Shelter. Sleeping quarters. Workshop. The tent is your base camp for the weekend, is likely to be the most expensive piece of kit and you need to choose carefully. It needs to keep you protected from the elements and give you the space you need to sleep, store kit and get yourself organised.
Survival rule of three – 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food. Read that shelter one back again. Staying warm and dry really is that important.
The first advice I got for a tent setup for airsoft was a typically milsim setup of bivi and basha. If you don’t know what that is, it’s basically a waterproof bag you sleep inside (in a sleeping bag) with a plastic sheet over the top. As basic as you can get, it’s a very lightweight setup and the basha (tarp) is a very flexible piece of kit, allowing you to set up a sheltered area around your bivi bag to give you room to cook in and keep kit dry. Get a decent tarp for £40 – DD tarps are easily the best at this price point, like this 3×3. I have the 3×3 pro which costs a bit more, that has extra attachment points and it’s an amazing piece of kit for all outdoor activities, and will take a lot of rain.
My DD tarp set up for summer camping with the family. Extremely versatile bit of kit.
Anything bigger is probably at risk of catching the wind and only really necessary if you’re planning a party underneath. Bear in mind you will need sturdy poles or somewhere with trees to tie a tarp onto – and remember you may not always have trees nearby (unlikely, but i’ll mention it). I always take a tarp, even if it’s not set up, it’s still handy for putting over the top of stuff outside the tent to keep them dry, or as an extra waterproof layer in case you have a leak. There are cheaper tarps available but they’ll be poorly reinforced and generally a plastic type material. There are also far more expensive tarps if you want to fork out extra for lightweight materials, but the DD ones are more than good enough.
Here’s a great example from Ronan, who does a lot of hard routine milsims (as hardcore as you’re ever likely to get without being deployed). His kit is stripped down to the absolute basics, but bear in mind it’s usually only for one night. It’s basic but effective, and very lightweight.
When it comes to choosing a bivi bag, the British Army goretex bags are superb, and being goretex, will keep you dry in all conditions. The downside to this setup is that it doesn’t give you a lot of room to sleep in, or get changed in etc, but for events where you need to carry all your kit with you, for pack size it’s hard to beat. There are bivi bags available for less, but be wary of going too cheap on something you’re effectively trusting your life to.
An alternative you might consider is a hooped bivi. The idea here is that having a small pole to add structure will give you a bit of usable space inside the bivi, and room to move a little. Here are a couple of examples courtesy of Jordan and Lawrence from Sniperworks.
So, the two we’re looking at here are the Dutch Army DPM Hooped bivi, and the incredibly rare SAS Double hooped bivi. The SAS bivi is Jordan’s, an experienced outdoorsman with a knack of acquiring extremely good kit and in the last few years I think I’ve only ever seen one come up for sale. The Dutch DPM Hooped bivi is still quite hard to get hold of, but is extremely worth getting your hands on if you can. It’s roomy enough that you can fit a 50l pack inside with you, is made from extremely durable goretex type material and will keep you dry through anything (and at Sniperworks, we rarely get a dry day…)
These are again very good for pack size and are low profile, so you can stay hidden, which is ideal for anyone in a recon role who is planning to stay out all night. The addition of a hoop means there’s space to get comfortable and you don’t have material resting on your face, which isn’t ideal when it’s cold and wet outside. There are more expensive versions available, such as this Stratosphere model from Snugpak, which are a bit more high tech and lightweight if you want something of better quality, and comes with a better head area courtesy of the two pole setup, but the army versions are more than good enough. The downside is limited kit space, so you’re likely going to need somewhere else to store your kit, ideally a tarp (told you you’d need one).
Another surplus option is this British Army one man tent setup, behind in the pic below, courtesy of Aiden (Sniperworks). What you have is a net inner tent, which keeps bugs out and gives you room to sit up in, onto which you attach a waterproof DPM outer. Initially, this mosquito tent was designed to fit inside bigger army tents on deplyments as a personal bed space and can be picked up for very little. Getting the cover to turn it into a tent is much more difficult, but I thought I’d show it as an option. Aiden uses his on top of a cot style camp bed, which gives him storage space underneath for kit. It stands up really well to the elements and is the next step up from a bivi setup. It’s a very good option although lacks a little in porch space, or the ability to access stuff stored underneath in bad weather. The cot bed is a little bulky but very comfortable.
Personally, I like to be comfortable. It’s something I’ve had drilled into me from my team experiences away with the Norvern Monkeys. Leader Scott has a huge amount of experience in the field and always has the team performing well throughout the weekend because they’re looked after. If you’re well rested, well fed and have had a comfortable night camping, you’re going to be much more effective on the second day of the event. Morale is key, and with that in mind, I invested in this Wild Country Coshee 2 tent for airsoft.
Now, a tent might seem a bit boring compared to the more “military” options, but there’s reasoning behind it. Instead of taking a bivi bag, getting a bug net for it to avoid getting eaten during the night and inhaling spiders, and then having to mess on setting up a tarp, I’ve got all three in one much neater package that takes very little time to pitch; it’s two small poles in and then two guy lines either end to pop it up, which i can do in about two or three minutes, which is great in wet weather. Pack size isn’t too big either, expecially compared to a bivi and tarp. Having said that, Tarps are always handy if you need extra outdoor living space and have time to set one up properly.
For tent buying, always look at the waterproof rating of the flysheet (the upper) first. The bigger the number, the more waterproof it is, however too much and the tent won’t be breathable. Generally most reasonably priced tents will be rated 1500mm, 2000mm, or 3000mm. From experience in some of the wettest environments in the UK, which is wet anyway, I’d always go for a 3000mm tent just in case. The other thing to look for is a bathtub groundsheet, whereby the groundsheet isn’t flat, but comes up the side of the tent a little to keep more water out. Additionally, it tends to indicate the groundsheet and inner tent are one section, which means you don’t have gaps for bugs to get in.
It’s not camouflaged, although I did get it in green, and isn’t very tacticool although it’s still difficult to hide a camouflage tent, but it’s been brilliant for me. As a brand, Wild Country are the budget arm of Terra Nova, who are rated extremely highly when it comes to tents. Although it’s a “budget” option, the quality is still there. It’s extremely waterproof, and very quick and easy to set up. Vango do a similar model, the legendary Banshee which is extremely popular among campers, and this wedge design of tent gives you two entrances and two porch areas for kit which is superb for managing all the stuff you’ll invariably take with you, and correctly pitched allows wind to blow over without buffeting the tent too much,
Ventilation is excellent in the Coshee and I’ve never had to deal with condensation. Inside, a two man means I can fit comfortably with my gun bag and a patrol bag which has all my essential kit in, plus a change of clothes. Being a tent means I can get changed inside in the dry, to prevent baselayers getting wet and leaving me cold and miserable.
Another good tent that I want to mention is the Miltec recon tent, which I’ve seen do very well in bad weather and in a lot of bushcraft videos. It comes in a range of colours and camo patterns which is quite cool. The crossed poles make it extremely sturdy and the porch area is perfect for storing your kit in.
Really, you don’t want to be going any bigger than a two man tent because it’ll be more hassle to set up, put down, clean etc as well as taking up more room in your bag. If anyone has any other tent recommendations, please stick them in the comments.
Oh yeah, a couple of common tents that crop up in searches – the French army commando tent, which is a simple triangular tent design, leaks water all over. Avoid. And the Polish army Lavvu tent and Dutch army DPM tent are very nice, but old school canvas tents and weigh a ton. Also avoid.