New Year, New Gear — Considerations When Comfortably Roughing It

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.

Wild Camping in Armenia

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!

Wild camping in Italy

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.

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16 Responses to “New Year, New Gear — Considerations When Comfortably Roughing It”

  1. Sarah

    Hurrah for the Hubba! I used the Hubba HP all the way from London to Tokyo this year — on the beach, in the woods, in the desert, up high on mountain passes — hot, cold, wet, dry, sandy — a wonderful tent Tom. Enjoy!

    Reply
    • Tom

      Well that’s good to hear! If it’s good enough for the legendary Outey, it’s good enough for me :)

      Reply
  2. Nigel Francis

    Hi,

    I only this morning received my new Hubba Hubba (not the HP) with footprint.

    I had been using a Vango Nitro 200 + but considering I would be heading off to warmer climates, this is just too hot an option (a UK weather tent)!

    So after many reviews, it was the MSR.

    Happy Days!

    Nigel

    Reply
  3. Chris Goodman

    Interesting to see you pick the MSR as, after about 15 years of moderate use, my Terra Nova Voyager has started to give up, I’ve replaced it with a Hubba Hubba HP. I looked around quite a bit and this seemed to get great reviews, particularly from the guys at backpackinglite.com. I’ve not used it yet but it’s so light compared to the Voyager, and seems v thoughtfully made, that I’m sure the Hubba will be great for you. Looking forward to seeing some pics of it in some cool spots :-)

    Reply
    • Tom

      I too am looking forward to seeing whether it lives up to its name. There’s one thing I might suggest as a change, which is the positioning of the zip on the fly sheet. I prefer the setup of the Vaude, with two zips running down each side of the porch rather than a single one running down to the peg loop, meaning the open side of the porch could be tied out away from the inner, rather than in and alongside it. This was handy when the fly was wet as it meant that water would run away from the inner rather than running down and often into it.

      It also meant that I could open the fly from inside the tent without putting a hand on the ground outside to reach all the way out to the porch’s peg loop, and I could decide to change which side of the porch I used for access while inside the tent, whereas with the MSR I will have to exit and re-stake the porch in order to swap sides. I also liked the fact that the Vaude’s footprint covered the porch area, whereas the MSR doesn’t.

      These are absolutely, utterly, infinitesimally tiny and pedantic points, but that’s what happens when you spend several months living in such things :)

      Reply
      • Chris Goodman

        They are actually good points. My Voyager was the same, though a different shape tent. I was never sure how to open it up properly in the wet without getting wet either from putting a hand on the floor as I reached down, or by brushing all the condensation off the inside of the fly as I reached across for the zip at the peg. I ended up opening it from the top (which you can do with the Hubba Hubba) and stepping out through the gap. Easier with the Voyager as it had two zips at the front so you could unzip a section from the top to then step through. Except that that section then ended up on the wet, muddy floor, and invariably got trod on.

        I have a much bigger tent which is a Hilleberg Kaitum. This has footprint covering the porches, and zips which open from close to the inner. Clearly a much bigger tent but really well designed. I looked for a small one to replace the Voyager and apart from the Akto (which is great but just too small for what I want), everything else is somehow much heavier than the Hubba Hubba…

        I may post some pictures later. Can we turn this into a ‘pictures of my tent’ post? Can we, Can we?! :-)

        *Sits in the geeks corner in shame*

        Reply
        • Tom

          Go for it :)

          If everyone posts this article to Twitter/Facebook (hint!) we might get some more good thoughts / pics on the matter…

          Reply
  4. Rod Wellington

    Greetings,

    I bought an MSR Hubba Hubba this past summer. The zipper on my old Sierra Designs tent, which had been through two expeditions (cycling and kayaking) and a bunch of shorter trips, finally bit the dust – a common problem that has happened with every tent I have owned. The zipper is always the first thing to go, it seems. Too bad, because the tent bodies and flies of those tents were all in good shape. Part of the decision to buy a Hubba Hubba rested in the fact that it had two doors. When zipper-failure time comes (it’s inevitable), at least I know I still have a second door to use rather than having to purchase a new tent.

    I opted for the two-person Hubba Hubba over the one-person version because I enjoy having the extra interior space. I tend to bring almost all of my gear into the tent at night, storing it along the tent walls and sleeping in the middle of the tent. (I camp mostly solo.) My older tents (including an old Moss tent, an early version of MSR) were diamond-shaped or five-sided, which allowed me to store my gear in the corners and sleep in the middle. I was concerned that going with the rectangular-shaped Hubba Hubba might cause a tight squeeze with gear storage, but such was not the case. The tent has plenty of floor space and I sleep comfortably with gear on either side or stuffed into the corners at my feet.

    As for weight or packed size considerations, there was not much weight difference between the one-person Hubba and two-person Hubba Hubba – not enough for me to consider losing the extra interior space. I have a one-person tent and I rarely use it. Why? 1) It’s not freestanding. (I do like that the one-person Hubba is freestanding.) 2) Because when it is packed into an extra-small compression pack it packs down to the same size as the Hubba Hubba. Why pack a single-person tent into a pannier when a two-person tent will fit into the same space? I don’t mind carrying a little extra weight in order to have more interior tent space.

