MSR Carbon Reflex 3 Tent Review

Dropping two full pounds from my current tent weight to use a sub-five-pound three-person double-wall tent all summer sounded too good to be true. How did MSR's lightest 3P shelter work for the Estrella family?

Recommended

Overall Rating: Recommended

I gave this recommendation for the light weight and roomy design of the Carbon Reflex 3. While I did not get the tent out in bad weather, I am confident that it will handle inclement weather with aplomb, as it is made of the same fly and floor materials as my Hubba Hubba HP. While not nearly as inaccurate as the Carbon Reflex 2 reviewed here last year, the measurements are off from the manufacturer’s stated.

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by Ray Estrella |

MSR Carbon Reflex 3 Tent Review - 1
The Carbon Reflex 3 with rain fly at half-mast in Horseshoe Meadows.

Introduction

re·flex

[adj., n. ree-fleks; v. ri-fleks]

-adjective

Physiology, noting or pertaining to an involuntary response to a stimulus.

When I was asked if I would like to test the new Carbon Reflex 3 with my children, I had an involuntary response. I yelled “heck yes!” Letting me drop 2 full pounds (0.91 kg) from my current tent weight to use a sub-5-pound three-person double-wall tent all summer sounded too good to be true. See how MSR’s lightest 3P shelter worked for the Estrella family.

Specifications

Year/Manufacturer/Model 2009 Mountain Safety Research Carbon Reflex 3
Style Three-season, three-person, double-wall tent.
Fabrics Body: 20D x 330T ripstop nylon 66 & DWR & 20D polyester mesh
Floor: 40D x 238T ripstop nylon 6 30000mm Durashield polyurethane coated
Fly: 20D x 330T ripstop nylon 66 1000mm polyurethane & silicone coated
Poles and Stakes Poles: 3 ea Easton Carbon FX poles, total weight 14 oz (397 g)
Stakes: 8 ea Needle stakes, 6.25 in (16 cm), 0.4 oz (11 g) each, 2.8 oz (79 g) total
Dimensions Length Listed: 88 in (224 cm)
Width Listed: 68 In (173 cm)
Inside Height Listed: 46 in (117 cm)
BPL Measured Length: 85 in (224 cm)
BPL Measured Width: 65 In (173 cm)
Packed Size 6.5 x 19 in (16 x 48 cm)
Total Weight Listed Weight: 4.81 lb (2.18 kg)
BPL Measured Weight: 4.76 lb (2.16 kg)
BPL Trail Weight: 4.49 lb (2.04 kg) w/ two stakes
Protected Area Floor Area: 38.4 ft2 (3.6 m2)
Vestibule Area: 20 ft2 (1.8 m2)
Protected Area/Trail Weight Ratio 13 ft2/lb (2.65 m2/kg)
MSRP US $599.95
Options Footprint 11.9 oz (337 g)
Website www.cascadedesigns.com

MSR Carbon Reflex 3 Tent Review - 2
Top: Hooped poles at the sides give the Carbon Reflex 3 a lot of interior space by creating vertical walls. There is room for three standard width sleeping pads with room to spare. Bottom: The full coverage fly overhangs the doors keeping the inside protected during entry in rainy weather.

Design and Features

The Carbon Reflex 3 is Mountain Safety Research’s (MSR) lightest weight three-person tent. It gets its name from the Easton Carbon Fiber poles used to shave some weight, but it is how they use those poles that really make the tent stand out.

Many of my roomiest winter tents have been hoop or tunnel design tents with the poles bending side to side instead of crossing each other. MSR used this design with the Carbon Reflex 3, going top to bottom in its case. To make it freestanding they used a trick that they employed with the Fling, a 3-4 season tent I tested a few years ago. They added a crossing pole at the top. As the pole is wider than the main tent, it holds the sides out and, better yet, keeps the fly held further away from the inner body.

