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North Face Minibus 23 Review

   

Backpacking Tents

  • Currently 3.1/5
Overall avg rating 3.1 of 5 based on 3 reviews. Most recent review: May 30, 2013
Street Price:   $360
Pros:  Very spacious, gigantic vestibules.
Cons:  Very weak, heavy, complicated.
Best Uses:  Car camping in well protected forested areas or indoors.
User Rating:     
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 (5.0 of 5) based on 2 reviews
Recommendations:  100% of reviewers (2/2) recommend this product
Manufacturer:   North Face
Review by: Chris McNamara ⋅ Founder and Editor-in-Chief, OutdoorGearLab ⋅ December 26, 2012  
Overview
This tent is currently unavailable for purchase online. It is unclear if The North Face has discontinued this model or not. We recommend you check out our Backpacking Tent Review to see how the Minibus compares to the dozens of other tents we've tested. Specifically, we urge you to consider the REI Half Dome 2.

Our full review of the Minibus 23 is below if you happen to find one for sale or it becomes available online again.

Although North Face Minibus 23 is made with good quality poles and fabrics its deign is ludicrously unstable and weak. It's not suitable for serious three-season storms. But the tent is incredibly spacious and comfortable. It's best for mostly car camping and occasional backpacking.

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  • Photos
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review

Likes
The North Face Minibus 23 is the largest and most spacious tent tested in this category. While some may consider this a backpacking tent its design and construction are closer to that of a family car camping tent. It’s winderfully gigantic for two people. The Minibus uses four high quality poles: two run parallel the length of the tent while two shorter poles lie perpendicular on top of the longer ones. From above, the pole structure looks like a tic-tac-toe box. It gives the tent vertical walls and a tall, slightly bowed roof. Inside, you can sleep three cozy people or sit up to five comfortably. Six pockets make stashing belongings a breeze, and a large polyurethane window makes checking the weather effortless. The vestibules, one for each door, are enormous. A small person could sleep in each one. Critically, the tent is 92" long and gives people over six feet tall plenty of space to lay down. The Minibus 23 is the most livable tent tested in this category.

Dislikes
The Minibus 23 is designed for those who primarily car camp and occasionally go on multi-day backpacking trips. The tent’s package is reasonably sized but heavy (6.75lbs). it weighs two and a half times as much as the lightest two door tent tested here, and weighs nearly four times as much as the lightest tent tested here.

By chopping the end off two poles North Face added interior space while minimizing additional weight gain. The tent is unstable in high winds because the cross poles don’t touch the ground and are attached by two plastic clips; the poles snap in AND out easily. Unlike most clips, there’s no carabiner-like closure to prevent the pole from coming out. And this is exactly what happens in a moderate gust. Even with the rainfly on, the cross poles pop out and dangle like a broken bones. For this reason, the we don't believe the tent is not worthy of being pitched in anything except a well-protected forest. DAC, the firm that makes the tent's pole and pole-related accessories, offers a the same pole connectors with a closure mechanism that holds the cross pole tight. This is used, among other tents, on the Brooks Range Invasion. See the photos below for the poles on both tents.

Click to enlarge
DAC pole connector on the Nemo Losi and North Face Minibus (left) and the more secure (better) version on the Brooks Range Invasion. Without the clip the connection is prone to breaking in high winds.
Credit: Max Neale
The Minibus' numerous features, such as glow in the dark zippers and pockets that open from both the front and the back, are excellent for car camping but add unnecessary weight for backpacking.

Best Application
Car camping in protected areas and occasional short duration backpacking trips.

Value
A very poor tent for $360. We plot tent scores and prices in a Price versus Value Chart that illustrates how much bang each tent delivers per dollar.

Other versions and accessories
You can buy a $42 footprint. Or use make your own out of painter's drop cloth, Tyvek, or Polycro. We recommend a footprint for car camping. Add one to the insie of your tent if you camp with dogs inside your tent.

Chris McNamara and Max Neale

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: May 30, 2013
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
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  • 5
 (2.0)
Average Customer Rating:   
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 (5.0)

100% of 2 reviewers recommend it
Rating Distribution
3 Total Ratings
5 star: 67%  (2)
4 star: 0%  (0)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 33%  (1)
1 star: 0%  (0)
Sort 2 member reviews by: Most Recent | Most Helpful
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   May 30, 2013 - 09:36am
MikeM2015 · Mountain Biker · Massachusetts
You're doing it wrong! Sorry, but in your pictures of the tent-the one where you can see another tent in the background-you have two of the poles crossing each other. This is not correct. The poles should not cross, and should be parallel to each other.

There are only four poles. Because you have two of the poles NOT installed correctly, everything else is a mess. Everything else is being stressed to connect, whereas if you had the two poles installed correctly, everything else would line up fine.

This tent is excellent in my opinion. There is color coding to help you put it together. For instance there is just one red nylon piece of fabric on the tent, at a corner. There is a similar red on the rain fly. Match these up and you have the rain fly on correctly. Orange tubes should be held in place by orange nylon stays.

I feel badly for companies and products that have poor reviews, by rushed or shoddy reviewers. I don't work for TNF, I bought my minibus a couple years ago for the type of camping I do. I would suggest that it is an excellent tent, but that like any piece of equipment, you are probably smart to try putting it together in your living room or garage, before trying it at a camp site.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Sep 7, 2012 - 05:54pm
bobby · Fisherman · carbondale, il
i have owned a minibus 33 since the fall of 2009. we travel/road trip a lot and have got to be getting close to a hundred nights in this tent. it was bought as a second tent, primarily to be used as a car camper below four thousand feet. it fits two people and two big dogs comfortably. the tent bag has compression straps and makes the tent very easy to travel with in cramped cars.

i think the total weight is about eight pounds. it's since been re-designed and re-named. it's called the minibus 3 now & i think might have smaller vestibules.

there are a few things about the staff review that i don't agree with - mainly the long-term durability. again, my tent is the minibus 33, not the 23, and it's not the tent i take backpacking.

we had this tent in winds that were gusting at 70mph+. i had it guyed at every possible point. two big trees uprooted within a few hundred feet of us. no tent damage at all. the guys and stakes all stayed in place and none of the pieces that connect the poles to the fly came undone.

we had this tent in rains that raised the river by us by six feet in eight hours. not a drop inside the tent or vestibule.

durability hasn't been an issue with mine in the four years i've owned it. TNF did an excellent job.

in the original reviewer's defense, this tent has a setup that is quite a bit more complex than nearly any other three season tent you'll ever put together. it took me setting it up three or four times before i figured how all the weird DAC pieces fit together 100% properly, i can understand why one/some of their pole/fly connections came undone.

the vestibules are enormous. the dogs sleep in them if they're wet, so they definitely are big enough to sleep in. big enough for coolers, big duffels, backpacks, water jugs, camp chairs. they're pretty big - and there are two of them.

i can't argue that the external zippers for the pockets aren't necessary, they're actually really nice and i find myself using them all the time for my headlamp & keys. they're also big enough to hold a roll of tp.

take it for what it's worth.

this site rocks. thanks for all the hard work you guys do.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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North Face Minibus 23
Credit: North Face
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