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Mandatory Gear Puppy Pile Tent REVIEW

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by Ryan Jordan | 2004-10-12 03:00:00-06

Overview

mandatory gear puppy pile tent - field shot

The Mandatory Gear Puppy Pile tent is the lightest freestanding single wall tent available: 1 pound 10 ounces (0.74 kg) with silicone nylon skin and a carbon fiber pole set. Such lightness-of-being is very attractive to the adventure racing crowd, the target market for the Puppy Pile. Adventure racers I talk to think the Puppy Pile is the best thing since, well, a puppy pile (a bunch of adventure racers spooning to try to stay warm without sleeping bags).

However, more traditional backpackers pay a price. Low interior volume satisfies nobody but trolls and midgets (and of course, adventure racers, who find the interior volume palace-like), and weathering a long storm in the non-breathable, poorly ventilated skin results in an interior condensation rainstorm of such ferocity as to warrant wearing raingear inside the tent.

But the bottom line is simple and attractive: for less than 2 pounds you can have a fully enclosed tent that takes up scant space in your ultralight backpack.

Specifications

• Tent Type

Single wall tent with floor; freestanding wedge shape using exterior poles

• Fabric Description

1.4 oz/yd2 (47 g/m2) silicone-coated ripstop (30d) nylon

• Weight Full Package

As supplied by manufacturer with stuff sacks, stakes, guylines, etc. The tent comes with a lightweight stuff sack but no stakes or guylines. We recommend adding a minimum of four lightweight titanium tent stakes so the floor can be staked out to its maximum dimensions. This is not possible without stakes.

Backpacking Light scale Manufacturer claim
1 lb 11.8 oz  (0.79 kg) 1 lb 9.1 oz (0.71 kg)
Component Backpacking Light measured oz (g)
tent 19.1 (541)
poles 6.9 (196)
stuff sack (included) 0.9 (26)
stakes, 4 Bozeman Mountain Works Lazr Hi-Vis Titanium tent stakes 0.9 (28)

• Weight Minimum Package

Includes tent body and fly, minimum necessary stakes and guylines, no stuff sacks or extra hardware.

Backpacking Light and Manufacturer supplied
4 Lasr Hi-Vis Titanium tent stakes, 0 ft guylines.
1lb 10.9 oz  (0.76 kg)

• Dimensions

  Backpacking Light Measured
in (cm)
Manufacturer claim
in (cm)
Width 58 (147 ) 60 (152 )
Length 84 (213 ) 88 (224 )
Height 30.5 (77 ) 33 (84 )

• Floor Area

Backpacking Light measured
ft2 (m2)
Manufacturer claim
ft2 (m2)
33.8 ( 3.1) 36.7 (3.4 )

• Floor Area/Minimum Weight Ratio

1.26 ft2/oz (4.1 m2/kg) using Backpacking Light measured values

• Vestibule Area

n/a

• MSRP

$499.00 ($549.00 for a model with an additional mosquito netting door)

Features

Ease of Setup

At first glance, the Mandatory Gear Puppy Pile tent seems like a tent pitching dream: two external poles, four optional stakes, and boom - you're done. In the field, however, and especially, during bad weather, the tent suffers significant pitching faults.

The first of those faults is the pole sleeves: manufactured with the same silnylon used in the body, the pole sleeves are too slippery to keep the poles in place while pitching the tent, and the poles slide out of the sleeves easily.

Second, and more important, is the fact that each pole needs to be threaded through no less than twelve individual 2-inch fabric loops (13 for one of the poles). With cold hands, driving rain, and wind whipping the tent around, this is no easy chore.

Once the poles are in place, the tent pops right up, and it's simply a matter of getting in and zipping the door shut.

Two peak vents adorn the ceiling, and keeping them open requires a 7-inch rod (the manufacturer recommends using a "stick") as a prop. For five hundred bucks, we expected the manufacturer to give us fancy carbon fiber rods with molded 24k gold end caps, not have to scrounge forest debris for the right sticks. We made our own using some scrap carbon tubing from old fishing rod tips we picked up at a swap meet. The cost was four bucks and both together weigh 0.25 ounces.

Staking the four corners greatly enhances interior living space, by ensuring tension on the floor that keeps the walls as far away from your sleeping bag as possible. When using two additional stake out loops on the long sides, virtually no effect on livability or performance was observed. This tent needs only four stakes. There are no guyline tie out points on the tent, and we didn't feel that the design or pitch would be markedly improved by adding them.

