Inflatable air tents have been around, sort of, for more than a decade, but it’s only been these last few years that they have started to become affordable for the average camper.
When I first heard about these tents, I was crazy about the idea. I checked out some YouTube videos and they only served to make me more thrilled with the concept. It was, in fact, my search for one to buy that led me to rethink the decision for a time.
Most of the information on inflatable tents out there right now is published by people who want to sell them. This leads to a, shall we say, conflict when it comes to being 100% transparent regarding possible drawbacks. Before I go into those, in the interest of being balanced in this review, I would like to point out the advantages to an inflatable tent:
- Pitching the tent is generally stupid-easy. Use a pump and blow the air poles up. Give it a shake to help it along now and then. Ta-da!
- Tends of offer lots of headroom and storage in the larger tents.
- No worries of metal or fiberglass tent poles snapping.
- Lighter, all told, due to no metal poles.
So those are the main advantages. But let’s take a look at the disadvantages
This may be the biggest drawback of all, because when you spend four hundred to four thousand dollars on a tent, you want it to be pretty near perfect. Since inflatable tents are still kind of new on the market, relatively speaking, they are, in fact, not. For the reasons I will now mention.
I did say, when speaking about advantages, that weight was an advantage, so why is it also a disadvantage? Because you can’t separate the weight. It’s one huge piece of tent. The poles can’t be distributed into separate carrying bags. This makes it awkward, sometimes, to pack and carry to the area where you are going to set it up.
Many inflatable air tents just don’t stake out well yet. Sure, it looks beautiful in the display pictures and videos and showroom; but when it comes to inflating it and staking it out (and some just plain won’t inflate to tent shape unless it’s staked out), the air poles won’t hold the pressure necessary. This leads to some tents being a little saggy. Who wants a droopy tent? And if you’re camping in an area where staking tents is near impossible, this can lead to problems. The geodesic designs seem to do a better job, but they are often labelled as three-person, when in fact one person will fit comfortably. To be fair, a lot of standard tents do the same thing. But not for the price inflatable tents command.
No one really mentions it, except to tell you “And if it springs a leak, it’s so easy to fix!” The point here is that it does run the risk of springing a leak, whether due to punctures or poorly sealed seams. When that happens, you need to fix it like you would any air mattress or leaking bicycle tire. Those air poles are on the outside. You have the same problem, then, fixing your tent as you would replacing a metal or fiberglass tent pole. With no guarantee that you got all of the leak sealed–that will have to wait until you see or don’t see your tent sagging again.
Pricey Tent Options.
Technically, this could be the second paragraph under the “Price” subheading, but I thought it deserved its own little spot. Most tents boast windows and doors that are fabulous, but unless you buy the really good stuff, many are not. Windows are too high up or too small, doors have poor zippability, and mesh becomes, mysteriously, as expensive as spun gold when it comes to said windows and doors. Every convenient option increases the price of your tent by leaps and bounds. If you have money to burn this is no problem, but I think most of us don’t have that advantage.
I can hear air-tent manufacturers screaming in rage as I type these words. The fact of the matter is, mainstream inflatable tents have not been on the market long enough to tell whether or not they will last long enough to make the purchase worthwhile. It’s a fact of life that when some really good idea comes along and it begins to be affordable, many of those mainstream ideas are lacking in durability and quality, a few of them shockingly so. Any purchase needs to be thoroughly researched; this means finding out about the tent you want to buy, seeing if there are any reviews and checking them out, and also checking out the company that makes the tent. Is there good customer service, or do they disappear the moment you mention a problem? Are they a member of the Better Business Bureau? Any complaints about them? How old is the company? What kind of guarantee do they give, and is there any indication they will renege on that promise? Make sure due diligence is part of that monetary outlay.
One of the selling points manufacturers like to use for their inflatable tents is the fact that you can pack it down into this teensy-tinesy package because you don’t have to worry about tent poles. The fact of the matter is, once air has gotten into those air poles, they stand a chance of keeping some of that air in, so it doesn’t pack down as tightly as, say, a down-filled sleeping bag. Forget trying to get most of them back into the carrying bag they come with. Ever pack up a deflated air mattress? Same principle.
The Obsolete Factor.
As with all man-made items, trends and fashions come and go. Materials and building techniques improve, and even a person’s tent-size needs changes. A wonderful little two-person geodesic inflatable tent may become closet filler when you marry and have kids. Huge tents may become too large, as kids move away or you want to camp in places where large tents can’t be set up. The inflatable air tent that is so cutting-edge today may be outdated tomorrow–in the last ten years, the options, materials, and how they make them have changed dramatically.
I still love these tents. But they are extremely expensive for so many ifs to be present. I have a ten-man instant pop-up tent right now and it’s quick and painless to set up, even if I’m by myself. It can be packed away fairly simply and while it’s bulky, it’s not so bulky that it can’t be stored where I want it to be stored. And the 10-man instant tent is waaay cheaper than anything even remotely comparable in size for the inflatable.
When all is said and done, I can’t justify the price. I’m not giving up, though–I think the inflatable tent is here to stay, and as it becomes more and more mainstream, the quality will be there for the price. I’m keeping an eye on these tents, and as soon as it happens I will be buying one. Just not right now.