The Stephenson's Warmlite 3R
There are pieces of gear that I buy without too much thought and consideration, and then there are pieces that I research for years (literally) before getting a hold of one. The former is usually fairly inexpensive. This review is about one of the latter; I definitely put a lot of thought and research into this one and it is definitely expensive. I have been researching these tents for years and years, hoping one day to buy one but never knowing if I would have the patience to save up enough money to actually buy one. They aren't cheap!
To help you judge the level of my bias, let me just say that I have been in lust with these tents for a long time, never actually getting my hands on one until this spring. This prejudice can be a bad thing for two reasons. First of all, I could have been setting myself up for disappointment. On occasion, I'll be so excited for a new piece of gear that it is almost impossible for it to live up to my expectations. The second problem, my biased views can cause me to only see the good that I want to see and ignore the bad (a type of denial, I guess).
Well, thanks to a very generous early graduation present from some family members, a Stephenson's Warmlite 3R unexpectedly came into my life. I was able to use it on the last trip to the Cirque of the Towers, which ended up being a pretty good first test.
So, here are a few of the stats and features:
- 3-person, 4-season, 1.5 wall tent
- Not freestanding; goes up with four stakes, eight if you expect really bad winds
- 4lb 3oz (which includes windows on each side of the tent and a big door on one end); their advertised weight is 3lb 12oz, but that is not including the windows (which add 5oz)
- Double wall between the poles (reduces condensation and adds warmth), single wall on the ends (reduces weight)
- Made of high tenacity sil-nylon; the internal layer between the poles is an aluminum-coated nylon fabric
- 7187-T6 aluminum, 5/8" diameter pre-curved poles. These poles are so lightweight that they feel like they'd easily break, but in 60+ winds they didn't even flinch.
- Easily room for 3 AND gear
- No vestibule (assume the end cones are vestibules with floors)
- Two doors, one on each end of the tent; one big door that zips up both sides, and a second smaller door than zips on one side
Pictures and Explanations
For the size, this may be the lightest 4-season tent available
The backside of a 3R. I have read as many reviews on this tent as I could find, and the one (and often only) problem that seemed to come up was condensation. SW claims to control condensation problems with their venting system, with one vent below the door flap and one vent at the top of the door on each side of the tent. From my experience, this venting system works quite well, assuming you don't block the lower vent with gear.
This vent is below the door flap. The bottom zipper is about six inches off the ground, and the mesh is more difficult to see than the nylon. Because of this, it's easy to trip over the doorway.
A look at the door vents from the inside. The flap on the door can velcro down over the vent, and the upper vents can zip shut. Every night but one that I have slept in this tent it has been pretty windy, so airflow through the tent was pretty good and condensation wasn't a problem. There was a little bit of condensation on the single-wall ends during the one calm night, but it was significantly less condensation than a cold night in a BD Firstlight, for example.
There was no condensation on the double-wall section between the poles. The sides of this tent also have two windows. These windows add 5oz to the total weight and apparently have no effect on the strength of the tent when the windows are shut. There are four pockets, one on each side of each window. Each pocket is a bit bigger than a 1-liter nalgene.
The interior with the windows down. The white sleeve in the middle of the window is a third pole sleeve. The additional pole aids in heavy winds or snow loads. The tent comes with two poles; the third pole is an additional $65.
The external window flap.
This tent is big for three. You can sleep three side by side with quite a bit of room on both ends for gear. Each of these pads is 20" wide and 72" long. With some creativity, you could sleep four.
There is approximately this much space on both ends for gear.
This is the back door. There is a zipper on the bottom and right side only. You can add a zipper up the left side for an additional $15.
The stake out points are interesting. There is a camlock to adjust the length of the webbing and tighten the pitch of the tent. It seems that the camlock is on backward; it's a little difficult to adjust. It would be easier if the cam lock was oriented down the webbing so that you could pull the webbing down to tighten, like a 3-to-1pulley system. Instead the cam lock is oriented facing up the webbing, so it's a little more difficult to tighten.
