MSR Dragontail Review

Tunnel Tents Tutorial and State of the Market Report - Mini Reviews

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by Roger Caffin | 2012-04-24 00:00:00-06

This is a mini-review to go with our series on tunnel tents. It reviews the MSR Dragontail. Some of the illustrations are from the manufacturer's web site, used here with acknowledgement.

Introduction

MSR Dragontail Review - 1

The MSR Dragontail is one of two tunnels we know of that are made in America. First, the specifications.

Brand MSR
Model Dragontail
Poles 3, DAC
Skins 1
Fly Fabric 40 denier PU/silicone nylon, 1.5 m head for fly,
10 m for groundsheet
Entries 1
Vestibules 1
Persons 2
Listed Weight 2.53 kg (5 lb 9 oz)
Tent Weight 1.64 kg (3 lb 10 oz)
Pole Weight 0.65 kg (1 lb 7 oz)
Stakes Weight 11, 0.19 kg (6.8 oz)
Stuff Sacks 175 g (6.2 oz)
MSRP ~US$450

Extras include guy ropes, a spare guy rope toggle, and a pole repair sleeve. It should be noted that MSR has not been able to resist the massive overkill syndrome on the stuff sacks, especially on the tent bag. This can be pruned down of course.

Details

This is a single-skin tunnel designed for winter use. There is an inherent contradiction in this claim of course, and users have reported that the inside surface does get a lot of frozen condensation on it which can be brushed off onto the occupants. The tent is well made, but is not without some deficiencies.

MSR Dragontail Review - 2
There is an ingenious ventilation arrangement visible in the first photo: there is a sort of tunnel through the tent at the top. It can be closed off with zippered flaps at each end.

If you have both ends open, there is a mesh floor to the tunnel that prevents insects from getting in. There are zips in both ends of the mesh tunnel floor to allow you to access the zippered exterior flap - in case the weather changes. There are also mesh doors inside the tent to keep out insects. However, the zip on the mesh front door goes down one side and then turns a sharp corner at the bottom before running across at floor level. In sub-zero conditions, that tight corner in the zipper may present real problems if the zip gets wet, then freezes.

The way the rear end can be closed up does present one unexpected problem. If you follow my recommendation to roll the tent up from the entry end to the rear end, there can be a bit of an issue with getting the air out of the rear end of the tent at the end of the rolling. You need to make sure there is not much air left in the tent before you start rolling. However, the stuff sack they supply is huge, far bigger than needed, so I guess you could pack the air away too. Or make a smaller stuff sack for field use.

MSR Dragontail Review - 3

Somewhere along the line, MSR changed the design of the Dragontail and how the poles are fitted. The early versions (see below) had the poles threaded into sleeves, making the tent fairly robust and making the fabric quite smooth when the tent is properly pitched. But, on later versions, (see above) the poles are not threaded into the fly; rather they are connected to the fly with a small number of clips. Was this change to make it easier to pitch the tent, or to reduce the cost of manufacture? I fear the latter, as the effect of the clips is to make the fabric surface look quite crinkled, as shown above. I could not get rid of this crinkling. I think someone at MSR lost sight of what a tunnel tent is meant for. I far prefer the threaded pole version, but you can no longer buy it.

MSR Dragontail Review - 4
My thanks to Ray Estrella and his friend Dave for this excellent photo of his tent in a storm.

On both versions, (old and new) there are a couple of fabric loops at mid-height and the top of each seam. These loops are of a length that could take the poles. When I first erected the clip version of the tent I automatically threaded the poles through these loops, but the official MSR photos show them lying unused. I think I misunderstood these loops, and that they are really meant to be guy rope attachment points. In the photo above you can see that Ray put a guy rope onto one of these loops on the far side of the tent, because of the wind direction.

However, all the official MSR photos show the tent without any guy ropes attached. I find this amazing. Does it mean that MSR does not expect the tent to be used under high wind conditions? Or was there a disconnect between the designers and the marketing team? I did find that the tent sways sideways quite a bit in a light side-on wind when there are no guy ropes. I also noted that the fabric does belly a bit in a side wind. I am quite sure the tent will need guy ropes in bad weather. Anyhow, the tent I received had four 3 mm guy ropes with plastic Nite Ize Figure 9 toggles - all with MSR logos as well. Since I can see not four but eight guy line attachment points, I was a bit disappointed by this shortfall. I would add that 3 mm cord is awfully heavy for guy lines (gross overkill actually), and that you don't need any toggles on string this thick, just use a taut line hitch.

The tent comes with a handful of 'groundhog' stakes. These are the common Y-stake, but they have nicely rounded corners. I find these Y-stakes rather hard to insert compared to a tubular stake, and much harder than a Ti wire, but at least they didn't hurt my hand. Each stake has a loop of the 3 mm guy rope cord to help you extract it. A lighter cord would have been adequate.

I had better add here that the tent supplied came with no guy ropes at all, which seemed strange. I inquired about this and was told that the designer had played with it, and he had forgotten to replace the guy ropes in the bag! Also I received only 11 stakes, although the specs say 12. They did send some guy ropes later, but I don't know whether they sent the full compliment. These things happen.

MSR Dragontail Review - 5
There is only one vestibule on the tent.

