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Reviews > Shelters > Tents > MontBell Thunder Dome Tent > Test Report by Kathryn Doiron

Montbell Thunder Dome 2 tent

Initial Report: Oct 2 2007

Field Report: Jan 3 2008

Long Term Report: Feb 15 2008

Thunder Dome tent setup

Personal Information:
Name: Kathryn Doiron
Age: 31
Gender: Female
Height: 1.7 m (5' 8")
Weight: 68 kg (150 lb)
Email: kdoiron 'at' gmail 'dot' com
Location: Washington DC, USA

Brief Background: I started backpacking and hiking seriously almost four years ago. Most of my miles have been logged in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. I have recently finished 1200+ miles (2000+ km) of the Appalachian Trail. My style is to be as light as possible while not spending a fortune. My pack weight tends to hover around 25 lbs (11 kg) with two days of food and 16 oz (0.5 L) of water. I have recently starting getting into winter hiking, snowshoeing and kayaking.

Product Information:

Manufacturer: Montbell
MSRP: US$299.00 plus $25.00 for the ground sheet
Material: Rip-stop nylon
Tent Dimensions: (as stated): L 85" x W 51" H 42" (216 x 130 x 107 cm)
Tent Dimensions (as measured): 83" x 50" x 41" (211 x 127 x 104 cm)
Weight (as stated): 4 lb (without ground sheet) (1.8 kg)
Weight (measured): 4 lb (1.8 kg)
Colour Available: Forest green

Weight Breakdown:
Tent body: 18.8 oz (534 g) Stuff sack: 0.46 oz (13 g)
Rainfly: 23.5 oz (668 g)
One stake: 0.42 oz (12 g)
All stakes (13): 0.57 oz (158 g)  Stake sack: 0.5 oz (13 g)
Guylines (4): 0.63 oz (18 g)
Pole system: 13.7 oz (389 g)  Pole sack: 0.39 oz (11 g)
Ground sheet: 9.5 oz (269 g)  Sheet sack: 0.35 oz (10 g)

Initial Report:
October 2nd 2007

The Montbell ThunderDome 2 is a tent designed to hold up to two people comfortably and in extreme conditions up to three people not as comfortably. Montbell states that this is their lightest freestanding 3-season tent available. The tent is contained in two separate stuff sacks. The tent body, fly and pegs are contained in one stuff sack, while the poles are in a separate pole sack. The ground sheet, which is sold separately, also comes with its own sack. The tent has three different options for setup; the full tent, a light and fast option, and minimum setup. The light and fast option uses the rainfly, poles and enough stakes to put tension on the fly. The minimum setup, includes the tent body, rainfly and poles. The tent has a hubbed pole system that forms a large X with all the arms of the X being the same length. The poles insert easily into grommets at the corners of the tent or ground sheet. The mushroom shaped end caps on the poles have a long stem that allows the pole to be insert into both the tent grommet and the ground sheet grommet. The tent body then clips to the poles. The instructions were clear that the two center clips should clip to the same pole in line. The rainfly has hook and loop fastener tabs to hold it to the poles in the light and fast option. The tent only has one door, but it is a very large door. It is possible to unzip the door almost entirely and stuff the door into a side pocket out of the way. The tent body is about one third ripstop nylon with the top two thirds mesh. The poles are made from DAC Featherlite NSL aluminum and are a vibrant green that doesn't quite match the tent or fly.

Inside and vestibule of the Thunder Dome

The fly is light beige with dark green sections, while the tent body is beige nylon, mesh and an olive green floor. There are two pockets located to the left of the door, one on each side of the tent. The sleeping arrangement is such that the sleepers are parallel with the door. The tent has five loops one on each seam and one at the apex of the tent for an attic. The tent does not come with the attic or gear loft but I can see the loops being useful for other purposes such as hanging lights or carabiners from. The fly attaches to the tent body or ground sheet with adjustable buckles that can be tightened to adjust the fly tension. The tent has neon green reflective loops at each corner for staking out the tent. The fly can then be staked out with guy lines from webbing loops on the end seams of the fly (as shown in the picture at the top of this page). The guylines are also neon green with reflective highlights and come with a simple plastic tension adjuster. The tent comes with 13 v-shaped stakes contained in a nylon stuff sack that is made of a thicker material than the tent's stuff sack. The pole and tent stuff sacks are made from a thinner material. The ground sheet is coated on one side and plain nylon on the other side. The instructions for using the ground sheet are a little confusing and I am left unsure as to which side should face up. The instructions do mention that the Montbell logo should be located near the door opening. No reason is given for this and since the ground sheet is a rectangle, it shouldn't matter where the logo ends up.

