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Reviews > Shelters > Tents > REI Cirque ASL 2 Tent > Test Report by Tim Tessier

REI CIRQUE 2 ASL TENT
TEST SERIES BY TIM TESSIER
INITIAL REPORT
September 30, 2007

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Tim Tessier
EMAIL: timothy_tessier@yahoo.com
AGE: 50
LOCATION: Greensboro North Carolina
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 6' 2" (1.88 m)
WEIGHT: 210 lb (95.30 kg)

Backpacking Background: I hiked as a child with my father and started hiking with my now 16 year old son 8 years ago. We now routinely take 20 mile (32 km) weekend hikes (2 nights) approximately once a month year round. Additionally, we take one, 5 - 7 day extended trip each summer. Most of our hiking is done in North Carolina, southern Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia. We go regardless of weather so we have experience in all types of conditions. We do not tend to travel very light, my typical pack weight is 25 lb (11.3 kg) exclusive of food.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Field Report - January 8, 2008

Long-Term Report - March 4, 2008

Manufacturer: Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI)
Year of Manufacture: 2007
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.rei.com
MSRP: US$249.00
Listed Weight: 5 lb 11 oz (2.58 kg)
Measured Weight: 5 lb 9oz (2.52 kg)
Other details:

The Cirque is a member of REIs new ASL (All-Season Light) family of tents. Per the REI website it is designed to provide a combination of light weight with the strength, space, and features you would expect of a true four-season tent. While not a serious mountaineering tent the Cirque is designed for cold-weather, wind, and light snow. The Cirque is available in both two and three person configurations. We will be testing the two person version.

This tent features two doors (one on each side) and two vestibules. I especially like this design for two person camping as it makes it easy to keep gear organized and to get in and out of the tent without having to crawl across my camping partner.

The tent arrived packed in its stuff sack with a simple cardboard hang tag on the end regarding the DAC Featherlite Poles. I noticed immediately the small pack size of the product. The packed size is approximately 5" X 18" (127 X 457 mm). The ripstop nylon stuff sack has a drawstring with a pushbutton tightener on the end and two compression straps that wrap around the bag with a handle in between. The stuff sack is large enough to easily get the tent back into when not folded perfectly or rolled as tightly as it comes from the factory, however, it is easily compressed into shape by use of the compression straps.
IMAGE 1
Inside the stuff sack you find the following:
The tent body, made from ripstop nylon with a coated nylon taffeta floor.
The rain fly, made from coated ripstop nylon
A pole sack containing two Dac Featherlight poles, a short pole with an angled section, and a pole repair sleeve.
A stake sack containing 6 aluminum 3-sided stakes and some extra guy lines.
IMAGE 2
The poles are .4" (10.2 mm) diameter and are generally orange in color with black tips on one end. They are in 17" (432 mm) sections and extend approximately 13' 4" (4.06 m) when fully assembled.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

My first impression of the tent was that all of the materials were very soft, supple and lightweight. Removing it from it's stuff sack we double checked that all of the required components were present. We then began to set up the tent, following the instructions step by step.

We found the instructions printed on a label sewn to the outside of the stuff sack. We first unrolled the tent body itself and assembled the three poles. Then, per the instructions inserted the black end of the tent pole into the sleeve and inserted it into the black grommet found on one end of the tent. We then bowed the pole and inserted the orange end into the orange grommet at the other end of the tent. The poles cross at the top of the tent, then cross again and clip on the same side on both ends of the tent. This leaves an oval shaped opening at the top which is covered with no-see-um netting. It took us about a minute to figure out the pole design and get the correct pole into the correct grommet. There is a diagram on the directions (which I noticed afterwards). The reason it matters which end of the pole goes in which grommet is because the tent is actually higher on one end than on the other. In other words, it clearly has a head end and a foot end.
IMAGE 3
We then unrolled the rain fly and placed it over the top, again being sure to line up the orange grommets on the rainfly with the orange grommets on the tent, and the same with the black. Looking around we noticed that we had a couple of pieces left over. One was the short pole with the angle section in the middle. The other was a six inch long piece of tent pole that is larger in diameter than the other poles. I began to look things over and found a grommet on the top of each door opening. Between these two grommets I finally saw a pole sleeve (which is the same color as the underlying fabric, so not extremely obvious). The short pole goes laterally across the rain fly and provides a peaked roof and holds out a flap over the top of the door opening on either side. This will make it possible to leave an opening in the top of the rain fly, even in a heavy rain.
IMAGE 4
With everything all staked out nice and snug we began to really look the tent over. The first thing I noticed was the attention paid to ventilation.

