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Thread: Big Agnes / Ultralight Tent "Waterproofness"

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    Senior Member DayTrip's Avatar
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    Big Agnes / Ultralight Tent "Waterproofness"

    I'm close to pulling the trigger on an ultralight tent and have been going back and forth on several models, several of which are the Big Agnes brand. Numerous reviews I've read for Big Agnes mention the fly leaking badly in heavy or steady rain. Anyone know if this is a Big Agnes "thing" or if this is simply a reality of the thinner flies and lighter weight materials not repelling moisture and allowing it to absorb or pass through? It seems like getting below the 3 lb or so weight involves a commitment to fairly thin and fragile fabrics. Considering the lower limit on a 2 person tent seems to be about 2 lbs I'm wondering if that last pound is worth the potential problems in wet environments like the Northeast. Any feedback on the brand or in general would be appreciated.
    NH 48 4k: 48/48; NH W48k: 46/48; NY 46: 6/46

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    IMHO, Single wall tents are fundamentally going to have a lot of issues with moisture building up on the interior. Fine if you are in an area of low relative humidity and winter camping but not so good with east coast hiking where the dewpoint is not that far away from the air temp. A single wall tent doesn't breath and it will get damp inside just from the amount of vapor coming from your gear and body. That is the nature of the beast. Cuben Fiber (AKA Dyneema CCF) and Silnylon are effectively waterproof when new and properly seam sealed. Here is link to a Dyneema description https://www.hyperlitemountaingear.co...ite-technology. Both fibers are a bear to sew and are mostly used by cottage manufacturers. Some folks swear by properly set up tarps as an alternative although they tend to be more popular in the west coast. They inherently have more ventilation but require ideal setup. HMG makes the Echo 2 which is system consisting of a conventional tarp, a "beak" which aids set up in windy conditions and an interior screened insert with floor. They used to make an Echo 1 but I don't see it listed. When I was shopping for a PCT tent several years ago (hike didn't happen) the Echo 2 tarp only or possibly with the beak was popular as a solo tarp several years ago as it was roomy enough for one person with gear and big enough to avoid touching the roof (its still quite low). I did not pay retail,as the one I purchased was an overstock of a a special forces version (Iraq war camo). I haven't used it nearly enough. it definitely feels "crinkly" to the touch. Its a laminate while Sylnylon is a coating that is saturated into an underlying nylon base. Pound for pound Dyneema is stronger in tension than nylon and one variety is used to replace steel cables.

    Yes they all are thin and potentially fragile fabrics, that's why mainstream companies do not typically sell them as they don't want the warranty hassles. They also have a limited lifespan in sun. Definitely not something to set up in the front yard for a few weeks. They are also subject to melting so avoid campfires that throw sparks.

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    No issues with the Fly Creek in tornado watch conditions aside from the pitch getting sloppy as it absorbs a bit of water and stretches, which is a silnyl issue. Definitely no issues with silnyl or silpoly in general with any of my tarps in regards to staying dry. Silpoly and DCF will absorb much less water and hold a better pitch than silnyl. Silnyl gets the durability edge over silpoly or DCF. FWIW, BA puts an additional 1200mm PU coating on top of their silnyl (which seems like overkill as none of my silnyl tarps have a PU coating and they perform great) so I find it hard to believe they are getting leaking problems if pitched properly.

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    Senior Member DayTrip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by peakbagger View Post
    IMHO, Single wall tents are fundamentally going to have a lot of issues with moisture building up on the interior. Fine if you are in an area of low relative humidity and winter camping but not so good with east coast hiking where the dewpoint is not that far away from the air temp. A single wall tent doesn't breath and it will get damp inside just from the amount of vapor coming from your gear and body. That is the nature of the beast. Cuben Fiber (AKA Dyneema CCF) and Silnylon are effectively waterproof when new and properly seam sealed. Here is link to a Dyneema description https://www.hyperlitemountaingear.co...ite-technology. Both fibers are a bear to sew and are mostly used by cottage manufacturers. Some folks swear by properly set up tarps as an alternative although they tend to be more popular in the west coast. They inherently have more ventilation but require ideal setup. HMG makes the Echo 2 which is system consisting of a conventional tarp, a "beak" which aids set up in windy conditions and an interior screened insert with floor. They used to make an Echo 1 but I don't see it listed. When I was shopping for a PCT tent several years ago (hike didn't happen) the Echo 2 tarp only or possibly with the beak was popular as a solo tarp several years ago as it was roomy enough for one person with gear and big enough to avoid touching the roof (its still quite low). I did not pay retail,as the one I purchased was an overstock of a a special forces version (Iraq war camo). I haven't used it nearly enough. it definitely feels "crinkly" to the touch. Its a laminate while Sylnylon is a coating that is saturated into an underlying nylon base. Pound for pound Dyneema is stronger in tension than nylon and one variety is used to replace steel cables.

