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Reviews > Shelters > Tents > MSR Dragontail > Test Report by Jamie Lawrence

MSR Dragontail Tent
Test Series by Jamie Lawrence
Long-Term Report
30th May, 2008

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Tester Information

NAME:

Jamie Lawrence

EMAIL:

jlawrence@publictrustee.tas.gov.au

AGE:

27

LOCATION:

Hobart, Tasmania AUSTRALIA

GENDER:

M

HEIGHT:

5' 7" (1.70 m)

WEIGHT:

154 lb (70.00 kg)

I was introduced to bushwalking/tramping/hiking as a young child in Boy Scouts and through my school physical/adventure education. After leaving school, I mainly did short daywalks until recently when I have started to again re-walk some of Tasmania's key hiking routes and try walks I have yet to attempt. I mainly walk in the winter months, in Tasmania's central highlands areas. I prefer light gear, extended walks (3-5 days) in a group of 3 or shorter walks (1-3 days) walking solo. I would generally carry a base weight pack of around 8 kg-10 kg (17 lb-22 lb).


Initial Report

6th February, 2008

Product Information & Specifications

Dragontail with Fly Closed

MSR Dragontail (Image courtesy MSR)

Manufacturer: MSR
Year of Manufacture: 2008
Manufacturer's Website: MSR Website
MSRP: US$449.95
Listed Weight: 2.42 kg (5 lbs 5 oz)
Measured Weight: 2.24 kg (5 lbs)

Breakdown of measured component weights
Tent: 1.5 kg (3 lbs 5 oz)
Pegs: 200 g (6 oz)
Poles: 525 g (1 lb 3 oz)
Stuff sacks and accessories: 50 g (2 oz)

Product Description

Dragontail Label

Dragontail Label

The Dragontail is a new release in MSR's Expedition range of tents. This model is a single-walled, 3 pole hoop designed non free standing shelter with a single entry at the front with a large front vestibule. It has a 2 person capacity plus gear.

A key design feature of this tent is MSR's 'flow through ventilation' which is to allow air movement to prevent condensation. This feature consists of 2 flaps at each end of the tent that can be opened or closed to allow air to flow through the top of the tent into a sectioned off mesh 'roof'. The flaps can be accessed from inside the tent through zippers in the mess roof and are held in place by a series of plastic toggles. The flaps also have a metal hoop to give them strength and hold them tight against the body of the tent.

The other features of this tent are MSR's Groundhog II pegs (stakes) and 3 DAC NSL Featherlight Aluminum poles. There is a single, and large, front vestibule which has a single large waterproof zipper on the side. Like most other MSR tents, it is a bright orange colour and has a dark red floor. There are also large MSR logos on the side walls of the tent. This is identical to the other MSR shelter that I own, the MSR Hubba Hubba.

Trying it Out

As soon as I opened the box and took out the Dragontail, I knew I was going to like this tent. I was immediately happy to find that the tent has a bag rather then a stuff sack as this is a design I prefer. The bag also has a couple of compression straps which again is handy.

Packed in Bag

Packed in Bag

Once I removed the tent from the bag I discovered the instructions for setup, which are sewn into the bag on a large flap that doubles as a closure for the bag. The instructions are nice and clear with good diagrams. As this is the first single walled tent that I have used, I decided to read the instructions to be sure I was on the right track. As I expected, peg out the corners, insert the poles and then peg out the remainder of the tent body. It took me around 10 minutes to assemble all the poles, feed them into the sleeves and erect the tent. A further 5 minutes of playing around and the tent was stable and ready to use.

I had no troubles getting the poles into the sleeves, but I was aware of the tent body bunching so had to ensure that I had a good spread of the sleeve over the poles before bending into the hoop and clipping into the eyelets at the base of the tent. I was setting the tent up on very hard ground and found it was impossible for me to push the Groundhogs all the way into the ground. As there was a light breeze blowing, I found that the tent lifted off the pegs a few times. This I noted for future reference as I may need to carry some smaller pegs depending on where I intend to camp. I did not bother with the guy ropes as I did not need them and only had the tent set up for 15 minutes.

