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Reviews > Shelters > Tents > Sierra Designs Zeta 2 Tent > Test Report by Larry Kirschner

Sierra Designs Zeta 2 Tent

TEST SERIES BY LARRY KIRSCHNER

SD Zeta 2 Tent



INITIAL REPORT - July 5, 2009
FIELD REPORT - September 27, 2009
LONG TERM REPORT - November 21, 2009



TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Larry Kirschner
EMAIL: asklarry98 at hotmail dot com
AGE: 45
LOCATION: Columbus, Ohio
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 9" (1.75 m)
WEIGHT: 205 lb (92 kg)

I've been an intermittent camper/paddler since my teens, but now that my kids are avid Boy Scouts, I've caught the backpacking bug. I typically do 8-10 weekend hikes per year, and have spent time over the past few years backpacking the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico and canoeing the Atikaki Wilderness of Canada. I like to travel "in comfort," but I've shrunk to medium weight, and continue to work toward going lighter and longer. With all of my investment into these ventures, I expect my wife and I will continue to trek long after the kids are gone…


INITIAL REPORT
July 5, 2009

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer: Sierra Designs
Year of Manufacture: 2009
Country of Manufacture: China
Manufacturer's Website: www.sierradesigns.com
Model: Zeta 2 Tent
MSRP: USD $199

SPECIFICATIONS


Weight
Packed Dimensions
(length x diam)
Assembled Dimensions
(length x width x max height)
per website
6 lb 2 oz
2.78 kg
22 x 6 in
56 x 15 cm
87 x 53 x 43 in
221 x 135 x 109 cm
per hangtag
6 lb 0 oz
2.72 kg
22 x 6 in
56 x 15 cm
87 x 53 x 43 in
221 x 135 x 109 cm
Measured
5 lb 9 oz
2.52 kg
18.5 x 8 in
47 x 20 cm
84 x 48 x 41 in
213 x 122 x 104 cm

ITEM DESCRIPTION

The Sierra Designs Zeta 2 Tent (the "Zeta 2") is a 2-person, 3-season tent designed to have "the steep walls and covered doors of a tunnel tent [with] the freestanding convenience of a dome tent." It takes advantage of new designs in tent pole connectivity to provide a somewhat unusual tent architecture designed at providing more internal room in a free-standing design.

The tent itself has a bathtub floor constructed of 70 D polyurethane-coated Nylon taffeta, with a 40 D Nylon body with the bulk of the tent body constructed of nylon mesh. The tent seams are tape sealed on the inside. Although not specifically indicated for this tent, the Sierra Designs website indicates that all tents are made with 20 D woven nylon no-see-um mesh, which is supposed to prevent entry of all critters. The poles are DAC Press Fit 9.0 mm aluminum poles. Although the website indicates 4 hubbed poles, three of these are linked together so that there are really only 2 separate items in the pole bag. A photo of the poles taken during tent assembly is shown below in the "Trying It Out" section. There are full circular doors in the front and back of the tent with double-sided zippers that can be accessed from either the inside or outside of the tent. The tent has a "Dye-free Optic White Canopy," which just means that the tent is designed to provide good light transmission to make the interior of the tent brighter.

The tent pole connections have a lot of innovations. Specifically, the poles attach to the tent corners by means of a "Jake's Foot" connector, which is a ball-and-socket attachment that is designed to be easy to attach and easy to disassemble. The tent hooks to the pole structure using "RCT Swift Clips," which are clips with a slight twist so that they attach/de-attach easily. There are other connector types such as the "S-Stopper," the "Visor Connector," and the "Ball Cap Connector with SQ Ring," but the details of these are probably unimportant, unless I was interested in tent construction, which I'm really not. All I want to know is how to set the thing up, how to take it down, and if the hardware will last. My initial impressions of the first two of these items are included below, and the third will be provided later in the test report.

The Zeta 2 comes with a full-coverage rainfly with a triangular vestibule in the back, and a trapezoidal vestibule in the front. This is described in detail below.

The tent comes with a separate pole bag. It also comes with 7 stakes in a separate bag.


