BLACK DIAMOND MIRAGE TENT
TEST SERIES BY DAVID BAXTER
October 21, 2008
CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE FIELD REPORT
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Seattle, Washington, USA
5' 9" (1.75 m)
180 lb (81.60 kg)
Backpacking background: I have been hiking for four years, and backpacking for three. I get out on the trails or snow every weekend, regardless of the weather. My trips range anywhere from fairly short dayhikes to longer multi-day backpacking trips. In the winter I snowshoe or snow-climb in moderate terrain and occasionally participate in a glaciated climb. My typical winter pack is about 15 lb (6.8 kg) for a day trip, and 35 - 45 lb (16 - 20 kg) for a glacier climb with an overnight camp. In the summer my pack is around 25 lb (11 kg).
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer: Black Diamond Equipment Ltd.
Year of Manufacture: 2008
Manufacturer's Website: Black Diamond Equipment Ltd.
Listed Weight: 4 lbs 6 oz (1.98 kg)
Measured Weight: 4 lbs 9 oz (2.07 g)
Individual component weights as measured:
Tent body - 1 lb 10.5 oz (752 g)
Rain fly - 1 lb 7.25 oz (661 g)
Pole assembly - 1 lb 5.25 oz (432 g)
Stakes - 0.5 oz each ( 13 g), ten included
Guyline - 0.75 oz (23 g)
Extra cord - 0.125 oz (4 g)
Stuff sack - 1.75 oz (49 g)
I received the Mirage tent in the mail rolled up inside its stuff sack with a little Black Diamond tag on the drawstring. Everything is well packaged and intact. The stuff sack itself is 18 inches (46 cm) long with a drawstring and stopper to close it. The material is deep yellow and seems similar to the tent body. Sewn on the outside is a pocket containing the stakes, guylines, and instruction manual. Also inside are four 4 inch x 4 inch (10 cm x 10 cm) patches of fabric - one for each of the fabrics and colors used on the tent (yellow, dark grey, thinner beige, and a piece of mesh) for repairing the tent. There are no instructions on how to perform repairs though. The pocket closes with a built in flap. The stakes themselves are a familiar three-vaned aluminum design, 7 inches (18 cm) long, with downward facing hooks at the upper ends to keep straps in place. Ten stakes are included with the tent. In the pocket I also found, folded up, the assembly instructions, some black guyline, and several shorter pieces of gray cord.
Inside the stuff sack there is another similar pocket, or divider, that separates the tent poles from the fly and body. These pockets likely reduce weight over a fully separate bag for the stakes and poles since they use half the fabric. This does, however, leave the poles and stakes on the outside of the sack where they could be more easily damaged. I prefer to roll the fly and body of tents around poles to better pad them. Happily the main part of the sack is still big enough to accommodate this storage arrangement. The poles are a one-piece hubbed design, with shock cords holding everything together. Disassembled the longest segment is about 17 inches (43 cm) long. The poles are listed as "variable diameter", though the diameter does not vary much. The main arch of the pole is gray while the two smaller arches are black. The lower hub is plain silver aluminum with a large button on the downward side. The upper hub is clear plastic with another large button.
|Divided stuff sack|
The body itself is a grey color, with a beige accent in the mesh of the canopy. The material for the floor is smooth and feels durable and a little thicker than the sides. The mesh is much lighter weight and very fine. The beige material seems to offer little structural support and may be simply an accent. Sewn all around the mesh canopy, with thick seams, are clear plastic hooks where the body connects to the poles. Also, on the highest arch of the canopy, are two attachments Black Diamond calls "H-clips" which snap into the buttons on the hubs of the poles. These are plain black and larger than the hooks. At the bottom corners of the body, along the ground, are nylon straps with a metal grommet where the poles sit. Also on these straps are backpack-style plastic snaps which attach to corresponding snaps on the fly. The stakes are placed through the ends of the nylon straps and seem very strong.
