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Reviews > Shelters > Tents > Big Sky International Convertible 2P > Test Report by Andy Rad

Big Sky International Convertible 2P Shelter

TentSetupInSnow

Initial Report: January 9th, 2008

Field Report: March 29th, 2008

Long Term Report Aug 6th, 2008

 

Product Information

Manufacturer: Big Sky International

Website: http://www.bigskyinternational.com/

Model: Convertible 2P Shelter

Year of Manufacture: 2007

MSRP: Varies by configuration

Color: Marigold Yellow

 

Weights are by component

Fly with snow flaps: 24.1 oz  (683 g)

FX-Cord: 0.9 oz  (25 g)

Winter Interior:  20.4 oz  (578 g)

Summer Interior: 18.4 oz (521 g)

2 Piece HD Al Poles: 17.1 oz  (485 g)

HD Al Vestibule Pole: 7.7 oz  (218 g)

2 Piece LW Al Poles: 13.1 oz  (371 g)

Stuff/Compression Sack: 2.0 oz (57 g)

Tent Stake Sack: 0.2oz (5.7 g)

Spectra Guy Lines (qty 4): 1.2oz (34 g)

Aluminum Snow Anchors (qty 2): 2.1 oz (60 g)

Titanium Stakes (qty 6): 1.4 oz (40 g)

Aluminum Y Stakes (qty 4): 1.6 oz (45 g)

Aluminum Head Pegs (qty 2): 0.7 oz (20 g)

 

Dimensions

Fly: Head width = 64  in (162 cm), Foot = 52 in (132 cm), Length = 99 in (215 cm), Height = 43 in (109 cm)

Winter Interior:  Head width = 56 in (142 cm), Foot = 46 in (117 cm), Length = 84 in (213 cm), Height = 41 in (104 cm)

Vestibules: extend out 30 in (76 cm)

 

Tester Information & Background

Name: Andy Rad

Gender: Male

Age: 50

Height: 6 ft (1.83 m)

Weight: 165 lb (75 kg)

Location: Boise, Idaho USA

Email: arad1 at yahoo dot com

I started backpacking 24 years ago, most were short three day trips, but are now generally four or five days. I'm in the backcountry year round with early spring trips requiring snowshoes over the passes, summer, late fall into snow, and winter camping on snowshoes or skis. About half of my trips are lightweight solo and the other half are with my family and friends.  The majority of my trips are in central Idaho and eastern Oregon.

Initial Report     January 9th, 2008

The Convertible 2P Shelter is a new tent series for Big Sky International, and as such they chose to partially ship what was available in inventory so that I could make my New Yearís trip.  The remaining components are to be shipped as they become available.  I received the outer shell/fly, X-cord, winter interior, and 3 piece heavy duty winter poles.  When I placed my order they requested a date in which I was planning my first trip, consequently they delivered it on time, and with enough components that I will be able to successfully use the tent.  I appreciate a company that is flexible enough to micro manage their inventory in order to meet customer needs.   Missing are the snow anchors, stuff sack, summer interior, and stake set.  Other than the snow anchors and stuff sack, I have a complete winter setup.  The summer interior and stake set will not be needed until March.

This tent is somewhat different than any of my previous tents, and Iíve probably had over a dozen.  The obvious difference is that the poles are integrated into the outer shell and the interior then attaches to the outer shell via clips.  For the most part, all my previous double wall tents are setup with the interior being affixed to the poles and then the fly being stretched over the top. 

