Comfort Zone | Smart Designs for Pleasure and Planet
By Rachel Odell Walker
1: MSR Mutha Hubba
3 person, 3 season | 6 lb. 9 oz. | $400
Sharing this spacious tent with two friends and all your gear becomes a tidy pleasure, thanks to its overhead nets and two wall-length pockets.
2: Mountain Hardwear Helion 2
2 person, 3 season | 3 lb. 6 oz. | $425
Variable-diameter poles and lightweight rain-fly fabric trim ounces, and low-stretch fabric panels along the poles increase this minimalist tent's wind resistance.
3: Black Diamond Bombshelter
4 person, 4 season | 8 lb. 13 oz. | $800
This single-wall behemoth draws strength from its unique interior-pole design. Instead of an external frame, the poles erect the tent from within. With practice, pitching it is a breeze.
4: MSR Carbon Reflex 2
2 person, 3 season | 2 lb. 13 oz. | $500
Featherweight carbon-fiber poles help shave ounces from this award-winning shelter.
5: Big Agnes Copper Spur UL3
3 person, 3 season | 4 lb. 3 oz. | $500
One way to reduce tent weight is to eliminate some poles. Big Agnes's hub-and-spoke system accomplishes this without sacrificing form.
6: Big Agnes Salt Creek 2
2 person, 3 season | 6 lb. 5 oz. | $350
White is the new green in this dye-free tent made of 100 percent recycled polyester and polyester mesh.
7: Sierra Designs Lightning XT 3
3 person, 3 season | 5 lb. 10 oz. | $390
The Lightning XT's hybrid dome-and-tunnel design creates steep walls that maximize usable space. Unique "visor connectors" allow poles to join at 90 degrees, creating innovative shapes.
When you ask most people about feats of human engineering, they'll point to suspension bridges, internal-combustion engines, even espresso machines. I say tents. Wandering through the wilderness suits us as a species; with a well-designed shelter, we can go for weeks.
Spend a night with only a thin wall of fabric between you and a shimmering moon or a howling wolf on a nearby ridge, and your perspective changes--generally for the better. Spend it in a leaky, sagging "shack" during a summer thunderstorm, and you may justifiably swap alpine lakes for a city loft.
"It's all about creating a livable space," says Bill Gamber, cofounder of tent maker Big Agnes. "In the past five years, tents have shaved weight, gotten more spacious, and become easier to pitch."
Minimizing weight while maximizing strength, volume, and durability is a decidedly high-tech task, so it's no surprise that tents are the last big-ticket outdoor-gear item to undergo a green revolution. Most manufacturers now use poles that are anodized (to prevent corrosion) without toxic phosphoric and nitric acid, and some are experimenting with dye-free and recycled fabric--all without sacrificing design.
Sierra evaluated a handful of backpacking tents for comfort, ease of setup, durability, and innovation. We weren't looking for the lightest or the most highly engineered tent. Instead, we wanted to highlight some of the "that is so cool!" features that enhance an overnight adventure.
The process reminded me of my first night backpacking, two weeks after graduating high school, in the Tetons. My companion and I had forgotten the stove's fuel, and dinner consisted of bone-dry tortillas. But from inside our tent pitched at 10,000 feet, we watched bright stars pierce the dusky twilight. As the smoky blue sky turned black, I forgot my growling stomach. Tucked into my little shelter on the edge of the universe, I was nourished.
ON THE WEB What's your idea of a green living or work space? Tell us at sierraclub.org/sierra/shelter.
Photos by Celin Serbo; used with permission.