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Reviews > Shelters > Tents > REI Cirque ASL 2 Tent > Test Report by Mike Curry

REI CIRQUE ASL 2 TENT
TEST SERIES BY MIKE CURRY
INITIAL REPORT - SEPTEMBER 30, 2007
FIELD REPORT - JANUARY 05, 2008
LONG TERM REPORT - MARCH 4, 2008

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Mike Curry
EMAIL: thefishguyAThotmailDOTcom
AGE: 37
LOCATION: Aberdeen, Washington
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 11" (1.80 m)
WEIGHT: 205 lb (93.00 kg)

I've been backpacking, climbing, ski-packing, bushwhacking, and snowshoeing throughout the mountains of Oregon and Washington for the last 25 years. I'm an all-season, all terrain, off-trail kind of guy, but these days (having small kids) most of my trips run on the shorter side of things, and tend to be in the temperate rainforest. While I've carried packs (with winter climbing gear) in excess of 70 pounds (32 kilos), the older I get the more minimalist I become.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION

IMAGE 1
The REI Cirque 2 ASL Showing The Three Vestibule Positions


Manufacturer: Recreational Equipment, Inc.
Year of Manufacture: 2007
Manufacturer's Website: www.rei.com
MSRP: US$249.00

Listed Weight:
5 lb 2 oz (2.32 kg) minimum weight - Tent/Rainfly/Poles Only
5 lb 11 oz (2.58 kg) packaged weight

Measured Weight:
5 lb 8.6 oz (2.51 kg) packaged weight

Measured Component Weights:
Tent - 1 lb 14.3 oz (860 g)
Fly - 1 lb 11.6 oz (780 g)
Stakes and optional guy lines in their stuff sack - 4.9 oz (139 g)
Poles and pole repair tube in their stuff sack - 1 lb 7 oz (650 g)
Main stuff sack - 2.8 oz (79 g)

Other details: At the manufacturer's website, the Cirque 2 ASL is described as being designed "to bridge the gap between the limited seasonality of ultra-light backpacking tents and the livability of traditional, robust mountaineering tents."


IMAGE 2
As Received In Stuff Sack

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

The REI Cirque 2 ASL arrived in a stuff sack with two attached compression straps and a draw cord closure. A piece of webbing between the two compression straps formed a handle for the stuff sack. Instructions for setting up the tent were sewn to the outside of the stuff sack. My first thought upon seeing it was, "Wow, that's a small package for a 4-season tent!"

I opened the stuff sack to find the tent, fly, and two smaller stuff sacks, one containing the poles and the other containing stakes and optional guylines. As I looked over the components, what struck me most was their light weight. The stakes, poles, tent, and fly were all much lighter in weight than I am used to with 4-season tents. The other thing that really struck me was the colors used in the tent and fly fabric. I don't usually care too much about the color of my gear, but I really liked the colors used in this tent. The colors, in my opinion, are bright and cheery, yet seem likely to blend unobtrusively into the surroundings.

In examining the tent and fly, the stitching seems very well done, and the materials all seem to be very high quality. There are hook and loop tabs sewn on to the pole sleeves that are used in attaching the fly. The four corners of the tent each have a piece of webbing with a grommet attached (the grommet receives the tips of the poles), with a loop of small diameter cord for staking the tent down (which is large enough to easily accept an ice axe as an anchor). The tent uses two pole sleeves and a total of four clips to secure the tent to the poles. One feature I really liked was the clear panel on the rainfly, which is situated directly above the head end of the tent (the tent floor is tapered, so there is a head end and a foot end).

Taking the shock-corded poles out of their stuff sack I assembled them and found the connections to fit together very smoothly. One end of each of the two tent poles is color-coded. These ends fit into the corners with webbing that matches their color, which is necessary due to the slightly asymmetrical design of the tent.

The tent pegs are Y-shaped in profile, and seem very strong for their weight. I was unable to flex or twist them with my hands. The guy lines (found in the same stuff sack as the tent pegs) are optional according to the instructions, and are included for use in nastier weather when additional guy outs may be beneficial (such as high wind). These optional guy lines are pieces of plastic with three holes and some cord running through them, the same as I've had on other tents I've used. The guy lines that attach to the vestibule guy-out points, though, use a unique design where I can pull on the free end to tighten, and simply lift the cord up to lock.
IMAGE 4
Interesting Toggles and Guy Line Locks

Two other features I noticed while looking the tent over were larger plastic hooks on the rain fly, and interesting toggles near the doors. The hooks on the rain fly were at the bottom corner of the door closest to the zipper. The toggles inside the tent body were a design I've never seen before, and I assumed were used in securing the doors open. These two features will be discussed more below.

READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

The instructions provided with the tent include the ones sewn onto the stuff sack (which describe how to set up the tent), and an insert that provided general care and use instructions. The insert's instructions were not specific to this tent, but did explain how to repair a pole using the pole repair sleeve that is included with the tent.

The instructions sewn on the stuff sack are very basic, and cover staking the tent, inserting the poles, setting up the tent, and attaching the rain fly. The instructions were clear, however there were several significant omissions. Perhaps the most significant in my mind is that there is no mention of the third pole that is used to support the rain fly. After having set up the tent, however, it seemed clear to me that I simply slide the third pole through the sleeve, securing each end in the grommet. Had I not seen pictures of the tent set up on the manufacturer's website, however, I might not have found this so clear.

The instructions made no mention of the large plastic hooks on the vestibule doors, how to use the venting features, nor of the toggles at the tent doors. I assumed at this point their use must be self-explanatory, and moved on to trying it out.

TRYING IT OUT

IMAGE 3
Open Design And Color Coded Pole Ends

I first set up the tent in my living room. I found it to be one of the easiest tents I've ever set up by myself. I inserted one pole through a sleeve and secured its ends into the grommets on the opposite side of the tent (this was new to me, as the pole configuration is one I never have used before, but the instructions illustrated it well). At this point, the first pole was finished, yet the tent still remained flat on the floor. My initial thought was that this might be very handy in windy conditions. With the tent lying flat, rather than flapping in the wind partially set up, it might be easier to insert the second pole into the sleeve. I then inserted the second pole, and the tent rose off the floor into its final position when I inserted the second pole into its grommets.

I placed the rain fly on top of the tent, matching the webbing colors on the rain fly corners to the webbing colors on the tent corners. I secured the hook and loop fasteners on the fly to those on the tent, slid the short fly pole (which is shaped somewhat like and inverted "V" into its sleeve and grommets, slipped the grommets on the fly's webbing corners under the tent pole ends, and tightened the webbing straps. After "staking" the vestibules out to my fireplace screen and futon, I was ready to climb in.

The first thing I experienced was the zippers. Though their operation was generally smooth, I had to hold the fabric taut behind the zipper pull to move past some spots. I will watch this carefully for any problems. The second thing I noticed was the size. The tent itself is small, to the point I'd almost consider it a 1 person tent. It seems about right for one of my children and me, but it looks like a tight squeeze for another adult and me. I grabbed a tape measure and measured the floor width where my shoulders rest while lying down, and found it to be 46 in (117 cm) wide. I suspected the narrowness might be because the tent was not staked out, but later when I staked the tent out tightly outdoors I found the shoulder measurement still to be 46 in (117 cm). The floor dimensions listed by the manufacturer are 88 in by 56 in (224 cm by 142 cm), and staked out tightly both measurements are accurate along the seams where the floor and walls meet. The fact that the tent tapers toward the foot, combined with what seems to be an hourglass profile to the floor when staked out, reduces the usable width to about 46 inches at my shoulder height.

Despite the narrow profile, there were a number of things I really liked about the inside of the tent. The walls are very upright, and the relatively flat top provides enough room for me to sit up without adding a bunch of wasted space. There are mesh panels at the foot and head end of the tent for gear storage that seem large enough to be useful for storing quite a number of smaller items. Also, there are several webbing loops inside which I hope to try out for tying up gear and perhaps rigging a makeshift clothesline for damp clothing. The dual vestibules make the tent seem roomier than it is, and appear to be just large enough to fit my pack, boots, and miscellaneous items. What struck me most, however, was how much light the tent let in. The fabric is somewhat translucent, providing adequate privacy coupled with good light transmission. That's an important feature for me when I'm buttoned down in my tent during foul weather.
IMAGE 5
Vestibule Door Top Opens To Create Vent (View From Inside)

I opened the three panels (one on each door and a third on the ceiling) and checked to see how well ventilated it really was. With the panels opened, the tent seems very well ventilated. That's when I noticed for the first time how the vestibule door zippers can be zipped closed to the ground, then opened from the other end by a second zipper-pull at the opposite end. This allowed the top of the vestibule door to remain open and supported by a piece of sewn on webbing, while the open space is protected from the weather by the overhang created by the pole-supported fly. The design appears to provide the best ventilation I've ever seen in a 4-season tent.

