Gear Guy

Will single-wall tents leak in heavy rain?

You have mentioned in the past that you are lukewarm on single-wall tents as in some circumstances they are neither as warm (winter) or as cool (summer) as double-wall tents, and prone to condensation issues. But you have also recommended the single-wall Bibler Ahwahnee, especially when weight is an important factor. I'm also curious if single-wall tents make a similar two-way compromise to that of modern membrane clothing—neither letting perspiration out perfectly nor keeping very heavy rain out perfectly. You have mentioned half of the clothing equation as an issue with single-wall tents. What about the second half—do they also leak in very heavy rain? Stephen Piper Alexandria, Virginia

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The ultimate raison d’etre for single-wall tents, in my view, is that you can save weight over double-wall designs. One such case is the Bibler Ahwahnee, a very room tent that can handle summer to winter camping yet weighs just over five pounds, compared to seven or eight pounds for most double-wall tents with similar size and all-season flexibility. Trouble is, the Ahwahnee is wildly expensive: $700.

So, your question is, will it leak like a waterproof-breathable jacket? The fact is, waterproof-breathable jackets are indeed waterproof; that is, rainwater will not seep through from the outside to the inside. But they can cause condensation buildup on the inside, and that, combined with “wetting out” of the surface fabric with the DWR (durable water-repellent) coating is overwhelmed, sure as heck makes it feel like it’s leaking. Years ago, makers of outdoor wear learned that the majority of gear users will sacrifice breathability for the sake of waterproofness, so they’ve long skewed their products in that direction.

Same for tents. Bibler uses a PTFE laminate (chemically identical to Gore-Tex, but with fireproofing treatment) in its tents. It’s a heavy laminate; the stuff will not leak. But that also means it’s not really all that breathable. So single-wall tents such as the Bibler take particular care to provide good ventilation. I haven’t used the Ahwahnee a ton, but in my experience it does a very good job of resisting condensation build-up, and is extremely weatherproof.

Now, if it were just affordable…

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