stoicgear.com; five pounds, four ounces
I used this three-person tent for five-nights on the Main Salmon River, a trip that played out across 70 miles over six days with hot, dry weather. Since we didn’t encounter any serious rain, the tent was mostly used to keep the bugs out while camping on sandy beaches each night. Nighttime temperatures reached the mid 60s and daytime highs peaked in the mid 80s.
The tent was erected quickly with one or two people helping. The asymmetrical design offers two doors, one on either side of the tapered floor. We slept side-to-side with our feet at the narrower end of the 41.2-square-foot floor. It slept two kids, one adult, and a dog very comfortably. A fourth adult could squeeze in if rain was a problem, and the 49-inch interior height offers a good amount of space inside. The vestibules accommodated our packs and boots, but they weren’t overly spacious. We did manage to unknowingly put a small hole in the floor and the mesh walls leading me to think that the fabric is not very strong.
On a second trip to the Mount Jefferson Wilderness in Oregon, three boys slept in it on a two-night backpacking trip. It was very light and easy to carry. The boys set up the tent the wrong way the first time, but then they switched the poles around and put it together quickly. However, we found asymmetrical rain fly to be counter-intuitive; getting it on right was a challenge. We didn’t notice any condensation after a night when temps dipped into the mid 40s, in part thanks to the Velcro lift in the rainfly that opened up a vent in the top of boost ventilation.
www.thenorthface.com; four pounds, 13.3 ounces
I took this three-person tent out on a three-day backpacking trip with seventh- and eighth-grade kids in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness in Oregon. We had moderate temperatures and sunny skies with no rain. Temperatures ranged from the mid 60s to the mid 40s. The trail took us through forests and briefly to tree line for two nights of camping on the slopes of Mount Jefferson.
The tent was used by two boys and was pitched quickly with no problems–which was a refresh accomplishment. It has an intuitive single-walled tent design with a symmetrical floor plan. With two identical poles and one short ventilation pole it was very quick to put up. It’s clearly one of the simplest tent designs I’ve used in recent years.The rectangular floor plan puts an all-mesh door at either side, and the rain fly gives you enough room in the vestibule to store a pack and a pair of boots outside of either doorway. Inside, two kids slept comfortably, and the tent’s weight was easily split between the two.
Both the poles and the tent–made of TNF’s durable waterproof/breathable DryWall fabric–felt durable enough to handle harsh conditions, though that three-day outing didn’t afford any foul weather to put the tent to true test. We’ll see how well it ventilates in warmer conditions and colder conditions, such as 30 degrees with rain (editor’s note: no short supply of those conditions in the Pacific Northwest). It’ll be good to see how well it breathes to reduce condensation and of course how well it kept the rain out.
The three pitching options of the Skyledge tent, including the way to keep the tent dry in a downpour.
The Mountain Hardwear innovation that will likely garnish much of the fanfare in spring 2013 will be the cadre of active apparel outfitted with Cool.Q ZERO, which boasts “active cooling technology.” Pieces like the Way2Cool Short-Sleeve T ($65) will wick the sweat off your skin, then use a proprietary technology to cool your body before the moisture evaporates. We’ve tested the same tech in Columbia products (the parent company of MH) and so far it works. We’ll continue to test and let you know what we find.
Elsewhere on the apparel side, the Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket ($300) offers 850-fill down insulation in a package that weight a measly seven ounces, but should keep you warm and dry whenever the weather gets rough. As with all down products in Mountain Hardwear’s line, the Ghost Whisperer boasts waterproof Q.Shield DOWN. The Plasmic Jacket should also be a fast-mover on the retail shelves. The hard shell jacket employs MH’s proprietary Dry.Q Evap for waterproof/breathable protection, with a sly-looking exposed water-resistant zipper and a wide array of colors. Priced at only $140, it could become a gateway drug to Mountain Hardwear for the uninitiated.
Finally, on the outdoor shelter front, they’re introducing the Skyledge 2 and 3 ($450, $550). The footprint for both the two- and three-tent is included in the price, which gives you three out-of-the-box pitch options: the tent and fly, just the tent, or just the fly, with the tent frame anchored in place by the footprint (pictured, above). This last option also lets you pitch your tent in the rain; just roll out the footprint, assemble the frame, toss over the fly, and then you can then pitch the tent without worrying about getting the tent interior fully soaked. And for the ultra-lighter go-getter, there’s the SuperMegaUL 1, a free-standing one-person tent that weighs in at 1 pound, 14 ounces for $350.
cascadedesigns.com/msr, four pounds, eight ounces (pack weight of tent and fly)
The Hubba Hubba long ago qualified as one of the industry’s best backpacking tents. In addition to the playful name (sadly, a never-ending source of bad jokes among our testers), this backcountry mansion boasts 29 square feet of floor space, with a 40-inch-tall interior and a pack weight of only four pounds, eight ounces (including the rainfly). MSR’s proprietary pole configuration creates near-vertical walls inside the tent, flanked by two doors, in a simple-to-assemble, all-in-one, hub-and-swivel sturdy pole design. The pole configuration also allows for a third option. In addition to staking it with or without the rainfly, you can also anchor the poles to the tent’s footprint ($40, sold separately) and then string over the fly for ample, warm-weather protection against the rain. The rainfly vestibule also gives you another 17.5 square feet under foot—but MSR’s Gear Shed ($170; sold separately) makes the Hubba Hubba even better. This inventive upgrade attaches to one of the tent’s doors like an extended hallway, adding another 26 square feet of covered storage. The hooped vestibule boasts an extra-large side door that can store extra caches of gear or serve as a plush room for your canine companion and offer additional coverage for longer-haul base camp adventures (at one pound and 15 ounces, you may not want to take it deep into the backcountry, however). It marries perfectly with the existing tech architecture, and slips under the rainfly for epic foul-weather, three-season protection—conditions that’ll likely make you appreciate the added space all the more.
www.sierradesigns.com, 6 pounds, 15 ounces
Everything about this tent is family-friendly. The spacious, four-person tent is designed for a quick bivi with snap-together poles that avoid clumsy threading through sleeves. Assembly time is less than five minutes, even for first-timers—in the dark. Better still, there aren’t any awkward sleeves to thread; the five poles snap into configuration and then attach to the exterior of the tent via lightweight clips. At 40 inches, the head room is excellent, with plenty of height for sitting up to play a round of Old Maid or game of backgammon. There is nearly 60 square feet of floor space in the rectangular design, with a breathable mesh upper. Inside are hanging pockets for holding car keys, headlamps, and glasses. Campers can enter and exit via two big doors on either side of the tent, making midnight potty breaks easy. On most nights, you’ll want to leave off the fly off for added ventilation and star gazing, but bring it along in case of a rain shower.