Wednesday, April 1, 2009

“The One” vs. “Refuge X” in a Bout for the Lightest Tent

No this isn’t an April Fools Day joke, so read on about the world's lightest tents!

At one point, Terra Nova ( and Hilleberg ( boasted that they had the lightest tent. Other manufacturers attempted to either copy their designs or decided to make tents substantially smaller and less stable to bring their weights down. In recent years, bivy and one-man tents have become some of the lightest on the market and consequently became the most claustrophobic and unfriendly to anyone who wanted to move around a bit.

Fortunately, the ultralight movement has pushed a handful of great manufacturers into really challenging the norm. These manufactures tested new designs and new materials and were able to offer fully functional tents at weights never before seen – a sub 16 ounce tent. At this weight, these tents are lighter than anything on the market to include many tarps.

The two leading lightweight full coverage tents on the market include “The One” offered by Gossamer Gear ( and “Refuge X” offered by Six Moon Designs ( Although Henry Shires “Tarp Tent” ( is very competitive, he simply cannot compete with Gossamer Gear and Six Moon Designs in this lightweight challenge.

Before I get too deep I must admit an inherent bias towards both of these companies since I own gear from each and have found both to offer superb customer service to an extent that I simply had never seen in this industry before.

I also need to confess that I’m a bit of a gear junkie. To some, this means I collect lightweight backpacking gear. For me, I’d argue this definition isn’t right for me. Simply put, I’m constantly looking for the right gear. As I come across better gear, I buy it and purge my older stock to make room. In this case, I simply couldn’t pass up considering the two offerings from each of these companies as getting the opportunity to own and use a sub-1 pound tent is something that I feel would be really remarkable and contribute greatly to my personal backpacking enjoyment.

So we’re clear, we’re talking about a sub-1 pound tent. In my basement I have a winter tent from The North Face which is damn near bulletproof and rings in at about 9 pounds. NINE POUNDS! The lightest fully functional tent I own, which I should mention I love, is a Six Moon Designs Lunar Duo. Although there are lighter tents on the market in the same vein, I went with the Lunar Duo because at 6’6” and a fluffy 270 pounds - I needed the room. For me, very few manufactures had anything long enough for me and often my choices in gear were strictly driven by fit instead of other factors. This fact alone has often prohibited me from getting the lightest options of my choice as in the end the gear needed to be functional. With this in mind, I could only hope that I wasn’t going to be let down (again) by some really great gear.

Knowing “The One” and the “Refuge X” were competing for the title of Lightest Test, I really wanted to evaluate both to determine if one would fit me. A side-by-side comparison was quite telling:

Weight Length Width Height Sq/Ft Price
The One* 16 oz 84 34 47 17.5 $295
Refuge X >16 oz 108 48 45 30 $400
*The One has unique measurements, so those listed were to simplify my observations.

The chart above revealed two things which I found to be quite substantial and both (to me) identified the Refuge X to be the more inviting shelter. The Refuge X offers 24” more in length and 12.5 sq/ft of additional space. Probably of equal note is the fact that there is also a difference in cost of $105 which favors The One. The One is made of Spinnaker cloth while the Refuge X is made of Cuben. Other than design variances, the fabric is the principal difference between the two. The positives and negatives of either fabric choice are mitigated, in my opinion, by the function of the design as either you'll like the design and function or you won't. Regarding the difference in fabrics, Spinnaker stretches better which eases pitching. It also breathes better which helps with condensation. Cuben is stronger and lighter, but it takes unique engineering both to pitch properly and to ensure proper airflow. Both are more costly than SilNylon, which works just fine too, but these are the lastest and greatest fabrics utilized in the lightweight backpacking industry.

I know from personal experience that my wonderful Lunar Duo has very similar engineering as the Refuge X and I personally appreciated the additional space. I also liked the fact that there is a real cabin, room enough or 4 people to play cards when guylined out properly, and space enough simply to sit up. So many manufacturers trying to cut weight on their tents give you a bit of room near your head and than taper the rest at your feet. This never felt right to me. The One doesn't taper as drastically, but it does taper to the point that it ximply cannot offer the same kind of space as the Refuge X for the same weight.

