Gear Guy

Should I get a convertible tent?

I have an opportunity to buy a Tempest 23 tent from The North Face (retail $675) for $400. It is brand new and it looks bombproof. I have asked all over and searched the net for info about this tent and have come up empty. I heading to Mount Shasta in June and would like a good mountaineering tent. On the other hand, I also need to upgrade my old duct-taped, three-season tent. I not sure what to do, buy this single-wall tent and buy a good three-season, or look into a convertible tent. I don't want to miss out on a good deal. Brian Holt Detroit, Michigan

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My advice: Skip the Tempest, regardless of the deal. While not a bad tent, the Tempest 23 was an expensive single-wall model aimed at a very specialized market. It likely performed best only under fairly cold, windy conditions. And Mount Shasta in June is not a trip that I think would suit it. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with the Tempest. It’s just not a tent that had much wide appeal, hence The North Face’s decision to quit selling it. In that market —- high-end single-walls —- Bibler pretty much holds the hammer over everyone else.

My own feeling is that what you want is a good all-purpose three-season or “convertible” tent. Convertibles include Mountain Hardwear’s Muir Trail ($380; five pounds, eight ounces), a tent that is at home either on a casual hike or on most climbs short of expedition work. Ditto for MSR’s new Fusion 2 ($300; six pounds, 11 ounces) and Sierra Designs’ Omega CD ($289; six pounds, two ounces).

In a straight three-season tent, the classic has for years been the Sierra Designs Meteor Light CD ($279; six pounds, 12 ounces) and it’s still very hard to beat with its roomy interior and big side-mounted door for access and ventilation. And there’s the Dana Design Mojo ($359; six pounds, 1 ounce), which has front AND rear doors and a big vestibule. So, plenty to choose from.

Keep in mind that from the standpoint of sheer sturdiness there’s not a whole lot of difference between a three-season tent and a mountaineering tent. The higher-end tents may add a pole for better snow-loading capacity, but the main difference is that mountain tents have less ventilation, may have more floor space to accommodate bulky sleeping bags, and often have larger vestibules to facilitate storage and even cooking. Basic materials -— fabric and poles —- and construction are essentially the same.

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