Outdoors and Lifestyle

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Apgar permit office, 10 minutes after opening, July.

Visiting Outdoor Retailer a few weeks ago brought it home to me just how huge a percentage of the outdoor industry is given over to what I’d call lifestyle gear and pursuits.  As a dedicated elitist asshole since my teenage years I find it hard to say “lifestyle” without a permasnear, but having Little Bear around as well as trying to be more broad and ecumenical in my outlook has tempered that, a little.

I define lifestyle outdoor gear as something optimized for everyday city or front country activities, rather than backcountry or a specific sport.  Some sports, like downhill/area skiing, are almost inherently lifestyle sports, which explains the cross pollination between the two.  Another example is SUP.  I still find it’s existence outside tidal environments the height of absurdity, but when LB and I are at the local beach of an evening the appeal of being able to cruise around after work is obvious.  They’re the water version of an Electra cruiser, and on a societal level are surely a better use of hundreds of dollars than a PS4.  Therefore lifestyle outdoor stuff gets a pass, even if it isn’t just a gateway to proper, backcountry outdoor pursuits, and even if the hipster car campers and dayhikers have this summer made Glacier more crowded than ever.

IMG_0382LB, car camping, Many Glacier.

All of this is to say that we all, hopefully, spend a lot of lifestyle time blending the outdoors into daily life.  Hikes before work, bike rides and floats after, dinners picnics, even walking or biking the long way to the pub rather than driving counts.  Life is more fun this way, sneaks in more exercise, and is a way for those of us who take a functional paycut to live in certain places to maximize any given season.

So, as a way to kickstart the celebration of this blogs 10th anniversary (coming in early December), sell out, and kill more innocent pixels I’ll take the next few days to highlight a few awesome lifestyle items which have over the next few years made my life a little better.  Exciting.

Sierra Designs Tensegrity 2 Elite review

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The Tensegrity 2 Elite is an exceptional tent, in many ways.  Unfortunately the most significant of those ways is not easy to convey in either words or pictures, and because of this, the unusual design, and the high price I worry that an excellent tent may not be long on the market.

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We purchased (at an industry discount) the Tensegrity specifically as a family backpacking tent; we wanted the lightest and most compact package which would provide sleeping room for two adults plus an infant/toddler, as well as enough elbow room for diaper changes and the other acrobatics that are part of camping with a little kid.  Full bug protection, full floor, and good ventilation were mandatory, while serious storm resistance was not.  I was intrigued by the unconventional design, and beyond wanting to see one first hand, was convinced it would meet our needs.

It has. The most exceptional thing about the Tensegrity is, by far, how much livable space it packs into a small footprint.  88 by 50 inches does not tell the story.  First, the head end gets wider towards the top, and the rainfly/tarp overhangs still further outside. Second, the foot pole is positioned far back, making the rear wall vertical.  At 5’11” I have excess room for gear at my head and no chance of my sleeping bag hitting the rear wall or ceiling.  Tall folks will do well in the Tensegrity, even sleeping on thick air matts.  Changing diapers is comfortably accomplished, with all our gear inside, and there is plenty of room for M to breastfeed while I organize gear or do other small camp tasks.  We’ve had three adults inside, the shortest of whom was 5’8″, along with the kiddo and there was plenty of room for hanging around away from the bugs.  I’ve tried, and failed, to take a photo which accurately conveys how comfy it is to be inside the Tensegrity.  It so far outstrips the competition in this regard that the point simply cannot be overemphasized.

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The Tensegrity is unapologetically built for three season conditions, and prioritizes space and ventilation over weatherproofing.  No other singlewall, integrated tarp-tent has as much venting.  The front and rear walls are mesh with no fabric backing, and while both are well shaded from any conceivable level of rain splash, there is by design no way to keep the wind out.  The sides, which zip fully down and open, can be closed totally by a waterproof panel, or be fully open for venting.  That one can get so much airflow, and full bug protection, while being totally protected from ordinary sorts of rain is a very pragmatic design feature.  These are the sorts of conditions most folks in most places see most often.

