Big Sky International Convertible 2P Tent REVIEW

A unique feature of the Convertible it that a third pole can be added to "convert" it from a three-season tent to a "WinterLite" four-season tent. At 3.5 pounds for a complete two-person double-wall tent, the Convertible in three season mode is 2.6 ounces heavier than Big Sky's award-winning Evolution 2P, but new design elements make it more stable and versatile.

Recommended

Overall Rating: Recommended

Although the Convertible's versatility and Big Sky's a la carte purchasing system introduce some complexity, it's definitely worth the time to select the components you need to create a lightweight double wall shelter that meets your needs. Note that you can purchase the summer (three-season) version of the Convertible as an alternative to Big Sky's popular Evolution 2P. In the summer configuration, the Convertible 2P is 2.6 ounces heavier than the Evolution 2P, but I personally feel that the Convertible is a stronger tent and worth the extra weight. The downside is that only one fly, with snow flaps, is available for the Convertible, and the snow flaps are a nuisance if you only will be using the tent for three-season outings. The snow flaps can be cut off, but it would be better if Big Sky simply offered a fly without the snow flaps.

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by Will Rietveld |

Introduction

The new Big Sky International Convertible 2P double wall tent (also available in a four-person version) introduces some new innovations to the expanding line of Big Sky tents. The Convertible is based on the Evolution's proven design and takes it a few steps further. It's called the "Convertible" because it can be configured as either a three-season or four-season tent. And it's designed so the entire tent (fly, body, footprint) can be set up as a single unit. The summer version weighs a few ounces more than the award-winning Evolution 2P, but it's tighter, better ventilated, more wind stable, and more versatile. And the winter version (Big Sky calls it "WinterLite") breaks the five-pound barrier for a two-person four-season tent. The Convertible is destined to be one of the most versatile tents around, but be prepared to make a few decisions and compromises.

Big Sky International Convertible 2P Tent REVIEW Review - 1
The Big Sky Convertible 2P accommodates two people with two side entry doors and vestibules. The summer version weighs 3 pounds, 8 ounces with lightweight aluminum poles.

What's Good

  • Very lightweight for a two-person double-wall tent
  • Pole sleeves on the fly create a tighter, more stable tent
  • Interchangeable summer and winter interiors
  • Lightweight or heavy-duty aluminum or carbon fiber poles available
  • Easy setup as a single unit
  • Two doors and two vestibules
  • Easy side entry
  • Several stake options
  • Three-season or four-season configurations
  • Snow flaps seal perimeter in a snowstorm
  • Four large interior storage pockets
  • Adequate space for two people plus gear
  • Tighter, better ventilated, and more wind stable than the Evolution 2P

What's Not So Good

  • No summer fly available
  • Inner tent contacts the fly at the head end
  • Vestibule zippers are too tight under some conditions

Specifications

  Year/Manufacturer/Model

2008 Big Sky International Convertible 2P

  Style

Three- or four-season, two-person, double-wall tent with floor

  Fabrics

Fly and floor are 1.3 oz/yd2 (44 g/m2) silnylon; summer interior is no-see-um mesh; winter interior is 1.1 oz/yd2 (37 g/m2) uncoated ripstop nylon

  Poles and Stakes

Summer version uses two carbon fiber or lightweight aluminum poles; winter version uses three heavy duty carbon fiber or aluminum poles; a minimum of six stakes are needed for a secure pitch

  Dimensions

Length 84 in (213 cm), width at head end 56 in (142 cm), width at foot end 46 in (117 cm), peak height 42 in (107 cm)

  Packed Size

19 x 6 in (48 x 15 cm)

  Total Weight

Tent is purchased a la carte, with numerous options to choose from. Example summer configuration is 3 lb, 8 oz (1.59 kg), winter configuration is 4 lb, 10 oz (2.1 kg) (includes fly, tent body, aluminum poles, compression stuff sack, 6 stakes, stake sack)

  Trail Weight

Summer configuration is 3 lb, 5.8 oz (1.53 kg), winter configuration is 4 lb, 7.8 oz (2.04 kg) (excludes compression stuff sack and stake sack)

