Home / Gear Reviews / MSR Carbon Reflex 1 Tent

MSR Carbon Reflex 1 Tent

manufacture by:
Philip Werner
Version:
1
Price:
399.00

Reviewed by:
Rating:
3
On November 14, 2011
Last modified:August 15, 2016

Summary:

Don't let the light weight of this tent blind you to the fact that it's cramped, it can't be pitched on surfaces that won't hold tent stakes, and there are no external tie-downs to stabilize it in windy conditions. Those are all show-stoppers for me and I wouldn't think about buying this tent, even if I could always use it non-rainy conditions when tent condensation might not be an issue.

MSR Carbon Reflex 1 Ultralight Tent
MSR Carbon Reflex 1 Ultralight Tent

The MSR Carbon Reflex 1 person tent is very lightweight and only weighs 2 pounds and 8.9 ounces (on the sectionhiker scale). That’s very lightweight for a double-walled tent with a built-in vestibule. But, with an MSRP of $450 it is very expensive. Is it worth it?

Tent Components

The MSR Carbon Reflex 1 person tent comes with an inner tent, a rain fly, a stuff sack and two Easton-made carbon fiber poles. The inner tent has a PU coated bathtub floor but is almost completely made out of bug netting, with a large side door that opens into the vestibule. The rain fly drapes over the inner tent and provides a front vestibule with a reversible zipper and two doors which can be guyed out separately. The fly can also be pulled out a bit at the back of the tent to provide additional ventilation, but it is not accessible from inside the inner tent. Both the inner tent and the fly are fully seam taped and the fly is reinforced with extra fabric panels at all of the tent’s tie-outs points.

  • Total weight: 2 pounds 8.9 ounces (mfg weight listed as 2 pounds 9 ounces)
    • Carbon fiber poles: 6.4 ounces
    • Pole stuff sack: 0.5 ounces
    • Inner tent: 15.3 ounces
    • Rain fly: 14.2 ounces
    • Tent stuff sack: 2.2 ounces
    • Aluminum tent stakes: 6 @ 2.3 ounces
    • Tent stake stuff sack: 0.2 ounces

The Carbon reflex 1 also comes with two Easton carbon fiber poles, a short and a long one, which are connected with shock cord.

Pitching the Tent

To set up the Carbon Reflex 1, you stake out the four corners of the inner tent, insert the long pole into the two end grommets and then clip the inner tent to it. A final cross piece is tensioned over the long poles and inserts into two grommets at the top of the tent’s sides. Quite a lot of elbow grease is required to get this last pole in place and it can be a bit of a struggle. Pray that you don’t have to pitch this tent if it is raining heavily, because the inner tent will be plenty wet by the time you want to get into it.

Top Cross Pole
Top Cross Pole

The guy-outs at the corners of the tent are loops of cord with the same kind of line-loc tensioners you find on a lot of ultralight shelters. Staking them out at maximum tension, with the guy lines set at a 45 degree angle to the inner tent, is essential to maximizing the narrow, bivy-sized space in the inner tent. This can be a bit of a problem if the ground you are pitching on doesn’t provide a very firm anchor for stakes – like rock, sand, or unconsolidated pine needles . This tent is not free-standing and you won’t be able to camp on those surfaces.

Inner Tent

The space inside the inner tent is very narrow, with barely enough room for a narrow Neoir All Season inflatable sleeping pad and a sleeping bag. While the side walls are vertical, the ends above the feet and head slope up at about a 45 degree angle. I’ve got size 10 feet and they touch the tent fabric when I am in sleeping bag, making it a probable site for condensation transfer. The same holds for the panel behind the head.

Cramped Quarters  in the Inner Tent
Cramped Quarters in the Inner Tent

There are a lot of loops inside the inner tent for hanging a headlamp in addition to four loops just below the top of the roof panel where one could hang a small gear attic (there isn’t one available for this tent). In addition, there are small side pockets on either side at one end of the tent, above the top of the bathtub floor for storing glasses or other small flattish objects.

I have to be honest, the inside of the inner tent is pretty cramped and they’re really not much room to do anything except sleep on your back. However, it  gets downright claustrophobic when you put on the rain fly.

Rain Fly

The Carbon Reflex Rain Fly is made out of PU coated 20 denier ripstop nylon with a shiny interior color and a flat external grid.  It drapes over the inner tent and attaches to the carbon fiber poles using velcro tabs at the apex of the tent and along its sides. It also clips into the corner guy-outs points on the inner tent. Unfortunately, there are no other tie-out points on the exterior skin of the shell for anchoring it down in high wind. This appears to be an oversight, but it limits the range of conditions this tent can be used in.

Dual Tie-outs on Vestibule
Dual Tie-outs on Vestibule

The vestibule is not large, but it is sufficient for use as a gear shed in rainy conditions. The floor of the vestibule in cut a high allowing for better airflow, which is a nice feature , and there are separate tie-outs on each vestibule panel to secure it to the ground. There is a two way, waterproof zipper on the door, which lets you vent the top of the vestibule without having to leave the inner tent.

