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Monday, 14 January 2013

Which bell tent for you?

There is a new version of this thread posted on the main page now - there are also a lot more comments and feed back, so click below to more recent updates and reviews :)

Looking to buy a bell tent?

Just a bit of advice/my opinions on bell tents....(only my personal opinions so you can take them all with a pinch of salt!)


Prices vary from £200 (for a 3m.  Ebay bargains come up - I have purchased 2 x 4m tents for this price which were used as wedding tents for 1 day only), to around £400 for a  4m/5m

6m upwards can be anything from £600-£1000

SIG/ZIG (explained below!) are generally more expensive but worth paying for

What Size?

The standard sizes tend to be 3m, 4m & 5m

Although if you shop around you can now buy 6m (Canvas & Cast) and even a 7m (Boutique Camping).  Alternatively Bell Tent UK sell the Emporer (6m x 4m), which although not a bell shape, is the same material and general pitching method as a bell. There is also the lotus tent available from canvas and cast which has higher walls, but I must admit I think it's an ugly looking thing, and pitching looks a lot more like hard work on it

If you are in Europe (not UK) pop over/order from Obelink, you will get the same spec tents a lot cheaper (they wont deliver to the UK)

The Emporer

The ugly Lotus

Other suppliers include soulpad and karma canvas

There are obviously others out there, but I haven't had any dealings with these so dont really want to put up any recommendations

Soulpad, Karma & Bell Tent UK tents tend to be very similar - The spec on them is pretty much the same poles, canvas.  There are a few small tweaks such as slightly thicker pole (bell tent), fly screen in the doorway (soulpad) etc, so its worth looking at the different sites before you make your choice.

Price varies slightly between these but no great difference

Canvas and Cast are noticeably different.  Very nice heavier canvas and some nice touches with wooden pegs, string fittings, wooden poles - you can usually request something and have it adapted/supplied.  Only downfall with C & C is usually the delivery times quoted - I dont think they sit on a huge stock so everything is ordered in, which means we are reliant on the little chinese actually supplying on time

The 6m bell from Canvas & Cast - I love this tent and the quality is excellent

What colour??

And yes it's purple....

Canvas and Cast sell a few colours (sandstone, green & purple) and Boutique camping do standard 4m & 5m bells in various colours now (blue, coral, green, sandstone,lilac).  But the rest of the suppliers tend to stick with just the cream canvas

Then there is the rhubarb and custard striped one available from Glam Camping

Be aware if you go for a coloured option, the colour inside is a lot stronger than it appears from the outside!!!

This is purple and green canvas and cast outside...

and just a bit brighter inside!

3m Bell Tent


  • Brilliant for 1 person (and 2 dogs..) 
  • Very stable in any weather.
  • Quick to pitch
  • Easy to heat
  • Ideal for quick weekend camps

  • Stick 2 adults in there for any longer than 2/3 days and they will kill each other - space is limited
  • You are not going to be able to cook in this one due to lack of room, so will need an awning or kitchen tent in addition
  • No room for a woodburner

and inside...(the bed is a double sim, but a fairly tight fit)

4m Bell Tent


  • Good amount of room for 2 adults 
  • Very stable in any weather.
  • Quick to pitch
  • Easy to heat
  • Inners widely available - extend your camping season through the colder weather

  • If you are taking kids, go for the 5m option - it doesn't sound like much of a difference being 0.5m bigger all round the circumference, but it is the head room that gives the space
Inside the 4m without the inner

and using an inner

5m Bell Tent


  • Very roomy - will accommodate 2 adults and 2 children
  • Seperate inners are available, also a quarter inner (bijou) can be purchased from soulpad 
  • Quick to pitch

  • Once the weather gets colder they are very hard to heat - an inner is a must.  If you are looking at woodstoves I would go for a minimum of a 4kw output (forget your pipsqueaks)
  • Although roomy, the sloping walls dont lend themselves to cooking areas (especially if you have kids in there as well)
5m Mr Men Outside

Inside using the inner

Inside without the inner

SIG/ZIG/Separate ground sheets?

