MSR Missing Link

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Backpacking with a featherweight pack has moved from simply being an obsession of a few fanatics into the mainstream consciousness as a smart goal to work toward -- especially when saving knees and avoiding sore muscles are concerned. There are many ways to lighten a load, and one of the easiest -- at least in terms of shaving pounds rather than ounces -- is by opting for an ultralight tent.

Enter the Missing Link, which shaves weight initially by tossing out the standard poles and opting for utilizing trekking poles, or if you are a paddler, two halves of a kayak paddle or two adjustable canoe paddles. The weight is further shaved by opting for siliconized fabric which is very waterproof, but featherweight, and by opting to rely on single-wall construction. One high vent along the underside of the awning and one low vent along the back wall and just off the floor provide adequate (though not great) ventilation, even when the hatches are battened down in a driving rainstorm. At 3 pounds, this tent is amazingly roomy -- almost the perfect cross between a tarp shelter and a beach tent to ward off mosquitoes and sun.

Setting up the tent is very easy -- but be sure to follow the instructions and stake out the four corners of the floor first, and then add trekking poles (or paddles) and tension out the guy lines by tying to nearby rocks, branches or simply the additional stakes provided. If you follow set-up guidelines, you'll end up, as we did, with a perfectly pitched and taut tent that does not flap around in wind gusts up to 30 mph and sheds water almost as well as the plastic garbage bag pack covers our team tends to rely on.

We were consistently able to set up and take down the tent in under three minutes without rushing, even in a storm -- which is a real plus. Thanks to a generous awning and huge front door, we also found extreme pleasure in sitting inside during a rainstorm, completely dry and yet not feeling closed in while we watched the clouds swirl and hail and raindrops dance off nearby rocks.

Though MSR does not recommend it, we even set up the tent sans trekking poles, by tying out the guy lines and the top two corners of the tent to nearby branches -- very slick. Of course, if there weren't trees around, we'd have been sleeping in a very baggy bivy sack for two.

Now for the one BIG quibble. What's up with no organizer pockets or a mesh attic of some kind to help slumbering companions safely and easily stow items that need quick access but need some level of protection -- like eyeglasses, for example? While one of our testers mentioned they'd like to see a means to close off the mesh ventilation in colder weather, that solution would likely add sufficient weight to take the tent out of the ideal ultralight arena.

SNEWS Rating: 4.5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)

Suggested Retail: $230

For more information: www.msrcorp.com

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