Usable Features / Options

Components

Tent body 30 denier silicone nylon body and floor; same fabric also used in tent pole loops, stake-out loops, and tent pole corner sleeves (19.1 ounces)
Guylines none needed, or included
Stakes tent has capacity for six, four recommended, none included
Poles Fibraplex 8.8 millimeter carbon fiber pole set, two nine-section poles; collapsed length 17.5 inches (6.9 ounces)
Stuff Sack 30 denier silicone nylon with drawcord and cordlock (0.9 ounce)

The Puppy Pile's strength is clear: it's awfully light for a freestanding tent. However, ease of setup can be improved markedly, and little weight would be added by increasing interior volume - the quarters are cramped and we don't consider this tent usable for more than one hiker (or four friendly adventure racers).

Ventilation is addressed in a cursory manner with two small peak vents that provide approximately 100 square inches of cross sectional area through no-see-um mesh windows protected by small awnings.

A single door with a water resistant zipper provides protection from rain and wind, but lack of an awning means that it's unprotected if left open. Our test sample did not have a mesh door, so staying in the tent on a warm, buggy night was an experience on the wrong side of comfortable with respect to temperature and condensation regulation.

Weight / Sizing

mandatory gear puppy pile tent - Ryan inside
Even Ryan, at only 5'8" (some say 5'7") has a difficult time sitting up and stretching out in the Puppy Pile, and the walls aren't steep enough (or the floor long enough) to prevent his sleeping bag from touching the fabric, even when sleeping on a diagonal.

For the weight, the statistics say that the Mandatory Gear Puppy Pile has one of the highest floor area-per-weight ratios of any tent on the market. However, buyer be warned: the manufacturer-claimed ceiling height of 33 inches (we measured only 30 inches) provided marginal comfort for hanging out in a storm and made sitting up and reading or fiddling with gear nearly impossible. This is a tent where you need to be comfortable lying down most of the time.

Flexibility of Pitching

The Puppy Pile can be pitched only one way. The only options available to the user are the number of stakes he or she elects to use (the tent comes with six stake-out points, we recommend four, but none are required to be functional), and whether or not the vents are propped up with small sticks (or, some homemade carbon rods made out of old fishing rod tips capped with some duct tape to prevent them from puncturing the fabric).

One advantage of the Puppy Pile's design rationale is that it requires a pretty small platform for pitching - no room is needed for extraneous guylines, vestibules, or other paraphernalia.

Usable Space

Floor space is claimed to be 88 inches by 60 inches (we measured 84 inches by 58 inches), but is considerably less than that because of the low height, which results in shallow sloped sidewalls that encroach on the feet and head of an average person using a 6-foot long sleeping bag, even when sleeping diagonally in the tent. Lying in the tent diagonally, you can barely prop yourself up on an elbow without touching the tent wall with your head.

Performance

Stability

The Puppy Pile is a relatively wind-stable structure. Its wind-shedding ability does not result as much from its wedge shape (like similar, but taller wedge tents from Bibler and Integral Designs), but from its low profile. Manufacturing tolerances for the tent are not precise, so the walls may or may not pitch tight for you - they certainly didn't for us. Thus, the larger front and back walls are prone to flapping, and in two instances (wind gusts in excess of 40 mph), they completely bowed in to the point where the tent structure collapsed.

Storm Protection

Mandatory Gear claims (in Website marketing materials as of June, 2004) that the Puppy Pile is "for adventure racers who need an ultra-lightweight 4-season shelter in case of severe weather..." We took the Puppy Pile into severe weather, and we are forced to responsibly dispute this claim.

Moderate wind gusts (40+ mph) result in complete collapse of the tent structure (however, it did bounce back). To the credit of Fibraplex, the manufacturer of the Puppy Pile's seemingly fragile carbon fiber pole set, high winds did not crack or break the poles. They are tougher than we originally thought. However, this behavior resulted in loosening of lightweight skewer-style tent stakes, and eventually, the stakes popped out (This begs the question: why use such lightweight stakes in such fierce weather? But the Puppy Pile was the only tent we tested in high winds that caused stakes to pop out.).

The water resistant zipper was not so water resistant. On each of several nights in moderate to hard rain, we found water seeping through the zippers.

The awnings that covered the ceiling peak vents kept severely wind-driven rain from entering the tent, allowing us to keep them open for ventilation during stormy conditions. We only wished for a small awning over the top of the door to help ventilation in non-wind-driven rain.

