Instant. It’s a funny old word which conjours up images of magical puffs of smoke and gasps from the crowd. Coleman’s use of the word to describe the pitching of this behemoth of a 4-man tent is ambitious, but does give an indication towards what you get in the massive bag.
Weighing in at a back-breaking 20Kg, the Coleman Instant 4 is a totally different beast from the breed of light weight, thin-poled tents which are more common these days. The Instant 4 has steel poles which are constructed in a one-piece knuckled frame that folds in on itself. They’re very strong and sturdy and give the impression of solidity and strength despite the fact that they have movable joints in them. The tent fabric is permanently attached to this collapsing frame structure and once you have the hang of pitching the tent Coleman reckon it can be done in a single minute.
4 of us managed to get it erected in about 8 minutes first time. But then we were 4 blokes, and we didn’t read the instructions. It’s definitely a tent where knowing the ‘knack’ to pitching and collapsing it helps enormously. However, having said that, for such a tall tent (it’s 215cm in the middle, so 6 footers can stand in it OK) it was remarkably easy to pitch for a shorty like me, with the poles extending neatly from the base.
Once up and pegged out the Coleman Instant 4 is an impressive structure. It’s a big tent, with a floor area of 4m x 3m that would be big enough to sleep 4 people in comfort and shelter them from torrential rain without too much of a claustrophobic feeling. The internal area has a sewn-in bucket-style groundsheet which kept the moisture from a very damp field out with no problem. A separate internal hanging section creates 2 double bedrooms, each of which is made from a material that, whilst isn’t like a black-out curtain, certainly does darken that morning sun to tolerable levels, which was a really nice touch.
The two rooms are interconnectable via a zipper so there’s a degree of privacy from your cohabitees.
The Instant 4 has a few neat touches like a cable access point for those of you who like a hook-up electrical connection, and vent system to get some breeze through. It didn’t go very far in the way of pockets for storage, so if you’re used to more compartmentalised camping that could be a factor. It also has nice big windows in the communal section which let in loads of light and seal up perfectly when you don’t want the nosey neighbours spying on you.
It rained a little bit when we used the Instant 4, but not really enough to say that we ‘tested’ the waterproofing. Coleman say that it has a hydrostatic head of 3000mm. The tent stood up to some gusty wind without any bother whatsoever, and hi-viz guylines which you can wrap around the poles for extra security are fairly secure. The pegs supplied are bog-standard metal 7-shaped pegs, so I’d invest in something more sturdy for proper British use.
The large door of the Coleman Instant 4 opens up and becomes a sun shade, with 2 extra poles and guys supplied to keep it up. Equally, it rolls up out of the way to open up the tent to the elements, or zips down on both sides and the base to seal things out. One note, we found that if we pitched the Instant 4 with the groundsheet fairly taut then the door was really difficult to do up. Slackening off the front face helped with this.
The Instant 4 is a big bugger. Packed down it is 1.25m long (4ft) and too large to go in the boot of a smaller car. It’s also extremely heavy for a 4-man tent, and because everything is attached, you can’t separate it in to more manageable packages. So, whilst I’d say that the Instant nature of the pitching would make this absolutely ideal for family camping where you don’t want to spend too long playing with the tent, there is a consideration to make that a less-strong single parent could well struggle with the bag.
Price wise, the Instant 4 comes in at the expensive end of 4-man tents, at £400. However, when compared with other 6ft tall tents that have a good usable porch and very sturdy construction it isn’t too hideous a price. Sure, you can get a 4-man tent for £80, but it’s considerably smaller and less well-built. This Instant 4 would be some what of an investment piece of gear for those of you who camped for longer periods or more frequently. I have first-hand experience of how well the Coleman instant steel poles cope with a year’s worth of every-week use by untrained pitchers – they cope very well indeed.
SUMMARY: Coleman’s Instant 4 is a massive, heavy and quite expensive beast which would rule out a large section of people looking for a 4-man tent. But, it is quick and easy to pitch, very roomy and tall and made to last. The steel poles and weatherproof construction are great against British weather and hamfisted pitching, and once up the tent feels solid and comfortable.
Update: June 2014.
All previous use of this tent has been either in good weather or light showers. We have recently had the tent up for an extended period of time in our garden and it has been subjected to some seriously biblical weather in that time and it’s revealed a rather irritating design flaw (in our opinion) that we feel the need to highlight.
As per our main review above, the tent is accessed through one big, central door, this door can also be opened up on poles to make a canopy. This door has three zips to seal it up, one either side and one across the bottom. This one at the bottom has proven 9/10 times to be an utter pain in the butt to zip up, and usually involves much crawling on the floor and some rude words.
For comparison/reference in other tents of this sort of design that we have tested, one of the side zips usually comes down and does the under door bit as well, rather than it being a separate zip. It such a pain to do up – particularly in the dark – that more often than not it just gets left unzipped, which is fine on a balmy summers day/evening, but as mentioned earlier the weather has at times been very damp recently, and if this zip is not done up, the force of the water means the bottom of the door gets pushed in and the bottom of your tent starts to resemble a paddling pool.
Once filled with water, due to the bucket style of the ground sheet getting it back out again is also a phaff and punctuated with some further rude words.
Coleman themselves no longer sell this tent and we are looking forward to testing their new Instant 5 man in the next few weeks, however this version is still available via stockists hence we felt it appropriate to make this update so long after posting the original review.