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Reviews > Shelters > Tents > MSR Dragontail > Test Report by Jason Boyle

MSR Dragontail Tent

Test Series

Initial Report - January 25, 2008
Field Report - April 15, 2008
Long Term Report - June 9, 2008

MSR Dragontail

Tester Information:
Name: Jason Boyle
Age: 30
Gender: Male
Height: 5' 6"/ 1.68 m
Weight: 180 lb/ 82 kg
Email address: c4jc "at" hotmail "dot" com
City, State, Country: Snoqualmie, Washington, U. S.

Backpacking Background:
I have been camping and backpacking for about 19 years. My introduction to the outdoors started with the Boy Scouts of America and has continued as an adult. I have hiked mostly in the Southeastern and Northeastern United States. I am generally a lightweight hiker, but will carry extras to keep me comfortable. I currently reside in the Pacific Northwest and spend most of my time hiking and backpacking in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, but I can be found exploring the other wild areas of Washington!

Product Information

Manufacturer: Mountain Safety Research
Model: Dragontail
Color: Orange walls, Red floor
Season: 4-season
Number of Doors: 1
Number of Vestibules: 1
Body Material 30 D Silicone coated ripstop nylon
Floor Material 40 D Ripstop coated nylon
Listed weight:
Packed Weight: 5 lbs 5 oz/2.42 kg
Minimum Weight: 4 lbs 6 oz/1.99 kg
Measured weight:
Packed Weight: 5 lbs 6 oz/2.44 kg
Poles and stuff sack: 1 lb 3.6 oz/560 g
Stakes and stuff sack: 8.25 oz/234 g
Tent Body: 3 lbs 8.2 oz/1.59 kg
Listed Dimensions: verified accurate
Apex Height: 41”/1.1 m
Tent Body Width: 50”/1.3 m at the door
Floor Length: 90”/2.3 m
Total Length: 149”/3.8 m
Interior Area: 30 sq ft/2.8 sq m
Vestibule Area: 14 sq ft/1.3 sq m
Number of poles: 3
Poles: DAC NSL Featherlight Aluminum poles
Year of Manufacture: 2008
MSRP: $449
Country of Manufacture: China

Product Description:

The tent is a classic style non-free standing hoop tent. It is basically cylindrical in shape with two sloped ends. The front sloped end is the vestibule enclosure while the rear sloped end is the “foot” end of the tent. The body of the tent is tapered with the widest end being the entrance, while the opposite end is narrower and smaller. There are three standard sized poles, all the same length that slide into pole sleeves. One end of each pole is rounded and the opposite end is a peg end. Each pole sleeve has a pocket at one end to receive the rounded end of the pole and the opposite end has a standard tab with two grommet holes. The outer grommet hole is for using the tent in dry environments, where the fabric may not have very much give, and the inner grommet is for humid environments where the fabric tends to stretch. Each pole sleeve has a reflective guy out point on each side, there are also reflective guy out points at the top of the end hoops. There are twelve stake loops, two on the enclosed end, two at each pole, and four at the end of the vestibule. The tent is a single wall tent meaning there is only one “wall”, not two walls as is the norm in most other tents. It comes in the MSR standard “Orange” color for the walls and red for the floor. There is a mesh roof that I will mention in the next paragraph. Per MSR instructions the tent does not need to be seam sealed and no seam sealant was included.
Guy out point

The vestibule opens on the side for entry and allows the user to enter the vestibule with minimal weather exposure to the door of the tent. The vestibule can be tied back with a small plastic toggle and small plastic circle. A feature that sets the tent apart and that is supposed to help fight condensation is the “Flow Through Ventilation System”. At each end of the tent there is a flap held in place by three toggles that can raised or lowered. When lowered it is supposed to allow wind to flow through the top of the tent helping to remove any condensation. Inside of the tent there is a fine mesh “roof” that is separated from the actual top of the tent. The mesh allows wind to flow through the tent instead of dropping into the main body of the tent. This should create a wind tunnel type of effect. At each end of the mesh there is a zipper that allows access to the flaps from inside of the tent so the user doesn’t have to leave the tent to open or close the flaps. The mesh roof will make a good place to store gear, like a gear loft. The main door to the tent will zip completely open from side to side and is half fabric and half mesh. It is wide enough for two people to sit side by side comfortably. Inside of the tent there are two small mesh gear storage pockets near the vestibule end. MSR included twelve MSR Groundhog II stakes, two short sections of guyline and two figure-9 cord tensioning devices. It also came with a multi-page instruction booklet, and stuff sack with two compression buckles.

