I believe I have stated before that my all-time favorite tent is from Sierra Designs. It’s the Mojo 2 which, sadly, is no longer in production – but despite the flurry of other tents that I’ve tested, the Mojo stands out. All that to say, I have the highest of expectations from any tent that has the famous Half Dome logo on it. Enter the Convert 3.
Sierra Designs Convert 3 Tent Features:
- 4-season design
- Drizone single-wall construction
- Superseal floor with PVC-free seam tape and internal floor zipper
- Three DAC NSL poles with locking pole tips
- Two D-shaped doors with reflective trim
- Three-person maximum
- Zip-open ceiling panel for ventilation
- External/internal pitch with reflective guy lines
- Continuous, capped pole sleeves
- Fabric: 70D nylon with 5000mm PU coating (floor) and 40D Drizone nylon ripstop (body)
- 46.5 square feet floor space
- Packed weight: 6lb. 10oz
- Price: $699.95 (almost always on sale for less though)
Strength meets…. well, strength
Note: This review is of the previous model of the Sierra Designs Convert 3. Recently (Jan. 2015) they have released a completely redesigned tent under the same name. The model being reviewed here is still available from many retailers.
This is the first four-season tent from Sierra Designs that I’ve tested. It’s a bit of a rare beast: bright yellow Drizone fabric, a plethora of guyout points and a rather large floor plan makes the Convert stand out on the mountain. I’ve had a solid three months to test it and that’s given me plenty of time to figure out all of its quirks. It’s a very technical tent, so let’s jump into it.
The foundation of the tent is a 70D, 5000mm PU-coated that is fully taped and weatherproof. I’ve used this tent in rainy conditions more than I’d like, frankly, but the floor always held as weatherproof. That said, the tent isn’t meant to be used in the rain per se. If you were to set this up on a tent site that pooled water, you would get water leaking into the floor. Why? Sierra Designs included a zippered panel in the floor that you can zip back to have a space to put on your crampons without leaving the tent. On trips when I wasn’t using crampons, I also found it useful to dig out a space beneath that panel to fill with food and gear. This zipper is large gauge, waterproof and protected by a storm flap, but I still wouldn’t trust it to stay 100% dry if water puddled underneath the tent.
The walls of the tent are a 40D ripstop nylon that Sierra Designs calls ‘Drizone.’ The idea behind a single walled tent like the Convert is that the body fabric is both waterproof and breathable. We’ll get to the nitty gritty performance details later, but suffice it to say that this fabric is fantastically waterproof and only somewhat breathable. The walls feature two no-stitch windows which are bonded into the walls opposite the door so you can peek out and decide that it would be best to stay in the tent.
The boundary between the floor and the walls lies a good four inches above the ground; the Convert features a true bathtub floor that provides a ton of protection from the vagaries of freezing and melting snow around a tent.
The structure of the tent is pretty simple. There are three DAC NSL poles; two of them have one grommet end and those are the front and rear hoops. The third is the ridge pole and it has a cap on both ends. The front and rear poles both insert through a continuous sleeve for maximum strength and simpler setup than a discontinuous sleeve. After these two are in, the ridge pole caps fit into fabric pouches at either end of the tent. The Convert pitches tight – I mean really tight. It’s not easy to get these poles into place but once they’re slotted in they’re extremely strong.
Sierra Designs took a very innovative approach to tent setup. Normally you slot the front and rear poles through a protected slit on the outside of the tent and it begins sliding through the sleeve. However, if the weather is really bad you can also set the tent up from the inside. I’ve only had to do this once in the field but I’ve practiced it a few times in my yard; it’s not particularly easy to do. You have sharp pole intersections making advances on the relatively delicate fabric and it’s tough to secure the pole ends. If the weather is really bad, though, it’s worth it and I’m glad Sierra Designs gave us the option. It’s very important that the poles are inserted completely into the sleeve or else they will be putting a lot of pressure on fabric that isn’t meant to take the load.
In total, Sierra Designs included eight guylines but the tent has sixteen guyout points. These guyout points are all directly connected to the ‘skeleton’ via the pole sleeves and they add tremendously to the strength of the tent. I never encountered winds higher than around 30mph and I was find with just eight guyouts. Sierra Designs included a bundle of J-stakes which are inadequate for the snow, so make sure you bring snow stakes or anchors.
The two large doors provide ample ventilation, and they’re protected by a slight awning of fabric formed by a ribbon of flexible plastic that pops out. Over time the plastic piece over the main door deformed on my Convert, so the front door no longer has that protection. Each entrance has a full mesh and a full Drizone door for endless variety of ventilation options. Sierra Designs went absolutely ham on these doors; the front and back each have six different zipper pulls between the mesh and fabric doors. This serves two functions: if one were to break, it wouldn’t be missed; moreover, this allows you to fine-tune the ventilation/protection ratio in foul weather.
