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The Book

Writer’s Blog: Exhaustion, Frustration, And Other Unexpected Joys

I had no idea that writing a book would be this difficult.

Writing in Green Bean Cafe, Yerevan

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Equipment Gear Reviews

MSR Hubba 1P Solo Tent — Owner Review

Full disclosure: Cascade Designs sent me this tent to test during my journeys in 2012 (at my request). I’ve been using it ever since for solo camping. They were confident enough to do this in the knowledge that I would share my opinions of their products — whether positive or negative — on this blog.

2011’s Arctic Cycle finished off the Vaude Hogan 2P tent I’d been using for solo camping over the previous few years. It was a great piece of kit, enduring at a rough guess getting on for 500 pitches in temperatures from below ‑30°C (not what it was designed for!) to above 50°C. But the winter killed the floor’s waterproofing. Months of UV exposure had left flysheet noticeably shrunken. And I’d got through 2 sets of poles, stakes and zippers.

Clearly the time had come for my old tent to pass on. The question was — which of the wide range of backpacking/cycle-touring tents would replace it?

Who is the MSR Hubba designed for?

I felt that a 1‑man solo tent would be appropriate, saving a few hundred grams and reducing my baggage even further than experience already had. I would use it for bicycle journeys, but also future trekking and packrafting expeditions I have in the works, so I wanted something equally at home strapped to a pannier rack or wedged into a pack.

I wanted a lightweight, high-quality tent that would be functional in as wide a variety of conditions as possible, leaning towards warmer climates as a priority. Some compromises would have to exist, but at the very least this meant a waterproof fly for the rain and cold, a well-ventilated standalone insect-proof inner for the hot and dry and infested, and enough adjustments for most common variants in between.

My ideal tent needed to be as free-standing as possible, but to allow me to get some semblance of sleep during windy nights, heavy rain and the occasional foray below freezing. I didn’t want anything above 1.5kg in total weight.

On paper the MSR Hubba fulfilled these criteria, and came with an entourage of recommendations.

MSR Hubba with fly

I’ve since put the MSR Hubba through two solid months of use on a springtime bicycle journey through the U.S. Pacific Northwest, and I’ll be taking the tent further afield later in the year (at which time I’ll update this article). Has it lived up to its reputation?

Size, Shape & Colour

Not everyone with a tent wants to stick out like a sore thumb against a landscape — cycle-tourers in particular. Almost all cycle tours involve wild camping — mine generally involve little else — and a bright orange or yellow flysheet can seriously compromise a hiding place.

MSR recently moved the Hubba range’s colour scheme away from the bright primaries and have chosen a very natural shade of green for the new flysheets. This, in my book, constitutes a very big thumbs-up. It’s less important for the back-country bushwhacker or official campsite user, but it’s valuable peace of mind for anyone who regularly finds themselves sneaking off the road or trail and into a spinney or field after dark. MSR have done well to cater directly for the new primary user group of the Hubba and its larger-capacity brothers — once expeditioners in remote wilderness or above the snowline, perhaps, but now the growing breed of adventure travellers not quite so far from the beaten track.

Wild camp near Port Orford

I was worried about the internal volume of a 1‑man tent, mainly because my previous 2‑man Hogan was so cramped in the foot department and so uncomfortably cosy when actually sleeping 2 people. The Hubba, by contrast, provides its headroom in the mid-section of the dome-shaped tent. The user enters from the long side as opposed to the short end, meaning the porch is generous — a good thing, as there’s no space for luggage in the inner tent itself. The non-opening long side has very little volume, running almost vertically to the ground — this is where the Hubba differs from its bigger brothers with two porches and two entrances.

The tent inner features fully vertical sides and near-vertical end walls which curve over in a semi-circular arch. This allows a surprising amount of room in which to sit up and move around, given that the inner tent’s footprint is the size of an average camping mattress. The trade-off here is a lack of aerodynamics and a slightly heavier package than some of the other 1‑man offerings on the market (we’re talking fractions of a water bottle in weight difference, though). Because of its shape, the Hubba actually feels more roomy than the 2‑man Vaude I mentioned earlier, which was built more for stability in high winds.

