steohenson warmlite

The Tent We Are Going To Live In For The Rest Of Our Lives

 

I doubt many have ever left suburban city life with their family and decided to go and live in a tent.  As I write this, I am becoming even more aware of how wacko the idea of a "tent home" sounds, but that is what we are doing.  And in truth one could make a very good argument that taking on a 30-year mortgage and sending our kids off to packed testing zones is just as crazy.  I figure in a few years we will have done both and we can then determine who amongst us is the nuttiest!

For now, let's just pick a tent.

But what tent do we choose?  What do we look for?  What will make our new vinyl home a home?

Welcome to the world of vagabond real estate.

We know what we want out of our new home.  A spacious, cozy, homey dwelling that folds up fast and fits snug in the trunk of our four-door.  But specifically, here is what we need.

Specifications:

  • All-season, weatherproof .
  • It must never break. And if it does, the manufacturer must have the kind of extreme customer service that can ship replacement parts to the ends of the earth within days if necessary.  Lifetime Warranty would give some assurance.
  • Big enough for the four of us, and our gear.
  • Lightweight enough to work for cycling, backpacking, or car camping, since we'll most likely be doing all of the above.
  • Quick and Easy to set up by one person.
  • It should pack up small.

We've begun a list of candidates and would love any feedback you all may have.  The Hilleberg tents were highly recommended by our friends at Edventure Project and Family On Bikes.  But there are others that seem like good options as well.

 

1. Hilleberg Keron 4

The first tent we looked at:  The Hilleberg Keron 4, because of the word-of-mouth endorsements from people whose journeys we've read about and understand and whose needs were the same as ours.  If it was their best option, wouldn't it be ours? (Note: the former model was the Combi, very similar to Keron).

Price:  $835
Size: 47.3 sq ft + 2 vestibules
Weight:  9 lbs. 15 oz.
Packed Size:  ?

We've tried it out, thanks to our friends at the Edventure Project.  It is hardy and durable, with plenty of room for all of us to sleep comfortably and fit some of our gear in the tent with us, with the rest fitting in the vestibule.  Not a whole lot of extra room, though.  We didn't actually set it up, but we are assured it is quick and easy, and we believe them - it didn't take long.  It's made up of an inner and outer tent, so if you have to pack it up in the rain, you can take down the inner tent dry and then the outer tent separately.  It's pretty lightweight. Customer service is top notch, you can actually speak to the Hilleberg's themselves and they'll take care of you!  As for passing the Mom-test, it heartily withstood frequent and reckless zippering and unzippering by a toddler with narry a snag or even slowing.  All in all, we think this tent has everything we need and will be our fall-back if we aren't convinced that another is a better option.  The price is a little daunting, but it will be our home, after all...

2.   Black Diamond Bibler Bombshelter

With a name like Bombshelter, it has to be great.

Price:  $800
Size:  50 sq ft + 2 vestibules
Weight:  8 lbs. 13 oz.
Packed Size:  20" x 8"

You see why this one might just be 'Da-Bomb(shelter)?  It's just a little bigger, lighter, and less expensive than the Keron 4.  They are both All-season tents and this one gets great reviews at backcountry.com.  We've never actually seen this one in person, but it is one we definitely want to check out.  If you've had personal experience with this one, tell us about it.  The two biggest unknowns for us:  How easy is it to set up? and Will it withstand zippering and overall use by the hurricane we call our son?  There's no such thing as "gently used"...

 3.  Asashi by NEMO

At nearly half the price of the Keron 4 and Bibler Bombshelter, we could never make a decision before seeing the Asashi by Nemo Equipment.  Checking it out should be easy as it is manufactured right next door in New Hampshire.  We'll be taking a trip up there shortly to check it out for ourselves, but let us know if you've used this tent and what you thought.

