Thursday, December 8, 2016

Gear Review: Zpacks Duplex Tent

When it comes to backpacking (or camping in general) nothing can make or brake the experience quite as easily as your shelter. No single piece of equipment has the power to make you feel safe and protected or exposed and vulnerable the way your shelter does. So, when it comes time to purchase a new one, you want to know that what you're buying is going to do what you want or need it to do. That's why it's so important to me that my shelter reviews are effective in helping you get the information you need to determine if a shelter is a good fit. So when it comes to reviewing tents, here are the considerations I will make sure to cover: Design, Weight, Protection, Capacity, Ease of Setup.

ZPacks Duplex Tent:
ZPacks is an innovator in the ultralight backpacking industry. They pride themselves in making the lightest products around. How do they achieve such light weight? By utilizing minimalist designs and using the lightest weight materials available. Enter Cuben Fiber (Now called Dyneema®)

Originally designed for use as sails on racing sailboats, Cuben Fiber is a a high-performance, non-woven, rip-stop, composite laminate made by sandwiching Dyneema® fiber filaments a thousandth of an inch thick between thin outer layers of polyester film. The “sandwich” is then melded together in a high-pressure autoclave. Dyneema® Composite Fabrics are lightweight, highly durable, and are 50-70% lighter than Kevlar, four times stronger than Kevlar, and able to flex without losing strength. They also weigh less than silnylon, float on water, are 100% waterproof and have high chemical and UV resistance. Cuben Fiber is so thin that you can see through it yet doesn't pack down the way woven fabrics, like silnylon do. And should you get a hole it can be easily patched it using Cuben Fiber tape.

The Duplex is a non-freestanding tent with dual doors and dual vestibules. Slightly reminiscent of an old fashioned scouting tent, the Duplex is just as quick and easy to set up as the old classic but has a number of features that provide better protection and greater comfort. This tent breathes surprisingly well for a single wall tent made out of a 100% waterproof material. This is achieved through the large mesh sidewalls on either side. Additionally, the bathtub floors are attached to about 2" of mesh rather than directly to the roof providing an outlet for any condensation that may form on the inside of the tent. Another nice feature is that, the roof overhangs beyond the floor enough that the inside of the tent remains dry even during heavy rains, provided the wind is minimal.

*It is important to note that at base design, the Duplex utilizes trekking poles instead of tent poles to give it structure. Tent poles can be purchase for those who don't use trekking poles (Zpacks also offers a kit to turn the Duplex into a freestanding tent).

The basic model is made from an olive colored .51oz material and weighs in at 21oz. This material is quite transparent which could be good or bad, depending on your preferences. Knowing that Chanda would want some privacy and that there would be times when we shared this tent with our children, I opted for the spruce colored .74oz material which is a little less transparent (you can see out but it's difficult for someone else to see in) and a little sturdier. The upgrade does come with a slight weight penalty though and our tent weighs in at just over 23oz with the included stuff sack.

As stated before, Cuben Fiber is 100% waterproof which means that you are pretty much guaranteed to stay dry as long as your tent is set up properly. I have even heard stories of people seeing small streams form and pass under their tents during heavy rainstorms while they remained perfectly dry and warm inside. The design allows for two average sized adults to sit comfortably and play cards, read, or simply watch the rain, should they find themselves having to retreat from foul weather. The vestibules provide more than enough space for storing packs, shoes, and wet gear, ensuring that moisture stays away from your dry clothes and sleeping bag.

The vestibules attach to a small hook which slides up and down the center guy-lines. It can be tricky (though not impossible) to deploy the vestibules from inside the tent as the hooks are designed to be pulled tight from the outside. This is an instance where simplicity of design does not necessarily equal convenience. If you anticipate having to deploy the vestibules, it's a good idea to attach them to the hook, pull everything tight, and then roll them back up before you get into the tent. That way, when the time comes, you aren't trying to make adjustments while rain poors down on your head and back. Trust me when I say the the two minutes it take to do this in advance are well worth it.

The Zpacks Duplex is easily my favorite tent. It is light, roomy, reliable and easy to set up. I feel it's only fair to point out that, as with all things Cuben Fiber, the cost of this product is substantial. I expect the cost of the materials to decline eventually but right now, only one company manufactures it, and they have no problem demanding a pretty penny for their wonder-fabric. The low weight and spacious design make it an excellent 3 season tent for one or two people. I don't know how well it will perform in deep winter, as we've only had it since late summer but I have no reason to doubt that it will do quite well. I look forward to many years of using this as my primary backpacking tent.

Packed up, lying next to a Nalgene, for size reference

If you have any questions about the ZPacks Duplex tent, feel free to leave a comment and I will do my best to answer ASAP!


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