This tent was provided to me free of charge by Go Outdoors for the purposes of this review.
It’s summer and festival season once again, and so it wasn’t a huge surprise that the list of tents GO asked me to pick from to review focused firmly on that market. Not a festival-goer myself, I skipped over the pop-up and beach shelter type tents and looked for something that I could actually find a use for – essentially something for backpacking or a car camping tent. And so the Atom 3 arrived.
At first glance
Described as perfect for occasional weekends away and festivals, the whole package seemed reasonably small and not excessively heavy considering it would only need to be carried a relatively short distance. I couldn’t be bothered to check the quoted weight of 4.39kg, as at that weight I’m not going to be lugging it up a hill, despite GO’s inclusion of backpacking as one of its uses. As a car camping tent or something to be carried across a field it’s fine.
As its name suggests, the Atom 3 is a 3 berth tent, which really means it sleeps 2 adults with room to move around, or 3 if desperate. With a bedroom length of 200cm, compared with my height of 182cm this doesn’t leave a lot of room to play with.
My first issue was getting it all out of the bag – one knot in particular took me over 5 minutes to work undone, and I knew I’d never get the tent as neatly back in the bag as it arrived. More on this later. The bag contains the red and grey outer, a separate inner with built in porch groundsheet, a bag of poles and a bag of pegs.
The only other thing I noted before beginning to pitch was a discrepancy between the spec on the website and what it said on the tent itself. The spec states that the tent has a hydrostatic head of 2000m, but it is quite clear on the tent itself… One of these is clearly wrong, but as it stands this means GO are marketing a tent as more waterproof than it actually is if you look at the tent itself and they need to sort this out.
The quality itself was pretty much what I expected. This is a cheap mass-produced tent and so there were a number of ends of threads hanging off. There was nothing obviously wrong with the fabric though. The guylines, however, are terrible chunky stretchy things, but at the same time exactly what I expect from a budget tent. The pegs are thin and bend easily – also as I expected. But whilst these qualities don’t really endear this tent to backpacking, this isn’t really what it’s for – this is firmly for lowland car camping and pitching in amoungst other tents. So it doesn’t need to be able to withstand a gale or extreme conditions. All it needs to do is keep you dry and stay up under normal lowland weather conditions and use.
Pitching for the first time
GO give a pitching time of 10 minutes in the spec, which I had my suspicions about even before I saw the tent – if only because of its size, as even a small backpacking tent like my Scarp takes at least 5 minutes to put up properly by normal mortals. The Atom 3 has 3 poles and loads of guys to peg out, plus the inner then has to be clipped into the outer. It simply isn’t humanly possible to pitch this tent from its as new packing in 10 minutes. With practice maybe, but only then if the inner is left clipped in from last time, and if there’s more than one of you doing it. Indeed, the first time I pitched, it took most of the 10 minutes just to clip the inner in.
The first pitch, though, is never a good representation of the pitch time of a tent with some practice.
We laid the tent out and started putting the 3 poles through their sleeves – colour coding making it clear which are the two crossover poles for the main dome and which is the pole for the porch. They went through their sleeves ok and nested on the metal spike things without too much trouble. I got all of the guys pegged out and then stepped inside to do the laborious bit of attaching the inner. There’s plenty of clips here which help to stop the inner becoming too billowy, but at the cost of pitch time.
A first night in the tent
I left the tent in the garden overnight and it rained. The Atom didn’t appear to leak and survived the night fine. Next morning I looked out into the garden where I also had my two backpacking tents pitched to dry and air after the previous weekend’s wild camp in Wales. It was interesting to see when the breeze got up that Monica, my Scarp was bending and flexing to the wind, but the Atom 3 was sitting pretty solidly on the lawn. This gave me the confidence to actually spend a night in it.
That night, I crept out to the tent at bedtime and made myself comfortable in the Atom. Difficult with my good sleep mat away at scout camp with my daughter, so all I had was a bit of thin tent underlay beneath me. But after the usual Saturday night urban sounds had died down I got to sleep quickly and only woke at sunrise. So as first nights go it was quite good and certainly better than my first night in Monica last year.
I was also pleased to see a bit of moisture on the tent in the morning with none of it having made its way inside. Nevertheless, with the large expanse of mesh at the end of the bedroom, I could see how if any rain did get through the vent, then I could have got quite wet. Pitched properly, I don’t think this is a major issue, and I suspect that at least some of the users that have reviewed this tent and said it leaked may not have achieved a good pitch and good separation of inner and outer. But having said that, it is a cheaply produced tent and there is inevitably going to be some variation in quality between batches.
I’d deliberately set low expectations, but overall I was happy with how the tent performed given its budget billing. It kept me dry, I had a decent night’s sleep, it’s a good size for what I’d use it for (2 person car camping), and it withstood a bit of wind.
The first thing I’ll do though before using it in anger out and about is replace the thin pegs, some of which bent easily and several of which simply came out of the ground.
If I were going to use this tent a lot, then I’d also replace the guys with something lighter, stronger and less bulky. But they’ll do for an occasional night, and for most people this is aimed at (for festival use), they’ll be fine. I can imagine the glow in the dark would be quite useful in that scenario.
As I said, I’d also only consider using this tent for two – the picture below shows one small sleep mat, so you can see that 3 big adults might be a bit cosy.
One thing I do like is the side entrance, allowing for some flexibility in both privacy and access on a crowded site and the ability to keep the worst of the rain from driving inside. I also like the idea of the pre-attached groundsheet, although some care is needed to stop water sitting on top of it because it goes right up to the outer. These two features are probably the reason you would choose the Atom over any of the other 2-3 man tents in the Hi Gear range.
Because of the time it takes to attach the inner, I left it attached when I took the tent down, but the downside of this was that this made it a lot more difficult to get in back in the carry bag, and even with a fair bit of pounding and squashing I couldn’t get the bag shut. That may just be my packing, but it’s not a problem I have with any other tent I own, and essentially leaves me with a choice of an easy carry or a quick pitch, but not both.
Taking everything into account, I like this tent a lot more than I thought I would, and think it’ll do a fine job for most people it’s aimed at. The shortcomings it does have are pretty much what I would expect from a budget tent. But what really counts is how the tent lasts with repeated use, and that’s something I won’t know for some time. I can see me quite happily using this as a car camping tent for single overnight stops and think it’ll be ideal for me and the missus on a road trip for instance.
The Hi Gear Atom 3 is available exclusively from Go Outdoors at a price of £49.99 with a discount card (RRP £80). But watch out for their periodic tent sales and you may get it a bit cheaper.