Ventilation/Condensation Resistance

mandatory gear puppy pile tent - vent
No support rods are included with the tent, which by itself, is no big deal: you can improvise using virtually anything if you're creative enough. When we couldn't find sticks above the treeline, we simply used an old Sharpie pen, found on the trail as trash.

The Puppy Pile includes two peak vents in the ceiling that provide 100 square inches of mesh-backed and awning-protected ventilation. To test this, we cooked inside the tent (not recommended with this highly flammable fabric), boiled water, and watched the steam escape, monitoring the buildup of condensation. The steam readily escaped, and we appreciated the vents on nights where we had to make a quick cup of cocoa while protected from hard rain. However, ventilation was not sufficient with the vents alone to cook for sustained periods of time: we used a carbon monoxide detector to measure CO levels in the tent during combustion. After that experience, we never cooked in the Puppy Pile again.

The tent has limited cross-flow ventilation. A minor amount of cross-flow occurs into and out of the peak vents, but without a low vent or two, or the ability to prop or tie open the lower part of the door (and keep it protected in the rain), the tent suffers from lack of sufficient chimney style venting.

As such, condensation buildup was always a serious problem in the tent. Even going to bed completely dry, but with the Puppy Pile's door closed (and vents open), I always awoke to enough condensation on the inside of the tent to completely wet the foot end of my sleeping bag. With one person in the tent, the condensation can be managed by wiping the walls with a small towel in the morning, but in humid, rainy conditions, or on calm, still, and cold nights, condensation formed to the point of it passively dripping from the ceiling onto the sleeping bag, or running down the walls and forming puddles inside the tent.

Insect Protection

The Puppy Pile provides insect protection only if the main door is completely closed. On a warm night, this creates an unventilated sweatbox that will send claustrophobes to an asylum.

To their credit, Mandatory Gear now manufacturers the "Puppy Pile Too", which offers a mesh backed main door that dramatically improves ventilation, condensation resistance, and livability in buggy conditions.

Durability Field Observations

After approximately 30 nights in the field, we noticed some durability issues that are important to note.

First, the polyurethane coating on the water-resistant zipper began to crack and peel, and a noticeable decrease in the zipper's ability to repel water was observed towards the end of the testing period.

Second, grommet tips were used to cap the end of the poles, rather than conventional end caps that manufacturers normally use for pole tips that are inserted into fabric pockets. As such, the machined grommet tips, which have fairly sharp corners, eventually wore holes in two of the four fragile (silnylon) pole corner pockets of the tent.

Value

Five hundred bucks for a tent that functions as little more than a fancy emergency shelter? For five hundred bucks, we expect reasonable ventilation, a protected doorway, carbon fiber rods for propping open the vents, and a really nice set of six titanium tent stakes.

Final Thoughts

Tips and Tricks

The biggest tip we have is to resist the temptation to leave tent stakes at home. Four stakes dramatically increase floor tension and maximize the limited usable floor space.

Recommendations for Improvement

  1. Increase tent height to 38 inches so the average person can at least sit up in the center of the tent. Without increasing floor dimensions, this will require a more aggressive bend to the carbon fiber poles, which may or may not be possible. However, some balance might be struck by increasing height, floor dimensions, and using Fibraplex's new elbow joints for the poles. Increasing height will cause a resulting increase in wall steepness, which will help snow shedding, promote condensation droplets rolling down the sidewalls (rather than falling from the ceiling), and increase usable floor space at the perimeter.
  2. Replace tent pole loops with quick clips. Threading the poles through 25 individual loops is an exercise in patience on a calm day and nearly futile when it's snowing and blowing and you're wearing mitts. Using quick clips, or a combination of quick clips and loops, would dramatically decrease pitching time and frustration.
  3. Add two low floor level vents (awning protected) in the corners of the tent. This would promote chimney venting while allowing the door to remain closed, and improve condensation resistance in humid and/or cold conditions.

The Mandatory Gear Puppy Pile tent is remarkable for what it does well: provide a freestanding wedge design that weighs 6 ounces less than 2 pounds. Adding some of those 6 ounces back, as usability and performance features that improve its livable space, ease of pitching, and condensation resistance, will keep the tent below the 2 pound mark and significantly increase its market interest among the backpacking crowd. Finally, either the price has to come down at least a hundred bucks, or the quality of construction and tightness of manufacturing tolerances needs to be tightened significantly.


Citation

"Mandatory Gear Puppy Pile Tent REVIEW," by Ryan Jordan. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/mandatory_gear_puppy_pile_tent_review.html, 2004-10-12 03:00:00-06.

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