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Reviews > Shelters > Tents > REI Half Dome 2 tent 2013 > Test Report by Kerri Larkin
REI Half Dome 2 Tent
TEST SERIES BY KERRI LARKIN
INITIAL REPORT - 13 October 2013
FIELD REPORT - 16 December 2013
LONG TERM REPORT - 11 February 2014
The REI Half Dome 2 is, as the name suggests, a two person tent of the dome variety. It is marketed as a lightweight three season tent. Mine arrived simply packed in its stuff sack - no box. It's a fairly compact package for a two person tent. The stuff sack has the assembly instructions printed on it and a few simple pictures of how things snap together. There's also a tag on the outside of the package proudly announcing the tent's poles are constructed from DAC alloy, and the anodizing coat uses 'Green' technology so less water is used in manufacture and less toxic waste is produced. Nice. From research I did for another project, I understand that DAC poles are the bees-knees when it comes to quality, and durability. The stuff sack has a built-in carry handle and two compression straps to cinch down the whole package.
Opening the drawstring cord at the end of the pack allowed me to tip the contents on to the floor. There were two smaller stuff sacks - one for the poles and one for the pegs and guys - a square folded fly sheet, and the tent wrapped around it all to form a neat bundle.
I inspected all the components and found no loose threads on the fly or tent, and all sewing looks to be of a high standard. The poles all fit together precisely and easily. The only thing which appeared loose is a small pin which sits in the 'V' block which holds one of the two long poles in place. It pushed out when I inserted the pole in the hole in the 'V' block, but I noticed it's attached to the shock cording which holds the poles together so it can't fall out or get lost. I pushed it back in place with no problem, but I'll monitor this during the test.
The flooring of the test appears to be simple ripstop polyester and is perhaps a little on the thin side for my liking, but there's always a compromise between strength and weight. That said, I was surprised at how little the tent itself weighed. Although REI recommends purchasing the optional 'footprint' to go under the tent for added protection, I'll be interested to see how the floor survives without it. This optional footprint can be paired with the rain fly to make a minimalist shelter by leaving the tent at home. From what I've seen so far, if good warm weather is expected, I'd be tempted to leave the fly at home and simply use the tent itself and save even more weight as the poles clip to the base of the tent body making a self-supporting bug-free room.
No instructions were included other than those on the stuff sack. What's printed is quite small and I certainly needed my reading glasses to make sense of it. Being a visual learner, I confess I found these instructions a bit daunting, and the three small illustrations didn't really help me understand what they were referring to until I'd already put the tent up once. There are six steps for erecting the tent, and six steps for the rainfly. There are two additional tips; one for adjustments to the fly, and one about adding guy lines in windy weather. The three illustrations are an overview of pole assembly, how to attach the fly, and how to use the vestibule cleat lock. Again, none of this made much sense to me initially as I've not used a tent of this type before.
I'm pleased to say, though, that working through putting the tent up for the first time, these instructions did indeed make sense.
One thing that surprised me after using lots of cottage industry tents is that the Half Dome 2 is fully seam sealed: all the seams are already taped. What a blessing that is - it saves messing around with silicone and solvents and means a beginner doesn't get wet just because they didn't know what to do. Thanks REI.
Wow! I'm really glad there were those printed instructions as it took me a while to figure out how this tent goes together. Although I could see the general form it had to take as soon as I lay the tent body on the floor, the pole arrangement confounded me for a while. After reading the instruction steps a few times, it finally clicked in my head. It turns out it's actually very easy to put this puppy together. Having done it once, I don't expect there will be a need to refer to the instructions again, but at least they will be right there on my stuff sack if I do need them, rather than filed away at home. Put simply, the poles all slot together to look something like a person doing a star-jump. The four ends (arms and legs if you will) are place in to the grommets on the four tent corners. The pole structure is then pretty much self-supporting. The bug netting of the tent body is then simply clipped to the poles and to the cross member which separates the two poles at the tent peak. This creates a pretty sturdy structure, even without the fly attached, and I would be happy to camp in the tent in this form on hot summer nights when no rain was expected.
