Family camping kit: Coleman Oak Canyon 6 tent reviewed (2018)

Reviewed by Ben Weeks of Trail magazine

  Reviewed by Trail magazine's Ben Weeks (and family)

Reviewed by Trail magazine's Ben Weeks (and family)

Specifications

  • Capacity: 6 person

  • Rooms: 3

  • Set up: Pitch in one

  • Structure: Tunnel

  • Poles: Steel & fibreglass

  • Groundsheet: PE, welded, fully integrated

  • Outer fabric: Polyester PU coated/Fire retardant

  • Inner fabric: Breathable Polyester, Polyester PU coated, No-see-um mesh

  • Seams: Taped seams

  • Carry bag: Included

  • Pack size: 71 x 35 x 33 cm

  • Weight: 27.2 kg

  • Water column: 4500mm

We spent a lot of time researching which tent to buy. When a family of four goes on holiday, you need to have done your homework to avoid any tears and tantrums - and that's just the parents. You can read about the pre-purchase considerations here, but to see how the tent fared when used in anger for the first time, read on...

Portability

The Oak Canyon comes all neatly folded and wrapped up in its own two-handled carry-bag - poles, pegs, flysheet, bedroom inners are all held within. But this creates a pack weighing 27.2 kg (60 lbs) and measuring 71 x 35 x 33cm (28 x 14 x 13 inches). At the very least you'll need a car boot and, depending how far away from your pitch you have to park, possibly a trolley. This bulk is inconvenient, but a result of the tough fabrics, poles and blackout materials. Lighter, more portable family tents are available, but lack these benefits.

Pitching

 Back garden testing is a good idea to iron out any niggles or difficulties before pitching for real.

Back garden testing is a good idea to iron out any niggles or difficulties before pitching for real.

I forget who it was who said it - Oscar Wilde or Winston Churchill or Confucius or someone like that - but somebody wise once said "Always practice pitching your tent before using it for the first time". That's good advice. We'd practiced pitching the Oak Canyon in the flat and sheltered environment of our back garden some weeks before. It is just about manageable solo, but not recommended - it's far easier with two people.

As it turned out, it required all four of us to get it set up when we came to use it for real. We were camping on a beautiful but desperately exposed cliff-top campsite on the south-western coast of the Isle of Wight, and on our day of arrival the wind was blowing a hoolie; around 25-30mph with stronger gusts. A large family tent catches the wind like a sail, and it took three people to hold it down while I got the initial tent pegs in place. Once pinned down, the poles could be assembled and inserted. The poles and their respective fly-sheet sleeves are colour coded which makes getting everything in the right place simple. There are also some useful instruction sewn into the tent bag.

 The dual attachment points of some of the guy lines can result in a pinched look to the tent and affect the use of the door.

The dual attachment points of some of the guy lines can result in a pinched look to the tent and affect the use of the door.

It took all of us again to raise the poles upright and keep them in situ while pegging out the guy lines. If you're used to more compact one or two-person expedition tents, dealing with such an unwieldy beast takes some getting used to. But there are plenty of pegging points - several around the edge of the groundsheets, and multiple guy lines on each side. The pegs are of the standard wire variety and a little prone to bending. They are also tough to push into hard ground - we invested in a rubber mallet from the campsite shop.

When fully pegged out the Oak Canyon seems reasonably stable and sturdy. The only criticism would be in the design and placement of some of the guy lines. A few of them have dual attachment points, and are connected to both a high and low point on the flysheet. In most cases this isn't an issue, but on the front of the tent where the two central lines attach to the porch pole and either side of the door it's impossible to avoid the fabric becoming 'pinched', which affects the use of the door (see photo).

Protection

Large family tents like this aren't designed to tolerate the kinds of challenges that smaller expedition tents might encounter. Rather than exposed mountainous terrain, a tent like the Oak Canyon 6 is created for campsite camping where the pitches are flat and the weather conditions less extreme. However, it's still possible to encounter less than favourable circumstances even here. Our pitch was near the edge of a south-west facing cliff and prone to the prevailing winds. Ideally, we'd have pitched with the rear of the tent facing into the wind to present the most streamlined profile. Unfortunately, the size and orientation of our designated pitch meant this wasn't possible, and we had to pitch with the largest, most verticle aspect of the tent - the front - facing the gusts. This left us feeling more than a little vulnerable.