Price:  $430
Size:  63 sq ft + 1 vestibule
Weight:  10 lbs. 15 oz.
Packed Size:  19" x 8"

It's a little heavier than the Keron and Bombshelter, but comes with some extra space, too.  That might be nice with two young kids on the road.  It also boasts a height of 60" at its heighest, which is considerably more than the 44" offered by both the Keron and Bombshelter.  I guess it comes down to whether we'll be traveling by car or by bike or foot.  An extra 2 lbs. is negligible in the car, especially if it packs up just as small, but on the bikes or on the back?  That could make a big difference.  We also don't know if half the price = half the quality.  But from the website, we get the impression it is a small business that takes pride in the quality of the product it delivers.  And, it is locally made, which is a plus for us.  We'll definitely need to check this one out in person before we consider it.

4.  Stephenson's Warmlite

Found the Warmlite in a search for tents comparable with Hilleberg.  Also manufactured in NH.  The company is family-run and has been around since the 50's making ultralight backpacking equipment.  If it can handle conditions like this, then sign me up.  Definitely worth an in-person look at the tent to see how it compares to the other options.

 

Price:  $894
Size:  114 sq ft (may include vestibules)
Weight:  5 lbs. 11 oz.
Packed Size:  21" x 7.5"

If we're comparing this one to the Hilleberg and the Bibler, a big difference is that it is single-walled construction rather than double-walled.  Although it doesn't seem to affect its ability to withstand sub-zero temperatures or stay dry, it doesn't give the option of dropping the interior tent dry.  It is a whole lot bigger (the next size down is considered a 3-person tent, but maybe that one would be more our size?) and very light because of its single-wall design, a nice combination.  This is another tent we haven't seen, and they come custom-made - down to picking your own color combination - so I'm not sure we'd be able to see one in person up front.  They are also locally made next door in NH, so we wouldn't have far to go to check out their "model homes".

5.  Coleman Helios

Here come the feet back down to earth.  The options are moving away from All-Season expedition quality ultralight tents into 3-season car camping tents.  We wanted to compare the Hillebergs and Biblers of the world with more moderate options like the Coleman Helios because maybe we don't need that much tent.  Maybe a more moderate option would serve our purpose.

And, the price is right(er).

Price:  $550
Size:  52.3 sq ft + 1 vestibule
Weight:  12 lbs. 4 oz.
Packed Size:  ?

At over 12 lbs. and likely a pretty big packed size (since only with backpacker tents is this important enough to include in the specs), this would really only be an option for car travel.  Even if it's not our first adventure, we will inevitably be cycling and backpacking eventually, and we hope to make this tent last us for years to come, so we're not convinced something like this is even an option, but we had to make sure a big purchase was worthwhile.  Oh, and all of those lines leading from the fly scare me for setup...

6.  Big Agnes Flying Diamond 4

We put the tent question out there on Facebook and one of our Facebook friends, Val in Real Life, told us about the Big Agnes Flying Diamond.  Her family uses the Flying Diamond 6 and they love it so far.

Price:  $400
Size:  69 sq ft
Weight:  10 lbs. 3 oz.
Packed Size:  24" x 17" x 5"

As a car camping tent, it's pretty light at only 10 lbs, but it doesn't pack up very small.  It also isn't a 4-Season tent and we just never know when we might find ourselves camping in Alaska or on top of a snowy mountain.  If we're going to invest in a single tent as a home, it's going to have to be All-Season.  But just because it doesn't meet our specifications doesn't mean it might not meet yours and, since we liked Val's review, we thought we'd include it here, even though we've sort eliminated this one as a real option for our family.

7.  Marmot Limestone

We included this because for some reason the name Marmot rings a positive bell.  It's in the lower price tier, but also doesn't seem to be a 4-season tent.  Feel free to correct us if we're wrong and tell us why this should be our new home.

Price:  $300
Size:  60 sq ft
Weight:  11 lbs. 12 oz.
Packed Size:  27.5" x 10"

This looks like a great tent.  One we should have been using over the past 5 years instead of the zipper disasters we dragged into the woods.  But not the kind of tent we're looking for.  Again, although it's difficult to tell from the website, this doesn't seem to be advertised as a 4-Season tent, and it's not included in their "expedition" group of tents.  Nice size and weight, a little big packed up.  We'll take a look at one in a store so that we can really understand the difference between tents like Hilleberg and tents like this.