  Protected Area

Floor area 32.7 ft2 (3.04 m2), vestibule area 16.8 ft2 (1.56 m2), total 49.5 ft2 (4.6 m2)

  Protected Area/Trail Weight Ratio

14.1 ft2/lb for summer configuration; 10.6 ft2/lb for winter configuration

   MSRP

Varies with options selected; US$388 for the summer version with lightweight aluminum poles; US$515 for the winter version with heavy duty aluminum poles

  Options

Summer or winter body, lightweight or heavy duty aluminum or carbon fiber poles, several stake choices, guylines, storage bag, footprint

Performance

Big Sky International's new Convertible 2P builds on the success of their award-winning Evolution 2P. Both tents have two doors and two vestibules, side entry, and the same dimensions. The poles are interchangeable between the two tents. However, the Convertible has design elements that set it apart from the Evolution and make it better in several ways.

Big Sky International Convertible 2P Tent REVIEW Review - 2
Views of the Big Sky Convertible 2P. Each side of the tent (top left) has a zippered vestibule entry. A side view with vestibules tied open (top right) shows the tent's large doors and easy entry. The foot end view (bottom left) shows both vestibules and the tent's large top vent. A top view (bottom right) shows the tent's overall proportions.

The distinctive design elements that set the Convertible apart from the Evolution are as follows:

  • The poles are inserted into sleeves on the fly, rather than sleeves on the inner tent.
  • The inner tent is attached to the fly with mini quick-release fasteners.
  • A third pole can be added for increased stability in snow and wind.
  • A large top cap vent provides improved ventilation.
  • Snow flaps around the perimeter of the fly help secure the tent in a snowstorm and prevent snow from coming inside.

Big Sky International Convertible 2P Tent REVIEW Review - 3
Distinctive design elements of the Convertible. The foot end view (left) showing the tent's large top vent, pole sleeves on the fly, and third pole attached to add stability and extend the vestibules. The snow flaps are rolled up in the photo. Two interchangeable inner tent bodies (mesh or breathable nylon) connect to fasteners on the fly (right).

Purchasing a Big Sky tent is like ordering a la carte in a restaurant - it allows you to get exactly what you want, but you need to make a decision on each component rather than order a pre-selected package. It helps to know what you want, and perhaps this review will help in that regard.

By choosing the appropriate components, the Convertible 2P can be configured as a lightweight three-season tent or a sturdier lightweight four-season tent. Big Sky qualifies the latter as "WinterLite," meaning it's "suitable for camping in snow and cold weather, and capable of withstanding moderate wind and snow loads. Please note that this shelter is not 'Mountain,' 'Alpine,' or 'Expedition' rated and is NOT intended for use in extreme weather conditions." With their WinterLite rating, Big Sky has basically created a new tent category (as defined above) for travelers who want to do an occasional short duration winter camping trip under better weather conditions.

There is only one fly available (with snow flaps), so both summer and winter configurations use the same fly (more on that later).

Big Sky International Convertible 2P Tent REVIEW Review - 4
The three-season configuration typically uses two lightweight poles (aluminum or carbon fiber) in an X-pattern and a mesh interior (left). The summer interior (center) is all mesh (except for the silnylon floor), and there is no access to the top vent from inside. The fly can be pitched by itself (right) using an optional X-cord that clips to the pole ends.

Big Sky International Convertible 2P Tent REVIEW Review - 5
The four-season configuration typically uses three heavy-duty poles (aluminum or carbon fiber) and a breathable nylon interior. The third pole (left) adds stability to the tent and extends the vestibules. Opening the snow flaps (center) around the perimeter anchors the tent and keeps snow from entering around the sides. The winter interior has zippered openings in the ceiling (right) for increased ventilation and access to the top vent from inside.

Although I present typical summer and winter configurations in the above photos, the beauty of the Big Sky a la carte system is that the user can select the components that best meet his/her needs, budget, and conditions (more on that later).

