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General Introduction

Traditionally, tents and awnings have used rigid tent poles made of wood or metal to form their shape and structure. The stubborn rigidity of these poles and the weight of canvas they had to support, tended to determine the shape and design of the tents. Many of us will be familiar with the traditional shape of the ridge or frame tent. Over the years, as new materials have been developed, tent poles have taken on new characteristics; rigidity has given way to flexibility and poles have become lighter whilst retaining strength. Combining these tent poles with new fabric materials that replaced the weighty traditional canvas, enabled tent designers to flex their creative minds and realise the potential; new tent shapes were born. Dome tents, tunnel tents, semi-geodesic and full geodesic tents appeared on the market and the departure from the traditional tent shape had arrived.

Yet, despite all these technological advances, one thing remained constant; tents had poles. Poles that were made of hard materials. Poles that could be damaged or break. Poles that had to be stored, looked after and transported to and from site. Was there an alternative? The answer of course brings us to the present day - air beam poles. Air beam poles probably represent the biggest change in tent and awning development within the last decade or more. They are a major departure from the traditional methods of providing a tent or awning with its skeleton - the underlying structure on which to hang the clothes or flysheet (whichever you prefer). As such many questions surround them. This article seeks to answer those questions

Are AirBeam Tents New?

You may not be aware, but air beam tents are not new. The Pneumatic Tent Company produced an inflatable tent back in the 1960's, called the Igloo. Some people are still using them to this day and there are many nostalgic anecdotes to be found on the internet regarding them. In fact, people are still selling and buying them. We understand that one way of pumping them up was to remove a spark plug from your car's engine and connect the tent's air beams to the engine with a long tube. When the car engine was started up it would pump up the tent! We don't think Vango will be developing a similar method for their air beams!

So What Is An AirBeam?

An air beam is surprising simple and uncomplicated. Essentially it has three parts; the outer sleeve, the inner tube or inflatable tube and a one-way or non-return valve.

The outer sleeve is made from a very tough and robust ripstop nylon material. Ripstop nylon is a woven fabric that uses a special reinforcing technique making it resistant to tearing and ripping. The sleeves' main function is to protect the inner tube which is does superbly, but it also plays a part in adding strength and substance to the air beam.

The inner tube (inflatable tube) is made of heavy-duty clear plastic and of course this is the chamber that the air is pumped into. The tube is pumped to the correct pressure using the hand pump provided, making it firm and rigid and ready to perform its role in supporting the fabric of the tent or awning.

The one-way valve enables air to be pumped into the inner tube, but when the pump is taken off, the valve shuts automatically to stop the air from escaping. The inner tube therefore stays inflated until you deliberately choose to allow the air to escape; typically, when you wish to take the tent or awning down.

How Reliable Are AirBeams?

An interesting approach to answering this question is through the consideration of air beams and their use in products other than tents. (Yes, interestingly, air beams are used in other products). One such product is the power kite. Power kites are used for kitesurfing, kite land boarding and kite buggying. The type of power kite we are referring to is known as a Leading Edge Inflatable or LEI for short.

Like tents, these kites use air beams to form the rigid skeletal structure they require. Other similarities include the use of valves and isolated beams so that a puncture will result in only the affected beam deflating. The critical nature of the air beam's reliability for someone out at sea and their reliance on the airbeam's continuing functionality need hardly require emphasis. A really nice additional advantage of air beams for the kite surfer is the increase buoyancy they give - very useful when the kite comes down on the sea.

The air beams in these kites are made from similar robust ripstop and plastic materials and a similar construction technique to those in tents and awnings. It is clear that modern air beam technology is very reliable and trustworthy.

How Are Vango AirBeams Fitted to The Awning?

The main air beams are pre-attached. They fit into a zipped receiving sleeve that is part of the awning. This gives them even further protection. It also means that removing an air beam is very easy and simple; unzip the sleeve and pull-out the air beam. This of course means that if you do need to repair or replace an airbeam it is nothing to worry about. They really are very accessible. It is also important to appreciate that the awning uses several separate air beams. If an air beam is punctured then only that air beam is affected. The entire tent or awning does not collapse. Simply repair or replace the damaged beam and put it back into the receiving sleeve and the job is done.

There are additional air beams that attach to the tent or awning. They do this via straightforward Velcro fixing points at the end of the beam. These bracing beams provide extra stability across the width of the tent or awning.

When Did Vango Tents Using AirBeams First Appear?

Vango introduced airbeam tents in 2011, following 12 years of development and testing. (Isn't it pleasing in this day and age, to hear of a product range that hasn't been rushed onto the market due to economic pressures and has undergone proper testing before being released). Vango Airbeam tents have been subjected to wind speeds of up to 100 kilometers per hour in Vango's certified wind test center. Since the introduction of Vango Airbeams there have been some changes. The air beams are now pumped to a higher pressure than when they first came onto the market and the method of attaching them has been refined.

How Do I Repair an AirBeam?

Firstly, remember that access to air beams is not difficult, so you will be able remove the beam and carry out the repair in a convenient, suitable place. Small punctures can be fixed using the repair kit included with the tent or awning or alternatively you can use Tear Aid patches. Alternatively the whole inner tube can easily be replaced.

