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Reviews > Shelters > Tents > Mountain Safety Research Skinny One > Test Report by Rick Dreher

MSR Skinny One Tent
Test Series by: Rick Dreher

INITIAL REPORT - March 10, 2009
FIELD REPORT - May 24, 2009
LONG TERM REPORT - July 22, 2009


NAME: Rick Dreher
EMAIL: redbike64(at)hotmail(dot)com
AGE: 55
LOCATION: Northern California
HEIGHT: 6' 0" (2.10 m)
WEIGHT: 175 lb (79.40 kg)
TORSO LENGTH 20 inches (50 cm)

I enjoy going high and light, and frequently take shorter "fast- packing" trips. My longest trips are a week or so. I've lightened my pack load because I enjoy hiking more when toting less, I can go farther and over tougher terrain, and I have cranky ankles. I use trekking poles and generally hike solo or tandem. I've backpacked all over the U.S. West and now primarily hike California's Sierra Nevada. My favorite trips are alpine and include off-trail travel and sleeping in high places. When winter arrives, I head back for snowshoe outings in the white stuff.


Product Information and Specifications


MSRP (tent): $200; (footprint) $30
Includes: tent, 2 poles, 10 stakes, 2 guylines and cord locks, pole repair splint, 3 stuff sacks, instructions, hang tag. This test also includes optional accessory footprint in stuff sack.

Weight, Total, Spec: 3 lb 3 oz/1,440g
Weight, Total, Measured (canopy, poles, stakes, lines, three stuffsacks, no footprint): 3 lb 7 oz/1,565 g
Weight, footprint, measured: 4.2 oz/119 g
Weight, minimum configuration (canopy, poles, four stakes, no stuff sacks or other accessories): 3 lb 1.8 oz/1412 g

Total Dimensions, including vestibule: 118 x 28 in./300 x 72 cm
Interior Dimensions (LxW): 84 in./214 cm x 28 in./72 cm tapering to 19 in./48 cm
Vestibule Dimensions: (LxW): 35 x 28 in./89 x 71 cm
Interior Peak Height: 30 in./76 cm
Packed Size: 18 x 7 in./46 x 18 cm
Folded Pole Length: 18 in./46 cm

Materials: canopy--polyester and silicone-coated 40D ripstop nylon; floor--polyester-coated 40D ripstop floor; netting--20D polyester; poles--DAC aluminum; stakes--die-cut anodized aluminum.

From above, the reason for the Skinny One's name is clear.

Initial Impressions

The Unboxing

MSR packs the Skinny One with all the above-listed items, except the optional tent footprint that was also provided for this test. Everything is packed into a coated nylon stuff sack, and the poles and stakes get individual sacks. The footprint comes in a separate netting and coated nylon sack.


No user preparation is required, such as seam sealing, as all seams are factory taped. The guylines have to be tied to the side pullouts, which takes all of a minute. The footprint is a single fabric piece with no seams to seal.


The Skinny One is a single-wall, tunnel style, three-season, one-person tent with a single door at the head end and a single window at the foot end. It's supported by two external aluminum hoop poles that attach outside the canopy by a combination of sleeves, clips and grommets. The canopy uses three fabrics: polyester and silicone-coated 40D ripstop nylon for the walls, vestibule and window; 40D ripstop polyester for the floor; and 20D polyester netting for the door and window.

Because the walls are impervious, the Skinny One relies on ventilation to minimize condensation while providing full protection from the elements. Inside is a small, mostly rectangular living area for one with an adaptable vestibule in front of the door and the large mesh-backed window at the opposite end. Specifically, it's a rectangle in front between the two poles, then tapers between the second pole and the foot end. Overhead, a mesh-backed exhaust vent runs the tent's full length, with an adjustable opening on the head (door) end. The front door is all netting. It opens in a semicircle using a two-way zipper and ties off to one side, off the floor and away from muddy shoes. The vestibule protects the doorway and is split into three sections by two zippers. The vestibule can be deployed in several configurations. The vestibule stake anchors have tension adjusters for tightening the pitch.

The footprint basically echoes the tent floor and appears made of the same flooring fabric. It has six webbing anchor loops that correspond to the tent pole ends and the foot end stake loops.