The 'vestibule' space at the rear of the tent forms part of the groundsheet space. The front vestibule is not large, but it is adequate for gear and cooking with a little squeeze. It has only one access zip however: you need to make sure you’re not facing the wind on that side of the tent. Curiously, the zipper has two sliders. Exactly what one uses the top slider for is not clear to me. (I suspect a manufacturing mistake myself.) Once the door has been opened (unzipped) it can be held out of the way with a toggle at the pole seam. This is good. There is a matching toggle at the other side of the tent, and it seems to be totally useless to me (there is no zipper there).

MSR Dragontail Review - 6
The interior of the tent has reasonable floor space for two, and very reasonable headroom. The ends of the tent do not slope down to a useless tapered region. The sides go straight up. There are pockets at the sides for light gear during the night. This makes the tent quite livable. The vestibule has enough room for cooking, although two packs would be a squeeze at the same time.

MSR Dragontail Review - 7
The ground anchor points provide both a neat fabric loop and a cord tightener. I am not sure one needs both, but they are there. The method of attachment looks strong enough too.

The fittings at ends of the poles are called 'feet.' On most tents, the feet are designed to slip into a grommet or something similar. That applies here too, but (like some other companies) MSR has done something silly with the feet: they have knobs on the end. The usual explanation is that the knob helps keep the foot in the grommet, but that is not a sensible explanation. The pole foot is going to stay in the grommet regardless of any knob. What the knob usually does is to jam the pole foot in the grommet if there is any mud and grit around, and that did happen here. I had trouble getting the pole foot out during testing. I normally slim all the knobs down on a lathe before taking such a tent out. It makes life so much easier.

The poles fold up into a tidy bundle provided you get the bend at the top right. I am not going to explain how to do this: you need to have the poles in your hand. Anyhow, some neat design work here.

Summary

Despite the deficiencies listed, this remains a well-made tent that will serve nicely in the snow when not subject to extreme conditions (like really bad weather above the tree line). Add some permanent guy ropes to it for sure. Do up the windward ventilation window and it should take a fair bit of wind, although, being a single-skin, condensation (water or frost) then becomes a bigger problem than normal. The vestibule is not large, but one can cook in there.

Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and it 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 Dragontail Review," by Roger Caffin. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/tunnel_tents_2012_msr_dragontail.html, 2012-04-24 00:00:00-06.

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Tunnel Tents Tutorial and State of the Market Report - Part 3: The Mini-Reviews
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Tunnel Tents Tutorial and State of the Market Report - Part 3: The Mini-Reviews on 04/24/2012 14:48:59 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Tunnel Tents Tutorial and State of the Market Report - Part 3: The Mini-Reviews

Edited by addiebedford on 04/24/2012 16:10:05 MDT.

Inaki Diaz de Etura
(inaki) - MLife

Locale: Iberia highlands
Warmlite 2R front upper vent on 04/24/2012 16:15:52 MDT Print View

Loads of super-interesting info to digest! This is really fun. For the moment, just a comment on that weird front upper vent in the 2R:

> in bad weather you won't get much ventilation

The design is unusual but it works, maybe not any better than the most typical hood covered vent but it works. The hood is actually there but inside the main, mesh covered wall instead of outside of it. It can be left open in bad weather unless the wind blows horizontal rain/whatever in.

It takes some inside room but the exterior is more streamlined and the hood needs no stiffener.

Stuart Murphy
(stu_m) - MLife
Mini review not as thorough as your usual reviews -- but I guess that's why it's called "mini" on 04/24/2012 17:59:36 MDT Print View

You didn't show the versatility/variety of ways the front vestibule can be configured. Shame on you :)

Not up to your usual methodical high standard (eg. you mention the Nallo 2 can be double-poled, neglect to mention that the First arrow can too, neglect to consider that the velcro attachment of inner to outer for the Olympus is fiddly at best -- far easier to separate and reattach the inner in the First Arrow, so for me the value of the mini reviews is limited).

Point being, these mini reviews are just that and I'm not sure that they particularly give much information beyond what a little experience and erecting the tent in a shop and looking at it would yield which is a little disappointing (not everyone gets access to tents they can play with in the field).

That said, I did learn a few things (including on tents I am unlikely to have the chance to play with like the Stephenson) so appreciate your review.

I know Vango don't market the Tempest as 4 season, but wonder whether you can speculate why it is less robust than other 2 pole tunnels like the Nallo (yes the fabric will have a lower tear strength... who cares to a degree... and the poles are probably not quite as high quality but do you have a feel for whether this is significant for the majority of conditions likely to be encoutnered)?

Disclaimer: I do not recommend the use of this tent for 4 seasons just as Vango do not market it as such. Just curious as to where you think corners have been cut that really would impact performance in wind and snow.

Cheers
Stuart

Edited by stu_m on 04/24/2012 19:15:45 MDT.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Mini review not as thorough as your usual reviews -- but I guess that's why it's called "mini" on 04/24/2012 20:32:31 MDT Print View

Hi Stuart

Yes, these are just MINI-reviews, to go with the Survey & Tutorial. They are as much examples or illustration as anything else. I was hoping the pictures of each tent would give a bit more info, beyond the basic specs.

Double-poling. Frankly, I suspect this is another one of those great ideas which never get used in practice. My winter tent was fine with single 7 mm CF poles in that storm.

Velcro attachment fiddly: yes, but I think one would have to be nuts to even contemplate ever separating the inner from the outer on any light-weight tent. There is just no point. The only time I might do it would be to wash the inner tent!

