Darche AT-6 Tent Review

Darche Airvolution AT-6.  2017 model (latest version), which was upgraded from Darche’s earlier design to include air poles along the length of the tent; this no doubt significantly improves stability. 

 

Pros:

  • Relatively quick setup, though I had hoped it would be even quicker.  I can set it up by myself in 15 to 17 minutes on average, which is quite acceptable for a family sized tent.  Pack up is quicker – just undo the valves and the air-poles deflate immediately and the tent drops to the ground.  It can be back in its bag in under 10 minutes.

  • Most of the time guy ropes are not required.  The air-pole frame is stable enough to support the tent well, even in reasonably breezy conditions. 
     

  • The bedroom area can take two double/queen size (130cm wide each)  mattresses across - which is ample sleeping area for my family of five.  This leaves the front room completely free to be used as a living room area.
     

  • It’s a true 4 season design.  Almost every panel, including the inner-roof, can be either solid or mesh - the entire tent can be setup near to a mesh room for ultimate ventilation.  It features three gusseted windows that permit ventilation and waterproofness at the same time.
     

  • It is robustly made.  The floor is a very heavy duty sealed PVC tub and the tent material is 210 denier – about three times the thickness of regular family camping type tents.  I wouldn’t worry about puncturing the air poles - they are very robust and don’t appear difficult to mend if they did manage to get punctured.  A more realistic concern would be damaging the pump, as you can’t readily get the tent up without it.
     

  • It has a double (tropical) roof built in and the entire tent assembles as one piece.  I.e. no separate fly to throw over the tent, which is especially a plus when setting up in the rain.
     

Cons:
 

  • Whilst the guy ropes only need to be pegged out in high wind conditions, there are quite a few of them – which is actually a positive – but it takes extra time that I didn’t account for in the set up times given above.
     

  • The normal setup (not counting guy ropes) requires lots of pegs.  If setting up in hard/rocky ground this can add considerably to the setup time owing to the sheer number of pegs needed compared to other designs.  It may pay to upgrade the pegs, even though those provided are amply good enough for most terrains.
     

  • I’ve yet to decide if I am fully satisfied with its performance in extremely strong wind.  Whilst it has performed admirably with the guy ropes out in very gusty conditions, there has also been occasion when very strong side wind has been enough to buckle the poles and partially collapse the tent.  That said, a big positive feature is that whereas regular fibreglass poles will break when their tolerance is exceeded, Darche’s air poles do not break and can simply be pushed back out.
     

  • Finally, it’s heavy and there are much lighter tents available.  Again this is really another compromise rather than a clear negative, as this is the price to pay for the extra durable materials the tent is constructed from.  Any other similarly durable full size tent will also be heavy.  
     

  • The tent is supplied with a large zip on awning and three aluminium poles.  This is all high quality, however the design is such that in moderate to heavy rain the awning is likely to pool water and therefore would need to be taken down.  This isn't an issue for me because I rely on the 270 degree Batwing awning fitted to the vehicle instead.

Update - December 2019

I felt I should update my earlier product review for the benefit of anyone who uses it to inform a purchase decision.

If I was buying again, specifically a tent to take on an expedition where we'd be moving onwards most days, I'd be having a really good look at an Oztent in preference to the Darche. Not an Oztent plus all the accessories, just the RV5, a ground sheet and the fly. A good 270 degree awning with a wall or two gives more covered and wind resistant space when that's needed.  For those desiring a separate sealed living room, like the Darche offers, then look at the newer Oztent RX5.

The Darche is a nice tent with good internal space, but you really want to be staying put more than one night to justify the additional time setting it up. I'm not convinced it's truly a genuine touring tent. Everything else I wrote earlier still applies, but:

(1) whilst it's good in some respects that the Darche's air frame pushes over rather than snaps poles in high winds, you do want it to stand up!
(2) My Darche seems to have become progressively less waterproof and now it's a significant problem.
(3) two zips have failed.  That could just happen to any tent, but a tent fitted with YKK zips from new might fair better.
(4) setting up the Darche AT-6 requires a minimum of 23 pegs, and that's when not needing to use the guy ropes. It's just too many pegs in anything other than soft ground, and even then too many.  In hard ground this is a nightmare!

Having not used an Oztent I can't be sure that it's the ideal solution - I only once saw one, but it was easily handling a wind that was destroying other tents, including the Oztrail Fast Frame I had at the time.  That one only lasted a month from new!  Even better for my style of travel might be a family sized (2.4m by 2.4m) Howling Moon roof tent - these look very very good quality, but are considerably more expense and one would need to have a bigger vehicle for that.

I should add that my position on how long it should take to set up camp has changed dramatically and this colours my updated review. I used to think it fantastic that I could have camp set up in 30 minutes, during which time Sylwia would have cooked dinner. That's OK for most people's purposes. On our current Central Asia trip, our longest overland travel to date, a half hour setup is no longer what I want. There are too many nights when something hasn't gone to plan and we've found ourselves on dusk looking for somewhere to stop. At that point in time I want a camp setup that just about falls up in a few minutes, including where perfect ground is not available.

We had one camp in Russia where the ground looked ok but ended up being hard and rocky beneath, so I didn't do a great job with the minimum 23 pegs on the Darche. During the night we could hear and see a thunderstorm rolling over. I couldn't be bothered trying to contend with all the Darche's pegs and so we packed up at 4am before the storm got to us and we hit the road super early. I suspect an Oztent would have faired better - much less pegs and they're far less structurally important to the setup - the internal frame gives the structure to an Oztent and pegs just keep it planted and pull out the rear fabric.

All this said, the Darche is still a nice roomy tent. The water ingress issue that has affected mine, along with concerns over its storm resistance are issues to consider, though I still consider it an otherwise very nice all around family tent that is likely fit for many people's purposes.  I however, will be moving on from mine.

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