Starting at £660 for the 3m and rising to the top of the range 5m Hybrid deluxe at £2190.
The 5m Belle Outback Deluxe (retailing at £1890 when I purchased it) has 18m2 of usable floor space. Two doors; front and back, with additional fly sheets. Mesh windows rather than the standard PVC window panels. Extra flaps between the ZIG groundsheet and walls to keep out bugs.
- Size and space
- High quality materials & product
- Good customer service
- Packed down size (3 large bags)
For those of you who know us well, you’ll know how much we love our canvas tents. We became converts about six years ago and love the sense of calm and homeliness that canvas camping seems to imbue. And I have to be honest, I love to make mine into little palaces; with carpets, organza drapes and fairy lights, the whole nine yards. (Don’t ask nick what he thinks when he’s carrying it across a campsite though!)
I decided back in 2014 to start looking for a replacement for our 5m bell and emperor tents, mainly because taking both tents with me to my hobby events (live action roleplay) was quite difficult; especially putting them up and down on my own. What I REALLY wanted was something that gave me the space of the emperor but the manageability of the bell. I wasn’t sure if such a thing existed but I started looking anyway.
It’s amazing what you can find on the internet and in no time at all, I came across a beautiful picture of a curvaceous beauty that looked like a cross between a flower bud and a romantic Bedouin tent. It was a great surprise to find that this unusual piece of canvas was actually designed in the UK by an equally passionate canvas camper, named Hari Seddon.
This was my first introduction to the Lotus Belle; a range of 3m, 4m and 5m tents with their unique 2m high curvy sidewalls. This distinctive feature means you can stand up all the way to the side of the tent without bending down; something you won’t see on any other bell tent, which as a rule have a 0.6m high wall as standard. I have to say, I was slightly smitten and could see straight away that these tents had the potential to fulfil all our needs. So, I began to investigate further.
Once you’ve gotten past the beautiful shape, the first thing that hits you is the price. These tents aren’t cheap; starting at £660 for the 3m Bud and rising to the top of the range 5m Hybrid deluxe at £2190, but then they are not exactly your average bell tent. Yet despite the price AND despite my continued search to find something similar, I kept being drawn back to these flower-shaped creations. By about mid-way through 2015 I had convinced myself, Nick, and my bank balance that buying one of these beauties would be a good investment. I was also pretty convinced that it would be great for taking the dogs camping too.
Online videos (see links below) convinced me I could handle the canvas sections and put it up myself, while online photos had me imagining how I could make it look as stunning on the inside as it was on the outside. I got in touch with Hari and started to ask lots of questions; could I manage it on my own?, how easy was it to dry? and so on. As 2015 drew to an end, I was finally ready for our new adventure. So I pressed the “place order” button and was on my way to owning my first Lotus Belle.
I opted for the 5m Belle Outback Deluxe (retailing at £1890 when I purchased it) which would gave me 18m2 of usable floor space and two doors; front and back, with additional fly sheets for those hot mozzie-ridden evenings. The tent also came with mesh windows rather than the standard PVC window panels which I’ve always preferred; but that might be a throwback to the bell tent designs. The tent also offered extra flaps between the groundsheet and walls to keep out bugs, something that can be a bonus, if like us you are setting up your tent for more than a day or so and don’t want the little critters seeing you as a new home. Time could not pass quick enough for it to arrive.
‘Kid in a candy store’ does not get anywhere near how I felt when it finally turned up. The first thing you notice is…its huge! The whole thing arrived in a large black bag, looking like someone was hiding a body. And its heavy too, the website says the 5m weights 66kg compared to the 30-40kg of a bell, although I suspect the lotus actually weighs more like 70-75kg with the pegs, poles etc.
It comes packed in the three sections; groundsheet, wall panel and roof with collapsible wall poles, wooden centre pole and rebar pegs separately. Typically, as with most tents, the guy ropes were separate and needed to be put on (which I did in the living room one evening, completely covered in canvas). It was fairly clear that setting this up in the garden was just not gonna happen, so a quick chat with our good friend Liz at Valley Farm gave us access to one of the paddocks. On a rather warm early spring day we headed over to begin the epic setup.