Vango Tempest 200 - can it be used 4-season? Well ... it is not a bad tent, despite the very low price. I think it is aimed more at wet weather with wind than serious high-altitude snow - and at DoE kids. Just how well it would survive a serious snow storm might depend rather a lot on the skill of the person in finding a site with a little protection and in pitching the tent. You would not expect DoE kids to be camping on top of the Ben for instance.

Cheers

Ken Thompson
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: Behind the Redwood Curtain
Re: Tunnel Tents Tutorial and State of the Market Report - Part 3: The Mini-Reviews on 04/24/2012 20:37:48 MDT Print View

Kind of a anti climax as Part 1 started a furor. A big project. Thanks for all the time Roger.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: Warmlite 2R front upper vent on 04/25/2012 04:25:03 MDT Print View

Yeah, I pretty much agree with the front upper vent not working that well. I have used the Stephensons in some really wet conditions in the NE part of the USA (including one ten day trip that rained solidly for 3 days and every day we were out paddling.) The vent itself is simply too small and is the ONLY high vent in the entire tent. I believe it needs more, high ventilation to provide a proper chimney effect. So, except in winds greater than 30mph, it really doesn't work that well. Most of the time, we easily find some sort of wind shelter, often a grove of trees, a larger rock or bushes, to hide the tent from major winds. I have asked the wife to put a second vent in below the first. The style seems good. We *did* have a minor leak at the base of the vent (the bottom of the "V".) I seam sealed it again and it went away. This was the only downside to the vent design.

The tension does not appear to be a problem. In fact, it seems to accur as a product of the angle to the ground. So, the three basic stakes are enough to do the job. In higher winds, four others are needed, at each hoop end, of course. I also use 16" guy lines on the window awnings leaving about a bit of vent clearence on the bottom. These also supply additional stake points for the canopy leaving a total of 11 staking(pegging) points on the tent. It does NOT move.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
"Tunnel Tents Tutorial and State of the Market Report - Part 3: The Mini-Reviews" on 04/25/2012 04:51:11 MDT Print View

Roger,
Exped dropped the Aries tent from their offerings this year.
The Sirius has been gone for a while, 2006 or so? But, this included a light, fabric inner tent. Good in windy conditions. The vents are all zippered to allow adjustment of the outer vent hood from the inside. Overly elaborate....

Stuart Murphy
(stu_m) - MLife
Separating inner and outer on 04/25/2012 06:17:05 MDT Print View

I think I have occasionally done it for drying. Never for load sharing.

For temporarily enlarging the vestibule I think it can be useful (the attacjment on the WE tents is very quick and easy and I think from memory vango may use a similar system). Also to take the outer alone, which I did once and have learnt my lesson (trip turned into a sand pit, with plenty of rain and even mosquitoes one night (the last two not expected at all as advised by park rangers pre trip)... probably never again.

Also if the weather was particularly not very nice (edited due to possible profanity) to be able to pack up dry. I'm not sure I've ever had to resort to that though.

Taking fly only allowed me to take a nice heavy camera however, so once the memory of that trip fades, maybe I'll give it another go...


I guess one liveability thing against the Vango in winter is the vents which can't be closed.

Incidentally, the bracing Vango (so called TBS) uses on the poles - they specifically do not claim this increases wind resistance (though it obviously should increase stability in cross winds, i.e. liveability but this is not to be confused with an increase in the upper performance limit of the tent in a crosswind I think - in fact I would not be surprised if it actually reduces it by concentrating forces). Anyway, I'm interested in the concept. With luck maybe such a system will appear in the wind testing project BPL is doing for lightweight tents.

Cheers
Stuart

Jeremy Osburn
(earn_my_turns)

Locale: New England
A bit of a let down on 04/25/2012 11:01:18 MDT Print View

The qualities of the reviews aren't the let down, the product on the market is. I have skimmed the mini reviews and looked at the comparison table. I can't decide if it is writer’s bias or truly lame designs available on the market. All of the tunnel tents on here don't seem to hold a candle to the Caffin designs... Either you pay a large weight penalty for high quality or you pay a size or quality penalty for weight.

Except of course when you look at the two Caffin tents that have seen years of service, are still going strong, and are substantially lighter than anything else available.

What do I do now, I had decided about a year ago that a tunnel tent was in my future for strong conditioned winter climbing but none on the market seem to be reasonable.

I may just have to look into making one.

How much effort and sewing skill go into making the Caffin Winter Special?

How much math and physics are in the design?

What are the approximate material needs for the Caffin Winter tent?

Edited by earn_my_turns on 04/25/2012 11:16:16 MDT.

peter michaloski
(summitjunky)

Locale: alaska
tunnel tent on 04/25/2012 11:03:44 MDT Print View

So Roger if you don't secure a manufacturing contract in the next so long say 6 months could we expect you to be selling patterns and instructions on making your own ? Or maybe a kit for making your own?

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: "Tunnel Tents Tutorial and State of the Market Report - Part 3: The Mini-Reviews" on 04/25/2012 15:23:09 MDT Print View

Hi James

> Exped dropped the Aries tent from their offerings this year.
> The Sirius has been gone for a while, 2006 or so?
I think you may be looking at the USA web site? Try the Swiss web site - their home country. Both tents are still current there.