Initial Report – January 25, 2008

Initial Impressions:
Vestibule The tent comes packaged in its stuff sack, which made it look like a fat orange sausage with a couple of quick release buckles. Pitching instructions are printed on the bag and are easy to follow. Initial pitching took about 10 minutes but I had to fiddle with everything and took my time. There is nothing technical about the pitching. The poles slide fairly easy into the pole sleeves and the zipper on the door slides smoothly. The toggle and circle tiebacks for the door and vestibule are on the small side and are challenging to use with gloved fingers. Although the Instructions Booklet says that enough guyline was included to properly pitch the tent, I disagree. The two small (less than 3 feet/ approx.1 m) guylines will barely reach the ground from the guy out point on the side of the tent. I expected to receive enough guyline to securely pitch the tent in rough weather. I will have to add a significant amount of guyline to pitch the tent to withstand bad weather. Its not a big deal except the instruction booklet says enough was included.

The inside of the tent is very roomy and has really good head room throughout. I can sit up fully at either end of the tent without touching the mesh roof. The tapered shape of the tent means I will have to pay careful attention to site selection to ensure the vestibule end is at the top of any slope. The vestibule is quite roomy with plenty of room for two packs and associated gear. The side entry to the vestibule should allow me to cook and enter and exit the tent without being affected by the elements. The tent fabric is crinkly to the touch, but doesn’t feel much different than any other tent fabric that I have felt on other tents.

Field Report – April 15, 2008

Rose Lake, BWCA

The MSR Dragontail has performed well over the past couple of months. It is a roomy two person tent and the vestibule is large enough to swallow large amounts of gear especially in the snow where an entrance pit can be dug. For a taut pitch the tent requires a lot of guylines that were not included from the manufacturer. Also the one entrance to the vestibule makes it challenging for me and my hiking partner to get in and out of the tent at the same time. An entry on both sides of the vestibule would be a great addition.

Field Conditions:
I used the Dragontail on three trips for a total of 6 nights. My first trip was an overnight backpacking trip to the Gold Creek area of Snoqualmie Pass in Washington. Elevation was 3000’ (914 m) and temperatures where from 0 F to 32 F (-17 C to 0 C). The weather was bluebird clear. My second trip was a 4 day trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Northern Minnesota. Temperatures ranged from 8 F to 30 F (-13 C to -1 C) and there were daily snow showers. My third trip was a 3 day backpacking trip near Hannegan Pass in the North Cascades in Washington. Elevation was 3000’ (914 m) and temperatures ranged from 24 F to 32 F (-4 C to 0 C) with nightly snowshowers that dropped several inches (centimeters) of snow. I shared the tent with a partner on all three trips.

Sunny morning on Rose Lake

The Dragontail has performed well so far this winter. I was able to test it in Northern Minnesota and locally in the Cascades. I evaluated the tent for durability, ease of set up, and usefulness.

Winter can be tough on a tent and I am happy to say that the durability of the tent has been good. I haven’t encountered any serious winter storms, but have had the tent out in several good winter squalls. The tent has only been set up on snow so far and I have not had any durability issues with the floor, nor have I had any wetness seep through the floor. The tent body and poles have stood up well to snow loading. The tunnel shape of the tent tends to allow snow to accumulate on the roof especially if the tent is not pitched very taut. All of the zippers are still working smoothly and there are no signs of wear on the reflective guy out points, or on the fabric pole sleeves.

The tent sets up pretty easily and quickly with two people, however, for use in snow MSR left out some essential pieces. The included stakes are useless in the snow, and there was not enough included guyline to achieve a taut pitch. I remedied this by using my own snow stakes and adding a significant amount of guylines to the tent. A basic fair weather pitch requires only 6 stakes, 2 forward and 2 rear stakes, and 2 mid body guylines. However for a taut pitch that can withstand snow loading or heavy winds, it can require upwards of 12 stakes and 8 guylines. A bomber pitch takes more time and work, but the result is a taut tent that has withstood snow squalls that have dropped several inches (cm) of wet snow at a time with no problem. I initially didn’t think I needed to guy out all the points, but after a night of constant snow that caused the roof to sag in between the poles I changed my mind.

Another item that I always try to think through is can I pitch the tent in foul weather without getting snow or rain inside of the tent? The enclosed vestibule does a good job protecting the inside of the tent while setting it up in foul weather. The half fabric side of the door also helps keep snow or rain out of the tent while pitching the tent.

