Cartwright Chronicles, Features, Spotlight

The big tent set-up has gone too far

A large tent with festoon lights

Dan Cartwright has over 12 years of experience in the caravan and motorhome industry. He is a judge for a number of prestigious leisure vehicle awards and regularly heads off in his motorhome with his family. Every week, Dan shares his insights with the community. Here’s what he has to say this week.

I love the diversity of the camping and leisure world. It’s great being on a campsite and seeing everything from vintage motorhomes to hiking tents and A-class leisure vehicles with everyone there enjoying themselves.

It’s an incredibly fun, friendly and inclusive environment, so I do feel a little bad for calling out one subsection, but I’m going to! I just don’t understand the big tenters. Last weekend was CampDad and I was among 12 dads and 32 kids. If I thought the tent rigs that the other dads had last year were big, this year they reached lunacy.

Comfort and economic unviability

The dads in question seem to be cutting off their nose to spite their face in terms of the fun they could be having. I’m a self-confessed tent purist, believing that tents should be the conduit to enjoying something else, whether it be an activity, a place or the company around you.

It should always be the case that the tent and your equipment should be light, portable and quick to put up. This approach means accepting some of the shortcomings camping has to offer. At best, cooking is done in one pot on a single burner, you sit on the ground, use torches and charge your phone from the car.

Now, a lot of the other dads had huge set-ups. I’ve totted up the base level gear they’ve got and realised it comes to between £3,000 and £4,000. If you don’t believe me, let’s take a look:

That’s a total of £3,660.81 without taking into consideration around £250 of sundries that generally come included with a caravan. These include things like lights, speakers and water storage.

Big tent set-up versus a caravan

With all of this in mind, I decided to compare these expensive set-ups with a caravan. I found a perfectly good Bailey Pageant Series 5 model, which is secondhand and available near me for £3,000. It allows you to drive up, hook up and drive away with everything you need including a porch awning and an aquaroll.

There’s proper beds, mattresses, cupboards for storage, four-ring gas burners, oven, heating, lighting, a toilet, a shower and running water. The big tenters have spent a vast amount of money and they’re nowhere near that level of comfort. 

When it rains, they’re still cooking outside. This comes from someone who camped at the weekend in a set-up that came to around £200 and was erected in 15 minutes. That’s what I accept as camping. There were six generators on our pitch at the weekend, which were there to do things like charge mobile phones and plug in fairy lights.


Above all, there’s no space in a car to transport the kids’ bikes and toys and paddling pools that they’re going to enjoy when it’s completely loaded up with the camping kit. Many of the dads needed a trailer to bring their bulky kit to DadCamp this weekend and some didn’t have the space to bring their kids. They had to be picked up and dropped off separately, enlisting the mums in some cases.

With a caravan, you will need a towcar, but at least that means you can fit the kids in. CampDad started at 11am on Friday, but the children didn’t finish school until 4pm, so those five hours were spent pitching the tents, erecting the folding kitchenettes and arranging the windbreaker.

This was all for just two nights and when it came to pack down, it took three hours. And after all of that, they still had to cook outside, walk to the toilets in the middle of the night with their kids and everyone was cold after dark, because no matter how much money you spend, it’s too dangerous to have heating in a tent.

The cycle

It’s not that these dads set out to spend this much money on camping kit. It starts out with them buying a tent and then a bigger one, which is followed by relatively small purchases to make the experience more comfortable, but these little increments still add up to a lot of money.

Before you know it your price point is within the realm of a caravan, but what’s worse is that the caravan has been deconstructed to put into a car to transport to a campsite and try and replicate the comfort of a caravan. All of this is done less successfully than a caravan and at an increased cost.

A caravan, in comparison, takes around 20 minutes to set up when you arrive at your destination. Then there’s the question of where to store all of this camping gear when they get home. Instead of filling the garage with it, they could just have a caravan parked on the drive that is ready to use whenever it’s needed.

Caravans hold their value

Another thing to remember is that caravans hold their value while tents don’t. Nobody will want to buy an old, slightly broken camp set or secondhand tent. It’s flimsy by design, because it needs to be lightweight and foldable, which means that it breaks easily. Caravans have some residual value, meaning you can sell up and upgrade without losing out.


Photo credit: Pexels/Matheus Bertelli