The instructions are dated 12/15/07 rev.A and are still under refinement, as I did receive an email with an update.  They are rather generic in that there is a section labeled ďPole Clip optionĒ that has nothing to do with my current configuration of the tent.  It might be that this is specific to the summer interior, which I have not yet received.  The ďPole Sleeves optionĒ makes note of inserting the first pole into sleeve #1 (lower pole) and then the second pole into sleeve #2 (upper pole).  My pole sleeves were not labeled, but the manufacturer informed me that the new batch of tents will have the sleeves labeled.  This lower and upper pole sleeve refers to the orientation of the poles where they cross at the top, because they slide in better when followed as per the instructions.  The pole sleeve labeling would also assist the first time user in determining which end of the tent to insert the poles as there are only opening at the foot of the tent with corresponding pole pockets at the head of the tent.  As for the vestibule pole, there is no mention of that pole, nor that it must be inserted through a reinforced slot in the pole sleeves which just so happens to be partially hidden from view under the canopy. 

The instructions then go on to cover attaching the X-cord, which is a piece of cord that is tied in a manner that resembles an ďXĒ.  The cordís function is to allow the tent to free stand without the interior, thus emulating the interiorís dimensional foot print.  How to attach the interior is then covered in the instructions which references color coded clips and attach loops.  There is no mention that red equates to the tentís narrower foot width of 46 in. (116 cm) and blue to the wider head width of 56 in (142 cm).  The interior is snapped into the fly by clips at the bottom corners, plus an additional 3 clips per side, and a clip at the peak.

FootClip InteriorClips HeadClip

The tent is offered in two colors, Granite Gray and Marigold Yellow, which I selected.  The web site's pictures of the yellow tent do not give it justice, and I struggled a bit on which color to select.  The yellow product pictured on Big Skyís web site looked cheap and transparent.  At first I leaned toward the Granite Gray as it would absorb heat in the winter, but would be overly hot in the summer.  The yellow allows natural light through which I deemed more important, because getting tent bound for hours is a common issue during the winter.  The draw back to the yellow is that it stands out in a natural setting, but as for winter camping that is actually a plus for rescue reasons.

The outer shell/fly has a canopy as per the photo that is not visible on the manufacturerís web site.  I was wondering how they anticipated the fly to breathe, because with snow flaps the sides would be submersed after a snow storm and no ventilation possible unless the vestibule was opened.  The canopy solves that issue, and there are adjustments that allow the canopy to open about 4 in (5 cm) on the sides by use of some pop-outs.

The snow flaps are great and have bungee loops/toggles that allow them to be rolled up for summer use, but they add an additional 3.5 oz (100 g).  I have snow flaps on two of my current Tepee style tents and they are a must for winter camping in a single wall.  They keep the snow/wind out, and extend the useful interior area.  I canít say as I see much need for them on a double wall tent, since the interior would accomplish the same.  That said, this outer shell along with the X-cord appears to have the makings of a good single wall shelter, which I will be testing.  I have not used a double wall tent during the winter for years, as they were generally too heavy.  With this winter interior weighing in at 20.4 oz (580 g) I can eliminate using UL bivy sacks, thus about a wash when considering the weight of 2 bivy sacks and gaining about 5 F (3 C) in inside temperature due to double walls.  For sleeping solo the single wall would be weight advantageous, because it would afford plenty of space without hitting the sides, and be lighter.

Not much to say about the 3 piece heavy duty aluminum poles, other than they are definitely heavy duty.  At 24.8 oz (700 g) they appear to be tough.  Unless heavy snow is expected, the vestibule pole at 7.7 oz (220 g) can probably be left at home, and I currently see little reason I would ever be using it during the summer.  While on poles, the fly has pole pockets at the head end that eliminate fumbling around to insert the pole into a grommet, which is a nice feature.

Leaving the X-cord attached definitely aids in setting up the tent, as it forms the tent into a dome and facilitates clipping the interior in place.  I think the X-cord is too long, because without an interior it is difficult to zip closed the vestibules.  With the interior clipped in place the shell is 99 in (251 cm) long and with only the X-cord it is 109 in (277 cm).  I tied off the X-cord by an additional 8 in (20 cm) and it helped.  Until I actually get an opportunity to stake the tent in snow, I wonít be able to determine if the X-cord was too long.

