The Vango Iris is a sub £300, 3 poled tunnel family tent that is pitched in 10 to 15 minutes. It has had a name change from Icarus to Isis, oops, and quickly to Iris - but it is basically a good value, well engineered, great value piece of camping kit with a sales performance that other tent manufacturers can only try to emulate. Year on year, the tweaks in the design are tiny. If it ain't broke and all that.
Back to the beginning
2008 was a influential year in many ways. Global recession meant an end to expensive holidays for many, redundancies meant no holiday at all. Alternatives were sought, and camping was remembered in a golden halo kind of way. A couple of reasonably warm summers, and camping was suddenly all the rage again. The dome tent, which had dominated the market for existing campers, had grown to monster proportions and took up too much room on a camp site, and also took too long to put up. My brother in law bought a pro-action, a central dome thingy with three sticky out bits to sleep in. It took hours to put up and it put him off for life. To this day I cannot get him to try camping again.
Tunnel tents were the answer, and Vango just got it right. Where other companies had armadillo type tunnel tents, Vango kept it simple. Keep the size down, the capacity to 5 or 6 people, have it with three poles, all the same length so it didn't matter which pole sleeve you put it through. Put plenty of pockets in there, and make sure, for goodness sake, to put a fully sewn in groundsheet in the damn thing (deal breaker for many non-camping people). And most of all, keep it affordable. Vango claimed to have lost money on the thing, although I'm sure they have recouped the costs by now and just as importantly, their brand is now considered right 'up there'.
Outwell quickly brought out their own versions, with better and stronger materials and a bigger price for the slightly more affluent camper. The Vango 3 poled tunnel tent still remained the favourite mainly because of the price, as families were either broke or faced with being broke or worried about being broke in the future.
The TBS System
A Vango Icarus/Isis/Iris looks a bit like a polytunnel you grow your veg in. Except the poles are in sections and to keep weight and price down, not particularly strong. In any kind of a breeze the tent was a wobbly mess. To counteract this the engineering principle of triangles being stronger than half moon shapes, a series of webbing straps were designed in. They originated in each side and clipped in to a point on the apex. Because these straps were then in the way of users, it was left optional if you wanted to use them or not. A neat little pocket was sewn in to hold the webbing straps and if the wind picked up, the camper could then utilise the system. Since, the TBS system has remained, was tweaked and called TBSII. It is patented, so nobody else can use it.
In 2008-10 you could pick up a three poled Vango for about £170. There was a blue version and a green version. Each year the colour changed. I have a 'Laurel/Meadow' green 2010. My friend had a 'Smoke' blue one from 2008.
|Early model circa 2009/10, offered in two colours 'Laurel Meadow' and 'Bluebell' *|
By 2011/12 the price rose to about £230 (retail) and in sales reduced to the £200 mark. For the extra money the spec was significantly enhanced. The strength of the fabric was better (embossed with a 'V' for Vango) but the basic construction remained the same. The inner pod, which was white, was swapped out for a 'Lights Out' darker fabric.
The window design changed to match some of the bigger Vango models, called the Vista front, basically it gave a better outlook and more light in. The ventilation was enhanced so that there were high and low ventilation points to aid in the circulation of air. The optional mesh panel on the door was extended to the front door as well as the side. The privacy curtains were zipped not toggled.
This year you can expect, for around £260, all that plus 'line lok' guyline runners (which are significantly better than standard ones) and velcro tidies to run the cable of the light up to the roof. These are little things, and if I bought one last year I would not be upgrading just for these things alone.
|2016 model in Moss Green *|
What a rigmarole we have had with these canopies. Everyone but everyone who had a Vango Icarus wanted the canopy only in the early days there wasn't one. Well there was a 'universal one' which nearly but didn't quite fit (called the Premium Extension) which was actually designed for another tent (the Vango Orchy) but Vango caught themselves on and brought out dedicated 'fit on the front' canopies - first of all open fronted, then with a door on (more sensible and less 'kitey') and eventually designed one that attached with a zip. But by then the canopy rage was over as people just went out and bought a slightly bigger tent instead. The other tent manufacturers, by contrast, were a lot quicker off the mark with add ons and extensions. Gelert and Hi Gear in particular, were early adopters.
I predict that the Vango Iris will continue to be a firm family favourite this year, although I feel that the popularity of camping has peaked and is now waning. A couple of washout summers have quite literally dampened the mood and all those new campers have been put off.
The cheap alternative
The need for a really budget tent is still catered for with a Vango Lauder which has no side door and has less head height in the bedroom pods, as well as a linked in groundsheet rather than a sewn in one. If you can live with that then for about £160 you too can go camping this summer, which I predict, will not be as wet as the last one.
* All Images copyright Vango