Cheers

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: A bit of a let down on 04/25/2012 15:35:31 MDT Print View

Hi Jeremy and Peter

> selling patterns and instructions on making your own ? Or maybe a kit for making your own?
If the commercial deal does not go through I will be again helping people MYOG. But bear in mind that the 'instructions' are NOT a hand-hold job! They are MY guide, so much study is required.

> How much effort and sewing skill go into making the Caffin Winter Special?
A lot of effort. Yes, it is a long project. Sewing skills required are medium: it is just about all straight stitches. Much study of the plans and instructions needed. Careful pinning up and sewing is what makes it. Some tools required.

> How much math and physics are in the design?
The design is totally mathematical. It is based on parameters like height, width and lengths of sections, pole curvature, tilt angle ... Its a full 3D parametric model.
There is some physics as well, but more concealed in the design and model. Pole curvature for instance: limited to 1800 mm to avoid breakage, fabric stretch (a %) for tension, etc.
What comes out are the fabric patterns.

> What are the approximate material needs for the Caffin Winter tent?
Um ... roughly 8 m of silnylon and 4 m DWR fabric, plus netting and arrow shafts for poles, and string. Zippers are #3 coil. Some 20 mm hook&loop tape. Eyelets of 2 sizes. Also elbows - the difficult bit as they need a lathe, and pole feet.

Rest assured - I will update the status when I can.

Cheers

Edited by rcaffin on 04/25/2012 19:07:59 MDT.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: A bit of a let down on 04/25/2012 15:54:03 MDT Print View

> The qualities of the reviews aren't the let down, the product on the market is.
That may be a little unfair to the commercial tents. Some of them are good, even in extreme weather.
The problems you are seeing come in several places:

* Range of customer requirements: not everyone is stupid enough to camp on a snow-covered saddle in a 100 kph storm. Many people genuinely need something a little lower in performance.

* Cost of manufacture: always higher for this sort of tent, even via China. The high quality tent has to be able to sell in competition with cheaper tents. And the manufacturer usually cannot afford to make a really wide range to cover every eventuality. He has to compromise a bit.

* Range of customer experience: let's face it: commercial products get bought by people of various skill levels. A mass-market tent has to be able to handle some misuse by novices in the field. The expert user pays for it.

* Retail resistance: unless you sell via the web, you have to placate the retailers as well. They don't like things which take a lot of explaining, and they really don't like things which novices break and return. This is a generic problem for the whole UL sector - which is why the cottagers sell via the web. Roll on web sales!

Yes, my tents are ultra-light, and yes they provide extreme performance, but they could be trashed by novice mistreatment. They have lasted so long because I care for them.

But maybe you have unfairly condemned the commercial tents anyhow. The Macpac Olympus is widely regarded as legendary in this part of the world. The other European tents are designed for European weather - which can be bad. You do have to pick the right model though - a Hilleberg pop-up is still a pop-up, even if well-made. The American tents seem less favoured: both suffer from design faults and one of them has very poor manufacturing quailty in my humble opinion. YMMV.

Cheers

Edited by rcaffin on 04/25/2012 19:09:25 MDT.

Jason Elsworth
(jephoto) - M

Locale: New Zealand
Tunnel Tents Tutorial and State of the Market Report - Part 3: The Mini-Reviews on 04/25/2012 16:15:36 MDT Print View

Not sure if these have been mentioned yet http://www.integraldesigns.com/product_detail.cfm?id=898 and http://www.lightwave.uk.com/en/tents_overview.php.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Mini review not as thorough as your usual reviews -- but I guess that's why it's called "mini" on 04/25/2012 16:18:49 MDT Print View

Roger, I'm curious why you decided to review the Vango Tempest 200, which is clearly not in the same class as the other tents, as one of your worst weather scenario tents, rather than the Vango Nitro Lite 200, which was specifically designed for the same conditions as the other tents, and is significantly lighter and made of better materials?

Vango Nitro Lite 200.

Vango NItro Lite 200

Edited by butuki on 04/25/2012 16:20:53 MDT.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: A bit of a let down on 04/25/2012 16:21:42 MDT Print View

"Zippers are #3 coil"

I've been experimenting with #3 coil zippers. I haven't totally decided if they're strong enough. I like the reduced weight compared to #5.

Do you put tension across the zipper, like when you have your 100 kph winds?

Do you think a #3 coil zipper might fail?

Do you use regular YKK zippers?

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Tunnel Tents Tutorial and State of the Market Report - Part 3: The Mini-Reviews on 04/25/2012 18:21:14 MDT Print View

Hi Jason

ID Traverse 2 is interesting, but floorless. A bug liner is available. I actually have one on the floor here, but so far the company has not replied to any of my questions about some VERY strange features in the tent.

Lightwave T2 Ultra: Nice tent, love to review it. I don't remember them replying though.

Cheers

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Mini review not as thorough as your usual reviews -- but I guess that's why it's called "mini" on 04/25/2012 18:24:21 MDT Print View

Hi Miguel

Ah, yes, I agree that the Nitro Lite is nice. But all the head office had in stock was the Tempest 200 - and I had to wait a while for that. Seems they build some of them to retail order maybe?

Cheers
PS: don't knock it too much: the Tempest 200 would be a good reliable inexpensive tent for some adventurous kids.

Edited by rcaffin on 04/25/2012 19:06:56 MDT.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: A bit of a let down on 04/25/2012 19:05:59 MDT Print View

Hi Jerry and all

OK, getting technical now.

