The Vango Helium Superlite 200, at a claimed 39.5 ounces (1.12 kg), is one of the lightest two-person double-wall tents on the market. The tent is very similar in design to the Vaude Power Lizard UL and Terra Nova Photon/Laser line. Like its European brethren, the Helium Superlite 200 utilizes lightweight fabrics, minimal features, and a hybrid tunnel design to save weight, while still providing good weather protection. However, there are a few significant differences. How does the Vango Helium Superlite 200 perform, and are the unique qualities an advantage over the competition?
|Year/Manufacture/Model||2011 Vango Helium Superlite 200 (www.vango.co.uk)|
|Style||Three-season, two-person, double-wall, non-freestanding hybrid tunnel tent with floor and one side-entry door with vestibule|
|Included||Tent body and fly, two aluminum poles with sack, seven aluminum stakes with sack, repair kit (four patches of fabric and one pole sleeve), storage bag|
|Fabrics||Fly: Protex 20d ripstop nylon, 5000 mm, taped seams
Inner Tent: 40d ripstop nylon with two mesh windows
Tent Floor: Protex 20d nylon, 5000 mm
|Poles and Stakes||One pre-bent center pole and one vertical strut at foot of tent, F10 Flexlite 7.9 mm aluminum; c-shaped aluminum stakes (x7), 4 in (10 cm)|
|Measured Floor and Height Dimensions||74.8 in (190 cm) long x 31.5 in (80 cm) wide at head and foot x 47.2 in (120 cm) wide at the middle; head-end height is 3.3 in (7.5 cm), center height is 32.3 in (82 cm), and foot-end height is 11.8 in (30 cm).|
|Features||Lightweight fabrics, no-drip side entry door with vestibule, tent pocket, Tension-Band
System (TBS), can be pitched all at once or fly only, no guylines
|Packed Size||15.7 x 4.7 in (40 x 12 cm)|
|Total Weight||Measured weight: 41.7 oz (1.18 kg)
Manufacturer specification: 39.5 oz (1.12 kg)
|Trail Weight||Measured weight: 39.9 oz (1.13 kg)
Manufacturer specification not available; weight excludes stuff sacks and repair kit
|Protected Area:||Floor Area: 20.4 ft2 (1.9 m2)
Vestibule Area: 7.0 ft2 (.65 m2)
Total Protected Area: 27.4 ft2 (2.55 m2)
|MSRP||280 GBP (440 USD as of 9/22/11)|
Design and Features
The tent packs down small - barely larger than two Nalgene bottles (left). One pole, one vertical strut, a few stakes and it's up! I could have tightened the lines a bit to make the fly fabric more taut (right).
The Helium Superlite 200 is new to the market and is part of a larger line of similar tents by Vango. The standard Helium line has been around for several years and uses more traditional (read: heavier) fabrics. The 100 and 200 part of the name denotes the tent size (100=1 person, 200=2 person, and so on). The Helium Superlite tents are lighter weight versions of the original line, but the difference is not great. For example, the Helium Superlite 200 is only 5.6 ounces (160 g) lighter than the Helium 200.
The Helium Superlite 200 has one central pre-angled pole that gives the tent structure and steep sidewalls. There is one vertical strut at the foot of the tent, creating more interior space and better airflow. The fly can be set up without the inner, creating a floorless waterproof shelter that weighs 24.7 ounces (701 g). The inner is a bright orange solid nylon with small mesh windows at the foot end and on the door. The inner attaches to the fly via half a dozen plastic clips. The four corners of the bathtub style floor have 2.8-inch tall (7-cm) struts and elastic straps that connect to the fly stakes.
The entry-way is protected from rain when the door is rolled up, but is small and hard to crawl through (left); the vestibule is just big enough for Kristin’s GoLite Jam2 and the circular door has mesh only on the top third (right).
The tent set up in fly only mode: the foot area (top left) and head area (top right). It is still a tight squeeze to fit two full-length sleeping pads - the corners of the pad touch the edges of the fly in the foot area (bottom left) but there is sufficient room at the head area (bottom right).
Things get even tighter in inner tent, as two pads must overlap at the foot (left) and head (right).
The tension band system (TBS Pro) provides structural support against lateral winds by forming a triangle with the ends of the pole and the apex. The TBS Pro as shown in fly-only mode (left). When the inner tent is set up, the bands fit through velcro-sealed slits in the fabric (right).
