Thursday, 23 January 2014

Another gear review - the Macpac Microlight tent



Back by popular demand (OK … one person asked!) is the outdoor diaries gear review. This time I’m reviewing a one-person winter tent, the Macpac Microlight.


10 or 15 years ago the Microlight was very fashionable, being one of the smallest and lightest one-person tents available at that time. It was the first solo tent that I bought and my first one gave me many years of solid service. These days it doesn’t really live up to its “microlight” name as it’s been usurped by many much lighter shelters that are now widely available. But when I needed a new one-person tent for this winter, I found myself still attracted to the Microlight and the sale price of £175 that I found online. Here’s why.


Let’s face it, the Scottish winter can be cold, grey, grim and very wet or exceedingly snowy. In foul conditions I don’t want to head out into the mountains in a flimsy, featherweight shelter. I want to feel that I’m trusting my wellbeing to something pretty strong and sturdy. The Microlight has that reassuringly robust feel although you pay for it in its 1.6kg of weight. The groundsheet is much thicker than you will find, for example on the Terra Nova Laser, my summer tent. So you feel quite confident about pitching it on rough or wet terrain. The groundsheet has quite a deep “bathtub” shape which I think is really important when you’re camping on sodden ground, slush or deep snow. It’s happened in the Laser that wind-driven rain has come over the top of the groundsheet and inside the inner. But that doesn’t happen with the bathtub groundsheet of the Microlight. Extra protection is also provided by the flysheet extending fully to the ground right around the bottom.


The tent has a single pole that runs length ways and when pitched the tent has a “limpet” shape which is quite appropriate as it seems to cling to the mountain like a limpet to a rock. I’ve not had the new one out yet in bad conditions but my older version stood up to some severe weather and high winds. Even in these conditions it remained reassuringly solid and strong. However I did have the idea on one mildly windy night that the new version was a bit more “flappy” than the original. The limpet shape is also excellent at shedding rain and snow simply slides off.


I don’t think I’ve owned any other tent that pitches as quickly as the Microlight. With the flysheet and inner going up together and the single pole, it can be up in just a couple of minutes. It’s easy then to quickly peg out the six main anchor points and this can be done with a minimal of faffing. With some tents I feel have to go round the pegging points a couple of times making adjustments to get things right but the Microlight always seems to pitch perfectly and easily first time. I think that’s really important in a winter tent – you want to get it up quickly if conditions are bad or your hands are getting cold. Once the main points are pegged, you can then peg out the four guylines for extra stability.


The footprint of the inner tent is big and there’s even room for two at a push if you should unexpectedly meet the man or woman of your dreams out in the hills. The floor is wider at one end, creating lots of space for any kit you want to bring indoors. The porch is huge, big enough to hold my folding bicycle. The groundsheet can be rolled back at the wide end to make the porch even bigger. But one of the downsides of the tent is the living space. Because the pole runs the length of the tent and not along the width like the Laser or Akto, the internal space is narrow and the inner tends to hang loosely inwards. This doesn’t bother me as I am so tiny and I also spend most of my time in the tent with the inner door open and in doing so, extend my living space into the porch. But I think that bigger or bulkier bodies would not like the inner space. My other minor grumble is that I felt I couldn’t make tight enough the tension straps that attach the inner to the outer at the bottom – perhaps this explains the slight “flappiness”.


The inner door is made with half mesh which can be zipped closed on chillier nights. Probably my favourite feature of this tent is the outer door. It can be half-opened to give good protection for cooking in wind and rain but both the inner and outer can be fully peeled back as well so that the front of the tent is completely open, allowing you to enjoy the outdoor space and gaze wistfully, mug in hand, across open mountain vistas. I really like this as I feel I’m sitting outdoors but still benefitting from a bit of wind protection on colder days.


I should say that the classification of “winter” tent is mine and I’m not aware that it’s actively marketed as a four season tent. But, based on my experience of the tent and the original one I used for many years, I think that classification is justified. It really is strong, perfectly sheds snow and that bathtub groundsheet is just what’s needed in wet winter conditions. The tent comes with a nice stuffsac with two integrated compression straps, repair patches, seam sealant and a small stuffsac containing pegs and a pole repair sleeve.


In summary, the Microlight is not in the featherweight category of one-person shelters but I think its design and robustness are ideally suited to the Scottish winter. With a regular price tag of £200-220, I think it’s also excellent value for money. You can get all the technical specs here.

If you do meet the person of your dreams out in the hills, you'll quite quickly want to upsize to the more salubrious accommodations provided by a two-man tent. So keep reading for the next blog when I'll review a two-person Exped mountain tent.   

Addendum - January 14
Used the Microlight with a friend who had a Terra Nova Laser. A damp night with light wind. The Laser had gathered quite a lot of condensation by the morning whereas the Microlight was perfectly dry.

