Thursday, 30 September 2010

Bivvy Bug Niche

I spent some time last night looking through old issues of TGO and Trail to see if there was anything about the Bivvy Bug Niche. I didn't find much but there were a few mentions of the Niche together with some ad's for 'Bivvy Bug'. I also discovered that they made a similar type of thing for 2 person use called the 'Broch'

I did get sidetracked a few times in my quest as every other issue seemed to have either an advertisement or feature about the Phoenix Phreeranger, most of the features having a photograph with a youthful Chris Townsend. I also found a 'Lightweight Tent' grouptest featuring both the Bivvy Bug Niche and the Phoenix Phreeranger together with the TNF Tadploe, Vango Odyssey Micro 2 and the Hilleberg Nallo 2.

I discovered that the Bivvy Bug Niche cost £169 back then which was pretty expensive when you consider that my Wild Country (Terra Nova) Quasar cost £245 and my Phreeranger EB cost £190.

Of course I wanted to see how the Bivvy Bug Niche felt in use so tried it last night (in the garden of course!!) I knew that the bivvy bag wasn't waterproof but as there was no rain forecast I decided to go ahead. I didn't use a down sleeping bag for obvious reasons instead using a cheap synthetic Gelert bag. I also wanted to see how easy it was to cook in it so packed a few essentials into an Alpkit Stealthy Gourdon drybag and settled in at around 1.00am.

It was no surprise to find that a methodical approach was required, trying to remove trousers, jacket and fleece in the confines of a bivvy bag is interesting to say the least but not impossible and I managed to avoid too much contact with the tent part. My jeans and fleece were placed in the Alpkit Goudron which was then stashed on the right hand side together with my boots and my Flux jacket was rolled into it's hood as a pillow. The stove, pot and mug together with a brew kit and a flexible water bottle were on my left.

Getting a brew required the same approach as getting undressed, stick to one task at a time and take it slowly, to avoid melting a hole in the tent after using the stove I simply placed the upturned pot over the burner.

There was quite a heavy dew but I zipped up the 'door' and closed it off using the velcro along the top edge. One thing I noticed that I'd change if I was going to use the 'Niche' as designed, i.e. with the dedicated bivvy bag would be to swap the velcro strips around, the Hook part is sewn to the hood while the loop (softer part) is sew to the door but I found that as I was wearing a wooly hat I ended up attached to the tent every time I looked out.

Thankfully it didn't rain during the night and I was warm enough, I wakened at 3.00am to answer the call of nature, 2 things are required in this situation, a Pee bottle and utmost care :-)

With that attended too I went back to sleep and didn't waken until almost 8.00am. My sleeping bag felt dry inside although there was plenty of condensation inside the tent part. I noticed that the outside of the sleeping bag felt wet when I was getting dressed but ignored it and made a brew ( I could have gone indoors but where's the fun in that?) before finally exiting the Niche.

When I removed my sleeping bag it was pretty wet down the sides and at the foot but the reason was clear once I turned the bivvy bag outside in. The membrane has delaminated quite badly and is unfortunately unusable.

Although there isn't much of a weight saving, about 300g between the Bivvy Bug and a Phreeranger Fly/ti Goat bivvy bag combination I'd still like to use it ocaisionaly so I need to decide what to do. There are 3 options that spring to mind, 1 buy an ex army Gore-Tex bivvy bag and cut it up to replace the Sympatex part on the original bivvy bag, 2 make a new door part and use a standard bivvy bag or 3 simply cut the door part off the original bivvy bag and use it with a regular bivvy bag.

To be honest when you consider that for the same weight or less you could have a choice of 2 skin tents all offering better protection and more space it does seem a bit pointless using something like the Bivvy Bug Niche but like using a Tarp/inner net combination or even one of the bivvy bags I mentioned in my previous post there's something appealing that can't easily be defined, logic certainly plays no part in it.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Bivvy Bug, UK Cottage Industry from Way Back

Bivvy Bug 'Niche'

The cottage industry as it applies to outdoor equipment is quite often a 1st choice for many when they're looking for a new piece of gear and more often than not it involves buying from the USA. I've just aquired an interesting piece of gear made by folks in the UK but before anyone gets too excited this particular item is from way back in the late 1980's (1987 as far as I know)

I remember getting a product brochure from Bivvy Bug back then and in fact bought a Map Case from them, what set their mapcase apart was that it was double width which allowed you to view a larger area, this was back when waterproof maps were less easy to obtain. When I registered with Outdoors Magic over a year ago my 1st question was whether Bivvy Bug still existed, I had one reply saying that they didn't and that the guys behind Bivvy Bug had been instructors at an outdoor center in Cornwall. I didn't have another reply until this week when someone posted saying thay had a Bivvy Bug 'Niche', this led to a few other replies culminating in one P Dillon offering a Bivvy Bug 'Niche' for sale, asking price £30. I contacted Paddy and a deal was struck.

