Anyone who has been watching Sierra Designs over the last two years has got to be wondering something: when will they have a seasonal product release that doesn’t blow us away with its innovation and creativity? First it was DriDown, then their ground-breaking sleeping bags, and now a line of tents that defy convention. The Tensegrity series has already earned significant media attention, but it’s time to weigh in with our comprehensive review.
Sierra Designs Tensegrity 1 FL Features:
- Fly Fabric: 20D Polyester Ripstop, Silicone/1200mm PE, FR
- Floor Fabric: 30D Nylon Ripstop, WR/3000mm PE, FR
- Body Fabric: 15D Nylon No-See-Um Ultralight Mesh
- Packaged Weight: 2 lbs 6 oz. / 1.08 kg
- Gear Storage Area: 8 ft2 / .74 m2
- Interior Area: 17.10 ft2 / 1.59 m2
- Internal Peak Height: 41 in. / 104 cm
- Price: $319.95
Tensegrity blows the roof off your tent
The particular model of tent that I’m testing is the Sierra Designs Tensegrity 1 FL. It is one of four tents in the lineup, amongst the Tensegrity Elite series. Both lines are available in one- and two-person models. The Tensegrity Elite series does not come seam-taped and does not meet the standards for flame resistivity in certain states. The Elite series has a number of advantages, in that its 20D body fabric is siliconized on both sides (without any flame-retardant treatment), giving it a higher tear strength and better performance under UV exposure. It’s also five ounces lighter, which is significant since the FL series only weighs 2lbs in the first place. I’m always tempted by these ‘extreme’ products, but I opted for the Tensegrity 1 FL because I was confident that the majority of our readers would be interested in this version.
Sierra Designs has long been acknowledged as a leader in the three-season tent world, so what was it about the Tensegrity that took things to a new level? Well, the Tensegrity’s unique trait is that the walls slope outward as they rise toward the roof of the tent, creating more headroom. The tent’s interior peak is 41 inches, which is really quite good – many three season tents have peak heights of 38-40 inches. The result is really quite fascinating for anyone who is accustomed to traditional tent designs; gone is the sense of being a giant squatting in a cave, constantly brushing your head against the sides of the tent’s dome or whatnot. What I found most remarkable while living in the Tensegrity was that I simply forgot about the roof of the tent. While traditional tent designs constantly remind you that your head is just an inch away from a sheet of water-logged nylon, Sierra Designs successfully captured a sense of space with their new design.
One might think that this comes at the cost of floor space. As best as I can tell, that’s not actually the case. For example, the two-man version of the Tensegrity has slightly more than 29 square feet of interior space; my old favorite two-man, the Mojo 2, has just 26 square feet of space. Thus, the greater headspace does not come at an appreciable cost to liveable space on the floor of the tent. This was a common misconception upon the tent’s release, and I think it was primarily due to media outlets labeling it a tent that was turned upside-down. No, that’s not the case – it’s a normal tent that happens to get wide toward the top.
For one person, the 17.1 square feet of interior space is generous indeed. For my 5’11” frame, there was roughly a foot of space for gear storage either at my head or feet, which is great on rainy days. When I took my largest pad into the tent, the ponderous Big Agnes Double Z, the pad’s 20″ width still had space to wander from side to side in the tent during the night as I slept.
Mind you, it may well be important that there’s enough space in the tent to store a certain amount of gear. The Tensegrity’s solution for gear storage is a generous awning at the head of the tent. It’s really quite large and I would say can be stretched out to be roughly half again as wide as the tent on each side. It features three guy-out points that include a locking cinch for a tight pitch. It’s a wonderful, ultralight solution to gear storage and it’s good to see a progressive company like Sierra Designs looking back to old designs that have proven their worth over time. However, the problem with an awning is that it does little to protect gear from lashing sideways wind.
Bozeman has been having numerous thunderstorms with high wind lately, and one night I found myself in a fairly exposed campsite with slanted rain making its way into the awning and getting my gear wet. It wasn’t a huge deal as I just reached out through the door and placed the pack cover on the pack, but it’s something that ought to be noted by potential customers. Most trips will not merit the protection of a full vestibule, but we seem to have become accustomed to that.
