Alright, my long time readers will know that from time to time I review camping gear, I have an interest in cheap stuff that works well. While browsing a surplus website here in the US, I found a French Army tropical surplus tent for an unbelievable price. 38 bucks!
If you act fast, you can get one of these right now. Surplus dries up fast. Spoiler: Good tent, if you respect its limits and understand its intended use.
OK, first let me address a couple of videos I have seen on YouTube. One was particularly bad, the poster completely set the tent up to fail, and then he complained about it. Terrible set up, etc.
Alright, a few factoids and first impressions about this tent. First, mine arrived brand-new, unissued. There is no guarantee that yours will be the same. It was date-stamped 1992. See below.
This tent was full mil-spec quality, and something a soldier is expected to do is to prepare his/her equipment. This is especially important on brand-new gear. For example, would you go on a twenty-mile hike with spanking new boots? (The answer should always be NO.) A new tent is the same.
The YouTube fellow not only set the tent up like crap, there was no indication that he prepared it with seam-sealer or a waterproofing spray. Then he complained that it leaked. Well, go figure. Any tent from Wally World would do the exact same if subjected to the same treatment.
But I digress; needless to say I think this tent didn’t get a fair shake on YouTube.
Let me talk about this first rate, if somewhat dated, tropical military tent.
A big surprise. Actual, no-kidding YKK zippers and a full mesh screen, along with generous meshed venting along the sides of the tent. I shook my head at the quality and foresight of construction on the F1 Tropical, it is top-notch stuff. BTW, not canvas but vinyl (Important. I wouldn’t have a canvas tent given to me.)
As an aside, I have come to expect quality from surplus French Army stuff. Very well built and practical gear. Every bit the equal, and in some cases better, than US or UK kit.
So I unpacked my tent, I was the first person to do so since the factory. Everything still had factory rubber bands on it, everything was arranged just-so in the bag. The thing was perfect, I was almost afraid to set it up it was so nice.
But I did, and I learned a thing or two doing so.
First; this tent needs seam sealer along its stitched surfaces, like always, and it needs to be tight.
This isn’t so hard to understand. The French made it easy to figure out, although I did do one minor mod. See below.
In the tent’s eight(!) stake down loops, I ran some 550 (parachute) cord through each. Makes life a little easier when you set-up/tear-down. Here is where I ran into one of my few gripes with this tent, but it’s easily fixed.
LOL if you try to use the issued bent-wire stakes in sand or gravel. Totally useless. Now, for around here with clayey loam, they are great. Or maybe in France itself. But in the Sahara? Or Mali? A really bad idea. So in addition to making sure you prep the tent, you may want to get different stakes depending on your soil. For my uses the supplied stakes are fine. But in the Australian Outback? Not so much.
Another criticism, but not from me, was somewhat legit if a bit spoiled. YouTube dude didn’t like it that the door is only on one side of the tent. Well, I guess a little situational awareness is called for when setting this bad boy up, I didn’t have an issue here.
Speaking of door. Did I mention the nice zippers? The full rain doors backed by mesh? It’s a nice set up. I have to say I’m a bit dubious about how long the “shock” cording (a big spring) on the two poles will last in hard use, but if you saw how the poles were constructed, you’d realize it’s just a convenience feature, anyhow.
This is a good tent, it beats the ever-living hell out of the old canvas USGI “shelter-half” which was still in widespread use in the US Army in 1992. It is a somewhat old-fashioned design, but it does what it’s supposed to do pretty well. It’s theoretically a two-person tent, but I’d call it one person plus gear.
It weighs about five pounds and is relatively bulky, so this is best for vehicular ops, or mech infantry applications.
I wouldn’t lug this very far, but it can be done with careful packing.
So there you have it. For LESS than a total piece of junk at Wally World, a mil-spec, pretty good tent. This will do the job if you use it as intended, and I do not doubt that it will outperform and outlast the flimsy Big Box tent.
Just make sure you stretch it tight. With a grand total of SIXTEEN anchor/tensioning points, this shouldn’t be a problem.
Buy with confidence, I hope you get one as good as mine.