Condensation

When I slept in this tent with both of the vestibule doors open, there was excellent ventilation and you didn’t ‘t experience any condensation. That wasn’t a surprise: the inner tent provides fantastic ventilation because it’s almost completely made out of bug netting.

But when I slept with the vestibule doors closed, I experienced a lot of internal condensation overnight. Part of the problem is that the fly lies very close to the surface of the inner tent right above your head and feet, which give off the most moisture at night. That moisture (primarily from your breath) condenses, drips onto the inner tent and onto your sleeping bag. This happened to me in fairly dry autumn conditions, but I’d expect it to be significantly worse in rainy weather.

If it’s raining, there is virtually nothing you can do with this tent to increase the ventilation because the bottom of the fly nearly comes down to the ground and the fly has a shape that defeats any attempts to pull it farther away from the inner tent. The only way to “fix” the problem is really to ditch the rain fly and use the inner tent as a bug bivy under a flat tarp. Of course, you don’t have to spend $450 dollars to do this.

Alternate “Ultralight” Pitch Option

If you decide to buy the $40 Carbon Reflex 1 Footprint for this tent, it is possible to pitch the rain fly without the inner tent. I didn’t test this option, but there is a segment in this video that shows how to do this with the 2 person Carbon Reflex 2. It’s an interesting option and probably cuts way down in the internal condensation one experiences with the Carbon Reflex 1. Still it’s a bit awkward to pitch and I’d hate to try doing it in pouring rain.

Conclusion

Don’t let the light weight of this tent blind you to the fact that it’s cramped, it can’t be pitched on surfaces that won’t hold tent stakes, and there are no external tie-downs to stabilize it in windy conditions. Those are all show-stoppers for me and I wouldn’t think about buying this tent, even if I could always use it non-rainy conditions when tent condensation might not be an issue. It’s definitely not worth $450 dollar and there are much less expensive double walled tents available that provide better features at a much less expensive price.

Likes

  • Small footprint – fits into tight spaces
  • Front vestibule is symmetric
  • Side facing doorway

Dislikes

  • Cramped quarters
  • Internal condensation when the vestibule is closed
  • No exterior ties downs on the fly for windy conditions
  • Not freestanding

Specifications

  • Floor dimensions: 86 x 26 inches (220 x 70 centimeters)
  • Floor area: 17 square feet
  • Vestibule area: 9.5 square feet
  • Peak height: 37 inches (94 centimeters)
  • Rain Fly Fabric: 20D x 330T ripstop nylon 66 1000mm DurashieldTM polyurethane & silicone coated
  • Floor Fabric: 40D x 238T ripstop nylon 6 3000mm DuraShield polyurethane coated & DWR
  • Mesh: 20D nylon mesh
  • Canopy Fabric: 20D x 330T ripstop nylon 66 DWR
  • Poles: Easton Carbon FX
  • Tent Stakes: DAC Aluminum

Disclosure: SectionHiker.com owns the MSR Carbon Reflex reviewed here and purchased it with their own funds.

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15 comments

  1. Thanks, a good review!

  2. Interesting. The Hubba seems to be a pretty popular tent on the AT in years past, but I'd guess it must be more spacious on the inside than the Carbon Reflex… Or is it? It's been so long since I've used a traditional tent that I always just assumed they had plenty of interior space in general.

    So, come to think of it, what's your preferred double-wall tent?

  3. I don't have a favorite double walled tent, yet! But I thought it'd be interesting to see if any of the newer very lightweight double walled tents available today actually advance the functionality of a 2 walled tent, particularly with respect to the condensation problem, or if they're really just relying on material replacement to drop tent weight.

    It is very interesting however, to see that double walled tent weights have dropped below 3 pounds, making them viable lightweight shelters under the 3 pound rule.

  4. That is good to know, especially as I start working in the customer service thing at a big outdoor retailer… I want to be able to say with a straight face that the tents we sell are lightweight, even though they're much heavier than any tarptent or shaped tarp. You know how it goes.

  5. Interesting on the space issue since the hubba is plenty big enough for ken and his long inflatable pad. Granted we still carry the Hubba Hubba and love it. In non buggy times we pitch with the fly and footprint super easy with two people. Tip on pitching these in the rain: lay the fly over the tent body and pitch it under the fly. No water issues that way. FYI: I thought this was standard Practise when pitching two wall tents in the rain! Especially single handedly. I can't speak for the carbon fiber, but both the Hubba and HH get easier to pitch with a little use. They don't get too lose, but they do break in making the poles easier to place in the grommets.

  6. Thanks for this review. I've been using a hubba this past year and I like it a lot. I had been using a Tarp Tent Contour but I had so many condensation issues and difficulty setting it up, I had to try something else. I like the standalone aspect and it's plenty big for me at 5'7" and my gear. I've fixed any condensation by opening the top of the zipper in the vestibule about 6 inches. It is a bit heavy but I try to make up for it by shaving weight in other places.