The poles of this tent are an extremely light, very thin-walled 7187 T-6 aluminum. They are pre-curved and are pretty stiff. SW claims that 80% of the strength of flex-to-shape aluminum poles (the kind that are used in almost every other tent on the market) is used when the poles are bent. Their poles are stiff and pre-curved so that no strength is lost. SW claims that their poles can resist 20 times more force than regular poles. I'm not sure if those numbers are true or not, but I do know that other tents I have used are quite deformed by the wind at 60mph, unless they use a lot of poles (heavy) and/or are well guyed out. This tent doesn't use guy lines and only uses two poles. With that said, in 60mph winds this tent didn't flinch. The poles didn't bend, not even the slightest bit. The tent just flapped a bit, but that was it. SW does give some pretty detailed instructions on how to care for the poles, because as strong as they are in the wind, they are not very durable.
This poles are super light and thin. Extra care should be taken so they aren't damaged.
The curve in the poles is hardly noticeable when they're collapsed. I roll the poles up in the tent to help protect them, but I'm still paranoid I may damage them somewhere along the way. So far so good.
This tent is about 20"x8" packed up. It easily packs into its stuff sack. It weighs 4lb 3oz.
Here's a little video of the 3R in the wind. Gusts during the trip were, at times, around 60mph, but gusts in the video were probably closer to 40mph. The tent looked about the same at 60mph as at 40mph.
This tent is awesome. This tent is really easy to set up. With a little practice, it takes about 2 minutes to set up with two people. It's even pretty easy to set up in the wind.
The tent is quite roomy, even for three people and winter gear. When the tent is first pitched, both the inner and outer layers are taut. After a while, the inner layer hangs loose a little. It makes the tent feel as if there isn't as much headroom, even though you can easily push your head up through the inner layer to the outer.
The craftsmanship is great from what I can tell, though it may not seem like it at first glance. All of the material is either cut with a laser or hot knife, so the edges shouldn't fray, but they are all exposed. Most companies bind the edges to make them look prettier, though the edges may fray within the binding. The seams are pretty straight, though not perfect. SW seems to value function over form. I'm cool with that. SW doesn't seal the seams, but they give you silicone seam sealer so that you can do it yourself. They say it takes about an hour. I say four.
I'm not sure where this should fit in, so I'll put it here:
I have read horror stories about SW's customer service, but I have also read many positive comments. What I understand is the owner doesn't like to feel like he's being taken advantage of. So, if he suspects you damaged the tent, plan on paying for the repair. Jack Stephenson is the founder of SW. His son, Bill, is the current owner of the company. My family said that Bill was helpful and friendly over the phone when they talked to him while purchasing this tent, but that's the only contact we've had with this company. The fact is, the tents are good. Take care of the tent according to the supplied instructions (and there are a lot of them) and it should last a long time. Don't follow the instructions and that may mean expensive repairs.
It's still incredible to me that SW has made a true three-person, four-season tent that can handle 90+mph wind (according to SW) for four pounds. Incredible! It can handle 160+mph with wind stabilizer straps (again, according to SW; the straps are an additional $30). With that said, it doesn't come without its down sides.
The durability of the tent is a little questionable, considering the lightness of the materials. SW suggests using a ground cloth to increase the durability of the floor, but that adds weight, of course. More worrisome to me than the durability of the material is the durability of the poles. Time will tell how durable the tent is. I think, with extra care, the tent should last for years and years.
Some sort of vestibule would be nice. The tent is plenty large for storing gear, but a floorless vestibule would be nice for cooking in bad weather.
The only other gripe is the price, but there is no other tent on the market, that I know of, that offers this much at such a light weight. For that, I think the price is reasonable.
I really like this tent, if that's not already clear. I think the design is brilliant. The price is high (about $680), but compared to other similar tents, it's pretty affordable. I'd give it 5 out of 5 stars.
For more information on Stephenson's Warmlite tents, you can check out their website