Gear Guy

Lighthouse     Photo: courtesy, Black Diamond

Q:

Is it worth sacrificing waterproofing in a tent for less weight?

I've been looking into the new Superlight series of tents from Black Diond, specifically the Lighthouse. The listed weight is astonishing, but I have concerns with the merely "water-resistant" fabric and the long-term durability and water repellency of such a lightweight tent. What's your take? Would it be smarter to get something like Mountain Hardwear's Waypoint 2, which offers a similar weight while being waterproof? Bryan Manhattan, Kansas

A:It's interesting to see all the innovations in tents these days. Case in point: Black Diamond's new-for-this-year Lighthouse ($369; www.bdel.com). It's a single-wall tent, but doesn't even pretend that its shell material is "waterproof." Instead, the Epic fabric (made with silicon-impregnated threads) is billed as "highly water-resistant." Meaning: In a downpour, it might leak. Anything else, you stay dry.

On the other hand, the Epic fabric is more breathable than the completely sealed stuff used by the Waypoint 2 ($250; www.mountainhardwear.com), in itself a very good tent that's both much cheaper and lighter (at three pounds two ounces). The Lighthouse—a big two-person tent patterned after the Bibler Ahwahnee—weighs a couple ounces more.

The Black Diamond people put it pretty well: The Lighthouse is for people for whom a combination of roominess and light weight is essential—or at least, more important to them than the risk of getting a little damp once in a while. It's a fair tradeoff, in my view. I mean, I've certainly camped in the rain, but let's face it, most people go backpacking in the relatively dry summer months. The risk of a thunderstorm and shower always exists, but a day or two of steady rain? Not likely. So I think the Lighthouse represents an intriguing proposition. Myself, I'm leaning strongly toward taking one on a weeklong bike tour in Montana this September.

More of the year's best tents reviewed in Outside's 2004 Buyer's Guide.

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