Close up of the supplied stakes Close up of the buckle and stake loop

I did notice that the Velcro-like tabs that allow the rainfly to be attached to the poles are not sewn directly to the rainfly. Rather they are sewn onto fabric tabs. I am hoping that this method of attachment will prevent water from leaking in through the sewn seam. I have had this happen in the past and wasn't too impressed. From the picture, it is a little difficult to tell, but the tab is there. The picture also shows that the inside of the rainfly is seam sealed. The inside of the rainfly, just like one side of the ground sheet, is coated with a polyurethane coating.

Close up of the tabs on the underside of the rainfly

My initial impressions of the tent after setup was how small it was. While the tent looked exactly as I expected from viewing it on the manufacturers website, I was a little concerned with how small it looked in reality. This looks like it will be a cozy tent. Laying inside the tent, I am struck by how little extra room there is between my head and the tent wall or my feet and the tent wall. I will be paying close attention to condensation build up in those areas. The tent does have ample height for sitting up and changing. The vestibule only opens to one side allowing for items to be piled to one side without interfering with the door access. Due to the small size of the tent, I will be coming to depend on storage space in the vestibule. The tent design is such that the sleepers are parallel to the door, I will be sleeping both near the door and away from the door to determine how comfortable each location is for having to enter and leave the tent. I was also a little surprised that the tent came in two stuff sacks. I haven't encountered a tent before that had the poles stored separately from the rest of the tent. The stuff sack for the tent body and rainfly is too small to accommodate the length of the poles but easily accommodates the tent and rainfly. The tent stuff sack has a double closure similar to some pack openings.

My test plan will be to use this tent both as a one person and as a two person tent. I will also test out the various setup options to determine how easy each is to setup and how comfortable it will be to use in whatever weather I encounter. I have never used a tent in a light and fast option and am curious how the tent will perform and how well the fly will keep rain from getting onto the groundsheet.

Field Report:
January 3rd 2008

I have so far used this tent on one overnight backpacking trip and two car camping trips. The overnight trip saw the tent used as a two-person tent as did one of the car camping trips. The other car camping trip saw me alone in the tent. The tent is very easy to set up either alone or with another person. The ease in the solo setup, I think, had a lot to do with the fact that the pole system is hubbed and makes it easy to control when it is set into the grommets at the corners of the tent. The poles remain standing and in place because of that hubbed system and the tent clips can be clipped into place easily. I no longer find myself struggling to hold up to separate poles that each want to fall in a different direction.

The first trip out with the tent was on a car camping trip out to Eastern Neck, Maryland. The weather was mild and relatively nice out of the wind but it was an extremely windy day. The wind must have been at least 25 mph (40 kph) if not higher. Setting up the tent was a real challenge especially since it was only the second time being set up but I had about 5 helpers. The 5 helpers were critical in ensuring that none of the tent parts blew away during setup. The ground was very hard and the pegs had to be hammered into the ground. Once set up, the tent handled the wind very well. The fly didn't rustle too much but I did notice that the treated bottom of the fly rubbed against the poles and made some rubber on metal noises.  This trip was a three day, two night trip.

The next car camping trip was under less windy conditions. It was just cold. Temperatures dropped to freezing overnight. I was alone in the tent on this trip.  There was no noticeable condensation buildup on the tent walls.  While it was less windy, there was a gentle breeze that I could feel making its way through the tent.

On the backpacking trip, temperatures also dropped to freezing and the elevation was about 2000 ft (609 m). The tent site was not quite flat and I found myself slipping to the bottom of the tent over the course of the night.  This trip was a two day, one night trip.  Total mileage was about 6 miles (9.6 km).  Elevation was about 2500 ft (762 m) with a total gain of about 1500 ft (457 m).

I haven't yet experienced any rain with the tent, we have had a very dry fall. I did notice that I got some condensation when I shared the tent with someone. Mostly it is on the sides of the tent, but since the tent is rather tight space-wise, I find that I am pressed close to the side of the tent and my bag gets a little damp. When I was in the tent alone, there was enough room to avoid the walls of the tent and I didn't notice any condensation build up. When I am alone in the tent, there is plenty of room to store a pack and gear inside with me. When I have a hiking partner with me in the tent, most of the gear is stored out in the vestibule with some clothes stored at the head or foot of the sleeping bags. I find that the tent is quite cosy as a two person tent. So far, I have slept the furthest from the door and have not yet had to get out of the tent in the middle of the night. I do see this as a problem and I will look into this further.

I have not yet had an opportunity to use any of the alternate setups with this tent. I like the fact that they are available. I really want to test them out and see how well they will function with both one and two people inside. Mostly since the tent space is so tight, I have a little trouble imagining two people in a not so enclosed space. I will need to look into this further on the next trip out. As this is a stand alone tent, it has been easy to pick up the tent once the fly has been removed and shake out leaves and any other tracked in debris.