Set-up is very straight-forward. The polyester mesh inner attaches to the poles by means of reinforced pole clips. Once up, I stake it out before placing the fly on. The stake points have line tensioners to allow further adjustment later. The fly has grommets that attach to the top pole for strength and quick-disconnect buckles at the corners. Straps through the buckles allow fine tuning of the fly’s tension. There are plenty of guy points around the fly for added strength in windy conditions and two lower guy lines with tensioners to pull out the bottom for better ventilation.

A needle stake at each door pulls the fly out to provide two roomy vestibules. The vestibule doors close with waterproof zippers which hide in hooded covers when closed. As mentioned earlier, the center poles extend away from the sides of the inner tent. This keeps water from falling into the inner when the vestibule doors are open. As the Carbon Reflex does not have any upper vents, it also allows the vestibule doors to stay open at the top if needed to get airflow through the tent while still staying dry.

 

MSR Carbon Reflex 3 Tent Review - 3
Top left: The stake points at the corners have line tensioners. The buckled-in fly attachments have strap tensioners. Top right: While the zipper is waterproof the place it stops is not, so MSR gave it a parking garage. Bottom: Lower guylines at each end pull out to provide ventilation and keeps the wind from slapping the ends all night.

The inner tent has a bathtub floor which extends higher on the ends. Although MSR does not say it, I think that this is to protect the users’ heads from wind and wind-blown rain coming under the fly. A small pocket at each corner of the tent provides storage for flashlights and such.

As usual, MSR provides separate storage sacks for the poles and stakes, 0.7 and 0.3 ounces (20 and 8 g) respectively. The optional footprint protects the tent in dirty or rough spots and can be paired with just the poles and 23.4-ounce (663-g) fly to cut the trail weight down to 3.25 pounds (1.47 kg) with eight stakes.

MSR Carbon Reflex 3 Tent Review - 4
Top: Parts of the Carbon Reflex 3. Stuff sack, pole sack, Easton carbon fiber poles, needle stakes, pole repair sleeve, guy lines w/ tensioners, stake sack, inner, fly and optional footprint. Bottom: The 1.8-ounce (51-g) stuff sack has ample room to keep the footprint in it too.

Performance

The Carbon Reflex was first used by the kids and me in Maplewood State Park at Lida Lake. It got down to only 45 F (7 C) and had high humidity as a storm was rolling in. In fact, as I got up early to make coffee, I saw that the expected clouds had a freaky tornado-look and got the kids up and out. (Good thing too, as we got slammed not three minutes after leaving.)

Next, I used it with the kids at Itasca State Park where we backpacked in to McKay Lake. The temps were 74 to 47 F (23 to 8 C). It rained briefly in the early morning, was very humid, and the bugs were atrocious.

Our last trip with it was to Horseshoe Meadows in Inyo National Forest for three days of camping and day hiking. The first night was pleasant but the second was extremely windy. The wind was coming at one of the doors so I told the kids to use the other. It fended off the wind well but around 2:00 AM, a gust pulled the vestibule stake from the ground, slapping the fly against the door. The following gust really clobbered the tent as it was now presenting a flat face to the wind. I scurried out and re-staked it before the whole thing blew apart.

I used the Carbon Reflex with a friend (and fellow BPL member) on Durwood Creek in the Sequoia National Forest. The temps got down to 45 F (7 C). We again used it together the next month in Sierra National Forest in the Dinkey Lakes area. We camped near Island Lake where it was cool, humid, and quite buggy.

MSR Carbon Reflex 3 Tent Review - 5
My kind of lake house. The Carbon Reflex 3 on Island Lake (top) and McKay Lake.

Assessment

I came away from this past summer’s trips with the children really liking the Carbon Reflex 3. The amount of room provided by the hooped pole design was instantly noticeable. While the stated dimensions are off, it was not by much. We had no problem fitting three standard width pads in it. On the trip to McKay Lake, I brought my large NeoAir which, when placed next to the kids Insulated Air Core pads, did take all the room across the floor.

