Gear Trials – A Comfort light trip in Mt. Rainier NP

Rain on the new tent

After a new ship is launched, it gets to meet the ocean for the first time with “sea trials”.  As our parks reopen and snow leaves the high country, it was time to get out for gear trials with recent projects.  I headed for a Park camp adjoining a couple of sub-alpine lakes at about 4700′.  The forecast was for a nice day, followed by a weak front overnight with a chance of rain in the morning.  As the first backpack of the season, I wanted to reality test my current set-up.  I had finished a new tent – the Hex-Lite.  My ultra-light bivy would serve as a quilt and air pad cover.  I was planning to Esbit cook with a single pot.  It was time to test a new Therm-a-Rest NeoAire Xlite air pad.  My Big Agnes pad no longer held air overnight and was 6 years old.  New gear keeps betting better. The Therm-a-Rest, with pump sack weighs only 15 oz., a 5 oz. improvement.

My claim for Comfort light backpacking is a 15 lb. base weight.  For this trip, my actual was 16 lbs. – close enough.  With overnight food and water, I left the car at 21 lbs.  (I don’t really count fuel separately anymore, since for this trip it was 3 Esbit tabs – 1.5 oz.)  Everything packed easily into my 2800 cu. in (46 L) RayWay pack, with the extension collar almost completely rolled down on top.  Now over 7 years old, it is still a very comfortable pack to carry.

Day one was as advertised, about 70 deg. and sunny.  The trail is uphill all the way, about 2600′ gain in a bit over 6 miles.  Of the three designated sites at the lakes, I chose the one completely snow free and had the the whole place to myself.  There were some bugs, but a spot down by the water had a big log and a nice breeze.  Once camp was set, I took my kitchen and food bag and headed there for supper.

In season, Park camps usually have bear poles for overnight food storage. The pole location here was still under snow, so my food sack got hung.  After supper I walked further along the trail to explore the third lake in the series.  At this elevation, avalanche lilies now decorate both open meadows and woodland, but I saw no sign of critters.

This was the inaugural trip for the tent, air pad and bivy.  Bugs at my tent site meant the netting tent door was challenged.  As forecast, I had rain overnight, letting me check waterproofing.  I had pitched the new tent in the backyard in rain first and found one leak.  I resealed the seam and then tested it again with a lawn sprinkler – better, but not right.  After another coat of sealer, I hoped things would be good.  In camp the evening was warm, but soon cooled after dark.  The bivy serves as a bag cover. It keeps the air pad from wandering, helps cut drafts from around the quilt edges and protects the quilt foot from getting wet, brushing against tent condensation during the night.

The tent really has a lot of volume, room to sit upright next to my pad with everything spread out inside.  However I could see the netting door didn’t seal completely with the tent walls.  A few bugs would wander along the under surface of the vestibule overhang and into the tent.  But they all went up to the peak, hung around and went out again.  I really had no issues down where I was.  Eventually I will make an improved version of the netting door to fix that.

With my pad positioned across the tent, I have a great view of the world out the big door.  In the morning as it got light, I watched mist in the tree tops, and though it might be drippy.  But the new air pad was comfy and I was warm, so I just hung out for a while and enjoyed the scenery.  There was condensation on the inner tent surface, typical with a single wall tent in alpine conditions, but it wasn’t bad.  The large tent volume and big door seemed to go a good job with ventilation.  Overnight I had shifted on the tent floor,and the bag foot was now in the low part of the tent, brushing against the surface, but the bag DWR finish was doing its job and the quilt was dry inside.

Once I got up, it was clear it had actually rained.  Water had pooled on the rear corners of the tent, but it didn’t come in, or soak through.  Rain continued, so I put on rain gear and moved a log seat under the shelter of a big fir to cook breakfast.  Once finished, I packed up things in the tent.  There were no signs of drips from the suspect leak spot, so the waterproofing is good.

I had not put away this tent wet before, so was pleasantly surprised that modern, silicone impregnated polyester doesn’t pick up any moisture.  Drops just shake off.  The tent folded easily and went into its stuff sack.  The Tyvek floor also folded easily and was mostly dry.  Packed up, I headed out.  Within the hour, I had sun breaks, put all the rain gear away, and took a pleasant downhill hike out.

Everything performed.  I like the tent a lot.  Not only is it my lightest (not counting my tarp), but the interior space and view are great.  I slept warm and dry with new pad and bivy. One pot Esbit cooking was easy.  I am still nicely within my weight expectations – a pretty mellow trip.

Update: 8/21/2020

I have now taken this tent on three outings and have made some tweaks.  The Tyvek floor did not have bungie loops on the front two corners.  The front flopped around a bit, so I added two more grommets and loops to run out to the stakes that hold the edges of the net door.  I also changed to Ti, shepherd crook stakes here to be able to hold the tent edge and netting tight to the ground to keep out bugs.  On the second outing I was looking at the back of the tent and realized that if I put a lifter pole on the back guy line, I could expand the tent interior volume.  I recruited a stick from the forest floor and tried it out.  I went home and ordered some carbon tent pole parts from Quest Outfitters, cut them to size and now have a 25″ rear pole as part of the setup.  It makes a nice difference inside.  The tent, complete, still comes in just a hair under 2 lbs., packs small and is quick to setup and take down.


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