That said, the Tensegrity is a single wall tent, and therefore the roof will build condensation faster on clear nights, as it lacks the insulated barrier of a double wall.  It’s tempting to compare the ~3 pound weight to the similar weight of a double wall tent like the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 and assume the later would do better when it comes to condensation management.  In my experience this is not the case, whatever advantage the Copper Spur might gain by having a double wall is given back by having less air flow and less interior air volume for occupants to expire into.  It’s worth revisiting the first point; while on paper the Copper Spur is taller, wider at the head and a bit longer than the Tensegrity, in practice the Tensegrity feels much, much bigger.  The most comparable Tarptent product, the Rainshadow 2, has sloped walls and must thus be over six feet wide to provide similar (less, really) interior space.

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Pitching the Tensegrity is not inherently difficult, unlike some of the asymmetrical tarptents which have become popular, but the setup process does not generalize well from any other tent I’ve used, and one does need to follow the instructions for optimal results.  Pole length for the grommet used is crucial, for example.  Compare the top photo, which is an ideal pitch with vertical tension along the door, with the second photo, where somewhat paradoxically too long poles prevent proper vertical tension, and thus slacken the pitch overall.  A lot of folks online get this wrong, and end up using the optional side guylines in addition to the front awning to tension the shelter.  These lines exist so that the awning can be rolled up in fair weather, and are sewn such that when you try to use them in concert with the awning they don’t add anything of substance.  The whole point the Tensegrity is that one line of continuous tension goes from the rear stake along the edges and down to the outer edges of the front awning, which in turn tensions the trekking poles and holds the shelter up.  Four additional stakes are recommended at the corners of the interior, but these don’t add much in terms of structural support.  And for fuck sake, don’t prop the pole ends on the ground, tension, and call it good.  Sierra Designs added the grommets for a reason, and the result is far superior with them in use.

This is the most substantive weakness of the Tensegrity, that these three stakes, and especially the back stake, get put under quite a bit of force.  You start the pitch from the back, and it is worth taking time to make sure that one stake is very secure.  In loose soils, equalizing two stakes to the one lineloc is probably a good idea.  Other than this, the Tensegrity performs very well within it’s inherent limitations.  It isn’t a tent for significant snow loads, and while the large, unsupported stretches of fabric do move a fair bit in moderate winds, the tent isn’t loud or unstable, and this movement seems to be part and parcel of the design.  Sierra Designs has wind tunnel testing videos on the product page which show wind resistance I consider quite adequate for three season performance.  There are lighter shelters with vastly greater wind shedding ability, but none of them provide anything close to the same amount of liveable space and ventilation.

It is worth noting that while the end to end length, and width of the front awning, are considerable the flexibility of the awnings angle makes it easy to slip the Tensegrity into some very small spaces.  In Utah this spring an ideal spot at the end of a long day had a patch of flat sand only a few feet longer than the interior.  I anchored the awning up and away a bit by wedging pebbles into cracks in the sandstone ledges and tying the guylines to them.  A bit of creativity goes a long way here, though that does add time to the pitch.

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Another significant consideration with the Elite (all silnylon) model is seam sealing, which due to the complexity of the design is a substantial undertaking.  Seams on the fly, floor, and sides all need to be sealed, and if you’re doing this in a garage during the dead of winter as I was in January at least two separate sessions (to allow the sealant to dry, before you repitch the shelter at a different angle) will be necessary.  Not what I would call difficult, but if a couple hour investment post-purchase is off putting the addition weight and poorer longevity of the PU coated (and thus taped) FL model might be indicated.

