I consider myself a lightweight hiker, carrying the lightest gear I can find that provides a
comfortable wilderness experience and supports my goals. Although my pack weight might label me as
an "Ultralight Weenie," I carry "luxury items" that hard-core ultralighters would shun;
e.g. a 23 oz (652 g) sleeping pad. Depending on the level of insects present and if I'm hiking
solo or not, I might pack a hammock, tent, or tarp. My base weight for three-season hiking is in the
sub-8 to 10 pound (3.5 - 4.6 kg) range, unless regulations force me to carry a bear canister.
|Manufacturer:||Recreation Equipment Incorporated (REI) (http://www.rei.com)|
|Item:||Cirque ASL 2 Tent|
|Tent Type:||4-Season, Freestanding Dome|
|Listed Packaged Weight:||5 lbs, 11 oz (2.58 kg)|
|Weight as Delivered:||5 lbs, 8.8 oz (2.52 kg)|
|Listed Floor Dimensions:||88 x 56 inches (223 x 123 cm)|
|Listed Peak Height:||40 inches (102 cm)|
|Listed Vestibule Area:||2 Vestibules, 8 sq ft (0.74 sq m) each|
|Listed Packed Size (LxW):||7 x 21 inches (18 x 53 cm)|
|Year of manufacture:||2007|
|Warranty:||Every REI product is 100% guaranteed to meet the customer's high standards. Buyers may return or exchange items by mail or at any REI retail location.|
|Specifications as Measured by Tester:|
|Tent Body/Rainfly/3 Poles:||4 lbs, 15.9 oz (2.27 kg)|
| Tent Body:||1 lb, 14.4 oz (0.86 kg)|
| Fly:||1 lb, 11.5 oz (0.78)|
| 3 Poles (2 main + 1 vent):||1 lb, 6 oz (0.62 kg)|
|Guyline and Tighteners:||1.6 oz (45 g)|
|Stakes (6):||3.0 oz (85 g)|
|Pole-Repair Tube:||0.4 oz (11 g)|
|Tent Body Stuff Sack:||2.9 oz (82 g)|
|Tent Poles Stuff Sack:||0.6 oz (17 g)|
|Stake Sack:||0.4 oz (11 g)|
|Measured Floor Dimensions:||84 x 48 inches (224 x 122 cm)|
|Measured Peak Height:||40 inches (102 cm)|
|Measured Packed Size:||7 x 21 inches (18 x 53 cm)||
A 2-person, 4-season, freestanding dome tent - the tent is a standard 2-wall (tent body/fly) design, with two doors and two vestibules for user-friendly entry/exit and easy access to personal storage areas.
Pitching the REI Cirque ASL 2:
I expected the task of pitching the Cirque to be simple and straightforward. There are just two long poles (DAC Featherlite NSL) for the body, and a short pole that holds up the fly's small awning - a design similar to what I've experienced before. In addition, the stuff sack for the tent has a weatherproof instructions card sewn onto it. What could be easier?
The two poles used to hold up the tent body have different colored ends - one end of each pole is black, the other is orange. The directions for setting up the Cirque instruct one to lay the tent out and insert the poles into the pole sleeves so that the black end of the poles will plug into the grommet with the black webbing. I did this, but when I pushed the poles in and tried to plug the orange ends into the grommets with the orange webbing, I didn't know which orange end aligned with which grommet. The setup instructions do include a diagram that illustrates how the poles should look from an aerial perspective, but I'm not a very visual person when it comes to following instructions - I'm more of a word guy. The poles fit tightly into the grommets no matter which I selected, so I didn't think anything of taking a trial-and-error approach. I believe that there is a slight difference in tension on the poles between a setup that's correct and one that's incorrect, as my incorrect setup left a segment of my poles with a slight but permanent curvature in it.