The long winter nights and foul weather in the Cascades can make for some long nights in the tent and I was concerned whether the Dragontail would provide plenty of living space. I am happy to report that the tent is very roomy. Two people can sit at the entrance of the tent pretty easily. However with only one vestibule entrance, I ended up having to crawl over my hiking partner to get out if we were both sitting at the door. Inside the tent there was plenty of room for us to both sit up and stretch out. The only place inside that the tent becomes tight is at the tapered foot. Our standard size sleeping pads would overlap a bit. The vestibule is big enough to store packs and boots, but not much else. I would have had to bring in the packs to cook in the vestibule. However in the snow we could dig a pit under the vestibule and this greatly increased the living space and gave us a place to sit and hang out. One improvement with the vestibule that I would like to see is another entrance door. This would make getting into and out of the tent much easier.

Full Vestibule and Sagging roof

Single wall tents in general have condensation issues and this tent is no different. MSR tried to combat this by creating a place for air to flow through the tent at the top. Most of my nights weren’t very windy and this feature basically had no effect. Since I used the tent in temperatures below freezing all of the condensation froze in the tent wall and could be knocked off without any problem. I also tried sleeping with the tent door open, but the vestibule closed and that didn’t have much of an effect. However, I learned an interesting fact in Minnesota. My partner and I used Vapor Barrier Liners in our sleeping bags and the amount of condensation inside the tent was very minimal compared to the times I didn’t use a VBL. It is amazing how much water vapor our bodies give off at night while sleeping.

This concludes my Field Report. Please check back in two months for my Long Term Report where I will see how the tent does as we transition to spring here in the Pacific Northwest.

Long Term Report June 6, 2008

On the Coast near Rialto Beach

The Dragontail is a light weight tent that can withstand rigorous weather. It is appropriately sized to accommodate two full size adults with room in the vestibule for gear storage. It is a single wall tent and suffers condensation issues that plague all single wall tents. A good weather pitch only requires 4-6 stakes, but to achieve a taut pitch to withstand foul weather a good 8-12 stakes is required. Overall the tent is great and though the I don’t feel that the “Flow Through Ventilation System” made a significant impact, I believe MSR is on the right track.

Field Conditions:
I have used the tent on one more trip since my field report – a four day backpacking trip on the North Olympic Wilderness Coast between Cape Alava and Rialto Beach. Elevation was sea level and weather conditions were mostly cloudy, with winds about 10 mph (16 kph). There was some light rain on the last night. Temperatures ranged from the low 40’s to 60 F (4 C to 15 C). I used the tent solo during this trip. The tent was pitched with the matching ground cloth on dirt and beach sand. Total usage with this tent over four months is nine nights.

The tent has continued to perform well since the field report. Even after an additional three nights since the field report the tent still looks new. Though I have not experienced any extreme weather, I have no durability concerns with this tent. One area that I explored this time that I didn’t address in the field report was pitching the tent with the Dragontail specific footprint. I used it on two of the three nights on my coast trip. The footprint is made from a lightweight water resistant fabric and has a smooth feel and sort of feels stretchy. The footprint is shaped to match the floor of the Dragontail, but is not an exact match. The stake loops do not line up so I found that I have to stake the footprint down first and then use separate stakes for the tent. I expected to be able to use the same stake loops so I didn’t bring any extra stakes on my trip, but used sticks I found lying around the campsites to stake down the footprint. I probably won’t use the footprint in the future unless I expect to be in a really muddy or damp area. The floor had not received any wear during my previous trips and I don’t want to carry the extra stakes.

Set up has become second nature. I used the tent solo on my coast trip and was able to leisurely set up the tent in about five minutes. The tent poles continue to slide through the pole sleeves with no problem. My only issue with set up is the number of guy lines required to attain a taut pitch. My time estimate for setup above is only for my fair weather setup – staking the vestibule corners, end corners and forward and aft hoop guy out points. If I expect rough weather it probably takes another 5-10 minutes to get the rest of the tent guyed out. I used my fair weather pitch on the last night of my trip where it rained. The roof wasn’t completely tight and even the light rain it received caused little pools to form on the roof. This issue isn’t the end of the world but is annoying.

campsite on the coast

As I mentioned in my summary the tent is very roomy, even palatial while using it solo. The light weight of tent means that for me it can be used year round not just while mountaineering or winter. But like any other single wall tent it has condensation and ventilation issues. I still experienced some light condensation while using it solo on my coast trip.

Another new experience during this most recent trip was using the tent in warmer/sunny weather. On my last night I was able to set the tent up fairly early in the afternoon, around 3 pm, when I had my 15 minutes of sun that day. The tent immediately became very warm. It was warm enough that I put my down sleeping bag inside of the tent instead of on a log to air out. The only venting options are the vents at the top and through the vestibule door, all of which were open. Based on this, I would not use the tent in extremely hot climates.

Overall this tent has performed very well and I will continue to use this tent on my mountaineering, winter and cool weather trips. Thanks to and MSR for allowing me to participate in this test.

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