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9 Jul 2021

Five things you need to know before buying tents, camping chairs and other camping gear this summer

Our tests have given us interesting insights into how to find the best waterproof pop-up tents, comfortable camping chairs, portable cooler bags and more
A family sat by their tent on a camping trip

Realised you can't find your camping chairs at the last minute? Or maybe you've lost a tent pole since your last trip? Whatever the situation, we've all been there. Having the wrong camping kit can ruin a weekend.

We've tested a wide range of outdoor equipment at Which?, to bring you the best recommendations for your next camping trip in the UK.

Find out five products we think are must-haves for your next excursion and what you need to know before you buy.

1) Pop-up tents

A tent by the sea

A pop-up tent is a great option if you're looking for a two-person or three-person and, at a push, a four-person tent.

Although they won't be as suitable for families of four, they're a nifty alternative for couples or a small group of friends.

Here are our top three tips for buying a tent:

  • Be wary of the stated person capacity. Our researchers found during testing that manufacturers often don't account for baggage that might need to store inside. As a rule of thumb, you should subtract one person from the stated capacity.
  • Check how much the tent weighs. It might seem obvious, but the heavier the tent the harder it will be carrying all of your gear to the campsite.
  • Be cautious of rain resistance claims. Manufacturers state hydrostatic head ratings, which tell you how much rain a tent can take. However, these ratings don't take into account how the zips and seams deal with water, only a single areas of canvas.

Read more on our findings for pop-up tents and see which impressed in our tough tests.

2) Camping chairs

People sat on camping chairs

While lugging around a camping chair might seem like more effort than it's worth, a comfortable seat is always better than the muddy ground.

Our camping chair testing showed us that, while comfort is paramount, portability is also an important factor and, unfortunately, there generally seems to be a trade-off between the two.

It's best to expect that heavily padded chairs with good support are going to be difficult to carry around.

We had a number of volunteers sit on 10 different chairs from the likes of Regatta, Trespass and Vango. Read our best camping chairs guide to see what they thought.

3) Cooler bags and boxes

Cooler box with food and drink inside it.

We tested a range of cooler bags and cool boxes primarily for insulation but also for portability, comfort, leak-proofing and durability.

By following our tips on how best to pack a cooler bag, you can use your cooler for longer. With enough ice, ice blocks or ice packs, it's possible to keep drinks and other non-perishables cold for days.

However, it's recommended that perishables are removed and consumed once the temperature inside the cooler rises above 5°C.

To help separate food items and organise your cooler, it's also a good idea to pack food into reusable freezer bags. Most, although not all, are leakproof, so they can even be filled with water and frozen to be used as homemade ice blocks.

4) Vacuum flasks

The difference between a regular flask and a vacuum flask is vast.

The former will provide you with a few hours of hot tea or coffee at best, and the latter, as proved by our Best Buy, will provide at least 24 hours of your steaming hot drink of choice.

Diagram of a vacuum flask

The key difference is in the vacuum flask's construction. Its double-walled insulation keeps heat from coming in and out of the main body. The space in between those walls creates a vacuum and this slows heat transfer.

Usually, the inner wall of the flask is also silvered to prevent heat transfer via radiation.

As well as testing the insulation, we also drop-tested vacuum flasks and rated them for build quality and ease of cleaning.

Find out more about our Best Buy vacuum flask and how big brands, Thermos, Hydro Flask and Chilly's fared against Wilko and Asda.

5) Camping stoves

A camping stove is essential if you want to enjoy hot food and drink throughout your camping trip. Picking up a poorly designed one could mean you have to wait longer to enjoy a delicious fry-up in the morning.

Which? researchers spent a rainy week in a field cooking up eggs and sausages - assessing both the stoves' ease of use and portability.

Here are three things you should be looking out for:

  • Clear labelling. Unclear labelling will lead to difficulty controlling the temperature, the cooking function and your ability to turn the stove on and off again.
  • Piezo ignition vs welding flame burners. Our testing found the burners using piezo ignition tend to be a little unreliable compared with the welding flame burners. We'd recommend having a match or lighter to hand as a backup.
  • Sensitivity. We found that smaller stoves tend to have more sensitivity in regards to gas control. Even a slight touch to the control knob resulted in a large increase in flame size.

Find out other insights from our testing and check out the best camping stoves in our tests.