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Reviews > Shelters > Tents > Tarptent Hogback Tent > Test Report by Richard Lyon

TARPTENT HOGBACK
Test Series by Richard Lyon

Initial Report September 19, 2010
Field Report November 30, 2010
Long Term Report January 31, 2011


Personal Details and Backpacking Background

Male, 64 years old
Height: 6' 4" (1.93 m)
Weight: 205 lb (91 kg)
Email address: montana DOT angler AT gmail DOT com
Home: Dallas, Texas USA

I've been backpacking for 45 years and regularly in the Northern Rockies since 1986.  I do at least one weeklong trip every summer, and often take three-day trips.  I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 10000 ft (1500 - 3000 m).  I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp, but I do forced marches too. I've been actively reducing my pack weight, though I still usually include my favorite camp conveniences and always sleep in a floored tent.

INITIAL REPORT
September 19, 2010

PRODUCT DESCRIPTION AND DETAILS

Tarptent HogbackThis Hogback is a three-season, floored, non-freestanding, exo-skeletal shelter that employs one pole, four corner struts, and six stakes.  It is Tarptent’s first shelter designed to sleep four campers. As the photographs and the dimensions indicate, the Hogback is symmetrical, with the pole sleeve across the top diving two equal sides. The manufacturer’s marketing emphasis is on the shelter’s light weight (“4 pounds for 4 people”) and easy set-up.

Manufacturer: Tarptent by Henry Shires, www.tarptent.com
Weight: listed 4 lb 1 oz (1.84 kg); measured  4 lb 3 oz (1.90 kg)
Dimensions: listed 86 x 86 in [2.18 x 2.18 m], verified accurate for inner tent.  The Hogback’s footprint, including the outer tent, measures 89 x 89 in (2.26 x 2.26 m)
Interior height, listed: 49 in [1.24 m], verified accurate from the tent floor to the apex of the inner tent.
Base: 51 square feet (4.74 m2), verified accurate for inner tent.
Packed size: listed 20 x 5 in (51 x 13 cm); measured 22 x 6 in (56 x 15 cm)
Includes: Fully floored inner tent (called the “inner compartment” by Tarptent), silnylon outer tent, shock-corded pole, six tent pegs in a small sack, and stuff sack.
MSRP: $375 US
Warranty: None listed.  But Tarptent is renowned for superlative customer service.

The inner tent is no-see-um mesh down to a black sewn-in bathtub floor that extends five inches (13 cm) up from the ground when the Hogback is pitched. The two tents connect by small clips on the outer and rings on the inner.  The Hogback arrived with these connected and apparently they are intended to be stored that way.  Gram fanatics can shave some more weight; the instruction sheet that accompanied my tent notes that the outer tent may be used without the inner.

Eyebrow-shaped vents near the peak on each side of the outer tent provide ventilation.  The vents can be closed with Velcro strips or held open by clips that attach to the ring connecting the two tents at the peak.

Each tent has a door with a zipper on each side: the zipper vertical and shielded by a storm flap on the outer tent, C-shaped on the inner.  When the tent is pitched the arched pole on the outer tent makes a small vestibule on the side opposite the door.

Consistent with its ultralight approach, the Hogback has few frills.  There’s a small (5 x 5 in/13 x 13 cm) mesh pocket at the end of each inner tent zipper.  Other details are functional: the venting clips and outer tent zippers’ storm flaps mentioned above, a buckle and Velcro patches at the bottom of each outer tent zipper to keep the door closed, a tie-off for each inner and outer tent door, a small ring on each corner strut that could be used for additional guys, adjustable clips on each side of the outside of the outer tent, also for additional guying.

Tarptent’s instructions say that the customer should seam-seal the Hogback with a silicone-based product, but a handwritten note on my instruction sheet indicates that this has already been done with mine.

SETTING IT UP

The instruction sheet includes easy-to-follow instructions for pitching the tent.  First I threaded the pole through its sleeve – bright yellow running across the center of the tent, impossible to miss – and seated each end into a grommet.  Then I went to one end, set the struts in the two corners, and looped the corner guys over stakes that I then drove into the ground.  After repeating this procedure on the other side, I then staked the guy line in the center of each end, and fine-tuned the pitch with the line adjusters at each corner.  

