Terra Nova’s sub-brand Wild Country – which offers simple, good value products utilising Terra Nova’s own design and quality standards – has updated its popular Helm range of one, two and three-person tents. The revised 2020 versions are now known as the Helm Compact range, a name change that reflects the brand’s efforts to reduce the packed size of their tents.
Each new tent is quicker and easier to pitch, has a side-opening tarp style tent bag for a hassle-free pack-away (no more infuriating ‘why-doesn’t-it-fit?’ moments when you’re decamping), and, crucially, can now be packed down smaller so that it’s easier to carry and stash in your backpack.
Other key updates include a new orientation of ventilation panels on the front and rear inner doors, improved yellow reflective guylines with cleat-style runners, and a lighter green shade on the flysheet. It all adds up to a very positive revamp of an already successful design. We tested out the new Helm Compact 3 in the Lake District and this is what we learnt:
Wild Country Helm Compact 3: Performance Summary
The Wild Country Helm Compact 3 is a semi-freestanding three-person tent with a domed shape. It’s easily spacious enough for three and ideal for two people wanting the luxury of extra room. It has good length and width and the twin-doors with accompanying porches ensure you never feel cramped. Head height is extremely generous too, providing enough clearance to sit up comfortably.
The design, build and materials match the high quality you’d expect from Terra Nova and Wild Country, all at an affordable price. It withstands wind well and the impressive waterproofing stats of the groundsheet and flysheet ensure you’ll always stay dry. All in all, the Wild Country Helm Compact 3 performs admirably: it delivers a weatherproof, spacious and full-featured shelter at a very sensible price, making several incremental improvements on the original Helm series.
Weight and Size
The Helm Compact 3 weighs in at a very respectable 2,950g, including the tent bag. If you’re camping as a trio, that’s less than 1kg per person, so it’s far from a daunting weight to carry. For two that’s…ok (you can do the maths). It’s far from the lightest three-person tent out there – some ultralight three-person backpacking tents from brands like MSR, Nemo and Big Agnes weigh in at a remarkable sub 1.5kg – but you’ll have to pay a couple of hundred pounds more and they won’t be as tough or durable. The Helm Compact 3, conversely, strikes a good balance between weight, comfort, features, weatherproofing and price point.
You get a bucket-load of space and features, as well as strong durability, but it still comes in at relatively lightweight. Other three-person tents can tip the scales at 4 to 5kg, so the Helm Compact 3 is comfortably mid-range. Disappointingly the new Compact version is marginally heavier than the original Helm 3, but the 110g difference isn’t significant enough to get too worried about.
“The Helm Compact 3 is affordably-priced, providing near-premium performance for a less-than-premium price.”
In terms of packed size, the Helm Compact 3 packs down to an impressive 30x24cm. The original Helm 3 was far longer at 52x20cm. What we love about the new squat, girthy shape – which is, let’s say, more cocktail sausage shaped compared to the original’s hot dog figure – is that you can fit it horizontally into your backpack. This slots in neatly around other gear and doesn’t take up as much room. The previous style meant the longer Helm 3 had to go in vertically, which was an inconvenient set-up. The Helm Compact 3 fits neatly into panniers too, making it suitable for bikepacking.
Nothing has changed from the Helm to the Helm Compact in terms of floor space – but there’s no need to mess with a winning formula. The spacious inner is sized 225x165cm, with a head height of 120cm. The almost-rectangular shape has no tapering like some other tents, which gives a greater sense of living space, and the 225cm length (7 ft 4”) is big enough even for most NBA basketball players. The layout is designed for top-n-tail sleeping and there’s room for three, which naturally is cosier, or ample space for two with equipment. Gear including backpacks, wet walking boots and cooking equipment can be stashed in either of the two triangular porches, which are about 2m wide and 36cm deep, and the twin doors (one on each side) are superbly practical. They just make living in a tent easier as you don’t have crawl over two other people just to pop out for the toilet.
The porches are, sadly, a little small, providing a triangular slither of space that’s very long but not very deep at all – ideally they’d be bigger. But in each porch there is still just about enough space to stash a 65L backpack, with a few items like boots and a stove placed around it.
Where the porch is lacking, the head height is not. A pre-curved pole – shaped like half a hexagon – massively expands the tent’s peak. The walls are near-vertical, making the inner feel rather palatial, and the headroom is simply excellent. I’m 5ft 9” and had ample space to sit down or even kneel down inside, without my head getting anywhere near the ceiling – which was really handy when setting up a sleeping system or organising gear.