INSTRUCTIONS and WARRANTY

The Zeta 2 came with two attached hang-tags. One described the Jake's Foot apparatus, which provides an integrated attachment point for the tent poles, the footprint, and the fly. As noted above, the pole attaches via a ball-and-socket joint, which attaches easily and is easily removed. The rainfly uses a hook apparatus to attach to the end of the Jake's Foot. The footprint (which I do not have presently) attaches to a different place on the foot.

The second hang-tag provides information about the tent, including the specifications, which are slightly different from those listed on the website. It also describes the various innovations and features of the tent. More importantly, it contains the Sierra Designs lifetime warranty. The tag indicates that "the materials and workmanship in every product …will stand up to the use for which it was designed." Of note, "damages caused by improper care, accidents, or the natural breakdown of materials over extended use and time" are not covered. The tag indicates that any product can be returned to Sierra Designs who will evaluate the damage. If there is a defect, it will be repaired or replaced at the company's discretion. Damage not covered under the warranty can be repaired at a reasonable rate.

Inside the tent bag itself was a sheet with instructions for assembling this tent. The instructions were somewhat helpful, but the illustrations made assembling the tent straightforward. The only difficulty experienced is that the instructions indicate to lay "the silver antenna poles…pointing towards the silver colored door." Using this instruction, we ended up with the poles backwards. Once we put the darker poles (green-tinted) towards the silver door, everything fell into place.

On the back of the instructions are a variety of suggestions for general use of the tent (e.g., "select a site which has been cleared of sharp objects", "be gentle when operating zippers", and DON'T COOK IN THE TENT). There is information regarding weatherproofing of the tent with a seam sealer, but I found the language somewhat confusing on whether this was performed in the factory, or if this was something I needed to do myself. There are also instructions for caring for the tent, including a caution to completely dry the tent before returning it to its stuff sack. The tent may be hand-washed with mild soap and a sponge. When not in use, it is recommended that the tent be stored loosely out of the bag in a cool, dry environment.


TRYING IT OUT

As I will be taking the Zeta 2 with me on my next trip, I wanted to make sure that I understood how to assemble it. To this end, I called out my crack tent-assembly crew (my 13 year old son) to help me.

Zeta 2 components

After unpacking the tent, we assembled the two poles.

Zeta 2 poles

Following the instructions, we placed the silver antenna poles towards the silver door. It rapidly became obvious that this was backwards, so we rotated the poles until they were aligned properly. It was very easy to insert the pole ends into the Jake's Foot apparatus, and hooking the two poles to each other was intuitive. At this stage, the poles were not stable, and the tent collapsed if not held up.

Freestanding Zeta 2

Following the instructions, we hooked the tent to the pole frame, including attaching the "antenna poles" to the "visor connector" and the "quick pitch swivel hub with H-clip" to the "swivel C." Basically, we just attached the tent to the pole structure at each of the obvious attachment sites. This produced a free-standing tent structure with a minimum of effort. In this photo, the front of the tent is to the left, with my son standing at the rear door.

Zeta 2 without rainfly

The rainfly is a asymmetrical, with an obvious front and back. This laid easily over the pole structure and attached to the four corners of the tents with the Jake's Foot connector. The front of the fly consists of three sections. Zippers separate the three parts, and each section has a clip fastener at its top for stowing the rolled fabric.

Front vestibule with rolled fly

The middle section has a horizontal window, although it is not very tall. There is also a small vent to the right of the front door which can be propped open with a piece of rigid fabric or plastic to allow better inside ventilation. Both of these features are best seen in the photo at the top of the report.

The back of the fly (the rear vestibule) has two sections joined by a zipper, each of which can also be rolled and stowed, as shown in this photo taken from behind the tent.

