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Reviews > Shelters > Tents > MSR Dragontail > Test Report by Ray Estrella
MSR Dragontail Tent
I have been backpacking for over 30 years, all over California, and in many of the western states and Minnesota. I hike year-round, and average 500+ miles (800+ km) per year. I have made a move to lightweight gear, and smaller volume packs. I start early and hike hard so as to enjoy the afternoons exploring. I usually take a freestanding tent and enjoy hot meals at night. If not hiking solo I am usually with my wife Jenn or brother-in-law Dave.
Manufacturer: Mountain Safety Research, Inc. (MSR)
Web site: www.msrcorp.com
Year manufactured: 2008
MSRP: $449.95 US
Size: 2 person
Packaged weight (complete) listed: 5 lb 5 oz (2.42 kg)
Actual weight: 5 lb 7.3 oz (2.47 kg)
Minimum weight (body & poles) listed: 4 lb 6 oz (1.99 kg)
Actual weight: 4 lb 8.5 oz (2.06 kg)
Interior height listed: 41 in (104 cm)
Length listed: 90 in (230 cm)
Width listed: 50 in (130 cm)
Packed size listed: 20 x 7 in (51 x 17 cm) Verified accurate
Warranty: (quoted from company web site) "MSR warranties the materials and workmanship in every MSR tent we make to the original owner. If your MSR tent has received proper care, but fails due to a defect in manufacturing, the tent will be repaired or replaced at our discretion.
The MSR Dragontail is one of the company's Expedition Series tents. They claim that it is "the epitome of ultralight, single-wall protection for extreme conditions". It has just been added to the company website listed above, and all listed numbers came from said site.
Inside was the main tent. This comes in a single piece as this is a single-wall tent and therefore has no separate fly. The canopy of the Dragontail is made of Sunset Orange 30 D polyurethane and silicone coated ripstop nylon, while the red floor is made of 40D ripstop nylon with a much thicker coating of only polyurethane.
Each of three DAC Featherlight NSL aluminum poles is made of nine shock-corded sections and fold up to make a separate bundle 15.5 in (39 cm) long that is 2 in (5 cm) in diameter for all of them. (I usually carry my poles apart from the tent body.) They came inside a 0.78 oz (22 g) storage sack. A smaller 0.53 oz (15 g) sack holds 12 stakes, two pieces of guy-line and line tensioners along with a tent-pole repair section and an owner's manual.
The red aluminum 7.5 in (19 cm) long stakes weigh only 0.56 oz (16 g) each and are tethered Y-type.
The set-up of the tent is like all hoop-style tents I have used in the past. The tent is laid out and the four corners are staked out. All of the stake loops are quite large (which I like). This lets the tent be staked with ice axes, skis and snow pickets if need be. (Yes I have used skis as tent anchors before.)
The poles are assembled and then threaded through the fabric sleeves at three points across the body. The poles have one rounded end that slides into the sleeves from the left side (facing it head-on) and seat themselves in a reinforced fabric pocket at the right side. They are then carefully pushed to flex into a hoop shape. Once it is flexed all the way the other pole end goes into a grommet on the near side. Once all the hoops are in place the two ends must be pulled taut and staked. Doing this is what keeps the tent upright as it is not free-standing.
The front of the tent is held with the vestibule which pulls out from the main tent at a downward angle. The door is in this vestibule. At the back, the tent itself (floor and body) continues past the rear pole angling downward and narrowing in width.
The front-entry single door is made of light breathable uncoated ripstop nylon at the bottom half and mesh netting fabric at the top. A double-ended zipper travels around the tent. It does not open along the floor. The vestibule entry is a single straight zipper on the left side (facing it from outside).
One of the most interesting things to me about the Dragontail is the "flow-through ventilation system" MSR has come up with. At the top front of the tent above the vestibule is a wire-rimmed flap. It can be seen open in the top two pictures. Three toggles run through buttonholes to keep the flap (mostly) closed. A 2 in (5 cm) storm guard covers it here in the event of rain. By popping the toggles out the flap opens up to let air come into the tent. Above the rear pole hoop is another flap vent that opens the same way. To keep bugs and other airborne traffic out of the tent by these openings the entire run from front to back is connected by netting. If there is no concern for bugs a zipper at each end can be opened letting the air straight into the tent without netting.
This concludes the Initial Report, the following is the results of the first two months of real life use. You know, backpacking! Please read on.
The Quick Nitty Gritty
So far I am finding the Dragontail a pretty nice roomy tent that works great in heavy snow and harsh conditions. Use in powder leaves me wishing it was freestanding though. Read on for the whole story.
Here are the details for the 6 nights of use the Dragontail has seen so far.
Setting up the Dragontail is pretty straight forward. The only problem that I have is threading the poles through the sleeves when it is very cold and I need to wear gloves. They stick quite badly inside the sleeves. During one of the trips in Minnesota I inadvertently put the forward pole in backwards. As I went to bend it and place the end into the grommet I saw that I had the rounded end. Argh! I had to take the others back out to get it to lay down enough to pull the pole back out.
On the trips in Minnesota I had a lot of trouble anchoring the tent. This is not a ding on it at all, just a fact when setting up on snow that is so cold and dry that it will not pack down enough to hold. I was using curved aluminum snow stakes there and did not have the larger, flat, spade-type snow anchors we have in California. (I can't have two of everything, darn it.) The stakes kept pulling out as I set the tent up, but once I re-staked (a few times…) it held fine after they froze in.
