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Reviews > Shelters > Tents > Black Diamond Mesa Tent > Test Report by Jennifer Pope
Photo courtesy of Black Diamond.
Initial Impressions & Product Description(back to top) It's about exactly what I expected. The size and weight is about right but there are a couple of cool features that add more headroom.
This is a two-person, three-season tent. It's a part of BD's "Doublelight" series, which really doesn't mean anything to me. It has the standard two pole design with an extra mini-pole attached (more on this later). The fly covers the entire tent and extends in front of both doors to provide two vestibules. The tent can be staked out with just the fly.
1. The contents of the stake bag: stakes, instructions, fabric patches and guy lines. 2. The tent poles and stakes inside their bags atop the unrolled tent.
These poles are different from anything I've seen in the past. All of the poles are connected to one another via a "starburst" located right in the dead center of the top of the tent (once set up). The two full length poles come off this starburst as does the smaller pole for the fly. This is cool but also a bit unwieldy. Fully extended, these poles take up a large area. The first time I set up this tent was in my living room. In hindsight, this wasn't a great idea mainly due to the pole design. I had all the poles fully extended and tried to carefully connect them to the tent without knocking something over. It was a difficult task. Now tents aren't meant to be set up in living rooms, of course, so in most situations this won't matter much.
The other issue with the poles is that they really like to snap together. These are standard tent poles with the tension cord that holds them together. When I was extending the poles they had a tendency to "snap" together on their own. Unfortunately one time, I got some finger skin pinched in the joint of the tent pole as it snapped into place- not a pleasant experience. After that, I was much more careful not to get my fingers in the way.
In addition to the two poles that criss-cross along the diagonals of the tent, there's a shorter pole that runs along the short length of the tent. My other 2-man tent has a similar pole in this area that holds the vestibule away from the tent. This pole does that too, but in addition to that, it pulls the sides of the tent out so the walls of the tent by the doors go up perpendicular to the ground rather than angling in like all other tents I've used. This ingenious design allows me to sit inside the tent right up against the door without having to hunch over and creates much more interior space. It's a very welcome design feature.
The tent poles feel very strong and robust. It took some muscle to bend sufficiently to get them in the tent grommets, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Connecting the poles to the tent
The poles connect to the tent in each of the four corners of the tent floor. Brute force is necessary to just push the poles into each of the four grommets. I've found that with most tents I insert the pole on one side and then my husband has to muscle in the pole on the opposite side. I probably could do it, but that's what husbands are for and he likes to feel needed on occasion. After the poles are in the corners the clips on the tent can be connected along the length of the poles. I found that these clips were a little tricky to get around the poles. They were just slightly too tight to get around easily. This probably means they're less likely to come off unexpectedly but it seemed a little tighter than necessary. The next step was to connect the "starburst" to the tent via a hook on the underside of the starburst. This was an easy connection to make.
1. Tent poles without the fly, despite the mess you can see the steep angle of the pole in the back left. 2. The "starburst", that metal loop connects to the tent body via the plastic hook at right. 3. The plastic hook connected to the starburst at left.Attaching the fly
I found the fly a little confusing. Initially I put the fly over the tent so that "Black Diamond" was readable from the outside. It was immediately obvious (by looking at the seams facing outward) that this was backwards. So the phrase, "Black Diamond" is backwards from the outside of the tent. I guess they want me to remember what brand of tent I'm sleeping in every night when I go to sleep and every morning when I wake up.
The fly attaches via color-coded buckles. The color coding is nice since otherwise I'd probably get it wrong the first time, every time. These buckles snap in easily.
Clips that connect the groundcover to the fly. Notice the handy color-coding.Tent features
What immediately stands out about this tent is how tall it is. It's clearly taller than other tents I've used of similar size without being noticeably longer. I can sit up in the tent fairly close to each end in addition to being able to kneel in the center. Another feature that is different and a nice touch is that all of the tie backs for the fly are elastic cords with cordlocks. This makes tying back the fly extremely easy and secure. There are a lot of tiebacks and thus a lot of options on how to tie the fly back. There are also two pockets on each side of the tent and at both ends of the tent- plenty of storage space for things I want next to my head (my headlamp) and things I don't want next to my head (dirty socks).
Tiebacks on the tent (gray) and the fly (orange). Love these easy-to-use devices!
One of the four interior pockets. Plenty large enough to hold my headlamp, beanie and bandana.Packing the tent
One of the worst things about tents is getting them back inside the bag they came in. I loathe packing up a tent. Unfortunately this is one of my jobs so I'm stuck with it. In my singular attempt at repacking the Mesa, it suffers the same problems. I just find tents hard to get packed correctly. I got it back in but it took a bit of a struggle. I was able to get the ground cover packed inside the tent which wasn't initially inside the tent when it arrived. This probably contributed to at least some of my difficulty packing the tent.
The packed size of the tent and the packed size of the ground cover (as it was delivered).
