My Tents

Eureka clone of Sierra Design Flashlight

The first tent I bought (around 1984) was made by Eureka! and was a clone of the Sierra Designs Flashlight. The tent is a 3 season design, nominally fits 2 people, and has 2 aluminum poles which form 'hoops' consisting of straight tubing and tubing with sharp bends. The tent is not free-standing, and has a separate inner tent and flysheet, one door, and one window. The tent cost around $100, and weighs around 4 lbs. This design is perhaps the most popular tent design, because it is simple, light, and cheap. Since I am 5'11", I pretty much fill the tent by myself. With one person, there is plenty of room for gear. With two people, they had better be pretty friendly, and leave anything bigger than a bread-box outside. The tent is not designed for severe weather.

Sierra Design Super-Bivy tent

This is a single-walled, single person bivy-sack. The tent is made out of 'hocus-pocus', a waterproof breathable fabric specific to SD. It is a tricky polyurethane coating, I believe. There is 1 fiberglass pole, which forms a hoop near your head. The tent is freestanding. The retail price when I got mine, around 1990 was $150, and it weighs around 18 oz. The fiberglass pole segments are solid, and there are aluminum sleeves at some ends (epoxied on), which are used to connect the segments. The aluminum sleeves are straight. This is a bad design, because the pole is curved, and must become straight when it joins the sleeve. This creates quite a bit of stress where the sleeve ends. This will break fibers of the pole, eventually leading to pole failure. I estimate 100 useful days until failure. My poles failed, and I sent them to SD, who replaced them. There is room inside to store boots and perhaps a water bottle. For the minimalist.

The North Face VE-24

For many years this tent was the standard expedition tent. The tent is a 4 season design, fits 2 people and their gear, and has 4 aluminum poles which form 'hoops' that cross each other, forming a 'geodesic' dome. There are two short poles which can help form an awning over the door. The tent is free-standing, and has a separate inner tent and flysheet, one door, and two snow-tunnels (newer tents have 2 doors and no snow tunnels), which also serve as windows. The tent cost around $550, and weighs around 9 lbs. The tent is designed for severe weather. When it rains, the flysheet becomes loose. The only way to tighten it, is to go outside and remove the webbing that attaches the flysheet to the pole, and to reattach it on a tighter grommet. This is not easy, nor quick, as there are 6 poles. I think the newer TNF tents have a webbing tensioner. I know the REI Geo-Dome tents I have have webbing tensioners, which are much superior to these grommets. If the awning is up when it rains, and you exit the tent bumping the awning, you will get soaked with (often cold) water. This tent uses a conventional pole design, which uses much of the strength of the pole in bending them 180 degrees. This tent also uses a conventional inner porous wall and outer non-porous wall. This will keep you warm, but if it becomes humid, the inner wall gets soaked, and there is no easy way to dry it. Given the price and the weight, the tent is IMO not very desirable.

Recreational Equipment Inc Geo-Dome 2

The REI tent is a 4 season design, fits 2 people and their gear, and has 4 aluminum poles which form 'hoops' that cross each other, forming a 'geodesic' dome. It is very similar to the VE-24, although made of slightly less expensive materials. There are two long straight poles which form awnings over the doors. The tent is free-standing, and has a separate inner tent and flysheet, and two doors, which also serve as windows. The tent cost around $250, and weighs around 8.5 lbs. The tent is designed for severe weather. The worst feature of the tent is the pole sleeves are nylon mesh. It is very easy to poke a hole through the mesh with the pole if great care is not taken. This tent has adjustable webbing on the flysheet so the flysheet can be tensioned when it becomes wet, and loose. You must go outside to do this, but it is vastly superior to my old VE-24. This tent uses a conventional pole design, which uses much of the strength of the pole in bending them 180 degrees. This tent also uses a conventional inner porous wall and outer non-porous wall. This will keep you warm, but if it becomes humid, the inner wall gets soaked, and there is no easy way to dry it. It is much more reasonably priced than the VE-24. Still, it is very heavy for a real 2 person tent. I got mine very cheaply...

Recreational Equipment Inc Geo-Dome 4

The REI tent is a 4 season design, fits 4 people and some gear, and has 4 aluminum poles which form 'hoops' that cross each other, forming a 'geodesic' dome. It is very similar to the VE-24, although made of slightly less expensive materials. There are two long straight poles which form awnings over the doors. The tent is free-standing, and has a separate inner tent and flysheet, and two doors, which also serve as windows. The tent cost around $350, and weighs around 14 lbs. The tent is not designed for severe weather, due to weak poles. For a tent this size, the poles should be of a larger diameter (which would make them stronger). The poles are roughly the same size as the poles on the Geo-Dome 2, which either makes that tent strong, or this tent weak. The worst feature of the tent is the pole sleeves are nylon mesh. It is very easy to poke a hole through the mesh with the pole if great care is not taken. This tent has adjustable webbing on the flysheet so the flysheet can be tensioned when it becomes wet, and loose. You must go outside to do this, but it is vastly superior to my old VE-24. This tent uses a conventional pole design, which uses much of the strength of the pole in bending them 180 degrees. This tent also uses a conventional inner porous wall and outer non-porous wall. This will keep you warm, but if it becomes humid, the inner wall gets soaked, and there is no easy way to dry it. It is much more reasonably priced than the VE-24. This tent is not very heavy, if 4 people are going to be using it. Still, it will not stand up to severe conditions. I got mine very cheaply...