The winter interior has quad top venting as per the left photo, which seems like overkill in expense, tent compression, and weight.  But like everything on this tent it is top notch in design, attention to detail, and construction.  Considering the interior will frost up and breathability will be impaired the top venting I suspect will be appreciated.  The other option would have been for Big Sky to just put netting on top, but then snow could drift in through the shellís canopy (right photo).  An alternative would have been to just leave the top of the doors open a bit and accomplish the same, but when cooking in the tent the top venting would be preferred.  Especially if a hanging cooking system was used, as there is a loop on the top.   There are also gear loft loops, as well as extra loops mid way up the seams at the head end of the tent. All four corners have mesh storage pockets, they are large, and not made with that cheesy mesh that snags when it comes in contact with hook and loop.

QuadVent Canopy

I have many overnight trips planned this winter and will be using the interior when teamed up with a partner and as a single wall when Iím the odd man out and sleeping solo.  I plan on doing some cooking inside when brining my canister stove versus my liquid fuel stove.  Mid April, I will be doing an eight day trip in southern Utah and will be using the summer interior and 2 poles.

Initial Report Addendum 3/29/08

Summer interior, tent stakes, snow anchors, guy lines, and stuff sacks just recently arrived these were unavailable at the time of my Initial Report. 

The summer interior's floor material is the same heavy weight silnlyon as the winter interior.  The interiorís mesh top is not constructed from super fine/light weight netting that snags on everything.  I've experienced this issue with other tents and would rather not have a tent with it.  Also noted is that the floor's corners come pre-seam sealed, and there are no other seams of stitching on the floor.

The tent stuff sack is a bit on the heavy side weighing in at 2.0 oz (57 g), and is constructed of the same heavy material at the interior floors.  It is generous in size and has three compression straps.  No more fumbling around in sub-freezing weather trying to stuff that frost covered tent into an undersized stuff sack.

Big Sky International also supplied a variety of tent securing components.  The blue aluminum pegs on the left are 6 in (15 cm) in length.  The aluminum snow anchors are 5 x 4.5 in (13 x 11 cm).  The aluminum Y stakes are 5.5 in (14 cm) in length.  The hooked titanium stakes are 6.5 in (16 cm) in length.  The 8 ft (243 cm) guy lines are reflective polyester over spectra core, and have a plastic tension adjuster.

Stake Photo

Field Report     March 29th, 2008

Locations and conditions:

The ten week field test period provided the opportunity for using the Big Sky shelter on three winter backcountry trips, and in different configurations.

Three day, two night snowshoe trip into central Idaho, snowed 18 in (46 cm), temps were in the low 20s F (-6 C) to freezing.  I used the shell with winter interior and with 3 pole system.

Two day, one night Nordic ski trip in central Idaho, with mild temperatures around freezing.  Camp was semi-supported near the vehicle.  Again, I used the shell with the winter interior and with 3 pole system.

Two day, one night snowshoe trip into central Idaho, early morning temperature was 14 F (-10 C), but this time I used the shell with no interior, and only the 2 pole system.

Two day, one night Nordic ski trip into central Idaho, with night time temperatures down to 15F (-10 C), and about 8 in (20 cm) of snow through the night.  I used the shell with winter interior, and 3 pole system.

Performance:

The Convertible 2P Shelter is a new tent series for Big Sky International, and as such they choose to partially ship what was available in inventory so that I could make my New Yearís trip.   This meant I did not have stuff sacks, tent stakes, snow anchors, or guy lines.

For years Iíve used a floorless tepee style tent, thus there were a number of discoveries I made while using this tent in different configurations and climates.   For one, the poles slide into sleeves, and if they are wet the tent sleeves freeze to the poles.  This wasnít an issue, as the silnylon can easily be worked off the poles, but it was an inconvenience.  The same goes for the poles freezing together and having to be warmed for a moment in my hands to break the poles down.  When I got home, I sprayed silicone spray on the poles and that helped alleviate the freezing issues.  This would only be an issue if the temperature is above freezing when setting up, getting the poles wet, and then taking the tent down in sub-freezing morning temperatures.