Field Conditions (back to top)
I have tested this tent on an overnight car camping trip to Joshua Tree National Park in California. Since I don't have outdoor space to conduct an initial test before packing the tent into the field, I tested the tent while car camping. This was a desert trip so the ground was sandy and rocky. There were very heavy winds during the day and night. Temperatures at night dropped into the 30s F (0 C).
Like all other tents I've set up, this one is also difficult to set up in the wind. All of the components kept blowing away from me as I was trying to get them laid out. Thankfully, once the tent was set up it stood up well in the wind. The wind was howling all night and since we were in the desert, there was nothing to block or shelter us from the wind. The tent was pretty much silent the whole night. It flapped in the wind a bit but it wasn't the annoying flapping all night that I'm used to when I'm sleeping in a tent in the wind. There also weren't any loose pieces of the tent slapping against the outside; everything was nice and snug. I was more distracted by the hard ground than the wind during the night. I don't have an instrument to measure wind speed, but these were very strong winds. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that they gusted up to 20 mph (32 kph) or more.
The ground cover attempting to blow away as I'm laying it out.At this point I have mixed feelings about the poles. It's both convenient and inconvenient for me that they are all attached as one big unit. It's nice that they're all one piece and there's no chance of losing one pole (not that I've ever had that problem before). But the poles are a little bit bulkier due to the star-shaped center piece and once all of the poles are fully extended it is one gigantic piece. Being so large, it takes up a large area in order to set the tent up. Even in the desert where there isn't a lot of foliage around I found myself poking into cacti and generally running into things. Thankfully I wasn't directly next to a Joshua Tree since I could have received a big fine if I happened to damage that protected plant.
Once fully extended, the poles are very large.Another issue I've found with the setup is entirely of my own doing. I was going merrily along setting up the tent poles getting everything connected and then I get to the center, "star" piece and I find that it's upside down. Ugh--not a fun discovery especially since I'm setting this tent up in the wind. Of course this is completely my fault, but due to the style of the tent, I'm not used to paying attention to this extra connection. So I took off all of the hooks and took the poles completely off, flipped the pole system and started over. This is also a good time to point out that it doesn't seem to be a good idea to connect the star piece last anyway. Despite not finding out I had set it up incorrectly, it's really hard to get that star hook through the loop on the tent after all of the hooks along the length of the poles have been connected. I've found that it's much easier to connect the ends of the poles to the four corners of the tent, THEN attached the star piece, then all of the hooks along the poles. I never pay much attention to directions, but they do actually say to set the tent up the more difficult (for me) way. The directions state to connect the poles in the corners, then connect all the hooks along the poles, then connect the center "star" piece. Setting the tent up in this order does not work for me. As for hooking in the poles upside down--the instructions just say to "make sure" the metal loop is facing down. That's a lot to ask for me when I'm just getting used to a new setup.
How NOT to connect the poles.I'm sort of a wimp, but I've found it difficult to set up this tent on my own. If push came to shove, I could probably get it up but it's a chore for me. The main difficulty, for me, is getting the poles in each of the four corners. I think this has a lot to do with the spacious interior of the tent. Since there is so much extra space inside, the tent poles are bent a lot. It takes brute force to get the second end of the pole in. Usually I put the first end of the pole in the first corner and then my husband forces in the second end. I should say that this is how our tent setup works for most tents so this isn't unusual for this tent.
Speaking of interior space, let's get to that topic. As claimed, I've found the inside of the tent to provide a lot of headroom. Lack of headroom is often a problem for me in tents, especially backpacking tents, and I'm about average height for a female. I can easily sit up in the tent with room to spare. Additionally lying down on my stomach in the tent, I still have about six inches (15 cm) of space above my head when my pointed toe is touching one end of the tent. Two mattresses fit in the tent comfortably with a bit of extra space on the sides but the width is not spacious.
I have plenty of space to sit up comfortably in the tent.Another nice feature is the plethora of options on how to tie back the tent openings and the ease at which they tie back. I hate, hate, hate those stupid strings in old dome tents that require the user to tie little bows to tie back tent flaps. It's time consuming and annoying. I love how Black Diamond solved this problem. Each tie back is secured by a cordlock! Slide the string with a cordlock on the end through a little loop and then tighten the cordlock and the flap is secured nice and tightly. I have no idea if this feature is unique to Black Diamond but I hope all tent-makers start doing this. Now back to the options, I can tie back the tent door and the entire vestibule making almost the whole side of the tent open (the near side of the tent in the picture below). This can be done on both sides giving a nice air flow through the tent. Or I can keep the vestibule staked out and tie back only one half of the vestibule which still give me a view out of the tent but not as much as with the whole vestibule open (the far side of the tent in the picture below).
Letting the breeze into the tent.I continue to struggle to get the tent back into the bag. This is enough to drive me batty at the end of a trip. I can not understand why tent makers can't make the bags bigger. I have a tent of another brand that provides a larger bag with compression straps on it so it's easy to insert the tent in the bag but then the tent can still be compressed a bit further.