At any rate, I finally found the key to setting up the tent - something that the instructions do not mention directly, but do illustrate in the setup diagram if one studies it carefully. When inserting the black pole ends into the grommets with the black webbing, the poles should cross. When selecting a grommet for the other end of each pole, the pole's tip should fall into the grommet on the same side of the tent as its black end. So, if the black tip of a given pole was used for the rear wall, the pole's orange tip should also be used for the rear wall. After carefully studying this design, it appears that setup would have been more straightforward if the webbing on the grommets were set such that the colored webbing was switched for each wall, so that the black-orange webbing combination was set, left to right, as black-orange on the rear wall, and orange-black on the front wall. Such an arrangement would make it difficult to confuse which pole end aligned with which grommet, as the colors would always match correctly. The user would then only have to be instructed to align the colored pole tips with the colors on the webbing, and make sure the poles crossed on either wall.
Once the tent was standing, I installed the pole clips to the poles, which pulled out the walls and increased interior space.
It should be noted that my confusion with setup was a short-term issue, limited to my first time in erecting the shelter. Once the tent was standing and I allowed myself a moment to study the design, subsequent setups have been quick and without confusion. Still, if I loan the tent out to someone, or I'm sharing the shelter with someone and they've got the task of setting it up in camp, I will make sure to pass on the additional tips I've learned to avoid any further unnecessary stress to the poles.
Attaching the fly was no trouble at all, although the instructions make no mention of the third pole, or how it integrates with the fly. Fortunately, I've pitched a tent with the same sort of "awning pole" idea that's implemented in the Cirque's design, so I instinctively knew exactly what to do, even without any instructions or diagrams to assist me. I simple fed the pole through the fly's pole sleeve and secured the tips to the grommets found at the center of each awning.
To attach the fly, I centered the beak of the awning against the length of the floor, making sure that the Cirque's "skylight" was positioned above the netting on the tent's ceiling. The fly attaches to the body of the tent along its center, at the sides near where the tent poles cross, and along the floor at each corner. The side-crossing attachments use hook-and loop fasteners, while the floor corners use a strip of webbing with a grommet in it to connect to the tips of the tent's poles. These strips of webbing are also color-coded to make sure that the fly sits correctly over the tent. Because the tent's shape isn't a perfect dome, and because the "skylight" has to align with the mesh panel in the ceiling to be affective, there is a right and wrong way to position the fly. The skylight functions as a nice little interior window and, assuming the window is clean and scratch-free, details such as leaves on trees, and even bright stars, can be seen through it.
Once the fly is attached to the tent, it can be further secured by tightening the webbing found at each corner. The two vestibules integrated into the fly are then staked out, solidifying the tent's stability. The tensioning system that's been mated with the vestibule pullouts is simple and effective to use. Once the loop end of the cord has been staked out, the cord's other end is pulled until the pitch is taut, then it is wedged into the cleat's slot to "lock" it in place. There is no knot tying that is required. Should the fabric stretch out a bit, the fly can be readjusted by pulling on the cord once again and locking it into place. This "locking cleat" design can be seen in the image at the right.
Each vestibule can be opened a bit over halfway, and held open using a hook found in the lower corner. This allows the vestibule to be secured to the opposite corner so that the vestibule remains open, allowing for free access to the tent's door. Users can also opt to release the vestibule's pullout from the stake, roll it up, and secure it under the Cirque's awning.
The doors of the Cirque have a mesh panel integrated into them, which can be covered by a section of nylon for minimum ventilation and protection from blowing spindrift, or, alternatively, zipped open to allow for added ventilation and visibility. When opened, the fabric of the doors and mesh panels can be rolled up and secured by pulling a length of cord through a cord-lock. The cord-lock mechanism is a springless model that has a larger working surface to press against than the typical "barrel" design. I'm hoping that this choice of hardware by REI will prove easier to use in the wintertime, particularly when I'm wearing gloves.
The interior of the Cirque is extremely generous in size for the solo backpacker. It has a 40 inch (102 cm) peak height, with a large amount of ceiling space occupying a height at or near this peak. I can sit up comfortably in the Cirque for extended periods of time without feeling cramped, and there's plenty of space to the sides to change clothes, etc. The slope of the walls is relatively steep, allowing me to lie down inside with a lofty winter sleeping bag rated to hold individuals up to 6' 6" (2 m) in length without touching any walls.
