Field Notes/Blog

Vango Force Ten Helium 100 Tent Review

I have had this tent Vango Force Ten Helium 100 2012 Version since its release in early March and have enjoyed several overnight wild camps with it in the Pennines and Lake District.

Weight wise it is certainly not the lightest 3 season tent on the market, but it still comes in at a very respectable 1.19kg which to be fair is not a great deal heavier than the bivi bag I often use.

First impressions of the tent when it arrived were pretty good, as was the quality of the material and its construction. I won't go in to detail about the materials, as this info is readily available from the manufacturer using the above link.

The tent pitches outer first but I simply leave the inner and outer together and pitch it as one. Pitching is quick and easy and it is simply a case of sliding the alloy pre-bend poles into the flat seam of the fly and then adding the short poles to the ends as you peg out - very simple and very quick.

In practice the tent performs well but there are a few niggles worth a mention and yet again we have a mountain tent manufacturer that has skimped on an important element of the tent - the pegs. Frustratingly the short alloy 10cm pegs like many of those supplied by lightweight tent manufacturers are not really up to the job. To be honest they are certainly no worse than their competitors pegs. For example the toothpicks supplied with the Terra Nova Competition, but it really does annoy me that tents such as these are supplied with rubbish pegs. Yes manufacturers such as Vango and Terra Nova for example clearly state that the supplied pegs are for solid ground, but lets face it these tents are portrayed as hill tents and from my own experience it is pretty rare to find the sort of ground these short pegs work well in. It seems to me that in order to satisfy the gram counters, some lightweight tent manufacturers supply pegs that are barely adequate for real life use, preferring instead to supply pegs that are more suited to low level grassy campsites. Like a lot of people I tried them and then swapped them for longer pegs. (from one of my old vango tents) before venturing into the mountains. With this in mind if you are considering buying a lightweight tent from this and to be fair some other manufacturers, it is worth taking into consideration the added weight, hassle and expense of having to obtain pegs that are fit for purpose

04D-4479 Walker Wild Camping in a Woodland Using the Vango Force Ten Helium 100 Tent UK
Low level woodland camp

The living space is quite roomy and at 5'9" I can sit up with my head just touching the inner. Lengthwise there is plenty of space to lie down with plenty of room at the head and foot ends for my rucksack and other kit such as boots, spare clothes or whatever. The porch area is a little on the small side though. At around 35-40cm or so at the widest point it is fine for leaving muddy boots, water and general cooking paraphernalia in, but it is certainly not big enough to store my 35ltr backpack or to cook in safely. There is a simple work around as the inner itself is quite roomy and all you have to do is unclip the inner floor and roll it back. This then creates adequate space for cooking in foul weather and leaves just enough space for the rucksack if it is wet - otherwise I keep the empty rucksack inside and use it as a pillow.

As far as coping with the weather the tent has performed well even in relatively strong winds (strong enough to blow me around while walking) and pitched side on to the wind with an additional guy line to the windward direction it coped pretty well. Like all tents of the single hoop design it was difficult to get a super taught pitch and flapping fabric did make things fairly noisy. That said this issue is pretty much the norm for most tents with a single hoop design and I was well aware of this before purchase.

04D-7844 Lightweight Backpacking Tent on the Lower Slopes of Dale Head with the Mountain of High Spy Behind Lake District Cumbria UK
A relatively sheltered pitch near Dale Head Tarn with the mountain High Spy behind. Lake District Cumbria UK.

One area I still have slight reservations about is the inner, which seems to be very loose even when the outer is well tensioned. One issue I did note was that during strong winds as the poles flexed and sprung back, the inner would also flap around and then touch the fly. This meant that even when it was not raining any condensation that has built up on the fly is transferred to the inner and then as a fine spray on me. It has to be said at this point that condensation is not a major issue and all tents experience a little depending on the conditions. To overcome this I shortened the elasticated inner guys to ensure the tension of the inner was greater. On subsequent trips while an improvement and no condensation got to me, I still noticed the fabric was a little saggy. With this in mind I may tighten the elasticated loops at the top a little more.

To help add greater stability in windy conditions the patented (TBS) seems to work very well and adds to the overall stability significantly. It can be a bit of a fiddle as it runs through the living space and door and can get in the way at times, but the advantages of the system in strong winds overrides this very minor point. When not required it can be unclipped and coiled out of the way. It does make a handy airing line for socks though.

Verdict - All in all I am pretty happy with this tent so far but the jury is still out as far as the inner tension goes and it will take a few more trips before I can say for sure that it will not affect performance during very wet weather.

Pros
· At £170.00 (RRP £220.00) it is certainly an affordable tent and will I am sure hold its own against many of the other more expensive makes of tent.

· The angled poles and the very snug pole sleeve do appear to provide a stable pitch in strongish winds (tested in 25-30mph approx with the odd gust much higher)

· The TBS works well and does help stabilise the tent when it is windy.

· At 1.19kg it will be lightweight enough for most solo outdoor users.

· Has a decent interior living space,

· Has adequate ventilation


Cons (based upon personal preferences as opposed to major design flaws)
· Porch could be bigger to enable a rucksack to be stored in it or for cooking in bad weather.

· The inner is a little too baggy and can flap against the fly in gusty winds.

· The pegs like most other lightweight tents are not really up to the job on the hill.

· The TBS can get in the way and is a bit of a fiddle to remove out of the way when not needed. That said it is handy for hanging stuff on during the night

· Can be noisy in strong winds but then so are most single hoop tents of this design.

· The inner lacks a pocket to place things such as glasses, torch etc.


Finally it is time for us to replace our two person mountain tent which is an aging Terra Nova Explorer four season mountain tent. We will be going to the Pyrenees over the summer and if anyone has any experience or info that will help us make an informed decision on its replacement it would be great to hear from you.