Back at the tent's foot end, the gigantic zippered window comprises the entire canopy aft of the rear pole. The window mesh is on the outside and the zip-away coated nylon layer is inside. A two-way zipper runs from corner to corner across the ceiling, opening the entire canopy section to fresh air through the protective mesh. Three plastic rings hang from webbing strips across the tent ceiling, in front of the window. Their purpose is a mystery. A shallow netting pocket runs along the window base, a loooong way from the door. There are no provisions to tie up the loose window fabric when opened, and it covers this pocket as it lies on the floor.

The tent's overall shape is long and narrow--118 x 28 in. (300 x 72 cm)--and thus requires a relative minimal space. Not freestanding, the Skinny One is anchored by a minimum of four stakes: two at each end. Optional anchor loops are at the base of each pole and two optional side guy points along the canopy sides are for attaching the provided anchor lines for added stability. These account for the ten provided stakes. There are other loops for ad hoc guying should windy conditions warrant. It's worth emphasizing that if the side guylines are not needed, the overall minimal width means the Skinny One will pitch within a quite narrow, flat spot.

Materials, Fit and Finish

The Skinny One's materials, construction, fit and finish all appear to be top quality. The coated fabrics seem strong, based on holding, pulling and folding them. Zippers are small gauge for light weight, but operate smoothly with no hints of pulling open inadvertently. They're provided with tabbed string loops rather than jingly metal pulls. The multi-section poles assemble and pull apart easily, and show no burrs or rough edges. The various webbing and cord straps and anchors seem stout enough for their tasks without weight-adding over-engineering. Assembly--cutting sewing, trimming, taping--all seems to be of good quality. I laud MSR's deciding to seam-tape the Skinny One, as it saves literally days sealing the stitching on a small, complex design such as this (I've taken days, multiple tubes of goo and lots of glued hair sealing a one-man tent). In my experience taping is probably more effective, too.

Complete tent; just add campsite.

The Skinny One comes in a large nylon stuff sack with field instructions on setup sewn beneath the storm flap. As noted previously, the two poles get their own sack as do the ten stakes, which are packed with two side guylines and tensioners, and a pole splint: a short length of aluminum tubing large enough to slip over a bent or cracked pole section.

The identical shock-corded aluminum poles break down into six sections. They're DAC Featherlite brand, anodized yellow. Each has two pre-curved and four straight sections and bundled, they take up just under 18 inches (45 cm). The sections fit together smoothly, and the male ferrule ends are reinforced. Pole tips are solid machined aluminum, grooved to snap into the canopy grommets.

The ten aluminum "needle" stakes are cut from roughly 3/8 inch (4 mm) stock. They're square in profile, a shepherd's hook shape, are anodized red for visibility, and are vastly more resistant to bending than typical round-section skewers I'm used to using.

Small, very stout aluminum stakes.

The Instructions

The tent includes an informative hangtag, an owner's manual booklet, and graphical setup directions sewn into the stuff sack. The hangtag details select Skinny One features and specifications. The owner's manual is generic, covering setup and care of any MSR backpacking tent in three languages; however, it doesn't discuss this particular model's features at all. The stuff sack directions, by contrast, are targeted at the Skinny One specifically, with diagrams and descriptive text on setup, but nothing beyond that. The hang tag and the picture embroidered onto the stuff sack hint at the clever vestibule. The footprint has no instructions.

The MSR Web site doesn't have additional instructions beyond what's shipped with the tent, nor any sort of demo, but it should be noted this is a new model for 2009 and the year is yet young. Photos provided there do helpfully show the vestibule deployed three ways. The Web site and hang tag differ on the tent weight by a few ounces (accuracy winner: Web site); otherwise, they agree. Printed or on line, there is no description available of the Skinny One's fine points and little features; those are left up to the user and his or her creative imagination.

Trying it Out


In my initial yard test, the Skinny One goes up quickly and easily the first time: roll out the canopy with floor down; thread each pole through the top sleeve, inserting each pole tip into a corresponding anchor grommet and clipping four clip anchors; stake the foot end; pull the tent taut and stake the head (vestibule) end, pull the tensioners taut and I'm done.

The vestibule can be kept completely closed, opened in the center, or opened on one or both sides. The unused sections can be rolled up and secured out of the way. An undocumented loop at the front pole apex implies the vestibule can be completely stowed and the tent anchored using a guyline tied to that loop.