I have never had a #3 coil zip fail in the field, and they have had a 'fair bit of use'. No problems at all - in my hands.

So why do manufacturers use #8 and #10 zips? In a word: novices. Or perhaps more accurately, careless teenage males. Every manufacturer I have spoken to about this problem has virtually cried on my shoulder about the way some kids trash their gear - and then expect free repairs. Many of them agree that #3 has quite enough strength, but they dare not.

Under storm conditions the zips at the rear end of my tents do have a lot of tension along the tape but not too much across the zipper teeth. In fact, I actually use the strength of the nylon zipper tape as part of the design. When you look at the fabric tension distributed across a zip in most situations, it is not that high.

Caution: do not use a zipper slider to pull the two sides of a zip together. that way will trash both the teeth and the slider. Bring the two sides together by hand first, then run the slider up the length.

Do I use 'regular YKK zippers'? Not sure what you mean here. I use YKK, RiRi and a few other brands available locally, and truthfully I have not seen much difference between them. The zips on my tent are not YKK: they are off a large roll of continuous-chain coil-coil #3 zip. I do use solid metal sliders.

Comment: I see some manufacturers boasting about how they use 'only YKK'. I suspect they are being given a discount for saying this. The YKK brand is not very different from the others as far as I can see, but they have great marketing.

Cheers

John Whynot
(jdw01776)

Locale: Southeast Texas
Re: Re: Mini review not as thorough as your usual reviews -- but I guess that's why it's called "mini" on 04/25/2012 19:15:08 MDT Print View

The description of the Vango Nitro Lite 200 looks good. I don't think Vango exports to the US. Too bad, it looks like it would be a good choice for a light, one-man tent for winter and bad-weather use...

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: A bit of a let down on 04/25/2012 19:58:24 MDT Print View

Thanks for the comments about zippers, Roger, that makes sense, that's the direction I'm going - #3 coil zippers on everything and try to be a little careful

"Caution: do not use a zipper slider to pull the two sides of a zip together"

I know what you mean. When I cinch down the corner guys on my tent because it's windy, it tends to pull apart the zipper. If I unzip it, and zip it back up I have to be careful.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: A bit of a let down on 04/25/2012 23:49:19 MDT Print View

Hi Jerry

> When I cinch down the corner guys on my tent ... it tends to pull apart the zipper.
I know exactly what you mean. After much thought and experiment, I eventually took the bold step of locking the bottom end of the door zips together. My doors no longer open upwards, only downwards. I step over the crumpled-up door to get in and out. Problem solved - and the corner of the tent is stronger for it.

You might ask whether this causes problems with ventilation. No, it does not. At the rear end of the summer tent there is an inlet air gap at ground level. At the downwind end I want the exit vent to be right up at the roof. So opening the door downwards is correct. Yes, that does mean I have to have a good hood over the top of the door to keep the rain out. The hood used has always worked very well.

For the winter tent I have a sod cloth at ground level at the rear end which can be tucked out of the way if not needed, and an inlet vent at the top of the 'door'. In fine weather I tuck the sod cloth out of the way. In bad weather ... I shut most everything because the tent is usually pumping quite enough for ventilation anyhow. :-)

Cheers

Gordon Bedford
(gbedford) - MLife

Locale: Victoria, Australia
Carbon fibre poles on 04/26/2012 00:32:18 MDT Print View

Dear Roger,

Very good reviews.

I have a Nallo 2 and I am wondering about replacing the metal poles with carbon fibre.
I can source the poles through Fibraplex. I haven't looked into your arrow shafts yet. I assume any information about using arrow shafts is on the Bushwalking FAQ site.

My worry is would the carbon fibre pole need the elbows as you have with your tents? Fibraplex stock elbows but they have a relacement kit for the Nallo that doesn't include elbows.

What do you think? Would the arc be too great without elbows?

Regards,

Gordon Bedford

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Carbon fibre poles on 04/26/2012 01:45:18 MDT Print View

Hi Gordon

I hauled the Nallo 2 poles out and had a look at them. Yes, they have a pre-bend. Not large, but it is there.

My gut feeling is that you would be pushing the CF poles too hard withoput elbows. They might survive on the back lawn, but once the tent moves a bit in the wind in the mountains ... bang.

What about adding a (say) 10 degree elbow between each pole section? Maybe ... The pole sleeves tend to be a bit more forgiving than an embedded sleeve in handling corners. I would NOT go for just 2 -3 big elbows with a tent designed for a smooth curve: you will need to distribute the bend along the length. yes, I have tried that already with the Olympus and some Easton CF poles.

Suggestion: Take a few measurements of the Al pole on the ground with the legs at the right separation, and then use a graphics pkg to see what a CF pole with elbows would look like over that profile. Failing a graphics pkg, use a very large bit of butchers paper on the floor. Make up a cardboard edge with a radius of curvature of (say) 2000 mm to represent a CF pole, and see how it all goes.

I use a radius of 1800 mm for the formal design work. That has worked OK.

Cheers

Gordon Bedford
(gbedford) - MLife

Locale: Victoria, Australia
carbon fibre poles and separating the inner on 04/26/2012 05:05:06 MDT Print View

Thanks very much for your advice Roger.

Having just read all the posts I noticed Stuart Murphy raised the issue of separating the inner from the outer. Now I know you disagree but I will throw my two bob,s worth in anyway.