Besides vast amounts of livable space, the Tensegrity distinguishes itself from the competition (Big Agnes and Tarptent being the most obvious) by being built to noticeably higher standard.  Stitching and finish are exceptionally neat, and the details both little (linelocs with correct amount of nice cord installed, thick coated webbing on the corner tieouts) and big (#5 zippers, straight, no curved paths on the main doors) are done to perfection.  My only niggles are two; replace the two part guy lines on the awning corners with one single long piece for faster use, and make the triangle of fabric where the door zips come together stiffer so it doesn’t snag.  Otherwise Sierra Designs has hit all buttons, functional and fanciful, in a way the competition (whom I’ve slept in but never felt inclined to purchase precisely because they don’t do these things) never has.  Personally, I hope the Tensegrity does well, as this would be evidence of function winning out over hype.

Osprey Poco AG review

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The Osprey Poco AG is a well executed kid carrier for day hiking and perhaps backpacking. It carries the kid exceptionally securely and comfortably, but has serious limitations for women or the long torso’d.

For detail shots of the pack, and my initial thoughts when we bought it, see here.

All photos by M.

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We’ve used the hell out of the Poco AG in the past six months.  As hikers and backpackers before anything, a good kid carrying backpack is essential, and since Little Bear hit six months and could hold himself upright well enough to ride in a pack the Poco has been our most used backpack.

The strength of the Poco is without question the child harness, and the pack structure which accommodates and protects it.  The seat is wide, padded just enough, and the harness is secure.  The height adjustment is quick and intuitive.  The padded drool pad, removable for washing, serves as a great pillow for the inevitable and frequent trail naps.  The framing which holds the kid compartment open is robust, enough that it provides a not inconsiderable amount of armoring if the adult slips on a sidehill.  (Deuter carriers are notably deficient in this regard, which is a largely academic issue for folks who don’t hike off trail.) The kickstand, deployed in the top photo, is convenient and can be extended or retracted by the wearer, with the pack worn.

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The integral, retractable sun shade is another excellent and often used feature.  We’ve yet to convince LB to wear a hat for more than one minute, and hoods are an imperfect solution, so this has been used frequently.  It also, as shown, works well for head support while napping.  The lack of a full length sleeves for the shade to go into when not is use has been a consistent annoyance.  Without this nothing separates it from stuff in the lower cargo pocket, and when that pocket is close to full snagging is almost inevitable.

The aftermarket rain cover, which cinches around the sun shade, isn’t something we’ve used often.  It is effective, and fairly easy to put on, but could be just a hair longer to better cover LB’s feet.

Overall there’s not much Osprey could do better to keep a kid secure and happy in the Poco.

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The adult side of the Poco, by contrast, has a few systemic issues, which may or may not be likely addressed in the near future.  The first is frame height.  The Poco comes in one size, and while it adjusts easily to fit shorter torso lengths, as can be seen above at 21″ I am right at the top end of sizing, and only just get shoulder lift.  By the time most infants are big enough to ride in a pack the kid-pack combined weight will be close to 20 pounds, and our current LB+pack weight of 29 is I would guess about average in terms of the useable window.  Osprey rates the Poco to nearly 50 pounds, and therefore ought to build it to carry that load, which in its squirms and lurches to grab the passing scenery feels a lot heavier than the same amount of gear tightly compressed.

With 30 pounds I could see rating the Poco for a 21″ torso.  At 50, I can’t see it being rated for anything more than 18″.  It’d be ideal if Osprey made two sizes, though presumably on a low margin, low numbers item that is financially unattractive.  It’s worth repeating (from the February post) that given the complexity of the design, 250 dollars for the Poco is a bargain.

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I’ve been impressed by the Poco’s hipbelt.  The stripped down version of the AG suspension functions like a full-wrap belt, with only a tiny amount of stretch which after a few hours requires periodic recinching.  The problem is in the stiff foam wings which provide tension and structure for the mesh which contacts the user.  As a normal, skinny-ish male with little hip curve the foam wings don’t touch me at all, as intended.  M on the other hand is a woman with around average hip curve, and the wings provide a nasty and unfixable pressure point on the bottom edge.  Every woman who I’ve spoken with about the Poco AG reports a similar issue, while almost all men like the belt just fine.