The fly is a deep yellow color, the same as the stuff sack, with black lettering sporting the Black Diamond logo on the sides. At the front of the fly, where it extends over the door, are two loop cords for stakes and to form the vestibule. On the sides and back are snaps which hold the fly onto the body, attaching where the tent is staked. These snaps have an adjustable sliding cord to control the tension on the fly. On the underside of the fly are four thick, gray, hook and loop tabs. These wrap around the arched poles to hold the fly more securely onto the body. The exterior of the fly feels slippery to the touch and seems well seam sealed.
READING THE INSTRUCTIONS
The included instructions are very basic. In addition to English they are also written in Spanish, Dutch, Italian, Japanese and French. The diagrams showing the assembly have no captions but are self-explanatory. They show the attachment of the poles to the body, the hooks to the poles, the "H-clip" attachment, where to put the stakes, and the hook and loop attachment of the fly.
The written instructions are very basic, simply telling one the orientation of the poles and how to attach the fly. Listed as a "hint" they describe an alternate assembly of attaching the "H-clip" to the poles before hooking them into the body, rather than first attaching the poles and later the hooks and clips. I assume this could speed the tent assembly.
TRYING IT OUT
After verifying all the parts and briefly skimming the instructions I took the Mirage outside to assemble it on the lawn. I first laid out the body on the grass, placing a stake in the upper point to keep it from blowing away. The shape of the tent itself is a little asymmetrical, with the right side of the point longer than the left. It makes staking it tightly a little odd so I did not place additional stakes until after pole assembly. Next I unfolded the poles. This was a little chaotic as the pieces snapped themselves together and swung around before I got them oriented the correct way. I then snapped the smaller arched poles into the foot end first, followed by the long gray pole to form the main arch connected to the point at the head of the tent. Finally I hooked in the larger upper arch to the remaining corners. These corners are not exactly opposite from each other, due to the asymmetrical design of the tent, but the poles fit easily. The other poles easily snapped into place, but the upper arch required a little more force to bend the poles to reach the grommets.
Next I clipped the two "H-clips" into place. Here I found I'd made a mistake in placing the poles. On the lower arch I had assembled it with the hub facing button side up. This made it impossible to attach the clip. Fixing it involved simply unhooking the lower poles, rotating the hub assembly end-over-end, and reattaching them. It was a trivial fix but could be an easy mistake to make especially if pitching the tent in a hurry, the dark, or rain. Once corrected I attached the clips and hooks, completing the assembly of the tent body. I then placed stakes in the remaining four spots, pulling the floor tight. Once assembled it looks, honestly, a little odd. The tent is much higher and arched at the head end, and also asymmetrical here, giving it the impression that it is leaning forward.
|Assembled tent body|
|Assembled body from back|
After finishing the body I unrolled the fly. Finding the front was easy - I simply found the zippered door. Determining which side was the outward side was a little harder though. Assembling it the correct way seemed to place the lettering on the inside. I snapped the rear fly-snaps into the sockets on the body before pulling it over the poles and securing the front snaps. The snaps are all identical and nothing would prevent me from assembling it upside down so care must be taken. I had to arrange the fly a little afterwards to get it to sit correctly on the poles, then I pulled the tensioning cords to tighten the fly onto the body. I finally secured the front end of the vestibule into place with two stakes, pulling it outward to even up the assembly. I believe I will be able to quickly attach the rainfly after some practice. My main mistake was not securing the hook and loop tabs around the poles before snapping the fly into place. Once the fly is snapped onto the body these tabs become inaccessible, so they must be connected first. For now I skipped using them.
The door is on one side of the front of the tent, the slightly longer side of the vestibule. Covering the zipper is a thick flap, protecting it from water, and securing in place with a hook and loop tab at the bottom. The zipper has two pulls, allowing the upper part to be opened as a vent while the main door stays closed. Covering the upper part is another large flap to keep rain out when this venting is used. The entire door can also be secured open with a small loop at the front of the vestibule. Under the front of the flap the vestibule itself is fairly small. The part not enclosed by the tent body sits close to where the fly hits the ground, minimizing storage space for taller items. Also the side opposite the door is not very accessible due to the main arch pole blocking that triangular area. Because there is only the one door it could be an awkward place to keep things. At the back end of the tent there is another vent in the fly, with a slightly springy wire sewn into it to keep it open and rain out. There doesn't seem to be a way to close this vent.