It all comes down to what experiences one has been through and these are mine.
1. Day after day of wet weather means the inside of the tent eventually gets wet.
2. Wet evenings followed by cold still mornings means the condensation builds up on the closed up fly while you sleep.

In both of these situations keeping the inner dry is/has been my main aim and this is most easily achieved if the inner is packed up separately.

3. Sometimes in a big storm in the cold areas of the world we have just wanted to get out of the blizzard and take stock. you don't want to put the inner up.


If the the inside of the fly is dry I would always pack it up together but if it is wet then I separate. This is the great advantage of tents put up this way.

regards,
Gordon

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: carbon fibre poles and separating the inner on 04/26/2012 16:06:55 MDT Print View

Hi Gordon

Understood.

My experience has been that the inner tent dries out a bit if it has a GOOD DWR in the period between pitching it and going to sleep. With the two of us active and eating in the evening, enough heat seems to be generated. Not perfect, but it helps.

The other advantage of keeping them together is the speed with which I can get Sue inside the tent. As soon as the two ends are pegged down, in she goes, while I do the guy ropes. By the time I am ready to get in, the vestibule is clear for me.

Cheers

Stuart Allie
(stuart.allie)

Locale: Australia
Re: Carbon fibre poles on 04/26/2012 18:41:58 MDT Print View

Gordon,

Note that Fibraplex make replacement poles for the Nallo 3 and 4, but NOT for the Nallo 2. I'd be pretty confident that is because the curvature of the Nallo 2 poles is more than the fibraplex poles can handle.

So if you use fibraplex pole sections to make a pole set for your Nallo 2 you will need some sort of elbow.

At most you might save ~200g or so (say 6 oz). I've thought about this on-and-off and so far have decided it isn't worth it for me. But if you have a go at making a carbon pole set, please keep us informed on BPL!

Cheers
Stuart

Gordon Bedford
(gbedford) - MLife

Locale: Victoria, Australia
re carbon fibre poles on 04/27/2012 01:00:47 MDT Print View

Roger,

Yes well to be honest I only separate if I consider the inner wet enough at pack up time.
I had a Fairydown tunnel tent 20 years ago which was great except it was so difficult to connect inner to outer you could nearly die in the time it took. I sold it after one trip.

Tuart,

I have been in contact with Fibraplex and they do have a Nallo 2 replacement set with bends as Roger suggested. I have added a third pole to my Nallo for the reasons of snow loading outlined by Roger. They have indicated I could replace this as well with one of their carbon bibre poles.

This whole review is great for improving the knowledge and quality of tents.

Regards,
Gordon

Stuart Allie
(stuart.allie)

Locale: Australia
Re: re carbon fibre poles on 04/27/2012 02:00:32 MDT Print View

Gordon,

That's interesting news about fibraplex. If you do go that route, please let us know how it goes, as I'd be interested in a Nallo 2 pole set as well.

Cheers,
Stuart

James McIntosh
(JamesMc)

Locale: Near Bass Strait
Macpac Tents on 04/27/2012 03:45:09 MDT Print View

Love my Olympus - and Minaret for going lighter.

James McIntosh

Miles Spathelf
(MilesS) - MLife
Thank you on 04/27/2012 15:12:32 MDT Print View

Just wanted to add a thank you for all the effort you put forth in your designs and reviews of tunnel tents. My first tunnel is a Hilleberg that I love but is just a bit too heavy for summer use and compared to your winter tent...not quite as light. Cheers!

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife

Locale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
Re: Thank you on 04/27/2012 15:23:15 MDT Print View

Many thanks from me, also, to Roger and all the rest of you, for an enlightening and interesting series of articles, and for a great discussion! Roger, I especially appreciate your continued participation in the forum discussion, which required a lot of extra effort on your part. The articles and discussion have given me a lot of information for looking at tents in general.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Thanks on 04/29/2012 13:28:55 MDT Print View

Thanks Roger for a good review, "mini" though it was. I do like tunnel tents for their aerodynamics and even more for their roomy interior space.

I think the main reason MSR made the Dragontail tent a single wall was to cut down on weight. As for the new pole clip arrangement, I agree, for a WINTER tent the pole sleeves should be a "requirement" - tunnel or dome. Sleeves also spread out the stress on the fabric in extreme winds.

Even with my TT Moment 3 season tent I modified it to allow the "crossing pole" to go inside (then back out reinforced holes at each end) to more fully support the canopy in high winds or unexpectedly heavy snow.

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Warmlite history on 04/30/2012 11:26:37 MDT Print View

Roger, you decribe the Warmilte 2R in your mini-review as "deriving from the mid-2000's". I think you're a little off on your history there. That tent dates back to the 1960's at least - with the only difference being the fabric, as Silnylon was not avaialble then. Stephenson's were possibly the first to use silnylon in their tents, and had been using urethane-coated 1.1 oz nylon before that. And by the way, you may find this site interesting, as it contains many tidbits of backpacking gear history:
http://www.oregonphotos.com/Backpacking-Revolution1.html

I'm in agreement with you on the design shortcomings of the Warmlite tents. No vestibule just doesn't cut it for me. And they admitted to me in a response to an email query that the vents cannot remain open in the rain and snow. But I am interested in the poles, and have been for a while. I see you have a weight for the set of poles. Did you weigh just the larger front pole separately? My interest lies in making a tent similar in size to their 3R, which uses the 2R front pole at both ends. And I take note of your comment on the fragility of the thin-walled poles Warmlite is using.