Decisions, Decisions

Not exactly the criteria most people are looking for in a new home, but it suits us and our plans just fine. We love having this decision to make. We are on the brink and it feels good. The concrete preparations are beginning and we can really dig in. Sure, maybe this won't be our home for the rest of our lives, but you never know.

Let us know about your experiences with these or any other tents. We want this decision to be as informed as possible and who better to advise us than travelers like you!

If you'd like a quicker comparison of the tents, check out our comparison chart here.

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All the Best in Your Adventures!



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'The Tent We Are Going To Live In For The Rest Of Our Lives' have 15 comments

  1. July 31, 2011 @ 10:51 am Nancy from Family on Bikes

    Wow - you're really doing your homework! You've certainly got some great tents on your list. I know you want to get something now that will last and last and last, but I've got another suggestion...

    You're planning on being in the USA/Canada for the first year or so, right? So really, you won't need the really heavy duty built-to-last-for-a-lifetime-and-then-some tent at first.

    We used the REI 4-person tent (http://www.rei.com/product/777757/rei-camp-dome-4-tent) for our whole 1-year trip around the USA and Mexico. By the time we got home (probably slept in that tent 200 nights) it was still in decent shape.

    We bought a new one (same tent) and used that from Alaska to Peru -probably 2 years or so on the road. Granted, we didn't use it much once we hit southern Mexico, but we probably slept in it 200 nights or so. After that, we got some wonderful Eddie Bauer/First Ascent tents (not available to the general public).

    The advantage of REI is that they stand behind their products completely, so if it does fail they will replace it no questions asked. And if you are in the USA, you could do that quite easily. That would give you a bit of time for that hurricane you call a son to grow up a bit before you bite the bullet and spend big bucks on a tent.

    The Hilleburg is an awesome tent and many bike tourists use them. The downside is that they are not freestanding - you will need to either pound stakes in the ground or have something to tie them on to. We spent many nights on concrete and that would have been a problem for us.

    Another thing to think about is the ultralight aspect of tents. There are pros and cons to everything, so I'm not saying ultralight is bad. It's actually quite good in many regards. However, ultralight comes at a cost - and that cost is durability. The ultralights are great for a short expedition up Everest. They won't hold up to years of wear. We decided that, for us, we would rather pay the price of an extra pound or two in order to get durability.

    Good luck!

    Reply

    • July 31, 2011 @ 12:19 pm Justin

      Great Points. Certainly this list will grow.

      I care most about packing size, set up ease and durability. That is key. Weight, I can live without. For sure we will add some more options to our list. Freestanding would also be nice. One less thing. I am off to check out your suggestion and add it to the list. Thanks Nancy!

      Reply

  2. July 31, 2011 @ 11:24 am Iain Mallory

    Great and wide choice of tents. I doubt if you will g0 far wrong with a Hilleberg they really make great tents and Black Diamond are another really top quality supplier. Cannot really comment of Nemo as I am not aware of them, but last thing I would say is probably avoid the single wall construction. They are not usually so versatile. very good for high altitude, dry climates but from experience not so great if used in wet or high humidity destinations. Good luck and gave a great time enjoying doing your homework.
    Iain Mallory recently posted..The Great Ocean Roadtrip – A superlative adventure

    Reply

    • July 31, 2011 @ 12:14 pm Justin

      Yeah, most say Hilleberg. Good to know about the single wall tents. Great Help! Thanks Iain!

      Reply

  3. July 31, 2011 @ 11:28 am Amy

    The $94 tent I just bought at Walmart is feeling tent envy right now!
    Amy recently posted..And What About Retirement?

    Reply

    • July 31, 2011 @ 12:12 pm Justin

      Mine too! And my wallet is aching. But this is the most important thing. Think of it as a home. The most important investment. Well, an important investment at least.

      Reply

  4. July 31, 2011 @ 1:10 pm Jenn Miller

    I'm lovin' the list... several excellent options there. You generally get what you pay for and in that price range, you're likely to get a good quality tent, no matter how it goes.

