Monday, November 19, 2007

Big Agnes Emerald Mountain 3 SL

I recently purchased a BA EM3 SL in the hopes of ending my never ending quest for the perfect tent. I bought the tent directly from BA on their website. It arrived in short order, less than a week. I opened up the packaged and pulled out the tent.

The tent stuff sack is 8X16 or so I would say. It is listed on their website as 8X22 but I think they are included the pole length.
My hand to show relative size of the bag. It is about 15 inches long and could easily be compressed more by using a compression sack.

The poles are stored into thier own stuff sack and smartly attach to the tent stuff sack with a quick release clip and a small bit of webbing on the bottom of the tent stuff sack.
Quick release clip used to clip pole sack to the tent stuff sack.

The tent stuff sack has a nice elastic pocket to hold the pole sack in place.

BA supplies the tent with lightweight aluminum X-stakes.

BA like a lot of other companies these days is using a hub poles system. There is essentially one big length of shock corded pole that makes up like 3 poles because of the hub system. It appears to be very strong and reasonably lightweight. There is also one cross pole that holds the tent sides semi-vertical.

Here is the hub system on the poles.

The ends of the poles slip into grommets at the four corners of the main tent body.

Here is the sleeve that the cross pole slides into.

The main tent body clips to the poles with plastic clips. They appear to be very strong.

Here is the tent up. It took me about 4 minutes the first time out and it can literally go up in about 3 minutes start to finish including the fly.

The tent sleeps 3 people, I would say two comfortably but 3 in a pinch. It has two side doors and I normally prefer side doors. One thing that disappointed me the most was the smallish doors. I don't understand why the doors are so small. There is also not center stake point by the side door. I would think having one there would allow the door to operate a little easier. Also the side walls slope in a little causing my shoulders to hit the side walls when sitting up.

Here I am kneeling in the door. You can see how the door is only up to approximately my shoulder blades.

I am 6'1" and you can get an idea of how high the tent is. It is listed at 44".

Here is a picture of the tent on the ground with the fly installed. The fly attached with four quick clips on the corners and the cross pole at the top of the tent slips into pockets on the fly.

On each side of the tent without doors there is a vent in the fly that can be opened or closed. Here is the vent closed.

Here is the vent opened.

Here is the detail of the small prop rod that holds the vent open with Velcro. When you want to close the vent you just pull this away and Velcro the vent closed. There is no provision in the tent to be able to operate this vent when inside the tent unlike the MSR Mutha Hubba. So if one was inside the tent and it was raining and you wanted to open or close the vent, you would have to go outside.

The tent has guyline attachments at the four corners of the tent and have a reflective stripe on them.

The tent has two pretty large zip on vestibules, one on each side with a flap that covers the zippers.

One odd thing is there are zipper pulls at the top of the vestibule, and at the bottom similar to a sleeping bag. The zipper pull at the bottom can only be operated from the outside of the tent. So if you are in the tent and want to get out, it's easiest to just zip down the door and walk over it.

Here is the view from inside the tent. It was very light and airy feeling in there even with the fly on. The fly also goes right to the ground which is nice.

Half of the vestibule door could also be folded back. I imagine if you were to open one on each side of the tent, even with the fly on, it would stay reasonably cool in there in the summer.

The small door problem is even bigger with the fly on. Here I am kneeling in the vestibule. You can see the door opening is only up to my shoulder blades and even crawling in on my hands and knees my back hits.

Overall I would say this is a very high quality and well built. It's a nice enough tent. Unfortunately I will not be field testing this tent. The doors are just too small for me and thats not something that can be over come for me. If you are a little shorter, this might be a great tent for you, but not for me.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Black Diamond Mega Light Tent Review

I recently purchased the Black Diamond Mega Light from REI. I chose to purchase from REI because I was unsure if I would like the tent and REI let's you return things no questions asked. I wanted the Mega Light which is a pyramid style tent because of it's light weight, and low packing volume. I figured it would be easy to pack on my BMW.

I asked around and some people had good things to say about them, most of the people that panned the pyramid style tents had never actually used one.

The floor does not come with it and it is optional. The floor is billed as being completely waterproof.

The tent as packaged. Weight without poles in 1 lb 14 oz. Weight with carbon fiber pole is 2 lbs 9 3/4 oz.

This picture puts in perspective how small it really is.

The optional floor next to the tent. The floor weighs 1 lb and 13 oz as packed. Total weight is 3 lbs 6 3/4 oz. Pretty light!!

I actually managed to pack both the tent and the floor into the floor stuff sack so it's extremely compact. I set it up in my yard for the first time and this is not on level ground.

Here is an inside view.

As you can see there is a small gap around the bottom of the tent even when it's pitched to the ground if the floor is not tied to the tent.