On the plus side, the flysheet has an impressive 4500mm hydrostatic head, which should be more than enough for even the most persistent downpours. The flysheet is completely sealed which means there are no draughts, although there are options to vent in various places if it gets a little warm. The blackout bedrooms do a great job of keeping the sun out, which means that they can be a couple of degrees cooler than the outside temperature. The ground sheet is reassuringly thick and tough, which keeps any moisture out. The addition of a tent carpet (sold separately) adds warmth and comfort to the main living area and keeps out ground-chill.

But back to that wind...

We pitched in the wind around mid-day and went out for the afternoon. When we returned early evening we discovered the tent in a state of collapse. The porch pole had come out of it's mounts and appeared to have snapped. It had also punctured the flysheet, creating a small tear. Two of the front guy lines were damaged - one was snapped and the other had worn through to the core. We were concerned that this might be a premature end to our camping trip.

However, it transpired that the pole had not snapped. One of the metal collars had come away from the end of a pole section meaning the neighbouring section had nowhere to mount and had come adrift. This was easily fixed with some gaffa tape. We bought a couple of extra guy cords from the campsite shop and repaired the damaged lines, and used the repair kit included with the Oak Canyon 6 to patch the tear. We were soon up and running again.

It should be made clear here that these issues are not entirely the fault of the tent. As stated above, in an ideal world we would have pitched the tent in a different orientation, and the clifftop site is about as exposed as a formal campsite is likely to get. We could also have pitched further back from the edge among the other tents for more protection...but we wanted the sea view!

Coleman-Oak-Canyon-6-h.jpg

In use

This is where the Oak Canyon 6 excels. As a place to live for a while, it's wonderful. The living area  is spacious and airy. It has three large windows which can be covered for privacy or left open for the views and light. The big front door and slightly smaller side door are both two-layer affairs - an inner mesh door and an outer waterproof door. These can be rolled up together or independently to allow air and light in but keep insects out. The only slight annoyance is that there aren't 2-way zips on the inner mesh doors so they can't be unzipped from the top. This is a minor issue though and barely affects their use. There are venting option above the main door and below the side window to allow air flow even with the doors shut, plus a small protected opening that allows a cable to be run into the tent. We'd opted for a pitch with an electric hook-up so we could have lighting and a powered cool-box in use, and the living area has Velcro loops over the ceiling to allow for the cable to be run through the tent without getting in the way.

But it's the bedrooms that really set the Oak Canyon aside. The three double rooms are all blackout rooms and, with the doors shut, are very near perfectly dark. Not only does this make it much easier to sleep (how many of us have been woken up as soon as the sun's up when camping?) it also keeps the bedrooms cooler. As an indication of how effective these are, consider this: my 8-year old daughter is usually awake and up at 7am. If she's excited - such as when on a camping holiday - that can be even earlier. On our final morning, she didn't wake up until 8.30am. That is a success by any measure.

There are various extras you can purchase separately to augment the Oak Canyon: a tent carpet (£100), a footprint to protect the tent's groundsheet (£50) and an extension to make the living area even larger (£200). We purchased the carpet, and it certainly made for a more comfortable and luxurious experience. We also bought the footprint for additional protection, although we didn't use it on this occasion. If we were camping for a week or longer, and certainly if the tent is used at its 6-person capacity, we may consider the front extension, but for now there's no need.

Value for money

The RRP of £500 is fairly good for this level and size of family tent. Cheaper alternatives are available but they tend to feature more flimsy poles, thinner fabrics, and certainly won't have the benefit of blackout bedrooms. When you consider that it's possible to purchase this tent for £50 less through Go Outdoors, and that there are regularly bundle deals available that allow the extras such as the carpet, footprint and extension to be bought together at a discounted rate, and the value creeps up even further. 

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Verdict

If you're on the lookout for a reasonably priced family tent that provides a pleasant place to live and sleep, look no further. The Coleman Oak Canyon 6 isn't quite perfect - it's happiest on more sheltered  campsites and will struggle in strong winds. It's also quite heavy to transport and a two-person job to pitch. But once pitched, it easily becomes a home from home and, if you want to purchase the add on extras, my even become something of a palace.

  • Portability 3/5

  • Pitching 4/5

  • Protection 3/4

  • In use 5/5

  • Value for Money 4/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 76%