Overall, a kid carrier needs to be built with a virtually expedition grade suspension, and while the frame of the Poco is super stiff, the harness comes up short.  Greater frame height, and more adaptable belt, and cusher shoulder straps are all needed.

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Lastly, I’d love to see Osprey seriously tackle the problem of how to build a kid carrier with serious, backpackable cargo capacity.  2500 cubic inches would do nicely.  My sandwich rig with the Seek Outside Revolution gets the job done, but if the suspension were beefed up the Poco could easily carry the load itself, with some wing pockets, and slightly expanded back pocketing as well.  A niche product for sure, but one can dream.  If anything over the past six months we’ve learned that getting prepped for a backpacking trip with infant is harder than the trip itself; Osprey would do the world a favor by making the packing part a bit simpler.

Packrafting’s zeroth law

We didn’t make it to the Packrafting Roundup this year, something I’ve regretted ever since, but babies get sick a lot.  Thankfully Moe Witschard took a video of Luc Mehl’s presentation of packrafting safety, so all of us who were not there can hear it.

I could not agree with Luc more.

Canyoneering is comparable to packrafting in that it’s a sport which doesn’t demand skill to get into serious situations.  Canyoneering has grown faster, I’d assume, due to the relevant terrain being so close to big population centers, and because the cost of entry is considerably less.  There have been quite a few canyoneering fatalities in the last decade or more, most of which have been preventable and/or in retrospect stupid.  If folks don’t do what Luc suggests, namely slow down and learn at a sustainable pace, more packrafters will almost certainly die.  This is especially relevant with packrafts becoming less expensive and more widely available.

In a wilderness context swimming is often an unacceptable risk.  Just like with backcountry skiing, I’d like to see the dominant narrative transform from how do we do ___ with as little chance of dying as possible, to how do we maintain an almost nonexistent possibility of dying, and still do ___ ?  I’ve only had two semi-close calls* packrafting, which I attribute to being very afraid of moving water, and very unafraid to admit it and act accordingly.  The later is easy, or easier, solo or in a very small group, which is almost the only way I’ve ever packrafted.  It can be tough to, for example, univite someone with bad judgment from a wilderness trip, but sometimes that needs to happen.  This example is a digression from Luc’s central point, but is a complimentary example of the tough topics packrafting needs to talke about with itself.

Thanks Luc.

*First was a hasty log portage on Rattlesnake Creek in the first month I had a boat, second was Spencer’s (excellent) swim on the South Fork in 2014.

Tidbits from Outdoor Retailer

Earlier this week we (M, Little Bear, and I) had the chance to head down to SLC and visit the Outdoor Retailer show as guests of Seek Outside.  It was a good time, and something I’ve wanted to see for quite a while.  As an introvert who is determined to embrace his aversion to strangers I expected to hate the whole experience on a broad level, but really had nothing but fun.  Outdoor stuff is something I’ve cared about and studied my whole life, and in that respect OR was like going from high school to undergrad and suddenly being immersed in interesting classes for the first time ever.  The following are highlights from 5 or so hours of wandering the floor with Luke Fowler from Seek Outside.

MTI’s new Vibe PFD is the item I’m most excited to get in the field.  It’s a pullover with a modest array of features and a very soft, pliant foam which is very well tailored.  Most PFDs use panels of much stiffer foam, which packs poorly, is a worse pillow, and in a packraft often interferes with either the spraydeck, your chin, or both.  It stuck to my torso better than anything I’ve ever tried, yet has 15 1/2 pounds of flotation.  The front pocket has a zippered mesh pocket with a pass-through handwarmer behind.  The yellow band pictured above is quick-release leash tether for a SUP, and points towards how a similar PFD could be built into a truly lightweight rescue vest for backcountry whitewater.

The Vibe will retail for $95 and be available in Feb-March of 2017.

