What about tents?

Now that we have found a pack, suitable for thousands of miles, we may need a tent. Or a tarp. Or a bivi-bag.

During my first trip on the PCT I tested a summer bivi bag in combination with a tarp. Unfortunately, it was already August. I got rid of my summer bivi fast, once we had left Washington. I know now more REI’s than I would like to. REI doesn’t carry the UL stuff. I got a BA Tigerwall. Lots of poles. Too much weight for my application. I had to struggle more than I planned for. It is clearly too wide for some of the camping spots on the PCT. 

And you should sleep at designated camp spots only because of LNT. But I remember sitting in the garage of somebody in Etna and reading the BA catalogue. I met somebody who had a mtnGLO tent but was ashamed to put the light on.

The gold standard for long-distance hiking in 2019 is still the Zpacks Duplex. While this tent fits two persons, it is used by many hikers as a single person tent. Apparently, it is sturdy for its weight. You need trekking poles or Zpacks can sell you two carbon poles. You can even get a special pole set, so the tent becomes reasonably freestanding. This means you don’t need to stake it down in the ground. So far, I had no problems to find stones or tree branches, when the ground was too rocky for stakes.

And my sleep system until now needed many guylines to be more or less rainproof. I had a tarp from a company called Lightwave. They do not mention their tarps on their own website. However, they use Dyneema. On IG they wrote once that they are made out of cuban fiber – cuben fiber was the old name for Dyneema. 

Although I got the two-person version and payed the one-person version, the thing was horrible to get up. In order to get it perfectly above your sleeping position, you need to calculate a lot of things. Place it too low and you have to sneak into your bag like a snake. Hang it too high and the rain will get you. Let one side come down to the ground and you have to prepare yourself to get up in the middle of the night to change everything.

I hung it into trees, I tried to use the natural slope of the ground or to sleep in ditches. In the end I was always more frustrated than happy. I managed well to not take a shower in rain, but it was just a pain. I walk long hours and the last thing I want to do late in the evening is to spend half an hour adjusting my tarp. If I venture out on the AT, this will be even worse, since the AT is known for its rainy days or weeks. I know that a tarp is considered the only acceptable UL thing, but I prefer 100 gr more for bug protection

There are ladies and gentlemen and everything in between like Mr Swami. His comfort zone starts exactly when he shows up at the terminus of a trail with a tarp just a hair longer than a bandana, somehow later in the season and the rangers try to convince him to seek professional advice, because they question his mental state and are almost certain, he plans to end his life in the next snowstorm.

However, something similar happened to me when I asked at the tourist information in south Lake Tahoe for the best way to go back to trail in the evening. They were concerned about stuff like Bears, darkness, the altitude, orientation in the woods and warned me about the battery in my phone, who would eventually die. They never heard about a company called Anker and a technology called power delivery. If they would rant on about entire Cougar packs, who sneak into stores because they like to steal sauce, so they can later use it with certain meat, I would maybe have said something. 

Tarps offer no bug protection. There are XUL people who claim to sleep with an umbrella and a minimal bug net. How do they change their clothes? Yes, I can change my trousers in my sleeping bag. It makes as much sense as carrying a Coleman stove as counterweight. Therefore, I need some kind of bugbivi. Or an extremely lightweight tent.

On the PCT I also tested a more robust bivi bag from Outdoor Research. It weighs as much as a tent. And it is really uncomfy to sleep. You get wet from condensation or you need to have it open. It is really stupid.

Zpacks makes also one-person tents. Unfortunately, in 2019 the newly introduced Plexamid had a mayor design flaw. In order to make the tent roomier they put rods in its peak. They break. They did run an impressive test program before introducing it. It wasn’t enough and they had to drop the tent from their lineup temporarily. The look and feel of Zpacks tents after 1800 miles at the end of California on the PCT wasn’t that great either. Many hikers had to repair their tents with Gorilla tape.

Already in 2018, I wished for a Big Agnes Tent made with Dyneema and I explored the possibility to have one tuned up. It wasn’t extremely cheap, but I will benefit from this know-how eventually.

Now it is 2019 and BA released a bunch of it. They took their existing Fly Creek and Tiger Wall Designs and replaced the aluminum poles with carbon ones. The materials of floors and rainflies got replaced with Dyneema. They are called like their sisters just with the addition “carbon”. Since they feature carbon fiber poles.

These are not tension tents. All existing Dyneema tents on the market so far needed tension to stand upright. With Big Agnes the tension just keeps the rainfly in place or with the Tiger Wall the roof spread out.

According to one of the gods of hiking in the US, his highness Andrew Skurka, the design has a mayor flaw. They used way too thin Dyneema for his liking. It is thinner than what all the others use for their tension tents.

He has tested a Dyneema Tiger Wall. It ripped. Therefore, he calls these tents stupid light. Maybe he is just sour because BA didn’t listen to him? 

Skurkas own life depended on his gear as he was taking a longer stroll through the arctic in summer. The kind of hike where you have to get somebody to airdrop your food, as there is still no McDonalds (Mr Trump now wants to cut down half of the forest there, so I guess the McDonalds problem will be solved soon. Thank you, Mr President!)

He has a lot of experience with all kind of gear, more than almost anybody else. He is a professional hiker and guide but maybe you better don’t show up on his trips with a BA carbon tent. You can’t disguise it as a Zpacks tent as Mr Skurka knows the designs in his sleep and he can tell the thickness of Dyneema from 10 feet away.

At the moment no other production tent on the planet offers double walls, integrated poles and this kind of real estate with this weight. Maybe you can tweak the poles further, but the weight savings will no longer be substantial.

The poles are made by a company with the name Easton. They make all kinds of carbon things. Arrows for hunting or bike wheels and entire bike frames. They kind of know what they are doing, and I expect the poles to be as robust as their aluminum counter parts.

There is a company called Tarptent. The tents they make are a work of art. Sewn in the USA by a capable crew, the designers are not just experimenting with a CAD program they installed two minutes ago. 

Their tents are highly sought after and to get one in Europe is difficult – most of the time they are out of stock. Tarptent is somehow like Pa’lante in tents. Their seams are however stitched, not welded. In newer tents they are taped, older ones you need to seam seal. Maybe my know-how as a painter wasn’t exactly on point but I remember sealing the seams of my tarp. It wasn’t a great experience.

The seams of the Carbon series BA are welded. They used stitching to put the zippers in place although the zipper on the rain fly is glued in.

The tent costs almost exactly as much as a monthly rent for me. Therefore, I am obliged to spend at least two months per year on the outside in the future and pay no rent in this time.

Unfortunately, the concept of BA carbon tents has little credit with outdoorsy people at the moment. On a German forum, the verdict is clear: A nice tent for the design museum but dangerous to use in the outdoors. They expect it to melt in the slightest rain. 

I guess if so, I would ask BA to produce a thicker rain fly but without zipper, simply with overlapping doors. This would hopefully compensate the heavier weight of the thicker Dyneema.

Now I don’t expect them to just sit behind their desk and to be ready to fulfill the wishes of just somebody in an exotic location like Switzerland.

But I will handle the tent with as much care as possible and if it fails on me, it will fail on many others as well. If they still will not move in time, I will simply pirate their design and reuse whatever is still in working order from their original tent. We have the ETH near by, they are somehow capable over there and have access to the craziest materials.