The name MSR is associated with techy, high-alpine excursions and the elite gear that’s needed in those climes.  I think it can be said, though, that they’re great believers in trickledown technology – bringing their spirit of innovation and performance into products that the average backpacker can appreciate.  I’ve been testing their Elixir 3 and it’s clear that the tent lives up to expectations.

MSR Elixir 3 Features:

  • Rainfly: 20D nylon taffeta mesh
  • Body: 40D ripstop nylon
  • Rainfly: 68D ripstop polyester with PU treatment & DWR
  • Floor: 70D taffeta nylon with PU treatment and DWR
  • Floor area: 39.5 square feet
  • Interior peak height: 41 inches
  • Two ‘StayDry’ doors
  • Color coded clips, poles and webbing for fast setup
  • Packed weight: 6lbs 13oz
  • MSR footprint included
  • MSRP: $299

Space and performance in the backcountry

The Elixir 3 is something of an intimidating tent to approach.  With MSR emblazoned in a subtle grey on the tent fly and the large twin vestibules protruding from either side, the Elixir’s steely appearance makes one think that an alien base camp has descended onto some lunar surface.  In some ways, though, the Elixir gives a false impression: it looks bomber, but its real focus is on comfort and livability.

The Elixir has one of the more unique pole designs that I’ve seen.  There are two main poles that are hubbed together. When you pull them into shape, they form an open-ended infinity symbol.  It’s a goofy design, but it does one thing very well – it pulls the walls of the tent up steeply to a lofty peak at 41″ interior height.  I would have preferred to see DAC poles in the Elixir, but the unbranded ones that MSR included serve the purpose and probably cut down on cost a little.  Finally, a large spreader pole lays across the main poles and pulls a nice, distinct peak into both vestibules.  MSR took care to color-code the poles for a perfect setup on the first try, which is important with innovative pole designs like the Elixir’s.

Photo Sep 06, 10 10 34 AM

On the whole, I’m pleased with the pole design – it’s certainly quirky, but it’s easy to set up and is fairly strong.  This tent came with me to Sahale’s high camp and enjoyed a few pushy gusts that I’d estimate were in the 20-30mph range.  The tent shrugged them off without too much fuss, which is a fortunate thing: the Elixir has almost no guy-out points.  The only external attachment points for cord are designed more for ventilation than structure, and there’s no way to connect any of these strong points to the tent frame.  So, this is my bottom line for the Elixir’s strength:  it has quite a bit of inherent chutzpah, but the lack of guy-out points means that the tent is severely handicapped in that it can’t be reinforced.  You can be confident that the tent will keep you safe throughout good weather and the occasional summer storm, but I wouldn’t trust it in exposed locations where your tent is a lifeline.

Life in the Elixir is made more comfortable by the two huge vestibules and StayDry doors.  These are traditional triangular vestibules with a storm flap on the zipper; all of the necessary fasteners are included to leave the door open to establish an excellent crossbreeze.  The doors are teardrop in shape, and I have to admit that I’m not a fan – they’re small and have a few sharp bends that are difficult to pull zippers around.  What’s more, the zippers are narrow gauge so they’re very light but will probably break without too much abuse – God help you if you choose to use this tents with kids like I did.

Photo Sep 06, 10 10 13 AM

As I mentioned earlier in the review, the Elixir’s forte lies more in livability and comfort than it does in downright technical performance.  The main fabric body is a white 40D ripstop nylon that looks marvelous at sunrise and sunset – it’s a very pleasant tent to be in and the fabric provides quite a lot of privacy if you’re frontcountry camping.  The mesh panel at the peak of the tent provides a nice view up to the stars and the mesh ends of the tent allow for plenty of airflow to disperse condensation.  The pole design does a great job at pulling the doors completely vertical (hurray!) and the other two ends of the tent are quite steep as well.  Kudos to MSR for including two ginormous storage pockets for gear at the head and foot.

How does the Elixir 3 compare?

When it comes to sheer interior square footage, the MSR falls a bit short of the mark when compared to our other tester tents.  The winner of the bunch is the Big Agnes Lone Spring 3 that has a palatial 47 square feet of interior space; the similarly cavernous Kelty Outfitter Pro 3 clocks in at a whopping 46 square feet; the Sierra Designs Flash 3 has a comfortable 41.2 square feet; the Elixir 3, then, is the smallest tent with just 39.5 square feet of space.  It should be noted, of course, that this deficit in square footage is ameliorated by the honking twin vestibules that MSR included for gear storage.  If needed, you could even force your children to sleep in the vestibule, thus freeing up precious space for yourself in the tent – it’s always an option.

This Summer we’re testing four different three-man tents and the Elixir is right at the heart of the pack.  When it comes to weight, it’s the third lightest behind some much larger, lighter tents.  The Sierra Designs Flash 3 clocks in at 6lbs. 3oz, the Kelty Outfitter Pro 3 comes in at 7lbs 14oz and the Big Agnes Lone Spring 3 comes in at 5lbs 13oz.  At 6lbs. 3oz the Flash 3 is the third lightest of the group even though it has the smallest amount of interior space.  Some of this can be ascribed to the absolutely bomber 68D rainfly fabric which feels almost tarp-like in strength.

Photo Sep 06, 10 16 25 AM

Even though the Elixir doesn’t beat out our other tester tents in terms of weight and living space, it’s certainly a wonderful value for families or groups that want an accessible, durable tent.  MSR’s commitment to this demographic is demonstrated in their choice to include a footprint with every Elixir that’s purchased: it’s a high-quality MSR footprint that will add many, many uses to the Elixir’s overall life.  It’s definitely a great move by MSR to do this.

The Good

  • Unique pole design affords lots of steep walls
  • Color-coded poles and clips are a must-have for quick setup times
  • Included footprint increases the tent’s longevity
  • The rainfly’s large StayDry doors work very well and are easy to get in and out of
  • Two huge vestibules offer great spaces to store gear and small children
  • Despite lack of guyouts, the pole design is inherently quite strong

The Bad

  • Neither the lightest nor roomiest tent in our testing group
  • Narrow-gauge zippers are likely to fail without special care
  • The fly lacks any structural guyouts
Did I mention the cavernous pockets?

Did I mention the cavernous pockets?

The Bottom Line: Elixir 3

The MSR Elixir 3 has the looks and heritage of an intense technical tent, but it’s really a bit of a momma’s boy at heart.  It thrives in sheltered campsites and it can shrug off intense rain while offering the user a very pleasant living experience.  As one of MSR’s more affordable tents, it goes a long way to offering consumers a buy-in to a well-respected brand at a great price.

Buy Now: At Backcountry.com

About Author

Kevin Glover is an outdoorsman living, climbing and biking in Spokane, WA. Originally from the Nevada high desert, he moved to the PNW for its mild winters and allergen-free summers. He has guided throughout the Cascades and Enchantments for Peak 7 Adventures.

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