Pole position: 2014 tents and shelters go light in a myriad of ways

Tents for 2014 are shedding weight beyond just fabrics. New pole technology and designs are bucking the conventional cross-pole look.

Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show July 31 – Aug. 3. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

This time around, it isn’t just featherweight fabrics making tents lighter.

New pole technologies and a better use of tension to create strength and structure are helping shelters shed ounces.

Some manufacturers are taking advantage of the weight savings to expand space for consumers — giving them more head and shoulder room, with two-person tents that actually fit two people. Others are going all out, continuing the battle for the lightest tent ever made. In between, there are some challenges to tent norms that could either be forbearers or flops.

Easton Mountain Products’ debuts its Syclone tent pole technology, which aims to solve the downfalls of carbon poles (cost) and aluminum poles (bending) with a composite material that claims to be 80 percent more resilient to failure than aluminum, plus flexes further than carbon. The best news: They’re no more expensive than aluminum poles. “We think will have a wider impact on the market than even carbon, because of the affordability,” said Rich Packer, sales manager for Easton. The new poles are featured in the Easton Slickrock 2P and 3P tents (MSRPs $299/$350) with an asymmetrical pole design to maximize internal living space.


At Brooks-Range Mountaineering, designers are targeting the fundamental engineering of tents to achieve lower loads — replacing pole strength and structure (along with the accompanying weight) with more tension support in the sub-3-pound Tension 30 (MSRP $420) and just-above-3-pound Tension 40 (MSRP $460). The resulting unconventional structure still provides good space up top in the canopy. Another roomy non-freestanding tent is Sierra Designs’Flashlight 2 UL (MSRP $360), which employs a hybrid single/double wall construction to drop the weight to 2 pounds, 15.5 ounces.


More brands are abandoning poles all together with a new breed of shelters that use old-fashioned tarp techniques and trekking poles coupled with modern tent-like amenities and ease of setup. Sea to Summit’s 15-denier Ulta-Sil Nano Escapist Tarp (MRSPs $169, 9.5 ounces, medium/$199, 12.3 ounces, large) can be coupled with the Escapist Mesh Inner Net or Tent (MSRPs $79/$199) for a more tent-like experience. Big Agnes expands its trekking pole offerings by adding vestibule space to last show’s popular Scout Series in the new Scout Plus UL (MSRP $350) and Super Scout UL2 (MSRP $400). Since two backpackers equals four trekking poles, Nemoboosts the lightweight livability in its Veda 2P (MSRP $430) by employing all four trekking poles for more room.


With traditional aluminum- and carbon-pole tents, several brands are rethinking the standards, not so much to save weight, but to increase function. Mountain Hardwear’s (#26001) Optic Tent 2.5 (MSRP $240) has two doors, but not where you’d expect — one is on the side, and other is next door on the end. This creates an open, 180-degree, wide-angle view, explained Robert Fry, director of product merchandising. While weighing in at a moderate 5 pounds, 13 ounces, the tent is designed for 2.5 people, so a child, a dog or extra gear is welcome.


Only a year after debuting its Flash 2 tent and even winning a Backpacker Editor’s Choice Award for it, Sierra Designsreworks the product to match its brand overhaul, where pretty much the entire lineup was scrapped and rebuilt. The updated Flash 2 UL for 2014 (MSRP $400) features a different take on vestibules, putting them on the vertical ends, separate from the two doors on the horizontal ends. “That way, you’re not climbing over your gear on every entry and exit,” explained Sierra Designs Product Manager Casey Sumnicht. Campers still can access the new vestibules from inside the tent through small zippered windows, leaving the doors unencumbered with an awning and a zip-up window if it storms.


Kelty’s TraiLogic Tent series (MSRPs $250, 2-person/$300 3-person) stands out for its “Stargazing Fly” that quickly can slide between halfway off to fully on, without the user exiting the tent. Also of note, the accompanying wider and thinner rectangle-shaped stuff sack allows the tent to fit better in a pack. Eureka (Johnson Outdoors #26027) also innovates with its E!!uminate system, reflective panels that bounce light from lantern or headlamp down to the floor for three times the brightness in several of its new tents, such as the Taron Basecamp 4 and 6 (MSRP $319/$399).