Big Sky International Convertible 2P Tent REVIEW Review - 6
Inside features. Both interiors have large mesh pockets at the head (top left) and foot (top right) ends. Each side vestibule (bottom left) is 8.4 square feet, which is not huge, but adequate for equipment storage and cooking (with good ventilation). Floor area (bottom right) is adequate for two sleepers. The large entry doors tie open out of the way to incorporate the vestibules into the usable space inside the tent.

Field Testing

I field tested the Convertible 2P a bit backwards because I obtained the fly, summer interior, and three heavy-duty aluminum poles at first, and used that configuration for winter camping, then later obtained the winter interior (when it became available) and used it for spring and summer camping. Overall, it was fortuitous because I experienced the pros and cons of using both interiors in winter and summer conditions.

Setup is easy and fast. As I mentioned, the interior and fly (and optional footprint) can remain attached and the entire tent can be set up as a single unit. Simply thread two long poles into the pole sleeves on the fly until they reach dead-end pockets at the other end, then slip the tips into grommets on the rear corners of the tent. Six stakes are required (four corners and two vestibules) for a secure pitch, and four optional guylines can be attached for extra wind stability.

Big Sky International Convertible 2P Tent REVIEW Review - 7
Big Sky's new Y-Not stakes (left-left) are 5 in long, weigh 0.4 oz each, and hold much better than titanium hook stakes. Their new SnoAnchor stakes (left-right) for winter snow camping weigh just 1 oz each. Big Sky's new ShelterSaver groundsheet (right) is made of type 1443 "soft structure" Tyvek, the same "fabric" that is used in disposable Tyvek clothing. It's very durable, lightweight, and functionally waterproof. The ShelterSaver adds 4.4 oz to the weight of the tent and can be left attached.

For a better viewing experience, please download the Flash Player. You may also download the the video.

View a tour of the Big Sky International Convertible 2P Tent.

My first trips using the Convertible 2P were winter snow camping outings by myself or with my wife. On my first trip I camped on a ten-foot snowpack at 11,800 feet. After a few hours of delightful backcountry skiing in the area, it began to snow and blow, and I retreated to the tent. I refuged from late afternoon though the night solo in the comfort of the Convertible, observing how the tent performed during the course of a six-inch snowfall driven by twenty mph winds. It performed remarkably well. Snow accumulated on the extended snow flaps around the perimeter to help anchor the tent in the wind and prevent snow from entering around the sides of the tent. The mesh summer interior basically worked well, except some spindrift entered through the top vent and filtered down through the mesh, even with the vent closed with a Velcro tab. Obviously the winter interior would have worked better, because the nylon would have shed the spindrift. Under those windy conditions, I had no problems with condensation inside the tent.

Big Sky International Convertible 2P Tent REVIEW Review - 8
The morning after a 6-inch snowfall at 11,800 feet. The Convertible didn't budge in a 20 mph wind.

Three other winter trips were under calmer conditions, with lows down to 16 °F. Under those conditions, we rolled up the snow skirt and mesh doors for more ventilation, but the clear/calm/cold conditions resulted in a lot of frost on the inside of the fly, especially on the vestibules. Again, the summer mesh interior worked well, but the winter nylon interior would have been warmer.

In the spring, we took the Convertible on two rafting trips for a total of thirteen days, using the summer mesh interior for better ventilation and three poles for extra wind stability. On two very rainy nights, with the mesh doors open, I had copious amounts of condensation on the inside of the tent fly, especially the vestibules. The mesh interior separated us from the wet fly, but we had to be careful not to brush against the inside of the wet vestibules. Under such cool/calm/rainy conditions, heavy condensation is inevitable in any shelter.

Big Sky International Convertible 2P Tent REVIEW Review - 9
On a 40 °F rainy/calm night (left) we had copious condensation on the inside of the tent fly. The air temperature hit the dew point temperature (right) most of the night. In this scenario condensation is inevitable in any shelter.

My photos and graphs showing condensation in this double-wall tent depict the extreme conditions where condensation is inevitable in any tent. In fair weather, especially with the vestibules open at night, we had no condensation at all. Overall, the Convertible has adequate flow-through ventilation and is not especially prone to condensation.

