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Reviews > Shelters > Tents > Bibler Ahwahnee 2 Tent > Owner Review by Richard Lyon
BLACK DIAMOND BIBLER AHWAHNEE 2 TENT
I've been backpacking for 45 years and regularly in the Rockies since 1986. I do at least one week-long trip every summer, and often take three-day trips. I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 10000 ft (1500 - 3000 m). I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp, but I do forced marches too. Recently I've been actively reducing my pack weight, though I still often include my favorite camp conveniences and always sleep in a floored tent.
PRODUCT DESCRIPTION AND DETAILS
Black Diamond Equipment, Ltd., http://www.bdel.com
*The "listed weight" is for BD's current version of this tent, simply called the Ahwahnee, which has two doors rather than one. Listed weight includes a small tube of seam sealer and printed instructions. I believe this accounts for most of the discrepancy between listed and measured weights.
listed: 33.1 sq. ft. (3.1 m2). Vestibule area, listed: 13 sq ft (1.2
The Ahwahnee 2 is a single-wall canopy-style free-standing mountaineering tent. Mine has a single door that takes up most of one of the "long" sides. Campers sleep parallel to the door rather than back-to-front. After buying Bibler Tents in 1996 from founder Todd Bibler, Black Diamond (BD) has continued to offer Bibler-designed tents (until only recently – but no longer - marketed under the Bibler name) for the most extreme conditions (think Everest), and many of its tents have specialty applications. The Ahwahnee serves mere mortals – an all-purpose, all-season, two-person backpacking tent.
The rear wall has a no-see-um window extending 18 in (40 cm) down from the top. This can be zippered up with fabric from the inside. The roof of the tent extends several inches beyond the front and rear walls as awnings over the door and window. As can be seen on BD's website, in 2005 the Ahwahnee was modified so that it has an identical full-side door on each side, aiding ventilation and ingress but adding weight. My cheerful yellow tent has become a classic, as the new models are available only in Bibler green. Another recent change is that this tent is now available in fire retardant fabric “to meet requirements in select US states and Canada.”
Two signature features of a Bibler tent are a single wall made of ToddTex, a proprietary waterproof/breathable PTFE fabric and poles that pitch on the inside of the tent. Also typical is the double door with no-see-um mesh on the inside and ToddTex on the outside, each door secured by double zippers.
The floor is seamless, treated heavy-duty nylon and extends an inch (2.5 cm) up the walls. The nylon ground cloth, when used (I rarely do), is fitted under and staked out with the tent body, with twine threaded through the stakeout loops. I describe and picture the vestibule under "Pitching and Striking" below.
The Ahwahnee 2 came with three Easton aluminum poles and stakes, a stuff sack, and a syringe and tube of seam sealer. The stuff sack is large enough for tent, poles, stakes, ground cloth and my small repair kit. The vestibule, which is sold separately, comes with its own pole, two stakes, and stuff sack.
Another BD single-wall trait: the customer must seam-seal the Ahwahnee, a tedious but not difficult task. I used the syringe supplied by BD to dribble sealant along the seams, smeared it out with a rag, and left the tent (indoors) to dry overnight.
PITCHING AND STRIKING
A big advantage of single-wall tents is ease of set-up, and that's very true of the Ahwahnee. Like many BD tents, the Ahwahnee sets up with poles on the inside, allowing pitching from inside the tent or, with a deft and practiced hand, from outside as well. First I set the short pole through the small holes in the canopy, then insert the two longer poles through the door into the grommets in each corner, poles criss-crossing at the top. The poles fit exactly, requiring some manipulation at the peak where the three poles intersect. When the poles are lined up, I set them in place with "twist ties," flexible plastic fasteners attached to the roof that are easily cinched (even with gloves on) to hold the poles in place. There are no pole sleeves; the twist ties set the proper path. I then stake out the tent at its corners. I can now accomplish all this in three minutes or so. That took some practice, though, as the tight fit means some manipulation of the poles to nudge them into place, usually done while lying on my back.
There are small loops on the corners and an extra hole in the nylon strip that holds the canopy pole in place that could be used with guy lines in windy conditions; I've rarely found that necessary. Once set up and staked out, the tent is strong and stable despite its relatively high profile. The door when open can be rolled up and tied off easily with two attached hook-and-loop ties, as in the photo above, to avoid stepping or slipping on it.
Vestibule assembly is not nearly so easy. The vestibule has eight small C-shaped clips that hook into even smaller nylon loops located around the tent door. These clips are difficult to locate when groping under the awning and often it's frustrating to manipulate the hooks into them. (A woman friend compared the process to clipping on a bra eight times in pitch dark.) Unless I have a special need for storage I leave the vestibule at home. The vestibule is made of treated nylon and has its own pole to give something of a tunnel effect. The vestibule door is about one-third the size of the tent door, which can compromise ventilation and definitely complicates this big guy’s entering and leaving the tent. With the new two-door model it is possible to set up a vestibule on each side. Here is my Ahwahnee with vestibule.
Striking the tent is simple, simply reversing the set-up process. First remove the corner poles, then the canopy pole, double-fold the tent so the floor is on the outside, and then roll it up while pressing out any trapped air. The vestibule is much easier to remove than to erect.
When I bought my Ahwahnee it was one of few single-walled tents on the market, and as such was relatively lightweight for a two-person tent, and one of the lightest-weight four season tents then available. I didn't make the substantial investment only to save weight, but because I thought I could use it for just about all of my camping, when solo or hiking with a friend. For several years it was almost always my shelter of choice, except for winter expeditions when I turned to another Bibler tent in my gear closet. Until about 2005 I used the Ahwahnee in all conditions except extreme cold, year-round in the Southwest and from March through November in the Rockies. Early spring and autumn use has included camping on snow, weathering a surprise early blizzard, and temperatures down to 10 F (-13 C). In summer temperatures have reached the high 90s F (~35 C), and the tent has sheltered me from all kinds of mountain weather, including the summer sun, wind, thunderstorms, and hail.