Field Conditions (back to top)
I have tested this tent on two trips in the last phase of this test. The first trip was an overnight backpacking trip to the San Gorgonio Wilderness area in Southern California. This was in an alpine climate where we camped at about 9,000 ft (2,700 m). Temperatures ranged between 85 F (30 C) during the day down to the 40s F (5 C) at night. The second trip was two nights on the Central Coast of California in the Monterey Bay area. This trip was in a wooded area just above the ocean (very close to sea level). The ground was very soft dirt. Temperatures ranged from highs in the low 70s (20 C) during the day and in the 50s during the night (10 C).
My husband carries the tent when we go backpacking. In our usual method, the entire tent is packed in its original bag and placed in the center of my husband's pack with other gear shoved on the sides to keep it centered. This tent packed this way just like other tents I've used. It worked fine, no better or worse than any other tent.
I still hate packing this tent up and attempting to get it in the stuff sack. It just doesn't fit well at all. I hate packing up camp just because it's so hard to get the tent in the stuff sack. I will look into purchasing an after-market bag that fits this tent better. It really is a hassle as is.
Apparently bugs are very attracted to the yellow fly of this tent, or these particular bugs were. There was no way to keep them out; they simply invaded as can be see in the picture below. Of course, this was not enjoyable. Thankfully they didn't come out after dark so they didn't show up until the next morning and we were able to sleep in peace (we were setting up camp as the sun was going down). It should also be said that the flies were only congregating on the tent they weren't in any great numbers anywhere else; which was why I didn't even think about sitting in the tent with the doors open to begin with. As soon as I opened the door at all, they swarmed in like they were just waiting for me to do something so stupid. After their initial influx into the tent there were so many present that I didn't think it really mattered one way or the other if the tent doors were opened or closed. I tried swooshing them out, but there were too many. I thought that if I left the doors open they might wander off on their own--no such luck. I'm not convinced I could have kept the bugs out even getting in and out of the tent as quickly as I could and keeping the tent zipped at all other times. It should be noted that this is the only bug problem I've had. In other areas, with other bugs, the tent has not been so attractive.
This doesn't even reflect the vast number of bugs that seemed to be everywhere.
Setting up in the dark
It's never ideal to have to set up camp in the dark but we did. This actually wasn't that hard to do. The lantern was on so there was a little bit of ambient light but I didn't have a headlamp on. I was able to fairly easily set up the tent with my husband. It was pretty easy to line up the ground cover to the tent correctly due to the color-coded tabs on the corners of the tent and ground cover. It was a pretty easy set up.
Sleeping sans fly
On the first night of our trip along the coast we decided to sleep without the fly on since the stars were out and it wasn't too cold out. I enjoyed this. Since it's pretty much entirely mesh on the top 3/4 of the tent it was quite breezy. Thankfully we were warm enough in our toasty sleeping bags that we enjoyed the breeze. We threw the fly on really early in the morning so the sun wouldn't wake us up.
Stretching the use of the tent
For the last trip I wanted to see if our full-sized inflatable mattress would fit inside the tent. I wasn't optimistic but I wanted to try it out anyway. It actually worked out ok. The mattress didn't quite fit in the tapered end of the tent and I wasn't able to zip the tent all the way closed but it was workable and it was heaven to sleep on that thick mattress.
The mattress is hanging over the edge of the tent on the bottom of the door.
On the second night of my last trip near the coast I had quite a bit of condensation on the fly. I actually noticed it early in the morning when I woke up to a wet forehead when I pressed my head against the tent wall. I tried to blame my husband for spilling something inside the tent but unfortunately it wasn't his fault. Thankfully it didn't seem like any water dripped into the tent through the mesh tent walls and ceiling (yet). The inside of the tent did get wet when I tied back the vestibule part of the fly in order to get out of the tent. The fly was really, really wet. Condensation being present in and of itself is not a huge problem. I can lay a fly out to dry (more on that later) or strap it to the outside of my pack. What makes it problematic is trying to get out of the tent. As pictured above in several places, the fly of the tent that covers the vestibules ties back on each side of the vestibule to allow easy entry and exit of the tent--which works beautifully, I love the tiebacks (probably my favorite feature of the tent). But the top of the vestibule sits back a little bit so it's directly above the tent ceiling just slightly. This meant that when I tried to push back the vestibule part of the fly in order to tie it back, water dripped everywhere--including inside the tent and on everything in the vestibule. Had I been using my down bag at the time or had I been getting up for an early morning pee run, this would have been more of a problem. It didn't dry while it sat still attached to the tent for a couple hours after we got up under cool morning conditions (no humidity). It didn't begin to dry at all until I laid it out in the sun. I have had condensation problems in a lot of tents so this isn't anything new; but Black Diamond hasn't figured out a way to solve the problem.
Thank you to Black Diamond and BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to test this item.
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