Road trips are meant to be fun, and comfortable — but sleeping in small two-person alpine or backpacking tents is not exactly my idea of a good time when car camping. The Van Camp 3 from Big Agnes is, technically, a roomy 3-person tent, but it also makes for a luxurious road-side palace for two.
We’ve had the Van Camp 3 in constant rotation for the past six months or so and it’s a stand-out as a solid everyday tent that can also stand up to some harsh weather.
Though it is rated as a three-season tent, the VC3 stood up to a few late-winter snowfalls in BC without any buckling under the accumulated snow, or letting any moisture through the fly despite layers of wet snow on the fly. Needless to say, impressive for a three-season fair-weather tent.
Add in a few windy days atop exposed bluffs on the California coast and a couple weekends of rainy thunderstorms in BC, and the VC3 proved itself worthy in conditions in which I would usually rather have had a solid, four-season, multi-crossed-pole tent.
The VC3’s design is simple: two crossed poles, with a third, short, pole across the top for additional headroom and extra space in the vestibules. The lower sections of the poles have built-in kinks that create more vertical space down low in the tent. The poles are asymmetrically bent so there’s more headspace at the ‘head’ of the tent, with a lower, better for wind-resistance, angle at the feet.
This design creates a huge amount of livable space inside the tent, especially for two people. We have more than enough space in the middle for our couple’s sleep system, with additional room on each side for our clothes, reading materials, and other odds and ends.
Befitting its design as a three-season tent, the VC3 has a massive amount of mesh on the upper tent body and doors. Breathability is, expectedly, excellent — great for those hot summer days, but not ideal on cool winter nights when we’d have to bundle up in a few extra layers to stay warm enough.
The fly is a straight-forward affair, with two large doors on either side — which can be opened from either end, or both together for a massive open view — and a single vent above the perceived head area. The venting works great, and the only time we’ve had condensation inside the tent was during sub-zero winter nights when the whole fly was covered by snow and our breath vapour would freeze on the inside.
Given that there are only two major poles, setup is as easy as you’d expect, and made even easier by the colour-coded pole ends. The fly clip-in points are similarly colour-coded, and the tent is easily set up by one person in under five minutes.
Weight, for tent, fly, eight stakes and all the associated stuff-sacks, is 2610 grams. That’s well under 1000-grams per-person, which is my personal weight standard for a backpacking tent. It’s not the smallest of tents when packed, but on the plus side everything easily fits into the stuff sack. (I find it very frustrating when a tent will only fit into the stuff sack when packed in one, very specific and often tedious, manner.)
Heading back inside, there are the expected pockets in each corner, ideal for stashing small items. There are also two, very handy, pockets in the roof. Each has a small fabric lip that prevents items from falling out — these are perfect for headlamps and allow for soft, ceiling-based light that brightens up the whole tent. These two simple pockets are one of my favourite features of this tent.
With a retail price of $350 USD / $525 CAD, the Van Camp 3 is in the lower-middle price range of three-season, three-person tents. Very highly recommended, thanks to its flawless performance across nearly every conceivable weather scenario over the past few months, and the fact we reach for this tent for nearly every weekend outing.