What is considered lightweight has decreased dramatically in the twelve years since I placed my Ahwahnee into service. There are today many fine two-person shelters, many with floors and bug netting, that weigh considerably less than the Ahwahnee. I've changed a bit too, adding both a solo tent and a two-person tent that tip the scales at just over 4 lb (1.8 kg) each, and an even lighter two-person shelter, to my inventory, and I often choose one of these for summer camping. That hasn't meant retirement of the Ahwahnee, however, which still goes into my pack when I can tolerate an extra pound or so (half a kilo), when I expect rough weather, or when I simply want more room.
(Side note: BD has changed with the times too. It now offers a less expensive, lighter weight single-wall line of tents, made of EPIC by Nextec rather than ToddTex. One of these Superlights, the Lighthouse, is based on the Ahwahnee design.)
Space and comfort. The Ahwahnee really suits my preference for base camp backpacking. It's the roomiest two-person tent I've ever owned or used, and the high ceiling and steep side angles render every square inch inside the tent usable. Two adults can sit up naturally inside, even to change clothes at the same time, and for the occasional card game or other social activity the tent is large enough for three people. I have shared this tent with another six-footer and we slept comfortably with all our gear inside, not using the vestibule.
For organized storage there's a small net pocket in each back corner, ideal for flashlight, reading glasses, flask, and similarly-sized gear that I like to keep ready to hand. BD sells ($16.95 US) a small "attic" that can be attached to the tent poles for additional storage. The interior poles are great for hanging or stringing other accessories such as a clothes line or hook for drying gear. I frequently hang a small electric lantern above my head.
The full-side door provides a great view and excellent ventilation. If I'm not using the vestibule it also makes entry and departure really easy if I'm the only occupant. With a partner come complications in this department. If the camper sleeping on the windowed side of the tent needs to go outside in the middle of the night, he (it's always a he, if I'm camping with a lady she gets the side next to the door) must step over his tent mate. Even with the Ahwahnee's large door and high ceiling it is next to impossible to do this without awakening the other camper, even in the odd instance when actual physical contact can be avoided. For this reason any functional weight of the tent must take into account the weight of an extra Nalgene bottle.
Protection. Despite a relatively high profile the Ahwahnee when fully staked out is sturdy in the wind above treeline. ToddTex is a remarkable fabric; this tent has been undented by gale winds, a six-hour downpour, sleet, hail, even the occasional flying tree branch. Water resistance has been spectacular. I have never encountered a leak, and condensation inside the tent is unusual and has never been a problem, even during a lengthy rainstorm. Even when I bring wet gear or clothing inside, there's rarely condensation on the walls or poles. On a really cold night, perhaps 15 F (-10 C) or below, I've awakened to some frost on the poles, but that was gone when the occupants had returned from breakfast. Another advantage of a single-wall tent is that it dries out in the field much more quickly than a double-wall, which tends to retain condensation between the walls. With the Ahwahnee I'm less likely to be packing a damp tent, reducing the chance for mildew.
Durability and Maintenance. My Ahwahnee and my other (even older) Bibler tent are as indestructible as fabric shelters can be. The Ahwahnee has withstood all weathers with only basic maintenance and still works as well as the day I bought it. The corner poles have a slight bend from more than a decade of use, but nothing affecting pitching, storage, or performance. Maintenance has been spot cleaning and an occasional overall hand wash with mild soapy water, followed by a rinse and a couple of hours out of the sun in the dry air of North Texas, plus a bath in an anti-mildew solution about once a year. I have re-sealed the seams twice strictly as preventive maintenance.
Problems. I would prefer the mesh door on the outside of the tent, so that on a buggy summer night I could close the fabric door without having to open the mesh door. I understand the advisability of keeping the mesh on the inside in the snow, however, and accept this design in order to have a four-season tent.
The only technical problems I've encountered with the tent have been with the vestibule. As noted, it's a nuisance to set up. Not only is the vestibule door small, its zipper won't detach at the bottom, resulting in a one-inch strip of material that I constantly trip over when going in or out. The vestibule pole seats with a hook-and-loop fastener that’s difficult to set when wearing gloves and much less reliable than the twist-ties at holding the pole in place. The vestibule material is not nearly as rugged as ToddTex and has suffered a gash occasionally, even though it's been used much less than the tent.
I’d go so far as to say that I consider the Ahwahnee a better tent without the vestibule than with it. I consider a vestibule necessary in winter and sometimes useful in other seasons, and I’ve needed it when I or my hiking partner brought a dog on the trail. Most of my Awhahnee use has been in the Rockies – grizzly country where hanging my pack is either mandatory or simple good sense. I almost never fire up a stove inside a vestibule for fear of burning the house down. (Remember, my Ahwahnee predates fire retardant fabric.) Even taking into account these long-time preferences (prejudices?), though, I think Bibler and BD spent less attention to the Ahwahnee’s vestibule than to the tent itself. Certainly it doesn’t reflect the great design and attention to detail that I have consistently found in other Bibler and BD products.
The Ahwahnee 2 is as close as anything I've seen to being the one tent that will handle, and handle well, all of my camping activities. Easy to use, tough as iron, roomy, airy, and dependable, it's definitely the best and most versatile shelter I've ever owned. It will likely be the final barrier to my joining the UL crowd.
Just about everything about the vestibule. Difficulty in attaching it to the tent is at the top of the list.
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