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Reviews > Base Camp Gear > Campsite Gear > Family Size Tents > Owner Review by Jerry Goller

THE NORTH FACE DOCKING STATION 2010 

MODULAR TENT SYSTEM
BY JERRY GOLLER

Main Shot


OWNER REVIEW

May 25, 2010

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Jerry Goller
EMAIL: jerrygoller@backpackgeartest.org
AGE: 63
LOCATION: Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 11" (1.80 m)
WEIGHT: 220 lb (99.80 kg)

I started camping with my father at age 6 or so. I’ve backpacked and truck camped, off and on, all of my life. Even in the Marine Corps, I was in the Infantry. I consider myself a light weight backpacker with an average dry pack weight of 10 to 15 pounds (4.5 to 7 kg), depending on the season and terrain. I backpack year round. Most of my trips are 2 to 5 days long and in Utah. I also, from time to time, take much longer trips lasting one to two months or more. These trips are usually on the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail.

PRODUCT INFORMATION

Manufacturer: The North Face
Year of Manufacture: 2010
Manufacturer's Website: The North Face. com
Docking Station:
MSRP: US$429.00
Listed Weight: 16 lbs 9 oz (7.52 kg)
Measured Weight: 15 lbs. 2 oz. (6.85 kg)
Listed Floor Area: 97 sq ft (9 sq m)
Measured Floor Size: 10' x 10' (3.05 m x 3.05 m)
Other details: I no longer have or use the provided stakes or their bag. I should also point out that the tent I have and tested is a Sales Sample and therefore may not exactly match the weight of final production models. 

ACCESSORIES:
Mesh Room:
MSRP: US$149.00
Listed Weight: 4 lbs 3 oz (1.94 kg)
Measured Weight: 5 lbs 6 oz (2.45 kg)
Listed Floor Area: 93.4 sq ft (8.7 sq m)

2 Person Dock:
MSRP: US$119.00
Listed Weight: 2 lbs 9 oz (1.16 kg)
Measured Weight: 3 lbs 15 oz (1.79 kg)
Listed Floor Area: 28 sq ft (2.7 sq m)

4 Person Dock:
MSRP: US$159.00
Listed Weight: 4 lbs 4 oz (1.94 kg)
Measured Weight: 5 lbs 6 oz (2.45 kg)
Listed Floor Area: 53 sq ft (4.9 sq m)

Although The North Face doesn’t officially refer to the Docking Station as a modular tent system I think that it is both accurate and descriptive to refer to it as one. The Docking Station is the main tent, or hub, of a complete tent system. The Docking Station is a floorless tent with four doors, two large and two small. The large doors accommodate the 4 Person Docks and the small doors are for 2 Person Docks. While in theory one could attach four Docks to one Station that would leave no entry door. From a practical point of view I feel that 3 Docks are the maximum practical number. As the large doors are easiest to use for entry into the Docking Station, I feel that one 4 Person Dock and two 2 Person Docks are the largest configuration I would use for this set up. The Mesh Room provides bug protection and a tub floor for the Docking Station. It has four zippered doors that correspond to the four doors of the Station. The Docks also have individual zippered doors, for entry into the Station, with a mesh panel at the top of the doors. A flap can be zipped closed over the mesh on the Dock door. The Docks and the Mesh Room are attached to the Docking Station with rings on the Station body and hooks on the Docks and Mesh Room. The 4 Person Dock uses grey hooks and rings and the 2 Person Dock uses orange. The three hooks on the top of the Mesh Room are green, as are the three rings on the roof of the Station. The Station goes up with 5 poles, which are color coded. The grey poles are for the large ends, the orange poles are for the “sides” and the single green pole goes across the top of the tent. That pole has a pole sleeve in the tent body, the only sleeve on the Station. Each of the Docks use one pole and pole sleeve.
Docking Station with both Docks
The modular system is somewhat of a “forehead slapper”. After using it for awhile I just wonder why all large tents aren’t made this way. It makes sense on so many levels. The large main room (Docking Station) provides plenty of stand up room for dressing, food prep, eating, and lounging. Using the Docks as sleeping areas means the main tent is easier to put up because it has no interior walls or dividers for sleeping areas. It also means the main area is for everything but sleeping. Since the Docks are the sleeping areas I don’t need to buy, carry, or erect more tent than I actually need. It also provides a great way to incarcerate the kids at night. My son is three years old and, when Mom goes with us, he sleeps in a 2 Person Dock. Like most all tents I’ve seen, I think TNF uses a person sizing that requires a closer relationship than even my wife and I have, much less friends. In other words, I think the 4 Person Dock is a great roomy sleeping area for two people and the 2 Person Dock is great for one adult or, maybe, two small children. Using the Mesh Room does reduce the interior room of the Station, particularly the head room. 

The Docking Station is the simplest, easiest large tent to put up I’ve ever used. As I frequently truck camp with my three year old son, this is greatly appreciated. I can easily put this tent up by myself. Jack can even “help” and not slow me down putting it up. The poles go up with large clips and no sleeves so they are particularly easy to install. I just put the pole ferrule of a pole in the brass grommet on the color matching webbing loop and then put it in the corresponding loop at the other end of the seam. Then I just clip the clips and the pole is installed. I’ve found that leaving the doors hooked shut makes this easier. It is pretty easy for the tent to get twisted up because it has no floor. Keeping the doors “shut” greatly reduces this tendency. I put the two grey end poles up first, then the two orange side poles. The green top pole goes on last.