Vestibule—top rolled back.

Vestibule and vent—completely closed.

Vestibule—sides opened.

A flap atop the vestibule opens and closes to allow central venting. It closes using three hook-and-loop anchors.


Once inside I can operate the back window. When fully open, the slightest breeze sails through the Skinny One with ease. It can also be opened just a bit during poor weather or if conditions don't call for heavy venting. Up top, the netting ventilation tunnel functions as a sort of false ceiling, cutting out a couple inches of canopy headroom. A zipper in front allows inside access to the vent flap. A zipper in the center allows…? There's no documentation, but my guesses are to stow lightweight items out of the way and to wipe off condensation. I doubt it's an assembly error.

Note small front pocket, seam taping.


To strike and stow, I zip the window, door and vestibule closed and pull the front and any side stakes. I unclip the poles, beginning in front, then pop one end out of a grommet and slide it out of the sleeve. Once free they're ready to fold and stow in the bag. I arrange the canopy on the ground over the floor then roll it from the head end, pulling it from the rear stakes when I'm nearly done. Stakes in their sack, the works then go into the main sack, ready for travel.

Test Strategy

Now that I've gotten the hang of using it, I'll be exploring the Skinny One's ease of setup, striking, unpacking and packing in the field. How will if fit in or on my solo pack? Because it's small, like every solo tent I've used, how pleasant a place is it to spend a night, as well as leisure time on layover days? Do I fit, along with my pad, bag, clothing and bits of gear? Can I reverse ends and sleep with my head under the large, open window? How useful is the vestibule? Does it shed rain while maintaining adequate ventilation to fend off condensation?

Over the test duration, how will the Skinny One hold up to a spring and summer's camping?

Please check back in two months for the field report!


The Skinny One is relatively light and quite compact, and should be well-suited to camping in tight quarters--a common occurrence in the high country where large, flat shelter sites can be hard to find. Pitching should be simplicity itself in "easy" sites in calm weather, because only four stakes effectively support the whole works. As more stakes and the side guylines are needed, more space will be required, which can complicate pitching in some spots.

Inside, this small tent is surprisingly spacious. The side walls are nearly vertical, which increases interior volume significantly over A-frame style one-man shelters. The hoop poles tilt outwards at noticeably angle, which stretches the level center roof section and shelters the netting front door, should I choose to leave the vestibule open in poor weather. The large rear window and not too restrictive foot end width will make it tempting to sleep reversed because the overhead window will provide stargazing, as well as vent my breath directly outside. The most restrictive dimension isn't length or width or wall intrusion, it's the low ceiling height. The local first-grader finds this no restriction at all, however.

Big window, big fun.

The vestibule is definitely large enough to protect footwear and some amount of gear. Its adaptability should prove a boon in varied conditions and settings.

The small front pocket should be good for glasses, a watch, flashlight or other small item. The rear pocket is a bit loose but should hold more things off the floor. That it's covered by the open window reduces its usefulness when that's unzipped.

Recommendations for Improvement

Thus far, I only suggest that tie-up provisions be provided for the rear window, and that the tent's smaller features be documented somewhere in the literature.


I sincerely thank MSR and for the opportunity to test the Skinny One solo tent.


Field Locations & Conditions

Skinny tent fits in tiny tentsite.

I've taken the Skinny One into the Tahoe Sierra Nevada on early season backpack trips in March, April and May. The March trip, a snowshoe overnighter, was nearly all in snow but I managed to camp on bare, wet ground. The April hike was partly on snow and partly on bare muddy ground. I didn't follow established trails on these trips and camped where I could find the space. The May hike was mostly along an established route, but the trail was also serving as a seasonal creek so I still did a lot of parallel routefinding. I managed to avoid falling though any springtime snow bridges but slogged and slipped through a lot of mud and ad hoc streams, and ended at a nice campsite by a roaring creek. Elevations ranged from 5,500 to 7,500 feet (1,700 - 2,300 m).

The March hike weather was in clear and calm, with a morning temperature of 20 F (-6 C). The April weather was similarly clear and calm, but warmer with a morning temp of about 25 F (-3 C) and the May trip was relatively warm and breezy, with morning temps in the 40s (5-10 C). Evening and nighttime storm clouds produced no rain and cleared up by mid-morning, only to form the next afternoon. As noted below, the combination of nighttime cloud cover and breezes really helped with this tent. Not one drop of rain or flake of snow has the Skinny One seen.