    I'd love to see some carbon poles for the hubba

  7. You all realize that this isn't a hubba review, although I reckon that the hubba is almost identical to the carbon reflex except for the poles.

    As for carbon fiber poles. They only save about 30% of the weight of an aluminum pole, so they really aren't going to give you much bang for the buck in terms of weight savings. If you want weight savings, get yourself a tyvek rain fly and use that instead of the manufacturers rain fly. You can shave a lot more weight that way and probably save yourself a LOT of money.

  8. I expect that most mainstream double wall tents require the inner body to be set up first. I was surprised that this tent is not free standing and didn't have guy line tie outs.

    IMO the advantages of these types of shelters is that there are very forgiving for beginner or casual backpackers and they give a sense of security when "deep in the woods". Now that I have a bit of experience with a hammock and tarp, I am not sure why I would want to use a double wall tent with the exception of above treeline camping in high wind or high snow loads.

  9. Cool features but still not the "perfect" tent. I don't think there's such a thing anyway. So I think making a choice would depend on where you hike and camp the most (type of terrain that is). This MSR Carbon Refelx is a bit pricey though.

  10. I used a Hubba HP while in Patagonia a few years ago and thought it was a great purpose-built double layer shelter for the rough terrain and windy conditions, if a bit heavier than I'd like. When I saw the Carbon Reflex I hoped it would be an ideal lightweight version of the same tent. Sadly, I quickly came to the same conclusions you did. I needed something freestanding and honestly double-walled for colder and windy conditions. The Carbon Reflex simply didn't cut it.

    Nice review!

  11. I wanted to buy a Hubba HP but it turns out that MSR only sold them into the European market this year. What's up with that?

  12. It looks like some of their manufacturing is in a french speaking country – either France or Vietnam. Perhaps that has something to do with it. Not really sure.

  13. I’ve been using the Carbon Reflex 1 ever since it came out, and never had any serious issues with it. I find it to be a tight fit, as mentioned, but have never had any real issues sleeping comfortably on my side; it’s not a palace, but it’s roomy enough (I’m 5-10 and 180 pounds.) I’m also able to fit all my gear inside with me (except kitchen and food, which get hung.) Of course, I don’t carry very much gear in my Virga 2 pack, which rolls up and tucks into a corner down by my feet.

    I’ve used the tent in humid Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana summers, and on rainy nights buttoned up, and never had any serious condensation issues. Yes, I got some condensation – any tent will – but it’s not enough to worry with.

    One night, a group of us were camped in typical Kentucky rainy night conditions. I was in my Carbon Reflex 1, as usual. One friend was using his Hubba HP, and a third had a Big Agnes Copper Spur 1. All of us are similar build and all of us had our vestibules closed. We all had condensation, but my Carbon Reflex had the least of all – and I’ve never suffered from dripping condensation, just some noticable damp on the inside of the fly.

    The tent is also stable; most notably, I was camped in the open just below a ridge in the Grayson Highlands, along the AT, in October. In the middle of the night, a storm blew in with sustained 20mph winds gusting to 30, and light snow. I had the head end pitched into the wind, and the tent stood rock solid, with no tendency to collapse inward. I was really impressed.

    I’ve only pitched it in the rain a couple of times, and never gotten the inside wet – but I cheat, sort of. If it looks like rain, I take the footprint. I use the footprint-and-fly pitch to make a dry lunchtime shelter – a dry lunch in the rain is a real luxury. I also use it when I have to set up in the rain. I pitch the fly and footprint first, then hang the inner tent from underneath the fly, where it stays really dry.

    You can pitch it freestanding, sort of: use your hiking poles across the short ends to hold the corners open (an idea I unashamedly stole from the TarpTent Rainbow 1.) You lose a little interior room (and it does become very cramped), but it works.

    I don’t doubt Phil’s experiences, and if you’re thinking of buying this tent, you should definitely consider his findings. You should also give the Hubba NX a serious look – cheaper, larger, and a little less fussy. But it does have a roof vent, and I’ve always tried to avoid holes in my rain fly. My experiences have been different, and much better, than Phil’s.

  14. Love my MSR Carbon 1 have had for several years now and backpack at least once a month. Being an average size guy it fits me and I am happy with the side entrance and vestibule space. The small footprint of the tent is very handy because most of the time pitching is done in very limited spaces. One thing I want to assure the reader is the ability of the tent to withstand windstorms. I’ve been in several bad windstorms and the tent’s performance answered my prayers. Anyway it’s a great tent just remember to wash it out in the bath tub to keep the zippers free from dust and it may just outlast you.

    One man’s claustrophobia is another man’s cozy.

    Thanks Jim

  15. If “Free Standing” is a must-have feature, then you’re needlessly and unimaginatively limiting yourself to heavier and often more costly options.

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