Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Pulling the Trigger on a New Tent


 Lightening a backpack should include methodology as much as material. At 71, I am as old as some of the rock layers you find at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. In the realm of backpacking, I come from the age of “canvas and canned goods.” They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but that is not true in my case. To extend my long-distance hiking years I have eased into the ideas of “Ultralight” to some degree. I’m a gear-head, gram-weenie, long-trail addict, that reads every new gear review and follows well-produced YouTube Channels. 


But, I’m a hard sell. I’ve spent too many nights in extreme conditions to fall for some false prophet on the internet who is tent reviewing in the backyard, or stove testing in the kitchen. 

As much as I appreciate many of the cottage industry products and designs that have enabled decent shelters to tip the scale under a pound, I haven’t been able to bring myself to pull the trigger and buy one.

I have been a long time Hilleberg fan. I have been using their products for the past twenty years. Most of that time using the Akto which tipped the scale at just under 4 lbs. Five years ago I switched to the Enan. Mine is one of the originals using 600 Kerlon. It comes in at 37 ounces the way I use it. That includes the outer tent, inner tent, 6 pegs, and center pole. There have been a couple of nights I wished I had the two-pole guy outs and pegs, but the tent survived the blow and kept me warm and dry without them.

Never say never. Being a hopeless gear-head, I can’t help myself from watching YouTube reviews of Dyneema tents. I like the Zpacks Altaplex. Tipping the scale at under 20 oz. it seems well designed. Experience is my problem. I have witnessed many trekking pole tents blown down along the PCT, while I slept through the whole wind event. To save a pound of tent carry I would give up double-wall warmth, zippered vestibule, low profile, and narrow footprint. I often stealth camp and would also give up my dark, forest green silnylon. A lot of new hikers do not realize how often and difficult it is to find a large enough tent site to park your gear for the night. 

In my case, I often hike until dark and deal with a limited choice of tent sites. A small tent footprint gives more options to late hikers. The zipper-less vestibule allows wind to penetrate the tent and cause it to fail. You can watch all the YouTubes you want, but you will not realize the power of wind until you spend all night a ripstop away from chaos. Any tent I carry will have zippered openings. 

Some would argue that there is little difference between a single and double-walled tent. I beg to differ. As crazy as it sounds, I can feel a huge temperature drop when I reach out into my vestibule in the middle of the night. I also notice a huge difference in being able to keep condensation at bay using a double-walled tent.  

At this point, water management will be a better way to save weight than buying a new $600 tent. That’s right, we are talking about a half-liter of water. That is the difference between my proven bomb shelter tent and one of the new Dyneema models floating around the backpacking world.

Recently, Tarptent has introduced a tent that seems to check all the boxes for me. There may just be a new tent in my future. It is called the Notch LI. It is almost a knockoff of my Enan using Dyneema and trekking poles instead of Kerlon and 9mm center pole.

It comes in at about 22 ounces, is double-walled, low profile, dual vestibule with waterproof zipper openings, small footprint, double-end ventilation, and easy setup. 

If you are looking for a more spacious tent there are better options. Personally, I eat, sleep, hike. I do not need a Taj Mahal when I stop for the day. 

So, the bottom line for me is the reliability of Dyneema. It seems like a very interesting material that I should experiment with before I pass any judgment through inexperience. I would guess that a Dyneema tent will not take the beating that my Hilleberg Kerlon has. 

The only problem I have had with tents in the past 60 years of backpacking have involved critters. Mostly guy lines chewed by rodents during the night. But, there have been other situations. I have had rodents chew the actual tent and pack material, I have had a bear stick his head through my closed zippered vestibule, and I have had raccoons claw and puncture my fly material. These are situations you cannot predict, but you can prepare for. 

No matter what shelter option you choose, be as careful as possible with site selection and carry a few repair items. My first night on the PCT I slept near an underpass about 24 miles up the trail. It was close to the road, but a little forested area with a soft duff ground cover. I thought it was the perfect tent site. In the middle of the night, I woke up and my NeoAir XLite pad was completely deflated. Beneath the soft forest duff was an ancient barbed wire fence hidden by time and debris. During the night it worked its way through my tent bathtub floor and into my pad, leaving an L-shaped gash in both. Carrying a bit of repair tape and patch material will solve these unforeseen circumstances and keep you making forward motion.