The Sierra Designs Tensegrity 1 FL (feather lite) is a lightweight trekking pole tent that provides the benefits of ultralight tarp camping with the comfort of a screened-in and rain-proof tent. A single walled shelter without a separate rain fly, (you can pitch it in the rain without getting the interior wet) the Tensegrity 1 FL provides ample headroom and interior volume for one person, including a large vestibule area to store gear. Weighing just 33 ounces (minus stakes), the Tensegrity 1 FL provides a good middle ground for backpackers who want the benefits of a tarp style shelter without having to learn how to pitch a tarp or tie a bunch of knots.
Despite having a relatively low profile, the interior volume of the Tensegrity 1 is quite large, providing lots of room for you to spread out inside without feeling claustrophobic. Shaped like a wedge, if has three mesh walls along the sides and head end of the tent. The tent roof is a sloped ceiling that drapes over the living compartment, while the foot end of the interior is suspended by a collapsible tent pole that runs through an exterior sleeve in the tent ceiling. The foot end also has a mesh window, which is covered with an exterior awning to prevent rain and splash-back from entering.
All of this ventilation is necessary because the Tensegrity 1 is a single wall tent, which is prone to internal condensation. In a double walled tent, internal condensation flows through the mesh walls of the inner tent and sticks on the inside of the rain fly, away from you and your gear so they stay dry. That’s not the case in a single-walled tent where the moisture collects on the surfaces that you and your gear brush up against. Good air flow helps mitigate internal condensation buildup however, helping to vent moisture and dry it faster. Of course, if you find yourself camping in very humid or misty conditions, no amount of ventilation will prevent internal condensation from adhering to the interior walls. That’s just the way it is.
If you are too cold and want to limit the amount of airflow through the Tensegrity, or simply want more privacy, the side mesh walls of the tent have solid inner panels that can be zippered closed over the mesh. The same can’t be said however of the mesh panels at the head and foot end of the tent which have no solid fabric panels covering them. They must always remain open, which can be a mixed bag, since it limits the extent which you can regulate airflow when the wind picks up or the temperature drops. You just need to be sensitive to this limitation in cooler weather and make sure that you bring a good hat and sufficient sleeping insulation with you if you chill easily.
In addition to ventilation, the front door at the head end of the tent is designed to give you access to the storage area formed under the front awning. While the awning can be rolled up so you can see out the front door in “star-gazing” mode, you need to set up additional guy lines, since the front awning holds the front wall up, to keep the front of the wedge from collapsing. And while you can technically enter and exit the tent through the front door, the side door makes a better entry because it’s larger and you don’t need to worry about dislodging your trekking poles when you get in and out of the tent.
Despite its ungainly appearance and mesh windows, the Tensegrity 1 will keep you high and dry in heavy thunderstorms. This was one of my chief concerns when testing this tent because there isn’t a solid fabric panel behind the front mesh window that you can close and because the side windows have very little tarp coverage over them in an effort to cut weight. Instead of a full vestibule, there’s a 4 inch wide swath of fabric that is sewn on the edge of the roof that acts like a rain gutter, channeling water away from the doors and down the roof of the tent. It works really well for this purpose, although it doesn’t provide any wind protection. More on that in a second.
If it’s raining when you pitch the tent, you need to be careful to keep the front awning over the front mesh door when the tent is lying flat on the ground. And if it’s raining when you get in and out of the tent (through the side door), you need to put on your rain gear inside the tent and take it off inside, at least if you want to keep your dry clothing dry. The front awning isn’t really functional as a vestibule for getting in and out of the tent and is best thought of as a covered gear storage area, kind of like a car port, but not really a full porch when it’s angled down.
The front awning also helps protect the sides of the tent from being blown flat as long as you pitch the awning facing the wind. In order to provide better wind protection the fly has been cut a good deal wider than the inner tent body. But the added awning width and the need to anchor the sides of the Tensegrity 1 roof using guy lines stretched at a 90 degree angle to the inner tent, makes this tent very difficult to pitch in forests where you don’t have a big and open flat space to fit it into. If you like the interior space of the Tensegrity 1 but need to pitch it along heavily wooded trails, I recommend you take a look at the Sierra Design Flashlight FL 1, which is quite similar to the Tensegrity 1, but requires far less open space.
