MSR Twin Brothers Shelter Review

On paper, the palatial space and bare-essentials engineering of this tent make it appear like a dream come true for ultralight group travel. How does it actually perform in the real world?

Overall Rating: Average

The MSR Twin Brothers, while well suited to group travel in dry climates and/or winter conditions, is not a shelter that excels in the other three seasons. Things like the lack of pole adjustability, lack of tie-out adjustability, full perimeter snow flaps, limited ventilation, and an inefficiently shaped floorplan work against it for every day use. As more of a specialist than a generalist, this shelter is docked in rating because its design will appeal to only a limited number of people.

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by Damien Tougas |

Introduction

For families who want to do overnight backpacking trips or groups who need to set up a base camp, a larger tent is usually required. In both cases, this is a common scenario: the group carries their gear to a central location where a camp is established, from which day trips are launched. Tents used for this purpose are selected for their space, features, and comfort. They should be lightweight (if you are the parent you might have the whole thing in your pack), suitable for backpacking, easy to set up and enter/exit, and possess good wind stability, bug, and storm resistance. Tents in this category can also be used for car camping.

The MSR Twin Brothers is a four- to six-person, single-wall, four-season, double-pole pyramid tent. The largest single-wall shelter in the MSR line, the Twin Brothers boasts a six-foot peak height, steep walls, and 96 square feet of floor space.

A lot of work has gone into the design of this shelter to minimize weight: lightweight fabrics, non-adjustable aluminum poles, lightweight tie-outs, and a single door.

MSR Twin Brothers Review - 1

Specifications

Year/Manufacturer/Model 2011 MSR Twin Brothers
Style Four-season, four- to six-person, double-pole pyramid-style, single-wall, non-freestanding shelter with a single door
Included Tent body, poles, stakes, two guylines, pole storage bag, stake storage bag, tent storage bag
Fabrics Tent body is 30 denier PU and silicone coated ripstop nylon 1.68 oz/yd2 (57 g/m2)
Floor is PU coated nylon 2.27 oz/yd2 (77 g/m2)
Poles and Stakes Two 16 mm diameter aluminum poles and six 7.5 in (19 cm) aluminum Y stakes (MSR Groundhog)
Floor Dimensions 96 in (44 cm) wide at center, 76 in (193 cm) wide at ends, 168 in (430 cm) long, 72 in (180 cm) high at peak
Features Large floorspace, large door, high peak, snow flaps, and covered external peak vents. Hang loops allow the tent to be pitched without poles.
Packed Size 20 x 7 in (51 x 18 cm)
Total Weight Specified: 5 lbs (2.4 kg)
Measured: 5 lb 4 oz (2.39 kg)
Trail Weight * Specified: 4 lb 14 oz (2.2 kg)
Measured: 5 lb (2.29 kg)
Protected Area 96 ft2 (8.9 m2)
Protected Area/Trail Weight Ratio 19.2 ft2/lb (3.9 m2/kg)
MSRP $400
Options Tent footprint $60

*Trail weight: MSR's published trail weight (they call it minimum weight) includes the tent body and poles. BPL's measured trail weight includes the minimum required to pitch the tent: tent body, poles, and six stakes.

MSR Twin Brothers Review - 2
What's included.

Design and Features

The Twin Brothers is a two-pole pyramid design. Two-pole pyramid tents allow the tent designer to increase usable floorspace without having to increase center pole height (and subsequent pole thickness/weight). Since this is not a free-standing tent, it requires a minimum of six stakes (one in each corner and one in the center of each side) and no guylines to set up. Additional stakes and guylines can be used to improve the stability and weather resistance.

The poles are fixed in height but offer some adjustment by changing their angle: by angling them inwards (towards the center of the tent), the height can be lowered slightly. The lack of adjustability means that there is no way to pitch the tent higher off of the ground without propping the poles up on a rock or something similar. Hang loops at the peak of the tent make it possible to pitch without using the poles by hanging it from above.

This is a floorless shelter, although an optional footprint is available that clips in along the perimeter to provide a waterproof barrier. The footprint is completely flat (i.e. no bathtub floor).

The tent features a single door at one end, two peak vents, one interior mesh pocket on either side, and snow flaps around the perimeter. All seams are factory sealed.

MSR Twin Brothers Review - 3
Left: Peak vents on both peaks, as viewed from the outside. Right: Peak vents, as viewed from the inside.

MSR Twin Brothers Review - 4
Left: Internal mesh pocket, one in the center of each side wall. Right: There are two adjustable tie outs on the front of the tent, one at each corner. All other tie-outs are not adjustable.

MSR Twin Brothers Review - 5
Left: Snow flaps. Right: Poles are not adjustable, but can be adjusted a little by changing their angle. The tent features a single door at one end.

Performance

The Twin Brothers sets up quickly: stake out the back of the tent with two stakes, stake out the front of the tent with two more stakes, insert the poles, stake out each side, then tighten the pitch by tightening the front two tie-outs. For increased stability in inclement weather, additional stakes and guylines (not included) can be employed.

The optional floor is installed by fastening it around the perimeter using the attached elastic cords. It is most easily done prior to inserting the poles. Once the floor is in place the tent can be erected/taken-down without removing it.

