The Tensegrity 1 FL tent from Sierra Designs demonstrates the innovative principles that the company has engaged in for decades. Roomy and lightweight, the tent has three options for the vestibule that can create an open porch or protection from the elements, depending on how it is pitched. The “coffin effect” in solo tents is eliminated through the use of walls that angle out as they go up, so there is plenty of headroom. With a standard sleeping pad, such as the Thermarest NeoAir, in place there is still plenty of room on the sides to store equipment. Many backpackers go backpacking solo or backpack as singles in an organized group and the Tensegrity tent is an ideal option.
Weighing less than 2.5 pounds, the non-freestanding Tensegrity tent is compact and light enough to slip into a small backpack. It does require two trekking poles to set up, although special poles can be purchased separately from Sierra Design. The trekking poles, seven tent stakes and a small curved pole is the only hardware needed to set it up. Trekking poles of different lengths can be used though the maximum length is recommended. Grommet tabs along the bottom of the tent can be adjusted to accommodate different sized poles.
Mesh windows on the sides provide expansive views to the outside when opened, and complete privacy and protection from the elements when zipped up. The door is located on the right side of the tent, with the left being just a window. The tent materials include 30D nylon ripstop for the floor, 20D polyester ripstop for the fly and 15D nylon no-see-um ultralight mesh. There is one long pocket (13.5 inches x 4 inches) at the head of the tent where glasses, small electronic devices or other items can be stored.
One unique feature is the vestibule, which is located at the head, rather than the side of the tent. A large zippered window provides access to the vestibule from inside the tent. Another is the variety of ways that the vestibule can be set up. The most straightforward is to erect the vestibule so that the fly angles down and away from the tent to provide covered storage for a pack, boots and other gear. If the weather is fine and an open view is desired, the fly can be rolled up to expose the window. A porch can be created by tying off the ends of the fly to a tree, or if a second set of trekking poles is available, by inserting the pointy ends into provided grommets. To create the porch effect the fly is stretched out parallel to the ground. A two-person model of the tent is also available.
The Tensegrity 1 FL has been tested, on an overnight backpacking trip to Yosemite, an eight-day paddling trip in the Yukon and several trips to the Sierra. The weather was dry in the Sierra but daily rain showers during the Yukon trip tested the tent for waterproofness. It did remain dry except for some condensation inside, which is to be expected in a single wall tent. If the windows were left partially or completely unzipped there was more ventilation and condensation problems were minimized.
The set-up took a little practice at home to assure that the correct tension was applied. It is recommended to study the pitching instructions that are available on the Sierra Designs website and to proceed in the order described. First, the four corners are staked. Second, the trekking poles are inserted in the front. Third, the fly is staked. Fourth, the rear pole is inserted. After that everything can be tightened and adjusted to make sure the tension is even.
Unfortunately, the first time the rear pole was inserted the pole broke inside the narrow sleeve. Sierra Designs was contacted and immediately sent out a replacement pole. More care was taken with subsequent set-up and the pole stayed intact though it still took some fiddling to get the pole threaded through the slim sleeve. Eventually, a replacement tent was provided by Sierra Design because of the difficulty threading the sleeve. The replacement tent solved all the problems. I’m not sure if the sleeve was slightly wider but sliding the pole through the sleeve is now a breeze.
On the eight-day canoe trip on the Teslin and Yukon Rivers in Canada, the aforementioned rain was a constant companion. It was easy to lay the tent out and erect the tent quickly, which kept the interior dry. The rain was usually not accompanied by heavy wind so the side windows could be left down for ventilation. Due to the inclement weather the fly was set up to create a protected vestibule, with the ends staked to the ground. The large covered space in the vestibule was much appreciated as the bulky dry bag could fit in it so that the opening of the dry bag could be accessed through the window. There was plenty of room inside the tent to store clothing, books and other gear. The fact that the walls angle out toward the top made the space feel airy and spacious. A footprint was not used and the floor of the tent remained dry on the inside. If the tent had to be put away wet from early morning showers it dried quickly when set up in the late afternoon. Luckily there were no days when it rained all day long. The zippers worked well and did not get caught in the fabric.
On a recent Sierra trip I encountered heavy winds in the middle of the night. I was worried that the tent would collapse and went outside to secure the stakes. One stake, inserted into sandy soil, had loosened but after repositioning and securing with a rock it held nicely and I was impressed with how the tent weathered the wind event. The next night the temperatures dropped to the mid-20s. I zipped up the window coverings for warmth and in the morning found that condensation had frozen inside the tent. This was not surprising with the windows zipped up and it dried quickly in the sun.
Overall, the Tensegrity 1 FL tent performed well, was comfortable and roomy, stayed dry except for minor condensation and was fairly easy to set up. The large vestibule was appreciated, the side door was convenient and the windows were airy. This is my preferred tent when I am hiking solo because of the light weight and compact size.
Sierra Designs Tensgrity 1 FL tent (1 person)
$320 (this tent has been out for a few years so it’s available from other sellers at lower prices–check Amazon and other retailers)
Minimum Weight (from SD): 2 lbs
Packaged Weight (from SD): 2 lbs, 6 oz
User Verified Weight: 2 lbs, 4.5 oz with tent, 2 stuff sacks, seven stakes and one pole
Internal Peak Height: 41”
Width: 30” front; 26” rear
Disclosure of material connection: I received a sample for testing purposes, but the opinions expressed are solely my own.
All photos by Inga Aksamit, unless otherwise credited.