    Like Tom, I’m glad that MSR changed the colour scheme of their Hubba series. I much prefer the new green colour – much better for stealth camping. Interior light is nice and soothing. Set-up is super easy and it has held up well in the rainy coastal region of British Columbia. I am looking forward to spending more time in it this coming summer. And Tom, I look forward to hearing about your experiences with your new tent. I hope it performs as well as you do!

    Cheers.

    Here are some shots of my Hubba Hubba on the shore of Indian Arm near Vancouver, BC and on the banks of the Similkameen River near Keremeos, BC:
    http://on.fb.me/yV5NRO
    http://on.fb.me/zGUFHg
    http://on.fb.me/zrF0rk

    Reply
  5. Sean Janson

    Hi Tom,
    I’ve been using both one and two person versions of REI Quarter Dome. A few comments about the one-man version (T1).
    pros: lighter, smaller footprint — easier to find a spot when stealth camping.
    cons: tight, you have to leave stuff outside. And here’s the bummer (may apply to HUBBA as well):
    The rainfly creates 2 usable porches, but only one is accessible from inside of the tent (the one in front of the door). For the other one you have to get out and walk around the tent.
    I ended up with sewing in a zipper on the other side of the tent — horizontal, 50 cm length, 10 cm above ground, so I can reach stuff that I put out to the second porch. This is not a problem with the two-men version (T2) since it has 2 doors (and more room inside).
    I still can’t make up my mind. Sometime I take the T2 and bitch about it’s weight, sometime the T1 and complain about not enough space inside. Especially if I want to use the notebook.
    It is not a recommendation of REI per say, MSR is probably as good or better. I just wanted to point out things that may not be obvious. Mainly the footprint issue in stealth camping and wasted vestibule space in one-door version of the tent.
    Anyway, happy to hear you’re coming to the States. sean

    Reply
  6. Richard

    Tom

    Nice review and an insight into your decision process. I have been using the Vango Spirit 200+ frequently over the Summer (Pyrenees and the French West coast) in a range of weathers and its good and roomy. It is similar to the Hilleberg Nallo 2 GT and less costly.

    The Hubba Hubba is interesting in that it is free standing. The Spirit 200+ requires 4 pegs at least. Not usually a problem but a few times over the Summer hard ground made it tricky to put up the tent.

    Looking at the MSR web site I like the new Gear Shed extension as an option for the Hubba Hubba — perfect for storing panniers and bad weather living. I would go for a 2 man tent even if travelling alone. Like the new green offering too.

    Thanks for a great site!

    Richard

    Reply
  7. Nigel Francis

    Set up my new Hubba Hubba (in the lounge!) last night. WOH.…that was so quick and looks cool too! So much more room in the sleeping area compared to my previous tent. I was happier than a kid on Christmas morning!

    Reply
    • Chris Goodman

      I did the same in the kitchen at the weekend. The poles being all attached seems weird and I’m sure I’ll fall over them trying to put them together at some stage, but apart from that it seems really cool. Lots of head room!

      Reply
  8. Scott

    For the past 3 years I have been using a Tarptent Moment for all my hiking and cycling adventures. I’m surprised that they are not more well known and used, as most of those in this forum seem to go for the big name brands.

    Anyway, I have found Tarptents to be really cleaver in their design, very light and compact, and suitable in all but Wintery or exposed mountain conditions. I am yet to see a tent with better ventilation and suited to warm weather.

    I should also point out that I also have a msr huba huba, which I love and do use occasionally with 2 people, or when I want the extra space, but at 780 grams, it’s difficult to pass on the Moment.

    I think when choosing a tent, don’t always go for the big names. Do some research and find out how some of the lesser known manufactures have produced some of the most functional user friendly tents available.

    Reply
    • Tom

      I had a long look at Tarptents and they do sound like excellent ultralight shelters. I was just a little concerned about their longevity — we all know that CF poles and ultralight fabrics aren’t as durable in the long term. I also needed something truly freestanding because of the terrain I’ll be in. At the end of the day I decided to stick with the people I know, for the sake of less than half a kilo and proven durability in the long term.

      But I’d definitely love to try a Tarptent for a short, fast and light trip in the future…

      Reply
  9. Reuben Tabner

    Hi Tom, Interesting that you have gone with the Hubba, I was looking at them only last week… I have used many 1 man tent’s from Macpac, Terra Nova, Outdoor Designs and North Face, but the Hubba looks excellent and I’m hoping to get my hands on one this spring… I’m currently using a TNF Particle, which is great, although the fly doesn’t seem to fit it all that well… Look forward to hearing how you get on with it…

    Reply
  10. Peter Jordan

    I have recently got the green Hubba and am happy with it. I think the green is a tad to bright when wild camping so wait till dusk before throwing the outer over the inner. Would like to see some darker colors from MSR.

    Reply

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