Our tent was dropped off in a big brown box (not that that’s important), and it was hurriedly unpacked. Initial impressions of the Velocity 200? Well, for a two-man tent it’s slightly large on the pack-size even though it has no poles. If we were looking at the Velocity from a backpacking point of view this would be a problem, however, it’s not too big to stick on the back of your bike. If you’re the type of rider who’s worried about the weight of gear, then you’ll be impressed. Despite its hefty appearance the Velocity 200 only weighs 6.65kg, OK it’s heavier than most other two-man tents, but it’s light for how big it is.
According to the guys at Vango, the main advantage of the AirBeam tents is that they’re incredibly easy to put up. By getting rid of the poles they’re eliminating any confusion or difficulties you might have when deciding which pole goes where, or times when you’d need to erect the tent in the dark. So, with that said, what’s taking up all the space in the Velocity’s stuff sack?
You get a foot pump as standard and it comes with four different nozzle attachments (presumably so you can use it for other inflatables like airbeds or those blow-up dolls you take with you on long, lonesome journeys). There’s also a pressure indicator included so you can inflate the beams to the required 5psi. As well as the pump you get the tent (obviously) and a pack of 18 pegs.
After I’d studied the contents of the bag I decided it was time to take the plunge and inflate the tent – no instructions (nobody reads them anyway), just my intuition. The Velocity 200 has three supportive inflatable beams (which act as normal poles would) and they’re inflated through separate valves, and a nicely thought out design means that they’re easy to access and pumping up is a doddle.
The poles should be inflated to 5psi according to Vango which is a low pressure. The reasoning for this is that if they’re inflated at a low pressure they wont deflate when temperatures drop at night. As you can see, there’s a nice PSI indicator on the pump so you can get it right every time.
The claim that the tent will make camping more accessible for people by making it an easier experience seems to be justified by the very simple means of erection.
As you can see the tent goes up in just under a minute (pretty impressive stuff), and when up it looks just like any other tent and the inflated poles feel surprisingly tough and sturdy. We haven’t been able to try it in any rough conditions yet (this damn sunshine!), so I’d be interested to see how it stands up to a battering from wind and rain. Vango do says it’s been tested in wind conditions of up to 75mph, and while we should be a bit dubious of lab test results, that’s reassuring to know.
Once up the Velocity 200 has two sections, a porch area and a sleeping area, the total space of the tent is split virtually 50/50 between the two however the sleeping area is slightly larger. Both porch and bedroom are nicely sized, and I (a 6ft 2″ man) was able to sit up comfortably, without touching the roof, and stretch out when lay down. Width-wise it’s more than adequate for two people, and I’d even consider sleeping three in here (kinky!).
There’s a ground sheet in the porch area that feels tough and durable, and this extends under the sleeping area, protecting the floor of your bedroom from wear and tear. The tent pitches outer first which is perfect for those rainy days when inner-first tents would get soaked, and you can take the inner out on hot days and use the outer and groundsheet as a huge single skinned tent (which looks more like a large four-man).
The groundsheet in the porch is brilliant in some ways (you can sit in the porch when the grass is wet etc) however, the fact that it’s non-removable means that I wouldn’t be too happy cooking in there, and if you want to store your wet gear in the porch it’ll collect the water up and wet the inner when you pack it away.
A neat little touch is the inclusion of two windows in the porch area. They do a lot to lighten the place up and they also have curtains for times when you want privacy.
One advantage of not using poles is that you can avoid any problems associated with them breaking, but what if the AirBeams in the Velocity 200 get punctured? Well, there is a puncture repair kit included and the inflatable beams can be taken out of the tent if the need arises (see image). I can imagine that finding a puncture is going to be quite a difficult task if you haven’t got a bucket of water, and it’s not something I’d want to have to do in the middle of the night. That said, the inflatable poles are encased in a very tough-feeling material which helps prevent punctures and over inflation, and you’d be hard pushed to puncture these by accident (although I’d still keep sharps away from them).
Deflating the Velocity is no trouble at all. All you need to do is open the valves on the beams and the air is free to escape when you stuff it back in its bag. With some neat folding the packsize of the Velocity can be reduced, although not by much, and the stuff sack it comes with is big enough for re-packing not to be a pain.
So, is the Vango AirBeam really a camping revolution or is it just a novelty? Well, it must be said that pitching the AirBeam is incredibly easy, but did anyone have too much of a problem putting a two man tent up in the first place? Its large packsize will only be a problem if you’re really space saving, and I must admit, after putting it up 10 times it’s still fun to erect (oi oi!). I can see the inflation being a huge advantage on the larger tents though, and Vango has six- (£650) and eight- (£760) man models in their Infinity range which, like the rest of the Airbeam models will be available to buy from 24 May.