Updated: Nov 12, 2020
I know, bad pun. Sorry. But we really do need your help. If you follow our Adventurous Journeys, you'll know that we are gearing up - literally - for our GR20in2020 challenge.
One key piece of equipment we each need to buy is a lightweight one person tent. Which is where we need the advice and experience of the interwebs community out there. We each have multiple tents but they are too big, too bulky and way too heavy. We aim to move as fast as we can, over challenging terrain, to complete our challenge within the time and rules we've created.
So, we need new tents. But we are enormously overwhelmed by the options out there. We've spent literally hundreds of hours researching, reading online opinions and reviews, visiting shops, trawling forums. Why is it so difficult to find what we want? We've a clear list of criteria to fulfil and every tent out there requires a compromise on one or more of those requirements. Fussy? Picky? Us? Well, maybe, yes, a bit. But we want to get this right.
A big part of our day jobs is leading, supervising and assessing Duke of Edinburgh's International Award expeditions here in Spain. (More on our website about how your next hiking holiday, DofE Exped or Intward AJ could be in Spain too!). This means we will use our new tents for multiple purposes. Whilst on Bronze AJs we are usually on campsites so our camping gear gets delivered by a colleague in a support vehicle and weight isn't an issue. However, we've got Gold and Silver expeditions in the next year which will likely require us to hike in to camp carrying our gear - great training for GR20 but also meaning that our tents will need to work in different environments, not just GR20 in summer.
So here's our wishlist for the ideal tent:
- space for one person and a large pack inside
- head room to fully sit up
- double skin
- free standing
- can pitch outer first
- can be pitched inner only
- around 1kg or less
- under 200€
- sheltered cooking
- winter warmth
- summer ventilation
Whilst we'd be delighted to be told the ideal tent exists and meets all those points, we haven't found it. Have you? If so, stop reading and tell us about it!
We're clear that 2 of the above are non-negotiable: one person tent with space for gear inside (and/or in vestibule) and the price. We're willing to compromise, somewhat, on the other criteria but first we'll explain why they matter to us.
From our GR20 Corsica High Level Route research, it seems that a lot of the camp grounds are at significant altitude with very hard, stony ground, much like the sites we encounter on our adventures in the southern and mediterranean Spanish mountains. Hence the desire for a free-standing tent. We also want to be able to pitch fast and move on quickly, all of which negates using tarps or trekking-pole supported tents, which seem to require careful pitch selection and several ground anchors, whether pegs (stakes) or other techniques.
The double skin requirement goes hand in hand with good ventilation for summer and warmth in winter due to the extremes of climate we tend to experience and likely will on the GR20. As I write this I'm at over 35ºC but the photo above was taken a few kilometers from here on a Bronze DofE weekend at sub-zero temperatures in February. We don't mind a part mesh inner tent for ventilation and views (if the fly is off) but prefer to avoid a fully mesh inner as we have doubts about how warm they might be and how well they'd keep off the wind if used without the fly.
We're not as young as we used to be (find out more about us and our challenge), or as fit as we'd like, so we prefer not to share a cramped supposedly-2-person tent, even though it could be a lighter option, and we each need our own tent anyway, for our other adventures. Equally, sitting up fully to change clothes and spend time riding out the famous Corsican summer storms is highly preferable to the constraints of a coffin-like bivvy-style 'tent'.
Varied weather, both at home in the Spanish mountains and for the GR20 are also the reason we'd prefer a tent which can be pitched outer-first (or inner and outer together for speed) so the inside stays dry if forced to pitch in the rain. However, on a warm, dry night we'd love to be able to leave the rain fly off or pulled back for bug-free star-gazing and enjoying sunset and sunrise views from the comfort of our beds. Sheltered cooking space, such as a reasonably big vestibule or a door/porch which can be pulled out as a canopy using trekking poles, would be a useful bonus in wet or windy weather.
What have we found? Not a lot. There are fantastic looking tents out there, such as the perennial favourites the MSR Hubba NX (pictured higher up the page), Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 1, or the Nemo Dragonfly 1P. Thing is, they cost twice our budget! Yes, I'm sure you'll all tell us they are worth investing in, will last a lifetime, etc. But we simply can't spend 350-450€ each. Anyway, they're good but not perfect. The MSR Hubba NX is 1.3kg with pegs (stakes) and footprint. Feel free to chime in with your opinions on the need for a footprint! They pitch inner first, unless anyone knows otherwise? Neither do they seem to have a vestibule/porch big enough for anything other than wet boots and a jacket, certainly not for sheltered cooking.
Other options then? Well, mainstream retailers seem to offer little choice - I love my now 15 year old Quechua Forclaz T3+ 'lightweight' tunnel tent from Decathlon but it weighs 3 kilos and needs decent pegging out. I recently seam sealed and re-waterproofed it for this year. Modern offerings from the same shop seem like great tents but their lightest is a 1 person at 1.6kg.
Equally, UK stores we know, such as Millets, Blacks or Go Outdoors, seem to sell good quality, affordable tents, like the Berghaus Peak 3.1 Pro but that's 1.7kg and has limited head room; though at 5000mmHH it seems bomb-proof so maybe the extra weight is worth the additional weather protection? Maybe there's something we've missed from one of those retailers?
That leaves us looking at some of the options coming from emerging Chinese brands. Naturehike's Cloud Up range seem to be very popular and very affordable and get generally good reviews (for the updated versions) from everyone but the mountain elite. We'd prefer a bigger vestibule and more inside space than the one person version offers, it's not really free standing and there's no sheltered cooking, but it does seem tempting for the price - around 75€ on AliExpress or 90€ on Amazon. The weight isn't ideal at 1.4kg with everything in but it's cheap and double skin with decent weather proofing and ventilation (according to reviews we've read) and can be pitched inner only. Of course, we could jump up to the 2 person version which has loads of internal space for one person and gear, remains affordable and is semi-free standing - but then the weight is up to 1.7kg.
Thus far we seem to have found that lighter means more expensive but our foray in to the world of Naturehike brought us to the new VIK model. It seems great - only 1kg, big internal space with good headroom, two vestibules - one for gear storage and the other can be converted in to a sheltered area with trekking poles. Plus, it's currently available within the EU for just 109€!
Why, then have we written this entire post instead of just buying that and posting on social media about our miraculous find of the perfect ultralight one person tent? Because its not double skin. It's a hybrid single/double. The vestibules are separated from the inner by part fabric, part mesh panels but these are supported directly from the fly and then sewn to the bathtub floor. So it's essentially a single layer tent with internal dividers.
We don't have experience of using single skin tents. Do you? They are light and hence popular in the backpacking community for that reason. But are they warm enough compared with the double skin tents we know? Is condensation an issue in hot climates? Is the VIK's 2000mmHH enough for Corsica's mountain thunder storms?
Hopefully you can help us out here. Do you own any of the tents we've mentioned? Are there other options we haven't found? The VIK seems only to have been reviewed in East Asia, Russia and Germany - just one or two reviews in each language and from bloggers who've been given lots of free gear by the company.
Naturehike posted on Instagram a request for reviewers in Spain and we responded with offers to review it in English and Spanish, but they've not replied to us so far.
Fingers crossed you can help! Thank you for reading and for your contributions.
We used some photos from manufacturers' websites - we hope they don't mind but contact us if we should take them down!