Review: Force 10 Helium 100 (2012 edition) tent

Force Ten Helium 100 2012 edition
Wild camping in The Roaches, Peak District National Park.



“I’m astounded by Force Ten/Vango for coming up with a fantastically competitive solo shelter at such a great price. Even when compared to other shelters like the Vaude Tokee’s or Zephyros’ from Wild Country or the legendary Terra Nova Laser Competition – make no doubt, the Helium 100 stands it’s ground with pride and a little twinkle in it’s eye.”

It’s been interesting to see how some outdoor companies have faired in the past year or two given the current economic climate. Prices have increased across the board while it’s rare to discover a minority who’ve endeavoured to soak up the rise in costs in manufacturing.

Consequently, outdoor gear in general has become increasingly competitive which is good for us consumers who are generally much more savvy and wary when it comes to parting with our hard earned cash. Trends have shown that there has been a big increase in interest when it comes to outdoor pursuits (which isn’t that surprising) – so when you throw all the above into the mix it’s nice to see some brands trying to be more innovative with their products in terms of specs and materials while aiming to keep costs low.

Helium 100 wild camping
A cold winter’s morning out on the hills.

Force Ten (part of Vango) have carefully and considerately developed their products in the past year or so to reflect such factors as listed above and of course being a business supply demand. We all like to take lighter gear when out and about in the great outdoors but as many a newbie will learn (along with veterans) it doesn’t tend to come cheap.

With the Helium 100 (2012 edition), Force Ten in my view have come up with an absolute cracker of an affordable lightweight solo shelter. Visually, it compares to the likes of Terra Nova’s Laser Competition and Vaude’s Power Tokee tents – but there are differences and as usual it’s all in the details. A tried and trusted single hoop design with extra supporting poles at either end of the shelter, you’d be forgiven for think it’s just more of the same.

Take a closer look however and you’ll notice the Helium 100’s pre-angled main ridge pole slips through a sewn in sleeve for extra inherent strength. It’s easy to slip through but when packing up, it can be tricky positioning the pole and sliding out to fold away. Inside, you’ll find a Vango/Force Ten tension band system (TBS). A simple cord that is suspended along the pole which can be made taught to enable less movement of the tent in inclement weather. You don’t find this feature on the Laser Competition but you do on Vaude’s Power Tokee tents. Does it work? It does indeed. The difference is considerable! Any slight sway or shake becomes null and void.

But the cord doesn’t ‘hug’ the main ridge pole (like in the Vaude Tokee models) and consequently can get in the way if you’re pottering about inside. For example, part of the TBS has to slip through a hole on the inner door of the tent. It’s not too much of a pain admittedly and you’ll likely not often have to use the TBS in truth (after all these sort of shelters are not really suitable for horrendous weather conditions) but it did irk me a little because otherwise the shelter is fantastic value for money.

At either end of the Helium 100 you’ll find handy sleeves on the outer fabric to slip in the shorter supporting poles (no risk of slippage either by the way) under a short hood which also conceals a mesh vent for airflow inside.

Force Ten Helium 100, wild camping Lake District National Park
An affordable lightweight solo tent for backpacking.

Some simple guying out is all that’s required and the tent is pitched in just a few minutes. Incidentally, it pitches all in one too. So, there’s no need to worry about erecting the shelter in rain and getting the inner wet.

Inside, this is by far the roomiest of single looped solo shelters I’ve ever come across. You can lie in it with ease and at 5’11” there’s still room above my head when sat upright (though may be not on a 6cm air bed/mattress). Either side of where you choose to sleep there’s ample room for storage too (though no storage pockets), mesh panels at each foot and head end for ventilation along with a half nylon/half mesh door which is cut and positioned to good effect/use.

However, there’s always a compromise with backpacking tents in general and in this case it’s the porch. Some may find it somewhat small. It’s only around 45cm wide at it’s deepest but you do have enough room to store wet clothing/boots/rucksack but not much else. Careful cooking is required if you’re sitting out a storm in the evening for example.

Saying that, the main tent door adjacent to the porch is steep. It rises high and comes with a 2 way zip for further venting if needed. There’s a handy loop on the outside of the flysheet to tie the door back too which affords nice wide views when relaxing inside – but it’s positioned ‘open’ on your right hand side when sat in the tent. I don’t mind this at all but others may prefer it to be on the left instead. Either way, you’ll have a partially blocked view anyway from the other side of the tent/porch.

I’ve been regularly using this tent for quite some time now (since March) and I have to say I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Quick and easy to pitch, no more or less condensation issues in given conditions and pretty bloody sturdy in strong winds. The only drawback I can think of for some people is the small porch. If you’re aiming to go lightweight on a budget then this really shouldn’t be a problem anyway as you’ll have less gear to worry about for storage.

As with all single hooped designs the shelter is prone to some ‘flapping’ in a stiff breeze. Yes, the main pole doesn’t move an inch but the rest of the tent will flap like a plastic bag in the wind. Though to be fair this is no more or less than similarly designed tents. Maybe it’s me but this doesn’t bother me either but you may want to consider some ear plugs if you’re a light sleeper and there’s a storm brewing in your vicinity.

You may consider trying to gain a taught pitched flysheet but you’re limited on this front (unless you detach the inner tent at it’s base from the outer) but it doesn’t make much difference at all. I’ve tried numerous times.

Seam sealed, reinforced fabric at key stress points, Dyneema guylines with handy line-loks, tightening buckles, TBS system, Silicone coated PU backed nylon 20D flysheet (PU backed being great for sticking on repairs if needs be with the free repair kit) with 5000mm hydrostatic head to ensure downpours stay at bay, a very roomy inner, adequate V shaped aluminium pegs – what more could you want from a solo shelter?

Oh and all in it weighs 1.1kgs (ex stuffsack) and packs down smaller than most! You can pick one up for £150+ online and you’re not going to find much better for the money. There are others to consider such as the Wild Country Zephyros 1, but this isn’t no where near as stable in inclement weather than the Helium 100. Besides, the latter is made with less durable materials (PU polyester flysheet for example) and the Helium at least affords to give you something that bit extra.

PROS

Excellent weight and packed size for a solo tent
Tough and strong. Can withstand stiff breezes surprisingly well thanks to the TBS system
Extremely roomy inner tent for a solo shelter
Quick to pitch all-in-one design
Repair kit included along with half-decent V shaped aluminium pegs

CONS

Small porch may be a concern for some
The main ridge pole can be cumbersome to remove at times when packing up
Though the main arching pole is tight as a drum (using the TBS) there’s no real flexibility to ensure a real taught pitch
No inner storage mesh pockets to help keep kit organised or quick to hand

Wild camping in the Lake District National Park
Wild camping in the Lake District National Park.

I’ve had a lot of interest in the Helium 100 from readers via email over the past few months. Especially from those who are new to backpacking. And I’m not surprised!

Yes, it has some niggles like most tents but don’t let these put you off. The positives far outweigh the negatives. I’m astounded by Force Ten/Vango for coming up with a fantastically competitive solo shelter at such a great price. Even when compared to other shelters like the Vaude Tokee’s or Zephyros’ from Wild Country or the legendary Terra Nova Laser Competition – make no doubt, the Helium 100 stands it’s ground with pride and a little twinkle in it’s eye. Yes, some mentioned may weigh a little less and pack a little smaller but what you gain is money in your pocket, strength and durability to take up backpacking and wild camping in all but the worst of weather for years to come.

I’m singing this tents praises simply because I’m gobsmacked at what you get for your money. And I’m excited at the thought that it helps those who are interested in spending nights out on the hills to actually get out there and do it without a major weight penalty.

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