Inflatable Geodesic Tent Makes Tent Poles Obsolete

It’s like the 1970s are going camping…in a good way!

The modern tent is a pretty amazing invention. Constructed of everyday materials like nylon and fiberglass, it can spring from backpacks to offer shelter in some of the worst outdoor conditions. But could we do better? Of course, we can always do better.

The Cave’--designed by Frackenpohl Poulheim to be sold under the Heimplanet brand--is a tent with no poles. Instead, this shelter deploys an inflatable diamond grid--a geodesic dome--to support the structure. It’s kind of like a moon bounce without the bounce, a tent that pops out in a minute with a bicycle pump and deflates without any effort at all.

The inflatable frame has several advantages, aside from a dome’s inherent spaciousness. You’ll never curse over those strange modular poles again. And more importantly, you won’t have to worry about poking one of those poles through your tent in the process. As fragile as the Cave’s pool animal technology may appear, it can actually withstand winds up to 75mph, and the grid exoskeleton is actually split into five double-layered modules, meaning that if one pops, the tent will keep standing.

It’s almost an amazing idea. Practically speaking, however, inflatable structures may work better for larger scale emergency response--like the hospitals used by Doctors WIthout Borders--than backcountry camping. A hiker would find the pump unwieldy in a pack. And while the Cave may just take a minute to deploy, the modern tent doesn’t take much longer. For those camping well away from civilization, saving a few minutes at a campsite might not be worth the risk of sleeping under something that could leak or pop, however unlikely that outcome may be. Inflatable structures save a lot of time at scale. But for smaller, one-room abodes, that time savings is tougher to appreciate.

All of that said, were I filming some sci fi movie taking place a decade in the future, the Cave certainly fits the idealistic bill. Then again, I still have a soft spot for Epcot.

[Hat tip: designboom]

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15 Comments

  • Wrenn Simms

    Why the bicycle pump?  There are far smaller manual air pumps than those things.  Someone's not thinking this thgough. 

    If I were taking this camping, I'd just pack a small battery powered air compressor, which is about the size of a 5 inch cube, and weigh around half a pound. 

  • Chris

    I already saw tents with inflatable poles at least 15 years ago on a camping in Spain, so it's hardly an invention, more like a re-design.

    As far as  the comments about pumps go, when you're camping (and not backpacking) you already have a pump with you to pump up your air mattress so that's not something that you already have with you.

  • Bob

    My son has a 3-man, "2 Second Air" Quecha tent that has integral poles and takes literally 2 seconds and zero skill to erect, excluding the time it takes to peg out the base (as one would do with just about ANY kind of tent). If the wind speed was relatively low (say below 20-25mph) and it was chucking it down with rain you could have it up and be inside keeping dry within 10-15 seconds!

    So, compared to THIS Heimplanet monstrosity it's VASTLY superior and I suspect MUCH lighter albeit it packs down (<20 seconds with practice) to a relatively large (1m dia x 80mm thick) but light (~3.5Kg) pack. Not particularly compact for climbing perhaps, but great for trekking, backpacking or general camping. 

    I don't know the packed size (diameter) of the one-man tent (I'd guess about 600cm or 2 feet) but it weighs only 2.4Kg and, just like the three-man does, would probably provide a great "umbrella" when packed down in its bag, so it has other uses as well as the obvious. At around £25.00 (roughly $40) for the one-man 2-second Quecha I hardly think speed (or simplicity) of erection is what the Heimplanet tent can claim to be worth the  money. Quecha also do a 2 minute "family" XL tent for under £250 ($400) so the Heimplanet loses out there also.

    The design of the Heimplanet is poor at best since the inflatable tubes could easily have been incorporated into the overall tent fabric and saved a great deal of weight and cost in both material and the additional fixings/clips etc.That's in addition to making the overall tent more aerodynamic and stable. Q: What WERE the designers thinking? A: They weren't! 

    See the much cheaper Vango Air-Beam range, or the Nemo Morpho 2-man (2.5Kg) BOTH are MUCH better designs.

    Re: the "bicycle" pump - (hardly a bike pump), it doesn't seem like it's a double acting one (Doh!) but given that this seems aimed at the general camping market (i.e. vehicle available) a 12 volt lightweight pump would be a far better bet anyway and a rubber foot pump a lighter, more compact, albeit a somewhat less efficient and effective manual alternative.

    Concept: good (not great).Implementation & overall design: poor (it sucks basically)

  • Bob

    Miguellf, I totally agree with your sentiments about a true FIRST generation item. Time to market these days is a critical element. NO! This is NOT a first generation tent (not with respect to the market anyway) my son's Quecha to which I referred is now about 18 months old and that version had been around for some time when he bought it. Also the OTHER tents on the market that DO use the similar concept Air-Beam technology rather than embedded poles in the Quecha for example, have also been around for a good while.

    So your suggestion that my criticism is "soggy" doesn't really hold water (just like Gore-Tex) and hence isn't soggy at all. Also your comparison with "old" canvas jackets (I suspect you might mean cotton) and Gore-Tex is not really valid either. We're not talking about something here that's 200-300 years ahead of its rivals (like plain cotton vs Gore-Tex) but something that is approximately 2 years BEHIND! So even on the "Time-to-Market" measurement it fails.

    Gore-Tex and say an original Peter Storm nylon jacket (circa 1960's) would be a better comparison (vis-a-vis waterproofness & lightness) and although the Peter Storm is totally waterproof (and just as light) - it is waterproof in BOTH directions and gets wet from the inside with sweat condensation. Hence the (massive) improvement brought by Gore-Tex allowing water vapour (sweat) to escape far better.

    That level of improvement has NOT happened here. At best this (Heimplanet tent) is a (much) poorer, me-too implementation of a pre-existing product. Its ONLY real differentiator is the geodesic design which (as I said, and as an engineer I still believe) is poorly implemented and could very easily, and very predictably have been made better even in a "first generation" product.

  • miguellf

    Q's: Is this a first generation of a tent of it's type? Was the first computer able to make phone calls and take pictures while still fitting in your pocket?... Have a little foresight and think about the future... The first version of your rain jacket, which I'm assuming you own, as you talk about camping, was made of two layers of HEAVY canvas that sandwiched a layer of painted-on rubber... Doesn't sound quite as comfy as  your single layer gore-tex 10 oz. BREATHABLE version, does it? But without that cumbersome first version, you would be as wet and soggy as your argument.

  • BongBong

    So you're replacing light, compact tent poles (similar to modern fishing poles) with a very large bicycle pump? Uh.... that's not very smart.

  • kunst

    now make a version with an integral compressed air can that inflates itself in a matter of seconds and you're in 007 territory...

  • Riley

    I love the exploration and thinking of new ways - unfortunately that's a big bag for that size of tent. Definitely not for the backpacker, but for car camping it looks great!

  • Yakbob

    Meh. $600 could buy you any number of better quality double wall tents that won't leave you soaked from head to toe in your own condensation.

    But then I guess that the price to pay for the peace of mind of never poking a hole through your tent...do people actually do this?

  • Paulbennison

    Vango already do a series of these tents with inflatable poles. there were jointly developed with the UK armed forces and having slept in one for a wet and windy weekend and having a similar sized standard tent, they are brilliant but expensive! 

  • Robertjan

    What type of bicycle pump does it inflate with? There are these inflatable sleeping mats which the less-young-but-still-quite-fit find too much hassle to inflate... I can imagine the same goes for the tent.
    Besides, after a long day in the saddle or on the trails people usually don't like to bother with more exercising...

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