While the tent seems to be a palace for one person, I'm a bit concerned as to how it will work out with two hikers sharing the interior. As it is a four-season shelter, I expect that I will have a lofty sleeping bag, lofty clothes, and other "bulky" gear inside - I look at the remaining floor space around me and ask myself, is there enough room left over to share? Tight quarters, should this prove to be true, is not necessarily a bad thing in a four-season tent, as this translates into less unused air space and thus a potentially warmer interior. On the other hand, hugging walls can create issues with condensation. Is the Cirque best reserved for solo hikers and "couples," or can two strangers share the space without feeling awkwardly close? I look forward to testing this shelter in the field and reporting my experiences.
The Cirque really shines when it comes to ventilation. The vestibule can be fully closed, closed halfway, or opened completely. There is a vestibule on each side of the tent, so cross-ventilation possibilities are also extensive. The vestibules have integrated dual-zippers, allowing the vestibule to remain closed save for a small "window" below the peak of the awning. This allows the Cirque to benefit from cross-ventilation, even in inclement weather, as the awning can offer enough protection to make sure the area underneath remains dry.
Note the water droplets on the outside of the awning in the image to the right, and how the opened "flap" of vestibule underneath is completely dry.
With the vestibule opened at various levels, the tent underneath the fly can have its panels of netting exposed to take advantage of the airflow. A large panel in the ceiling of the tent can be opened, allowing for moisture exhaled from sleeping occupants to be pushed out of the tent's body. At the same time, the mesh panels on either side door can be exposed to allow for cross-ventilation to occur. On clear winter nights, the vestibules and doors could even be rolled up and secured entirely, allowing for tarp-like ventilation to be realized.
The Cirque comes with two mammoth mesh pockets that take up much of the walls at the head and foot of the tent. There's plenty of room to store flashlights, hats, gloves, 1st-aid kit, socks, even pants. The Cirque also has many small loops hanging off its ceiling that can be used for suspending cord, a gear attic, or ditty bags to help hold and organize miscellaneous items.
Space underneath the vestibules, however, is not so generous. I'm one of those hikers who like to lay out gear under a vestibule. Typically, I'll have my boots and gaiters, empty pack, stove, pot, camp bucket, sit pad, and other miscellaneous items sprawled out under my vestibule for easy access during the long winter night. I also like using the vestibule as a windbreak while melting snow for water. Given the size of the Cirque's vestibule, if I'm sharing the tent with a partner I can see that I'll have to store most of my excess gear inside my pack in order to have enough room to spread out what I consider to be "essentials" and still have a clear path to allow for safe cooking.
I'm not saying the vestibule doesn't have enough room for my gear by any means. I'm just saying that it's small enough that I'll have to alter the way I normally lay out my gear, particularly when I'm sharing the tent with another person. As you can see in the image to the right, a pair of running shoes already takes up a good deal of floor space under the Cirque's vestibule.
- Stakes: The Cirque comes with six stakes. These stakes are of the "three-sided" variety that I particularly dislike because their tops rip into my hands when I'm trying to press them into the ground. They've even chewed into the soles of by boots when I've tried to persuade them into the ground by gently stepping on them. The stakes themselves are fine in terms of gripping soil, etc. I just wish that someone would come up with a version of these stakes with a nice flat or rounded top that would be gentle on the hands when setting them into the ground.
- Stuff Sacks: The Cirque comes with three stuff sacks - one for the tent and fly, one for the poles, and one for the stakes and guyline. The main stuff sack is a beast, and is large enough to hold all of the tent's components, including the poles and stakes. It has a carry handle, compression straps, a storm flap, and is built of a thick nylon in comparison to the SilNylon materials I'm accustomed to dealing with. At almost 3 ounces (85 g), the weight of this stuff sack says it all! I like the fact that the Cirque provides me with a dedicated pouch for the stakes, as they tend to get real dirty and I'm always worried about their points poking through something important.