    Yes they all are thin and potentially fragile fabrics, that's why mainstream companies do not typically sell them as they don't want the warranty hassles. They also have a limited lifespan in sun. Definitely not something to set up in the front yard for a few weeks. They are also subject to melting so avoid campfires that throw sparks.
    Not talking about single wall tents. You're probably thinking of my Winter thread on tents, which is understandable because I am all over the map with my questions. For that I wound up getting the North Face Assault 2. Unfortunately I didn't get to do any Winter camping this year but I took it out a few weeks ago on an overnight and it performed very well. Temps got down to high 40's with a light breeze and I had zero condensation. I even closed the two roof vents around midnight because I was getting a bit chilly and it didn't matter. I wouldn't hesitate to use this tent again in similar conditions. Without the optional vestibule attached it weighs 3 lbs. I'd like to try it again in rainy conditions at similar temps because the 2019 version I got is supposed to have addressed the issue of being waterproof, which they now guarantee (I saved a PDF of the web site description indicating this for any future issues). Not why I bought it but I am curious to see how it does.
    NH 48 4k: 48/48; NH W48k: 46/48; NY 46: 6/46

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    Senior Member DayTrip's Avatar
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    That is one of the three Big Agnes models I am looking at (the Tiger UL and Copper Spur UL being the others). I don't normally pay any attention to an isolated complaint on an issue but it came up 4 different times in the reviews so it got me wondering about it. Thanks for the feedback.
    NH 48 4k: 48/48; NH W48k: 46/48; NY 46: 6/46

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    Member Chachie's Avatar
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    No leaks on my Copper Spur. Camped in all kinds of weather. Had it for 6 years.
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    My JRB tarp is silnylon and in a real serious downpour I had a very light misting that came through. The misting came and went in pace with the storm's intensity. I ended up with my rain jacket on the torso of my bag.

    So, yeah, silnylon can mist it loaded up.

    I remember being more concerned about my tarp stakes holding against the wind loads; that would have been a disaster.

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    Senior Member Fitz's Avatar
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    After spending much of the winter debating the tent issue, I broke down and parted with the money for the Copper Spur UL. I had many of the same concerns you do, and probably read the same reviews. I just got it yesterday, so I have nothing to report on performance. I certainly hope it holds up and will report back. The tent is very light and seems well constructed so far. Setting it up is a breeze and I will experiment more. You can set the fly up first in a downpour and crawl under and set the rest of the tent up which will be handy.

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    Senior Member skiguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by peakbagger View Post
    IMHO, Single wall tents are fundamentally going to have a lot of issues with moisture building up on the interior. Fine if you are in an area of low relative humidity and winter camping but not so good with east coast hiking where the dewpoint is not that far away from the air temp. A single wall tent doesn't breath and it will get damp inside just from the amount of vapor coming from your gear and body. That is the nature of the beast.
    This is not entirely true. Some single wall tents do breath and others don't. Typically the fabrics in high end mountaineering tents like Black Diamond's which are made of "Todd Tex" breath and actually uses the same membrane as Gortex. North Face also makes single wall tents from "Dry Wall" that also breaths. I agree condensation build up inside of a tent is more likely to occur with a single wall tent. But that is more a result of improper use of the product. Single wall tents were originally designed specifically for high altitude mountaineering and that is the environment they best perform in. The reason being typically you are dealing with a lower humidity environment and less of a temperature differential between the inside of the tent and the outside.

    https://outdoorindustry.org/press-re...nt-technology/
    Last edited by skiguy; 05-04-2019 at 01:07 PM. Reason: added more info
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom_Murphy View Post
    My JRB tarp is silnylon and in a real serious downpour I had a very light misting that came through. The misting came and went in pace with the storm's intensity. I ended up with my rain jacket on the torso of my bag.