This tent is big, very big. There is ample room for 2 people, with heaps of head room and enough space to avoid touching the walls of the tent I suspect. The front vestibule is massive, I could easily out a couple of packs and boots in there as well as a bunch of cook gear and still have space to enter and exit.

 

Testing Strategy

I will look to test the MSR Dragontail over the coming months as we enter our Southern Hemisphere autumn (fall) and early winter. Over these months I have several trips planned that will expose the Dragontail to varied and I expect difficult conditions. As MSR state on their website 'The Dragontail is the epitome of ultralight, single-wall protection for extreme conditions.' I hope this is the case and am looking forward to finding out.


Field Report

20th March, 2008

Field Locations & Conditions

I have used the Dragontail on 2 recent trips. The first was an overnight trip to Cockle Creek, in far southern Tasmania. Here we camped by a river, not far from the beach at 13 m (42 ft) above sea level. The temperature ranged from a low of 7 C (44 F) to 26 C (79 F). There was no rain.

The second trip was on a 4-day circuit of Tasmania's central highland lakes. Over this trip 3 nights were spent camped at elevations between 958 m (3,143ft) and 1,104 m (3,622 ft) above sea level. I was not able to take temperature readings at each camp site but the nearby weather station recorded a low of 3 C (37 F) and a maximum of 21 C (70 F) during the trip. Over this period around 13.2 mm (0.5 in) of rain fell. There were no periods of any decent wind.

Lake Challice

Lake Challice - Tasmanian Highlands

Performance in the Field

So far I have been both very impressed and somewhat disappointed with the Dragontail.

Cockle Creek Camp

Cockle Creek Campsite


I really do like this tent, it is light, relatively compact, very well built and has massive amounts of space inside. I have found there to be no real problems setting the tent up, as I have now done it a couple of times. I have found that contrary to the instructions provided by MSR, it is much easier to insert the poles before pegging the tent out. I've found it easier to insert all the poles then clip the 2 end poles in place, then the centre pole. I find it is very hard to get the poles to clip into place whilst the tent is pegged out as there is too much tension. However I do have to remember when feeding each pole into the sleeve to ensure the tent fabric is evenly spread across the pole otherwise it is very hard to erect the tent when it is bunched.

Camp at Lake Challice

Camp at Lake Challice


The main feature I like is the amount of room this tent provides. On both of the above trips I was with my fiancée and both of us are around 1.7 m (5 ft 7 in) in height. With 2 sleeping mats and sleeping bags we still have ample room between us and the walls of the tent. I have also found that the quite steep walls of the tent and high roof make the internal space seem very large. We can both change clothes, adjust our sleeping gear and generally use the tent at the same time and have plenty of room. We can store two large (70 L/4,227 cu in) packs plus boots plus some cook gear in the front vestibule without restricting our access to the internal door. We have actually slept in the tent with our heads facing both the door and the rear of the tent and found very little difference between the two positions. The picture to the right shows the Dragontail set up next to my MSR Hubba Hubba. The Dragontail is clearly a much larger tent.

A central feature of this tent is the "flow-through" vent that runs the length of the tent. On all occasions of using the Dragontail I have had both the end vents open. As an additional bonus I have found that looking through the mesh ceiling through the open vents makes them very handy as windows. I can see very clearly what is happening outside without needing to get wet. I tested this when I was woken up by a brief period of heavy rain and I could not remember if I had left any gear outside. I simply popped my head up and could see quite clearly around, and also get a good look at the oncoming weather! The internal zippers make access to the vent doors very easy.