Ruan Kendall
(Ruan) - MLife

Locale: UK
Re: Tunnel Tents Tutorial and State of the Market Report - Part 3: The Mini-Reviews on 04/30/2012 14:41:38 MDT Print View

Re: the lightwave tunnels, they've just released an interesting new 2 man model (the T2 Hyper) which has simultaneous or outer first pitch, unlike all their other models which are inner first only. No useful information about it yet, though, other than the fact that it seems size and cost comparable with the Nallo 2.

What's with the lack of 2-door tunnels in the market, though? HB have the Kaitum and Keron and Macpac has the slightly useless rear door on the Olympus, but the offerings beyond that seem nonexistent. I'd consider cost or weight or complexity to be an issue, but even competent tent manufacturers like Lightwave and Helsport don't seem to bother, despite their offerings including heavy, complex and expensive tents.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Warmlite history on 04/30/2012 15:58:50 MDT Print View

Hi Paul

Now where did I get 'the mid-2000s' from???? Dunno, and I will plead guilty here. Yeah - from back in the hippy era! Late 50s, early 60s.

The History of Gear web site - yes, I am familiar with it. Fascinating stuff.

> Did you weigh just the larger front pole separately?
No, but since you ask: 196 g and 72 g.

Cheers

Dan Healy
(electricpanda)

Locale: Queensland
Another take on Australian weather... on 05/01/2012 20:17:25 MDT Print View

Another take on Australian weather.

Australia is the flattest, driest continent on the planet. There are relatively small areas above the treeline where, like other countries, the weather in winter brings challenges. However if your country has peaks over 3000m and is closer to the poles then you will in all likelihood have more severe conditions than Australian high country. Also, if because of altitude or distance, you cannot get to a decent coffee shop within a days walk from that area you might consider the ruggedness of your lightweight materials.

Another take on the Wilderness Equipment ‘First Arrow’ tunnel tent.

The guy who designs Wilderness Equipment (WE) is a bit of a legend in some circles. He has designed packs and equipment for Australian Special Forces, Australian Antarctic expeditions, various mining companies, governments etc. His stuff is known as bombproof expedition worthy gear. His expedition backpack harness with two independently rotating hip wings is rated by many people as the best in the world with daylight second - if carrying a lot of weight is what has to happen in your line of work. It is never light though. WE expedition equipment is designed to survive very rough country for extended periods of time for many years. Many people over the years have exhorted Ian to come up with a range of gear with lighter materials. For the last 15 years I have got responses usually along the lines of ‘equipment needs to last more than a couple of years of serious use’, ‘… ok for recreational users’… sustainability of products is better for the environment is another one. He has an ‘institutional’ range of gear for schools etc that is for beginners. This article is the first I have heard that the reason for the weight of expedition type tents as being ‘for novices’. Seemingly it is quite the opposite. ‘Novices’ generally do not buy expensive expedition tents that are twice the price of other, already expensive, tents in the store. Similar size expedition type tents from Macpac and Hilleberg are of a comparable weight and are using similar materials.

All WE designs using his engineering background are worth looking at closely and have many outstanding features.

The WE First Arrow is a case in point.

... another look at the specs... Stripped down for carrying 2.95kg sans ti pegs and 9in stakes. The WE site has 3kg listed as min weight which maybe is with pegs. This is the biggest of the tents tested. External width at 171cm (67.3in) height 120cm (47.25in) middle pole approx 95cm, end pole at 70cm (27.5in) Not sure how Caffin measured the interior in his review. My ruler says 110cm (43in) height at the peak, 90cm middle, 62cm (24in) at the foot end. 155cm widest internal to 110cm at the wide point of the foot end. So about 51cm each at the shoulder for 3 - tight and 2cm each less than Hilleberg 3 person - but ok … with height of 110cm x 155cm at the business end stretching to 90cm at the centre it allowed 2 big blokes and one 5’9” to cook and eat sitting up with a bit of care for two wet nights a few years back.

... another look at the design... I owned the Macpac Olympus and it is and was a very good tent despite the original design being from around the 80’s - like the WE. Here is why I sold it and bought the more expensive WE tent.

Like most high middle or non tapered tunnel designs the ventilation in the Macpac type tents can be a serious problem and a pain. It left a lot of condensation in the tent which froze or dripped onto the inner. The First Arrow is a tapered ie a rising roof design which is a very much drier tent.

“... the continuously rising shape of the tent to the high point in the cut-away eave provides the best possible still air convective ventilation and a direct exhaust path for cooking vapours rising from the vestibule. Even at low wind speeds the low pressure created over the main vestibule positively sucks air through the tent. With other designs the top part of the tent must flood with warm moist air before it reaches down to vent level.” … I would add wetting the inner in the process.

The venting is very clever system protected by ‘eyebrows’ that also do double duty as tension spreading for the multiple guy ropes for very stable end to end tensioning. The flow thru of this system is so efficient that this tent also excels in humid tropical downpours.

The ingenious vestibule design allows one or two entries or the entire front flap to zip down. The huge entry space allows for such easy entry and egress that helps make the livability of this design a joy to use. No more shuffling around when the second person needs to exit while the first person was cooking, a problem that occurs with most tunnels according to Caffin.

