The MSR Access 1 is a freestanding, double-wall tent designed for ski touring and winter backpacking that only weighs 3 lbs. While it’s much warmer than a three-season tent and strong enough to handle moderate snow loads, it’s intended for use in more protected terrain and conditions than an expedition-class mountaineering tent that weighs considerably more. The Access has an exoskeleon frame like many of MSR’s other freestanding tents, with an inner tent that is suspended from Easton carbon fiber poles and then covered with a rain fly. The tent has a side door and vestibule that provide easy access and gear storage, along with extra pre-attached guylines to anchor the tent in windy conditions. The Access 1 is one the lightest weight four season tents available and a great option for self-powered winter travel.
Specs at a Glance
- Claimed Minimum Weight: 3 lbs / 1.37 kg
- Actual Minimum Weight (weighed minus stuff sacks and tent stakes) is 2 lb 14.5 oz
- Claimed Packaged Weight: 3 lbs 8 oz / 1.6 kg
- Actual Packaged Weight (weighed with all stuff sacks and tent stakes) 3 lbs 6.5 oz
- Type: Freestanding
- Capacity: 1 Person
- Doors: 1
- Vestibules: 1
- Tent poles: 1 shock-corded Easton Syclone CF pole w/25 segments
- Seam Sealed/Seam-Taped: Yes
- Rain fly: 20D ripstop nylon 1200mm Xtreme Shield polyurethane & silicone
- Floor: 30D ripstop nylon 3000mm Xtreme Shield™ polyurethane & DWR
- Floor Dimensions: 84″ x 33″ (213 x 84 cm)
- Actual Usable Floor Dimensions: 79″ x 32″ (201 x 81 cm)
- Peak height: 40″
Freestanding Tents in Winter
The MSR Access 1 is a freestanding tent that is easy to set up while wearing gloves, which is a winter must-have that most people don’t think about. Freestanding tents are great in winter because you can assemble them off to the side and then move them onto a tent platform you’ve stomped out with your skis or snowshoes, once it’s hardened, a process called sintering. This lets you get out of the weather faster and into dry clothes sooner, so you warm up and start making dinner or melting snow for drinking water.
The Access 1 (there’s also an Access 2 and an Access 3) sets up as an exoskeleton-style tent where the inner tent is clipped to a pole structure and then draped with a rainfly. The inner tent has breathable semi-solid walls instead of mesh that let moisture out but prevent snow (spring drift) from being blown under the rain fly and into the sleeping area. The inner tent is also a lot warmer than a tent with mesh walls or a mesh roof, which is a welcome bonus in winter. While this architecture might give you pause in a three-season tent since it makes the inner tent susceptible to rain during setup, that’s much less of an issue in winter when the precipitation you encounter is likely to be snow and will not penetrate the solid walls of the inner tent during setup.
The inner tent has two stretch pockets that span the width of the tent at the foot and head end, but nothing along the sides or on the door. There are numerous hang loops in the ceiling though where you can suspend lights or dry clothes (I’m not a big fan of hanging candles or stoves, but those too). There is one small mesh window in the side door so you can get a glimpse into the side vestibule, but the only other light entering the tent is the warm glow provided by the tent’s orange rain fly.
The inner tent is not cramped if you’re under 6′ in height, which is a real bonus in winter when the days are short and you have to spend a long time in the tent in your sleeping bag. But the listed dimension specs of the inner tent (84″ x 33″) are measured from the outside per industry norms and not the inside (79″ x 32″) which is what we prefer, meaning you’ll be cramped if you’re on the taller side.
Vertically, it’s easy to sit up inside and get in and out of clothing and to put on or take off your boots in the vestibule to avoid bringing snow inside the tent. There’s also plenty of open space above your head and feet, so you don’t have to stare at a ceiling two inches above your face or worry about internal condensation transfer to your sleeping bag footbox.