I was really pleased with the obvious quality of this tent and the thought that has gone into its design. Little things like the shape of the cleats that hold the doors open, the vestibule cleat lock, the roof pockets in the tent body, and the fabulous vents show why this is one of the tents REI say is so popular. So let's step through the tent...
With the fly on, opening the zipper (which is under a hook-and-loop fastened flap to minimize rain ingress) reveals a lovely large vestibule which is certainly big enough to store a pack, to cook in, or to sleep a dog. There's a duplicate vestibule on the other side. The main body of the tent is accessed through a 'J' shaped zip (again, duplicated on the other side) which opens wide enough to make entering the tent a breeze. What a joy to have a tent which won't require me to clamber over the other occupant, or be clambered over, for those nocturnal nature calls.
Once inside, there's more than enough room to sit up comfortably thanks to the 40" (1 m) roof height, and ample space to lay flat. Given I'm only 5'9" (1.75 m) there was no worries about touching either end of the tent as the listed measurements are 88" (2.2 m) by 52" (1.3 m). Given that I'm fairly broad, the width does seem a little squishy for two people of my size and may require sleeping with heads at opposite ends. I'll report back on this as my testing progresses.
Over my head are two mesh pockets which would hold keys, a phone, flashlight and assorted sundries. One of those LED tent lights would also fit nicely in the pockets. There are also four small pockets - one at each corner. Surprisingly, unlike many small tents I've owned, there's no claustrophobic feeling in this tent. Perhaps that's because of the high ceiling. It may also be due to the light colour of the fly. I selected the burnt orange and white version figuring the white would reflect heat away from the tent. The bright colours will also make it easy to find the tent in the dark.
The nylon floor is slippery, so on any kind of slope I could see myself jammed up against one end to the tent in the morning. A few silicone beads across the floor should sort that out. The floor design is a 'bathtub' style, meaning the waterproof floor extends a little way up the walls to give some storm and runoff protection.
One of the things I love about this tent is the ventilation flaps, two on each side, which are such a simple design I'm surprised more makers don't include them. They can be closed down for inclement weather, but opened wide to allow heat to escape the tent or cooling breezes to enter. These vents are held open and closed by an ingenious hook-and-loop system. I do have concerns about their letting heavy, driving rain in to the tent though, especially if the wind shifts during a downpour. This is something I will be paying close attention to during the testing phase. That said, being able to vent a tent is ideal for most Australian conditions. Although it's unlikely this tent will see much, if any, snow use, it may well see plenty of storms, wind and rain.
Another nifty feature I've not encountered before is the vestibule cleat lock. This is a very simple system for adjusting the stake out points on the vestibule. It comes as a pre-threaded guy line which has a clip attached to the vestibule. The guy line is run out as far as needed and then pegged. Once pegged the guy line can be adjusted by pulling on the line then locking it in to a small slot on the clip. Simple but ingenious. I'd love to purchase more of these cleats to replace every guy line I own on every piece of equipment!
Although I haven't pulled everything tight or staked the tent out fully yet, I can see a lot of potential with this tent and can't wait to do my first overnighter in it. Speaking of staking the tent out, extra pegs would be needed to fully stake the tent body and the fly correctly. The six included stakes are used to peg down the tent body corners and vestibule. So, although guy lines are included to hold the fly in strong winds, another six pegs would be needed to fully anchor this tent in strong winds.
The REI Half Dome 2 tent is a great looking dome tent with some very innovative features. It appears easy to erect, has ample space for two inside and offers plenty of storage in the vestibules.
I've used the Half Dome on two separate trips now, totaling eight nights. Unfortunately, the weather has been kind and mild for all of those nights, so I haven't been able to 'push the envelope' in testing this tent. That said, the Half Dome 2 has performed really well so far.