As tent features go, the pockets are nicely located and easy to reach when laying down. I like to have the pockets near my head so I can drop in my glasses and headlamp for easy retrieval during the night or the next morning. The tent itself is easy to stow in my backpack due to the tent and poles being stored separately. I would like to store the ground sheet, body and fly in one bag and layered accordingly but this would make testing alternate builds a little more difficult so I have kept the ground sheet in its own bag and the fly easy to reach.

Long Term Report:
February 24th 2008

I have taken this tent out on three car camping trips and four backpacking trips ranging from simple overnights to two night trips. I have also used this tent both solo and with a hiking partner. I have been careful to use the groundsheet with the tent every time I set up. As such, I was a little surprised to discover a small hole in the floor of the tent. I rechecked the ground sheet and it was hole-free. I noticed the hole because one of the tent clips was situated right under the hole and made it stand out. I do not know what ultimately caused the hole but rubbing against the pole clip may have caused a worn spot that was exacerbated when setting up the tent. I have taken the tent out on a total of seven nights.

My latest trips with this tent were two backpacking trips. One took place just north of the Shenandoah National park at about 2500 ft (762 m). The temperature dropped to about 40 F (4 C) that night. There was very little wind. This trip saw the tent used as a two person tent. The weather was cool and clear with a slight wind. The mesh top of the tent allows for good ventilation as I could feel a slight air current moving through the tent as I lay down. There was condensation on the tent in the morning and the foot box and side of my sleeping bag were a little wet from being pressed against the side of the tent. In two-person mode, it is next to impossible to get away from the side of the tent. There simply is not enough room.

The next trip saw the tent mostly used in solo mode. The elevation was just above sea level and the temperatures were just below freezing. On this trip I started off in solo mode but ended up freezing in the middle of the night and called in my hiking partner to join me. The added body helped keep me warm but again pressed me closed to the side of the tent. The cold weather meant condensation on the inside of the tent and frozen dew on the outside of the tent. As we moved out very early in the morning, the tent was packed up with ice and dew and dried out later. The cold did make the poles a little harder to break down, mostly I think this was due to wearing gloves and the icy surface of the poles. I pulled down the tent in one pile and pushed it all into the provided stuff sack. It was a tight fit but it did fit. For future reference, this is handy to know as I can pack the tent as one unit with the fly on top to prevent a wet tent in case of a rain setup.

I have noticed that the ground sheet seems to be a bit bigger than the tent floor. This is good as it protects the sides of the tent if someone lays against it. But it does mean that if I am not staking out the tent then I have to use the tent pole grommet closest to the ground sheet to ensure it is tight enough. For the actual tent, I use the grommet hole furthest from the tent body to ensure I don't have the tent so tight that a rip occurs. I didn't peg out the sides of the fly each time I used the tent mostly due to laziness and that might have contributed to condensation buildup, especially at the base of the tent. The door to the tent is nice and large. I have few problems entering and leaving the tent, but I notice that the fly restricts the opening of the tent and can make entering and leaving a bit more restrictive. The design of the vestibule does mean that a backpack or boots can be tucked out of the way and not interfere with the entryway while still being easily reachable.

View of the vestibule size

On my last trip with the tent, overnight temperatures were down to about 25-30 F (-1 to -4 C). I have had a few condensation issues in the past and I was unsure if that was due to not fully staking out the tent. This time I had every guyline pulled out and staked down properly. I staked out the two side guylines together on one peg so I was ahead two pegs. By morning, there was a layer of condensation on the inside of the tent but it didn't seem to be as heavy as it was on the last trip under similar conditions. There was another person sharing the tent with me.

Sides staked out with one peg

Overall impressions are that proper staking does help but not enough. As a two person tent it is lacking in space. All the trips I have taken with my hiking partner have been very tight for space with at least one person pressed against the back wall of the tent. There simply is no spare room to store any gear in the tent. Our height ranges from 5 ft 8 in. to 5 ft 10 in. (1.73 - 1.78 m). There is very little space available either above our heads or past our feet. This has lead to very cosy sleeping and some minor arguments about space. As I have shared this tent with another adult, I don't think this is a good tent for two full sized adults to share. As a single person tent, I have been pleased with the amount of space and how easy the tent is to set up alone. I have also been pleased with how well it packs down and fits into my pack. I can see this tent becoming an addition to my gear when I am hiking alone but not when I am hiking with a partner.


    - Light and easy to setup alone or with help
    - Hubbed poles are easy to snap together by holding onto hub and shaking
    - Large screened door for easy access


    - Tent is very tight for two adults, hard to maneuver when both people are inside
    - Condensation builds up even when properly staked out

This concludes my report series on the Montbell Thunder Dome 2 tent. I hope you have enjoyed this test series, thank you for reading about the Montbell Thunder Dome 2.

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