That rather technical description doesn’t do justice to how easy pitching this tent is.  On my first try, working alone, the entire process took less than five minutes.  Tarptent claims that after some practice two minutes is typical; this seems a realistic target to shoot at.  Tweaking is easy too; I can move the struts a bit, move the stakes, or tighten or loosen the strut guys. One really great feature of exo-skeletal tents is that they can be pitched in the rain without getting the inside wet, since the inner and outer tents are pitched simultaneously.

I struck the Hogback following the above procedure in reverse. I found that tucking the struts under the fabric and then rolling each end toward the middle made it easier to get the tent body downsized for easy stashing in the stuff sack.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Tarptent packedOK, the manufacturer is right - it's really small for a four-person tent.  Packed up it's not much bigger than a Jetboil and Nalgene, as shown in the photo. And it's light, only three ounces (85 g) heavier than the one solo tent in my gear closet.  Remarkable!

The Hogback is not my first experience with this hooped design, which Tarptent uses on its Scarp tents.  I like it on my Scarp 2 and I like it even more on the Hogback, particularly the high ceiling, which allows me to sit up comfortably so long as I’m not too far from the center of the tent.

Another design feature very much to my liking is the fact that the struts are sewn to the corners and do not have to be assembled or attached each time I pitch the tent.  This really does make pitching easier.

The door is a bit small for me.  Ah the sacrifices we big guys must make to cut that pack weight!  The only functional problem I see is that the vents are adjustable only from the outside unless I want to risk stretching or piercing the inner tent mesh.
   
Four hooded sleeping bags (all size Long or Extra-long) fit into the Hogback, with maybe half an inch (10 mm) between each.  Tight quarters, but it appears Four bagsthat “4 pounds for 4 people” is possible.

Vestibule space is limited.  Each vestibule is however big enough for two medium-sized packs and two pairs of boots, if the packs are stacked atop the boots.  Not enough space for stove use, even if I were so inclined.  Anyway the tent materials are not fire-resistant, nixing that in any event.

FIELD REPORT
November 30, 2010

FIELD CONDITIONS

I’ve used the Hogback on three backpacking trips, testing its capacity for two campers twice and three campers once.

Use for two took place on two overnighters in the Texas Hill Country, at relatively low elevation (about 1500 ft/460 m maximum), during typical fall weather – daytime highs from 70-80 F (21-27 C) and early morning lows down to 40 F (4 C), with no precipitation but plenty of morning dew.  On one trip my tent mate was another adult who is almost as large as I, on the other a smaller college student.  

A three-day, two-night trip, also to the Hill Country, was colder, near freezing at night and not above 60 F (16 C) at any time, and again no rain.  This time I shared the Hogback with an adult and a seven-year old child.

OBSERVATIONS

Pitching and striking.  In the field, as at home (reported in my Initial Report), the Hogback is ridiculously easy to set up and take down.  I haven’t used a stopwatch, but with a friend to help with the set-up I think we’ve met or exceeded the manufacturer’s two minute claim, not counting tweaking.  With a footprint in excess of fifty square feet (4.6 m^2) I anticipate days or evenings when I may have difficulty finding completely flat ground; that’s a natural consequence of a four-person shelter.  This hasn’t happened yet, but careful adjustment of the struts and their guys have allowed me to adjust the pitch to minor variations in the ground.  My camping has been in almost windless conditions, so I cannot yet comment on the Hogback’s ability to withstand significant external pressure, but with taut guys this tent remained stable and held its pitch when challenged from within by a rambunctious child.

As noted in my Initial Report the only nuance required to strike and pack this tent is to ensure that the struts are tucked inside the fabric when I start rolling up the tent.  This keeps the final product slim, giving an easy fit into its stuff sack.

Capacity.  I’m not an ultralight hiker, and I have occasionally experienced mild bouts of claustrophobia when sleeping in a small tent or bivy sack.  I’m also spoiled, regularly packing a two-man tent for solo use.  This I mention to alert the reader that my notion of elbow room inside a tent may differ from that of the average backpacker, especially one who’s truly ounce-conscious.  That said, the Hogback was more than adequate for three occupied sleeping bags and the assorted clothes and gear that accompanied us.  The inner chamber is square, and sleeping with head and foot from door to door left enough headroom to avoid my feeling closed in.  I slept on one side, with the child on the other side and his mother in the middle.  

Door-to-door sleeping also made it possible for any of us to exit at night without major disruption of the others.  A camper only needed to exit from the door at our feet.  

