How to select the correct tent for DofE


22 April, 2017

So, how do you pick the right tent for your group?

It’s potentially the expedition equivalent of the million-dollar question. There is no right or wrong answer. The multitude of options available means that approaching this without a little help and guidance will be sure to leave you frustrated.

That’s why we’ve put this short guide together – to help you make the correct choice for use in your DofE group.


As you’d expect, the size of your tent correlates directly to the number of people sleeping in it. Taking the size of your group into consideration is obvious and likely to be the primary attribute in selecting the right tent. Other considerations include gender split and the kind of expedition you’re about to embark upon.

Quick tips 

  •  2 and 3 man tents are the most popular size tent for hiking expeditions.
  •  If your expedition is by river, then it’s likely weight is not so much of an issue – therefore, a 4 man tent is certainly worth considering.
  • Don’t forget that good porches can be an incredibly handy asset for storing large bags and dirty boots.


Selecting the right weight is essential – you don’t want to put your students through trawling heavy tents miles across the countryside for days on end.

Size, material and fabric are all contributing factors to the weight of your tent. 

The major attributing aspects of a tent’s weight are its poles. Fibreglass poles are thicker and heavier than alloy, yet less expensive and therefore may be within the smaller budget.

Alloy poles will be stronger and lighter to carry, and won’t splinter if they happen to break. DofE approved tents all tend to have alloy poles.

Quick tip

The tents can be split across the group – so one person carries the poles, one the flysheet and one the inner.


Tent design comes down to two important points:

  1. How easy is it to put up?
  2. How stable is it when pitched?

Tunnel Tents

Tunnel tents have poles that run from one side of the tent to the other – the poles do not cross, unlike the dome tent.

 Tunnel tents are usually lighter in weight and retain a consistent height from the ground throughout the Wild Country Hoolie range, for example.

 Others have a large entrance, before gradually reducing in size to the bottom – this is where you’d rest those tired and worn-out feet while sleeping – the DofE approved Vango Tempest is a great example.



Vango Tempest


It is important to ensure you peg out the tunnel tent accurately. A night of bad weather can lead to a restless night as the tent is shaken from side to side – this is simply because the tunnel is not quite as rigid as other designs.

If your tunnel tent has a tension system (Vango TBS system is excellent), always make sure that this is engaged to give you extra strength in the frame.


Geodesic designs

 You may have heard of the semi-geodesic model. This is where tent poles cross at 2 or 4 centre points, making it a stronger option than a standard dome or tunnel tent. The DofE approved Vango Mirage and Halo 300 are great examples of the typical semi-geodesic design.


 Vango Mirage 300

Vango Halo 300


Semi-geodesics can sometimes be a little tricky to pitch if you’re not familiar with the model, which raises the importance of always pitching your tents before your trips.  They are probably the best tents for DofE use for silver or gold.

A fully geodesic tent has poles that cross over at more than five points. This provides the maximum amount of stability available to a tent design. Classed as expedition standard – proven winners in this category are Terra Nova Quasar or Vango Nemesis 300.

Terra Nova Quasar

Nemesis 300 



 ‘Hydrostatic head’ is the term used to show how good the waterproof coating is.

 This is measured by placing a tube filled with water on top of the fabric.  Once the water begins flowing through the fabric, a measurement in millimetres in taken.

You will usually see a number such as 3000mm or 5000mm on the tent description. The bigger the number, the more waterproof the fabric. DofE recommends expedition tents have a waterproof coating of 5000mm.

Our tent top picks

 Gold / Silver: Vango Halo 300, Vango Tempest 300, Vango Mirage 300 (all DofE Approved)

 Bronze: Vango Sigma 300, Vango Alpha 300.

Sigma 300

Alpha 300


by Paul Morley-Smith.

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