Small details
Like the Hilleberg and Macpac tents WE uses thick hard abrasion resistant guy ropes – less worries about guys abrading on rock ‘pegs’ and at 5000m base camps where average wind speed can be 40knots for days on end - these type of conditions are beyond an overnight winter storm at 50m above tree line – you might even describe it as 5th season perhaps.
WE’s guys are attached with doubled 4mm shockcord to better control wind forces and loosening guys. They are reflective for the entire length – higlighting guy ropes at low vis.
Like Macpac the guy attachment point is one very wide piece of fabric doubled over not two small ones.
Ian at WE is obsessive about new materials and ideas. Every few years there are updates and small redesigns. Gone is the silconised nylon fly to be replaced by a 30d ripstop polyester with silicone elastomer facing and polyether based PU back coating. A deep, unstressed tub floor, 100d nylon with 8,000mm HH coating that is folded not cut and sewn at the corners. These types of tubs are not light but they will handle rough sites where light materials won’t.
Scandium poles – marginally better performance than alu but, unlike carbon, will tend only to crease and fold when stressed too far that may allow for pole sleeves to rescue the situation.
Features like good big hardy zippers and decent pole sleeves like Macpac and Hilleberg that will stand up to some abuse that will inevitably occur in sub zero conditions at altitude with a decent alpine breeze where it just taken 2hours to travel 150m and the penalty for failure is extreme.
Like the Macpac it is easy to unclip the front end of the ground sheet to roll it back. In the WE this makes a very large vestibule space that two can sit and prep.
Custom alterations - eg snow skirts can be sewn in.

In many people’s view the Wilderness Equipment First Arrow is a premier expedition tent with design features that make it superior to others of this genre in important areas – albeit more expensive than most.

It seems to be a common thing that good designers are not necessarily the best marketers. Wilderness Equipment would be better known if the founder was more ‘accommodating’ and didn’t p!ss reviewers off so often and was able to explain his product to those selling it. Maybe engineers think that just because they have a good product it should sell itself.


First Arrow too much tent? WE also do a smaller 2 pole version - the Second Arrow tent - a 2 man tent about the same size and weight as a Hilleberg Nallo 2 or Macpac Minaret.2nd Arrow in snow

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Another take on Australian weather... on 05/02/2012 00:52:47 MDT Print View

Hi Dan

I had better say up front that I have known Ian Maley (WE owner) for many, many years.

> Many people over the years have exhorted Ian to come up with a range of gear with
> lighter materials.
Yup. Me too. Same goes for One Planet.

> This article is the first I have heard that the reason for the weight of expedition
> type tents as being ‘for novices’.
Well, calling all that gear 'expedition' may be part of the perception problem. It IS sold in standard retail outlets, and yes, novices DO buy it. And they do stick the poles through the wall of the sleeve and demand their money back. (Source: Ian Maley.)

As to the other points you made - to each his own style. No problem.

Btw - nice photo - where?

Chweers

Ren Stimpy
(handshake) - F
Warmlite on 06/12/2012 13:03:10 MDT Print View

I have been using Warmlite tents now for over 20 years. Over the time I 'collected' 3 Warmlite tents (2,3 and 5) as well as several tarps and a couple tents from other manufacturers. Yet I keep coming back to these tents as my main goto tent.

First let's talk about the negatives:

1. I agree with you about the stitching 'look' but it has not affected me in practical terms while out there camping.

2. Also, in these days of taped seams, getting a tent that needs to be seam sealed is a bit of a drag.

3. If you absolutely must have a freestanding tent then a tube tent is obviously not for you.


Now the positives:
The Warmlite tents are by far the fastest pitching shelters that I have ever used and seen compared to what I own or what my friends own.

When you're being chased by mosquitoes in the wind river range or when you're caught by a rainstorm or when you're pitching a shelter in 30 knot winds - the warmlite tent is up in no time. Two hoops and 3 stakes, no messing with attaching a fly and you can retension the tent from the inside while out of the elements. I can have the tent pitched in 3 to 5 minutes.

There is absolutely no need for additional guy lines or for 3rd pole. The tent works fine as designed and thankfully this simplicity contributes to a quick up and down of the pitch.

I love the integrated fly design. The inner wall (second wall) shields you from any condensation issues. Typically one sleeps in the area between the hoops where the two walls are. The single walled entrance space is supposed to be the 'vestibule'. The space outside under the flap can store your shoes if you desire.

Because the tent is contain to one piece it is also very easy to dry it. Just hang it from a clothesline at home. This also helps keeping it clean of sand and debris. You can just shake it all out of the tent or just leave it hanging on the clothes line and gravity will take care of it.

The 2 series tent sleeps two people comfortably. We've had one night where we had 3 people side by side and a 5 year old child facing oposite way. By comparison the 4 person Big Agnes Copper Spur I have (and like) fits 3 people and one must rely on the tight vestibule space for equipment.

Last weekend I was pitching a tarp on a beach in strong winds. It was to be used for shade while the 3R waited to be pitched later for sleeping. The amount of stakes, guy lines and stakes and hardship that a single person needs to go through is almost comical when compared to the quick pitch of the Warmlite tents.

I've had a 2RD for over 20 years, 3RLW for 10 years and 5XW for over 5 years. This summer I will be replacing the 2 series with a new tent.