Two can change clothes at the same time inside the Hogback, and that includes the two large adults on the first trip.  Maybe three, though we didn’t try it.  When we were three we had no trouble all sitting up straight for a card game and pre-bedtime tea.

Each vestibule will accommodate, with careful placement, a pair of adult boots and an overnight pack.  On each of my trips, though, I found it wiser to store packs (without food) inside.  There was ample room to do so even with three sleepers and various small pieces of gear and a jacket or two strewn about.  In fact this is good use of the sides of the tent, where headroom is at its lowest.   By placing all boots in the vestibule by our heads I removed any bothersome obstacles to nighttime egress and re-entry through the other door.  If I do use the Hogback for four, I’ll require that all packs be stored outside the entire tent if at all possible.  The vestibules are narrow and not large enough for even one expedition pack.

Condensation.  Despite my entire use of the Hogback in the dry air of Texas, I’ve noticed a fair bit of condensation on the underside of the outer tent on each of my mornings in the Hogback.  As noted, I’ve camped at temperatures well below the local dew point, so some condensation was to be expected.  I left the vents fully open each night before retiring, closing them in the middle of the second night of my three-day trip.  The inside moisture hasn’t yet dripped on sleeping occupants, and after we went outside for breakfast the dew evaporated fairly quickly in the sun.  Thankfully I have not experienced a problem I’ve found with another silnylon tent I own (from a different manufacturer), a sagging of the roof from expansion caused by condensation.  I attribute this to the Hogback’s always-taut pitch.   

Details, details.  The floor is a bit slick, but tolerable.  I’ve had no problem with (and have heard no grousing from any other tent occupant about) a sticky zipper.  Surprisingly – I always seem to find some means of complicating crawling through a tent door, no matter how large – I had very little trouble slipping out, in the dark, to answer nature’s call.  Maybe I was extra careful.  My somewhat non-strenuous use of the Hogback has caused no visible fabric or mesh deterioration.  I do wish there were some means of adjusting the peak vents from inside, but as I haven’t yet had to go outside in the rain I can’t really complain.

Storage.  As shown in one of the photos in my Initial Report the Hogback when stored has a somewhat long and narrow silhouette.  The entire kit fits neatly into my regular weekend pack, but not so well into a smaller 46 L (2800 cu in) hybrid overnight-day pack that I have been using recently.  I’ve never cared for splitting a tent’s components among hikers – what if we’re separated accidentally – so I’ve made do, though that does require some careful counter-weighting with stove and other heavier items such as food.

Care.  There’s been no need to clean the Hogback; even the kid didn’t spill anything inside.  All I’ve done is shake out leaves and dirt that we campers inadvertently brought in.  The Hogback gets some bonus points too - for some reason unknown to me, the silnylon floor doesn’t seem to attract leaves and forest duff, as has happened all too often with my other silnylon tent.

SUMMARY

So far I rate the Hogback very highly on all counts, especially design.  Easy to pitch, simple yet sturdy, spacious and comfortable, it’s been a great shelter. 

LONG TERM REPORT
January 31, 2011

FIELD CONDITIONS

My day job, a busy holiday season, and a minor knee injury limited my hiking time and consequently my use of the Hogback during the past two months

The same trio as reported in my Field Report shared the Hogback on a two-night car-camping trip in East Texas in early December.  Nighttime low was 35 F (2 C), with clear and calm weather.  

A second overnight took place in the Texas Hill Country just before Christmas, when I shared the tent with a mentee camper.  Reported low in a nearby town was 30 F (-1 C), so it was probably a degree or two colder out in the hills.  This trip was noteworthy for occasional gusty winds, the first time my Hogback has been exposed to anything out of the ordinary in the field.   

Snow!Another two-night outing, a short backpack in the Hill Country just after New Year’s, brought another first for this particular tent - snow.  After a calm, clear first night at about freezing, the three of us awoke to a chilly drizzle that soon turned to a mixture of snow and freezing rain.  Our first snow of the year! The precipitation stopped late in the afternoon, but temperatures remained at or just below freezing until morning.  Snow, or at least the heavy snow-freezing rain combination we experienced, tends to slide off the ends of the tent. Note the larger accumulation immediately to the right and left of the guy in the photo.

All of this camping took place at modest elevation, probably not more than 1200 feet (350 m).  I pitched the Hogback, using the stakes supplied with the tent, on hard open ground on the car-camping trip, driving the stakes in with my boot.  On the other two trips the ground was softer and mixed with forest duff, and I used only my gloved hand for this purpose.