The tent is not seam sealed from the factory which is kind of lame considering how much this thing costs. Black Diamond recommends using SilNet and it takes two tubes. I read an article on BackPackingLight about how it can be thinned 1-1 with mineral spirits to make it go farther and has the added benefit of it flowing better. Well I used this method and it worked great. You could really see the sealer seeping into the threads and seams.

Well this past weekend I took it out for it's maiden voyage when I went camping.

Here is the tent set up in the wild.

Here is the inside with my Big Agnes bag thrown inside.

After a weekend of using it in mixed conditions that ranged from the 50's and calm to the 20's and windy/cold the tent has some pluses and some minuses.
I like that you can walk right in. It's super small packed. Thanks to the small pack size, I fit all my camping gear in the top case on my RT. It's fairly easy to set up. There is some adjusting of the stakes here and there once you put the center pole up. I did end up fiddling around quite a bit repeatedly trying to get the tent more taunt. It was pretty stable though. Bugs were not a problem but it was cold so I guess they were dead. I suppose they might be in the summer. It was huge inside with plenty of room for me and my gear, and then some. This tent could easily sleep three. Of course it just led to me not being as careful with putting things away and stuff so I still hogged tons of room. I had it staked right to the ground so obviously I lost about 10 inches of head room. If you wanted to sleep two people on the same side, say with your spouse next to you, one person would be right up against the wall and would be chilly in a scenario like this weekend because the walls are sloped. The floor ties to the sides of the tent about 8 inches up maybe in 8 different places and the floor is bath tub style. It is for sure 100% waterproof. However it was windy at night so the side would get blown and the wind would come in between the gaps of where the tent was tied. If it had been raining I probably would have gotten a little wet with the way the wind was blowing.

I can thing of at least 3 different things I could change to make it better.
One thing I could do with my tent is sew a piece of Velcro around the perimeter of the tent and then one around the floor. That would pretty much seal it. Then you could also make a piece of no-see-um netting say about 10 inches high with Velcro top and bottom. Then you could have this between floor and tent for those hot summer night. Another would be to install adjustable stake points instead of the fixed ones. Finally a way to tension the sides better perhaps by adding more stake points. All these things would not always be needed. If the weather was nice, the way it is would be perfectly fine.

So, the thing I need to decide is, do I go ahead and modify the tent to my liking, or return it and keep looking for something similar that is light weight but offers better protection? I shouldn't say weight, it's more about volume for me? I got the Hilleberg catalog , over the weekend in the mail. I forgot I ordered that before I made my decision on a tent. I will have to think about it. Overall I like the tent I guess but I am not 100% sure.

Frost on the Pumpkin Rally

This past weekend I attended the Frost on the Pumpkin Rally with the Dead Horse Motorcycle Club. The Rally was to take place at Somerset, VT in the Green Mountain National Forest.

I stopped to take a picture of this church in Bennington.

The Old Walloomsac Inn, Old Bennington VT. I should have taken more photos of it. It was a pretty neat old building.

The RT parked in front. Yes all my camping gear is packed in that top case.

Then I went up the road just a bit to stop at Hemmings Motor News to take some picures and fill up the RT.

The famous Hemmings Delivery Sedan.

I love the bathroom signs.

Now this is the way to wish someone a nice day.

Inside the store.

A nice old Indian inside.

They even have a BMW Isetta there.

You can purchase vintage plates from many states.

They also have replica vintage signs.

I talked to a few of the folks at Hemmings and they were all curious about where I was going and all thought me crazy for wanting to camp at Somerset so late in the year. They all gave me directions even though I had my GPS guiding the way. It was just a short 30-40 minutes ride to Somerset Rd which would take me to my destination.
I turned up the road and then onto Nation Forest Rd 71.

I haven't even had the RT three weeks yet and its already been off road 3 times. I wonder if I should have gotten the GS?

I was unsure of where exactly we were camping. I knew after the third bridge to take a left. I was also told there might be someone there in a pickup truck. So, after the third bridge, I took a left. A little bit up the road I did in fact see a man and a pickup. I tried hollering to him to see if this was the place, of course I had my helmet on and motor running. I am sure it sounded like a bunch of mumbling. Finally, I removed my helmet and this was in fact the place. Mike (Big Dog) was there and was nice enough to bring a giant pile of fire wood and already had the fire going. Just a couple minutes later Marilyn showed as well.

I went off to set up my tent.

A little while later Spark Plug Joanie and Dirty Dave pulled up in their motor home with motorcycles in tow. They are planning a driving across the country next year so they are testing out their setup. Joan and Dave were also the main hosts and brought tons of food and other small items that would be tedious to bring on a motorcycle.

A little later Tuber showed up and so did Lauren on her ST1300. Tuber gave Lauren a hand setting up her tent.

The Dead Horse logo on the front of Lauren's bike. I need one of those.

Then more of the crew filed in. As the sun was setting we had some delicious collard greens with turnips.

There was also sweet potato and jalapeƱo soup which was excellent!

Tuber cooked up some great sausage and peppers.