My first camping trip was to Fraser Island, Queensland, Australia, where I used the tent for seven nights. Field conditions varied from very warm and humid to cool and damp. Highs reached 31 C (88 F), with averages around 28 C (82 F) and the lowest overnight temperature was 12 C (54 F). Humidity stayed mostly around the 70% mark but was up to 80% some days when there were showers. We camped one night in a large open paddock, but five of the other nights were in a deep forest with towering Kauri Pines. The last night was spent in a coastal dune area with strong winds and showers, although my site was protected.
My next trip was to Sherwood State Forest, with elevations ranging from 50 m (164 ft) to 300 m (984 ft). Again, conditions were mild with highs around 25 C (77 F) and lows around 18 C (64 F). It was sunny during the days and clear at night, with some dew. This camp was for two nights as I explored some of the local tracks.
I've enjoyed using the Half Dome 2 tent - it's been comparatively easy to set up, is roomy inside (especially for one person) and has great ventilation. At times, I've found the long poles a bit unwieldy when trying to bend them to shape and clip in to the grommets. When first assembling the poles, one ends up with a large spider-like shape which then has to be bent inwards to fit the tent base, and this can mean the 'spider legs' are going in every direction initially! It's no big deal and is a common feature of this style of tent, but can lead to some funny moments when 'leg wrangling'. Once assembled, the entire tent can be picked up with one hand and moved to the 'perfect' spot
One thing I have been very grateful for is the colour coding of the fly sheet - this makes it very simple to ensure the fly is the right way around every time. With other tents I've put the fly on, staked it out and then found it was on backwards. That's not possible with this tent, and is a very handy feature.
Most nights I've slept in the Half Dome 2 have been very still and calm so it's difficult to comment on how the ventilation flaps work at this stage. I've kept them open every night as I'm a hot sleeper and love lots of air around me. I've also usually left the leeward side of the vestibule open to encourage more airflow. I envisage leaving both sides open when the hot weather arrives.
I have found the fly a little hard to peg down: the webbing tabs seem a bit short to reach the ground unless the fly is pegged right up against the tent. Using longer 'J' pegs has solved this problem, however I may attach some short lengths of shock cord to allow the pegs to be fully pushed into the ground.
There's heaps of room inside the Half Dome 2, more than enough to be comfy inside all day should the weather turn foul. There's plenty of headroom too, and I can change my clothes from a kneeling position which makes this tent very user-friendly. I've been able to luxuriate in the tent most nights as I've been camping by myself mostly. I've shared the Half Dome 2 with my dog for two nights in the Sherwood State Forest but as he's pretty small, it's not really a fair test of capacity. I can see, though, that there would be more than enough room for two adults to sleep comfortably, and there's enough room in the vestibules to store packs and boots. Having openings on both sides is a real bonus when sharing with another person and saves the acrobatics of crawling over the person nearest a single door to get in and out. Bliss.
The overhead storage mesh has worked well and I usually place a small LED lantern up there to illuminate the tent at night. I haven't needed to put much more than that up there due to having so much floor real estate. It's big enough to take a jumper or coat so it's easy to find for those night time nature calls. The four smaller storage areas, one at each corner, have been perfect for holding my glasses, phone and a torch. I use one of the other pockets to hold my drink bottle, which keeps it safe and easy to find.
I love how light this tent is too. Although it's not considered ultralight, it's a great compromise between weight and durability. The Half Dome 2 appears to be really well constructed and gives the appearance it will give many years of faithful service. Many of the large camping chain stores in Australia tend to produce equipment which is, well, average at best. Not so this REI tent. It really does seem to be built very well and looks like a tent make by a tent maker, not a cheap chain store. It's small enough to fit inside my pack but is also easy to strap to the outside.
One surprising thing has been how quiet this tent is: most of my tents seem to be quite 'flappy' in anything other than calm conditions, yet the Half Dome 2 has been remarkably quiet with minimal flapping. That makes for a very peaceful sleep.