In early summer, the winter nylon interior finally arrived and we tested it on a high elevation backpacking trip, where there were still lots of snowdrifts around and nighttime temperatures dropped below freezing. On our first night, we tied the interior doors open and closed the vestibules, and there was light frost on the inside of the vestibules in the morning. The temperatures inside and outside the tent were about the same. Under nearly identical weather conditions the second night, we closed the interior doors and vestibules. The morning temperature inside was about ten degrees warmer inside, and we had heavy frost on the inside of the tent fly.

Assessment

Because it's designed to be versatile, the Big Sky Convertible can be difficult to understand, and choosing the desired components using Big Sky's a la carte system can be a bit challenging. However, it needn't be that confusing. Many buyers simply want a three-season tent, so the summer configuration with a mesh interior and lightweight aluminum (or carbon fiber) poles will suffice. Other buyers may prefer a nylon interior, or may plan to use the tent year-round, so they may wish to purchase both interiors and different pole and stake sets. Still other users may want to use three heavy duty aluminum poles for extra wind stability. And the fly-only configuration (with or without a footprint) provides a very stable single-wall shelter. The versatility introduces some complexity, but it's worth it in order to get what you want.

Overall, I found the Convertible 2P to be a well designed, highly versatile, and stable tent. It introduces some new design elements into the Big Sky line of lightweight tents. However, pole sleeves on the fly and clipped-in interior is not a brand new concept. I reviewed a Vaude tunnel tent a few years ago that used the same concept, but Big Sky's iteration goes one step further by allowing the user to easily switch between a mesh or nylon interior and use different pole and stake sets. I found that the design works, and I had no problem erecting the tent as one unit repeatedly in the field. In my opinion, we will be seeing more tents using this design approach in the future.

With the summer mesh interior and two lightweight aluminum poles, the Convertible 2P is just 2.6 ounces heavier than a similarly configured Evolution 2P. I would personally choose the Convertible over the Evolution because it pitches tighter, has better top ventilation, and is more wind stable. It's also more versatile, if the user wants one tent that will serve multiple needs.

The downside is the snow flaps on the fly - only one fly is available, and it has the snow flaps. For fair weather camping, when more ventilation is desired, the snow flaps can be rolled up. However, even when they are rolled up, they are not completely out of the way, and give the tent a disheveled appearance. But that's the compromise when purchasing one tent to serve multiple purposes. Another issue is the vestibule zippers can be very tight at times. Nylon stretches when damp and shrinks when it dries. I encountered several occasions when closing the zippers put a lot of stress on them, and I had to reposition stakes or pull on one side to avoid blowing out the zipper.

Big Sky International Convertible 2P Tent REVIEW Review - 10
The main issue I have with the Convertible 2P is the lack of a summer fly. Only one fly is available, and that is basically a winter fly with snow flaps. Toggles and loops are provided so the snow flaps can be rolled up when they are not needed, but as the photo shows, the snow flaps are extra clutter when summer camping. Big Sky contends that the snow flaps can be cut off if they are not wanted. Bottom line, the snow flaps are a compromise when the tent will be used for both three- and four-season conditions.

There are no close comparisons to the Convertible in terms of design and weight. Big Sky tents are simply the lightest double wall tents available on the market. The REI Quarter Dome T2 weighs four pounds, two ounces and has less floor and vestibule area, but it is bargain priced at US$259. The Montbell Thunder Dome 2 weighs just over four pounds, has slightly less floor area, only one entrance and vestibule, and costs US$299. These tents are better compared to the Big Sky Evolution 2P, which weighs a pound less.

What's Unique

The Convertible is the most versatile double wall tent available, with multiple interior, pole, and stake combinations available to create different three- or four-season configurations. The entire tent can be quickly set up as a single unit.

Recommendations for Improvement

  • Redesign the snow flaps on the fly so they are completely out of the way for summer use, or offer a summer fly without snow flaps.

Citation

"Big Sky International Convertible 2P Tent REVIEW," by Will Rietveld. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/big_sky_convertible_2p_tent_review.html, 2008-08-19 00:05:00-06.