Rear vestibule open

Gear pockets The front and back doors have full circle openings, making getting in and out very easy. The zippers can be operated from both the interior and exterior of the tent with handy zipper pulls. The inside of the tent felt a little smaller than expected, although (to be fair) I did not stake out the corners. It is possible that if I had done this, there might be a few more inches of room in each dimension (note that my specs were a few inches smaller than the listed dimensions). The roof of the tent is tall enough to allow me to sit up easily. There are also 2 small gear pockets located on opposite corners of the tent, consistent with a design that suggests that the two occupants lay their sleeping bags in an anti-parallel (head-to-toe) orientation. An examination of the tent seams showed that they had all been tape-sealed on the inside.

Examining the mesh on the inside of the tent, I was somewhat concerned by finding many areas where the mesh appeared to have some irregularities. One is shown in this photo, but there were many others. I do not know at this point if this will affect the integrity of the tent as I test it.

Problem with the mesh?



Disassembling the Zeta 2 was a snap, with each of the connectors easily releasing its connection point. The tent easily rolls small enough to get it back in the bag.


INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

The architecture of this tent is unusual, but it fits together easily and presents a sturdy structure. The innovations in technology all seem to work as they should, so I am looking forward to seeing how they work under trail conditions. My only concern is about the mesh, since it appears that there is some irregularity to the fabric. I will look to see if this becomes a problem, either in terms of fabric integrity or in terms of allowing bugs into the tent. I'm also a little concerned that the tent is slightly smaller than expected on the inside, but I hope this problem is alleviated when the tent is fully staked out.


THE STORY SO FAR
    Impressive
  • New technology makes assembly and disassembly quick and easy
  • Front and back doors
  • Full rainfly with dual vestibules
    Concerns
  • Is the tent really big enough for two?
  • Will the apparent defects in the mesh cause any problems?


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FIELD REPORT

September 27, 2009


FIELD CONDITIONS

In mid-July, I spent 2 nights in the Zeta 2 while traveling up to Northern Minnesota. The first night was in Rock Cut State Park in northern Indiana, and the second was at Tettegouche State Park, on the northern shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. The weather both nights was clear and cool, with overnight lows around 54 F (12 C) the first night and 50 F (10 C) the second night.

In mid August, I camped for 2 more nights in Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania. The weather again was sunny during the day, with overnight lows of 64 F (18 C). However, it was quite humid and there was heavy dew with some fog both mornings, as shown below.

In a fog


FIELD EXPERIENCE

On the trip to Minnesota, I used the Zeta 2 for 2, sharing it with a friend who is about 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m) tall. Because I was concerned about having enough room in the tent, I was particularly carefully about stretching the corners out as far as possible. I re-measured the dimensions of the tent floor, and I got 86 x 52 in (218 x 132 cm). Although this is still 1 in/2.5 cm smaller than the specs, it is a lot closer than my initial measurement in the back yard.

Fortunately, I can report that even with the missing inch/2.5 cm, the tent was easily roomy enough for the two of us. The ceiling of the tent is high enough that we could both sit up at the same time without hitting the roof or each other.

We actually slept with our heads on the same side of the tent, and there was no problem with bumping into each other during the night. The steep sides of the tent allowed me to put my sleeping bag/pad close to the end without any trouble with condensation. This arrangement also allowed me enough room to put a few small pieces of gear by the foot of my sleeping bag. Because of the vestibules, I was able to store larger gear (e.g., shoes) outside the tent with no worries. Because it was somewhat cool at night, we slept with the vestibule doors closed, and had good ventilation in the tent while retaining some heat. In the morning, there was no condensation inside the tent despite the cool temperatures outside.

On the second trip, I used the tent by myself, in what I call "luxury camping".

Zeta2 at Ohiopyle

There was plenty of room to throw my pack and all my gear inside, and I slept very comfortably. Because it was warm at night, I decided to leave the vestibule doors open overnight for enhanced ventilation. Since I like it dark when I sleep, I decided to close the doors on the side of the tent where my head lay, but leave the "foot-side" doors open. For the back vestibule, this was no problem, since there are only 2 sides. However, in the front, I found that there was no way to leave one of the side doors open and close the middle. The only arrangements that are possible (without extra rigging) are 1) all doors closed, 2) all doors open, or 3) sides closed, middle open. So, I slept with the middle panel open and kept my eyes shut tightly.

