Coleman Elite Montana 8-Person Review
Cons: Only one door, few windows, overall quality is not impressive
Our Analysis and Test Results
The largest tent in our review, the Elite Montana 8 is far from elite in our book. However, it does a fair impersonation of the huge state of Montana… if Montana were fully enclosed by walls. There's no question this has a place in the pantheon of budget-friendly, family-style tents. But with almost zero views and only one door for up to eight people, its place might turn out to be in the back-at-home dinner table lore about outings where everyone either had "the best time" or caught "cabin fever" and mutinied.
Space and Comfort
The only thing "elite" about the Elite Montana is the size of its cavernous space. It gets the moniker because of a handy, battery-powered, ceiling-mounted LED light that runs to a real light switch by the door. That's it. That's why it's elite — simply to keep it from getting confused with the "normal" Montana 8, which just doesn't come with a light.
Back to the size — at 16' x 7' inside, it's like the Superdome of family tents. The only difference being that while both are capable of large capacities, at least you can see the sky in the Elite Montana. Once inside either (Superdome or Montana 8), you can't see out the sides. And this makes it feel a little claustrophobic while making us question why Coleman couldn't figure out how to put a few windows in the sidewalls. It's not rocket science, just tent science.
The only windows are on the two far ends and then one on the door. Otherwise, views are simply skyward through the mesh, which makes up almost the entire ceiling. So, while you can fit a number of large air mattresses and/or furniture and/or people inside, it's going to feel like entering and exiting a major sporting event at a stadium where you line up in a huge crowd to squeeze through a tiny security checkpoint.
As with a lot of budget-friendly items that are made for somewhat heavy use, you can either get something that's well made and stands up to abuse or more of a lemon straight out of the box (and yes, Coleman products come in a box). To this end, our testing model of the Elite Montana 8 held up well under various conditions. When staked out properly (again, it's BIG, so this is a chore — there are many, many stake points for security), it can withstand a good deal.
The few windows it does have are actually angled downward to prevent rain from getting in, and the thick bathtub-style floor is no joke ("bathtub" style means the material wraps up the sides of the tent to create a seamless bottom to keep water from seeping in from below). Coleman uses a hefty polyethylene on many of its tent floors, and they takes abuse well.
The rainfly is a tricky thing to wrangle, especially solo, but once up, it provides adequate coverage over the rooftop mesh. But note, you will also have to put a pole in the vestibule and get that staked out as it's part of the fly, and its main job is to provide shelter for going in/out the door. So while more than adequate against most spring through fall elements, the Montana 8 isn't something you will want to take out in anything resembling winter.
Ease of Set-Up
One person can get this set up with enough practice, but hey, you've probably got at least six helpers, so why not make it a full family affair? It will go up in no — uh, much less — time. There aren't many tricks, but it does require some attention to detail to get this up properly and with the least amount of struggle. Unfortunately, things are NOT color-coded, AND it has four black poles that are almost the exact same length and diameter, leading to possible confusion of what goes where.
If you put the slightly shorter poles that hold up the two ends into the main section in the middle, you'll literally come up short on getting this thing set. It took a minute or two of OMG's, and yeah, some WTF's, to realize our error. To avoid this, we suggest somehow marking the two distinct sets of poles to help maintain your Happy Camper Experience.
That said, one point of semi-alarm is that the patented Coleman "pin and ring" system is not only something to master but, in this design, an awful lot depends on it. At several points, there are a number of poles and tensioned items that attach all in one place, making these stress points crowded.
This is either going to last you a few years or you'll be returning it on Monday. As mentioned, Coleman puts burly materials into their tents (especially the floors), but craftsmanship can be suspect due to their budget-friendly builds. Coleman uses fiberglass poles, and they sound a little creaky sometimes. Fiberglass can't bend nearly as much as aluminum without coming to a full crack/break fail point, so don't go too hard on these.
For all it's unfurled size and glory, the Elite Montana 8 packs down to a respectable size and fits into a tough rectangular case that manages to have enough room for everything, even if you weren't paying a ton of attention when packing up.
Value is what Coleman does best. Their "style" is to provide squarely middle-of-the-road products like the Elite Montana 8 that offer less amenities for less price. And we're cool with that.
Neither truly "elite" or resembling anything to do with Montana, the Elite Montana 8 is a super-sized, budget-oriented, fairly-durable, frill-less, window-deprived, log-cabin-style fortress that can be the basecamp for your whole extended crew. It includes a light and lightswitch which doesn't make up for all its shortcomings but is cool nonetheless.
— Rick Baraff