- Pole Repair Tube: The pole repair tube is something new for me. I expect tent materials and designs to be durable to the point where I don't have to worry about repairs in the field. Given that this is a four-season tent, however, I could see that the weight of a wet snowfall onto the roof of the tent could be of concern. Essentially, the pole repair tube is a short section of hollow aluminum tubing that has an interior diameter large enough to accommodate the outer diameter of the Cirque's main poles. If a pole should break, the break in the pole would be taped, and then the pole repair tube would be centered over the break and taped into place.
- Guyline and Tighteners: The Cirque comes with three sections of guyline with line tighteners attached that can be attached to various pullouts along the fly's perimeter to provide additional stability in inclement conditions. Instructions for using the line tighteners are found on the tent's stuff sack.
Overall Initial Impressions:
The REI Cirque ASL 2 tent is a departure from my typical lightweight backpacking habits, taking me back to my formative backpacking years when I carried a "bombproof" shelter. Due the cold, wet weather that local winters are known for, and the short periods of daylight, I'm looking forward to testing a tent that will afford me an extra level of comfort to my in-camp experiences.
My initial impression, overall, is that the Cirque is a reasonably lightweight solution for a four-season shelter, and that it provides ample amounts of interior room for the solo backpacker, with plenty of interior space such that sitting up inside the tent, or stretching out without touching an interior wall, is not an issue. The large-volume storage pockets found on either interior side walls of the shelter are also appreciated. I am also impressed by the ventilation options that are available on the Cirque, from pass through ventilation between the two vestibules, to large mesh panels in the doors and ceiling, to the various configurations that the vestibule doors can be opened in. In fact, the large mesh roof panel has made me optimistic that this "four-season" tent can have its use extended into the warmer summer months.
In the coming months, I will be testing the various design features of the Cirque and reporting on how they function in the field. I am particularly interested in how practical the interior space of this tent will be for two people, as well as being able to report on the shelter's ability to withstand interior condensation build-up. I'm also hoping that global warming will kick in and provide a few nights of unseasonable warm-weather, allowing me to test out my theory that this shelter is actually a "convertible" tent that can work in either non-alpine four-season or warmer three-season conditions.
- The webbing that the pole grommets are set in is colored to match the tips of the poles, orange on one side, black on the other. I'd like to see each side have one of each color-coded tab, rather than a pair of the same color on each side. I feel that this would make it easier to ascertain which grommet a given pole tip was supposed to be mated with.
- End of Initial Report -
Field Report: - February 14, 2008
Field Locations and Conditions:
October 10-14, 2007 - High Country Pathway, Pigeon River Country State Forest, Montmorency County, Michigan
|Hike Description:||A five-day hike along a 74 mile (120 km) loop through rolling glacial moraines, outwash plains, floodings, and swamps. Flat campsites were not difficult to find, though sometimes the shelter was pitched in a field of waist-high grass. Soil conditions were sandy.|
|Nightly Temperature Range:||25° F / -4° C to 46° F / 8° C|
|Humidity:||60 - 100%|
|Dew Point Conditions:||As it rained at least a little on each night of this trip, wet conditions were always present. Low temperatures and high levels of humidity overnight meant that the tent was never dry by the morning. I had to pack a wet tent each morning and, at best, find a moment to dry it during the day.|
|Precipitation:||Used during periods of heavy rain and nonstop rain throughout the night.|
|Maximum Wind Speed:||10 mph / 16 km/h|
November 9-11, 2007 - North Country Trail, Manistee National Forest, Newaygo County, Michigan
|Hike Description:||A three-day trail maintenance session along a 6.3 mile (10 km) section of the NCT. This section of the NCT is comprised mainly of deciduous forest with some areas of pine plantation. The shelter was pitched in a flat area with sandy soil conditions.|
|Nightly Temperature Range:||21° F / -6° C to 41° F / 5° C|
|Humidity:||80 - 100%|
|Dew Point Conditions:||Light rain and fog were present throughout each night, so wet and damp conditions prevailed.|
|Precipitation:||Light rain for short periods of time throughout the night.|
|Maximum Wind Speed:||10 mph / 16 kph|
January 31 - February 1, 2008 - Waterloo State Recreation Area, Jackson County, Michigan
|Hike Description:||An overnight jaunt into the Waterloo Recreation Area.|
|Nightly Temperature Range:||24° F / -4° C to 28° F / -2° C|
|Humidity:||57 - 93%|
|Precipitation:||3 inches (7.5 cm) of snowfall overnight. The snow was wet enough to be balled up in my gloves, but it would not hold together well when rolled on the ground. I could make a snowball, but making a snowman was difficult.|
|Maximum Wind Speed:||18 mph / 30 km/h|
Pitching the Cirque:
The Cirque has proven to be easy enough to pitch in the field, and I've found that I can even leave the fly attached to the tent when I'm packing it, saving me a few steps when setting it back up and, should it be raining outside, providing some protection to the inner tent body during setup.