    One thing we LOVE about the Hilleberg (there may be others with this feature) is double wall construction. MANY TIMES we have taken the tent down in two pieces: interior dry part first, packed dry... then exterior wet part second, packed wet... reverse operation in the evening and you've still got a dry place to sleep. Living in a tent instead of taking it all "home" to clean it, dry it, etc... this makes a big difference.

    I'm excited to see what you choose!!!
    Jenn Miller recently posted..A Call To Action: Let Guinness World Records Know We Expect Them To Keep Their Word & Honor the Vogel Boys’ Record

    Reply

    • July 31, 2011 @ 2:36 pm Justin

      I don't WANT to pay for any of it, but better to go quality on a tent and not have it break. Guarantee helps a lot as well. Heidi is over at REI right now having a looksee.

      Reply

  5. July 31, 2011 @ 2:09 pm Val Joiner

    Oh those are some great tents! For your purposes the Hilleberg seems to make a lot of sense. Can't wait to see what you end up with and how it works out for you. It's a lot of pressure when it's going to be your "home" isn't it? But now with all this tent talk I'm anxious to get some camping action on.

    Good luck picking, that's a juicy line-up.

    Reply

    • July 31, 2011 @ 2:38 pm Justin

      I am anxious as well. Thanks for the suggestion. Hopefully we pick a winner. I have a feeling the one that fits best in the trunk is the one we go with.

      Reply

  6. July 31, 2011 @ 8:49 pm Tony Miller

    One thing that is a factor, and helped lead us to the decision to go with the Hilleberg, is the actual usable space. The square footage can be misleading with dome-style tents in that the whole floor space can't be comfortably used for sleeping. Thus, most "4-man" tents can't actually accommodate four people sleeping because the only place where it has the full length is the middle. The Combi (and thus the Veron) has a square footprint and the sides go steeply up at the base, so you can actually use it to the edge. Furthermore, the Combi has the ability to add on another tent, so you can have a bigger tent, separate spaces (good for Mom & Dad ;-) ), and yet all be under the same roof. I'm not sure how the others on your list compare on this front.
    Tony Miller recently posted..A Call To Action: Let Guinness World Records Know We Expect Them To Keep Their Word & Honor the Vogel Boys’ Record

    Reply

    • July 31, 2011 @ 8:57 pm Justin

      You can add another tent! SOLD!

      I really felt the Hilleberg had plenty of room. Heidi went and checked some out today and they didn't compare.

      Hey, Nancy at family on Bikes brought up a good point. It is not free standing. Did you ever run into concrete or places you couldn't anchor the tent?

      Reply

  7. August 2, 2011 @ 8:34 am Amy

    Ah...a tent? Wow, I take my hat off to you. I can last up to a week if I'm forced to, but then my whingy sooky mode kicks in.

    That said, I have suggested it a few times when we are filling up with fuel as part of my temper tantrum at how expensive fuel is in remote areas. But I don't think I could seriously do it. I admire you for thinking about it.

    Reply

  8. November 15, 2011 @ 5:05 pm Jason

    Have you thought about an outfitter tent?

    I'm living in a 12 x 20 Alaknak right now which is huge compared to all of those, it's bombproof, you can have a woodstove, you can walk around inside without ducking (middle of the tent is like 12 feet high), and it's comprable in price to some on your list (about 1k). It takes me an hour to set it up by myself, a little quicker with someone helping. It is GENUINELY comfortable for 4+ people even with a TON of gear.

    Now, of course you can't hike around with this thing and hope to survive for long, it weighs a ton... so my suggestion is, get the outfitter tent as your basecamp and a super light backpacking tent for your hiking and biking trips (ya really don't want to live in a lightweight tent fulltime anyway).

    Reply

    • July 1, 2013 @ 9:59 pm justin still

      We werethinking the same thing as jason there were looking at a use military 16x32 for base camp 2000 new and they make floorin for those front and backdoor windows all the sides roll up and are netted for those hot days and mosquito infested woods then you can settle for a really lightweight tent for those long outings

      Reply


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