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Big Sky International Convertible 2P Tent REVIEW Review
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Big Sky International Convertible 2P Tent REVIEW Review on 08/19/2008 19:56:01 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Big Sky International Convertible 2P Tent REVIEW Review

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Flaps? on 08/20/2008 02:33:53 MDT Print View

Hi Will

Interesting.
> as the photo shows, the snow flaps are extra clutter when summer camping.
Seriously, just how much of a problem are the flaps in the summer time? I confess, the concept of them creating 'clutter' is not one which would have occured to me.

Cheers

Christopher Holden
(back2basics) - F - MLife

Locale: Southeast USA
Re: Big Sky International Convertible 2P Tent REVIEW Review on 08/20/2008 05:16:17 MDT Print View

Ben must be out in the sticks. I expected to see a post from him within an hour of this posting online. Stay tuned.

Adam Rothermich
(aroth87) - F

Locale: Missouri Ozarks
Re: Re: Big Sky International Convertible 2P Tent REVIEW Review on 08/20/2008 06:16:45 MDT Print View

Christopher, you just made my day :D.

Adam

Will Rietveld
(WilliWabbit) - MLife

Locale: Southwest Colorado
Re: Flaps? on 08/20/2008 08:01:49 MDT Print View

Hi Roger, as your post illustrates, it depends on the individual whether the flaps are an issue while summer camping. I brought it up to make readers aware of it, and they can decide for themselves whether its an issue or not.

I suspect that many buyers of this tent will only use it for summer camping, so they don't need the snow flaps. Of course then can cut them off, but the point is they can't buy a fly for the Convertible without snow flaps.

Another thing to note is the flaps serve a useful purpose when winter camping in a snow storm, but they greatly reduce the tent's ventilation because they seal off the bottom.

Best,
Will

Mary Gillam
(33238) - F
Re: Big Sky International Convertible 2P Tent REVIEW Review on 08/20/2008 05:16:17 MDT on 08/20/2008 09:45:21 MDT Print View

I've had a few uncomfortable nights when dune sand blew under the fly and settled on my face for hours. Maybe the snow flaps on the fly would help in this situation?

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Big Sky International Convertible 2P Tent REVIEW Review on 08/20/2008 05:16:17 MDT on 08/20/2008 15:52:12 MDT Print View

> I've had a few uncomfortable nights when dune sand blew under the fly and settled on my face for hours.
New one on me!
But of course. I think the tents used by nomadic Arabs have sodcloths too.

Cheers

Peter Atkinson
(sewing_machine) - MLife

Locale: Yorkshire, England
Big Sky International Convertible 2P Tent on 08/20/2008 16:06:17 MDT Print View

Looks a cracking all round tent; I've been looking for a good light all-rounder for a while, and there really is not a tent that can be that - but this comes very close. The other tent I'm very tempted by is the Stephensons Warmlite (I also like smaller independent companies, of which there seem to be lots in the USA). This review is timely - have BPL reviewed the Warmlite?

Will Rietveld
(WilliWabbit) - MLife

Locale: Southwest Colorado
Stephenson's Warmlite Review? on 08/20/2008 18:12:32 MDT Print View

Hi Peter. Ask and you shall receive; we just received a Warmlite 2X from Stephensons and Chris Townsend will be doing the review. It will be published in early fall sometime, along with a State Of the Market Report on single wall tents.

Best,
Will

Peter Atkinson
(sewing_machine) - MLife

Locale: Yorkshire, England
Stephenson's Warmlite Review on 08/20/2008 18:17:31 MDT Print View

Ace! I really look forward to it (too much really, my son and partner despair how much I visit this site!).

Will Rietveld
(WilliWabbit) - MLife

Locale: Southwest Colorado
Snow Flaps to Keep Sand Out on 08/20/2008 18:17:34 MDT Print View

Hi Mary. Great comment. Camping in the desert when its windy results in a lot of fine sand inside your tent, and sand in everything inside. The snow flaps could be covered with sand around the perimeter to keep it from blowing in. Seems like that would work.

Best,
Will

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Delivery on 08/21/2008 01:07:42 MDT Print View

Hi Will

Given the rather rough past history, do you have any idea what the delivery schedule on these tents might be? I'm curious, and I am sure many would be interested.