There is a v-shaped opening in the top of the tent itself covered by no-see-um netting. This will allow the user to open this for additional ventilation in warm conditions, or keep it closed in cold weather for extra warmth. There are zippered opening windows in each door. There are the aforementioned flaps over the doors of the rain-fly so the user can partially unzip the tops of the doors, even in the rain. The rain fly is lifted up off the ground and is designed to be lifted off the tent by a breeze, providing the ideal low/high airflow. In short, I see no reason this tent won't ventilate extremely well.

The second thing I noticed is how sturdy this tent should be. The rain fly actually attached to the tent poles themselves with grommets that slide over the ends of the tent poles. This design would make it virtually impossible for the rainfly to come loose in a high wind if the tent is properly staked down. The doors to the rainfly actually clip to the buckles on the corners of the rain fly so that they will not gradually unzip or pull open during a windy situation. The pitch of the tent is very taut which should keep flapping to a minimum. Finally, there are six additional tie-down loops which can be used in bad weather.

Third I noticed that there are really nice features. There are large gear pockets on either end of the tent. There is a clear plastic porthole in the roof of the tent, directly above where my head will be, which will allow me to lie in bed and get a good look at the weather conditions outside, or to star gaze on a night while the rainfly is safely in place.

The only negative I noticed is that the when my 16 year old son and I both got inside there is good headroom and the tent is plenty long enough, however, there is a lack of shoulder room. As he says, "we can't both sit up at once". Indeed the tent seems to be narrow. The manufacturer specs say that the floor is 56" (142 cm) . However, I measured this at closer to 46" (117 cm). This is a problem at first impression. We will be sure to comment on this further during the course of our review.

The floor of the tent features a full bathtub design. The seams are factory taped all the way around.

READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

Some tents are very intuitive in how they go together. The user can pull it out of the stuff sack and throw it up in five minutes without ever really looking at the directions. This tent is emphatically NOT one of them.

As stated previously, the instructions for setting the tent are printed on a label sewn onto the stuff sack. We found the directions to be somewhat hard to follow and the tent to be a little different to put together. As a matter of reality, I would have HATED to be setting this tent for the first time in the dark, or in a hurry during a rainstorm.

The directions are fairly straightforward but not very complete. There is no mention of the short, angled pole which goes in the top of the rainfly. It took us a solid five minutes to figure out what the purpose of this item was.

We found a card inside the stake bag that had some additional instructions on it. Only from this card did we find out the purpose of the short, larger diameter piece of pole material. The card states that this is a pole repair sleeve. Should you suffer a pole failure you can slide this over the break, tape it above and below the break, and it will get you through the weekend. Now that I know this it is useful.

TRYING IT OUT

We have plans to take this tent on its first outing next Saturday night. We are planning to go to Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina. This area is known for its high winds and unpredictable weather. Hopefully, we'll find the opportunity to put this tent though it's paces.

TESTING STRATEGY

I will be using this tent through the fall and winter months. Conditions in this area should include windy, rainy, and hopefully, snowy conditions. I will use this tent in the southern highlands in North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee. I will begin the test series in the fall months but will not conclude it until the end of January, giving us ample opportunity to fully test its four-season capability.

SUMMARY

Our initial impression is that this is a very well engineered tent. It appears to be designed in such a way that it will withstand virtually any weather the southern Appalachian will throw at it. It's not the easiest thing to set up the first time but I'm sure this will become automatic with practice.

I look forward to testing this product and I'm grateful to REI and Backpackgeartest for the opportunity to test this exciting product.

Field Report - January 1, 2008

To date we have spent 5 nights in the Cirque. On each of these trips I was accompanied by my son, Greg. Again, I am 6' 2" (1.88 m) tall and weigh around 220 lb (100 kg). Greg is almost 6' (1.83 m) and is a slim 140 lb (64 kg).

I have found that the tent fits very neatly in the bottom of my pack. The poles are slightly too long to fit sideways in the bottom of my pack but if I remove the poles from the stuff sack I can easily scrunch it down to fit across the bottom of the main pocket of my pack. I then put the tent poles, in their stuff sack, on the outside of my pack vertically mounted through two side compression straps. In this manner the tent fits very neatly in my backpack.

Our first trip was to Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina. We carried it up approximately 1,400 feet (427 m) elevation change to a campsite at around 5,000 ft (1,524 m) elevation. It was a cool evening and the wind was relatively calm which is unusual for Grandfather Mountain. As this was our first outing with this tent we carefully followed the instructions while putting it up. The issues we had initially (not understanding the purpose for the short angled pole) were of course no longer an issue so the set up process went smoothly.