Listed as a four- to six-man tent, our experience has found that it can't really comfortably hold more than four people despite the high square footage. The shape of the tent makes it difficult to take full advantage of all the protected space. Although long enough to sleep six people laying side-by-side along its length, the width at the ends of the tent are too narrow for a full-sized body. Additionally, sleeping two rows of three people laying side-by-side across its width is impossible due to the center poles. About the only way to fit more than four people would be to use the external hang loops instead of the poles for pitching the tent.

One thing apparent with this tent when compared to others of a similar design is that it is narrow. The narrow design makes for steep side walls which provide a few advantages: good headroom near the sides of the tent, excellent snow-shedding capabilities, and, when pitched with either end facing the wind, great wind stability as well.

Because we couldn't fit the entire family into the tent at once, usage of the tent was limited to myself and a couple kids at any given time (not ideal for us). The tent was tested in fall and spring conditions, both with and without the optional floor. Based on our tests, the following observations were made:

  • The tent is compact, lightweight, easy to carry, and easy to set up.
  • It is very stable and storm worthy. It was able to handle the moderate wind and strong downpours we experienced with relative ease. The snow flaps prevent driving rain from getting in, and the seams are all factory sealed.
  • In order for the high vents to work properly, air needs to be drawn from elsewhere. There is little ventilation around the perimeter due to the low pitch and snow flaps. In warm, humid conditions, having adequate ventilation meant keeping the door open.
  • In order to get adequate bug protection for east coast spring conditions, we had to use lightweight bivy sacks. At 7 ounces each for four people, that additional weight starts to approach the same weight of what an internal mesh tent would likely weigh (MSR currently doesn't make one).
  • The only tie outs that are adjustable are the two on the front, the rest are a fixed length. There were times when we wished we could tighten the pitch by either raising a pole, or by tightening a tie-out, neither of which we could. Sometimes the only way to do it was to pull out and re-set one or more stakes.
  • There are no internal hang loops for stringing up a line, or tying up the head area of a lightweight bivy.
  • The floor fabric is not reinforced under the poles. If you use the floor a lot, we expect this would be a high wear area.

MSR Twin Brothers Review - 6
Left: Four sleeping pads arranged length-wise in the tent. This is the optimum arrangement for this floorplan. Right: When sleeping pads are laid across the width of the tent, it is a little too narrow to comfortably fit a pad.

MSR Twin Brothers Review - 7
Moving the same sleeping pad to the center of the tent yields adequate room.

Comparisons

The only other shelter currently on the market that compares in design to the Twin Brothers is the Mountain Laurel Designs (MLD) Circus Tent. Otherwise, all other large-sized pyramid-style shelters use only a single pole. A couple of years ago the GoLite Shangri-La series included two large double-pole pyramid shelters (six- and eight-person), but those models have since been discontinued.

At 9 ft wide x 16 ft long x 6 ft tall, the Circus Tent features a 135 ft2 of protected area at a weight of 3 lbs 8 oz (not including poles). In order to pitch this shelter, your own pole system is required: either by strapping trekking poles together, using skis, paddles, or otherwise. Stated as being large enough to sleep four to eight people, the Circus Tent is one of the largest ultralight shelters available and, according to MLD is “about as large a tent possible with SilNylon that is strong enough in moderately strong wind." It has two peak vents, interior hang loops and two doors. This tent retails for $495.

Assessment

The design of this tent appears to be best suited for four people in cold conditions or dry climates. The low pitch, snow flaps, limited ventilation, steep sidewalls, and general storm-worthiness make this tent a great candidate for winter use. The lack of adjustable tie outs might be problematic in winter conditions as re-setting the stakes is a more complicated process. Adding additional adjustable line is recommended.

Groups and families looking for a general purpose three- or four-season shelter for backpacking or base camp use may find the Twin Brothers too specialized for their requirements. Ultralight backpackers, skiers, and snowshoers looking for a lightweight fall/winter shelter for more serious backcountry use will probably really like what this has to offer.

What's Good
  • Excellent weather-worthiness
  • Quick and easy to set up
What's Not So Good
  • Not wide enough at either end to sleep a full sized adult
  • Very little ventilation when door is closed
  • Line locks only on front two tie-outs
Recommendations for Improvement
  • Adding more line locks on perimeter tie-outs would facilitate tightening the pitch
  • Adjustable poles, even as an option, would allow the tent to be pitched higher and therefore improve ventilation in warm/damp conditions
Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge and is owned by the author/BPL. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to the manufacturer to review this product under the terms of this agreement.


Citation

"MSR Twin Brothers Shelter Review," by Damien Tougas. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/msr_twin_brothers_review.html, 2011-10-25 00:00:00-06.

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MSR Twin Brothers Shelter Review
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
MSR Twin Brothers Shelter Review on 10/25/2011 14:27:51 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

MSR Twin Brothers Shelter Review

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Condensation on 10/31/2011 12:21:38 MDT Print View

Good review as always Damien. I was considering something like this for camping with kids in areas like Grayson Highlands Virginia in the winter (high, exposed and windy). However a tight fit and bad ventalation would be a deal breaker for me in a lot of cases. Getting kids to take good care of gear is hard enough without having to hastle with condesation and crowding. With those limitations I just couldn't justify the price of something like this for the limited us it would get.