When sharing the setup task with someone who's new to the tent, the procedure is straightforward and easy to explain. I found that the colored pole tips and sections of webbing aided in explaining the setup process.
While getting the tent set up, staked down, and pitched taught is easy enough, I did find that centering the fly onto the inner tent body was a little tricky. There are a two pairs of Velcro tabs on the fly that attach to the tent body below the awning, and additional Velcro tabs that lock the fly to the tent body at the end of each tent pole sleeve. These Velcro tabs can be difficult to find and attach if the fly is placed onto a standing tent. This is yet another reason to have the tent fly attached to the body before setting up the tent. During those times when I was forced to pack a wet tent, I hung the fly and tent body out to dry separately as soon as the weather was appropriate - I always made sure to attach the Velcro tabs on the fly to the tent body before packing the tent up again though.
While the Cirque is billed as a 2-person tent, I found that it is really best suited for one.
Both my wife and I have what I would consider a thin build yet, lying in the tent in with our sleeping bags touching, we found that the sides of our bags that faced the tent walls brushed up against them. This was the case while using sleeping bags with a mere 5 inches (13 cm) of loft - bags that I consider to be more appropriate for spring and fall. With winter conditions often bringing about sub-zero (below -18° C) temperatures, the bags used in such extremes contain even more loft, which exacerbates the problem further. The space issue I found was limited to the width of the Cirque - both my wife and I were more than happy with the amount of headroom the shelter offered, as well as the overall length of the tent.
The width issue was so pronounced, however, that my wife and I developed a "never again" or "only in emergencies" attitude towards using the Cirque in a two-person capacity. The primary reason for this is that, by morning, we found that the sides facing the tent walls were soaked with moisture. My wife got the worst of this effect - as she tends to twist and turn her sleeping bag around her as she sleeps. As a result, most of the surface area of her bag was wet by morning. Due to the coatings on the fabric of our sleeping bags, the insulation inside never got wet, but we did spend quite a bit of time in the morning soaking up the moisture from our bags and allowing our bags to dry before packing them up. Given the reduced amount of daylight in the winter, I'd rather spend my time on the trail than dealing with wet gear.
On the contrary, using the Cirque as a solo shelter is an absolute luxury. I could position myself at the center of the floor and have plenty of room to my sides, such that touching a side wall was not a concern. As I use long versions of sleeping bags and I tend to sleep with by arms folded under my head, I find that I use up the length on most tents - the Cirque is no exception. What I really like about the Cirque is the size of the mesh pockets found at the head and foot of the tent. They are almost as wide as the wall itself, and they're tall too. I could easily fold up my hiking pants and store them in this pocket overnight. What I found was that the material of the pants made for an excellent buffer between the inside of the tent and moisture on its outside wall, such that when the foot of my bag brushed up against the pants there was never any moisture transferred onto the bag as often happens when my bag brushes up against the bare wall of the tent.
Using the Cirque as a solo shelter also allowed for plenty extra space inside, something that I appreciated as I found the vestibules to be a bit on the small side given the way I like to spread my gear out. It goes without saying that, without a partner in the tent with me, I had all the room I needed to change clothes, read, clean my camera gear, and take care of other light chores.
Doors and Windows:
The size of the Cirque's doors is generous, and I found that I could easily open them and either access gear in the vestibule or exit the tent itself, without hitting the doorwalls and causing rain or snow that accumulated on the outside of the tent to fall on me.
