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Q&A

What are the non-obvious pros and cons of an "Instant Tent" vs. a tent with shock cord poles

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Some newer tents have integrated pole systems where the poles collapse quickly but stay attached to the tent body.

The obvious pro of this design is that setup and takedown is faster and can be done by one person. The weight and size seems equivalent.

The pole design actually seems less likely to break than shock cord fiberglass poles, but harder to fix if it does break. If you've used one of these tents and the poles have broken in the field, how hard was it to repair?

Are there any hidden gotchas to the instant tent design? Any details I haven't covered above?

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I did a test run with an Instant Tent this weekend, and discovered a major flaw in the design. Because the poles are not rigid all the way through and have a hinge in the middle, under any sort of stress (either leaning against the tent or a strong wind), the pole will flex at the hinge and partially collapse the tent (or fully if more than one pole flexes). This is a complete dealbreaker for me. (I wouldn't call this a "failure", since the hinge didn't break, and didn't need to be repaired.)

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When these first came out, they had a tendency to fail at the hinges, especially in the wind. While the leading makes have probably dealt with this to some extent, not all makes will have. And this can mean more failures than you carry spare hinges, in one go. A permanent repair can be easy or hard depending on the hinge/clip design,and a field splint is likely be harder for a failure at a joint than in the middle of a section.

For the smaller ones, not being able to split the weight between two people in a disadvantage. Even for tents that would only be used for car camping, having all the weight and bulk in one lump can be awkward especially in a small car. They also tend to be bulkier to pack than an equivalent conventional tent.

When pitching in even a light wind, putting in 2--3 pegs on the upwind side before the tent has any height can be a huge help, especially if you're on your own. If the poles automatically lock together when you spread the fabric, this will be harder. Against that you can offset the extra weight of the poles, so you should be able to find your own workaround.

The clips used to be annoying to find and undo when taking the tent down, so the total up+down time wasn't necessarily much shorter unless you were tall enough to reach the high clips first. Again this may have improved.

Having said all that, it might sound like I'm against self-erecting tents. We plan to give them a good look when buying our next car-camping family tent, as being able to put the tent up single handed is a big deal, and we drive a windbreak and plan to camp in decent weather.

If you arrive home with a wet tent, being able to hang it up without poles is useful.

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One disadvantage of the instant pop up tent is that it does not pack very small. Approximately a 1m disk. When backpacking carrying one of these on the back it has to be on the outside of the rucksack. It can easily catch the wind and it is difficult to walk in a strong wind.

They are single skin tents. So suffer from condensation and quite cold in winter.

Another disadvantage not apparent at first blush is that they are not very waterproof and the reviews rate them very poorly. Even though they are 1/10 the price of a quality backpacking tent reviewers say they are a waste of money. Some are even sold as "festival tents" and are very cheaply made to the discarded after one use.

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