As we placed our sleep mats, and sleeping bags we noticed immediately that there was a lack of space in the tent for the two of us. As stated earlier, the floor of the tent is cut 56" (142 cm) wide, however, it is turned up on both sides to form a bathtub design and so the net flat floor space is only 46" (117 cm) wide. Neither height nor width is a problem for us, but we find that width is a definite problem. We were not confined to the tent for anything but sleeping on this trip so this space problem was not a big issue. It is, however, very close quarters.

The tent features a zip open roof panel with a skylight through the rainfly above it. I partially unzipped the roof panel and we also partially unzipped the windows on both sides, and partially unzipped the rainfly on both sides in order to provide ventilation and avoid condensation. In the morning the only visible condensation was on the skylight, directly above the unzipped area of the tent ceiling. This is not bad as is, but it did mean I had to lay the rainfly out to dry when we got home.

On another trip to Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in southern Virginia we had cold weather and a stiff breeze (approximately 12 - 15 mph/ 19-24 kph). On this trip we actually had the tent "buttoned up" more than we had at Grandfather Mountain, in an attempt to keep the heat in. Interestingly, we had no visible or noticeable condensation the next morning on this trip. I expect the breeze did a better job of keeping the air moving through the tent, therefore avoiding the condensation we had seen previously.

IMAGE 5

On this more breezy night we noticed how absolutely tight this tent is. During a breezy night we did not hear or feel any popping, shaking, or vibration in the tent. It is tight as it can be. As it was cold we sat by the fire and did not get into the tent until we were ready to go to bed. As I have stated previously this tent, by design, is taller at one end than the other. As this was the second time I had used this tent I hadn't paid any attention as to how I set it up. Well, when we got in and lay down it took me about a minute to understand that our heads were downhill. The easy solution to this problem was to simply turn around. However, due to the cramped quarters there was nothing simple about turning around. It required that I climb completely out of the tent while Greg turned our sleeping bags around, then I climbed back in.

Being "backward" in the tent also caused an unexpected issue with the doors. In the middle of the night I was awakened by the sound of something moving around our campsite, outside the tent. In the dark I reached out beside me to unzip the door. Well, because we were sleeping backward in the tent the zipper pull was not right beside me as I expected it to be. To find it I had to sit up in my sleeping bag and feel along the zipper until I located it. This is a minor thing but in the dark, when you are disoriented anyway, it was not ideal.

On another night it was cold and breezy outside and we were in an area where campfires have been banned due to the drought and fire danger. We sat in the tent with our sleeping bags around our legs to talk and play cards. We noticed that with both of us sitting up there was not only a shortage of floor space but also shoulder space due to the contoured shape of the tent. We were able to alleviate this somewhat by unzipping the doors, which allowed our shoulders to stick out into the vestibules. This would not be an acceptable solution on a buggy summer night.

During this past weekend we had a chance to truly test the weathertight qualities of this tent. We set the tent up on wet ground, on a cold and breezy night in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I awoke about 5:00 am to hear rain falling on the tent. I rolled over and went back to sleep, awakening two hours later. We got up and had our breakfast etc. The rain continued to pick up intensity, however, the inside of the tent stayed nice and dry. There was no seepage, or problems with moisture whatsoever. After we finished breakfast we had to finish packing and get ready to go. We went, one at a time, and sat in the door of the tent underneath the rain fly with our pack in the vestibule. We were then able to stuff our sleeping bags directly into the packs, roll our sleep mats, and generally pack everything up ready to go while sitting in a dry spot. In order to close up my pack, loaded with everything but a wet tent I shoved everything into the main compartment of my pack, including my sleeping bag encased in a plastic bag.

When we had the tent emptied out we pulled the corner stakes and carried the tent underneath a large rhododendron, which provided some shelter from the rain. We then disassembled the tent and rolled it into its stuff sack. I then put the wet tent in the sleeping bag compartment in the bottom of my pack. It fit well and this arrangement prevented water from the tent from getting into my sleeping bag.

There are large pockets on both ends of the tent. These are a tremendous help in staying organized given the tight confines of this tent. They also did not allow any seepage, or their contents to get wet during the rain.

Summary

We have been very pleased with the Cirque. It is extremely tight and seems very strong. We feel very secure inside it in bad weather. It is weatherproof and has a number of convenient features. For our purposes it has stood up to any weather conditions to which it has been subjected.

I am very impressed with the small pack size and light weight of this tent. Additionally, the set up is quick and easy after doing it a few times. By myself I can set it up in less than 10 minutes.

When setting the tent it is important to set the "head" of the tent uphill as there is a definite difference in headroom. The lack of interior floor space is more of a nuisance than an issue for my son and me. However, there is no way I could share this tent with another man of my size.