Cheers

Robert Molen
(bigsky) - MLife
Convertible 2P availability on 08/21/2008 09:01:50 MDT Print View

As of today, some Convertible 2Ps are in stock at dealers and at Big Sky...

For current availability, please see:
http://www.bigskyproducts.com/index.asp?PageAction=VIEWPROD&ProdID=43

or

http://tinyurl.com/3ygqh2

Thanks for your interest,
Bob

Big Sky International
www.BigSkyInternational.com
online store: www.BigSkyProducts.com

Jason Brinkman
(jbrinkmanboi) - MLife

Locale: Idaho
Re: Flaps? on 08/21/2008 15:28:51 MDT Print View

If you wanted a dedicated summer fly AND a winter fly, couldn't you just buy one extra fly and cut the snow flaps off? It can't cost much more with the flaps than if one was offered without, right?

Robert Molen
(bigsky) - MLife
Convertible 2P availability update on 08/21/2008 16:48:49 MDT Print View

As of today, some Convertible 2Ps are in stock at dealers but NOT at Big Sky...

If you need help finding a dealer with one in stock, please let us know.

For current availability, please see:
http://www.bigskyproducts.com/index.asp?PageAction=VIEWPROD&ProdID=43

or

http://tinyurl.com/3ygqh2

Thanks for your interest,
Bob

Big Sky International
www.BigSkyInternational.com
online store: www.BigSkyProducts.com

Robert Molen
(bigsky) - MLife
Convertible 2P availability update on 08/21/2008 17:25:02 MDT Print View

I was just informed by our warehouse they "found" a couple more Convertible 2Ps... so as of today, some Convertible 2Ps are in stock at dealers AND at Big Sky... sorry for the confusion...

For current availability, please see:
http://www.bigskyproducts.com/index.asp?PageAction=VIEWPROD&ProdID=43

or

http://tinyurl.com/3ygqh2

Thanks for your interest,
Bob

Big Sky International
www.BigSkyInternational.com
online store: www.BigSkyProducts.com

Joe Westing
(pedro87) - F
poles attach to fly on 08/23/2008 16:29:48 MDT Print View

It was mentioned in the article that the poles attach to the outside of the fly. Is there any possible way of just pitching the inner mesh tent? If not, that seems like a big disadvantage, at least for me. In warmer weather, I often just pitch the inner mesh tent for superb ventilation, views, and star-watching while still keeping the bugs out. What is the advantage of having the poles attach to the outside of the fly?

R K
(oiboyroi)

Locale: South West US
Re: poles attach to fly on 08/23/2008 17:20:07 MDT Print View

What is the advantage of having the poles attach to the outside of the fly?

If you have to set up your tent while it’s raining, having the poles attached to the fly will allow you to set up your tent without getting the inside wet.

Ray Jardine mentions this in his book Beyond Backpacking. He sees many tent designs as flawed because typically you have to set up the inner tent, then throw the fly over the top. In the mean time, your nice and dry tent is becoming not so nice and dry. Makes sense to me.


Edit: Seems many non-American tent makers have figured this out already ;)

Edited by oiboyroi on 08/23/2008 17:23:07 MDT.

Joe Westing
(pedro87) - F
Re: Re: poles attach to fly on 08/23/2008 18:22:07 MDT Print View

Thanks for pointing that out. I didn't think of that. However, I still personally do not like the idea of having poles attach to the outside of the fly. Many tents can be stored and stuffed w/ the fly still attached to the inner tent. When I pitch my tent in the rain, I can push the poles through the sleeve on the inner tent while the attached fly is protecting the inner tent from rain.

Edited by pedro87 on 08/23/2008 20:30:17 MDT.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: poles attach to fly on 08/24/2008 04:22:54 MDT Print View

> What is the advantage of having the poles attach to the outside of the fly?
> If you have to set up your tent while it’s raining, having the poles attached to the fly will allow you to set up your tent without getting the inside wet.

Very true.
Another advantage is that having the poles sleeved to the fly and the guys means the tent is a LOT more stable in bad weather.

> Seems many non-American tent makers have figured this out already ;)
INDEED! INDEED!