Once the Docking Station is up I just add as many Docks as I need. If it is just Jack and I, I use a single 4 Person Dock. If Kate has gone with us then I use a 4 Person Dock for us and a 2 Person Dock for Jack. That still leaves the entire 10' x 10' 
(3.05 m x 3.05 m) Docking Station area for the rest of the "house". It certainly makes life easier. 


Rain SetupDock with Mesh

FIELD USE

Although we took a few overnight trips, I’m going to concentrate on two 4 day trips we took. The conditions couldn’t have been better for field testing a tent. It rained off and on for the entire first trip. The second trip was warm and sunny. 

2 Person Dock

The first trip was to Dalton Springs Forrest Service campground in the Manti – La Sal National Forrest, Utah. The campground is at about 8600’ (2620 m) and well forested. We were there in the fall and it rained every day. It didn’t necessarily rain all day but it did rain some each day and most of the nights. As I knew it was going to be raining most of the time, I also put up a MSR Board Room for use as a kitchen and prep area. With Kate and I, a then 2 year old Jack, and the rain, I knew we couldn’t have too much room. Although the Docking Station is quite large, the extra room was appreciated. The nights were cool and the days just warm enough to be comfortable, when it wasn’t raining. Our day trips were all to areas that didn’t have rain so it wasn’t a problem. The Docking Station area proved to be just right for our dining table, portable potty, and Jack’s support gear. It always amazes me how much gear a 2 year old requires.

We didn’t need the Mesh Room and didn’t install it. I actually prefer a floorless tent for a main area. There is no need to worry about spilled food or water and rain isn’t an issue. I put up a 4 Person Dock for Kate and me and a 2 Person Dock for Jack and his Aero Bed. The zippered doors on the Docks allowed us to incarcerate Jack so we wouldn’t have to worry about him wondering off and also insure that we were bug free in our sleep.

Even though it rained every night we stayed warm and snug in our Docks. I found no condensation in either of the Docks or in the Station. There was some leakage around the Station doors but, as we had no tub floor in, it just wasn’t a problem. What water did leak in stayed on the Station apron. The Docks themselves stayed water free throughout the trip. Warm, clear days and cool, rainy nights in a snug, dry tent. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Canyonlands National Park4 Person Dock

The second trip was to Squaw Flats Campground in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. The campground is at about 5,180’ (1580 m). We were there in early spring and the weather was beautiful. The days were mildly warm and clear and the nights were almost cold and clear. Kate stayed home, so it was just Jack and me. We took the 4 Person Dock and it was perfect for the two of us. The picture at the upper right shows Jack on his pad with mine beside him. The pads are 25” (64 cm) wide and the pillow on my pad is my full sized one from home. To make things a little cooler for lunch and dinner I put up a Kelty Carport on the side of the Docking Station and set our table out there. We didn’t have nearly as much gear with us so the Docking Station provided plenty of room for cooking and prep. Since the nights were definitely on the cool side, I put the rain fly up for a little added warmth and to cut the breeze. The Docking Station went up as easily as always and provided a nice sun shade during the day. We had no issues with the Docking Station or the 4 Person Dock, just as I expected.

THINGS I LIKE

The modular system design is the best I’ve seen. It makes it much easier to put the tent up and to organize it after it is up. It also makes for a very big tent, if I want it to be.

I like the color coded tent poles and corresponding hooks. It makes pole placement a no-brainer. Although I’ve not been a big fan of the large hook systems for poles, instead of pole sleeves, I must admit it works and works well on this tent. It makes it faster and easier to put the tent up and especially to take it down..

THINGS I DON'T LIKE

While the Docking Station is well thought out and designed, the Mesh Room and the way the Docks attach to the main tent isn’t. A completely separate mesh insert tent to provide bug protection and a floor for the Docking Station is a kludgy, expensive, involved way of doing it. It is a pain to have to put up a completely separate tent inside the Docking Station. It would have been much simpler, and cheaper, to have single doors with mesh panels on the main tent and have the Docks attach with heavy duty zippers instead of the hook and ring system presently used. Because the hooks for both the Mesh Room and Docks use the same rings, getting the hooks to all fit can be a bit challenging.

To be clear, the system as is works and is acceptable. But the design can certainly be improved on. I personally don’t care about a floor for the main tent because the Docks are completely self-contained and have floors. I find a floorless food prep and eating area to be much easier to clean up and keep clean than a tub floor area. The Mesh Room insert reduces interior space and headroom in the main tent. The hooks used to attach the Docking Station doors along the sides, with an open door bottom, and a bathtub floor is not a good combination. It allows rain to collect on the floor around the doors.  

SUMMARY

I’ve been looking, off and on, for the last 20 years or so for the perfect family tent. Since my son came along the search has intensified. When I first saw The North Face Docking Station at the 2009 Outdoor Retailer Summer Show I thought I might have found it. I just had to see how well this tent system would work in the field. Fortunately, The North Face offered to send me one. While I found it isn’t perfect, the Docking Station comes awfully close. This is the first version of this tent design. I’m looking forward to watching it mature. Its modular design makes this a very easy tent to buy, transport, and erect. The modular aspect of the design allows the buyer to choose how much tent they want to buy and how much tent they want to put up. The add-on Docks leave the main body of the tent open for relaxing, dressing, and food prep while having a secure, out of the way place for sleeping. It also allows me to put my three year old son in his own “room”, which makes all of us happier. The modular design is the key to how easy and intuitive this tent system is to put up. Putting it up by myself is no problem.

The Docking Station system has made the rest of my family tents obsolete. While I think there are areas that need improvement, by and large this is the best family tent I’ve seen.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.
Read more gear reviews by Jerry Goller

Reviews > Base Camp Gear > Campsite Gear > Family Size Tents > Owner Review by Jerry Goller



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