PERFORMANCE

My opinion of the Hogback’s performance has changed little since filing my Field Report, other than my ability to say that this fine tent has truly earned its three-season designation.  Neither the North wind nor the freezing slop that pelted the tent on the last wet trip changed a thing inside the tent, other than its occupants’ bringing in a bit more water on their clothing on the wet last trip.  On that score, I had packed a camp towel, which I used to wipe up visible drippings, and wet clothing packed inside the tent didn’t seem to increase overnight condensation unduly.  When after the first night we awoke to rain I did go outside to close the vents, and I left them almost completely closed until we struck camp the next morning.  That second morning was the first time I noticed any condensation on the inside of the outer tent. And it was minimal, with next to nothing on the mesh of the inner tent.   No dripping on any of us.

When it came time to break camp, after removing the stakes and pole I gave the tent body a few vigorous shakes of to remove as much water as possible.  Then I folded the tent several times and used compression straps to attach it to the front of the pack for the short hike to the trailhead parking lot.

On the windy overnight the Hogback remained taut through the night without any need to re-stake the tent or tighten the guy adjustments.  

Care of the tent has been limited to spot cleaning of smudges, mostly on the tent floor.  After the rainy trip I unfolded the tent and left it out of its stuff sack, draped loosely across the top of our gear in the rear of my sport utility vehicle.  It was almost dry after our three-hour drive home.  Strictly as a precaution against mildew I staked it out flat in the sunshine the next day.  I've had no durability issues.

After four months’ moderate use here are my conclusions on the Hogback’s pluses and minuses.

THE GOOD (just about everything)

Capacity.  This oversized, claustrophobic, spoiled non-ultralight camper (see Capacity section of my Field Report) thinks it remarkable that a tent with two full doors that weighs just over four pounds, less than two kilograms, can provide so much usable space.   On the car-camping trip my companion’s parents joined us for a postprandial card game.  We had to sit close to the center of the tent, and occasionally a shift in position meant a neighbor was nudged by a knee or foot, but in general it wasn’t forced or constrained.  Genuinely impressive!

Condensation.  Also impressive, as detailed above.  I think I’ve been underrating silnylon shelters in this category.  Certainly I haven’t had a problem yet with the Hogback.

Ease of Use.  After some practice, two of us have met Tarptent’s two-minute pitching claim (see my Initial Report), not counting tweaking after placing items inside the tent. The instructions that accompanied the tent (also available on Tarptent’s website) are simple and easy to follow.  

Design.  As there’s not much to adjust, there’s not much to go wrong.  That’s a no-frills design approach that I applaud. The tent held its pitch in gusty winds.  Yes, I must go outside to adjust the vents, but I can live with that.  One further design feature that facilitates striking and storage is the fact that the end struts are attached, so that I (and other campers) don’t have to fiddle with color-coding, fit, or other re-insertion problems every time we pitch the tent.  (I should point out that this has been a complaint I’ve made with many tents over many years.) The struts are easily stored in the folded-up Hogback.

NITPICKS

Storage.  As noted in my Field Report, high capacity doesn’t extend to the vestibules.  I think it’s for this reason that Tarptent lists the Hogback as a three-season tent, as it would be tough for three, maybe even two, fully equipped winter campers to find adequate space to store expedition packs and their contents inside.  On none of my outings with the tent did any of us have a kit anywhere close to what I’d use on a three-day or longer backpack in the Rockies, and it was still difficult to store three packs and pairs of boots in the two vestibules.  As I usually hang my pack in the Rockies, though, I don’t consider this issue more than a necessary consequence of so lightweight a shelter.

Though it might add a couple of ounces, perhaps two more inside pockets (on the end walls?) would help organize storage.

SUMMARY

I regard the Hogback as a great three-season shelter.  

Ordinarily my Test Report would end here, but extenuating circumstances call for further reporting.  This test was scheduled to begin last June.  Had it done so the test period would have included two service trips with large groups, on which (especially since I was a leader on one) I would have had the opportunity to test the Hogback (a) in the seasons for which it was intended, (b) with four sleepers, and (c) in the Rockies.  I’m working on scheduling similar trips for this coming summer, and I promise to supplement this Report next fall with the results.

Thanks to Tarptent by Henry Shires and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this innovative and functional shelter.




















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