At the foot of the tent, a 17 inch (43 cm) strut slides into a small sleeve attached to the fly (left). This is tensioned by three nylon straps, providing structure at the foot area of the tent, while also leaving a pyramid of unused protected area (right).
The bathtub-style floor has elastic cords at the corner that attach to the two fly stakes at the head and two at the feet (left). The elastic straps on the inner tent attach to plastic hooks on the fly along the poles (right).
The YKK #3 zipper on the fly door has a zipper cover that is kept from flapping with velco in two places, and can be further secured from inside the tent with a metal hook and loop fastener at the very bottom. The two-way zipper allows venting from the top (right).
We tested this tent in a variety of conditions over numerous trips during the winter and spring of 2011. The Rhine Trail of Germany, the Italian Dolomites, and the Norwegian coastal mountains were our testing ground.
Upon first inspection, the tent had a few unsightly construction issues on the tent inner: sloppy sewing work at the ends of all four TBS velcro holes (left); long strands of fabric dangling, as contrasted against the black of my shirt sleeve (center); loose fibers along the entire length of the door zipper (right).
Our first backpacking trip was a multi-day affair along the Rhine River, where the temperature dropped to 14 °F (-10 °C) each night. On the first night, we were concerned about warmth so we closed the tent door and closed the fly door but lowered the two-way zipper to help ventilate. In the morning, we woke with frozen condensation on the fly and both sides of the inner tent! For the remainder of the trip, we left at least one of the doors halfway open, trying to balance condensation with heat retention. Our efforts were insufficient for such calm, cold weather, as we experienced bad condensation the entire trip.
Moisture condensed and froze during really cold nights in Germany (left). Condensation was guaranteed to form on the fly and inner, if we closed the fly door, even when the weather was warmer. On other trips with better conditions, we still faced serious condensation issues (right).
From that experience in Germany, we realized that condensation is a serious weak point of the tent. The two mesh panels on the inner tent are too small to allow proper ventilation, with the one at the foot being mostly blocked by the sleeping bag. There is no vent on the fly. Furthermore, the fly comes nearly to ground level, creating a tight seal around the entire tent, effectively blocking any airflow. It does not help to unzip the two-way zip on the door, as zipper flap also blocks airflow. The only options to increase ventilation are to leave one or both doors open. This design flaw is a significant limitation.
The Superlite 200 is small in every way. It is not wide enough to fit two full length Neo Air sleeping pads, which are slightly narrower than standard-width pads. Kristin and I share a down quilt, which means that we need less space to sleep. However, even cuddling under one quilt, we pressed against the edges of the tent at our feet and our heads. There was very little extra space at our head - just enough for a book, water bottle, and headlamp. The pocket is not practical, as it is located next to the door at a point where the fabric does not have structural support. Any item in the pocket pulls down on the tent, further reducing head space. Finally, it is impossible to sit up in the tent as it hangs far too low. In fact, crawling through the front door was so tight that we often inadvertently pushed against the tent as we finagled our way in and out.
It is a tight squeeze for even one person: me (6’0”/1.83 m) and my light down quilt. The sleeping bag blocks most of the 2.8-inch (7-cm) tall mesh window in the foot area (left) and even without a sleeping bag hood, my head pushes against the tent (right).
Pitching was fairly easy and took about five minutes, once we got the hang of it. First, erect the center pole and slide it into the pole sleeve. Tighten the pole adjuster, located on the opposite side of the door. Stake out the two corners at the head. Then stake out the foot area, with the single strut angled slightly away from the sleeping area. Only five stakes (at 5 grams each) are needed, but two more are provided to secure each end of the main pole.
It was slightly challenging to get a really taut pitch at the foot end of the tent. Any initial slack was exacerbated overnight by rain, which softened the top soil and enabled the short stakes to slip a little by morning. Hence, a sagging tent.
The Helium Superlite 200 is excellent at protecting against rain, albeit the real-world usefulness is limited by the condensation issue. The highly-rated (5000 mm) waterproofing of the fly is the main aspect where the tent really outshines its peers. The fabric is significantly more waterproof than Cuben Fiber and sil-nylon (including the double-sided coated sil-nylon used on the Vaude Power Lizard UL). Three days of constant downpour in the Dolomites did nothing to penetrate the fly. The stakes are too short to hold really well when it rains continuously - longer stakes would be appreciated. Setting up a tent “as-one” is a very welcomed attribute. The fly is erected with the inner tent hanging beneath it, so that the interior doesn’t get wet. To battle condensation when the wind and rain was not strong, we would partially close the fly door, leaving the rest of the door rolled up and attached to the fly. This way the inner tent would be protected from rain, but the vestibule would still be exposed. A half-open fly door aided with ventilation, but left us vulnerable to changing winds.