Not a foreign language, it just means:-

SIG - Sewn in groundsheet.


  • Quickest off all of them to pitch, as you 'lose' a row of loops so less pegging
  • Secure, so no bugs/rain gets in


  • Be careful how you fold it when muddy/wet as you dont want to stain the canvas
  • You cant roll the sides up in the hot weather
  • Nowhere to feed the ehu cable through other than the front entrance

ZIG - Zipped in groundsheet


  • Secure so no bugs/rain gets in
  • Unzips when mucky so you can hose and dry separately without messing up the canvas
  • Groundsheet can be packed separately to spread the weight into 2 bags
  • Sides can be raised in the summer
  • The ZIP usually is in 2/3 sections, so you can usually feed the ehu (electrics) cable through, between the start and end of a new zip 


  • None really! (I suppose the zip could break!)
  • Quite a lot of canvas to dry if it gets soaked when you are packing up
Separate Ground Sheet

Although probably the less attractive of the 3 options, these usually have a fairly good overlap as opposed to most modern tents - There is a pretty good seal all round


  • If it gets mucky you can hose and dry separately without messing up the canvas
  • Groundsheet can be packed separately to spread the weight into 2 bags
  • Sides can be raised in the summer

  • Rain/bugs can get in, as the join is at ground level
In summary

The bells are a quick pitch, graceful looking tent which is a lovely experience to camp in.  On a hot summers day (I think it falls around July 7th for about 6 hours, known as british summertime) the sides can be rolled up - perfect

Take into consideration the groundsheet type & size before buying.  All season camping can get cold and I would try and manage with a 4m if size/room isn't a major issue. Summer campers only? - go with a 5m (pitching time difference is neglible between the 2)

Cooking is better done outside under a awning or in a separate kitchen tent (not only safer but the tent doesnt stink of spaghetti bolognese for the next 6 months)

Be aware of the English weather - it rains. a lot.  The major downfall with the bells is they have no windows when this happens.  (Canvas & cast do tend to have a small circular one in the doors, but you aren't really inclined to sit up next to it peering out

Go with the smaller options if you are more of a weekend camper, drying a 5m canvas is a hassle for just a weekend away.  Althought I tend to have a tent over my dining table more often than a tablecloth

Other tents to take into consideration is the Bell Tents Touareg.  I adore this tent!! (and tbh probably use it a lot more than any of the bells)

Pitching is simple (same method as the bells) and being a SIG (a separate ground sheet version is also available but not a ZIG version) is very quick

The advantage being that you have windows - on both walls - also it works well for me as you have doors on both walls - ideal if you use a motorhome.  You can park right up and use the entrance on one end to the van, and the other is free to get in and out.

The space is a lot more usable than the bells, and I have had a kitchen area against one of the flat walls on a short camp

A last alternative if funds/space are low is the poly bell tent. Do your homework before buying as some have bad reviews.  If you want to know more, here is my review of the 4m poly I bought

Good luck on your bell buying

If I think of anything else I'll add it, but I'm sure you'll love it if you get one

Theres more info and pics on my tents on the sidebar and in the blog

However you can contact me and I'll try and answer any questions you have, but I'm no guru, just a bit nuts about tents!


Canvas & Cast



Boutique Camping

Baker & Bell

Canvas and Camp (Overseas but sell to the UK)

Obelink (Overseas company, sell only bells to Europe, but accessories and other tents delivered to the UK)

BCT Tents

Cotton Tent Company

Green Outdoor

Glam Camping

Some nice accessories, but I would steer clear of the 'Strawberry and Cream Tent'.  It is sold as non waterproof (?!) and it does leak.  Originally they sold the Rhubarb and Custard tent (very similar) which is the one I have, and this is totally waterfast

Poly Bell tent Supplier

Camping Outdoor Europe

(the same tents are also available on Amazon UK from this supplier)

Boutique Camping now also do a poly version (link above)



CRAFTY POST - My revolting conservatory-camping-store-room, really needed a makeover....

Finished!  So I get asked, where do I store all my camping kit? The answer is