The dew was quite heavy in the morning, and I found that one of the tent corners had some moisture collected in it. When I look from the outside, I found that the wet corner was not fully covered by the rainfly, which is a mistake I will try to avoid in the future. Once the sun came out, the tent fabric dried rapidly.

Lastly, I wanted to comment briefly on the stakes. I have pitched the Zeta 2 on a variety of surfaces, which have ranged from soft to hard. So far, I have found setting the stakes to be very easy, even when others have struggled to get their stakes into the ground.


WEAR AND TEAR

So far, I have not noticed any issues with the Zeta 2. The small irregularities noted in the Initial Report look the same as they did. Also, there were no problems with bugs getting into the tent on my outings so far.


FIELD IMPRESSIONS

So far, I continue to be impressed with the Zeta 2. It is roomy enough for two average-sized men and their gear. Although I thought it was easy to set up and take down quickly when I got it, a little practice has made this process even faster. My only complaint is that it would be nice to have more flexibility in staking down the vestibule doors so that I could have good ventilation while keeping one side of the tent fully covered.


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LONG-TERM REPORT
November 21, 2009

FIELD CONDITIONS

I slept in the Zeta 2 during a weekend in November on a trip to Ray, OH. It was clear and sunny over the weekend, with high temperatures around 65 F (18C) and overnight lows of 33 F (1 C). During this test, I have spent 7 nights in total in the tent, over the course of 4 outings. These have included a variety of conditions ranging from dry to very rainy, and warm to quite chilly.


FIELD EXPERIENCE

On the trip I took during the LTR testing phase, I again had the tent all to myself. The first night was colder than expected, so I kept the vestibules closed to keep my heat in. Despite closing all the zippers, I felt a light breeze blowing from under the edges of the vestibules, which had been staked with the guy lines as far out as possible. I usually stake the tent in this fashion to provide maximum area under the vestibules and to enhance airflow, since I am usually a warm sleeper. As can be seen in both the photo at the top of the page and the last photo in the Field Report, staking the guy lines out like this leaves a 3-4 inch (7.5-10 cm) gap between the bottom of the rainfly and the ground. On the second night, I adjusted the ropes so that they would be as short as possible, which allowed me to reduce this gap to about 1 inch (2.5 cm). I definitely noticed that the tent was not as breezy during the night. In either configuration, the temperature on the inside of the tent was about 7 F (4 C) warmer on the inside than the ambient temperature outside.

Because of the cold weather overnight, there was a lot of condensation on the inside of the rainfly, although the tent itself was quite dry. When I took off the rainfly to pack up the Zeta 2, there was water on the roof of the tent. I think this was transferred from the fly when I was unstaking it, but I wasn't sure. In any event, it dried quickly in the sun.

Zeta 2 after a cold night

The irregularities in the mesh fabric noted in the Initial Report have been stable throughout the course of the test. I have had no issues with bugs getting into the tent, and no further evolution of the defects in the mesh.

SUMMARY

Overall, I really liked the Zeta 2 as a 2-person tent for camping and moderate backpacking trips. Although it is heavier than I would like for a long backcountry trip, the weight is not excessive, particularly given the fact that the interior size is comfortable for 2 adults. The vestibules are fairly roomy, and I really appreciate the ease with which the tent can be assembled or disassembled. I expect that I will continue to use the Zeta 2 for many future outings, except for ones where I am really trying to cut weight.

Things I liked about the Sierra Designs Zeta 2 Tent:
  • Very quick to assemble/disassemble
  • Roomy enough for 2 with good-sized vestibules
  • Good airflow
Things I disliked about the Zeta 2:
  • Difficult to reduce airflow when needed in cold weather
  • Cannot open only 1 side of front vestibule. Only configurations are with only middle panel open or with entire vestibule rolled up

This concludes my report on the Sierra Designs Zeta 2 tent. My thanks once again to Sierra Designs for providing this equipment for testing, and to BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to participate in the evaluation process.


-larry kirschner

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