Torn Bag

Torn Bag


I have also been surprised by the Groundhog stakes (pegs). As these have no curved top on them, I was concerned the tent would come away from the pegs but this has never happened. I have found that I can not push the pegs into the ground with my hands as the tops are just too sharp and hurt my palms. The pegs have handy rope loops on top which make removing them from the ground very easy. When I had the Dragontail set up in alpine grass, I found these ropes were critical as I had trouble finding the tops of the pegs. I was most pleased to recently receive from MSR the optional footprint for the Dragontail. This has made a difference both in terms of warmth and durability as I was concerned that the floor was very thin. The only drama this has now presented is I do not have enough Groundhog stakes to cover both the tent and the footprint as I seem to find that the footprint doesn't perfectly align with the tent floor thus the peg loops do not meet. This may be my error so I will continue to monitor this in future testing.

Condensation

Condensation

On the downside, I have been disappointed with the amount of condensation I have experienced using the Dragontail. As this is my first time using a single-walled tent, I did not have an expectation of how much condensation I would get, but I expected I would get some. On the first trip to Cockle Creek I was happy to awake to a dry tent. However this did not hold true when using the tent on the most recent trip. Each morning I awoke to very wet tent walls. In one case I had to hang the tent in the sun from the roof of a hut as the tent was too wet to pack away. This remained an issue and forced me to make sure I had the tent set up and dried when I arrived at my next camp spot prior to laying out my sleeping gear to prevent it getting wet.

Whilst condensation has been the only major issue that I have had with the Dragontail, I have had a couple of other little annoyances. Firstly, when I packed up the tent after Cockle Creek, the draw string tore the bag as the metal eyelet pulled away from the bag. I now can not use the drawstring to completely compress the tent when it is stowed in the bag as this may cause the tear to get larger.


I have also found that the toggles that hold the external and internal doors in place are a touch too short as I have to really pull them into the plastic loops. I have also found the internal mesh pockets, whilst long, are too shallow to be of much use, particularly when I am having issues with condensation. I have found that the items simply get wet.

Summary

Overall, I had very big expectations for the Dragontail. I had only used a double-walled tent in the past so I was disappointed with the amount of condensation that I experienced with the single-walled design so far.

Whilst condensation has been a problem, this is a great tent and I find it far more liveable and warmer then my double-walled. When it rained I was very dry inside, and was surprised at how little water got through the "flow-through" vent doors.

Testing Strategy

As my testing continues, I will start to move into the late southern hemisphere autumn (fall) and early winter. For me in Tasmania this means rain, wind, snow and generally much harder conditions then I have experienced since commencing this test series.

I look forward to seeing if my issues with condensation ease as the temperatures start to drop and humidity is reduced.


Long-Term Report

30th May, 2008

Long-Term Testing Locations & Conditions

Mt Field West

Mt Field West from K Col

I have continued my testing of the MSR Dragontail by getting into the mountains. I recently completed a 2 night walk in the Mt Field National Park. The first night was spent at Lake Dobson at 1,047 m (3,453 ft). This night was a rather wet and windy night. Around 7.2mm (0.28in) of rain fell with a night low temp recorded of 4.2 C (39.5 F). Although I wasn't able to measure wind speeds, gusts were recorded at a nearby weather station of 24 km/h (15 mp/h). The second night of this walk was spent camped at K Col, around 1,210 m (3,970 ft) above sea level. I was not able to record temperatures at this camp, however I am sure it was below freezing (0 C/ 32 F) as when I awoke I found the ground and nearby small tarn frozen. There was no rain or snowfall but it was very foggy and misty.

Performance in the Field

As outlined in my Field Report, I was having problems with condensation in this tent and was keen to see if cooler temperatures would ease this problem. I certainly was able to test this tent in freezing conditions however I was the only occupant in the MSR Dragontail on this last trip. I did notice a reduced amount of condensation which was pleasing, however I suspect this may have been due to the fact that there was one less person in the tent.

