So just like we did with our review of the Vango Serenity tent, we took the vango illusion tc 800xl away with us to live with for a period of time. With the Serenity, we took it on a few decent sized camping trips before we wrote about it. Similar thing here, but this time it is coming with us on our 10 night camping trip to Scotland. 5 nights on the shores of Loch Lomond, then pack down and repitch for another 5 up in Glen Coe. A decent enough amount of time to give this ‘Polycotton Beauty’ a thorough interrogation.
Now let’s get on with the review then. 2 adults, 2 big teens, 2 little teens and 2 dogs – This was our little army heading off to discover Scotland. The Illusion TC 800 XL Air will be our base station for our many family Scottish adventures.
This is the first polycotton tent we've tested, but prior to getting our claws (sorry, shouldn’t say that word around tents) into this one we had read about all the claims and stories about these things leaking in the first rain or being wonderfully cool in hot weather. Are these things true, only a decent time reviewing a tent would allow us to find that out. 10 days of Scotland saw some very hot weather, and some torrential downpours – we got both ends of the spectrum and can quite happily pass on our experiences so you can decide whether this will be the next tent for you and your family.
Introducing the ‘Vango Illusion TC 800XL Air’ to use its correct name – The tent that helped us to fall in love with Scotland.
I love the colour of this tent, I think it looks like a very fluffy and light chocolate mousse. It’s heavy, weighing 55kg but it does come in a really robust bag with wheels on the bottom, straps and handles on each side. Getting this up into the boot of your car may well need to be a 2 man job. You can tell even before you get this tent to the campsite and open the bag, you are dealing with luxurious and well built tent.
Pitching was an absolute doddle, just as we expected from Vango it was inflated and having the guy ropes pegged out in no time at all.
Taking the tent out of the bag and rolling it out onto the groundsheet, you can feel from the quality of the lightweight polycotton and the stitching of the materials that this tent will stand up to some serious weather and will be around to service your family for quite a number of camping seasons.
After the 4 corners were pegged out, the inflating of the beams commenced. The pump is included in the bag and blowing up of the beams even though they are 30% bigger Super Airbeams is quick and effortless. The Airspeed Valves sit at waist height when the beams are inflated so there is no scrambling around on all fours trying to find the valves or fiddle with zips.
It doesn’t take long to pump the beams, and then the rest of the tent can be quickly pegged out. The guy lines on this tent are very easy to adjust as they use line-lok cleats (adjusters), making tensioning and releasing the guy lines really easy. For added security in high winds, you have the 2 storm thick storm straps at each end also. Just for that bit of added confidence.
Although this isn’t a small tent, it is certainly one that could easily be pitched by one person if necessary.
This is an 8 man tent. 3 double bedrooms at the back each being 1.4 metres wide and a bedroom pod for two in the central living space, also 1.4 metres wide. The pod can be taken down when necessary and folded out of the way when you need more space, which is a nifty feature.
The central living space is a decent size when the bedroom pod isn’t in use. 285cm long and 440cm wide. Our doggos sleep in a frabric crate which is always located in this area. It’s where they always go to sleep, their safe place and it stops them jumping on and taking over our beds too.
Huston we have a slight problem – We can’t get our sleeping mats into the bedrooms because they are too wide. This was in no way the fault of the tent because for this trip we bought with us single Vango Shangri La and single ExPed sleeping mats. Both types are wider than normal mats, i.e. 76cm + 76cm does not go into 140cm (Shangri La width). If we had used the Shangri La double sleeping mat it would have fitted fine as it is only 132cm wide. Anyway, the mats are amazingly comfortable but that’s a story for another review. The solution was to take the partitions down between the 3 bedrooms and turn the area into one huge bedroom. Sharing a room with our 2 younger teenagers wasn’t what we had planned and if there had been 8 of us, then there would have been big problems.
We must also state that it was the good design feature of the partitions being able to be fully removed that allowed us to find a workable solution. This tent is rather versatile in that respect, overkill for 2 people (even with all the glamping gear in the world), but for 3/4/5 people – rather spacious with plenty of room for bags, clothes and furniture.
The bedrooms are dark enough to sleep in without being woken by the bright sun. it wasn’t as dark as I expected it to be in the living or front area either, but those windows with their skylight sections at the top really open it up and give it a roomy and airy feeling.
The living area also has 2 side doors on it, both with mesh panels in them for extra ventilation if necessary. One of these doors also has a hood/canopy over the top and on the sides, so you could probably leave this door open even it there was heavy rain/wind.
Moving on to the front covered area, whether you want to call it the porch or the kitchen it depends on what your camping arrangements are. For us, it had ample room for a large folding table, our stacking storage boxes and somewhere to store our huge coolbox, freezer, camping grill, gas bottle and dirty boots.
The front of this tent opens right up too, but for our time in it we just had it rolled halfway open which was more than big enough.
How did it cope with the Scottish rain?
Lets start off by summing up what happened. The first night the rain seeped into the tent and on the second night it was bone dry. Now lets elaborate on our findings.
