I posted long ago about the tent Westfalia sold as an accessory for their VW bus camper conversions and wanted to return to the topic with a focus on their setup. Let me start by saying I always admired these canvas tents when I came across them at shows. Often referred to as the drive-away tent, standalone tent, bus tent, or, in the more modern variations, the add-a-room tent, they always seemed so practical to me. Four people can easily sleep inside and, sans people, there is ample room for extra gear, getting dressed, board games, or escaping the elements. And those colors! The great 1970’s color scheme always reminded me of a circus tent and is many levels higher on the cool-factor chart than the drab green canvas tents in which I slept as a kid. Even with today’s brighter colored tents, it remains easy to find your campsite with this tent. With the arrival of Moby, we quickly adopted the tent as mandatory equipment because the space became so useful when camping with kids.
Yet, despite their usefulness stated above, drawbacks associated with this canvas dwelling became apparent after a few trips. Not to be misunderstood, I still love these tents and would never get rid of or stop using mine, but I discovered there are occasions when it is appropriate to leave it behind. One of these drawbacks is the volume of space the tent consumes in transit (and in the garage). There are two large canvas bags, one for the poles and one for the tent, that eat up valuable bus space that otherwise might be useful for gear or kids (I tried leaving the kids behind, but they protest too much :). Following close behind is weight. This big canvas tent with heavy-duty aluminum poles arrives at a combined weight of approximately 63 pounds. Finally, when set up, the tent decreases cross-ventilation through the bus which, during warmer weather camping, can make for a sticky, stifling night.
Notwithstanding the above complaints, the tent does have its time in the sun (so to speak). Because of the extra room, privacy, and shear ambiance, the tent makes for a perfect addition for cool weather camping. Although I am still not sure if I would haul it during a trip in which we slept at a different location each night. The longer the stay in one spot, the more worthwhile the effort of setting it up.
We all know that when we arrive at our destination, our impulse usually focuses on getting to the relaxing part as soon as possible. The pole system for the bus tent is not as straightforward as our modern tent systems and stands as an impediment to the goal of feet up ASAP. One person can erect the tent with a bit of fussing and slow-going, but two people is ideal. In fact, the more people, the merrier.
Bus pilots tend to employ a variety of methods to help speed the setup process, including painting the poles so as to quickly match conjoining parts (as did our tent’s PO). We found the paint method to be of little help and came up with our own system using colored electrical tape for pole identification. After setting the tent up a few years ago, we taped all the poles where they joined together; each corner had a unique color as well as the center roof sections. Sadly, once we taped the poles, we never used the tent again. That is until our first Dubs in the Shrubs VW show and camp out, an event that provided a great excuse to see if our system worked. We seemed to have good results but the method is still not perfect. Last April we set the tent up again, this time along side of Tom’s tent, and he finished setup a little bit before we did and only relied on a simple corner paint scheme for pole connections.
Below are pictures of what we did, how we go about setting up our tent, and a few corrections to some common mistakes seen over the years at shows, campgrounds and for sale ads.
Tent (red and blue) and pole (brown) bags. From the few tents I’ve seen packed up, it appears Westfalia used scrap material to assemble the bags as the colors vary widely among examples. One can get a sense of the space these bags consume from this photo.
All the original tent block and tackle. 4 stakes, guy-ropes, and wooden guy-stays fit nicely into the original bag (which, like the bigger bags above, vary in color).
The four corner poles consist of two poles; the lower portion is inserted into the upper and height is adjusted by loosening the two screws near the bottom of each pole.
The bottom of each corner pole is capped by a pointed, plastic foot designed to fit into a ring at the lower tent corners. Very often the feet or plastic screw heads get broken when they are carelessly thrown into the pole bag or the bag itself is tossed around.
These two poles hold the front tent flap up to form an awning over the entrance. (See earlier post)
The front poles fit together in socket fashion with spring tension holding them in place.
Side, roof, and junction poles.
The tent’s previous owner spray painted the corners/ends of the poles to aid in figuring out which pole went where. However, we did not find his system of much help. We didn’t want to use something as permanent as paint and therefore opted for colored electrical tape to mark the corners and pole ends.
These canvas tents are designed to hang from the pole frame. Therefore, the first step in setting up the tent is putting the frame together.
Using our color scheme, all matching single-colored poles meet at one corner.
Poles between corners received tape with the respective corner colors.
Once the frame is ready, the tent is placed under the frame and spread out with the small door facing away from the bus. (Photo credit: Tom)
The tent hangs from the pole frame via rubber hangers that wrap around the pole with a plastic hook anchored in a grommet at the base of the hanger. One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen with these tents is when owners snap the plastic hook over the pole – THIS WILL BREAK THE PLASTIC HOOK IN WIND, RAIN, OR JUST WITH USE OVER TIME!
At each corner, there are two hangers which wrap around each side of the frame corner. Very often these two get wrapped around the same pole which leads to extra stress on the hangers.
With the tent hung, the frame is ready for raising.
But before doing so, the corner pole feet should be inserted into the rings at the tent’s bottom corners.
With four people, all corners may be raised at the same time to full height (easiest). With two people, raise one side 3/4 of the way followed by raising the opposite side to full height. Then the first side can be raised to full height. If only one person is available, you might ask yourself why you brought the tent to begin with as each corner needs to be raised incrementally one-by-one, working your way around the tent (ring-around-the-rosy style) until full height is achieved. The increments are necessary to keep stress levels down on the hangers and canvas and avoid damage in the long run. Full height means the canvas should be taught but not stretched tight. The common mistake of raising the tent too high will eventually damage the tent and hangers.
After setup, the tent can be picked up (ideally with at least two people) and moved to an appropriate distance from the bus’s sliding door. The tent renders the front passenger door useless so make sure all the gear is out of the passenger area before moving the tent into place.
Approximate distance of tent from bus as seen from the rear.
On the backside of the tent, above the large doorway, there is a rubber gasket designed to clip over the rain gutter. The best angle to attack this task is from the inside of the tent, with the large doorway unzipped.
Start at one end and work your way to the other. This task is a good workout for the fingers and is easier if the rubber is warmed in the sun.
Almost done! Move the siding door forward and tuck the corner pocket of the tent behind the rear door corner.
Move the siding door back into the tent pocket to hold the tent close to the bus. Be careful! If the tent is too far forward, the door will rip the canvas at the lower corner.
Find the two little metal clips on the tent’s backside, and clip them to the circular holes drilled into the bottom of both jack points. I’m not 100% sure where these clips go, but that’s the best location I’ve found so far. The original instructions are not very clear on this point.
Roll the large doorway flap up and tie in place and you’re done! (actually, this step might be more useful if done before attaching the rubber gasket). Easy in and out from bus to tent. Isn’t the orange glow peaceful!
Rear view of tent fully attached to the bus.