Coleman Dark Room Sundome 6 Review
Cons: Not as bombproof as higher-end tents, no frills
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Sundome is made of a thick polyester that does an admirable job of blocking light and, thus, heat. The Dark Room Technology isn't just a thing from a sci-fi movie; it's really dark inside this tent with the windows and door shut.
Space and Comfort
At 100 square feet, the Sundome can compete with any 6-person tent we reviewed when it comes to floor space. However, this is truly a dome tent, and thus the headroom tapers out from the max height of 6'0" as you move from the center to the sides. This means you'll feel pretty cramped trying to squeeze six adult people inside, especially because there's only one door (as opposed to two on the majority of the others in our review).
Certainly, mom, dad, and two or three kids will be comfortable in the Sundome. It also comes in a four-person version for smaller groups/families. But even with the ample 100 square feet of floor, you're better maxing out at four adults, especially as there's no vestibule for gear or supplies, meaning they will have to share the space.
Pockets are minimal. Small and compact, there are only four (one on each side) on the interior. If you like to take advantage of storage opportunities on the inside walls of your tent, you're going to be disappointed. But as we go over below, this is more of a budget-friendly tent, and thus, amenities will be fewer.
Coleman claims this tent blocks 90% of light. We're not exactly sure how that's measured since different conditions (direct sun, leafy light, etc.) would seem to affect the measurement, but we found that at 9:30 a.m. (when the sun's angle is often more than enough to microwave you out of your sleeping bag) we could still have rolled over for a little more shut-eye. Even in direct lunchtime rays, it blocks a majority of light.
The other big draw of Coleman's Dark Room technology is that by blocking out light rays, it also cuts down on the interior temperature. All sunlit campsites equal, this tent is cooler than others. As the sun ticks across the sky, ambient heat will eventually get through, but what the Sundome does cut down almost completely is that morning sunbeam to the face or those rays that start to sizzle your sleeping bag waaaay too early after late night ghost stories and cervezas.
Beyond the size and the Dark Room aspect, there really isn't much more praise to be sung about this tent. There's a small port in one corner to run power cords through to fuel all of your electronics, but no vestibule, just a small overhang provided by a pole that props the fly out over the door. This gives you a measly foot or so of shade depending on where the sun is in the sky, and keeps a few raindrops from poking in when there's rain.
Except for the black light and disco ball you hang from the ceiling (remember, it's dark inside!) this is a no-frills piece of gear that simply focuses on being a very dark room. That's not necessarily a dig at the tent. What it does offer is perfectly adequate, it just isn't going to wow you much beyond its ability to block light and keep the same elements at bay that other tents do as well.
Okay, enough about the dark! We should also add that this is a great let-the-light-and-breeze-in tent. There's plenty of mesh packed into the tent body, offering wide and tall views along with luscious breezes when the fly is removed. So this isn't just a one-trick pony by any means; it stacks up more than adequately as an option for those who are on child, bird, surf, star — or UFO — watch.
For a budget-friendly tent, the rainfly on the Sundome 6 does a decent job. In a light or passing rainstorm, we're confident you'll be dry. If you're looking at a full day of rain or the kind of storm where people start building arks, however, we'd be a little apprehensive. That said, it does have a thick bathtub style floor to keep water at ground level out (bathtub style meaning the panel of material that makes up the floor wraps up the walls and joins the rest of the tent well above the ground where often seams can leak).
The fly comes roughly 2/3 of the way down the sides of the main tent, and when staked out provides enough of a gap between fly and tent to shed water effectively and keep things from getting too clammy indoors. All seams are taped to prevent any leakage at stitch points. Should rain come down anything much beyond vertical, it's likely to blow right past the overhangs and soak the front or back of the tent. These areas are seemingly solid and served us well during testing, but we did read reports of leaky seams in other online reviews.
While Coleman could improve their overall quality a bit (the fiberglass poles are a little creaky and a number of people have reported that the corner stake points have ripped off, leading to potential structure failure as you need these to get the poles to tension), it's a Best Buy in no small part because of its friendly value.
