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Gear Review: Sierra Designs’ Convert 2, Two Person Tent

Sierra Designs’ Convert 2

I was recently given the opportunity to test the Sierra Design’s Convert 2, four season tent. I had not used a four season tent in the past, but was painfully aware of some of the shortcomings of using a very lightweight three season model during the winter months. By contrast, this was one solid shelter. There was a price to pay in the weight department, but not a terrible one.

Basic Specs

MSRP: $499.95

Packed weight: With vestibule 5 lb. 12 oz. Packed weight: w/o vestibule and 4 less stakes 4lb. 9 oz

Shelter Type: Four season, self standing

Dimensions:

Floor: 84” long x 55” wide (head), 49” (foot)
Interior: 30.3 square feet
Vestibule: 16.4 square feet
Peak: 43 inches

Materials:

Floor: 68D 210T poly ripstop nylon
Fly: 20D ripstop nylon
Mesh: 15D no-see-um
Poles: Yunan UL aluminum

The Tent

As always, before heading out into the field, I try new equipment at a location where my house is an easy fallback. Everything was packed nicely in a “burrito” bag not much larger than a similar three season tent. The 15 stakes and three poles all fit within a single compartmentalized sack inside. I immediately noticed everything about this shelter was heavier duty than I was used to. Overall “fit and finish” was excellent. It was obviously well made.

The tent went up intuitively and quickly. Being four season, there was no exposed mesh. I did not turn the hose in it, but it seemed obvious that the tent could be set up in the rain without much water intrusion before the fly could be put on. Staked down and even using just some of the guylines, the pitch was rock solid.

The sides and doorway are nearly vertical, making the tent seem extremely roomy. Two pads and bags fit side by side with floor to spare. The high (43 inch) peak height was outstanding as far as comfort. The 16.4 square foot vestibule was cavernous, with the door set to one side to cheat the winter wind when entering or leaving the shelter. This was a tent I could see being livable through a winter storm if necessary. It packed up easily and fit back in it’s storage bag. It was time for a real world test.

Testing the Sierra Designs Convert 2

Former co-worker and fellow backpacker Bill and I were planning a November trip, but the weather doesn’t always want to cooperate at that time of year in Ohio. However, since I wanted to test the tent, the forecast of rain turning to snow, high wind and a low in the mid-20s wasn’t a deterrent.

We would be hiking the backpack trail at Tar Hollow State Forest. Despite the touristy name, the trails are fairly rigged for the Midwest. It was pouring rain on the drive out, so a second breakfast at McDonalds was in order. The delay ended up giving us around six hours of light to hike the 12+ miles we had planned. A light rain was falling as we began.

Bill, trying out Umbrella Hiking

Bill was carrying his Nemo 3 season tent, so I decided that I’d have no need for the Convert’s vestibule. That decision saved me a bit over a pound in the pack. That was a good decision as the trail was wet, creek crossings were numerous, the hills were steep and switchbacks were non-existent. It’s not often a trail is steep enough that I feel I’m hiking face to face with it, but that was the case in a few spots.

Conditions slowed us a bit, and with the late start, we arrived at the designated camp area in the dark. As no one else was enjoying the Tar Hollow camp experience, we had our choice of spots on the ridge and found a nice flat area without any standing water or apparent widow makers.

The rain had quit, replaced by occasional showers of ice pellets while we set up our tents by headlamp. Again the tent went up quickly and my sleeping bag, pack and all my gear fit in with room to spare. The large doorway is waterproof when closed, so the vestibule would not be missed.  I christened the tent, The Palace.

The Palace

With the wind beginning to howl, I made sure to guy out the sides of the tent. Utilizing a sliding ring, high and low guy out points are both used while only needing one stake. The Palace was quickly locked down and steady.

We kept a fire going for a while after dinner, but eventually the increasing wind, dropping temperature and ice pellet showers drove us to our respective tents. Since I’d be needing every bit of my 23 degree bag’s warming power, I kept The Palace zipped up tight with the foot area venting closed. It would be a good test of the material’s winter weather breathability.

Night’s are long in November, but I slept through the night, warm and dry. Despite the wind, the Convert’s fly remained taut and quiet. The temperature was in the mid 20s by morning. In Bill’s tent, his water froze. Mine did not. In addition, I had no issues with condensation whatsoever. For cold weather camping, this was one impressive tent.

Summary

Additional time spent with the tent only reinforced my positive initial impressions. The convert 2 is a well made, roomy, livable 2 person, 4 season tent. For one person, It’s downright palatial. However, as with any tent, there are compromises. While light and price competitive with other four season tents, it is heavy and expensive compared to most three season models. It all depends upon what you are looking for. This is not the tent to take on a summer thru-hike. However, if you’re thinking about expanding your camping horizons into the winter months or well into snowy mountains, this is a great piece of equipment.

  • The two-wall design with a breathable (not mesh) inner wall works well to keep in warmth and let out moisture vapor.
    • The weight, while heavy compared to a three-season tent, is light compared to other four-season tents of its size.
    • The removable vestibule can reduce weight when not needed but adds significant covered space.
    • The vertical walls and high peak make the tent very livable during bad-weather days.
    • Tent stakes are T-shaped, tough, and grip well. However, the tops were not machined off at all and are sharp. You’ll need to wear a glove when sinking the stakes by hand.
    • Two small pockets are adequate, but no more.
    • The suggested retail price is in line with comparable tents at $499.95.
    • A footprint is available. It will add nearly ½ pound to your pack and subtract $30 from your wallet.