(The single line of symmetry means that one can sleep with one’s head at either end of the tent, which might occasionally come in useful for an unlucky night on sloped or uneven ground.)

Overall, the tent has been designed to maximise living space for a solo camper and provides a lot of space for luggage in the porch. Its shape, small footprint and flysheet colour make it a good choice for wild camping and working with sub-optimal pitches.

Pitching

The entire Hubba range has been cleverly thought out to provide a number of pitching options, which I really like. At its most basic, I’ve used the groundsheet with a bag and mattress out in the open, which on mild and insect-free nights is my preferred way of sleeping.

Next, it’s possible to pitch the inner tent alone, without stakes. The inner tent of the MSR Hubba features a waterproof floor bucket combined with mesh walls, and a small fabric panel for the very top section (presumably to give strength to the pole attachments). The end result is a well-ventilated, fully-sealed insect net with a good view of the night sky.

MSR Hubba inner without fly

The minimal wet-weather setup consists of the poles and flysheet (but no inner tent). The groundsheet is optional in this configuration. As long as there is an anchor for each side of the fly, the tent can be thrown up as a really minimal pole-strengthened tarp shelter.

The common-sense setup combines both of the above options. All options are quick and easy to pitch, with a one-piece pole assembly and the minimum of clutter and tacked-on bits and bobs.

(Imaginative usages beyond those designed might involve the groundsheet and poles as a makeshift drying rack, the flysheet as a tarp or bicycle protector, the groundsheet as a picnic blanket, or the inner tent as a giant fishing net or pasta strainer. I haven’t tried this last idea.)

Stakes (or other anchors) are necessary for the flysheet alone, as the door and opposite vestibule aren’t supported by the pole structure. On rocky ground, use the usual tricks — panniers filled with rocks, bungees to bike wheels, etc.

The supplied ultralight stakes, incidentally, are tough as nails; some of the best I’ve used.

Inside the MSR Hubba

Using my NeoAir X‑lite mattress, I was left with about a hand’s width of floor space to spare; enough for a small bar-bag or some clothes or bits & bobs, but little more. There’d be none at all if using a standard-sized mattress, but the tent is designed for sleep, not storage. The porch is generous in compensation as it comprises the entire length of the tent, easily big enough for a full set of bike-touring luggage or an expedition-sized pack.

Unusual bedfellows

To keep small, valuable items off the inner’s floor there are a couple of small pockets built into the inner tent’s non-entry sidewall, which would fit a warm hat, paperback, headtorch, phone or somesuch. These are useful, but anything bigger or heavier tends to stretch the mesh and hang the contents rather low above the sleeping area.

With floor space at a premium, I would like to see — as featured in the 3‑man Mutha Hubba — a suspended mesh panel slung from the ceiling of the inner tent, which could be detached if not needed or otherwise used to store clothes or other light but bulky items off the floor during the night. It looks like MSR have brought out just such an accessory — the Gear Loft — but I’m not sure if it’s Hubba-compatible. When I find out, I’ll post an update.

In the meantime, there are a number of small strap loops in various corners of the inner tent’s roof which could be used for highly imaginative purposes involving string, belongings and gravity.

Cold & Wet Weather Performance

The first month I spent with this tent was in the Pacific North West of the USA — Washington, Oregon — in the spring. Anyone who knows the region will understand why I’m now relatively experienced with the tent’s performance in cold and wet weather.

Sheltering in Mendocino

As you’d expect from a tent that was designed there (MSR’s parent company Cascade Designs is based in Seattle, WA), wet weather performance is very good. The flysheet is of a relatively tough and thick silicone-coated 40D ripstop nylon, fully seam-sealed and with quality zippers and zip protectors.

The waterproof floor bucket is substantially deep, and the optional ground protector is shaped marginally smaller than the tent footprint itself in order to avoid collecting any water shed by the fly or the edges of the inner floor bucket.

It is a shame that there are no vents built into the fly; the Hubba HP’s vented fly might easily enough have been shared with this model. But it’s clear that the Hubba HP is better designed for colder climates with its ventilation options and more protective inner-tent, while the mesh Hubba’s unvented fly is geared more towards waterproofness in a tropical downpour.