The door into the tent body is a D-shape, also with a double zipper. It can also be rolled up and secured with another loop and peg to keep it open. It is large enough to easily crawl through and extends to nearly ground level. At the front point of the tent is a decent sized mesh pocket, good for holding smaller items. Crawling inside I found I had enough head room to sit comfortable in the middle, near the front of the body. I am 5 foot 8 inches (1.73 m) tall. The tent slopes off rapidly towards the back and sides though, and I found this was about the only spot where my head didn't hit the ceiling. It doesn't appear to me that two people will be able to sit side by side, and possibly not one in each end of the tent at the same time. The length of the tent seemed generous though. The upper point isn't covered by a sleeping pad and should be nice for storing clothes and other items one wouldn't leave in the vestibule. One caveat though - placing too much stuff up here will block easy access to the door and would have to be crawled over. In addition it seems the person sleeping on the opposite side from the door would have a hard time getting in and out without seriously disturbing their partner.
Disassembly of the tent went very smoothly. I simply zipped everything up, removed the stakes at the front of the fly, and disconnected the snaps at the corners before rolling it up. The fly is an awkward shape to organize but I found folding it lengthwise first before rolling helped. I then undid all the hooks and clips of the body before disconnecting the poles. This was easily done with one person. I collapsed the poles and set them aside. Disconnecting them from the hubs took a little work to get the assembly packed down small, again I think it will take some practice. Finally I removed the stakes, folded the body inwards onto itself and rolled it up. I rolled the body around the fly and slid it snugly into the stuff sack. The poles slid easily into their divided section and the stakes into their outer pocket.
Most of my trips will take place in the Washington Cascades. Campsites will typically be around 4000 - 5000 ft (1219 - 1524 m) in elevation for trips into the mountains. In addition I will make a trip or two the sagebrush desert of Eastern Washington. While this area is lower elevation it is much more open with higher winds and occasional thunderstorms. It is also much warmer and in the past I have camped here without using a rainfly. I will also backpack at least one day on the Washington Olympic coast, from Rialto beach to Toleak point. Elevation gain here will be negligible as the entire trip is at sea level. Because of our high snow year many of my mountain trips will involve snow camping. While I typically would take my heavier four-season tent for these, the Mirage appears more than strong enough to handle a late-season trip onto the snow.
Some criteria I will use for judging the tents performance include:
Strength and durability. From the double arched pole design of the tent it does indeed appear very sturdy. It also looks very aerodynamic. Does the tent flap around or buckle much under high winds? Does it require pitching in a specific orientation to withstand gusts? Is the floor material tough enough to withstand rocks and roots without puncture?
Packing and setup. Can it be done in the dark with a headlamp? Does it require much muscle to stretch the fabric and hook all the poles in place? Can everything be placed in the stuff-sack easily? Do the hubbed-poles pack down small enough to fit inside a backpack?
Waterproofing. This is very important in the Washington Cascades, not only for the occasional rainshowers but also condensation protection. I am an all-weather backpacker and greatly appreciate a well-made rain fly. Can the rainfly be attached quickly and easily? Does it sag when wet with rain or condensation? Will it protect against rain splashed up off the ground? Are there any spots where water will pool on the fly? Does it dry quickly?
Usability. Is there really enough room for two average sized people to share this tent? Can both people sit upright side by side in it? With only one door can one exit without disturbing the other too much? Is there enough leftover space after sleeping gear for other small items in the main tent? Is the vestibule roomy enough for packs and is it a usable shape? When camped on snow can the vestibule be dug out to increase storage? Are the zippers and mesh tight enough to keep even small bugs out of the tent?
Ventilation. When the fly is closed up for rain protection is there enough ventilation to avoid condensation? While the fly vent is open, is it still well protected from rain? Do the solid portions of the tent body block any wind? Is there any reason for these other than aesthetics?
Staking. This is a free-standing tent and theoretically should be stable without adding stakes. While I nearly always stake my tents, freestanding or not, there are occasions when that isn't an option. I am planning to backpack to Big Snow mountain and camp on the ridge where it is flat slab granite and stakes may not work. Is the tent stable without stakes? Does it deform in the wind? How much weight does it take to hold down? Can snow stakes be used with the tent?
