The year 2018 marks our seventh year of testing and evaluating ultralight tents and shelters, including tarps, pyramids, and super light double-wall, dedicated pole tents. Over that long period, our testers spent hundreds of nights in these shelters in the Sierra Nevada, Cascades, Rocky Mountains, Utah desert, and far beyond. Fast and light bicycle trips, long alpine routes and traverses, and trips along the Continental Divide Trail all provided us great perspective on each product's performance in the past. This year the testing took place over five months of trekking, backpacking, and car camping in the Himalaya of Nepal, the Colorado Rockies, the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming, and the desert of Southwest Utah.
The most important aspect of our testing is using products in the field, as they are meant to do. We have found that only by using these tents on our crazy adventures are we able to hone in on the things that work the best, and those that don't. It is these experiences that form the bulk of our impressions and assessments of these products. However, for some metrics, we also devised specialized tests to help us solidify our opinions.
The main weather aspects we were most interested in were how well a tent protects from rain and wind. While we did sleep in a few of these tents during some rather intense snow storms in the Himalaya, that isn't exactly what they do best. During our adventures, we experienced many nights out in bad weather, but when we weren't "lucky" enough to experience a storm while sleeping in a particular tent, we made sure to understand its performance in equitable ways. When thunderstorms were impending near town, we would run down to the park and set some tents up in the gusty winds and rain to be sure that we knew which protected particularly well from the weather, and which didn't.
Once again, assessing for Livability was mostly a function of using these tents while on backcountry adventures. Sleeping in these shelters with two people revealed which ones were long enough, wide enough, tall enough, and had features that contributed to our comfort level or drastically impaired it. Since we were testing these shelters during the buggiest time of the year — spring and early summer — we also usually purchased and tested the modular bug netting components for those that didn't have it included.
To assess for weight, we took each new shelter out of its stuff sack, decided what elements were necessary and which were not (some came with added components that don't factor into the performance of the tent) and weighed them all on our independent scale. We weighed each part of each shelter, such as the stakes, tarp, guy lines, etc., separately and detailed them on the product pages. We then removed the weight of stakes from those shelters that included them and compared all shelters for their weight.
For supremely adaptable shelters, like flat tarps, we made sure to play around out in the field (on a nice weather day) by setting them up in as many ways as possible. We also played around with the pitch height of pyramids, and by using dedicated pole tents both with and without the rain flys. We assessed how many different ways a shelter can be set up, how many different ways to use it, and how appropriate it is for different seasons and climates.
Ease of Set-up
There's no doubt that some of these shelters had a learning curve associated with setting them up quickly and perfectly, so we made sure to withhold judgment until after a few practice rounds had taken place. Then we timed how fast we were able to set up each tent, alone, in a windstorm, with prior knowledge of how to do so.