Entering and exiting the tent in the rain is one area in which I feel there is room for improvement. The current design features a zipper down the centre of the porch awning. A stake loop on each side of the zipper makes it possible to use either side of the porch for entry and exit. The chosen side of the awning, when opened, can be tied back alongside the inner tent’s door.

But even with the most diligent efforts, this wet flysheet material inevitably splashes some of its water into the inner tent. The fixed stake position also means that it’s not possible to change which side of the porch is used as a door after opening, which would be useful if the wind changed during the night and it was still raining in the morning.

If, like me, you’d rather not put your hands and bags in a muddy vestibule, MSR have thoughtfully started making an optional extended groundsheet called the ‘Mudmat’ that covers the vestibule floor.

Camping in a garden in Capetown

Although I prefer the Hubba overall by a large margin, Vaude’s vestibule design for the Hogan would address all of these issues at once. Rather than a central zip, it has a single zip that runs up from one bottom corner by the inner tent corner stake, up and over at the top of the porch’s apex, and down to the opposite corner stake, in a mirror image. There are four sliders, meaning that either side can be unzipped, regardless of the single vestibule stake’s placement. The tie-back is to the central ridge of the porch, keeping the wet door fabric well away from the inner tent.

A bonus of this setup is that the Hogan’s porch can be unzipped slightly at the top apex on both sides for adjustable ventilation, which in the case of the Hubba would make the tent little short of perfect. A small design modification with instant and multiple benefits, and no disadvantages that I can think of except for a few grams’ more zipper. (Funnily enough, MSR’s new 2‑man backpacking tent looks almost identical to the Hogan.)

Warm & Dry Weather Performance

This is one of the key reasons I went for the 1.4kg Hubba, rather than the lighter Hubba HP: the mesh-only inner.  It is ideal for hot weather camping when a small degree of protection is still desired, but you want maximum ventilation and enjoy having a view of the night sky and your surroundings at night.

Drying a dew-covered tent

As might be expected, the inner-tent performs well in these conditions. The mesh is a fairly fine weave, and it does in fact have some insulating properties, probably as a result of trapped air in the mesh — this is most noticeable when the mesh collects condensation at colder temperatures, rather than moisture evaporating through it and onto the inside of the flysheet. But the balance between protection and breathability is about right overall.

Conclusion

Overall, I’m impressed. The Hubba is significantly more well-suited to my needs than my previous tent. The living space and storage space are generous for the size and weight of the package, and it delivers enough pitching options for most conditions you might encounter in tropical through to temperate adventuring. Accessories are available for specific preferences or really wet climates. As I’m a wild-camper, the colour scheme is really ideal.

And, being MSR, the build quality is as good as it gets. No wonder the Hubba has earned such a good reputation. Recommended.

Since this review was published, MSR have replaced the Hubba with the Hubba NX, a lighter version of the same tent, available with two different fly colours, but otherwise more or less the same. I used one in 2014 in Patagonia and noticed little difference in quality, though long-term durability needs longer to judge. Go for the green option from Rutland Cycling or TrekKit.
The Europe-specific HP version of the Hubba, with better ventilation options and fabric rather than mesh for the inner tent, is available from AllOutdoor.co.uk and OutdoorGear.co.uk, among other online retailers.
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Microadventures

Microadventure: “The island that died for want of a telephone”

It was a promisingly sunny afternoon as we dashed down the quayside in Cleggan and threw our bags aboard the ferry for Inishbofin. After a yawnsome four-hour drive from Dublin, this sudden burst of excitement and panic ensured we would keep our appointment with Dermot by a hair’s breadth.

Half an hour later, the ferry safely in port and another gaggle of American tourists off to roam the island for the afternoon, Dermot beckoned us down a slippery flight of stairs to the water’s edge where a small powerboat was tied up. No sooner had we arrived at Inishbofin, a few miles offshore from County Galway, than it was receding into the distance again, and after a few minutes of darting between rocky outcrops and tiny green isles of sheep and gulls we were soon drifting up alongside an eerie, crumbling wharf.

This was the island we’d come way out west to visit; an all-but-forgotten victim of bureaucracy and bad weather called Inishshark.

A rare shaft of light in Inishshark harbour