Tent body w/o fly

 

Walking in Circles: A New Book

Many backpackers dream of taking epic, once in a lifetime thru-hikes that take months and cover thousands of miles. The author is not one of those people. For me, the best thru-hikes are those that are still epic, but take weeks, rather than months to complete.
The Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) is one of those trails. At 170 miles, the distance is less intimidating than many, but the experience is still amazing. This is a great trip for anyone that wants to immerse themselves in a possibly life changing adventure, but doesn’t want to give up the life they have to do it.

Make no mistake, this trail is not an easy hike. It weaves through the Sierra Nevada after all. However, the scenery is amazing, thru-hike logistics are simpler than most and navigating the loop is pretty direct. Come along with me and discover all the specific challenges and rewards of a thru-hike around the TRT through my new book: Walking in Circles: Backpacking the Tahoe Rim Trail. As an introductory offer, the E-version is only 99 cents when purchased through Amazon during the month of January. Be warned, however. Once you’ve finished the book, your bucket list may have gotten a little longer.

 

 

Trail Report: Wildcat Hollow Trail

Most backpacking in Ohio is fairly regimented. The trails are well marked, which is a good thing. Camp areas are typically laid out with a restroom or privy, set spots to camp and potable water nearby. Again, nice to have. However, there’s a more natural option; a trail where there is no restriction on where to camp, no restrooms and no potable water. For some, this type of backpacking seems better; less domesticated and more wild. In Ohio, a trail that fits that description is Wildcat Hollow.

Located in Wayne National Forest, the trail is near the town of Glouster and Burr Oak State Park. Its 15 mile length wanders through rolling hills and stream bottoms. A privy is located at the trailhead parking lot, but that is the extent of the amenities. If you want any other creature comforts, you need to bring them with you.

Here’s your water

I’ve backpacked several of Ohio’s loop offerings in the past with an old work colleague, Bill. Looking for a different challenge, we decided to give Wildcat Hollow a try. Looking at an early November weekend, the weather looked promising; no rain, not too cold, so we headed out on Friday.

Not wanting to shock the system too much, we eased into the experience with a big lunch at nearby Burr Oak Lodge. The food is great and, not that I would care, they have an extensive selection of beer on hand.

At the trailhead at 2:30, there were several other cars in the lot. The day was cloudy and cool, nearly perfect for hiking. We both shouldered relatively heavy packs containing 3+ liters of water and headed out. Almost immediately we came to a creek crossing. Recent rains had expanded the width of water a bit, but after a short search, a spot was found to cross while keeping my trail runners somewhat dry.

After a quarter mile the trail forks and we decided to walk the loop clockwise. In retrospect, the other direction might have been better. There were several creek crossings over the next mile or so that would have been easier (and dryer) had the streams been given another day to recover from the recent rains. The other direction on the loop quickly climbs out of that valley.

Regardless of the calendar, there was still some fall color

Despite slightly damp feet, the hike was pleasant. The trail was well designed and maintained and there was still some significant fall color to enjoy. Several nice campsites have been established by previous campers early on the trail and a couple of those were occupied. We met no other hikers actually on the trail however.

The trail includes a short road walk (1/4 mile) past an old abandoned one room schoolhouse before returning to the woods and major pine plantings. Other signs of past disturbance included multiple small oil wells along the path.

Night comes pretty early in November and a bit over 5 miles in, we spotted an established campsite near a small creek that would work for the evening. By 6 pm, the tents were up and my freeze dried entrée was history. I suppose the creek water could have been filtered, but we had packed in enough to avoid that decision. Plenty of downed wood was in the area so we had ample heat as the temperature dropped through the 40s.

Morning arrived clear and cool, perfect for hiking. The trail continued in the same manner with rolling hills and an occasional creek crossing. Apparently, in the summer months the creeks tend to be dry so don’t count on them for water. In addition, ongoing signs of previous mining and oil extraction would make me think twice about drinking even filtered water from the streams. The best bet is to bring all your own water and just enjoy the scenery. There are no major overlooks, but pleasant just the same. We only met two other folks that were hiking the entire route. They were two friends that met up every five years to hike the trail.

By afternoon, it had warmed up enough for cold blooded hikers

The day rolled by with more of the same, though fewer creek crossings. There were a number of great campsites and all of them more than a mile from the parking lot were empty. The sites among the pines looked especially inviting. Eventually, we dropped off a long ridge to the end of the loop and out to the parking lot. The original plan was to make the short walk over to Burr Oak State Park’s backpack trail and hike a few miles to one of the official park campsites. While a lake view, water hydrant and restroom were appealing. Its location right next to a parking lot was not.

Since I had stashed additional water in the truck, a change of plan was easy and obvious. We refilled our depleted water bottles (possibly also grabbing a few beers) and headed back into the wild, Wildcat Hollow, to camp among some towering pines.

Some items are worth the extra weight