The Tensegrity 1 FL tent from Sierra Designs demonstrates the innovative principles that the company has engaged in for decades. Roomy and lightweight, the tent has three options for the vestibule that can create an open porch or protection from the elements, depending on how it is pitched. The “coffin effect” in solo tents is eliminated through the use of walls that angle out as they go up, so there is plenty of headroom. With a standard sleeping pad, such as the Thermarest NeoAir, in place there is still plenty of room on the sides to store equipment. Many backpackers around Tahoe and the Southern Sierra are backpacking solo, including lots of ladies, and the Tensegrity tent is a good option.
Weighing less than 2.5 pounds, the non-freestanding Tensegrity tent is compact and light enough to slip into a small backpack. It does require two trekking poles, or special poles can be purchased separately. The trekking poles, seven tent stakes and a small curved pole at the end is the only hardware needed to set it up. Trekking poles of different lengths can be used though the maximum length is recommended. Grommet tabs along the bottom of the tent can be adjusted to accommodate different sized poles. Mesh windows on the sides provide views to the outside when opened, and complete privacy and protection from the elements when zipped up. The door is located on the right side of the tent, with the left being just a window. The tent materials include 30D nylon ripstop for the floor, 20D polyester ripstop for the fly and 15D nylon no-see-um ultralight mesh. There is one long pocket (13.5 inches x 4 inches) at the head of the tent where glasses, small electronics or other items can be stored.
One unique feature is that the vestibule is located at the head, rather than the side, with a large zippered window to access from inside the tent. Another is the variety of ways that the vestibule can be set up. The most straightforward is to erect the vestibule so that the fly angles down and away from the tent to provide covered storage. If the weather is fine and an open view is desired, the fly can be rolled up to expose the window and attached guy lines can be used instead of the stakes. A porch can be created by tying off the ends of the fly to a tree, or if a second set of trekking poles is available, by inserting the pointy ends into provided grommets. A two-person model is also available.
The Tensegrity 1 FL was tested in the backyard, on an overnight backpacking trip to Yosemite and an eight-day paddling trip in the Yukon. The weather was dry during the Yosemite trip but daily rain showers during the Yukon trip tested the tent for waterproofness. It did remain dry except for some condensation inside, which is to be expected in a single wall tent. If the windows were left partially or completely unzipped there was more ventilation and condensation problems were minimized.
The set-up took a little practice at home to assure that the correct tension was applied. It is recommended to study the pitching instructions that are available on the Sierra Designs website and to proceed in the order described. First, the four corners are staked. Second, the trekking poles are inserted in the front. Third, the fly is staked. Fourth, the rear pole is inserted. After that everything can be tightened and adjusted to make sure the tension is even.
Unfortunately, the first time the rear pole was inserted the pole broke inside the narrow sleeve. Sierra Designs was contacted and immediately sent out a replacement pole. More care was taken with subsequent set-up and the pole stayed intact though it still took some fiddling to get the pole threaded through the slim sleeve. A recommendation to increase the width of the sleeve has been communicated to Sierra Designs. Overall, this was a minor concern.
On the eight-day canoe trip on the Teslin and Yukon Rivers in Canada, the aforementioned rain was a constant companion. It was easy to lay the tent out and erect the tent quickly, which kept the interior dry. The rain was usually not accompanied by heavy wind so the side windows could be left down for ventilation. Due to the inclement weather the fly was set up to create a protected vestibule, with the ends staked to the ground. The large covered space in the vestibule was much appreciated as the bulky dry bag could fit in it so that the opening of the dry bag could be accessed through the window. There was plenty of room inside the tent to store clothing, books and other gear. The fact that the walls angle out toward the top made the space feel airy and spacious. A footprint was not used and the floor of the tent remained dry on the inside. If the tent had to be put away wet from early morning showers it dried quickly when set up in the late afternoon. Luckily there were no days when it rained all day long. The zippers worked well and did not get caught in the fabric.
Overall, the Tensegrity 1 FL tent performed well, was comfortable and roomy, stayed dry except for minor condensation and was fairly easy to set up after some initial difficulty. The large vestibule was appreciated, the side door was convenient and the windows were airy. The tent is a good choice for Sierra backpackers looking for a lightweight solo tent.
2016 Update: I have continued to use the Tensegrity when I go solo backpacking and still appreciate its positive qualities, including how light it is. It’s a compact package that fits easily inside my 49 L backpack. I love the open feeling I get inside and even though the top is opaque the side views are quite expansive. The large gear closet a great asset in wet weather. I still fuss with the sleeve when sliding the pole through but if I’m patient and don’t rush it it works fine.
Sierra Designs Tensgrity 1 FL tent (1 person; 2 person tent is available)
Minimum Weight (from SD): 2 lbs
Packaged Weight (from SD): 2 lbs, 6 oz
User Verified Weight: 2 lbs, 4.5 oz with tent, 2 stuff sacks, seven stakes and one pole
Internal Peak Height: 41”
Width: 30” front; 26” rear
Disclosure of material connection: I received a sample from Sierra Designs for testing purposes but the opinions expressed are solely my own.