With the major features covered, I decided to try out the toggles that appeared to be for securing the tent doors and windows back. I believe I discovered the correct method for using them, but since they aren't mentioned in the instructions, I'm not really sure. The toggle is attached to a short piece of cord sewn to the inside of the tent in the middle of the seam that attaches the door. Between the window panel and the door, and on the outside of the door, are small webbing loops. By rolling up the door and passing the toggle through the loop, the door is secured, and can be pulled tight using the toggle.

After some further experimentation, I discovered the hook on the vestibule door connected to the poles, and could be used to secure the vestibule door closed, or open, as is seen in the middle of the three photos showing the vestibule options at the top of this report.

Taking the tent down went quickly and easily and I believe it may be possible to set up the tent with the rain fly attached. I will experiment with this during field testing to see if it is possible, and if it offers any advantage in keeping the tent dry. The stuff sack is generously sized, and makes effective use of compression straps.

TESTING STRATEGY

I plan to test this tent by using it in three combinations of occupants: as a solo shelter, shared with my daughter (and maybe son if he fits in with us), and shared with one of my hiking partners (who, given the close quarters and inability to sleep head to foot due to the floor taper, will be very carefully chosen!). My field report will summarize the product's performance during some of our drier months, and my long-term report will be able to review its performance when subjected to extreme rain, and probably some snow. Wind is quite variable here, but along the coast I should be able to try it in some good sustained winds if I'm (un)lucky!

Throughout the testing I will work to evaluate the following:

*Water resistance and durability - This is my primary question . . . is the rain fly really leak-proof, and how well do the taped floor seams hold up in real wet conditions? How fast does it dry out after a good soaking? Will it hold up and perform well given my typical use?

*Design - Is it easy to set up in the field? How about in wind and rain? Is it quick to pitch (that's a big key to keeping somewhat dry around here in my experience)? Does it feel roomy or confined while I'm waiting out the storm? Is the 2-person size rating appropriate? Can both my children (ages 4 and 6) sleep comfortably in the tent with me? Do the dual air-lift vents help in terms of cross-ventilation, or is it just another place for rain to enter? More importantly, do the dual air-lift vents help with the inevitable condensation we see in tents around here (due to everything we have being soaked, which is why I've switched to a tarp/bivy bag combo for most of my trips)? Do the vestibules offer my gear good protection, and are they large enough for the gear I want protected? Are the dual doors helpful, or do they just add unnecessary weight, complexity, and potential leak points to the tent?

*Component Quality and Reliability - Are the components (particularly fabric, zippers, and poles) durable and reliable? Do they function as expected? Are there any areas prone to failure?

SUMMARY

All in all, my initial experiences with the REI Cirque 2 ASL tent have been positive. It appears to be a well-made and well-designed tent, and I look forward to seeing if it lives up to my hopes for it. The only potential drawbacks noted at this point are the minimal instructions and relatively small size of the tent, but how significant these are will be determined during testing.


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

This tent has been used as my primary shelter on three trips totaling five nights so far during the test period.

The trips were on the Washington Coast at or very near sea level. Overnight temperatures ranged from 35-45 F (2-7 C), with daytime highs ranging from 42-56 F (6-13 C). Rain was experienced on all trips, but only one night had significant rainfall, with approximately 4 in (10 cm) falling overnight. Winds were generally a light coastal breeze of 5-15 mph (8-24 kph), however the rainy night had sustained winds of approximately 35 mph (56 kph).

The surfaces I have pitched the tent on have included sand, gravel, dirt, and beach grass.