I had heavy snowfall on a couple of trips, with the worst being about 8 in (20 cm) one night.  Out of habit, I hit the tent walls during the night to knock snow off the top and sides, however it didnít sound like much snow had accumulated.  In retrospect, allowing the snow to pile up would have been a more thorough test of the pole strength.  What I did find reassuring is that the third pole across the vestibule did not cause snow buildup.

As I mentioned in my Initial Report, I struggled a bit on deciding which color to order, the Granite Gray or the Marigold Yellow.  Iíve become very fond of the yellow and the light transparency it offers.  The interior is so bright during the day time, that it is uplifting and has a warm feeling when entering the tent during the day.  Additionally, finding camp after a day of skiing or snowshoeing was easier.

It took me a couple of times to master setting up the tent.  Having pole pockets at the foot end of the tent eliminated having to walk around the tent and place a pole tip into a grommet, and is a feature I appreciate.  I did discover on my first setup that I needed to make sure the pole tip was seated in the pole pockets.  As I started to stretch the fly, I noticed the pole was too long.  Had I continued to stretch the fly, I would have probably torn the sleeve next to the pole pocket.  The instructions do indicate to verify the pole is in the receiving pocket, which I hadnít done.

Upon first setting up the tent, the top 18 in (45 cm) of the vestibule doors were overly snug and I was concerned that I would damage the zipper or stitching.  After about 30 minutes, the silnylon had stretched and wasnít an issue anymore.  I experimented with shortening the X-Cord and found it made little difference.

I didnít use snow stakes or snow anchors, but rather six 16 in (41 cm) modified aluminum arrow shafts that have attached flat washer heads.  They make setting up the tent fast, and because of the snow flaps I wasnít concerned about the tent blowing away.  After shoveling snow on top of the snow flaps and letting them setup, the tent was solid.   In addition to aiding in setting up the tent, the snow flaps were appreciated when not using an interior, as they kept the drifting snow out.  One note of caution,  if using snowshoes, be careful around the snow flaps as I forgot about them a couple of times and stepped on them.  However, this caused no damage. 

The aluminum snow anchors didnít arrive until a few days ago and Iíll no longer have an opportunity to test them.  I was expecting nylon parachute anchors and Iím rather intrigued by the aluminum spades.   They weigh in at 1 oz (30 g) and look as though I should be able to set them in place by driving them under the snow with my boot.

I have several silnlyon tents, some by top name manufactures and some by small shops.  The Big Sky tent has slightly heavier shell material than most, and the interior floors are substantially heavier.  It is silnlyon, but the coating and material feel as thick as my older heavy polyurethane coated tent bottoms.  Iím rather surprised how light the tent weighs when considering how heavy the fabric feels.  The floor corners have stitched attach points that lead out to the shell and come pre-seam sealed.

The interior snaps in and out of the shell easily enough via a number of small fasteners.  I thought about just leaving the interior snapped in place and stuff the tent away in that manner, but I figured that would make the tent rather bulky to stuff.  Since it fastens in so easy it wasnít worth experimenting with.  The doors and quad vents on the top all have fasteners to tie them out of the way when open.

Now on to performance test results.  The tent is designed with the poles being integrated into the fly, rather than the interior with the shell stretched over them.  This allows the fly to be used as a single wall shelter without a factory foot print.  In this configuration there is no interior or foot print to provide a dimensional base.  The X-Cord is two cords tied in the middle and clips on the ends that emulate the dimensions of the interior floor.  Once the shell is staked, the X-Cord can be removed and the floor dug down if more interior space is desired.  Using the X-Cord greatly simplifies setting up the tent, but it is not required.  I used the shell in this configuration on one trip. 