The Black Diamond Mirage is a lightweight, two-person, double-walled backpacking tent. Overall construction seems very good and it is a fairly attractive tent. There are one or two potential pitfalls in the assembly process, notably the ability to accidentally assemble the poles upside down, but it does pitch well. I'm looking forward to spending some nights out on the trail with it.
This concludes my Initial Report. The Field Report will be amended to this report in approximately two months from the date of this report . Please check back then for further information.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
In the past two months I have spent two nights in the Mirage tent. In a typical year it would have seen more use but this has been a very unusual year. We had a very mild spring and the snow hung around much longer than usual. Because of this uncertainty in the conditions my four-season tent accompanied me for added warmth more often. I did test the Mirage tent snow camping though.
The first trip was in mid June to the ridge above Lake Ann, in the North Cascades near Mt. Shuksan. We packed in on consolidated snow from the end of the plowed road and set up camp on the exposed ridge at 5000 ft (1524 m). Because of the promising forecast we camped as high as possible with no wind protection. Temperatures ranged from around 60 F (15.6 C) during the day to near freezing at night. There was only a slight breeze. During the day we had high clouds but at night the clouds dropped, fogging us in.
I also used the tent at the beginning of August camping on Cady Ridge. We picked a site on a ridge, again at 5000 ft (1524 m), but this time had some trees for shelter. It was sunny on arrival but again the clouds dropped and it rained overnight. Temperatures were around 65 F (18.3 C) during the day, dropping to about 40 F (4.4 C) overnight.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
Since I made a mistake assembling the tent at home when I received it I was concerned I'd do the same in the field. This wasn't the case. I found it easy and quick to pitch at both camps. Practice likely helped me avoid repeating my mistake of attaching the pole hubs upside down. In both cases I simply unrolled the tent body, placed one stake in its loop to prevent it blowing away, then assembled and attached the poles. I clipped the body into place and staked out the rest before attaching the rain fly. All of this was done in less than five minutes.
I did have trouble getting a taut pitch with the vestibule, both on snow and dirt. I'd assembled the body then pulled out the vestibule, attempting to insert the two required stakes at the front of the vestibule. Both times I had to repeatedly unstake and restake it to keep one side from being loose. The stakes slip into simple loops at these points, while on other tents I have used they would use a sliding tensioner to avoid restaking it. A similar setup would make it much easier to pull out the vestibule. Interestingly these tensioners are included at the points where the rainfly snaps into the main body. They work very well here for creating a taut pitch of the rain fly.
Use on snow:
The tent was very easy to setup on snow. First I leveled the site with my snow shovel, then rolled out the tent body. I assembled the tent as described above and staked it out with U-shaped snow stakes. These stakes are much larger than those included by Black Diamond but the stake loops are generously sized and the snow stakes fit well. I attached the included guy line to a rear guy-out point and a snow stake in case winds picked up.
When camped on snow I like to dig out the vestibule interior to increase usable space and create a spot to sit with my feet down in the hole. This was very awkward with the Mirage tent. Because the body has a triangular protrusion into the vestibule area, with a single door on one side, there is little space to dig out. I did anyway, and it made for nice storage of my backpack, but I couldn't put my feet down in the hole. The space between the vestibule and the door just isn't large enough for this.
I was impressed with the warmth of the tent overnight. There was only a slight breeze, not enough to test Black Diamonds claims of wind resistance, but the tent kept it out better than other 3-season tents I have used. The sides of the bathtub floor rise up fairly high and are overlapped well by the rain fly, creating a nice wind buffer. At first I was worried about ventilation due to this but I did not experience any condensation. The vent at the rear foot is always open and when combined with the roof vent above the door creates a decent wind-tunnel effect.
