Wednesday, 22 April 2009
Probably the best solo tent in the world?
The Phreeranger (and Phreerunner) were single hoop solo (sometimes classed as 1+) tents made from around 1985 to about 1995, they also used a short transverse pole at the apex of the fly to enhance headroom. I have an 88/89 Field & Trek catalogue which lists the Phreeranger with no mention that it's a 'new' model, the last Field & Trek catalogue that I can find it listed in is the 1995 issue. The price in 1988/89was £169.95, when I bought mine it was around £190, by 1995 it had risen to £231. For comparison a Wild Country Quasar cost £224 - 1998, £245 approx - 1990 and £334 - 1995. The other iconic solo tent which fortunately is still around was the Saunders Spacepacker which cost £197 - 1988, not sure about the cost in 1990 and 1995 but the current top of the range Spacepacker costs £269.
Phoenix Phreeranger EB
I bought my 1st Phreeranger, pictured above, around 90-92, an EB model to be exact which simply meant 'Extended Bell' The difference between it and the standard Phreeranger/Phreerunner was the style of door. Instead of the 'Bell' (porch) tapering into a point with a single zip the porch was squared off and had 2 zips which meant that the door could be opened by rolling up the center section or either of the end quarters. In addition as the zips were double ended the center section could be opened from the top down. The EB also had a hood at the top of the door enabling you to leave the top few inches unzipped. The single skin Phreerunner was also available in an EB version and is listed in the 1990 Phoenix catalogue, both the Phreeranger EB and Phreerunner EB are listed as new for 1990.
I sold my Phreeranger EB 3 years ago and have regretted it since but recently managed to aquire a Phreeranger standard, the one shown at the top of the page. This is an older model, pre 1988 as the Flysheet doesn't have taped seams while my other one did. The 1990 Phoenix catalogue states regarding flysheet fabric that
Quote SUPALITE: used for the first time in '88 a new soft P.U. coating 1.5oz ripstop which is tapable - permits lightness with incredible strength. 80cm minimum hydrostatic head.
The Phreeranger like all Phoenix tents was highly specced, the poles were made by Hampton Works from 7075 alloy and labelled 'Bulldog', the supplied pegs were v section HS30 alloy (the pegs were so tough that I actually kept mine when I sold the Phreeranger). The guylines while thick compared to todays guys were pretty lightweight at the time being about 2.5mm dia.
My original '90 ish model came supplied with:
1 x Large Stuff Sack
2 x Small Stuff sacks (one for Inner, one for Fly)
1 x Repair kit including a pole repair section
13 x V pegs c/w stuff sack
2 x Poles (main and cross pole) c/w stuff sack
The 9 flysheet pegging points were 15mm approx webbing with a ring attached, also attached to the ring was a short length of 2-2.5mm shockcord which had a plastic 'S' hook attached, the inner tent attached to the fly using 2-2.5mm shockcord hooked onto the 'S' hooks. In addition to the 9 pegging points there were 9 guylines, 3 attached to the pole sleeve at each end and 3 across the back of the tent.
The inner tent on my original EB model had a full mesh door and a full plain door as far as I can remember, certainly there was at the very least a half mesh panel in the door with a plain section to close off the mesh. The one I have now which is an older version only has a 1 piece plain door. The inner tent was made from Supalite 1.5 oz ripstop and had 1 x plastic S hook for hanging a torch etc and 2 x small mesh storage pockets, one at each end of the inner. The inner tent could be kept attached to the fly and the tent pitched as one or it could be detached completely and stored seperately (in it's own stuff sack) if the fly was wet from condensation or rain.
Pitching the tent is simplicity itself, peg out the fly at the center rear pegging point, insert the main pole, insert the short cross pole, raise the tent by pulling the center front pegging point/points (2 on the EB, 1 on the standard model) and place the remaining 6 pegs (4 if you don't use the pole end pegging points) I had my current one pitched yesterday and with none of the guys used and no pegs at the pole ends it was rock solid compared to my current solo tent, the TN Laser.
Pitched beside the Laser the Phreeranger looks taller but shorter and narrower, however there isn't much difference in inner tent length as the Phreeranger is mainly square ended unlike the Laser which runs to a point, also the inner tent on the Laser sits well back from the fly so is shorter than it appears from the outside. With regard to the width of the inner the Phreeranger is much wider, 2 x standard rectangular sleeping mats easily fit side by side, the Laser however can't take the same 2 mats without some overlap. The Phreeranger was normally classed as a 1+ person (some catalogues mention 2) the Laser is classed as a 2 person, IMO it should be the other way around.
The porch looks quite small on the Phreeranger, even the EB model. In fact the EB porch only extends 60cm against 64cm on the standard model (according to the Phoenix catalogue) but the EB porch has a larger area. I think the Laser has a slightly wider porch however by unhooking the Phreeranger inner tent at the end attachment points and rolling it back to the center line indicated by the pole tension webbing the porch space is massive. With the inner rolled back halfway it can still hold a standard sleeping mat and while it would feel a bit cramped it's entirely possible to use the tent in this manner. The inner could of course be clipped back at the foot end only, creating porch space while still leaving plenty of inner tent space at the head end.