Rab is expanding their use of Polartec Alpha, and for the me the most interesting option is the revamped Strata.  It features 120 grams/meter of the new Alpha, which doesn’t require a liner and resembled a very loose fleece.  The new Strata is still shelled by uncalendered Pertex Microlight, which is a bit more wind resistant and quite a bit tougher than the shell on the Patagonia Nano Air, and features stretch gussets in the cuffs with a nicely integrated thumb loop.  I’ve found the original Strata great for winter and spring, especially ski touring, and a warmer version with improved features will be even better.

The Aire Bakraft packraft/IK hydrid looses the goofy seat/inflation bag/drybag/potato in favor of a normal backrest, and lash points both fore and aft.  It remains behind the curve insofar as easily attaching lots of overnight gear goes, but the thigh straps and self-bailing floor have established themselves as very solid.  Aire will also have an XL version of the Bakraft (right), which will cost around $2000.

Klymit’s Static V Duo is 47 inches wide, a pragmatic option for couples, and families with a small kid.  Most interestingly, the valves have been revamped to allow the stuffsack to act as an inflation bag, a welcome feature.

Adidas’ Terrex Agravic has the kind of upper reinforcements and tread pattern that might sway me away from LaSportiva.  It seemed to have a nice blend of low drop and enough, but not too much, stiffness.

Black Diamond’s Carbon Helio ski pole is molded all in one go; only the tip and strap are separate pieces.  It is very light, and exceptionally stiff, perhaps moreso than any other pole I’ve hefted.  One of those rare pieces of gear with serious and immediate wow factor, which it should given the 300 dollar price tag.

 

Little Bear approves of the new BD kids harness, helmet, and chalk bag.  The First Light hoody (in blue) is BD’s entry into the “active insulation” market, with a very light and airy nylon softshell face fabric which is similar but not the same as the Alpine Start windshirt.  The Alpine Start appears unchanged, save for new colors.

Altra’s FKT shoes, available for both men and women, promises to shake their reputation of combining a great fit and midsole with weak uppers and poor rubber.  The tread is aggressive, the rubber seems softer than their past stuff, and the upper has myriad TPU reinforcements.  At 17mm (or is it 19mm) tall the FKT is comparable to the older Superior.

Astral is expanding their footwear line to have a few more hiking-specific models, which look to have good tread patterns and decent uppers.  Astral has gotten mixed reviews when it comes to build quality, so I’m taking a wait and see approach with their new models.

The flagship of Sierra Designs new Skurka Series (no pressure) is the Flex Capacitor pack, which compresses neatly from a generous 60 to 40 liters using a top to bottom gusset and four compression straps.  Neatly done, but a lot of material and clutter needed to achieve it.  The real noteworthy thing is the overall effect of the wishbone frame (made from alu tent tubing), aggressive lumbar bad, and torso pads.  It certainly seems like SD has managed to build a traditional lumbar pad design with a belt-frame connection robust enough for 50+ pound loads, in a sub 3 pound package, and good torso mobility.  At around $200 pricing will be very attractive.  If you don’t want to spend $350 on a Seek Outside Divide, or strongly prefer to lumbar pad with emphatic pressure, this will be a good option.

The Exped Lightning, about to get dethroned as best budget lightweight load hauler by the Flex Capacitor, gets a new hipbelt and optional mesh accessory pocket.  The rest of the pack appears unchanged.

Osprey had an all-mesh demo pack, with was neat, and the new Aether AG series gets some nicely sized hipbelt pockets with a stiffener sewn into the interior binding (bright orange), which makes one-handed opening and closing easy.

Osprey also has a new entry into the ultrarunning vest category, with more refined pocketing and compression than the smaller Rev packs.

For me the most interesting thing at Patagonia was the continued, robust infant and kid clothing.  The new Micro D hoody, and new colors of Baggies Summit pants, represent two very useful items Little Bear has lived in this spring and summer.  The pants in particular are high quality; double knees for crawling, and a quick drying yet bug proof fabric.  I want an adult-sized technical-fit hoody in the Micro D fabric for myself.