Use on dirt:
While the tent is likely meant more for camping off snow I found its setup to be a little more difficult on hard ground. The main difficulty was with the odd shape of the tent. With the main arching pole running the length of the tent and into the vestibule it creates five points of contact between the poles and the ground. This had me reorienting the tent many times looking for a spot that would allow all of these points to touch the ground. Think of it like a kitchen table that needs something stuffed under a short wobbly leg to even it out. Most often the two rear corners and the front point would be level, while the side corners would have a seesaw effect side to side. I attempted to stake it out anyway but this resulted in a saggy fit to the rain fly. Eventually I found a combination that worked well but it is easier with a more traditional four-cornered tent.
The included stakes worked very well and can be pounded in hard with a rock without bending. Pulling them out of the ground is quite difficult. They have downward facing looks at the top that are hard on the fingers. I ended up using a free stake hooked under these corners for leverage and they came right up. I'd consider this good, despite the difficulty, since it meant the winds would not pull the stakes out. At Cady Ridge we had some moderate wind gusts but the tent did not move or flap, even when hit from the side. It also rained overnight but I stayed warm and dry inside. Because of the unexpected temperature drop we all sought shelter in the tents early that night. There was plenty of head room for me to sit up near the door to the tent. If I moved side to side or further down this diminished quickly though. Even so I did not feel cramped as I changed clothes, organized my stuff, and read my book.
Other notes on the tent:
Thus far I have only used the Mirage tent as a solo tent. This is not for lack of trying though! I was the third-man out on our Lake Ann trip so had to use my own tent. For other trips I made the offer to bunk in the Mirage with another but was turned down. They thought it would be too cramped for two. One of my friends, who is a little claustrophobic, did not want to try it. While it is a little smaller than some two person tents I believe it would serve two average height hikers well, so long as they were not cooped up inside for long stretches. Hopefully before the final report I will get two people inside.
In the instructions Black Diamond shows a drawing with the front of the rain fly and vestibule rolled up and secured above the door, along the horizontal pole. It mentions tiebacks to hold it this way. I could not figure out how this works though. The only tiebacks in the area are the small hook and loop straps that secure the fly to the poles. I was able to make it work by unclipping the front attachment points of the fly and folding the vestibule area backward between the fly and tent body, then reattaching the fly. This had the same effect but prevented using the hook and loop fasteners.
I have spent two nights in the Mirage tent, one trip on snow and another on dirt, and I have been pleased with its performance. In both cases it was quick and easy to pitch, despite the fiddly anchor points on the vestibule front. It looks good outdoors and the yellow color is cheerful to spend time inside. Though I have only had it out in a moderate rain it appears waterproof and well suited to poor weather trips.
The interior provides enough room to sit up near the door but nowhere else for an average height person. The vestibule is fairly small but was large enough for my backpack and boots. The interior vestibule eats up a large chunk of this useable space. It does seem to work well for storing clothes and other things that need to stay clean or free from bugs but when bulky items are placed here it blocks the exit.
Disassembly of the tent was very quick and simple. Everything can be rolled up together and slipped into the stuff sack or rolled separately using the divided compartments in the sack. The stakes stow neatly into a sewn on pocket, keeping them from getting lost.
The trails are now mostly snow free and I will continue to use the Mirage tent for backpacking. I won't use it again for snow camping during the final test period but it will see more use on dry ground. I plan to be out many times in the next two months to take full advantage of what could be a short snow-free window for Washington. Likely this will put me into the start of the rainy fall, testing the waterproofing and wind stability of the tent. Because it is such an odd year, with many lakes still frozen and some lingering snow, I cannot say long term where I will take the tent but it will see use in the near future.
I will also make a renewed effort to get a second person in this tent!
This concludes my field report for the Black Diamond Mirage tent. Please check back in early October for my final report.
LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
The Mirage tent made it out for two more trips over the final testing period. We camped two nights at around 6500 ft (1981 m) in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. Though this was a late August trip we had very cold conditions for that time of year. Temperatures ranged from about 55 F (13 C) during the day down to 30 F (-1 C) at night. The first night had some mild rain showers after dark as well as fairly strong winds. The second night was cold but dry. There was no snow on the ground but heavy frost and wind blown ice on the trees.
