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Reviews > Shelters > Tents > The North Face Spectrum 33 > Owner Review by Elizabeth Teel

The North Face: Spectrum 33 Tent (2006 model)

Reviewer Information
name: Elizabeth Teel
email: elizabeth.teel@gmail.com
location: Atlanta, GA, USA

height: 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m)
weight: 160 lb (72.57 kg)
age: 22 yrs old

Backpacking Bio: I started camping with my family when I was five, but did not start to backpack until the age of 12. Since then my trips have been primarily 2-4 days long, with only a few 7-10 day trips over the years. I'm most familiar with the land in the Southeastern United States (as far North as West Virginia and as far South as Southern Florida). My average pack weight including food and water is about 30 lb (13.61 kg) for three days, but I'm trying to reduce that.

Product Information:

Product website: http://www.thenorthface.com
style: ultralight, single wall
listed capacity: 3 people
MSRP: $299
listed minimum weight: 4 lb 5 oz (1.96 kg)
listed packed weight: 4 lb 12 oz (2.15 kg)
tested weight: 4 lb 11 oz (2.13 kg)
footprint (sold separately): 15 oz (0.43 kg)
tested footprint weight: 14.7 oz (0.42 kg)
dimensions: 7' 2" (2.18 m) long x 4' 7" (1.40 m) wide x 2' 6" (0.76 m) high
listed floor area: 34 sq ft (3.16 sq m)
listed vestibule area: 9 sq ft (0.84 sq m)
pole: 3 DAC Featherlite Aluminum
wall/roof material: 33D 244T nylon with silicone and 1500 mm PU coating
floor material: 50D 270T Nylon Taffeta 3000 mm PU coating
color: Orange and Cream
stuff size: 22" x 6" (55 cm x 16 cm)

Field Conditions:

I've used this tent only in the Atlanta area and the Southern Appalachians. A couple example locations are Springer Mountain and the Coosa Backcountry Trail of Vogel State Park. Elevations have varied from about 1000 ft (304.8 m) to 3200 ft (975.4 m) above sea level. I've used this tent on soft topsoil, red clay, and frozen topsoil. Night temperatures have ranged from 13 F (-10.6 C) to 73 F (22.8 C). The worst weather I've used this tent in was a Spring thunderstorm with mild winds.  

Product Review: 

The Spectrum 33 is an ultralight tent included in the North Face Flight Series of equipment and apparel. According to the manufacturer's website, the Flight Series products were designed for lightweight packing on short, fast trips. I am not an ultralight hiker, but when looking for a new backpacking tent, I thought that the Spectrum 33 looked stable in addition to being so light. 

As with many three person tents that I have seen, the listed tent capacity seems to be ridiculous. I imagine that a third person could fit if that person slept on top of the other two. In practice, I sleep comfortably with one other person inside the tent and our gear inside the vestibule. Treating it as a two person tent, though, 4 lb 12 oz (2.15 kg) is still light. I have even started taking it on solo trips if the weather looks foul. My previous tent was a true 3 person tent but weighed close to 9 lb (4.08 kg). If I split that tent between two people, I was still left with a weight close to the entire Spectrum 33. To clearly display the interior space, I have included a photo below of the Spectrum 33 set up with two 20" (0.51 m) wide sleeping pads inside.

The light weight of the Spectrum 33 is achieved chiefly because it is a single wall tent made with lightweight materials. For anyone who isn't familiar with single wall tents, think of it as a rain fly attached to a tent floor. It is similar to the "fast pack" option of many double walled tents, but a single wall tent is still fully enclosed. The main problem with a single wall tent is that the ventilation generally can not match that of a double wall tent. I was a little worried when buying a single wall tent because in the past I have woken up to water dripping down on me from inside walls of poorly ventilated tents. Each exhalation contains water vapor, so the water formed while my friends and I slept. Over a few hours, the vapor condensed on the tent walls and began raining back down on us.

