Friday, May 2, 2014

BLOG 68.Bergans Rondane FR/3P Tent Review

BLOG 68. Bergans Rondane FR 3-Person Tent Review
Cliff Jacobson

Rondane 3P closed to the weather


Many American tents leave me wondering if their designers ever spent much time in the bush. They have exposed seams at ground level, short cap flies that allow wind to flap the fly, light-colored, finely woven bug netting that restricts vision and ventilation, and “plastic windows” which may not be durable over the long haul. Some models have so many poles, clips and buckles that you need a photographic mind to remember how to pitch them. There are exceptions, of course, but you’ll need a fair amount of tenting experience to recognize them.

The enduring American design is the “dome”.  Domes are spacious and luxurious and they have a small footprint, which makes them ideal where space is tight. But, by design, they are more time-consuming to pitch than A-frame or tunnel tents, which is a disadvantage if you have to pitch them in a storm. Inexpensive domes are terrible tents; expensive geodesic tents (like the venerable North Face VE series) are exceptional. But none of the domes are really fast to pitch.  And if it’s raining during set-up, the interior tent canopy will be soaking wet by the time you attach the fly.

Americans tents tend to highlight looks, luxury and superior ventilation. Scandinavian models emphasize wind-stability and stormproofing. Americans love their domes; Norwegians and Swedes prefer tunnels. Why? Because much of the best camping in Scandinavia is above the Arctic Circle, on the tundra where there no trees to break the force of storms.

Tunnel tents aren’t very popular in the U.S. Reasons include high price, often drab colors, and low profile (you can’t stand up inside them). The best European tents are made from ultralight silicone-nylon which is not fire-retardant, and hence, can’t be sold in U.S. stores, though they are often available on the Internet.

But silicone-nylon tents are lighter, stronger, more compact and better at shedding water than U.S. (polyurethane-coated) tents that do meet federal fire regulations. Fact is, in the unlikely event of a tent fire, silicone fabrics are probably as safe as fire-spec ones. Why? Because nylon will melt and drip before there is a sustained flame. And these drips will cause severe burns. All the world’s best tents are now built from silicone-treated nylon. 
Rondane: side view, door panel open. This is as far as the door will open

Bergans of Norway is a highly respected manufacturer of outdoors gear. Their clothing, raingear and tents have proven themselves on the world’s toughest expeditions. Bergans has long wanted to enter the U.S. tent market, but they knew that as long as their tents used non FR fabrics, they couldn’t be sold here.  Enter the Rondane FR series tents which do.  Well, sort of—at least, enough to comply with U.S. fire specs. The fly and vestibule are built from ultralight silicone-nylon. The inner canopy is porous nylon with an FR finish. This is a smart way to build a tent for the U.S. market—the silicone outer structure reduces weight and the FR canopy makes sales legal.
Front view. door and vestibule vent is open
SLEEPING AREA AND VESTIBULE: The sleeping area is 63 inches wide and 91 inches long and consumes half the tent. Space is tight but doable for three, and luxurious for two. The permanently attached vestibule measures 71 inches. Entry is through a wide side door, controlled by a single, weather-protected zipper.  Unless you’re bringing the kitchen sink there’s more protected space than you can possibly use. In an emergency, two people could sleep snugly in the vestibule.

Bug-netting windows in the front, back and vestibule provide ventilation. Air flow slows to a crawl when you close the door. The interior tent (canopy) can be disconnected from the fly and used alone to save weight when insects aren’t a problem.

When bad weather threatens, close the door, hang the head-lamp and relax. There’s plenty of room to stretch out and do protected chores. The bright yellow interior canopy encourages smiles. Every seam and zipper is covered by waterproof fabric. The fly and vestibule hem stake right to the ground. There are twin stormlines on every pole and guy’s at each ridge.  Rig this baby right and it should stand firm in a 60 mile per hour wind. A real plus is that if you have to pitch the tent in rain, the connected waterproof fly will keep the porous canopy from getting soaked. They do stormproofing right in Norway!
Inside the Rondane. The bright yellow interior encourages smiles. 
EASE-OF-PITCHING: The Rondane sets up fast once you know the ropes. One person can do it in less than five minutes. But the directions for pitching leave much to be desired. A short paragraph says to thread the poles through the sleeves and stake out the tent, that’s all. But first, you must connect the canopy to the fly. There is no description of how to do this. Those who are familiar with European tents will have no trouble; others may wonder. The poles are color-coded but the directions don’t say why. Fortunately, matching color strips on the pole sleeves indicate what goes where. 

CONSTRUCTION QUALITY: The quality of fabrics, stitching and poles ranks A+. The tent comes with guy-out lines and clever line tighteners installed. The pin-type tent stakes are brightly finished hardened aluminum. The generously sized tent bag has a cord lock and compression straps. Everything is first-rate.
Vestibule door open. At night you won't see much of the stars
(1)  The dark green color blends in with the forest and heats up fast on hot, sunny days. In fairness, though, this tent was designed for use in Norway where the summer sun may burn for 20 hours a day. Camp one night in a bright orange tent in glowing sunshine and you’ll see why the Vikings like drab-colored tents.
(2)  There is just one entry at the side and a single zipper to control it. If the zipper fails you can’t close the vestibule and rain will pour in.
(3)  Tunnel tents are designed to be pitched head-on into the wind. A side entry, like the one on this tent, allows you to enter and exit the vestibule without wind rushing in. This is important if you’re camping on the tundra where wind speeds often exceed 50 miles per hour. But the price you pay for a side door is poor air flow.
(4)  Ventilation is adequate in cool weather. But pitch this tent on a calm day in the hot sun and you’ll roast. A second zipper on the far side of the vestibule door would allow the door to be rolled up and tied to the roof. Then, cool air would rush in and you could see the sky. Better yet, there should be two facing doors—one on each side of the vestibule, each controlled with twin zippers. 
(5)  The weight (on my scale) is exactly eight pounds—which may be a bit heavy for a tent that will be largely used by two. Using a lighter fabric on the floor might reduce some weight.

The Rondane 3P is a superbly built, expedition-ready tent, capable of withstanding high winds and heavy rain. It snugly accommodates three people and is luxurious for two; it sets up acceptably fast and it’s compact when packed. The materials are first class.

Is the Rondane a good tent for the BWCA? Yes and no. Yes, for trips in late fall and early spring when wind, rain and snow are in the mix.  No, in summer when the marginal ventilation and the dark, heat-absorbing color may make it too hot for comfort. And when you’re lying in bed on a starlit night with the door and vents wide open, you won’t see much of the sky. 

Cliff Jacobson


1 comment:

André J said...

Great review, thanks.
And you are right about the colour, my current tent is a "UN-Blue" Fjällräven.
It´s not the best choice when your hiking in the north of Sweden during the summer.

But it´s a beautiful colour :)

Best regards.

André, Sweden.