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SNEWS readers hear about the latest and greatest new gear long before it ever hits retail shelves. But which products actually live up to the manufacturer’s lofty promises?
In the fourth installment of our new series, Tested, we partner with our sister brand and the gear pros at BACKPACKER to bring you field reviews of 2015 in-line shell SKUs that are selling to consumers now.
MSR Flylite 1P
What SNEWS said then: MSR shaves off ounces with tension and trekking poles in its FlyLite (MSRP $350) tent, weighing in at a scant 1 pound, 9 ounces. Four, awning-covered vents promote airflow in the single-wall construction, and a vertical-wall design provides ample head and elbow room. [October 2014]
BACKPACKER’s verdict: This sub-2-pounder is a legit option for couples who want a wicked-light shelter for moderate conditions. The 29-square-foot floor is a standard two-person size, and the 44-inch peak height offers plenty of headroom. But it lacks a vestibule, so in extended rain it works best as a solo shelter, as you’ll need to store gear inside. Sleeping alone with a pack and boots stashed next to him, our tester called the space “lavish.” … And it’s a surprisingly uncomplicated pitch for a trekking-pole shelter: Simply position the pole’s grip into the awning above the front door, extend the pole until the fabric is taut, then repeat on the other corner. “I had this tent up in 30 seconds on my first try,” reports one tester. [April 2015]
NEMO Equipment Blaze 1P / 2P
What SNEWS said then: The Nemo Equipment Blaze 2P (MSRP $450) presents a more traditional-looking and functioning x-pole tent, until closer inspection reveals there’s just a single main pole for two corners, while the other two are staked out to complete the structure in this non-freestanding design. The result: A two-person tent at just 2 pounds without compromising space and luxuries, like two doors. Plus it’s a much more familiar set-up than trekking pole tents. [October 2014]
BACKPACKER’s verdict (which reviewed the 1P version): In order to get to a weight solo hikers will carry—less than 2 pounds—most double-wall solo tents sacrifice space, meaning low ceilings or cramped interiors. The Blaze bucks the trend by using ultralight fabrics and an innovative design that requires only a single arched pole from end to end. Result: The large side door provides contortion-free access, and the 40-inch peak height let our 6-footer sit up comfortably…The Blaze has a fussier pitch than some non-freestanding tents. The single hubbed pole bows diagonally across the tent with a short brow pole that supports the walls. The design provides more end-to-end headroom than hoop-style shelters, but we had to run back and forth, adjusting the stakes (or rocks) to tension the opposite corners and remove wrinkles in the floor. [April 2015]
The North Face Triarch 2P / 3P
What SNEWS said then: The North FaceTriarch 3’s (MSRP $470) dome gets pulled out in every direction for more room at all levels of the tent. Also to note is the use of multi-toned mesh in this and in other tents at Summer Market. White and gray mesh is being used in areas where campers want more privacy (it reflects more light, making it less see-through from afar) while dark mesh is placed in areas such as the roof for maximum star viewing. [October 2014]
BACKPACKER’s verdict (which reviewed the 2p version):We rarely see such strong pole geometry in a tent this light. The stable configuration (with poles supporting all four corners and the ceiling) and taut pitch proved impressively solid in 35-mph winds in Utah’s Dirty Devil canyon. Below 25 mph, the Triarch 2 offered quiet, flap-free refuge—even when testers didn’t bother to stake out auxiliary guylines. An effective drip line (using near-vertical side walls) keeps rain out when the door is open. The 50-inch width and 43-inch peak height feel spacious for sub-6-footers (taller testers were limited by the sloping walls that compromise the 84-inch floor length). The triangular doors extend all the way to the brow pole, making getting in and out easier. Two 7-square-foot vestibules shelter boots, packs, and a compact kitchen while keeping the zipper within easy reach from inside. [April 2015]
Mountain Hardwear Optic 6P
What SNEWS said then: Mountain Hardwear sticks its toe into family camping with a 6-person version (MSRP $399) of last year’s Optic tent, with two doors on an adjoining side and end of the tent for wide-open views. [October 2014]
BACKPACKER’s verdict: With an 86-square-foot floor and 75-inch peak height, this freestanding double-wall is huge in every way. Six-footers can stand up inside without ducking, and six sleepers enjoy plenty of elbow room. Doors on adjoining (rather than opposite) sides create fantastic views when the fly’s rolled back. “Sitting inside on a drizzly night, we watched the sunset over Lake Dinosaur,” says a Colorado tester. Two vestibules (17 and 9 square feet) are just big enough for packs and boots (one group stored all gear in one, keeping the other door free for exits). Parallel zippers on the smaller vestibule let it convert to a porch-style awning supported by trekking poles. Weighty and bulky when packed (think carry-on suitcase), this shelter is best for basecamping, paddling, and short-mileage trips. However, by divvying the fly, poles, and tent body, we found it a realistic substitute for three two-person shelters. [April 2015]