Ease of Set-Up
It doesn't get much easier than the Sundome when it comes to set-up and tear down. The design is the tried and true two-pole, crisscross-through-two-sleeves dome.
Because the connectors where the pole sections go together are a bit chunky, they can get snagged going into the sleeves and slow the setup, but only slightly. The poles then connect to the stake points with what feels like a very old school "pin-and-ring" system whereby you insert a metal pin (attached to a metal ring which is sewn into the tent corner) into the open end of the pole, thus "securing" it in place. It feels and appears dubious as sometimes the pin slips out while you're struggling to bend the pole into place to attach it, but if you get the pin most of the way in, it will eventually hold just fine. Note that most other modern tents have gone to more secure interfaces, often where you insert the metal-tipped end of the pole into an eyelet where it securely "clicks" into place.
As noted, the fly has an additional pole that takes mere seconds to deploy and which runs front to back to help create a very small overhang to help repel rain if/when you're trying to get in and out. This also helps you know how to orient the fly so there won't be any ring-around-the-rosie trying to get it properly squared up. Without reading the instructions or limbering up ahead of time, a single person can set up the Sundome in about six minutes.
This is a value tent. If it were a top of the line tent — if the price were double or triple what it is — we might be a bit harsher in our critique, but for the price, the quality of the Sundome is pretty good, even exceptional. If you're an avid camper, will this be the last tent you ever buy? No way. However, as long as you don't punish it too much, store it properly, and maintain even a modicum of cleaning and upkeep, you should have many a dark and restful night's sleep in this dark room. All the seams are taped, and the polyester bathtub floor is a hearty piece of polyethylene that instills confidence that you — or your kids — can toss and drag this around a campsite to find just the right spot.
The fiberglass poles can make even the heartiest camper cringe once you hear them creak under tension (as it did us). There are no reports of them breaking, and we had no issues during our testing other than a bit of said creaking — but fiberglass is less forgiving than aluminum. If bent, aluminum can at least be re-bent, whereas fiberglass will come to a complete fail point and crack or shatter if bent too far. Again, this should not be a make-or-break point, Coleman has been around long enough to feel confident their fiberglass poles work fine and you should too. Just a caveat to keep an eye on your young ones who might want to run off with one of the poles to see if they can vault across the creek.
The main things we look for in terms of packed size are the overall weight, the bulkiness, the ease or awkwardness of carrying, and the level of difficulty in getting the tent back into the carry sack/bag. While no one is going to be sizing up the Sundome for a thru-hike on the PCT, it's far from being overly heavy or big for this category.
The case is a modestly-sized, rugged, rectangular zippered affair with two handles and a lovely expandable section you can unzip on the bottom to make more room. Because, just like you'll never get any foldable clothing item back into its tidy package, you'll never really get this tent (or any other) back to its original factory-packed size. That said, you'll have to do a good job of squeezing the air out of the tent to wrangle it back into the case, but if you fold it so that the door or a window allows the air out quickly, this isn't too much of a problem. For a six-person tent, this actually packs down pretty well and tosses in the trunk easily.
Aside from the draw of the darkroom technology, this is where the Sundome is going to make some friends. It's certainly one of the best value tents we've reviewed, and for those looking to spend a little more money on all the other things that go with camping (personally we recommend beer), it's a great choice. It doesn't have the features and the long-view durability of higher-end models, but it also doesn't have that higher-end price. For modest weekend warriors or those who like to go to the same, sunny, weather-friendly location or festival every year, the Sundome is a great value option.
The Coleman Dark Room Sundome 6 is your basic dome tent with a very unique, specific, and effective feature at a wholly reasonable price. You can't go wrong with this as a great budget option that you won't have to fret over with kids, at camping concerts, at the beach, or a variety of other conditions that cause some pause with more expensive tents. And if the sun shining in your face while you're trying to sleep is something that worries you, then this Best Buy Winner will be your new best friend.
— Rick Baraff
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