In addition to these trips, I decided to test the tent's water resistance in my back yard one night with my 4-year-old son when we were expecting, and received, over 6 in (15 cm) of rain. This is not included in the testing nights listed above, and served only to examine the tent's water resistance under conditions I might not encounter in the field.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

My first and foremost concern with any backpacking shelter in our climate is water resistance, and so far the Cirque 2 has performed admirably in this regard. I've not experienced any leaking whatsoever. The rain fly has successfully repelled moderate to heavy rains driven by winds of 35 mph (56 kph) without so much a hint of leakage. It is also worth noting that at these wind speeds there is no distortion of the tent, and only moderate noise from the fly flapping (which may have been partially due to the vents being open). Perhaps more importantly, when pitched on soggy coastal plains the floor has not admitted any moisture. The only moisture related problems I have faced stemmed from moisture I tracked into the tent which caused some light condensation under some of the damp gear.
IMAGE 1
A Windy Morning at the Coast (35 mph/56 kph)

It is worth noting that this tent is very easy to pitch in adverse weather. After some experimentation at home, I decided to try pitching the tent and fly simultaneously by attaching the fly to the tent before I left. The first conditions in which I tried this during field testing were a stiff 20 mph (32 kph) breeze with light rain. I staked down the upwind side of the tent, inserted the poles in the pole sleeves by reaching under the fly, and otherwise set the tent up normally. After some quick adjustments and repositioning of the fly to get it centered, I staked down the other end and guyed out the vestibules. It kept the tent almost completely dry during the process, and took only slightly more effort than the normal process of putting up the tent, followed by the fly. The entire process, including guying out and adjustments, probably took 5 minutes from opening the stuff sack to starting to move gear in. Actual time the tent was out of its stuff sack until it was up and I was making adjustments was less than two minutes.
IMAGE 2
Another Angle on a Windy Morning

After a good soaking, the tent dries relatively quickly, with the exception of the webbing strips that the poles connect to at each end. Most moisture on the tent can be shaken out after the poles and stakes are removed, often by holding on to one end if the wind is strong enough (and letting the tent and fly flap downwind). After hanging the tent up at home at night, it usually dries overnight. The one exception to this is the webbing strips that the pole ends attach to. These strips seem to absorb a good deal of moisture and have usually taken two nights to dry completely for storage. These strips bother me on trips, as their moisture retention adds some weight in my pack.

A number of features have stood out to me. The first is the dual air-lift vents. I am remarkably impressed with these. I have kept them open on every trip so far (to reduce condensation), and have found that not only do they provide excellent ventilation, but even when the tent is set with the vent facing the prevailing wind, I have yet to have any driving rain reach the tent. They provide excellent ventilation and protection from condensation if there is at least some breeze, though in sheltered areas I have experienced minor condensation around wet gear I've brought into the tent with me.

The vestibules are an area I have mixed feelings about. On uneven ground, the gap between the bottom of the vestibule wall and the ground can be several inches, limiting the protection gear placed in the vestibule receives. Though I consider this something of a drawback, I'm not certain I would want a larger vestibule (because of weight) or one that went solidly to the ground (due to ventilation). So far I feel it is a good trade-off, but need to remind myself to keep items I want dry close to the tent door.

The tent itself is small, but the vestibules add a good deal of room for storage. I also found that, since I'm a relatively big and inflexible guy, opening the doors allowed me some additional maneuvering room while doing things like getting dressed inside the tent. As a solo shelter, I've found myself using one vestibule for gear storage and the other as a front porch and extra changing room area. Though the vestibule is too small for me to comfortably crawl into with the tent door closed, I've managed to develop a process for removing wet clothing on the way through that has worked fairly well to keep wet clothing out of the tent, and provides a way of changing into my drenched raingear as I pass back out through the vestibule.

Other features of this tent that I've enjoyed have been the excellent light transmission, and the ventilation panels on the ceiling and doors. As I'm primarily a tarp camper, I tend to feel somewhat confined in a tent, but with the panels all open, the tent has a much more open feel. I spent one night, in the rain, with both doors fully open. The tent felt much roomier. I suspect that this will be my normal operating mode in all but the worst weather.

So far I have not noted any problems with any features or components, but will continue to monitor them closely throughout the Long-Term Reporting period. To date the stakes have worked well in all the ground conditions I have encountered, though a sharp edge on one did cut my hand on one trip (while trying to pull it out).

SUMMARY

Overall I am very pleased with the performance of the REI Cirque ASL 2 tent to date. It has certainly passed my water resistance tests with flying colors, and is easy to set up even under less than ideal conditions. The design of the tent seems to work well under the conditions I have encountered so far.