Carbon Fiber Poles
The Access 1 comes with a single multi-segment MSR carbon fiber pole, which are now used on many of their other tents and helps to lower the overall tent weight. They don’t require any special handling compared to aluminum poles, although you still have to carefully seat each segment so you don’t split the ends. However, when setting up the Access 1, you’ll want to engage the lateral pole segments that are perpendicular to the long side of the tent last, after you’ve hung the inner tent from the rest of the pole structure. Otherwise, the lateral poles, which are under high tension, have a tendency to pop out of their guy-out points. If that doesn’t work, do it after staking out the corners.
While there is just one pole on the Access 1, it has many segments and is a bit bulky to pack because some of the segments have bends in them and don’t fold together perfectly flat. Tent companies prefer packaging their tents with one complex pole rather than two or more because people misplace them or lose them. The bulkiness factor isn’t terrible with the Access 1 pole, but it makes it more awkward to pack inside or on the exterior of my backpack.
While MSR does provide a cylindrical tent bag and stuff sacks for the poles and tent stakes included with the Access 1, I like to repackage my rain fly and inner tent into a smaller stuff sack with the poles packed elsewhere because it makes it much easier to pack the tent in a backpack. My separate stuff sack is also waterproof for those times when I need to pack a wet tent.
The rain fly is draped over the exoskeleton pole structure and attaches to the same stake-out corners as the inner tent, so you only have to stake out the corners once. While the tent is freestanding, the front vestibule and a rear panel (which enhances ventilation and wind resistance) still need the be staked out for optimal performance.
While MSR includes 8 groundhog stakes with the tent, they’re not really optimal for winter use when you need deadmen or much longer stakes to get a solid anchor that will freeze into place. I often use pieces of gear for this purpose when winter camping, like my shovel handle, trekking poles, or an ice axe, or I carry plastic shipping bags to bury as deadmen because they’re so lightweight. If I’m camping below treeline, I’ll also use branches that have fallen onto the snow and break them into smaller pieces to use as tent stakes, as I’ve done here.
One of the things I particularly like about the Access 1 is the side position of the door and vestibule. It makes getting into the tent and out so much easier than a tent with a front entrance. While the vestibule isn’t huge and not deep enough for cooking with a white gas stove, it’s big enough to store a large backpack while providing easy access to personal items at night. The door is also easy to open at night because the bottom slider terminates at your head near the ground and not in the middle of the vestibule, while the top zipper slider can be pulled down separately to vent the top of the tent.
When it comes to waterproofing, the rain fly of the Access 1 is factory seam-sealed and the floor is seam-taped, so it can be used without any preparation. MSR has found that seam-sealing provides a more durable seal on lightweight rainfly fabrics which accounts for the difference. The waterproofness of a fabric under pressure (known as its hydrostatic head) of the floor is a full 3000 mm which is quite high and while the rainfly hydrostatic head is only 1200 mm, it’s perfectly adequate for winter use.
The MSR Access 1 is a lightweight double-wall tent that’s easy to set up and fun to use for winter camping and backpacking. Weighing just 3 pounds (ours weighed 2 lb 14.5 oz), it’s quite lightweight for a four-season tent without skimping on the luxuries, weather resistance, and functionality that you want for enduring the cold long nights of winter. Being a double-wall tent, there is much less risk of internal condensation transfer to your gear, while the fabric (not mesh) walls of the inner tent prevent snow from blowing in under the rain fly and make the tent feel much warmer inside. The Access 1 packs up small and is freestanding, which makes it very quick to set up or take down.
Personally, I really like the side door and vestibule which make sit so much easier to get in and out of the Access 1 than tunnel-style tents like the Black Diamond FirstLight 2, which has been my go-to winter backpacking tent for many years. I think I’m going to switch to the MSR Access 1 for winter backpacking from here on out. It’s a step up in terms of comfort and even weighs less.
Disclosure: MSR donated a tent for review.
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