Field Performance


For my trips my backpack started large (60 L/3,700 cu in) to accommodate winter gear, and ended relatively small (30 L/2,000 cu in) as the weather eased and the meltoff progressed. My packing included strapping stuff to the outside so figuring total volume carried isn't really possible. On all trips I've packed the Skinny One inside because none of these packs has a good way to strap it to the outside. I can still envision strapping it to the top of certain packs, where the weight would balance well. The tent represented an increasing fraction of my weight and volume as pack size, sleeping bag size and total clothes carried dropped.

The relatively small bag fits vertically into my pack alongside a sleeping bag and bag of clothing. With the poles packed separately the tent fits sideways in moderately wide packs; with poles in the main bag it has to go in vertically. Which approach is better depends on both the pack proportions and what other stuff has to go inside with it.


As I'd hoped, on all my trips so far the tent's slender shape allowed me to camp on bare, if wet ground and not atop the spring snowpack. In the field, the tent is as easy to unpack and set up as it was at home. Once I've found a site the only choices are which direction to point the door and how many stakes to use (some number between four and ten). I found in tight quarters it's easier to leave off the side guylines, which prevents tripping over the lines. No side guylines provides mixed consequences. In practice, the Skinny One takes about five minutes from backpack to completing the setup. I suspect I could complete it in half that time with the incentive of foul weather. The only tricky bit is threading the poles, which isn't actually hard but I'm still adjusting to how much the poles actually bend when the tent's set up. Basically it's a 180-degree loop and I'm still leery of damaging them.

The little needle stakes hold well in wet, compacted soil that I've encountered. Sandy soil holds them less well. They're definitely tough, and I doubt I'll ever damage one. I've swapped a couple for slightly larger "Y" stakes for additional grip in loose conditions. Because the Skinny One is a tunnel design it must be under tension fore and aft. To accomplish this I've found it critical to securely anchor at least one end with stakes, then the other end can be held fast using a deadman or two or tying the tent off to a fixed object. I've not attempted a pitch with deadmen at both ends.

As the tent fabric loosens the effective line tensioners quickly take up any slack.

Needle stake anchored in wet soil.


A full-length pad and winter-weight sleeping bag pretty much fill the sleeping area, with a little room left over for ditty bags of small items and spare clothing. A shift to a three-season bag and short pad frees up a little space, but not all that much. The small vestibule accommodates my shoes and a few other items, including a candle lantern to provide some light and hopefully dry some condensation. A springtime backpack can fit inside but makes entering and exiting more of a chore. My eyeglasses fit in the little door pocket, but their case doesn't fit. I've slept with my head at the door end, as it's been too cold to open the back window wide for nighttime views.

The low ceiling height makes it a challenge to sit up and turn around in the tent, although I can do so. Maneuvering—getting dressed, undressed, etc.—is a chore in the tight quarters. But once I'm settled for the night it's a cozy space and with a candle burning in the vestibule (on dirt, away from the fabric) a pleasant one. The low-volume interior warms up quickly in comparison to the outdoors.

View from center, towards door.


Any waterproof shelter relying on air circulation to eliminate condensation is counting on openings large enough to pass big volumes of air, at least some breeze to move that air, and a dew point that makes it workable on a given night. I violated at least two and probably all three on my first nights in the Skinny One (March and April), harvesting lots of condensation for my efforts.

In March I camped in a river valley rather than on a south-facing open slope as I'd planned. This meant 1) I camped on bare but wet ground; 2) I was surrounded mostly by snow; and 3) at night, cold and wet air settled into the valley floor, stirred by not a breath of wind. My experience in these conditions is that even open tarps gather condensation and the Skinny One sure did collect a lot.

Because it was quite cold (an observed low of 20 F/-7 C) I only opened the top vent and the top few inches of the back window, and kept the vestibule and netting door closed. This did keep the tent interior warmer than outdoors, at around freezing, but certainly didn't help clear out the moisture. As mentioned earlier, I did burn a candle all night, but have no way of knowing what impact it might have had. My first clue to how far below the dew point it was, was the steam pouring off my stocking feet as I sat in the tent. This isn't something I see very often.