What we all appreciated was the amount of room the hooped pole design gives. The trip to McKay Lake was the buggiest we have ever seen. Once the sun started going down enough to cool off, the mosquitoes came down from the trees in a buzzing cloud. As it does not get dark until after 9:00 PM in Minnesota in the summer time, we spent a few hours of quality time stuck inside. We used the MSR Mutha Hubba for the two previous years and a Big Agnes Copper Spur UL3 the year before that. The Carbon Reflex blows them away for interior space.

MSR Carbon Reflex 3 Tent Review - 6
Top: The family that plays together stays together! The Carbon Reflex has lots of room when conditions trap us inside. Bottom left: In dry climates the all mesh inner tent alone gives the feel of sleeping outside without the bug bites. Bottom right:.The vestibules have plenty of room for protected gear storage while still providing easy access.

What Dad really appreciated was the weight. I sold the Mutha Hubba after the first trip with the Carbon Reflex because it let me drop 2.1 pounds (0.95 kg), while getting the extra room. The weight was low enough that I did not mind bringing it on a couple trips with one of our fellow BPL members. I don’t normally share tents with other adults who are not family, but since this one was a woman I decided to offer my tent in the sake of tent data gathering... The Carbon Reflex is a palace for two people.

I never really got to see how it handles rain. For the first time I can remember, we never had rain in Minnesota on our trips. Well, the first camping trip would have seen it, but it was far too dangerous to stay. We did get sprinkled on a few times, but not enough to make any evaluations. As the materials used are the same as the Hubba Hubba HP, which has seen plenty of weather, I figure the Carbon Reflex will prove to be pretty weatherproof.

Condensation was not as big of a problem as I thought it may be when I first saw that it did not have upper vents. I almost always kept the vestibule doors open to create air movement. There was build-up on the inside of the fly in humid Minnesota. In California the air was dry enough that there was no condensation, especially the night spent without the fly on.

One problem with the mesh inner was with dirt blowing in. The trip to Horseshoe Meadows saw heavy wind the second night. We got a lot of dirt blown in, coating our quilts and pads. I pulled the fly as low as possible and changed the angle of the side pull-outs to lessen exposure. The wind was hitting one of the doors, providing a better shape to shed it, so we instead used the other door. But, in the night a gust pulled the stake out and I woke to see Emma getting clobbered by the side of the tent. (She didn't even wake up. Hiking is good for wearing kids out.) I reset the stake and set a good sized rock on it which held until we broke down the next morning.

All told I am very impressed with the Carbon Reflex 3. At this point, seeing as I gave away my Copper Spur and sold my Mutha Hubba, it is staying as my go-to family backpacking tent.

MSR Carbon Reflex 3 Tent Review - 7
While the Carbon Reflex is not hard to set up alone, it is easier and more fun with helpers like Emma and Raymond.

Dare to Compare

The best freestanding tent I can compare to the Carbon Reflex is one of the other 3P tents that the kids and I have used a lot, the Copper Spur UL3 from Big Agnes. The total weight of both tents is identical. The Copper Spur has more interior floor space but the Carbon Reflex has much more true room inside thanks to its pole design. The Carbon Reflex has a 2-inch (5-cm) higher peak height and slightly bigger vestibules. I like the door design of the Carbon Reflex much better than that of the Copper Spur too. Trust me. If you have kids you don’t want your doors dropping to the ground when open. (Love you guys…)

In the Copper Spur’s favor, for shoulder season use in snow its partial height solid walls are great, plus it has two high vents for added air movement. It is also $100.00 less expensive.

What's Good

  • Roomy
  • Lightweight
  • Fast set-up

What's Not So Good

  • Expensive
  • Sizing is off

Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author at no charge, and it is owned by the author. The author has no obligation to review this product to the manufacturer under the terms of this agreement.