One uncomfortable night in the Dolomites: super soft snow and frozen ground made for a difficult situation where I was not able to get a good pitch. The tent was like a bad bivy, or worse, like a nylon blanket.
The tent is very stable in strong winds due to its hybrid tunnel design, tension band system, and low profile. Nothing we experienced ever made me question the wind stability of the fly. The stability of the tent relies heavily on a good pitch, which is not always possible. The two corners or angles in the main pole improve the usable interior space by making the side walls steeper and decrease the risk of a pole breaking under stress. For tunnel tents, a standard straight pole would need to be curved at a strong angle, the stress of which brings the pole closer to its breaking point. The pre-angled pole of the Superlite 200 reduces that forced curvature. The tension band system was a nice bit of insurance, but we never really needed it as we were able to pitch the tent in line with the wind. Still, it was nice to have, because we have tested other tents that failed when the wind changed directions at night and pounded the tent from the side. This tent never flapped in the wind. As noted before, we actually hoped for wind, as we knew the tent could withstand it and it would reduce condensation.
The tent in fly-only mode: easy to set up, lightweight, and roomier, but by no means spacious.
We tested the tent without the inner, hoping this would offer good wind and rain protection for a mere 24.7 ounces (701 g). There is more space at the head area and better sit-up room in the fly-only mode. However, the short pole at the foot area prohibits sleeping bags/pads from gaining any usable area down there. While we appreciated the extra space without the inner tent, the condensation was exponentially worse. Condensation formed along most of the fly within minutes of us sealing the fly door so we had to leave the door open. Based on our testing, we surmise that there are only two situations when the fly-only setup is practical. First, if there is no need for bug or rain protection, the door can be left open. However, in that case a fly is also not necessary. Second, if there is strong wind, which would help push out moisture and thereby reduce or eliminate internal condensation.
Holes started forming on the tent inner after the first few uses: on the seams of the apex (left), and on the ceiling near the holes for the tension band (center and right).
For a tent of this weight class, I would consider the fly and tent floor to be extremely durable. We had no problems with holes in the fabrics or any rain leakage. The inner tent, however, showed signs of wear and tear after the few uses (see photos above). This was disappointing, as I thought maybe Vango used nylon on the inner tent because it is more durable than mesh. Clearly this is not the case. One of the stakes is also slightly bent from use in the rocky terrain of Norway.
When the Helium Superlite 200 could be set up well in ideal conditions, such as this grassy plateau in Norway, it could withstand strong winds as well as a conventional mountaineering tent that weighs four times as much.
The Helium Superlite 200 could be a great tent for the right person(s) in the right conditions. There should be a high probability of wind, and a good chance of very strong winds. Rain would be a problem only if it was not accompanied by wind. Livable space should not be a priority. Low pack size and low weight should be necessary. The maximum user height should be 6’0” (1.83 m) and they shouldn’t mind pressing their head and feet against the tent. Obviously, these few parameters really limit the useful range of the Helium Superlite 200.
We appreciate the low weight, small packed size, and robust design. However, for us, it is not worth the compromise when there are so many other tents on the market that weigh the same or less, handle condensation better, and are much more livable. The tent is too small for two average-sized people to use, and not long enough to even feel like a spacious one-person tent. Even though it is more waterproof than its peers, it handles condensation so poorly that the interior still gets wet (when it is not windy). The tent was measured at 2.2 ounces (62 g) heavier than Vango claims. The sloppy seams and fragile fabric of the inner tent make us question the durability, which is especially notable considering the high price. With a few improvements in design, construction, and fabric choice, the tent could be much better. Of course, if Vango made those changes, the tent would also be even more similar to its competitors.What’s Good
- Low weight for two-person, double-wall tent
- Hybrid Tunnel Design is good at shedding wind
- Fly is highly waterproof
- Fairly quick set-up
- Option to pitch in fly-only mode
- Ability to set up fly and inner tent “as-one” ensures that the interior stays dry during rain
- Side entry protected during rain
- Bad condensation
- Too little usable space
- Small door
- Poor durability of inner tent
- Add a high vent
- Increase usable head area with a strut, small pole or some other structural improvement
- Change fabric on inner tent
- Use more mesh on inner tent
- Provide three long stakes for the most critical points (one at the foot and two at the head)