Drippy interior.

Regardless, in the morning, tent and sleeping bag were both quite wet. The tent walls and ceiling were dripping and the complete top of the bag was wet. I didn't find any puddles on the floor at least, and the moisture didn't seem to have made it very far into my bag's down insulation. The walls had also sagged, I believe having stretched somewhat from the moisture, bringing them closer to my bag. The side guylines would have helped reduce or prevent this.

What to do with a soaking wet tent.

To clear as much moisture as I can, I turn the tent inside out and shake off as much water as possible. If I'm staying in camp I'll hang it up, in the sun if possible, to dry if off. If moving on I have to pack it wet, then hope to set it up early enough to dry it out. If not I have to take a rag and wipe it out as best as I can before setting up my pad and bag, either that or find a sunny rest stop and take a break to dry it out on the trail. Back home, of course, it's hung to dry completely before stowing it for the next trip. Banish mildew!

Better weather; better results

In April I camped farther away from water but still on wet ground, and a good deal of condensation formed, but not as bad as the earlier trip. It also wasn't as cold, so I opened the tent more. I never had it drip from the ceiling but it did run down the walls and my bag's shell got moist, but not the insulation. In May, as noted earlier it was warmer, it was breezy, there was overnight cloud cover and I was on moist but not wet ground. Even though I was camped near a roaring stream condensation was manageable, I didn't get my bag wet and the tent dried completely before I packed it away.

I've still not slept with my head at the foot end, but now that summer's about here I hope to completely open the back window and sleep facing the stars.

Random observation: I've not had to seek refuge from mosquitoes but the blackflies were out in May. They're oddly attracted to the yellow Skinny One, and when they're harassing it they're not harassing me.


The small and tidy Skinny One is easy to set up in tight spaces and provides comfy, if tight quarters to spend the night. Its small volume means it can be considerably warmer inside than out on a cold night. Pitched in a poor location, such as a cold and damp river valley, it generates a lot of condensation overnight. Moisture issues aside, the tent is well made and easy to use, and just the ticket for camping in far flung spots without preexisting campsites. Or between snowbanks.

The only materials problem I've had is with the plastic stiffener that holds the top vent open. Even though it's flexible it has developed a fairly sharp bend that distorts the vent opening and decreases it a bit, which is exactly what the tent doesn't need.

Future Plans

I can't wait to see how the Skinny One performs in warm dry weather on nice dry ground.

Please check back in two months for the Long Term Report.


Many thanks to MSR and for the chance to test the Skinny One!


Long-Term Test Locations & Conditions

I got four trips in during the long-term period:

Two overnights (May, June), one two-nighter (July) in the Sierra Tahoe region and one three-nighter (June) in the southern Cascades (Lassen National Park). Conditions spanned a wide gamut. Daytime maximums were as low as 60 F (15 C) to over 90 F (32 C). Nighttime lows were as cold as 40F and as warm as more than 60 F (6-15 C). During these trips I had wind, torrential rain, dead calm, and mosquito clouds.

I pitched the Skinny One on forest duff, porous volcanic soil, alpine decomposed granite and gravel-strewn granite slab. In that last campsite my stakes only worked on the vestibule end and I had to deadhead the foot end using cord and two large rocks. At another campsite, Space was tight at the head end so I tied off the top anchor loop to a small tree. Campsite elevations ranged from 5,500 feet (1,680 m) to 8,000 feet (2,750 m).

Where soil is absent, deadhead with big ol' rocks.

Performance in the Field

Since weather ran the gamut during the long-term test, I got to know the Skinny One in very warm and dry, and very wet, cool conditions. The full netting door and big back window are a huge help in staying cool on warm nights. I found I preferred sleeping "backwards" with my head under the window, as my breath vented directly outside and I could stargaze through the netting. (I can see more stars, meteorites and satellites through netting the mountain than in the unimpeded sky at my sea level home.) The slightly narrower floor at the back isn't a significant bother, but the lack of window tiedowns means it gets in the way—my preference is to keep everything secured in place. The unzipped window also completely conceals the back storage pocket.