The Bivvy Bug Niche is similar in concept to bivvy tents such as the Big Agnes 3 Wire Bivvy or the Integral Designs Uni-Shelter as can be seen in the photos although it dies require a larger pitch. The 'Tent/Hood' part is coated ripstop nylon while the bivvy bag part is Sympatex with a coated nylon base, there's a single flexible alloy pole ('Bulldog' brand made by Hampton Works, the same company that made the poles for the Phoenix Phreeranger and from whom I purchased a new Phreeranger pole set last year) and I recieved 9 alloy skewers which works out at one for each pegging point and 1 spare although you can manage with 6 or possibly even 4 pegs.

Ripstop 'Tent/Hood', Sympatex Bivvy Bag

The bivvy bag part can be removed completely by unzipping the two zips that are used to close the tent part, the door being attached to the bivvy bag part. Un-zipping the door/disconnecting the bivvy bag makes access/egress easier, in addition to the zips there are metal hooks on the bivvy bag skirt that attach to the rings used to peg down the front/sides of the tent part.

Hook and Ring to Connect Bivvy Bag to Tent/Hood and also peg down the sides of the Tent

It seems there was a mesh door available as an option but there isn't one on mine. Inside the tent part the bivvy bag connects to the rear wall with 2 velcro straps, these need to be disconnected to actually get into the bivvy bag as it allows you to push the opening of the bag forwards but are easily reconnected once you're lying down

Door Partially Un-Zipped, Bivvy Bag connected to rear using velcro straps

Velcro Straps

Dreaming of a Silnylon Phreeranger perhaps?

There's a small area for storage or even cooking (with the utmost care) on either side of the bivvy bag and with the door un-zipped and the bag disconnected at the hook/ring on the bottom of each side of the bivvy bag the sides of the tent can be hooked back completely.

Cooking/Storage Space

Useable with Care

There's sufficient headroom for me to sit up although as the webbing tape running across the tent from each end of the pole can be adjusted via a ladder lock buckle it may be possible to sacrifice width for a little more height or vice versa. The dimensions of the tent/hood are,

Width left to right - 160cm
Max Height - 95cm
Length front to back - 85cm

Good Headroom

When considering the weight of the 'Niche' you have to remember that a lightweight solo tent back in 1987 would have been almost 2000g, the 'Niche' weighs in at 1057g packed as supplied. The individual components are as follows to which you'd need to add pegs.

Hood/Tent - 280g
Bivvy Bag - 482g
Pole - 178g

It shows how much things have moved on when you can get a very roomy double skin tent weighing the same or less, that said however the Bivvy Tents mentioned above weight in at,

Big Agnes 3 Wire Bivvy - 910g approx
Integral Designs Uni-Shelter - 1140g

Unfortunately it looks like the Sympatex bivvy has de-laminated as I had it pitched last night in the rain and there was plenty of water inside the bivvy part this morning, that of course was always a risk and I bought it on the understanding that it couldn't be guaranteed waterproof.

Of course as the bivvy bag part can be removed completely there's nothing to stop me using a different bivvy bag with the tent/hood part although I wouldn't be able to close it off as the door is part of the bivvy bag rather than part of the tent. That said the zips are standard YKK and it shouldn't be difficult to make a door with an elasticated skirt that would seal off the tent part, either way it's an interesting piece of UK cottage industry gear and nice to have.

Using the Tent/Hood with the Titanium Goat Ptarmigan Bivvy, one side panel hooked back.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Vaude Power Lizard, Final Update

As I mentioned previously I e-mailed Vaude UK and attached the photos showing where the water was seeping through the flysheet. I'd decided to contact Vaude UK directly as I'd been in contact with them regarding the end strut length as the retailer was unfamiliar with the Power Lizard. They did get back to me to say that,

basically, your tent should be a fully waterproof system. Checking your photographs, I would suggest the ingress is at the inner-tent suspension / attachment-points, this being not something we`ve come across previously.

They asked me to return the flysheet so that they could check it out and if a fault was found they'd source me a new flysheet from Vaude Germany which would take 2-3 weeks.