9 comments:

  1. I have had this tent the terra nova voyager for just under a year now mostly took out out in fair weather I decided to camp on top of Pen-y-fan 11/04/15 the wind condition's were moderate to strong at the time's but with this being rated a 4 season tent I was confident it would withstand the weather being thrown at it , but boy was I wrong the arch pole over the door kept being blown back onto the tent and me inside all night despite being pitched correctly the result in the morning was a broken pole and where the red pole sit's over the two blue horizontal poles it had rubbed holes in both pole sleeves and the stitching inside was tearing through the inner tent where the pole sleeves attach, now I cannot insert the poles through the sleeves without them coming through the holes . I contacted terra nova about this they were useless after many emails and pictures of the damage were sent I had to send it off to them, 2 weeks for them to look at it and after they make a dissension another 2-3 weeks for them to repair it at my expense when it is clearly a design fault as there is no reinforcement protection where the poles overlap on the front of the tent but there is protection on the rear. Truly disappointed in there poor customer service I expected more form a British company I have lost faith in there product's and will buy a Hilleberg for a better experience .

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  2. I have had this tent the terra nova voyager for just under a year now mostly took out out in fair weather I decided to camp on top of Pen-y-fan 11/04/15 the wind condition's were moderate to strong at the time's but with this being rated a 4 season tent I was confident it would withstand the weather being thrown at it , but boy was I wrong the arch pole over the door kept being blown back onto the tent and me inside all night despite being pitched correctly the result in the morning was a broken pole and where the red pole sit's over the two blue horizontal poles it had rubbed holes in both pole sleeves and the stitching inside was tearing through the inner tent where the pole sleeves attach, now I cannot insert the poles through the sleeves without them coming through the holes . I contacted terra nova about this they were useless after many emails and pictures of the damage were sent I had to send it off to them, 2 weeks for them to look at it and after they make a dissension another 2-3 weeks for them to repair it at my expense when it is clearly a design fault as there is no reinforcement protection where the poles overlap on the front of the tent but there is protection on the rear. Truly disappointed in there poor customer service I expected more form a British company I have lost faith in there product's and will buy a Hilleberg for a better experience .

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  3. Great and detailed review. Thanks Pauline

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  4. Great and detailed review. Thanks Pauline

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  5. Nice review! I bought a Macpac microlight about 20 yearss ago from Cotswold Camping. I used it extensively round Europe and on one trip to Guatemala where it performed very well. It has languished in the loft for many years but I am just about to shake it out and start planning a solo walk around Kinder Scout this coming week - I hope it is still waterproof! Thanks Pauline

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  6. Well I did my trek around Kinder Scout and the microlight was as good as I remembered. The first night was drizzly, windy and gloomy - I couldnt find a very good pitch (I made it up to above the rocks on Ringing Roger) and the heather was deep but my pegs were quite short so getting a good anchor was awkward (not the fault of the tent). Second night, about 500 metres upstream from Kinder Downfall was lovely as I found a good level pitch with short grass and had a fantastic sunset whilst eating curry cooked on the trusty Trangia. This little tent has done well over the years - a backpacking trip round Central America - best night out was near Mayan ruins at Tikal when there was a tropical downpour and still stayed dry and also some nights out in the desert in Israel. Only slight criticism is the slightly saggy inner tent. Its an old favourite!

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  7. A little known fact about the Microlight tent door: the door in the fly can be either side of the zip. It is only advertised as having a door on the long side of the tent, as per your photo above. However that section of fly (on the left side of the zip) can be pegged down and you can open the section of fly on the right side of the zip instead. This end entry is excellent for bad weather protection of the storage area & inner tent and is my primary entry of use. Unfortunately the modern versions of this tent do not have a means to tie back the fly at the pole end so I have to use a small elastic cord.
    I agree with you that this is not a lightweight, wimpy design for hot conditions; it is designed and made for back country use. I am 6'2" and accept the minimal head room as a trade off for the great floor area, the storage area, the fact the fly is the structure of the tent & not the inner, the end door option, the heavy duty floor & fly, the build quality, and the price.

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  8. Well I can only echo Pauline's review. My Microlight is about 23 years old. Bought for it's light weight and strength for Mountain Marathons, where it got some serious testing including the now infamous Howling Howgills and another in the Mournes in serious conditions, it never once let me down.
    But time marches on! And in recent years my little old tent has languished in the kit box. Until August 19th 2017.
    I didn't actually test it in the rain before we left, so biblical rain in northern Sweden in a trip with Canoe Cornwall was not the best place to try it out after all those years. But it pitched in minutes, just as above, and kept me warm and dry. The puddles around my pitch did not get in either.
    The second night was also wet, but also became windy - too late at night to move to a more sheltered pitch. When I woke in the morning, still dry and toasty, I found I had pitched in the end of a headland facing directly into the near gale force winds. Some of the rain was wind blown spray off the lake!
    It was kinder for the rest of the week, but cold. The only condensation was on the night I decided to go for the 6 peg pitch and do the vent/guy after supper, and then forgot!
    Several new tents came on the trip with other paddlers but if I had to buy a solo/MM tent again, the Microlight would be my only choice.
    Long may it last!

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