Pitching The Tensegrity 1
Before you start pitching the Tensegrity 1, make sure the solid inner doors on the side windows are completely zipped up. This should really be done whenever you break the Tensegrity 1 down, to prevent rain from entering the inner compartment when you pitch it. When pitching in the rain, you also need to make sure that the front awning always covers the mesh front door, since it doesn’t have a solid fabric inner flap.
While the Tensegrity 1 is a trekking pole tent, it comes with a curved hooped tent pole that threads through a sleeve over your feet to create more interior volume, including a small screened window with a covered awning. This window can’t be closed and is necessary to allow wind to flow through the tent and out the back to keep the tent from going airborne when the wind picks up.
When pitching the Tensegrity 1, I’ve found it best to insert this rear hoop pole first, before staking it out with the rear corners of the inner tent. After that, lightly stake the front corners of the inner tent body (with lots of slack in the guy lines) before inserting your trekking poles into the grommets at the base of the front wall and the pole sleeves in the front awning.
I set my trekking poles to be 125 – 130 cm long. If the length markings on your poles have worn out from use, be sure to pre-measure the required length before you go on a trip. You must also use conventional trekking poles with vertical handles, since the Tensegrity’s pole handle sleeves are not compatible with PacerPole Grips.
Next, pull up the awning so that the front wall of the Tensegrity inner elevates and stake out the center guy line on the awning. The front wall of the inner tent doesn’t go completely vertical and stays titled back, but will stay up when you stake the center guy line on the awning, since the two are attached.
Tighten the guy line on the front corners of the inner tent – they have line locs on them for easy adjustment – and then stake out the two apex guy lines connected to the top of the front awning near the pole handles, so that they form a 90 degree angle with the inner tent. These take most of the wobble out of the pitch, but not all of it. You can also try repositioning the grommets more widely, although I haven’t found that it makes much a difference in eliminating the wobble factor.
Finally stake out the two remaining corners of the awning and walk around the tent, tightening up the line locs and guy lines as much as you can without pulling your stakes out of the ground. I’ve pitched this tent numerous times and never been completely happy with the tightness of the pitch. Despite this, it’s proven weather worthy in heavy thunderstorms, so it’s not about to fall even though there’s still some slack in the fly fabric and walls.
While the Sierra Designs Tensegrity 1 FL tent incorporates a lot of innovative design concepts, it’s comfortable to sleep in, well-ventilated, and will keep you dry in bad weather, it’s not one of the tents that I’d recommend to someone who wants to lighten their gear weight by buying a 2 pound tent. While the Tensegrity 1 is not difficult to pitch with a little practice, I don’t like the fact that it requires so much space to set up. That makes is virtually unusable on the backpacking trips I take in the eastern United States with dense forests and convoluted ground where there isn’t enough open space to pitch a tent of this size. That’s the type of environment where a small tarp and screened bivy sack are perfect for fitting into the narrow spaces between trees.
The pitch of the Tensegrity is also a lot “wobblier”, if that’s a term, than I prefer, and would be a lot more stable and easier to pitch if the front poles could be positioned vertically at the corners of the fly instead of leaning backward against the front of the inner tent. And while the Tensegrity 1 has proven stable enough to weather heavy rain storms, I strongly prefer shelters that provide a rock solid, drum tight pitch.
Still, if you like what you see in the Tensegrity 1, including the ample ventilation, single wall construction, weight-saving trekking pole pitch, rain gutters, hooped foot area, and easily accessible vestibule storage, but want a tent which is better suited for cramped forested tent sites, I can recommend the Sierra Designs Flashlight 1 FL. The Flashlight 1 has the same wedge-shaped appearance but positions its poles vertically for a much more stable pitch. (see also: Sierra Designs Flashlight 1 Review)
- Great ventilation. Perfect for hot weather camping.
- Lots of interior room.
- Lightweight, only weighing 33 ounces.
- Difficult to get a really taught pitch, even with extra guy lines.
- Tent requires a large set up space making it difficult to find camping spots in forested and mountainous terrain.
- It’s easy to forget the required rear tent pole.
- Can’t block air flow through front vestibule door
- Minimum of 10 stakes required to pitch the tent.
- Only one side door, not two.
- Capacity: 1
- Packaged weight: 2 pounds 6 ounces
- Length: 88″
- Width: Front – 30″; Rear 26″ (not including awning, which is wider)
- Interior Area: 17.10 sq ft
- Vestibule Area: 8 sq ft
- Seam taped
Disclosure: Sierra Designs provided Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) with a sample Tensegrity 1 FL tent for this review.
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