Knowing my initial feeling was to go with the Refuge X based simply on roomyness, I started searching the internet for evaluations of both shelters hoping to find some solid differences in wear and function. The evaluations revealed what I expected, that both were excellent products and are equally great for users with preferences inclined towards one or the other. Both tents had minor issues which caused them each to be redesigned from their original models. The second generation of The One has already come out and actually sold out (again) in 2009 in a matter of weeks. The second generation of the Refuge X is still under development. According to Ron Moak, the owner and designer, changes include adding a true bathtub floor and other more minor changes. This will bring the weight up ever so slightly and also the price. Probably the only other notable difference is that the Refuge X isn't expected to perform well in windy conditions, partially due to the profile of the design and partially due to the material. The big downside of the Refuge X is that it isn't available now and it might be awhile before it comes out. My discussion with Ron indicated he is extremely busy and wants his design to be right before it is released again.

So is this where the comparison ends? Well, not really. I have heard through the grapevine that Gossamer Gear is considering a limited run of The One made of Cuben Fiber. This would clearly put it over the top as the world’s lightest tent which would weigh in at somewhere near 9 ounces. Again folks, NINE OUNCES!!! It is unclear if/when this will happen, but knowing the innovative guys at Gossamer Gear, I have a strong suspicion that it will be out at some point in 2009.
As a guy always interested in cutting weight, this may seem like a major reason for me to go with The One, in Cuben anyway. The reality is that weight isn't everything and I'd rather have the space and utility of the Refuge X and plan to purchase it when the new design is available. For the budget conscious, I should mention Six Moon Designs makes a SilNylon version of the Refuge X call "Refuge" which is nearly the exact same design as the Refuge X other than the fabric and healthy price tag. The Refuge weighs in at 1 lb 11 oz, still extremely light, and runs $260.
The greater truth behind this debate which stands above all preferences is the fact that the lightweight backpacking cottage industry continues to forge into new territory to offer some absolutely amazing products to make the simple pleasures for you and I all the more exciting. To me, my future purchase of the Refuge X will go nicely with another purchase I’m waiting on which is a custom-made roll-top all Dyneema X pack from Mountain Laurel Designs ( Sure SilNylon and Cuben Fiber packs are lighter, but I don’t have the money always to buy new gear or to choose the lightest of options which may not wear as well as others. The pack will be a sub 16 ounce dream made just for me, and by the way, don’t be surprised if my interest in an all Dyneema X with roll-top shows up in future packs from Mountain Laurel Designs as I already know the roll-top will become available in the next month or so for everyone else :) Personally, I can't wait for either.
Happy backpacking.


samh said...

> I also need to confess
> that I’m a bit of a gear
> junkie.

To own both a Refuge X and The One certainly puts you in the junkie category! Thanks for the read.

Martin Rye said...

"Refuge X isn't expected to perform well in windy conditions" So why get it?. Sometimes function over weight is a reality we have to face. Wind is an issue for any backpacker. Just a thought. Interesting read and views on kit.

Jolly Green Giant said...

The reason is not because of the weight of the material, but because of its lack of flexibility and lack of porosity of Cuben fiber. Simply, wind cannot pass through it very well so it just sits as a roadblock to any wind. The higher the profile of the structure, or less aerodynamic the engineering, the greater the likelihood that it will act as a wind sail. Ventilation is not only a necessity for the occupant, but to also let some air pass through. When all the windows, doors, vents, etc., are open, both fare quite well, but this isn’t how most folks would choose to leave their structure in those conditions.

But, you are right – function over weight (at least to me) is a key factor. For example, at 6’6” I can’t simply buy lighter gear just because it is lighter as it needs to ultimately fit and work for me. In this scenario, if you know you are going to area where you can expect high winds, then this may not be the best structure for you, at least in its current design. Perhaps the SilNylon version, known as the Refuge, is a better fit for your needs. At 27 ounces and $260, it remains very light, reasonably affordable, plenty roomy, and the fabric may be more suitable to your needs (i.e. breathable and flexible). I have yet to have a make-it-or-break-it situation in the woods where the winds tore up my structure. With proper guylines and staking, all of my shelters have done well in poor weather. Another key is to put the strong-side of your shelter at a direct intersection with the prevailing wind so the wind doesn’t have a chance to get underneath or into the body of your structure. Basically, in “most” conditions, a little wind isn’t going to be that big of a deal, especially if you plan for it. To say that the Refuge X doesn’t perform well in windy conditions isn’t to say it performs poorly, just that there are other structures which perform better in the wind which overall may not make a ton of difference depending on your environment and skills to set it up effectively.

Thanks for stopping by and contributing.