Wild Country Helm Compact 3 Tent | Review - Outdoors Magic

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Wild Country Helm Compact 3 Tent | Review

James Forrest tests out the revised Wild Country Helm Compact three-person tent from British tent makers Terra Nova Equipment

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 view inside with the rear door open.

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.

Ease of Set Up

The Helm Compact 3 is undoubtedly quick and easy to set up. It took us just over five minutes on our first attempt. The inner and flysheet pitch as one. Two poles – a straight blue one and a pre-curved red one – slide into the matching, colour-coded sleeves, forming a cross-shaped frame to the tent. The pole ends are secured into eyelets and the flysheet is clipped to the pre-curved pole. Next you simply peg out the combined flysheet and inner pegging points, use the integrated tensioners to fine-tune the tautness of your structure, and finally peg out the four guylines if additional stability is required. That’s it, you’re done.

The only gripe we had was that the pole sleeves had a slight tendency to snag on the pre-curved pole, if you didn’t get your angles quite right. But that’s splitting hairs. Ultimately it’s a very simple set-up process, aided significantly by the all-in-one pitching and the combined pegging points which stretch out the flysheet and inner together. These moves halve the time it takes to do certain chores – and that’s always a welcome bonus when you’re tired after a long day of adventuring.

Weather Resistance

The three-season Helm Compact 3 is suitable for use in spring, summer and the shoulder season, and is capable of withstanding all but the gnarliest winter weather. The flysheet has a solid 4,000mm hydrostatic head, while the Aqua Stop groundsheet with a slight bathtub style (a small layer of waterproofing that extends up the walls to improve waterproofing) has a 5,000mm rating. Both of these provide three-season protection, shedding water effectively. If extra protection is required, an optional footprint – which weighs 434g and costs £40 – beefs up the groundsheet and extends across the porches, providing an additional layer of durability. The dome-shaped structure feels pretty stable and sturdy, particularly when pegged out correctly with the four guylines provided, and it stood up to some gusting winds effectively for us during our wild camping tests in the Lake District.

Related: Best Walks In The Lake District

The only concerns with this tent are that the walls are pretty high and vertical, with an increased surface area to potentially catch the wind; and the clearance between the fly and inner is relatively small, risking them touching in strong winds. But both of these issues are far from insurmountable and can be avoided with precise pitching and a good choice of camp spot – and, ultimately, for improved weather protection you’ll simply have to fork out more for a four-season tent. The Terra Nova Southern Cross 2, for example, is bombproof in snow, wind, rain and whatever else Mother Nature throws at you – but it’ll set you back £700.

Design Features

Not a lot to say here that hasn’t been mentioned elsewhere. You get 14 alloy V-angled pegs, which do their job admirably; the inner has two humongous mesh pockets (one at each end) and two smaller mesh pockets, providing ample space for stashing a headtorch, book or midnight snack; and each flysheet door can be rolled away and secured with a tab if you want an open, airy set-up. In terms of ventilation, there is a mesh panel with rain cover at each outer door to aid breathability, while each of the twin inner doors also has mesh panels. The flysheet zippers have storm flaps and the inner zippers open 360-degrees, if required.

Value For Money

If you want the technical reliability Terra Nova is known for, but your budget doesn’t stretch to their expensive tents, sub-brand Wild Country is a great bet for value for money. The Helm Compact 3 is affordably-priced, providing near-premium performance for a less-than-premium price. It’s not the cheapest out there, and it’s far from the most expensive, but the mid-range price-tag gets you a solid all-rounder of a tent – and you can’t complain with that. You also get a two-year guarantee against defects in materials and workmanship, which gives you added peace of mind.

Wild Country Helm Compact 3: Verdict

It might not be as premium as its Terra Nova brothers and sisters, but the three-season Wild Country Helm Compact 3 is an excellent all-rounder: spacious, weatherproof, sturdy and feature-packed – and all at a very sensible price. Pack it for campsites or wild camping, it’s suited for both.


Three-season backpacking tent / Two doors and two vestibules / Half-mesh Inner Doors / Five minute pitch time / Flysheet: Stormex P4000mm Flysheet / Aqua Stop P5000mm Groundsheet / 8.5mm Superflex Alloy Poles / 14 x Alloy V-Angle Pegs / Two year guarantee.

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