The hostess with the mostess Joanie.

As the sun set everyone sat round the fire sharing stories and telling lies.

Big Dog jokingly said I talk too much.

I pretty much polished off a bottle of wine myself that night along with a bit of Kahlua and around 10 I went to sleep.

Saturday, Day 2.

I woke up about 7 and it seemed to have gotten warmer throughout the night although now it was really overcast. The fire was already going in the am and coffee was on. I however am a coffee snob so I brewed up my own coffee in my Jetboil. There was some danishes around, doughnut holes, bagels and other snack foods.

We were just hanging out and I was getting cold. So Dan and I decided to go out for a ride.

We rode up VT RT 100 (always one of my favorites) north toward Jamaica VT, then to Londonberry. Then we hopped on RT 11 to RT 30 and into Manchester were some of the other guys were meeting up for brunch I guess it would be since it was almost noon. We met up at the Up For Breakfast diner in downtown Manchester. I had the Wild Turkey omelet. It was an omelet with wild turkey hash, 3 eggs, mushrooms, cheese, and onions and a side of rye toast. It was most excellent. Dan had the Eggs Benedict and was pleased with his selection as well. It was a little pricey for breakfast food but it was very high quality food and I would highly recommend it. Its worth the drive.

After breakfast we walked down to EMS. Dan forgot his hat and wanted to pick one up and I didn't bring gloves for hanging around camp. I was also a little cold sleeping the night before so I decided to pick up a sleeping bag liner. Dan decided to forgo a hat since his house was on our route back and we just stopped by there. I, however, picked up a pair of fleece gloves and a sleeping bag liner. I can't remember what brand but it folded up small, and seemed like it wouldn't do much but it claimed to add 15 degrees to a bags rating. I am not sure if it added that much, but I was noticeably warmer with it. I am going to contact Big Agnes about my bag because it seems like all the loft has settled in the sides and that is contributing to my feeling cold. Its really only on my legs.

We left Manchester and took various back roads toward Dan's house in Bennington. Dan led and I didn't know they way. It was a nice route though with good riding. Dan rode a nice relaxing pace all day and that was okay with me. We stopped quickly at his place so he could get his gloves and hat, then it was back to camp.

I decided to continue on straight at the turn off for the camp because I wanted to check out the reservoir. Its not the greatest picture but it wasn't that nice of a day.

Here is a picture of the big earthen dam.

My RT waits while I take photos.

The dirt road I took to get to the reservoir. It doesn't look it, but that hill is steep and very rutted.

One the way back from camp I stopped at the spill way.

I went back to camp and everyone else was back from their rides. Sioux and Voyle that I met at last years Buzzard Crest Bash showed up too.

We hung around and had some snacks, got warm by the fire. Then is was time for dinner.

"Why don't you have the steak!"

Andrew on the right in the Polaris jacket was the procurer and preparer of the lobster.

The big ol' lobster pot.

Almost suppertime!

Time for my dinner.

The lobster was good and it was fun to have while camping. It hardly even seemed like camping except for the cold. I think I still prefer a good steak. There was also beef stew to be had for the non-seafood folk.

I had a little of this to wash down my lobster.

Here's Zilla going to work on his lobster.

Joanie at work on her lobster.

Bellies full we just hung around the fire some more.

The sun was setting on another good day of camping.

Then it was time for more caveman TV.

Left to right: Joanie, Big Dog, Voyle sitting behind Big Dog, and Tuber. Kate and Andrew are in the background.

Dan's wife came to meet the Dead Horse gang for the first time. Left to right thats Joanie, Andrew pulling out a chair for Betsey, Dan's wife Betsey, Dan, Voyle, and Tuber.

It was time for Lauren to play with the fire.

Brian was relaxing too.

Left to right, Sioux, Lauren, Dave, and Craig (sitting).

Zilla (Craig) made this really cool trailer to pull behind his Goldwing.

We all hung around the fire and talked. I didn't stay up too late and I went to bed around 9 or 9:30.

Sunday Day 3

It was really cold Saturday night. I forced myself to stay in my sleeping bag until around 7. Then I woke up to frost in the tent, frost on my sleeping bag, frost on my bike.

Luckily for me the fire was already going so I just had to run over there and get warm.

I had some coffee and oatmeal for breakfast. Joanie also made egg and cheese sandwiches for everyone. Then everyone started packing up.

Lauren was out of there first since she had somewhere to be.

Sioux and Voyle started packing up.

Spark Plug Joanie and Dirty Dave started packing the camper.

I started packing up too and I was even able to fit everything back into the bike. It was about 10 am so I said goodbye to everyone and hit the road. It was probably my last camping trip of the year. It was a great time and I will go again I am sure.
I didn't put too many miles on the RT this weekend.

I do have over 700 on it already though in less than 3 weeks and its already time for it's initial service. I will keep riding on day trips as long as I can.

You can see all of the photos here.