This is a configuration Iím most familiar with, as most of my previous winter camping has been with floorless tepees.  This is where the snow flaps are a must, because it allows you to dig the interior down a bit and stops the wind from blowing in.  Even if just digging down the vestibules for easier access, the snow flaps help in blocking the wind.  So much so that after my first year of using my tepees, I sewed snow flaps on them.  The vestibules are huge and really make the shell feel large.  Two people do not feel cramped when using the single wall shell configuration.  The shell entries/doors open wide with long zippers.  What I did miss on the shell is lack of mesh side pockets to store gear and loops on the top, for a gear attic or similar.  I e-mailed Big Sky International about the lack of loops and pockets.  They indicated they would be adding features in the next revision.

The shell has a canopy opening on top which allows for great ventilation.  I confess that I did most of my cooking inside the closed vestibules with a canister stove.  Yes, a canister stove during the winter.  I just sleep with the canister and stick it inside my coat every so often to keep it going.  I would never use a liquid fuel stove inside the tent due to flare up.  I could watch the steam channel up the side of the vestibules and out the canopy top.

I used the winter interior on three trips, and didnít realize just how much warmth an interior adds.  Iíve always read there wasnít much appreciable difference and never gave it much thought, because Iíve been using single wall tepees for so long.  I found that the temperature in the vestibule, that is the space between shell and interior, was about 5o F (2.5 C) warmer than the outside and the interior was about 10o F (5 C) warmer than the outside.  Sure an interior adds weight to the tent.  However, it does allow using a slightly lighter bag, there isnít the opportunity to slide off my sleeping pad onto snow, and there isnít open snow all around.  Iím rather at a crossroad.  The single wall is lighter, but it sure is nice having something between me and snow.

For winter use, the interior is not overly large for two occupants, due to the extra gear, heavy sleeping bags, and clothes being worn.  This is a common phenomenon of smaller rectangular tents.  The interior has large entry doors which are really nice, and for the most part can be left open during the winter to allow more elbow room, and then zipped up when ready for bed.  There are four large interior mesh side pockets, and numerous tie loops on the top.  The top has a quad zipper configuration that allows ventilation, and behind the fabric panels is netting which I feel was probably overkill for a winter interior.  This is yet another example of attention to detail in this tent design.

The tent is not a true four-season tent, but with the optional third pole it can handle any winter conditions I might run into.  One night, I received about 8 in. (20 cm) of heavy snowfall.  There was considerable snow built up that forced the shell up against the interior.  This caused the interior to become shorter, but a good slap on the interior wall knocked the snow back.  The snow did not seem to accumulate on the top or hang up on the optional third pole.  The first picture on the left is from that trip, and the second picture on the right is without an interior or optional third pole.  There is an assortment of poles/configurations that Big Sky offers.  They have Light Weight (LW) aluminum or carbon fiber poles for three-season use and Heavy Weight (HW) aluminum or carbon fiber for winter use.  An optional Heavy Weight third vestibule pole is offered in both aluminum and carbon fiber.   The optional third/vestibule pole provides structural integrity under heavy snow fall, as it reduces the stress that would otherwise happen from the accumulation of snow on the large vestibules.

Shell Only Shell Only without 3rd pole

 

Long Term Report  August 6th, 2008

Locations and conditions:

The conclusion of my test period ends with 10 nights over 2 trips.  Six nights were deep in the backcountry, while the other 4 were at trail heads.  Both trips were taken in April, and my subsequent trips have been solo, thus there was no need for this larger 2-person tent.

The first trip was 4 days, 3 nights into the Idaho side of the Hells Canyon Wilderness,  with steady rain one night, and temps from freezing to 60 F (16 C), and elevation was 1400 ft (425 m).  I used the shell with winter interior and 2 summer weight poles.