BD’s Blitz packs are clean alpine climbing packs, with a closure that recalls the Patagonia Ascentionist series, but reversed.  The small pocket seems like it should be more useful when the pack is totally full.

Arcteryx does DriDucks (kidding), aka permanent beading technology.  If this DWR-less way to do WPB raingear proves durable and functional it will be a major game changer.

Outdoor Research had a truly massive range of hats, which were displayed front and center in their booth.  I wonder how much of their business is accessories?  Standouts are the excellent, vented bug hats, and the many multicam hats and visors which are now 100% nylon, rather than the cotton blends of past generations.

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This is the Kokopelli Hornet Lite, their deckless boat with 70D tube fabric and 210D floor (the same stuff used in the tubes of their mainline boats).  The Hornet is adult sized, and while I’m sure it could be rolled much smaller than the above the weight and bulk premium all their models have over Alpackas gives me pause.  They do have factory thigh strap lash points which are well positioned, and are working on extension tubes which will allow their boats to be tempered on the go.  Overall it seems good for Alpacka to have real competition, but Kokopelli doesn’t seem as mature with their designs.

In non-photographed news several other companies seem be keeping with the low-drop trend, though many of them are fitness or crossfit rather than trail running companies.  Hopefully the maximalist trend runs out sooner rather than later and sanity returns to the off-pavement shoe world.

Cilogear had a 20 liter worksack made from a cuben/TPU laminate, which the owner preferred I not photograph.  Oddly, the coating side was out, which seems a recipe for delamination.

Otherwise, there were many, many companies making inroads of one sort or another into the hipster/glamping/softcore outdoor market.  Impractically featured, very expensive 25 liter daypacks were a popular item, often in vaguely ethnocentric or colonialist prints.  Though car camping remains an oxymoron, I do like that the outdoor world remains a big tent which embraces and equips many levels of engagement with the wild.  I just hope all these companies make function, in addition to aesthetically appealing, products.  Nothing puts people off camping like a cold sleeping bag and leaky tent.  The new dome tent Sierra Designs had in their booth, touted as the highest quality tent available for 200 dollars, is the sort of thing I’d like to see more of.

Overall, I’m looking forward to going back in the future, to be able to spend more time, and be more systematic.

Managing condensation: a shelter case study

Z-35-RnHcDc29osUdHBfNGBRz6WAgB8bEIIqhMcAr9FmcuBWlyxCDSw2b7CeizKrjoRD8shcJodVGA_eM_TUuBtlwnDccY0yVFe5IFsMSilTN6VP078B3x7H9wUPKR4h6qCkTFKA23TqRSim2C7BopNfCiZyF4dc2kD7uaGF_7_l_VYnPRNqfLv7SRwKA5gl2dt9uY6VdyV1mMqmzQipv3oyZZXTxWlFlGThe new Sierra Designs High Route tent, which manages condensation via interior air volume and venting, at the expense of vaguely compromised weatherproofing.  Photo by Andrew Skurka.

Condensation is a fact of life when camping in the backcountry.  Under certain circumstances condensation will occur in any shelter.  The art is in mitigating and avoiding condensation, hopefully to the extent that it never becomes a major issue.  If condensation is bad, especially for several nights on end, insulation in clothing and sleeping bags can become very damp.  Damp insulation does not work well, and with no chance to dry it, the loss of potential warmth could become problematic.

Condensation occurs when water vapor changes to liquid, as the air temperature drops below the dew point.  To keep things simple, we’ll allow that condensation is controlled by two factors, the amount of moisture in the air inside and outside the shelter, and the dew point within and outside the shelter.  These factors can be altered via campsite and shelter selection.

The most common and obvious way to manage condensation is to reduce the amount of moisture within the shelter.  The number one way to do this is via ventilation and shelter volume.  As these are the methods applicable to single wall tents, pyramids, and tarps, which are in turn of primary interest to the lighter weight traveler, I’ll discuss them in detail later.

