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Reviews > Shelters > Tents > Mountain Safety Research Skinny One > Test Report by Rick Dreher
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.
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.
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.
Trying it Out
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test the Skinny One solo tent.
Field Locations & Conditions
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.
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.
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.
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.
I can't wait to see how the Skinny One performs in warm dry weather on nice dry ground.
Many thanks to MSR and BackpackGearTest.org for the chance to test the Skinny One!
Long-Term Test Locations & Conditions
I got four trips in during the long-term period:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My sincere thanks to Mountain Safety Research and BackpackGeartest.com for the opportunity to test the Skinny One tent!This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
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