Access to the Tensegrity is by one of two doors. The first is the small, U-shaped door that opens out into the vestibule and is suitable for either fiddling with gear or getting into the tent during heavy rain. The second large door occupies almost all of one of the Tensegrity’s triangular walls. Sierra Designs’ new tents have awnings over the doors and windows which prevent rain from entering the doors. The design is excellent, and 90% of the time they afford adequate protection while still allowing you to be able to look out of your tent and enjoy watching a beaver pond as rain sends ripples across its surface. When the wind picks up, though, and begins to drive the rain sideways, the 15D nylon mesh window is backed up by a fully waterproof panel that can simply be zipped into place. In this configuration it’s easy to leave a little slit of open window, protected by the awning, to peer outside at the storm.
Livability is always a high priority when I look at a tent. So many designers focus on a myriad of small details to enhance livability, and although those certainly have a place it’s important to get the fundamentals right. We’ve already taken note of the Tensegrity’s two doors; there is also a full-size window on the opposite wall, also protected by an awning. These are important factors because, when both doors or windows are open, the majority of the tent’s walls have been rolled down and it begins to feel very much like you’re no longer in a tent. What’s more, Sierra Designs’ choice of grey and yellow fabric contributes noticeably to the atmosphere. On rainy days, the yellow fabric served to lighten my mood while it was dreary outside and, in the mornings, it’s easier to get up and out of bed when the sunlight is being filtered through the grey of the roof onto the yellow walls. This is far superior to some of the mossy, earth-colored fabrics that other manufacturers use. The downside is that other hikers will definitely notice your bright-yellow tent.
As might be expected, a tent with windows this substantial will have few problems with ventilation. The door at the head of the tent has no solid fabric layer and cannot be closed, so there will always be airflow coming through that part of the tent. From there it will run to the foot of the tent, which is propped up by a single 1.8 oz 8.7mm DAC NFL pole through a sleeve in the tent. That foot vent can be functionally closed by choosing not to guy it out, but it’s best to always guy it tightly open to maintain ventilation.
I never once had a problem with condensation in the tent, and it’s difficult to imagine a real-life scenario when it would be a problem. If it were blowing wind and rain, the side doors would be closed but that wind would also provide adequate airflow through the head and foot of the tent. And, on calm yet rainy days, there’s little reason to not partially open the two side doors to promote airflow. On the whole, it’s an excellent design in terms of mitigating condensation.
Pitching the Tensegrity can be an adventure at times, especially if it is windy. As a non-freestanding tent, it requires two trekking poles (adjustable or not, it doesn’t matter) to be pitched properly. There are generous fabric sleeves at the corners of the tent’s head to slide the handle of a trekking pole into, along with grommets at the foot of the tent that the pole’s point seat in. These are adjustable to accommodate varying pole lengths. I personally used my trusty MSR Flight 3 poles; their blunt tips had a hard time staying seated in the grommet, but it was only a minor frustration. It takes a little practice, but once the poles are seated you can guy out the tent and it will be quite secure. I almost guarantee you that your poles will flop out of place at least once, though.
Finally, because this has to do with pitching, one of my favorite features of the Tensegrity is its stargazing option. This allows you to roll back the awning, using alternate guy-outs, and stare at the stars out of that door to your heart’s content. It’s an easy adjustment to make, and Sierra Designs deserves major kudos for including the guy-out cable, which stores neatly into a special pouch of fabric. On the whole, pitching is greatly aided by the ready-for-use guy lines and stock friction locks at each point.
- Remarkably light, especially if the stuff sack is left at home
- Quality of material and construction is excellent
- Increased head space was an awesome idea
- Livability is class-leading due to fabric choice and generous windows
- Tent-trekking pole interface is durable and will hold up to abuse
- Ventilation is excellent, condensation will not likely every be a problem with good management
- Gear storage will become an issue on especially wet, windy days
- Pitching a freestanding tent takes some practice, especially in the wind
- Grommets where trekking poles insert could be larger, more secure
The Bottom Line: Tensegrity 1 FL
Sierra Designs continues to impress with their lineup of innovative tents and gear. This time, the remarkably light Tensegrity 1 FL shines as a full-featured single-person shelter. You will need trekking poles to pitch this tent, but if that’s part of your hiking kit already, the Tensegrity 1 FL is one of the most livable one-person tents on the market.
Buy Now: Available from Campsaver.com