Things I like about this product:
1) It is very well constructed and sturdy.
2) It packs small and is lightweight.
3) The large storage pockets are very convenient and useful.

Things I don't like about this product:
1) The narrow floor size makes it cramped for two people.
2) The definite head and foot mean you have to be careful about how you set it.
3) The lack of shoulder space.

This concludes my Field Report. Please check back in early March for the Long Term Report.

Long Term Report - March 4, 2008

We have continued to use the Cirque exclusively throughout the winter months. We have used it four more nights on three different outings during this time. The tent has continued to perform admirably.

I took it on a solo trip on the Appalachian Trail in Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area. The temperature was moderate, around 40 F (4.4 C) and the winds were gusty. For one person this is an amazing tent. There was plenty of room to spread out. The weight was such that it was not burdensome. There was zero condensation the next morning and zero stress on the tent by the wind. The large pocket at the end of the tent above my head was perfect for stowing a paperback book, glasses, headlight, Gerber tool, and belt in so that I could find all those items easily the next morning, or in the dark if need be. All in all, I could not have suggested one improvement.

I took it on a trip to Cumberland Gap National Historic Park in Kentucky solo as well. I went with a group of friends and set it up the first night in a campground in mild, calm conditions. Again, it is a one-man palace. However, the next day as we were hiking one of our party realized she had left her one-person shelter in her car. Well... in my Field Report I said there was no way I could share this tent with another grown up man. Unfortunately, I proved otherwise that night. Tigger, she without tent, bunked in with my friend Tarp's two daughters and he bunked in with me.

We camped on a ridgetop at around 4,500 ft (1372 m) elevation. It was not cold but around 8:00 that night the wind became very gusty. Through the night the wind roared in the trees, and we were awakened repeatedly by the snapping and shaking of nylon from tents blowing in the wind. Not the Cirque mind you, other people's tents blowing in the wind. Were it not for the close quarters I would have slept like a baby as the Cirque seemed to be daring the wind to try to bother it. As it was, Tarp and I felt like two caterpillars trying to share one cocoon! It was WAY too tight to be comfortable.

IMAGE 6
Sunshine on the Cirque
IMAGE 7
Frosty morning, notice ice inside flap






















Finally, we just returned from an overnight trip to Shining Rock Wilderness Area this past weekend. We set the tent up in an exposed meadow that was surrounded by snow. The night was cold, approximately 20 F (-7 C) but there was not much wind. Again, we slept with the tent completely buttoned up in an attempt to keep it as warm as possible. The tent was significantly warmer than the outside air but the rain fly was covered with frost in the morning both inside and out. We did learn on this trip that setting up, and operating the zippers with gloves on is no problem for this tent.

I also set my pack outside and brought my food bag into the vestibule. I sat in my sleeping bag and lit my stove, and fixed coffee and hot chocolate in the vestibule. I opened the top of the vestibule for ventilation purposes, and it worked well.

The stakes were difficult to get into the frozen ground but I found that by using the flat side of my Gerber tool I could push them into the ground without digging a hole in my hand. Likewise, I found that to remove them from frozen ground in the morning is also an acquired skill. It is most easily done by grasping the top of the stake with the pliers on my Gerber tool, then lining it up so that I was pulling straight out. In this fashion I found that we were able to remove all the stakes with no problem. These stakes are very well made for what they do but they have sharp edges. Any user should consider how they are going to pull them before they go and be sure they have a plan in place. There are many ways to do it, I just feel this is something that should be considered before departure.


Final Summary

I have to be honest, I think if REI called this tent the Cirque ASL 1.5 it would be perfect. It is a terrific 1-person, 4-season palace. It would be great to share with a dog, a child, or a significant other with whom one wanted to cuddle. It is decidedly NOT fine for two large adults to share. It is inexplicably narrow. There is no reason I can see that the tent had to be made as narrow as it was. If it were 6" (15 cm) wider and the same length and height it would be perfect.

This is an absolutely bomb proof tent that I would happily take into nearly type of windy condition. I have not had the opportunity to test it in any heavy snow, but other than that I have spent rainy nights, cold nights, and windy nights in this tent and it has not been stressed in any way.

It has very nice features, such as the excellent ventilation, and the large, handy pockets, on each end. The tent is very comfortable inside for one person.

I would absolutely recommend this tent (and have recommended it) to anyone who is looking for a solid 4-season shelter. I always include the caveat concerning space but truly, that is my only gripe.

I thank REI and Backpackgeartest.org for the opportunity to test this fine product.

This concludes my review of the REI Cirque ASL 2 (or 1.5).

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

Read more reviews of REI gear
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