Using it on the heavy snow in California went much better. On the three-day trip we knew a storm was coming and found a protected spot to set up. (And no, not in an approved camp spot, sorry Ms Ranger. Yes, I got yelled at.) I shoveled a platform and set up on the resulting half cut, half stamped down spot. The snow anchors held it very well even when getting blasted from the side by very heavy winds. Here is a picture right after I set up with the storm hitting. (I lightened the pic so it looks better. It was actually quite grey.)
The next two weekends saw the snow first settle, and then melt down severely. On the last trip with Jenn the snow was down to no more than 3 ft (1 m) depth and very packed. I used the snow stakes and had to pound them in with my shovel. (No ice axe on these trips.) They held the tent great and I never had to adjust anything. A shot of it and my lovely wife (that's got to be worth a little something…) is at the end of this report.
Jenn cooked one time in the vestibule. While I am always nervous firing a stove up inside, it was fine. The Dragontail's vestibule is big enough to cook in with no worries. The hot apple cider was yummy. (OK, it could have used some brandy…)
Quick & Dirty Nitty Gritty
This strong light-weight hoop-style tent shines on packed snow and windy conditions, but gets a bit moist in still conditions, and does not like powder. Pole Pockets Rule! Read on for the details.
1: Jenn and I used the Dragontail on a two day trip to Joshua Tree National Park (JT to climbers). This trip was hiking and rock climbing. The temperatures were about 53 F (12 C) or so for the low with some wind.
I did not care for the pole sleeves in frigid weather as they bound up on me in the cold. But once I was in warmer conditions it was much easier to set up. Either I am more used to it now, or, because I was wearing lighter gloves that let me grasp the poles better, it went a lot smoother. I had no problem with it on the trips mentioned above. (I also figured a better way to do it, read on.)
I used the optional 7.8 oz (221 g) reddish colored footprint ($39.95 US) that MSR sent after the test started for all three of the trips mentioned above as I do not like setting up on sand or rock without something protecting the floor. It worked fine as I found no holes in the floor when packing up. (I did not use it on any snow trips as I find it a waste of space and weight when there is nice clean snow to park on.) I was wondering how the footprint would attach seeing as there are no extruding tent pole ends to go through grommets along one side of the tent as all my other footprints are held on. What the Dragontail's footprint has is a loop at each spot where a pole is located. The long stake loop on the tent body threads through the footprint loop and then is staked down. While the stake is already pulled out in the picture above the loops are still threaded. This both keeps the footprint in place and keeps it from sticking out on any side where it could allow water to go between it and the tent floor. (Ideally footprints should be slightly under-sized.)
The trip to JT saw us with plenty of space as we did not have to keep any gear except our personal items inside with us. Camping is only allowed in developed campgrounds so I took a small pack and did not have to carry the Dragontail. I did get to use the stakes which worked great in the packed dirt/sand/decomposed granite of Joshua Tree NP. While we did not have any real condensation problems there it was a bit stuffy when the wind died down. But it did better than I expected for desert camping.
The trip to San Jacinto State Park was on dirt but there was still a lot of snow around. The soil looked dry but was moist just below the surface. It got pretty wet inside on this trip, the most yet for us, but there was a lot of moisture in the air from all the melting snow. We had to use my pack towel to wipe the walls and floor at the edges. The bag I brought has very little in the way of DWR and got wet too. Here is a picture of it on this trip, my towel hanging in a tree and my bag is drying on some sunny rocks.
I saw some condensation along Mission Creek also but not as bad as I expected. It was very hot inside of the Dragontail though as when I went to bed there was barely any breeze. Since there was a lot of bugs and we were in big-time rattlesnake country (that love the creek-sides while looking for dinner) I kept the front door closed. Some winds came up in the middle of the night that provided some relief as it circulated a bit through the high vents. I never did get cool enough to climb into my bag, but just lay on my pad with the bag half covering me for much of the night. And as my brother-in-law had a lot of dirt related problems from the wind, I guess I was happy that my vents were above the blowing sand and dirt for the most part.
When I weigh the positives and negatives of this tent I have to say that it leans toward the favorable. The strength and roominess of it make up for the hassles of the non-free standing aspect. My wife loves the sit-up room of the "Worm" as she calls it and told me it is the only winter tent she wants to use. Because of its great room-to-weight ratio I am going to carry it on a trip in July that I need to carry two tents for four people and gear for three of us in my pack.
I question the value of the tunnel, and think that some other venting options may be worthwhile for MSR to think about. If they saved the weight of the long mesh tunnel and put it into some small low vents with mesh and zipper I think that would create more draw than the top vents alone. The only other thing that I can think of to make it better (and I an NOT saying it is bad) is to use a breathable fabric for all or large sections of the tent.
I do not really think that the tunnel does much to help the tent ventilate. I think that the same effect will happen with just the two openings at the ends without the expanse of netting. Just mesh at the openings themselves would suffice to keep stuff out of the tent and would alleviate the worry of having spindrift snow stuck inside the tunnel which is hard to clear out. Unfortunately the only way I can prove or disprove my theory is to cut the tunnel out to see what happens and I am loath to destroy this fine tent.
I will close with a picture of it set up near some frozen river flats in Minnesota. I would really like to thank MSR and BackpackGearTest.org for letting me test the Dragontail. I can't wait to see what they come up with next.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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