What Are the Advantages of a Vango AirBeam Tent?

As you can imagine, Vango would not have invested 12 years in developing airbeams unless there were good reasons for doing so. We have outlined the main advantages below:

Ease And Speed of Setup

Do you remember the days when you use to get to the campsite, take all the poles out of their storage bag, place them on the ground and then play the game of working out what pole went where (even despite the fact that you had colour coded them). With air beams that is a thing of the past. The air beams are already pre-attached. No separate bag. No guessing where they go. The four general steps are 1) Take the tent out of the bag 2) Pop a peg in each corner 3) Pump up the inflatable beams 4) Peg down a few guylines.

The typical time for setting up an air beam tent or awning is remarkably fast; 10-20 minutes depending on the size.

Weight Reduction

Replacing the metal or fiberglass poles with air beams greatly reduces the weight that needs to be transported to site and carried to and from the vehicle to the pitch. In turn, this reduces your fuel costs and means that you have more money in your pocket for spending on your holiday. Remember also, that because you do not have to carry heavy poles, there is less likelihood of you starting your holiday by straining your back.

Superior Functionality

Because of the inherent nature of the materials, metal and fiberglass poles are prone to damage, particularly in stormy conditions. Their failure to yield to the forces of the storm means they have a tendency to buckle or break. Finding replacement poles that have the same dimensions, that are of the correct length and have the right fittings etc. is rarely an easy task. Air beams, by contrast, are less prone to damage in storms. They have a greater natural give in them. If they do need to be repaired, then the supplied kit will generally do the job.

Pitching By One Person

Because of the simplicity and ease of filling the air beams it is possible for just one person to pitch them, even on large tents or awnings. (Note: whilst we say it is possible, in practice it is still very useful to have someone else to help - even if this is just to position the beams as they begin to fill.)

So It's Easy To Put Up - Is It As Easy To Take Down?

The deflation and taking down process of the Vango AirBeam is very easy. Simply unscrew each valve to release the air and allow it to deflate quickly. If you are thinking that sounds a bit too easy and are wondering if it could happen by accident, then be reassured that it needs to be a deliberate effort. Once the tent is fully deflated it is ready to be folded away into the carry bag that is supplied.

What About The Pump - Does It Come With One - Are There Any Other Options?

Yes - all Vango AirBeam tents and awnings are supplied with a hand pump. These are double action pumps meaning they put air into the beam on both the down stroke and the up stroke saving you energy and time. The pump also has a pressure guage on it so you can see that you have pumped the air beam upto the correct pressure.

These hand pumps are very efficient and do their job well. They have a specific fitting to attach to the airbeam valve and Vango state you should not use other hand pumps or electric pumps. They also state you should not use a compressor as they will be too powerful. It is possible to replace or purchase a spare Vango pump if you feel you need to do so.

Should All Vango AirBeam Tents Be Inflated To The Same Pressure?

These airbeams are pumped to 7psi giving greater stiffness and stability and have a tougher outer skin.

What Other Features Do Vango AirBeam Tents And Awnings Have?

With all the focus on airbeams, it is very easy to forget or overlook the fact that tents with airbeams are still tents and awnings and therefore share many other features with all tents and awnings that it would be useful to know about.

Please Note: The features listed below are common to all Vango AirBeam Tents at the time of writing BUT you should check the individual model that you are interested in to confirm the specific features for each model of tent.

Vango Tension Band System (TBS) - All Vango Airbeams use the tension band system. This is a patented system exclusive to Vango. The purpose of the system is to give additional stability to the tent or awning in windy conditions. It is also a versatile system; in calm, non-windy conditions, the bands can be taken off very quickly and easily and stored away. The bands are just as easy to reconnect when the weather changes and they are needed again. The level of tension provided by the bands can be easily adjusted. The tension band system works by adding extra bracing to the tent or awning and preventing sideways movement. Tents using TBS have been tested in extreme conditions in Vango's wind certified test centre with speeds of up to 100km/hour.

Diamond Clear Windows - (similar to Crystal Clear Windows) with Zip Down / Zip Up Curtains The large diamond clear PVC windows give maximum interior light and great visibility, but these are combined with the really well thought out zip up / zip down curtains. These store 'themselves' at the bottom or base of the window so they are to hand - just where you need them to be. Operating them is simplicity itself; just pull up or down with the left and right zip. Another excellent feature of the curtains is the ability to position them to cover as much or as little of the window as you choose. This really is an example of a simple but effective idea that just enhances your camping experience

Vango Airzone Ventilation - Anyone who has spent any time in a tent knows the scenario well; lack of ventilation in the tent or awning makes the air stale and often humid so that the environment becomes oppressive and uncomfortable. A classic example would be returning to your tent from a lovely day out; quite sensibly the tent has been closed up completely and as you enter the tent you think you have been transported to the Sahara Desert. The good news is that Vango Airbeam tents and awnings come with the Airzone system. The key word here is control. Ventilation points are placed all around the tent - both high and low - giving you control over the amount of ventilation and enabling you to create a comfortable environment that will enable you to relax and enjoy your time in the tent.