The second trip was 8 days and 7 nights into Utahís Grand Gulch primitive area as well as 3 days exploring the area around Moab, Utah.  Elevations varied from 4500 ft (1375 m) to 6000 ft (1825 m), with frost several mornings and temps reaching 75 F (24 C) in the afternoon.  There were steady winds most evenings with gust probably reaching 30 mph (48 kph).  The snow flaps proved to be the envy of the group as they kept the sand from blowing into the interior.

Performance:

No negative comments about the tent during this spring test period, and even my wife fell in love with the tent.  The pole sleeves are overkill for summer use, but that is the price one pays for a convertible all season tent.  I thought the snow flaps would be a nuisance on the trips, but as stated above they turned out to be very valuable in Utah. 

The Hellís Canyon trip was near freezing every night with a high level of moisture as it had rained/snowed the day we started out.  Additionally, we camped along the Snake River, and the last night was continuous rain.  The shell/fly had a generous amount of internal condensation, but the interior was dry including the floor sides.  When it came to packing, we rolled the shell into itself so as to contain the condensation, and never noticed the moisture transferring to the interior or exiting the stuff sack.  We used the summer weight 2 pole system, 6 titanium stakes, and no guy-lines.  This was the first time my wife had slept in the tent and she commented a number of times about how nice the dual entry was, how roomy, and no condensation.

The Utah trip was a complete opposite of the Hellís Canyon trip, in that it was dry and very windy in the evenings.  Consequently, condensation was minimal inside the shell, even though it was near freezing several nights.  While the other 4 tents in the group were experiencing sand blowing into their interiors, we didnít experience much.  This was due to dropping the snow flaps and putting sand on them to seal them to the ground.  The windblown sand was so bad that we observed sand blowing in through the upper shell vent, but once closed we stayed pretty clean inside.  The others highly envied our tent and how we didnít have little sand dunes forming inside on the floor. 

I would have never thought snow flaps would be a benefit outside of winter use.  In fact, I thought they would hinder ventilation, even when rolled up.  The Hellís Canyon trip proved that this is not much of an issue.  The one down side is that they do collect rain water, but it seems to run out of the rolled up flap while shaking the condensation off the shell.

I did get some kidding from others in my group about my marigold yellow smiley face tent as it did stand out, but inside it sure added to the bright cozy feeling.  This is definitely the color I would pick again for an all season tent. 

I mentioned at the beginning I had no complaints about the tent, which is true.  The single complaint I had during this test period had to do with the compression sack.  The three compression straps are loosely bound around the sack and constrict stuffing as per the photo.  It really wasnít much of an issue, but rather a nuisance.  There needs to be a keeper on the opposite side to keep the strap from falling diagonally while stuffing.

  stuff sack

Throughout the testing, I never experienced any manufacturing or material issues.  The mid-weight silnylon floor is a real bonus.  I have other tents that either have what I consider an overkill heavy weight floor or a very light floor that must be accompanied by a ground cloth.  This floor weight is such that a ground cloth would be advisable, but not a requirement.  During this test period I used a small piece of Tyvekģ just long enough to accommodate where we kneeled and sat, thus about Ĺ the length of the tent

I have a several other 2-person tents, most being double wall.  This tent is by far my lightest double wall and is comparable in size.  For a convertible tent, it is surprisingly light and feature rich.  It pretty much eliminates the need for my other tents, and I suspect they will be handed down to my children.

I appreciate the opportunity to test Big Skyís tent.

Thinks I like:

  • All silnylon construction

  • Light weight

  • Large vestibules

  • Large interior doors

  • Pole pockets

  • Canopy vent

  • Large interior pockets

  • Color

Things I would change:

  • For winter use, a little longer/wider interior.

  • Vestibule shell loosened up a bit on top for easier zipping

  • Shell gear loft attach points when used as single wall tent

 



Read more reviews of Big Sky International gear
Read more gear reviews by Andy Rad

Reviews > Shelters > Tents > Big Sky International Convertible 2P > Test Report by Andy Rad



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