Porch with inner tent in normal position
Porch with inner tent hooked back at both ends in line with the pole. Still room for a full size sleeping mat.
Inner tent hooked back at the foot end with full width at head.
The poles are 8.5mm dia, the main pole has an uneven number of sections thus avoiding a join at the apex and packs down to 52cm
You could be forgiven for thinking that a 20-25 year old tent would be significantly heavier than a current tent but you'd be surprised at how little difference there actually is. I compared my old (pre '88) Phreeranger Standard with my Laser. Taking the pegs and stuff sacks out of the equation there's about 200g difference which isn't a lot really, the Phreeranger pole could easily be replaced with a more modern (lighter)one and the guylines while being pretty light 2.5mm could be replaced with 1-2mm line. Taking into consideration the advances in fabric technology, the difference in flysheet Hydrostatic head (8000mm Phreeranger/4000mm Laser), webbing rather than shockcord pegging points it's amazing that the Phreeranger is so close to the weight of the Laser. There's almost 20 years between them and to be honest I would have expected a bigger difference, I think that speaks volumes about Phoenix and their designers.
Fly, Inner & Poles. 1490g
Getting back to the Phreeranger I have now, as I mentioned it's at least 20 years old as the flysheet is untaped but it's in remarkably good condition. I've no idea of it's history but all the guylines are original complete with their alloy sliders, all the pegging points are present with no sign of damage and all but one of the guylines have their metal rings attached. The inner tent shockcord loops have lost some of their elasticity but all are present as are the plastic 'S' hooks. The stitching has stretched in a few places on the inner tent but otherwise it's undamaged, again some stretching can be seen on the flyshhet where the reinforced patches for the pegging points are stitched on. The flysheet itself is undamaged although it feels a little stiff/dry and both alloy poles are intact and undamaged with only the shockcord on the short pole no longer working.
I actually tried it out last night as I wanted to test some new gear for an upcoming trip and figured I may as well use it rather than the Laser, I mentioned that I hoped the temperature was below freezing (testing a sleeping bag and mat) but that I hoped it rained to test the Phreeranger Flysheet. I wasn't entirely serious but the temperature did drop pretty low and it did in fact rain during the night.
I'm delighted to say that I didn't experience any leaks at all although I'd still be reluctant to subject it to strong wind/driven rain given it's age. One other thing was that there was no condensation on the inner whatsoever, I've had problems with the Laser in that respect even with the fly end vents pulled right up, maybe the increased height of the Phreeranger helps prevent condensation. The only problem and one that I was aware of was that the groundsheet is no longer waterproof, however I was pleased to discover that the footprint I made for the Laser also fits the Phreeranger, I guess I just got lucky on that one. All in all pretty respectable for a 20+ year old tent.
It's a shame that such a great tent is no longer available, without altering the actual design but by simply using modern materials the Phreeranger/Phreeranger could at the very least hold it's own against the Laser/Akto etc.
As far as I'm aware AMG/Vango own the Phoenix brand name and produce Ski Gloves branded as Phoenix, who owns the rights to the actual design is a good question but whether they know it or not they're got a tent thats almost guaranteed to be successful. I know I'd buy one in a heartbeat if it was even remotely close to the RRP of a Laser/Akto, in fact if I found a new old stock Phreeranger EB for sale at less than £300 I'd buy it without a second thought.
Of course you're probably wondering why, if the Phreeranger was such a fantastic tent aren't Phoenix still around and why did I sell mine.
Good question, I can't answer the 1st save to say that a lot of good companies didn't make it and it wasn't because they weren't good at what they did.
The 2nd point, why did I sell mine? well two reasons really, when my girlfriend (now wife) started to come with me we bought a Wild Country Quasar so the Phreeranger wasn't being used much, what with a mortgage and then a daughter I drifted away from backpacking/camping generally so all my gear was packed away (the tents were always stored indoors in a cupboard loosely placed in a large box) so there seemed little need to keep them all. I kept the Quasar and sold the Phreeranger which still had all it's pegs, stuff sacks, instructions and even swing tags, was totally unmarked inside, outside and underneath (I always used a footprint made from a survival bag)
How much did I sell it for?
£50.99 and £8.50 postage.
I mentioned in a previous post that when looking for a solo tent I'd always considered a Saunders Spacepacker but for a variety of reasons always opted for something else, maybe I should just buy a Spacepacker now, a kind of salute to another great tent that has stood the test of time simply because they got it right 1st time, I wonder how many of todays wonder tents will have come and gone before the Spacepacker needs a redesign? plenty I'd guess.
Contentment is Wealth.