Citation

"MSR Carbon Reflex 3 Tent Review," by Ray Estrella. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/msr_carbon_reflex_3_tent_review.html, 2011-05-10 00:04:00-06.

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Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » MSR Carbon Reflex 3 Tent Review


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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
MSR Carbon Reflex 3 Tent Review on 05/10/2011 16:37:46 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

MSR Carbon Reflex 3 Tent Review

Warren Greer
(WarrenGreer) - F

Locale: SoCal
Nice tent on 05/10/2011 21:59:12 MDT Print View

Would be even nicer if it was a bit lighter. Nice review Ray.

Peter Surna
(PedroArvy) - MLife

Locale: Melbourne
Poor review without proper testing of the tent on 05/10/2011 22:08:49 MDT Print View

What is the purpose of these reviews?
If it is to decide whether a tent is suitable as a long term purchase this review falls way short.

You should be testing this tent on hikes where there are several days continuous rain and over multiple tips. In addition, add some real strong winds for good measure. It seems that any tent would have performed well in the conditions mentioned in this review.

Reviews like this are pretty worthless for a long term purchase.

This is more like a "first opinion" than a proper review.

Dan Durston
(dandydan)

Locale: Cascadia
Nice on 05/10/2011 22:08:56 MDT Print View

Nice review and nice tent. People wanting a true 3 person tent should be very happy with this tent. I have the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL3 which is much lighter (~3.4 lbs) but the CR3 looks a lot bigger. The Fly Creek UL3 is a great choice for two people looking for a bit more elbow room, but the CR3 looks great for hosting 3 actual people.

Paul Hatfield
(clear_blue_skies) - F
Actual height on 05/10/2011 22:49:17 MDT Print View

Could you please list the BPL Measured Height?

Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
MSR Carbon Reflex 3 Tent Review on 05/10/2011 23:21:18 MDT Print View

Peter:

Murphy's 14th Law of Backpacking states that if you are properly prepared for the worst Mother Nature can throw at you, she'll be on vacation at the time and you'll have nothing but sunshine and fair temperatures.

The corollary states that if you cut corners for the sake of saving weight - well, Mother Nature can be a real female canine and as they say, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature.

Besides, would your kids want to go out in the yucky rain and wind that keeps them inside the tent with (YUCK) Dad all the time?

At least they got in a good wind and bug test.

I thought the review was well done. You would probably prefer the 3 part reviews that are standard at BackPackGearTest.com as they cover a much longer time frame and involve multiple outings..........but without the kids.

Edited by wandering_bob on 05/10/2011 23:22:07 MDT.

Warren Wilkinson
(icensnow) - M

Locale: New England, USA
MSR Carbon Reflex 3 Tent Review on 05/11/2011 14:49:21 MDT Print View

Thanks Ray, a great review. I've been looking at 3p backpacking tents and this review is a big help in figuring out which way to go.

Steven Nelson
(slnsf) - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Pitching in rain on 05/11/2011 16:11:11 MDT Print View

Ray -

Did you ever get a chance to pitch it in the rain? We're looking for a tent to share with the kids, too - but I lean toward external-pole (or sleeved-pole) models that keep the inner dry if you have to pitch when precipitation is falling.

How would you compare this to the Tarptent Hogback (4-person, but not dissimilar in layout)?

Thanks for the helpful review,
Steve

Raymond Estrella
(rayestrella) - MLife

Locale: Northern Minnesota
re: questions on 05/20/2011 06:41:23 MDT Print View

Paul, the height is as stated by MSR.

Steve, I plan to be using the Hogback this summer with the kids but at first glance I would say the Hogback has more room, certainly more area.

No we never got to use it in any rain to speak of, sorry. I have reviews of rain gear that have barely seen any rain on hold. I can't control that Peter, you may need to talk to the Big Guy... ;-)

Edited by rayestrella on 05/20/2011 06:42:39 MDT.