R0013183The Sierra Designs Tensegrity, a single wall tent with exceptional ventilation, and thus near ideal condensation control.

Manipulating the dew point is a less obvious, but very effective, way to manage condensation.  It is why double walled tents with fabric inner tents are generally the preferred tool for humid, condensation-prone environments.  At night infrared radiation, collected from the sun during the day, is given off by the earth.  The combination of this and moving air typically results in the outer surface of a tent or tarp being colder than the ambient air temperature.  This means that the outer surface of a shelter often goes below the dew point well before the air at large, and is why condensation on a shelter can often be far more severe than on objects in the immediate vicinity, such as vegetation.  A double walled tent with a solid fabric inner is an excellent example.  The space between the inner and outer holds air in a semi-still state, which creates a modest insulating effect.  This in turn significantly reduces the super-cooling of the outer tent surface, which reduces condensation.

The downside of double wall tents is simple: weight.  While there are several new double walls whose weight approaches or even goes below 2 pounds, these all have such significant compromises that they hold no interest for me.  Fly and floor fabrics with low hydrostatic head, cramped interiors, and all-mesh inners are the most prominent of these.  When design and technology allow for some of the benefits of a fully realized double wall in a light package it will be an appropriate object of excitement.

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R0001564The Seek Outside BT2, a smaller pyramid/tipi which favors weatherproofing over ventilation.

In any shelter the quality and especially quantity of ventilation is with respect to necessity inversely correlated with wind speed.  Truly strong wind circulates air through the shelter whether you like it or not, and makes venting less necessary.  In the top picture of the BT2 we had a steady 25-30 mph wind coming down valley all night, and even with the BT2 zipped tight and M and I both inside, we had no condensation.  Contrast that with the bottom picture, when I slept solo near a creek on a still night with the doors both open a foot at the bottom, and woke to plenty of frost inside.  This is what Seek Outside means when they say the BT2 is optimized for alpine conditions; it is one of the most exceptional wind shedders I’ve ever seen, but in the name of weight and simplicity it has only modest ability to vent, especially when rain protection is necessary at the same time.  Compromises always.

The Tensegrity 2 person lies at the opposite end of the spectrum.  It allows for near 360 degree venting, even during a steady rain.  The doors have fabric covers, but the foot and head are always only mesh, making it a cold tent in a strong wind.  And the big flat panels catch a lot of wind and move a lot, though with sufficient tension the tent is far more stable than one might think.  It has a similar, slightly smaller footprint than the BT2, but much more interior volume and useable headroom.  A great option for mild, warmer, humid weather, but not functional on windy autumn ridges.

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The new High Route tent, which designer Andrew Skurka brought on our recent trip, is somewhere between the BT2 and Tensegrity.  It has a rectangular footprint which is a bit smaller than the Tensegrity 2, and vertical walls which along with two offset trekking pole supports maximizes headroom and interior air space.  Like the Tensegrity, the interior room is hard to believe until you’re inside, and impossible to capture in a photograph.  Andrew and I are both on the tall side of normal, and had generous room for us and our gear.  Thanks to this, and the large vents, we had minimal condensation at the camp pictured above, even though it rained hard for most of the night.  On the other hand, the vertical side walls do catch the wind, as we found out at 4am on our first night out.  40 mph wind and grape size hail had it bowing in plenty, but with good stakes in solid tundra we didn’t seem in imminent danger of reverse defenestration.

Realistically, condensation is a far more frequent and pressing problem for most backpackers than wind resistance.  Insofar as this is the case, designs like the Tensegrity and High Route have a lot to recommend them.  It is easy get preoccupied by worst-case planning, rather than more practical matters.  Sierra Designs have set themselves something of an uphill battle here, which is another reason to recommend them, in addition to build quality which exceeds the competition (Big Agnes, Tarptent) by a considerable margin.  Mids will always have appeal, and are still the ideal quiver of one, but sometimes they are not the best choice.