Stephenson's Warmlite 2R and 3R

The best tents are made by Jack Stephenson of Stephenson Warmlite Equipment. For context, I used to own an Eureka! clone of the Sierra Designs Flashlight. I now own a Windy Pass (by The North Face) clone of the VE-24. It is basically the same as the VE-24, but made overseas. I also own a Sierra Designs super-bivy. Being a sierra club leader, I see many different types of tents.

Jack has some unusual ideas about quality control and customer service. Here are some letters between him and me, that should be read before anyone considers buying his products.

Stephenson tents are very warm, light, strong, and expensive. I own a 2R tent, with the optional end-liners and side windows. It weighs 3 lbs 9 oz. Without the end liners and windows, it weights 2 lbs 15 oz. It has 42 square feet of floor space. It will withstand winds up to 150 MPH. The narrowest part where one might put a sleeping bag is 4 feet wide, and the widest part is 5 feet wide. There are storage areas at both ends of the tent. I also have a Stephenson 3R tent with the optional end-liners and side windows. It weighs 4 lbs 15 oz (or so). Without the end liners and windows it weighs 3lbs 15 oz. It has 52 square feet of floor space.

Stephenson also makes a 5 person tent. It is somewhat heavier than mine, and more expensive.

Stephenson tents are made very unconventionally. They are all roughly a half cylindrical shape, with conical ends. The two person tent has one end smaller than the other, the others are symmetrical. The two person tent has one door, the 3 and 5 person tents have 2, one at each end. All tents have 2 poles, one near each end. The poles are 5/8 inches in diameter, and are pre-bent 7001 aluminum. This makes a very rigid, and strong pole. The small pole of the 2 person tent is 3/8 inches in diameter. Most competitors poles are straight. Bending a straight pole 'uses up' much of the poles strength. The thicker in diameter a pole is, the stiffer it becomes. Stephenson's poles are thicker in diameter than any other poles I have seen.

The tents come in several variations. The standard one is a double wall. There are ultralight versions that are single walled. The walls are made of non-porous ripstop nylon. This provides an air gap inside the tent which traps warm air. The outside of the inner wall is aluminized to reflect heat.

Most other manufacturers build tents with inner porous walls. This is a bad idea, because if there is some moisture either from you, or from rain, the porous fabric will get soaked with water. Now it is non-porous. Worse, if you touch it, you will get wet. Also most tents rely on the porous fabric for ventilation. When wet, there is no ventilation. When you pack the tent, everything gets wet and stays that way. Also if it is cold, the wet fabric will freeze.

Stephenson gets around these problems by incorporating a very nice venting system and using non-porous fabric. The vents work in still air, with dry air entering at the bottom, and moist air exiting at the top of the tent. If there is any condensation, it will be on the inner wall, and it can be easily removed.

The doors are placed so that opening it will not weaken the tent, and so they can be opened and closed easily when the tent is properly tensioned. Even though the tent is light weight, all high stress areas are reinforced. The tent tension can be adjusted from inside the tent, so if it rains and the nylon stretches a little bit, you can take up the slack. The tents are not free-standing, and must be staked. The 2 person takes 3 stakes, and the 3 and 5 person take 4 stakes. This is not a big deal, since all tents should be staked to deal with wind. Stephenson has a small catalog, and they have a video tape for around $10, showing their products. Since they are naturalists, they have 2 versions of the tape, the 'clean natural' one and the one for repressed people.

Stephenson has changed some things since I bought my tent. The tents are now made with a silicone coated nylon, which is lighter, stronger, more durable, less bulky, and more UV resistant than polyurethane coatings. It is also much more slippery. Dirt tends not to stick to it. Neither does anything else, except silicone glue. The door now has a zipper that forms a 'U' around the door. This probably makes it easier to get in or out of the tent. It is easy enough with the doors on the tents that I have. The vent at the top of the door seems to be a big bigger than my vent. The oddest thing, is there is now mesh for a vent that runs along the ground on the ends of the tent. If you were in a wet area, the water would likely get inside the tent. I am baffled by this feature.

Warning: Tents and water

Tents and water do not get along.
I have found no seam-sealer that lasts more than a few years. So be prepared to re seam-seal your tent every few years.

What is much worse, is putting away a tent wet. I knew this. I always dried my tents before I put them away. I screwed up once, with my Stephenson 2R. I have very carefully and throughly cleaned it in my tub with soap and water. There is extensive damage. Several square feet of the top as well as the bottom has had the water-resistant coating severely weakened. In spots, the color of the fabric has faded significantly. Now I have decided whenever a tent is not totally and completely dry to erect it and let it sit for a week or so to make for-sure for-sure that it is totally dry. I think that Stephenson uses a slightly different type of water-resistant coating. I wonder if it is more susceptible to mildew or other water damage?

Tent Stakes

You will usually need to stake down your tent. Even freestanding tents need to be staked down to avoid rolling away in wind. I have seen it happen too many times. The best (and most expensive) tent stakes I know about are made by Black Diamond. About $1.50 each. I have a bunch. They used to be available in two lengths and different colors. Not 100% indestructable, but close enough.

I also have a bunch of Easton aluminum tent stakes. They look like an oversized nail and are made of hollow aluminum. They can work in loose soil, but if you find a rock, you will likely break or crush the stake.

The metal wire stakes that come with most tents are 99.9% useless and should be discarded. They are cheap, low weight and low volumn. They also have little holding power, and will bend easily.

I haven't used the Reliance Power Peg (plastic T shaped stakes), but I have seen a picture of one driven through a piece of plywood. Worth considering.

Of course if you are camping on snow, a snow picket, ice axe, SMC T-Anchor, or perhaps the REI Snow and Sand tent anchor is needed. Anything less is worse than useless.

If you have comments or suggestions, Email me at turbo-www@weasel.com

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