, and include mesh screens.
The side canvas walls of the tent can easily be rolled up if your bell tent has a zipped-in groundsheet, allowing air to flow through the tent, and giving the visual impression the roof is ‘floating’.
Materials and features
Authentic bell tents are made from 100% cotton canvas. Some can now also be found in a lighter ‘Oxford’ polycotton mix, however these aren’t as ‘breathable’ as 100% cotton canvas.
Canvas grades are measured by weight, in g/m2. Many standard bell tents are made from 285g/m2 canvas, however the more durable and longer lasting bell tents are made with a slightly thicker canvas to withstand harsher weather conditions. The lighter the canvas weight, the lighter the tent is to carry. However the heavier the canvas weight, the more durable the tent will be. We recommend a minimum of 320g/m2 canvas in Australia.
The groundsheet or floor of a bell tent tent is made from ripstop PVC, and also comes in various thicknesses/weights. We recommend a minimum of 540g/m2 for your groundsheet. Obviously the heavier and thicker the groundsheet, the better it will withstand tougher conditions.
Groundsheets also vary in how they are attached to the bell tent. There two most common types are the sewn-in groundsheet (SIG) and the zipped-in groundsheet (ZIG).
Whilst the sewn-in groundsheet will be more watertight in the event of flooding, it is generally harder to clean because the tent and groundsheet are all one piece.
A zipped-in groundsheet allows you to roll up the side walls to let air flow through on warm days. It also allows you to pack and clean the groundsheet separately to the tent. You can also use the tent as a shelter without the groundsheet attached.
A bell tent with 360o inner mesh walls and doors is an essential feature when camping in Australia! The mesh walls keep the bugs out when you roll up the canvas walls on a warm day or evening. Not all bell tents have this feature, but from our years of experience, it’s a must have, which is why all our Stylish Camping Co bell tents include this feature!
Many bell tents are now made with canvas that has been treated with waterproofing, mould resistance and fire retardant to meet the most stringent of safety standards. However it also goes without saying that common sense prevails when caring for your bell tent, both when it’s pitched and when it’s packed away. No naked flames within 4m, and pack it away dry! This will ensure the tent’s longevity for years to come.
Weight and transport
Bell tents are not the lightest of tents. If you have any physical lifting limitations, you may need someone else that can carry it for you or use a trolley. The weight of a bell tent, including pegs and poles starts from 25kgs+ and goes up to almost 50kgs for a 6 metre bell tent.
Most bell tents come in 3 standard sizes: 4 metre, 5 metre, or 6 metre.
A 4 metre bell tent is the perfect size for up to 3 people, and luxurious for 1! It measures 2.5m high and you can fit a queen air bed to one side of the centre pole. Guy ropes on bell tents extend out by 1 metre, so when pitching the tent remember that a 4 metre bell tent requires 6m2 of flat ground,
A 5 metre bell tent is a great family option, or for those who just prefer a bit more space to spread out! 4-6 people can comfortably sleep in a 5 metre bell tent, dependent on the sizes of beds you use. A queen air bed can easily fit lengthways behind the centre pole, or either side of the centre pole. The 5m bell tent requires a 7m2 pitching area and can usually fit within a standard campsite pitching area.
A 6 metre bell tent can comfortably sleep 8 adults, or even more kids, dependent on bed sizes. You can fit 4 queen beds inside the tent. Around it’s inside perimeter you can seat up to 20 people on the floor area, for a workshop or as a communal lounge. It requires a flat pitching area of 8m2 and cannot generally fit inside a standard campsite pitching area. You may need to check with campsites on the size of the pitching space allocated.
Pitching a bell tent is as easy as 1,2,3 and takes 1 person only 10-15 minutes (2 people for the 6m bell tent). It may take a little longer on your first go, but once you know how, it’s very straightforward and you will never have to deal with skinny bendy poles to thread through endless loops ever again! You’ll have more time to sit back, relax and enjoy your surroundings!
Canvas becomes more watertight once it has got wet for the first time, as this helps ‘seal’ the canvas. Do not panic when your bell tent gets it’s first lashing of rain, this is a blessing! You may even want to pitch it in the garden and spray it with the hose before its first outing (remember to zip everything up first)!
If you have to pack your bell tent down whilst it’s still wet, make sure you unpack it as soon as possible (within 48 hours) and put it out to dry, either in the sun, or in a room with a dehumidifier, to remove all moisture from the canvas and groundsheet. If you leave it in the bag still damp, mould will start to develop and the stains will be very difficult to remove.
Dependent on how much use your bell tent gets, you may need to re-waterproof it after 1-2 years with a reliable canvas waterproofing product.
Treat your bell tent as an additional member of the family, with love and care, and it will pay you back tenfold in the enjoyment and pride it will bring you!
Bell tents are an investment in camping adventures that you will cherish for years to come. They are not a throw away festival tent by any stretch! Bell tents are built to last, and once you become hooked on camping in one you will realise that they are worth every cent spent. Bell tents hold their value well if they are well cared for. If you decide to sell your bell tent you will still get a good return on the second hand market, dependent on its condition. Your investment in a bell tent includes quality materials and workmanship, warranty and many years of R&D. Be wary of purchasing ‘bargain price’ bell tents. You are likely compromising on quality, warranty and the ability to return your purchase easily if you’re not happy with it.
Glamp up your bell tent with stylish accessories that help you create a home away from home!
Rugs scattered across the groundsheet and placed outside the front door help to bring your bell tent to life and are convenient to shake off any dirt off! There are lots of reasonably priced options when purchasing rugs and mats. Coir matting is great for bell tents that are pitched semi-permanently, and provide good insulation, however they are very bulky to transport. Recycled polypropylene mats are a stylish, easily transportable, durable and an easy to clean option.
String up some bunting and fairy lights along the front of the tent, and around the inner walls, or from the centre pole, to bring decorative fun and style to your bell tent. There are great solar fairy light options widely available for the outside of the bell tent!
Whilst you’re here, check out our range of premium quality canvas bell tents, complete with every feature you need in Australia, and available for shipping Australia-wide!