I found that the zippers on the two door panels tended to stick, particularly when moving around the curved portions of the zipper track. Opening and closing the tent's doors is a two-hand job, where one hand has to maneuver the zipper while the other holds the surrounding fabric tight. While this can be classified as an annoyance, it is not a characteristic that I expected to find on a tent that costs almost $250.
As the days are short this time of year, I really haven't found the skylight/window of the Cirque to be of much use. As shown in the image to the right, the panel of fabric that the skylight is installed on does not have as sharp of a downward angle as the panel on the opposite side of the fly's roofline - in fact, it is near flat in areas. The close-up of this area, shown in the red circle, shows the affect of this flat area in the form of raindrops that have pooled together. What will happen when snow falls on the Cirque? Read on!
I'm very pleased by how much body heat the Cirque traps inside of it. I've measured a good 15° F (8° C) variance between temperatures inside and outside the shelter when all the panels are closed. What's especially nice about this characteristic is that I can go out in mild winter conditions using a 3-season sleeping bag rated in the 15° to 20° F range (-10° to -7° C) and feel secure which, compared to carrying a loftier option, saves on both weight and space in my pack.
I've been fortunate enough to encounter rain on almost every night I've spent in the Cirque. The seams are waterproof, and the tent fly is sized appropriately - no rain found its way onto the inner walls of the tent, even when driving winds were present.
When used in the rain, the only real issue I've found with the Cirque has been with the fly. Many of its panels are rather loose when fitted over the tent and they cannot be tightened using existing pullouts. As the fly's nylon fabric stretches when wet, it eventually sags down to the point that it touches the inner body of the tent, resulting in wet spots forming on the walls of the tent. This effect is pictured in the image, above, highlighted in the circle labeled "Wet From Fly."
In The Snow:
The Cirque's problems really come to light after some snow has accumulated outside.
As seen in the image to the left, the vestibule, side wall, and roof each have a considerable amount of snow accumulated on them. The roof panel shown here is the side with the steeper angle to it - the "flatter" side didn't shed much snow at all.
The vestibule only has a single point of attachment at the ground level - at its center - so there's really not much to support the fabric and keep it from stretching and sagging. Room inside the vestibule suffers as a result. This characteristic can be mitigated to some degree with some proactive measures, such as propping a pack up against the wall of the vestibule to give it a bit of support.
In the image to the right, the "flat" section of the roof is shown - the slice of snow at the left corner of the roof is almost 2 inches (5 cm) thick! This amount of snow easily caused the panel of the fly to sag down and press against the ceiling of the inner tent. As this area is directly over the ceiling's mesh panel, interior ventilation and airflow was cut off to a great degree, causing condensation levels inside the tent to noticeably increase.
In the image to the left, the shadow that's circled is snow that's accumulated on the outside of the fly - its weight has caused the fly to be pressed against the side wall of the inner tent. Now, there's even more of the inner tent's surface area that can wet out when touched, and the "dry zone" for two people has been further decreased.
The level of ventilation that can be realized inside the Cirque impresses me. On wet, foggy mornings where I expected to see the inside walls of the Cirque dripping in condensation, there was none. I was able to keep interior condensation minimized by exposing the mesh inside doorwalls and opening the tops of each vestibule below the awning of the Cirque, allowing for cross ventilation to occur. Even when there was little in the way of a breeze present, I could exposed the mesh panel along the ceiling, allowing any moisture exhaled in my breath to be pumped out of the tent.
During snowfall, I continued to use the vestibule openings for ventilation, and while I wouldn't classify the snow outside as "spindrift," there was wind present and the inside of the vestibule remained snow-free. Unfortunately, the sagging tent fly caused the ceiling vent to be effectively closed, and I did notice increased levels of condensation inside as a result. As I was using the shelter in a solo capacity though, this really wasn't a concern.