TESTING STRATEGY

My continued testing strategy for this tent includes using it under more diverse conditions, including snow camping, and continuing to evaluate its performance. Particular areas I plan to focus on testing include:

*Is the 2-person size rating appropriate (I've not yet had the opportunity to house two adults in the tent)? *Can both my children (ages 4 and 6) sleep comfortably in the tent with me?
*Does it feel roomy or confined while I'm waiting out the storm (for periods longer than the 11 hour nights I've experienced so far)?
*Are the components (particularly fabric, zippers, and poles) durable and reliable and do they continue to function as expected?
*Are there any areas prone to failure?

I wish to thank Recreational Equipment, Inc. and BackpackGearTest for the opportunity to test this tent. This concludes my Field Report. The Long-Term Report should be completed by March 4, 2007. Please check back then for further information.


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

During the long-term testing period, this tent has been used in the temperate rainforest of Western Washington on three trips totaling 6 nights. One trip (totaling 2 nights) occurred just above sea level, with the balance of the use at approximately 800 ft (244 m). Weather conditions included rain and clear weather, and though 4 nights involved snow camping it did not snow during any of the nights. Overnight lows ranged from 14 to 34 F (-10 to 1 C), with daytime highs ranging from 32 to 42 F (0 to 6 C). Surfaces the tent has been used on have included grass, forest litter, and snow.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

Overall, the REI Cirque ASL 2 has continued to perform well. I have not had any component failures, and all components continue to function. The zippers on the tent doors do seem to hang up near the seam, however, if I do not hold on to the fabric taut behind the zipper. This has proven to be only a minor inconvenience, even with gloved hands. I've learned to pull quickly past the spots and can usually get past them in this manner without holding the fabric with my other hand. The vestibule's zippers also hang up when trying to open the vestibule if the free end is not held taut. I find it easy enough to simply stand on the fabric to allow one-handed opening from the outside. When opening from the inside, it usually isn't inconvenient to hold on to the end.

Three specific areas I gained additional experience with during long-term testing were the size of the tent for multiple occupants, using the tent in sub-freezing temperatures, and spending longer periods in the tent.

Regarding size, I would consider this tent to be the absolute minimum size I would consider a two-person tent. While it is comfortable to use with one of my children, when using the tent with my wife it requires we both sleep on our sides. Even sleeping on our sides my wife and I have to coordinate turning. If we both attempt to sleep on our backs we are wedged between the other and the wall fairly snugly, something we didn't find conducive to sleep. Though it will serve as a shelter for two adults, I wouldn't want to do so on a regular basis. On the other hand, it is just about ideal for use with one of my children (either my 4-year-old son or my 6-year-old daughter). I discovered during testing that sharing the tent with both children is possible, but not particularly pleasant. By having my son next to me and my daughter sleeping below him with her head by my feet we all fit, but any time someone moved someone else was disturbed. Also, since their legs lay along side each other, they are always kicking each other.

The coldest night I experienced during long-term testing I shared the tent with my daughter, and we closed every zipper on the tent and fly to button the tent up and preserve what little body warmth we could. In the morning, I noticed the ceiling of the tent and the upper half of the walls had a very light layer of frost from condensation. Other than the light condensation, the tent performed as admirably in cold conditions as it had in the earlier rainy conditions. On other occasions, though not quite as cold, I left the roof panel open, and even with the vestibule closed experienced no noticeable condensation.

I will say that the tent, with the fly closed but the tent doors open, feels very roomy, even with two people. I have found that I typically only close the tent doors when I'm sleeping, and even then only do so if it's cold or when with my children. Having ridden out some fairly foul weather, I found the tent to be tolerably comfortable for extended periods, even when shared with another occupant, by opening the doors and using the vestibules to expand the living space.

SUMMARY

Overall, I consider the REI Cirque ASL 2 to be a well-designed and well-constructed four-season shelter. While two people can use it, it is too small for my liking with two large adults, but just right for an adult and child. It has outstanding ventilation capabilities, and superb water-repellency.

CONTINUED USE

While I like the REI Cirque ASL 2 tent, I will likely continue to lean toward tarp camping in all but the most foul weather conditions. When high winds or torrential rains are anticipated, though, I will definitely consider taking this tent along, especially if backpacking with one of my children.

I wish to thank Recreational Equipment, Inc. and BackpackGearTest for the opportunity to test this tent. This concludes my report.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

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