The second trip was a solo single night outing to Rampart Lakes in the Alpine Lakes wilderness. I camped at 5300 ft (1615 m) beside one of the partially frozen lakes. There was 6+ inches of snow on the ground in places but I was able to find a bare site to pitch the tent. Temperatures were a pleasant 50 F (10 C) during the day with sun down to below freezing at night. I pitched the tent in a strong wind and endured mild breezes coupled with occasional strong gusts overnight.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
Once again the Mirage tent performed very well. Because winds were forecast for both trips I staked the tent out well at all five points of the body and two more for the ends of the vestibule on the rainfly. I neglected to bring the guyline though. I had no problem pitching the tent in the Goat Rocks, but at Rampart lakes I again had some difficulty getting all five stake points on the tent body to contact the ground while keeping a taut pitch. My options were limited if I wanted to stay out of the snow. Eventually I staked out the four main points and dug a little hole about an inch deep for the front point to keep it all level. Because of the cold on both trips a retreat inside the tent was in order shortly after sunset.
Inside the Mirage was quite warm and was much more comfortable after closing the rain fly, it trapped my body heat well. I completely closed the upper vent both trips and did not experience any significant condensation. The foot vent cannot be closed. Occasionally a gust of wind would hit it just right and funnel straight through this vent into my face. A snap or tie-down to close the foot vent would be nice. Overnight in the Goat Rocks a moderate rain fell in short bursts but the tent easily deflected it.
It also had no trouble with the stiff wind gusts even though they were usually hitting it from the side. My pitching options were limited at Rampart lakes and I settled on angling the foot end slightly into the wind, though most of the gusts hit it full broadside. The tent moved slightly but did not bend down or contact my sleeping bag. Even without using the guyline it is quite stable. With a fairly taught pitch the tent did not flap, though I had some strange creaking sounds. Eventually I realized it was the rainfly sliding back and forth along the poles. I attached a missing hook-and-loop fastener and the problem was resolved. In the morning I checked on the stakes and found them all still securely in place. I did have some difficulty pulling the stakes out of the ground at Rampart lakes due to freezing soil. The high bathtub floor sides also do a decent job blocking wind from blowing under the rain fly. I've found this tent to be warmer than other three-season tents I've used, though not as warm as a true four-season tent.
I continue to have trouble recruiting a tent partner for the Mirage tent so unfortunately all my tests utilized it as a solo tent. I did get a friend to sit inside and attempt to play cards to see if it could work. We were able to sit up inside at the same time but had to sit cross-legged facing eachother with our knees nearly touching or scoot further apart and hunch down due to lack of head room. Because of the sloping sides we had to stay in the center of the tent.
Overall I have been impressed with the Mirage tent. It offers a good setup for a reasonably light weight. It performs well in foul weather and also works great for warmer, sunnier days due to all the mesh. It is easy and quick to pitch though the poles can be assembled upside down if one isn't careful. The included stuff sack has handy dividers and a stake pocket to keep everything together. Black Diamond has also included some great stakes. I have pounded these into hard soil and hit rocks without bending one.
Over my usage I have found no visible damage to the body or the fly, even without use of a ground cloth. The floor is still watertight and I can find no punctures or even fatigue points. I have packed the tent along using the included stuff sack, with the poles in the separate divider, and been happy with the results. Despite rolling the fly the vent wires have retained their shape. The poles and attachment points are all in working order, as are the zippers.
But the biggest drawback is the interior space. While two average height people can sit up inside they will be hunched over or hitting their heads on the ceiling. There isn't that much space to spread out inside and it doesn't seem too well suited for long nights with a tent partner. Playing cards would be difficult. This is a shame for a tent that does a great job riding out foul weather.
Things I like:
-Very good in wind and foul weather
-Near four-season capability
-Fairly light weight and small packaging
-Easy to pitch
Things I dont like:
-Odd interior proportions limit usable space
-Not as light as other, larger, three-season tents I own
-Five points of ground contact make for sometimes tricky staking
|Mirage tent at Rampart Lakes|
I will continue to use the Mirage tent for occasional trips. Likely it will come along as a solo tent when I want space to spread out but also want a tent that can deal with an iffy weather forecast. It will not be my tent of choice for most trips because I own lighter tents that offer more useful space and head room though.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Thank you to Black Diamond and Backpackgeartest.org for allowing me to test this product!
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