Having two vestibules certainly is a joy, particularly in acclimate weather. I was always able to find an area under one vestibule or the other that was sheltered enough to where I could comfortably cook my dinner underneath, with the vestibule door opened to some degree for ventilation and fire safety. While cooking, I used fuel sources with controlled flames, such as Esbit fuel tablets or canister stoves - I NEVER cook with a white gas stove under a vestibule due to the flame's unpredictable nature.
As mentioned in my Initial Report, the Cirque's vestibules are small, especially when the additional gear needed in the wintertime comes along for the ride. When I used the Cirque with my wife, we would each have to make due with just one vestibule, with no real room to spill over into the cramped quarters of the tent or into each other's vestibules. I felt better when she exclaimed that her vestibule was too small as well. I pretty much kept the bulk of my gear inside my pack and stored that under the vestibule - whenever I needed something I had to dig through the pack, rather than being able to just spread out a few essentials under the vestibule as I'm accustomed to doing. Since neither my wife nor I feel that the Cirque is a two-person tent anymore, and I don't hike with anyone smaller than my wife, the Cirque has now been converted to my personal winter palace. Used as a solo shelter, I have lots of extra space inside, and two vestibules for my gear. No more complaints, I suppose.
I've already mentioned how much I like the large mesh pockets found at the head and foot end of the Cirque. They can hold LOTS of items for quick and easy access. In the field, they've proven to be really practical. As mentioned above, I like storing my hiking pants in the foot pocket, to take care of that "wet footbox" I often have on my sleeping bag by the morning. The pockets have lots of room to store both small and large items alike. I typically have a pack towel, handkerchief, wristwatch, flashlight, hat, neck gaiter, and other items that I might need at night inside - and that's just in one pocket. I also typically use one of the small loops hanging off of the ceiling to suspend my eyeglasses, and another to hang a ditty bag of miscellaneous items.
In my Initial Report, I commented on how I disliked the stakes that came with the Cirque. The stakes tended to painfully press into the skin of my hands when I pressed them into the ground, and they even tore into the tread of my running shoe when I tried using my foot instead. As much as I dislike these stakes for 3-season use, in subfreezing temperatures they've proven to be very appropriate. Their 3-sided design eats into frozen ground much better than traditional "peg" designs, though I have to find a rock or carry a mallet to pound them into the ground. In the morning, they easily pull out, even if there's been a little "thaw and freeze" that has occurred. I think I'll keep using these stakes during the winter, and move to a different design in the warmer months.
In addition to the improvements suggested in the Initial Report, I feel that the following changes would improve the Cirque significantly:
- Increase the slope of the roof panel that the "skylight" is installed on so that it does a better job of shedding rain and snow.
- Improve the zipper track so movement is smooth and can be operated with one hand.
- Either increase the width of the floor or the angle of the side walls so that two people can sleep in the Cirque without their sleeping bags touching the side walls.
- Consider simply narrowing the width of the floor, which would increase the slope of the side walls, improving the snow-shedding capabilities of the Cirque - in short, make a one-person version of this tent and realize better performance at the same time.
- End of Field Report -
Long-Term Report: - April 4, 2008
Field Locations and Conditions:
February 15-17, 2008 - North Country Trail, Yankee Springs Recreation Area, Barry County, Michigan
|Hike Description:||A three-day trip that I lead for my chapter of the North Country Trail - this section of the NCT is comprised mainly of deciduous forest. The shelter was pitched in a flat area with sandy soil conditions.|
|Nightly Temperature Range:||6° F / -14° C to 35° F / 2° C|
|Humidity:||50 - 92%|
|Dew Point Conditions:||Light rain and fog was present on our final night, and with temperatures hovering over freezing conditions were generally miserable (outside the tent).|
|Precipitation:||Light rain for extended periods of time throughout the night.|
|Maximum Wind Speed:||9 mph / 15 kph|
Additional Comments From the Field:
In the long-term phase of the test, I continued to use the Cirque as a spacious solo shelter. Again, based on the results of my field-testing, I found that the Cirque just wasn't suited for 2-person use - too cramped, with the result being wet sleeping bags from contact with the tent's side walls, in addition to the issues presented by the scant amount of storage space found under each vestibule.