    So, yeah, silnylon can mist it loaded up.
    Most silnyl is rated 1200mm-1500mm. You can find stuff rated higher. My silnyl WB tarp is rated at 2000mm and hasn't ever had any misting. Silpoly is something crazy like 4000mm.

    The head ratings refer to the height that a column of water would have to be to force water through the fabric.

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    Senior Member DayTrip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by skiguy View Post
    This is not entirely true. Some single wall tents do breath and others don't. Typically the fabrics in high end mountaineering tents like Black Diamond's which are made of "Todd Tex" breath and actually uses the same membrane as Gortex. North Face also makes single wall tents from "Dry Wall" that also breaths. I agree condensation build up inside of a tent is more likely to occur with a single wall tent. But that is more a result of improper use of the product. Single wall tents were originally designed specifically for high altitude mountaineering and that is the environment they best perform in. The reason being typically you are dealing with a lower humidity environment and less of a temperature differential between the inside of the tent and the outside.

    https://outdoorindustry.org/press-re...nt-technology/
    I wound up taking my Assault 2 on an overnight in the Catskills FRI purely to see how it would do in rainy, muggy weather. Was low to mid 50's all night and steady rain from light to heavy. I have to say it held up really well overall. However, while the walls didn't leak and I really didn't have any condensation in the morning the fabric seemed to absorb and hold the water and the tent was noticeably heavier when I took down in the morning. I'd imagine in sustained heavy rain the tent would eventually leak. The back also has an "escape door" and the draft tube on the zipper collected enough water to drip through down the loop on the inside and drip every few minutes. Didn't amount to much but it is directly over your head so it was annoying. The surprising thing to me was that the floor, which is a different material than the body, was wet in several places I assume from me touching the walls. Hopefully next year I get to actually use the tent in the cold and snow it was intended for but it was nice to take it out a few times at least and evaluate the moisture management of the fabrics.
    NH 48 4k: 48/48; NH W48k: 46/48; NY 46: 6/46

  12. #12
    Senior Member TEO's Avatar
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    While not an ultralight, I've been using a Big Agnes Seedhouse SL 1 for over a decade. In all that time I've had one time where it seemed like the tent was leaking. Not only was raining hard, but it was incredibly humid, so I assume that it was condensation, not rain leaking through the fabric.

    After having owned the tent for a number of years, when the PU coating on the fly and tent floor started to breakdown, they sent me replacements for both, under warranty.

    I wouldn't hesitate to buy from Big Agnes again.
    Last edited by TEO; 05-06-2019 at 02:50 PM.

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    Senior Member DayTrip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TEO View Post
    While not an ultralight, I've been using a Big Agnes Seedhouse SL 1 for over a decade. In all that time I've had one time where it seemed like the tent was leaking. Not only was raining hard, but it was incredibly humid, so I assume that it was condensation, not rain leaking through the fabric.

    After having owned the tent for a number of years, when the PU coating on the fly and tent floor started to breakdown, they sent me replacements for both, under warranty.

    I wouldn't hesitate to buy from Big Agnes again.
    Good to know. I'm pretty sure I am going to go with the Copper Spur HV UL1. Just waiting to see what kind of promos and coupons get rolled out for Memorial Day sales before pulling the trigger.
    NH 48 4k: 48/48; NH W48k: 46/48; NY 46: 6/46

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    Senior Member TEO's Avatar
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    Speaking of PU degradation, having had a second tent degrade—an REI Arete 2—despite storing my tents in a cool, dry place, and limiting UV exposure, I now store my tents loosely stuffed in breathable cotton sacks. Supposedly the PU layer off-gasses, and storing tents in the tight confines and limited breathability of the stuff sacks they come with prevents the PU coatings from off-gassing properly, which then leads to the degradation (tackiness and eventual flaking-off of the layer).

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    Senior Member Brambor's Avatar
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    I've had two copper spur 3's and one fly creek 1. All were used in heavy rains and none leaked.
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