I have a good working relationship with Mountain Safety Research, better known as MSR, who for several decades have been quietly turning out top-quality equipment for use in the world’s wild places. The little green 2-man Vaude tent which was my home for so long is now well past its best, and with two significant trips planned for 2012, I decided it was time to replace it with one of MSR’s tried-and-tested offerings.
This old faithful tent I’ll donate to my brother, a newcomer to bicycle adventuring, and on a budget possibly tighter than I am, if such a thing is possible. But which replacement to choose? Which canopy to rest beneath over the coming years of far-flung wild-camps and hidden bivouacs?
As time goes by and priorities shift, the characteristics of the ideal nighttime shelter swing this way and that. I considered spending five of the next twelve months in a bivy bag, but the truth is I would rather have the flexibility to stay dry in a downpour and seal myself off from the elements when it takes my fancy. I can still sleep outside whenever I feel like it, and the weight difference wouldn’t be as big as you might think.
However, I’m happy to try a 1-man tent, saving weight and packing space, as over the years I’ve learnt to get by with less and less luggage. A porch big enough for 2 panniers or a backpack is all I really need. I might occasionally find myself in sub-zero temperatures, but I’ll be mainly using it in warmer climates. A tent ticking these boxes should be both fast and light.
When I explained my needs, Tami at Cascade Designs in the USA, the parent company of MSR, suggested the ‘Hubba’ or ‘Hubba HP’. They’re both 1-man tents, tried and tested, striking a balance between lightness and durability. The Carbon Reflex 1, at a shade under 1kg, was an enticing-looking ultralight option, until Tami pointed out that it is necessarily less suited to long-term living, being built for short, fast and focused expeditions where every gram really does count. That’s not quite the nature of my longer, more methodical trips, so I was glad to take her advice and get something more rugged and liveable, even if it did weigh a little more.
The Europe-only ‘HP’ version has an inner tent built of opaque ultralight fabric, with a couple of mesh panels. This, she explained, would be better for cold or dusty conditions, but if I were to be using it predominately in warmer climates, it might be too warm. There’s nothing worse than spending the night in a stiflingly hot tent, as I remember all too well from southern Arabia in June 2009.
The Hubba, by contrast, has an inner tent constructed mainly of insect mesh. Pitched on its own on a clear and warm night, it would essentially be a free-standing mosquito net. And in the mosquito-infested parts of my journeys this year, I would value this massively, as I love sleeping under the stars, and this would let me do so without the inconvenience of being eaten alive. At 1.3kg, the extra hundred grams or so over the HP should be negligible. So, after a bit of dithering, I plumped for the classic Hubba.
Remembering back to when I chose my first tent — and this may sound a strange priority to have, but bear with me — the green fly-sheet of the Vaude won me over. Big deal, you may think, but the difference it makes when you’re trying to stealth-camp in a built-up area can be literally the difference between a good night’s sleep and no sleep at all. And I do a lot of stealth camping. Bright yellow or orange tents are conspicuous, and this was my big gripe with MSR’s range. So I’m really happy to see that they’ve brought out a new range of natural-looking green fly-sheets. I’m already looking forward to finding out whether they pass the acid test!
With a minimal sleeping pad and a thin down bag, plus my usual bundle of clothes as a pillow, my entire camping setup should occupy less than half a pannier. I follow the rule of thumb that ‘less is more’. It’s interesting seeing how far this can be taken while remaining as practical and flexible as need be.
I have no intention of “selling out” by branding my trips up to the hilt — as I said to Tami, I think that small outfitters and perennial journeymakers have a great deal to offer each other, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to work with such an innovative firm again.
If you have a favourite or recommended tent for lightweight solo journeys, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.