Ventilation is further supplemented by two pop-up tunnel vents which feature a mesh storm baffle to keep out blowing snow. This mesh and the tunnel itself can be independently closed via a drawstring, further allowing you to have complete control in the balance between removing water vapor and staying protected from the elements.
There are a few more details to mention. For one, the tent is decked out with reflective accents on all of the guyout points and along the door, ensuring that you’ll be able to find it on a dark and stormy night. Additionally, the tent has four shallow pockets on each corner to stash your (small) valuables.
It’s all about performance
I’ll be comparing the Convert 3 to three other tents in terms of dimension and weight. The Convert has a packed weight of 6lbs 10oz – packed weight means the weight that you’ll be slogging up a mountain with. This is how our comparison tents stack up: The Marmot Thor weighs 10lbs 12oz and is a double wall tent, meaning that you carry a body and a fly; the Mountain Hardwear EV3 clocks in at 7lbs even and is a single wall tent; finally, the Hilleberg Nallo 3 comes in at a scanty 5lbs 50z. This is a very revealing trend: the Convert 3, while incredibly strong, is still very lightweight. It owes this in part to its single wall construction, but Sierra Designs’ careful selection of DAC NSL poles and overall design thrift contribute substantially to the Convert’s low weight. The Nallo 3 is indeed the lightest of the three, but it was constructed purely as an ultralight mountaineering tent; so, we can conclude that the Sierra Designs Convert is indeed a light tent but there are ultralight options out there.
In terms of interior space, the Convert 3 is in the middle of the pack. It has 46.5 square feet of interior space and that includes a built-in, enclosed gear storage area that essentially takes the place of a vestibule. Ideally, you put your gear up by the main door and then you and your buddies sleep further down towards the rear door. I used it like this on multiple trips and it was spacious enough, but there are other options. The Mountain Hardwear tent comes in at 46 square feet and also lacks a separate vestibule. The Marmot offering features 47 square feet of floor space and has a separate vestibule. The diminutive Hilleberg, though, has just 37 square feet of interior space but features a large 15 square foot vestibule. So, once again, the Convert proves itself as being in the upper echelon from amongst very competitive tents.
Finally, we’ll look at peak height. The Sierra Design’s ridge pole stretches up to an impressive 45 inches in the center; the Marmot also reaches up to 45 inches. The Hilleberg hits 42 inches and the Mountain Hardwear gets up to 41 inches. So, tied with the Marmot, our Convert is the winner of the pack and it’s pretty clear if you look at the tent from the outside that it’s very spacious inside. What’s more, Sierra Designs included two non-structure guyouts on the side walls of the tent which, besides helping to keep the fabric from sailing in the wind, pulls the walls of the tent and and away from people sleeping inside.
This last one is actually quite important because condensation in a single wall tent is always a big deal. Any more my buddies and I always use DriDown bags, but you still don’t want to be rubbing up against a tent wall laden with condensation. The worst that I’ve ever seen this tent was around 6,000 feet in the North Cascades after a still, muggy night with three people in the tent. The walls were absolutely saturated and all of our gear got pretty wet. This serves to underline the shortcomings up single wall tents, but it really should point to the importance of good ventilation – when there’s a breeze, use it. The plethora of zippers on the door can provide a low cross breeze while, depending on the direction of the wind, the two pop-up tunnel vents allow warm damp air to escape. It never works quite that nicely in real life, of course, but Sierra Designs has given you all of the tools necessary to stay dry.
Finally, a quick note on livability – I love the yellow color of the fabric because it feels sunny and warm inside, whether you’re waiting out a storm or being woken by the sunrise. Light colors like this are always a good choice.
- Relatively light and spacious
- Plenty of ventilation options
- Excellent pole design and guyouts
- Reflective accents are a big plus in unknown terrain
- Setting the tent up from the inside can save one’s bacon
- Strong, durable fabrics and excellent construction overall
- The windows are a nice touch
- Like many strong tents, the Convert 3 pitches taught and isn’t easy to set up
- Drizone fabric is very waterproof but only slightly breathable
- The plethora of zipper pulls can be more confusing than helpful
The Bottom Line: SD Convert 3 Tent
This is already a long review and there’s more that I would like to write. Suffice it to say, though, that I was impressed by the Convert 3’s excellent strength and relatively low weight. It’s an innovative tent but this never infringes on its durability; this is definitely one that I will use for seasons to come.
Buy Now: Available at CampSaver.com