For nearly 10 years, I've been testing and reviewing tents for Backpacker's annual rite of spring. The 2015 compendium included 16 tent reviews, as well as sidebars on industry innovators and trends, spanning 15 pages. Click here to browse the entire section.
[light and roomy]
NEMO Equipment Blaze 1P
Why We Like It Solo tents sometimes feel coffin-tight, but this nonfreestanding, double-wall dome is supremely livable.
>Comfort In order to get a weight solo hikes 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 84-inch floor fit his extra-long sleeping pad with room to spare, and the extra floor space along the sides (width is 30 inches) let him store a headlamp and clothes alongside his bag.
>Setup The Blaze has a fussier pitch than some nonfreestanding 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.
>Vestibule The 6-square-foot vesti provides ample space for a stove and boots, but storing a pack there blocks the door.
>Weather protection It proved stable and quiet in 30-mph gusts on New York’s Finger Lakes Trail.
>Durability Though the Blaze held up well during testing, the 7-denier fabrics (10-denier on the floor) call for careful handling and site selection.
>$370; 1 lb. 12 oz.; nemoequipment.com
Why We Like It This lightweight dome comes with built-in LED lighting.
>Illumination Strings of lights line the canopy’s seams at the head of the tent: Flip the switch and the lights come on, just like at home. “We loved the romantic ambiance during our honeymoon in Rocky Mountain National Park,” reports one newlywed. Lights run on three AAA batteries or any USB-equipped battery pack and add negligible weight—which is why we gave the innovation our Editors’ Choice Award (see page 18).
>Livability Thanks to all-mesh walls and two fly vents, the interior stayed condensation-free on 28°F nights in the Sierras. And it feels roomier than you’d expect, given the smallish 27-square-foot floor. Credit the near-vertical walls, a 40-inch peak height, and broader dimensions at the head than the foot Gear stows tidily in the two 9-square-foot vestibules.
>Weather protection Two days of hard rain in Colorado’s San Luis Valley couldn’t penetrate the Rattlesnake, thanks to its taut pitch and protective drip line (unzipping the vestibule doesn’t divert water through the opened door onto the tent floor).
>$350; 3 lbs., 9 oz.; bigagnes.com
Trending: Wispy Fabrics
A few years ago, most tents used 75-denier fabrics (ultralight models got away with 40-denier materials). But denier—an indicator of thread thickness—is decreasing. Forty denier is the new average, and lighter tents now use 10- and 15-denier fabrics. Are today’s tents less durable? Not exactly, says NEMO’s Tom Bath.
“Denier was nevcer a foolproof measure of a fabric’s durability,” he says, “but it’s even less significant now.”
Newer, stronger nylons and weaves let manufacturers use thinner fibers while maintaining the fabric’s resistance to rips and punctures. The trade-off is long-term waterproofness: Lower-denier fabrics can’t tolerate thick waterproof coatings as well as higher-denier materials. “Tear strength goes down as coating thickness goes up,” says Bath. Whereas 40-denier fabrics remain tear-resistant under a 3,000mm coating, 15-denier fabrics become prone to rips unless they’re coated with a thinner, 1,000mm coating. “That’s plenty initially,” says Bath. “But over time, abrasion wears away the coating.”
Bottom line: You still have to coddle low-denier fabrics a bit to prolong their water-resistance. And once you start to see fabric wetting out, treat it with a product like Nikwax Tent & Gear Proof (nikwax.com).