Big Agnes Big House 6 Review
Cons: Zipper design, no vestibule on fly
Manufacturer: Big Agnes
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Big House 6 has a lot going for it. Excellent headroom, a versatile fly, and lots of pockets combine to make this a really comfortable home away from home.
Space and Comfort
The interior height is what really helps this "Big" House live up to its moniker. Plenty of members in your party can stand up inside without playing the "Who's next to put your jacket on?" game. There's a new-ish category of "dome" tents that have pre-bent poles (forged/crafted with extra curvature) that run more vertically from the ground until they get near head-height; then they finally turn (bend) inwards towards the apex at steeper angles to help maximize the space around the edges where you're usually getting static electricity in your hair from rubbing along the wall.
Lots of pockets cover the space so everyone can find one that suits them. There are a few detachable triangular ones that can be set in any corner for customization. With a large dose of mesh all around and above, everyone will be able to catch some breeze and at least watch the stars from any angle. That said, the overly designed walls and doors have windows and polyester in very artistic combinations that will leave some craning their necks to watch Dad try to blow up the big alligator-shaped raft.
Let's preface this discussion with the idea that you're most likely not going consciously into bad weather (you'll defer to next weekend if possible). And even if you're a late-spring through mid-fall camper that can't defer, you probably won't be deluged if the skies do open up. That said, here are some things to note:
The Big House 6 is a decidedly three-season tent (meaning you'll need something else for winter/cold camping). It offers minimal protection with a fly that's more of a top hat than a full rain jacket. That said, there are storm flaps on the door zippers, and the front and back doors have been treated and sealed to be storm proof which is good because the fly doesn't cover them.
Over the top (and on the two non-door sides), this tent has a double-wall design where the fly (wall two) acts as rain/wind protection for the tent's roof (wall one). Both wall designs (single and double) have their advantages and disadvantages, and there's nothing here that's going to prove one better than the other unless you're in a real howler or buckets are pouring down sideways. In that scenario, you're gonna feel it through the front and back doors (feel the wind and drops hitting, not necessarily feel the actual moisture on you, that is).
While the main job of the pre-bent poles is to provide more interior space, there's a bit of a tradeoff with structural strength and, thus, with some "resistance" to weather. Straight (non-pre-bent) poles distribute the force of their tension evenly to create no weaker spots, whereas "pre-bent" poles don't quite have the same tension and can, therefore, be a bit more susceptible to moving/shaking in inclement weather. So with the large cubic capacity of this tent, the poles can get a bit "wobbly" in the wind. With proper staking and the guy lines employed, you'll be pretty safe and comfortable inside the Big House.
Ease of Set-Up
Two people, even of the younger variety, shouldn't have much problem mastering the set-up of this tent, though the shorter set might have a tough time reaching the additional pole that helps give the ceiling further loft.
Nobody should be complaining about missing any activities if they get assigned tent duty. A solo tester took about 10 minutes to set up the Big House on the first try and about 7 minutes on the second set up (without the fly which adds a few minutes as a solo person). The fly has to get up and over the considerable apex, but the color-coded clip points at least make things fairly easy.
Overall, Big Agnes engineers what you would call a "top quality" product. However, we felt that they perhaps did a bit of over-thinking with the cosmetic design on this tent which could potentially lead to some durability-based trouble spots down the line. That said, the fly is hefty and tough, and the base/floor stands up to plenty of abuse. However, while the high-quality aluminum poles can flex quite a bit, they feel a bit flimsy — more like floppy — on this large 6-person tent ONLY because they end up being so long.
We did raise an eyebrow at the door zips on the Big House. First, you have to pull open two separate zippers that come to a corner at the bottom to get in/out (as opposed to a more rounded, single-fluid-motion zip found on many other tents). Then there's the spot where the top (or vertical) zipper ends: at a potential tear/jam point up near a shorter pole that adds additional loft to the roof. We didn't have any actual problems in testing, but, then again, we didn't subject it to a bevy of adolescents or teens going in and out 1,000 times a day. We can see this being a trouble spot if nothing else because there's a lot of tension there, and it's merely mesh on one side and lightweight poly on the other.
One of the best features of the Big House 6 (as well as other Big Agnes offerings) is the backpack-style carry case it comes in. In fact, it IS a backpack, not just in style but in form and function. It comes with two adjustable shoulder straps that should allow you to hike this guy to even the most remote, walk-in campsite. What's almost better is that the pack has a clamshell zipper design that opens to reveal a number of individual large pockets to hold the various components of the tent (fly, tent body, poles, stakes). Additionally, they're all oversized so that you don't have to roll everything back into a super tight burrito to get it all back in the pack. A++.
The other big thing about Big Agnes is their tent prices, but that doesn't mean the value isn't there because it is. As they say, you get what you pay for, and you get a heckuva great large family camping tent out of your investment here.
Overall, the Big House is a cush, nicely-styled, fully-functional base camp for your large crew. A few potential design snafus shouldn't take away from the fact that Big Agnes makes high-quality gear that you can rely on for a hearty outdoor adventure. With excellent headspace, a superb carrying case, versatility (you can even buy an additional large vestibule to attach for a wealth of extra room), and a great weight-to-size ratio, this is an excellent option for folks that want long-term value.
— Rick Baraff