Lighting is also why showgoers will see a lot more neutral colors in tents, especially up top on the fly. “It allows more natural light to come through,” said Dale Karacostas, divisional director of shelters at Cascade Designs. That’s why, in addition to being considerably lighter, the redesigned MSRHubba Hubba series sports light silver rainflies. Brand new to the lineup is the Papa Hubba NX (MSRP $600), a four-person tent weighing about 6 pounds.


In family tents, and even to some extent in backpacking tents, the current question is: “Where do I put the iPad?” Brands have succumbed to the fact that campers are bringing their larger-screen electronics outdoors, choosing to watch the Hollywood stars at night instead of the real ones up above.

“The kids are going to bring them,” said Mark Hrubant, senior brand director of consumer camping for Eureka parent Johnson Outdoors. “You might as well make yourself contemporary.” To oblige, Eureka added a clear, touchscreen-friendly tablet sleeve in its new family tents, including the Sunrise Series (MSRPs $199-$299). The pocket sits about a foot off the ground for viewing while lying down. At The North Face, designers couldn’t decide whether people would watch movies while lying down on their stomachs or backs, or sitting up, so they added three tablet pockets at the corresponding levels. “We also had to figure out the right mesh so you can see an iPad through it,” said Andrew Coutant, director of equipment at The North Face. Big Agnes lets consumers put the tablet where they want in the tent, designing the Entertainment Gear Loft, an accessory that can be clipped in place via four gear loft loops.


Brands are trying to appeal to entry-level backpackers by positioning a value story in tents. During the past couple of years, lightweight materials have brought weights down, but prices up. “These 10-, 15-, 20-denier fabrics take a longer time for mills to produce because of the smaller fibers, driving the cost up,” Karacostas at MSR said. “But as more apparel brands get into the market with these fabrics, they have larger scale, helping bring the price down.”

So expect to see more entry-level lightweight deals with fast-and-easy setup features like MSR’s Elixir 2 and 3 (MSRPs $250/$300), which weigh in under 5 and 6 pounds, respectively; Nemo’s Galaxi 2P (MSRP $249) at 4 pounds, 14 ounces; and The North Face’s Stormbreak 2 (MSRP $159) at 5 pounds, 5 ounces. Marmot keeps the price and weight low, but the durability high with its new Stormlight series of tents (MSRPs $299, 2-person; 4 pounds, 13 ounces/$349, 3-person; 5 pounds, 14 ounces). The fly employs sonic welding at the seams to increase waterproofness and a new solution dye polyurethane is blended into the filament to retain more fabric strength over time. “We left it on the roof of our office for nine months and it still looked and functioned great,” said the company’s public relations manager, Jordan Campbell.


Outdoor retailers also are seeing returning servicemen and women requesting the same durable and sturdy tents they had in the battlefield for the campground. Hence Eureka introduces its Down Range tents (MSRPs $189, solo / $299, 2-person), which are based on its U.S. Armed Forces and Marine combat tents.


--David Clucas

Put a light on it!
If you’re a fan of the comedy sketch show “Portlandia,” you might remember the “put a bird on it” episode, in which the characters put a bird on everything to instantly make it look cool.

All of a sudden, tent stakes just got cool — not because of birds, but because brands are putting small LED lights on them. The novel idea helps campers avoid tripping or stubbing their toes around tent, and numerous brands seem to have had the idea at the same time. We’ve found three on the show floor in our first pass, and suspect there are more. For now, it’s Industrial Revolution’s UCO StakeLight (MSRP $5.99), Wilmar Corp.’s Light Metal Tent Stake (MSRP $2.49), and Coghlan’s LED Nail Pegs (MSRP $5.99).




Unzipped in the backcountry

Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show July 31 – Aug. 3. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to ...read more


Gear trends: Shell jackets for 2014/15

Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2014 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 21 – 25. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update ...read more