The heavens opened one evening and there was a huge downpour of rain. This wasn’t just a short sharp shower, this was seriously heavy rain and it was in for the night for hours and hours. The rain did sound lovely against the tent fabric, not as loud as a polyester tent, I think it would have been deafening.
So what happened inside the tent? Well it got wet. Above the windows, where the clear plastic was stitched to the roof of the tent, the rain was getting inside the tent, forming drops and running down the windows. Also, if you stood up and put your face towards the roof you could feel a fine mist as the rain drops were being blasted through the material.
So what did we do? Well, we just kept the window blinds zipped up and let them soak up the drips above the windows. As for the fine mist, it wasn’t causing any problems, it wasn’t as though we were being faced with big drips and having to get the saucepans out. Nothing was getting wet inside the tent so we just went about our normal evening camping activities of playing strip poker and fire breathing with the finest malt whiskeys.
Come the morning, the rain had stopped and to our surprise the tent had dried out easily in the Scottish breeze. It wasn’t particularly warm but the tent dried out fast both outside and in. This let the window blinds dry out, ready and waiting for the next overnight downpour that was forecast.
The rain came again for the second night running and again it was heavy. This time I was ready and waiting to inspect all the parts of the tent that had seeped in on the previous night. So what did my investigations find? A bone dry tent. The rain was as heavy as the night before, but this time the fabric wasn’t letting any of it in. There was no rain coming in around the windows and no fine mist coming through the fabric, most impressive.
So, we have now witnessed a polycotton tent getting ‘weathered’. This is the process of letting the cotton in the fabric get wet and swelling to close up any needle holes, drying out and becoming waterproof.
If you are worried about these type of tents letting in water for the first rain they see, then this is what we experienced and it wasn’t a problem at all. Our experience also shows that after one downpour, the tent was fully waterproof and didn’t let any more water in. I’m not sure about other manufacturers, but I personally feel that Vango have made a very high quality tent here and we have experienced it’s build quality first hand and the results are excellent.
We will point out that the only reason why the rain had pooled on the top of the tent was because we hadn’t pitched/guyed it perfect, causing a slight sag. However, it was a perfect example of showing how waterproof this polycotton fabric is (once weathered) as you can see me playing with pushing the rain puddle off the roof (I am a child).
What about the weather/temperature?
Was it warmer in the night? Was it cooler in the day? The answer to both of those questions is yes. We’ve had a scorching 2018 summer (it’s also been very wet too), and there isn’t a tent on earth that’s going to let you stay inside it in the daytime in 30+ degree heat. Our experience of this polycotton tent regarding weather temperature is best summed up by saying that it makes it more consistent. It’s definitely cooler in the day, but not so as you could sit inside in a heatwave. It also feels warmer in the evenings but none of us were sitting around in our underwear (honest).
Being a few degrees cooler inside allowed us to sleep in a little longer in the mornings and not wake up in a pool of your own sweat gasping feeling like you were being suffocated. As for the evenings and overnight when the temperatures dropped, we didn’t find ourselves rushing to huddle into our sleeping bags for
One other thing that we did like about this tent relating to the weather is how it acts in the wind. Even though this is a lightweight polycotton tent, the material is thicker than most polyester tents and so it doesn’t flap around in the wind. Certain days in Scotland were rather blowy, but this tent wasn’t as noisy so it made for a much better living experience inside.
Features that we love
Zipped window blinds – these are much better than the toggle versions because you can have the blinds opened or closed at any position to want, not just fully closed fully open or half open.
This tent didn’t suffer with condensation, even with 6 of us inside as well as the dogs and on many days, wet gear and towels too.
Skylights. Those extra little windows about the main ones, they really let a lot more light in and make the tent feel much more spacious and light inside.
The guy lines have the easy to adjust and strong line-loks fitted.
We love the waist height valve points on the beams.
Loved those yellow pegs that came with the tent, sad but true.
Thick outside and inside storm straps for extra security in high winds.
Is it truly an 8 man tent?
Yes, weather permitting. What I mean by that statement is that you can sleep 8 people in it (with the right sized beds), but if the weather doesn’t let you have seating outside or it isn’t warm enough to remove the inner wall and have your kitchen stuff outside then you might find it a bit too much of a squeeze if you all sit inside on chairs during the evening. We could retire to our beds and still be able to chat, but we personally like to sit together, read, draw, work on laptops and quite often just stare at mobile phones (internet permitting).
However, what tent is going to give 8 people a kitchen area, a living area and 4 bedrooms? That’s not a tent, that’s a house. The Vango TC Illusion 800xl is very versatile and has enough features to adapt itself to most family setups in most weather situations.
As I already said, it allowed us to fall in love with Scotland, climb some hills and mountains, canoe on lochs (and to the pub), visit some waterfalls and see some truly stunning Scottish views.
Could other tents have done the same? Yes, but probably not in as much comfort or with as much style. After 10 days living with the Illusion, I can say it gives you a sense of confidence that this tent could perform family trips like this one again and again and again well into the future without any hickups and leaving lesser tents needing to be replaced.