I am not 100% convinced that the flow through vent system is totally effective in minimising condensation. I've found the worst condensation occurs on the vestible fly, just near the internal door as well as the top corners of the tent. This is strange as these points are the closest to the vent doors! On a positive, the vents do make for wonderful view points out of the tent, especially through the mesh ceiling. I've found this quite handy in bad weather to check what is happening outside. I've found that I have had no issues with rain entering through the vents, especially when they are open to improve ventilation, which is nearly always as the tent can be very stuffy. The internal zippers make accessing and thus opening or closing the vent doors from inside the tent very easy. Generally I think that if this single skin design was constructed out of a more breathable fabric then this may be more effective in reducing condensation.

Camp at K Col

Camp at K Col, Mt Field NP

Until the trip to Mt Field I had not had the Dragontail exposed to windy conditions. As previously mentioned, I was camped at K Col on the second night of this trip which is very open and exposed. I was not able to measure the wind gusts, but the wind was strong enough for me to need to guy the tent out with the supplied guy ropes. I found the easiest way to do this was simply tie them to one of the various loops on the tent around the poles and then peg out with one of the Groundhog stakes. The Dragontail is supplied with 2 lengths of guy rope (which is reflective) and 2 tensioners. These are a Z-shaped piece of plastic and I could not for the life of me figure out how to use them! After having a quick play around, I simply tied a loop in the end of the guy rope and hooked this around the Groundhog stake. Whilst this had the desired effect of adding some more resistance to the wind, it did also mean I had 2 long lengths of rope to contend with when moving around the tent. Not a major drama as they are reflective which means I was able to see them very clearly with my headlamp.

I have found that since I received the addition of the MSR ground sheet for the Dragontail I feel a lot more confident pitching it on rough or uneven ground. The ground that I pitched on in Mt Field was mainly alpine grass with rock and shrubs. I had no problems with any sharp branches or rock punching through the floor and found that I had no issues with moisture coming through the floor as the ground thawed in the morning. I have continued to find that this ground sheet is still not quite the right size, seemingly too short at the door end of the tent.

I have continued to use my preferred set-up technique rather then the instructions supplied by MSR as I find this much easier. With the addition of the ground sheet I stake out the four corners and then insert the poles into the sleeves. I then attach the non door end to the stakes holding down the ground sheet. Once these are in place, I simply pull the corners near the internal door tight and stake out and the tent then pops up into the tunnel shape. If I need to stake down further sections or attach guy lines then I do so for extra strength. During the poor weather I experienced at Mt Field I had no problems with the tent feeling unstable or insecure by using this set-up.

Summary

Overall, I have enjoyed many aspects of the MSR Dragontail over the test period. The main feature is the room, especially the head room. The high vertical walls of this tent produce loads of internal space, easily able to accommodate 2 people plus gear. If I were forced to spend long periods of time in this tent due to bad weather, this would certainly help make it more bearable. I have been impressed with the strength to resist wind and the general protection this tent offers from the elements. During periods of rain I have seen no evidence of water looking likely to enter and I have certainly felt warm and secure inside during windy conditions. I find the tent is easy to set-up and can be done easily with one person in easy weather conditions. I have also found that the wide opening on the top of the storage bag for this tent makes it quick and easy to pack away and I can compress it quite well with the compression straps to reduce the size. Whilst this is a big shelter for one person, the weight is certainly lower then my other 4 season MSR tent which makes it preferred if I am wanting to lower my pack weight.

As a trade off I have to be prepared to accept the chance of condensation and a possible delay in getting away in the morning whilst I wait for the tent to dry to aviod a wet tent at night. I have also found that the side internal pockets are too low, meaning things that I would normally stash in there such as a water bottle or camera either fall out or they get wet from condensation. If I was 100% confident that condensation was not going to be an issue, this would easily become my preferred 4 season shelter.

This concludes my test series for the MSR Dragontail tent. I have greatly appreciated the opportunity to test this excellent product and I thank MSR Corp and BackpackGearTest.org



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