Although I haven't been able to push the tent yet, the 'wet' season is here now and I'm hoping I'll have a chance to test the Half Dome 2 in heavy rain and strong winds during the next phase of testing. The storm season has arrived now and have already had some vicious storms, so I'm hopeful there will be some very testing conditions ahead.
The REI Half Dome 2 tent is proving to be a winner: it's roomy, easy to set up, light enough to carry in a pack and has plenty of storage options. I've set up this tent solo each time and had no problems getting it together. It provides plenty of room for one person and should offer a very comfortable abode for those days when the weather is foul and one is forced to remain inside. It's not ultralight, but it's not marketed as such. It is strong, though, and appears to be a very well constructed tent which should give years of service.
I'm looking forward to wilder weather to test the waterproofing and ventilation systems.
I've only been able to use the REI Half Dome 2 for a further four nights during this phase due to weather and work commitments. The first trip was a two night stay at Station Creek in the Yuragir National Park, northern New South Wales (NSW). The area is damp and humid with temperatures around the 29 C (84 F) mark during the day, and down to 23 C (73 F) overnight. With humidity around 70%, this is not my ideal camping weather but I wanted to see how the tent performed in hot and damp conditions. The area is wet sclerophyll forest on a sandy base. While the taller trees provide some shade, they also block the breeze making for a muggy camp.
My second two nights were the very best kind of camping possible: on my back patio with a rapt five year old. Again, conditions were pretty warm with daily temps around 32 C (90 F) and overnight temps of 23 C (73 F). Although camping on a concrete pad, under a roof, is not perfect it was the best option due to continuing local showers. It meant we got to camp rather than postpone the event as my little friend's a mum requested we keep dry This meant that as we were under a roof we could sleep with the fly off to maximise cooling.
This is a comfortable tent! I've really enjoyed using it as it's spacious (especially for one), was able to provide a comfortable 'home' for me, a five year old and my dog, stays comparatively cool, looks great, is light enough to carry easily and actually fits back inside its stuff sack. I've enjoyed the flexibility of having the roof vents open, one or both side doors open, and camping with the fly on or off. All in all, this is a versatile tent, but I'd love if there was some way to adjust the vents from inside the tent rather than having to go outside which, I imagine, would be especially unpleasant in a nasty storm to close them.
There's ample vestibule space for storing gear and I find I tend to store gear in one vestibule (when I'm by myself) and use the other as the entry/exit, or to cook in. Even with two people, there was still plenty of room for gear and usual camp activities. It's great having that second door so I didn't get climbed on for overnight nature calls. Heaven!
I still haven't had the opportunity to test the waterproofing in real-world conditions, but it has stood up pretty well to my garden sprinkler testing. As this doesn't really replicate torrential rains I still have concerns about water entering through the vents during driving rain, but as I've not had any luck at choosing trips in rainy weather, I can't honestly say whether this would be so.
My tent still looks as good as the day it arrived: what minor dirt has stuck to the nylon has been easily brushed off or sponged away. All the zips are still in perfect order and there's no signs of wear. As I suspected initially, this appears to be a fine piece of kit.
The REI Half Dome 2 Tent has been a joy to use: it's a very well made tent which is easy to erect and provides great space for weight. It's not the lightest tent in the world, but it makes no claims to be ultralight, simply lightweight. Is it worth the extra weight in my pack? Good question. Complex answer. For those times when I want to travel big distances with an ultralight pack, I have other tent choices. However, for all round comfort, space and affordability, this tent is hard to beat. When I'm staying closer to home, car camping or base camping, the Half Dome 2 has a lot going for it. It does have some very user-friendly features and has been designed to be very simple to erect. The colour coded poles and tabs help ensure the fly sheet is put on the right way every time, and the roof vents are really a great idea as small tents can get very hot inside.
Will I continue using the REI Half Dome 2 tent? Absolutely. It's a robust and well made product which I'm sure will continue to give me years of service.
That concludes my Long Term Report. I'd certainly like to offer a big thank you Recreational Equipment Inc and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to take part in this test. It's been a lot of fun!
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