The design of the lotus means that you can set it up and store it in one of two ways; either with the groundsheet and walls separate or fully connected. If you go for the connected version then it is recommended you take the wall poles out each time as the sheer weight of poles, wall and groundsheet would just be unmanageable for a single person. If you opt, as I did for the separate wall and ground sheet arrangement you can permanently leave in the wall poles. This, I think is the better option as trying to put the poles in, in a gale or in rain would be a total nightmare. However, it does leave you with fully erect wall poles (at 2m long) plus a significant piece of canvas. Hari has solved this problem however, by supplying a banana-shaped bag for the whole thing, which is very generous in size. The instructions provided, ensure that in any weather you can get the canvas down and packed quickly, even on your own. I would however, recommend you have a good-sized car with a large boot to lay it in, as it takes up a considerable amount of space. I have a Toyota Surf, a large 4×4 and it will only just go in with the back seats down. That aside, being able to get the groundsheet down and pegs out before getting the canvas in place is definitely the best way to set up the tent, especially of you’re on your own or like us, someone has to set up whilst the other watches the dogs. Hari has clearly spent significant time on the set up instructions and the lovely hand drawn laminated sheets are easy to follow and clean and great if it’s a wet day.
The one thing you notice straight away is the quality of the canvas (360gsm) and the way the tent has been put together. As engineers I guess we notice this more so, but it is quite obvious that serious attention has been paid to every detail. The seams are double stitched and unlike typical bell tent canvas the lotus uses a poly cotton material which feels like canvas on the outside but has a slightly rubberised feel on the inside surface. This adds an additional layer of weatherproofing over the basic canvas bell tent, something that you will certainly be grateful for on wet windy nights.
The groundsheet too is heavy duty 540gsm PVC and is thick and comfy enough for you to walk around with no shoes on and not feel the ground underneath. The wall poles are steel not aluminium, adding strength to the tent. The centre pole comes in three sections with a little wooden plate for it to rest on so it doesn’t damage the groundsheet. Our only issue was the lack of finish on the centre pole which we found to be a bit rough. We were also concerned about the wood taking up moisture and splitting over time, something we have taken up with Hari and she is looking to make sure the 2017 tents will be suitably pressure treated and sealed. The roof section is very quick to get up and the tent has a fantastic heavy-duty Velcro fastening between the top of the wall and the roof, which also has a 4” wide strip of net (similar to the door netting). This not only acts as a deterrent to insects but also enables the tent to breath and flex in the wind, meaning that the whole structure stays solid even in the gustiest breeze.
On your own, set up can take a while and I have over the year developed my own routine, which saves me time, but it can still take me 40 mins depending on the weather. I have done it once with help and it took 15mins, so if you are thinking of taking this on a family holiday then you will have it up in no time.
While I was setting it up the first time I kept thinking “this is big!, its really big”, and to be honest after 6 setups this last year I still say that to myself every time. It truly is a monster when it comes to size. But its beautiful curves and ease of set up means it is a real pleasure and always brings a smile to your face.
I would say this is not a tent for the fainthearted. If you have never camped before or never owned a canvas tent then this is probably not the one to start with (although I am eyeing up the 2 little lotus’; the bud and pearl which might be good intros for beginners). However, if you’re a confident camper looking for a family tent or a static tent for more than a weekend away, this is a fantastic buy and worth the financial investment. It is a home away from home, its spacious yet cosy and won’t let you down in a gale.
We feel extra safe with the dogs in their too, the groundsheet can cope with doggie nails (although we have carpet down) and the heavy-duty zips mean the rascals can’t push their way through and escape. The inside doesn’t seem to pick up the dirt too much even with furry wet muddy bodies barging into it. So all-in-all a paws up from the Campingtails hounds.
With the addition of an inner and an awning this tent really does become a place you want to stay in night after night. We have loved our first year with the Lotus and are looking forward to next season.