Heavy, extended rain one night in Lassen Park affirmed that the Skinny One is weathertight. I had the tent fully staked, including the side guylines, so it stayed in place. The tent or the lines stretched and sagged, which required me to go outside and retighten it a couple of times in the evening. Eventually, it didn't stretch any further during the night. Throughout, water tended to collect in little roof pools that would run off intermittently, but it never wept through the fabric. The stout floor likewise didn't leak and because I was on very porous volcanic soil, there was no ponding or surface runoff to fend off. The back window zipper didn't leak, nor did the vestibule zips. The smallish vestibule filled with my spare gear in my attempt to keep it out of the storm, making entry and exit a real challenge!

I did experience interior condensation that night, as I only had the small front vent open and everything else buttoned closed. It didn't become soggy wet as it did in subfreezing weather, but I did pick up moisture every time I brushed against the walls. Some misting came through the vent, but it wasn't a serious amount as the winds were light. My other comment about rain in the little Skinny One is because the roof is a scant few inches from my head, the rain beats literally like a drum. At times like that I'm glad I hauled my ipod along.

On fair and mild nights, condensation formed inside the Skinny One on the ceiling beneath the netting but didn't pose a big problem. Opening the back window and partially furling the vestibule creates airflow and as mentioned, sleeping reversed with my face below the back netting greatly reduces how much moisture my breath is adding to the interior. There's a strong correlation between how much breeze there is and how much condensation forms. Blood-hungry bugs boinging off the netting remind me how nice it is to be inside!

My July trip was in the buggiest conditions I've experienced in ages, maybe ever. It was hot and calm, meaning they didn't really want to go to bed after dark, as is typical in the Sierra. Because I sure wanted to go to bed, to vent the tent as fully as possible I furled both the vestibule and rear window to keep the tent as cool as possible, and slept half inside my bag. It was on this night that I decided the Skinny One is like a giant bug bivy.

In this warmer test weather, the tent dries quickly in the morning if I turn it inside out and lay it in the sun. After the stormy night it dried in a few hours, left pitched.


The MSR Skinny One is a clever and rugged one-man tent that offers good value for two-hundred dollars. It's compact and very nicely made, but is mid weight for a one-person shelter. My favorite quality is how it slips into very small tent sites, which opens up a host of camping possibilities in challenging terrain. It's also quick and easy to pitch and strike, even in a storm. Inside it's small but in a cozy way, and most of the time I don't feel claustrophobic. The adaptable vestibule gives different options for protection and storage, depending on conditions.

The Skinny One's biggest challenge is condensation. In cold, moist and calm weather it generates great gobs of interior moisture. Campsite selection and time of year have to be important considerations when selecting it as the shelter du jour. Summer weather and dry winter weather are fine, but "shoulder" season weather will continue to be a challenge to get adequate venting while staying warm.

The little needle stakes hold in most, but not all conditions so I've learned to complement them with "y" or snow stakes, depending on my destination and time of year.

Wear and Tear

The Skinny One shows no damage from my testing. I never carried the footprint yet the floor underside looks fine. The zippers all work smoothly and I don't spot any unraveling seams or delaminating seam tape. The poles still assemble smoothly, and when assembled one shows more of a curve than the other, so I presume the significant bend (more than 180 degrees) and/or my pitching technique has permanently re-shaped it. The stakes seem bombproof—I might need a hammer to damage one. As it is, they survive pounding in with a smooth rock, which then requires removal by hooking and pulling up with a line loop. I haven't worn off much of the red anodizing so they're still easy to spot scattered on the ground (I have to remember to find all ten). The heavy duty stuff sacks are quite unfazed by my use.

Continued Use

Will I continue to use the Skinny One? Possibly. It's a fine solo tent that can serve me well in alpine areas when a hammock is not workable, but at three pounds it's heavy for its living area and volume. It's tight inside for dressing and even sitting up. The Skinny One reliably fends off bugs where tarps cannot and providen great nighttime views from the huge window. My main concern remains how to anticipate and avoid high condensation.

Don't let the view fool you, mosquitoes by the pound.

Suggestions for Improvement

This is tough. The Skinny One is quite different from other tents I've used and has a lot of unique features. I could benefit from more headroom. I'd like to see it at two pounds, but how? Mostly, I'd like to see a huge drop in condensation, but that could mean using a breatheable fabric like Epic or adding considerably more vents.

Closing Acknowledgements

My sincere thanks to Mountain Safety Research and for the opportunity to test the Skinny One tent!

This report was created with the Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.

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