On my coldest night (6° F / -14° C), I was able to stay very comfortable using a sleeping bag rated to just 15° F / -9° C, and I used it as a basic quilt, never zipping it up above my knee. I attribute my being able to avoid using a true "winter" rated sleeping bag to a number of factors - using two sleeping pads (a 3/4 inch (20 mm) thick closed cell pad with a 1 inch (23 mm) self-inflating pad over that), having some sort of clothing against most of my skin while sleeping (i.e. long johns, 200 weight fleece sleeping socks, 100 weight fleece gloves, and a warm balaclava), and sleeping inside the Cirque itself, which excels at trapping in heat, bringing temperatures inside the shelter up to 15° F (8° C) warmer than those outside.
In addition to staying warm, the Cirque stayed dry in even the most miserable conditions. There were no leaks in the tent, and I found that I could open the doors without having any runoff from the tent's fly fall inside. Between the Cirque's numerous ventilation options and my using it as a solo shelter, I never had any serious issues with interior condensation - the shell of my sleeping bag stayed dry to the touch.
In true winter conditions, meaning that I'm forced to melt snow for drinking water, I tend to cook with a white gas stove. These types of stoves can flare-up at times, so they're not particularly safe to use under a vestibule. Should heavy snow or rain be present, cooking from within the tent and keeping dry can be tricky. As you can see in the image to the right, my solution to this problem is to carry a small umbrella, which allows me to shelter the stove and open door of the tent from the elements, while providing enough space between the stove and the umbrella to eliminate any safety concerns from flare-ups. In this image, I'm warming up some pre-cooked bacon. As the bacon is sizzling and shrinking in size, I toss in a couple of mini-bagel halves, face down, and get them toasted in the bacon grease. Then I add some diced red onion and Brie into the pan. Once everything is good and hot, I remove the bagels, butter them up, and then add the Brie, onions, and bacon. That's it - Andy's Backcountry Bacon Sarny recipe. At any rate, the thin nature of my fry pan forces me regularly turn the bacon in order for my Sarny to cook, but not burn.
Photo by JerriLynn Osmar
When there's more than 8 inches (20 cm) of snow on the ground, using the stakes becomes problematic. Basically, I found that I could either clear out a large area of snow and pitch the tent on solid ground, or I could forego the stakes and just break off sections of downed wood that were sturdy enough not to break under pressure, using them as "extra long" stakes. Given the soft nature of the sandy soil in the area, I found that using downed wood was a less labor intensive solution - not having to leave an unsightly patch of bare ground where my tent had been was also a plus. I just had to make sure that I removed my impromptu stakes from the ground, as leaving them poking out of the earth would create a safety hazard for unsuspecting passersby.
In terms of durability, the only thing that I've noticed is that, due to the high degree of tension that's placed on the two main poles when the shelter is pitched, a slight curve has developed across a few of the pole sections. From a functional standpoint, this has not presented any issues - there's simply a slight bend in the poles today, whereas when the tent was new and out of the box the poles were straight as arrows. Should the tent poles ever become an issue, I've got REI's "100% Satisfaction Guarantee" behind me. I've been an REI customer for almost 20 years, and in that time I've have had occasion to use their return policy on both basic and "high-ticket" items. I have nothing but praises for REI's return policy and the way they've handled me as a customer.
I feel that the REI Cirque is a shelter with numerous trade-offs. While the tent is relatively lightweight for a four-season shelter, it must be recognized that the shortcuts taken to achieve this weight (e.g. a two poles freestanding design) result in there being less overall support to key areas of the tent, such as the fly and vestibule.
The Cirque withstood strong gusts of wind and supported limited accumulation of wet snow without incident. In cold temperatures, it held in heat admirably. Its flexible ventilation system allowed me to vary the amount of airflow throughout the tent, which proved to be effective in combating interior condensation. For the solo hiker, it is a spacious shelter.
I can only say that I do not feel that the Cirque is in any way a two-person shelter and that, given any sort of snow accumulation, ventilation options are reduced with the result being an increased level of interior condensation.
- End of Long-Term Report -
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