Lights Out Inners - Unlike your house which is constructed from substantial materials that block out the early morning light enabling you to get a good night's rest and feel refreshed in the morning, tents and the fabrics they are made of do not. To solve this problem Vango have developed what they call 'Lights Out Inners'; a simple solution that uses darker fabrics for the inner bedrooms to reduce the amount of light and give you a longer sleeping period - something we all need when we are on holiday.

Sewn-In Groundsheets - Sewn-in groundsheets have multiple advantages by virtue of the fact that the groundsheet is sewn to the tent walls, providing a better seal than separate groundsheets. As well as helping to reduce the likelihood of bugs and insects gaining entry into the tent, they also help to reduce unwanted drafts. Furthermore, they reduce the likelihood of water coming into the tent or awning between the walls and groundsheet - something separate groundsheets are proned to do.

Vango Guylines & Guyline Runners - and Vango's Patented Line Lok You would be forgiven if you thought a guyline was just a guyline. Vango have produced reflective guylines that have a reflective strip woven into them making them more visible and therefore less of a tripping hazard. They have also produced 'Line Lok', a patented guyline runner that locks securely and is simple to release and performs well in all weather conditions. Vango's guylines are also fixed to the tent or awning in very specific positions, because they work in conjunction with the Vango Tension Band System described above to give maximum stability and tension (TBS II).

Vango Airbeam Tents - From 2015 Onwards

AirSpeed Valves - Vango have re-designed the valves on their airbeam tents range to make inflating and deflating the tent even easier than before. The old screw cap cover is no longer required and has gone - instead there is an integral locking cap which can be used as a key for locking the valve. The pump that is used to inflate the tent now locks into the valve, preventing it from blowing out when you are inflating the tent.

To deflate the air beam tent simply press and turn the valves button to changed it from the closed to the open position. Again, you can use the integral locking cap to aid you in doing this.

New Inflation Points - Vango have moved the inflation points on the tent from the very bottom to a height that makes them more accessible and just generally easier to get to.

Improved Ventilation - Because Vango have moved the inflation points from the bottom of the tent they are able to provide greater ventilation and the increase air flow reduces the likelihood of unwanted condensation in the tent.

Improved Pump - it is important to pump the air beam tent to the correct pressure and to this end, Vango have improved the pressure dial and the pressure release valve on the pump. The pressure release valve is a safety mechanism that helps you avoid over pumping the tent (it is not good to pump the tent to a pressure that exceeds the recommended PSI). The pump now has a connector that locks into the valve and prevents it from blowing out when you are inflating the tent. Certain materials that are used to make the pump have been improved making the pump generally stronger and more durable.

AirBeam S.I Pro - Single Point Inflation – With 10 years’ experience of AirBeam development and testing, Vango introduces single point inflation, a new and revolutionary feature for quick and easy inflation through the AirSpeed S.I Pro valve. Our unique system ensures pitch time is minimised while the multiple AirSpeed valves help with simple deflation. The added feature of self-isolated AirBeams ensures that in the unlikely event of a puncture, the structure remains strong and functional.

Vango AirBeam Tents - Video Reviews by Three Zero

Vango Vesta Air 850XL

New for the 2022 season, the Vango Vesta Air 850XL is part of Vango's Earth range. The tent features Vango's S.I. Inflation system that allows one point inflation. Couple this with Vango's Tension Band System II and you have a really superb tent ready to face all weather conditions.

The Vesta Air 850XL is made with Sentinel Eco Dura Fabric which focuses on the environment taking single use waste plastic and transforms it in to a durable flysheet. The introduction of ColourLok technology and coupled with a 4,000mm HH waterproof rating, ensures market leading quality and performance, plus supporting our outdoor environment.

Want to know more? Then take a look at our video review and full product details.

Vango Stargrove II Air TC 600XL

This large tunnel tent from Vango will sleep up to 6 people and a nice feature to help get that all important sleep are the darkened ' Nightfall' bedrooms. Pre-bent beams mean less crouching as they provided excellent headroom.

The tent also features premium Sentinel Experience TC Fabric, a durable fabric which combines the leading properties of both cotton and polyester to create a rich polycotton fabric. Sentinel Experience TC is breathable and climate controlling helping to keep the tent cooler when the weather is hot, and warmer in cold conditions

Want to know more? Then take a look at our video review and full product details.

Vango AirAway Awnings - Video Reviews by Three Zero

Vango Magra VW Awning

The Magra VW is an awning that fits parallel to your van and features a sporty design. The awing features a large main area that can accommodate an optional bedroom inner tent. There is a large porch at the front perfect for alfresco cooking and a smaller eyebrow porch at the rear.

Vango Cove II Air Low

The Cove II Air is also made to go alongside your van in parallel but features 70 denier fabrics allowing it to be more budget friendly whilst offering great versatility. A large porch at the front of the awning is great for cooking or sitting under cover and the main compartment can accommodate an optional bedroom inner tent.