The Spectrum 33 uses two zippered roof vents to maximize ventilation. The larger of the two vents is held open in a chimney shape by two "Nano-Knuckles" that support short cross poles. Each Nano-Knuckle is a small metal joint that links two poles at 90 degrees. I have included a photo below of a Nano-Knuckle close up. I have found that these two Nano-Knuckles and their cross poles are not heavy additions to the tent, but do provide extra stability as well as a top vent that does not let water leak in.

When I take this as a luxury solo tent, there is never a problem with condensation. As a two person tent in stormy windy weather, the rain is kept out completely and there is only mild condensation inside. On calmer nights, however, the only way to prevent mass condensation is to leave the vestibule and both vents wide open. Because I don't like to leave the vestibule open, no matter what the weather is like on my trip, I have to set the tent up to dry after getting home. I think that on longer trips without time to dry the tent out this could become an annoyance. I imagine, though, that since the Southeast is notoriously humid, the Spectrum 33 might perform better in a dryer climate.

Even with my concerns, I bought the tent because I thought it looked remarkably strong for such a light tent. Living in the Southeast means that I can often use 3-season gear year round. I wouldn't recommend the Spectrum as a true 4 season tent by any means, but I've been able to use it all winter in the South without ever fearing it being weighed down by light snow or ice that formed in the night.

While the tent has never shown weakness while set up, the light weight materials sometimes worry me in general. As someone who does not usually use ultralight gear, I have been paranoid that "normal" wear and tear may add up quickly. On the plus side, this has prompted me to take better care of the tent. I'm a little more careful about where I set the tent up, a little more careful how I set the tent up, and a little more careful how it's stored at home. After a year of use, the only sign of fragility that I've seen is a slight bend in one of the tent poles. The bend is so minor, though, that I have not noticed any effect in either setup or stability.

In the past I have had troubles with other tent floors ripping, so I bought the footprint for the Spectrum 33. I don't take the footprint on solo trips or overnight trips, but when there are two people sleeping in the tent for more than a night, I figure that it's worth the 15 oz (0.43 kg) to take it along.

Setup with or without the footprint takes next to no time. The three poles use a combination of sleeves and clips for stability and easy setup. The Nano-Knuckles are the hardest part to set up because there is a fair amount of tension on the cross poles. All together, including the stakes, I would say that the tent takes about 5 minutes for one person to set up or 3 minutes for two people. I have only set this tent up in the rain once. Probably my favorite part of having a single wall tent is how little rain gets inside during set up. I'm sure I could have set it up w/o any water on the inside if I'd kept the vents zipped shut. 

There are a few additional features of the Spectrum 33 that are nice even if they aren't very important. First, the tent comes with a compression stuff sack. Without the poles or tent stakes, the tent can be compressed to approximately 8" x 9" (0.20 m x 0.23 m). This helps the tent fit neatly into my pack. Second, there are glow in the dark tabs on each zipper. I didn't realize this until I had already used the tent three or four times. It is surprisingly nice to wake up in the middle of the night and know exactly where the door zippers are. If I set up camp later in the day, though, I doubt that they will glow for so much of the night. Third, I like that the orange color of the tent canopy makes the inside of the tent seem to glow in the morning. These details may be trivial, but I appreciate them.

Overall, the Spectrum 33 has been a very useful tent. I appreciate the fact that I can use this one tent for all of my backpacking. In the future, though, I don't think I will buy another single wall tent unless either the weight or the ventilation is significantly improved. If pack weight were my primary concern, using a tarp, tarp-tent, or hammock would save me both weight and money. If I were looking for another similarly sized tent, though, I would rather have the slight weight penalty of a double walled tent than risk soaking myself and my gear with condensation on clear nights.  

Summary:
Pros
-sturdy construction
-lightweight
-easily set up, even in the rain

Cons
-not a true 3 person tent
-poor ventilation leads to excess condensation


Photo #1: Spectrum 33 with two 20" (0.51 m) wide sleeping pads inside

Two Twenty Inch Sleeping Pads Inside Tent

Photo #2: Close-up of Nano-Knuckles with cross poles
Close-up of Nano-Knucles With Cross Poles


Read more reviews of The North Face gear
Read more gear reviews by Elizabeth Teel

Reviews > Shelters > Tents > The North Face Spectrum 33 > Owner Review by Elizabeth Teel



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