To be honest I wasn't too happy with that as I didn't really want to wait that long and had hoped Vaude would simply send out a replacement tent on receipt of the faulty one. I e-mailed Vaude suggesting I'd be happier to have the complete tent replaced or if they wanted to OK it with the retailer then I would return it to them (retailer) for a refund. Vaude UK then got back to say that as they were completely out of stock and it would be mid November before they had any more it might be better to contact the retailer for a replacement. To be honest there didn't seem much point in getting a replacement as any stock the retailer had was likely to be from the same batch and would at the very least suffer from the strut issue if not the leak which I felt was a manufacturing/design issue anyway.

In the end I contacted the retailer Friday past detailing the problem and asking them to contact Vaude UK for further information. They were quick to respond and e-mailed me saying they'd spoken to Vaude UK and felt that the best option was for me to return the tent for a refund. Obviously I took them up on the offer as I didn't particularly like the tent anyway. The tent was posted back on Saturday, ironically I finished making the footprint* on Friday prior to hearing from the retailer, and the purchase price together with my return postage costs was refunded on Tuesday so top marks to both Vaude UK and the retailer for dealing with the matter very efficiently indeed.

So I'm back where I started again, still looking for my perfect tent but the reality is that I may already own my perfect tent.

The Footprint

I wanted to make a footprint for a varety of reasons, I wanted to protect the groundsheet, not because I thought it was fragile but it's just something I've always done, secondly it would have allowed me to use the fly only if I so wished and thirdly it helps keep the groundsheet clean and dry when packing the inner and fly separately.

I had bought some temporary double glazing film but found it difficult to work with as it's so thin so I decided to use a sheet of plastic as a pattern. I cut the footprint to the dimensions given for the inner tent (230cm long, 115cm wide at the head and 90cm at the foot) I found however that the footprint was much too close to the bottom edge of the flysheet and felt that there was a strong possibility of rain being blown onto it. In the end to achieve sufficient clearance I cut the footprint down by 10cm in each dimension (215cm L x 105cm wide at the head and 80cm wide at the foot) which tends to support my view that the inner tent is cut too large and in doing so inner/fly separation has been sacrificed to achieve greater internal space. As it turned out I never actually got to try the footprint as by the time I'd completed it I'd received the e-mail asking me to return the tent for refund.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Vaude Power Lizard UL, Waterproof? Updated

I wanted to make a lightweight groundsheet for the Power Lizard to provide a dry place to sit to hook up the inner and to keep the groundsheet dry for packing separately from the fly. I'd thought about silnylon or double glazing film but hadn't really made a decision. However I was in 'Poundland' last week and noticed packs of temporary double glazing film at £1 each, the sheets were only 157cm x 107cm so I bought 2 packs with the intention of taping them together.

It's was pretty miserable today with constant persistant rain which was quite heavy at times but not wind driven but I wanted to make a start. I pitched the fly 1st and then went to tape the 2 sheets of film together. They obviously needed trimmed to size so I laid them under the fly before hanging the inner tent.

I'd been messing around in and out of the tent a few times and was lying in the inner when noticed a few drops of water on the inner tent at the apex of the roof. I unhooked the inner, simply letting it lie flat and rubbed my finger across the inside of the fly just down from the seam tape and definitely felt that it was wet. On closer examination I noticed a few droplets starting to form again on the inside of the fly, now it's just possible that by wiping my finger across the inside of the fly I encouraged water to penetrate but that doesn't explain the droplets that had caught my attention in the 1st place.

As I had to go out for a couple of hours I left the tent as it was with the inner dropped and when I returned there was a wet patch on the inner. This time it looked as if water had been dripping from one of the hanging loops. I checked the other loops and there was a droplet of water on each together with the loop that the pole tension cord runs through although I didn't see any droplets on the inside of the fly.

To be honest it wasn't much but considering that although the rain was constant and at times heavy it wasn't being wind driven and to be fair I'm not sure that it's acceptable that there was water seeping through. It looks as if the water is getting through the seams where the pole clips are attached as the inner hanging loops are directly opposite on the inside.

I was going to modify the inner tent attachment loops but don't want to do anything now until I contact Vaude, I'll e-mail them again and send them the photographs/video clip to see what their response is although I'm getting to the point where patience is running low.


I was having another look at the fly as it's currently hanging in the garage to dry out and I've found why water is dripping off the hanging loops/tension cord webbing. The webbing loops have been sewn on after the main seams have been taped and obviously the stitching goes right through the fly sheet, when the tension cord is tightened it pulls the webbing which in turn pulls the stitches. Now that I know where the water is coming from it'll be easy to seal the stitching with silicone sealer. I'm still not sure about the droplets forming on the inside of the fly fabric but I'll just keep an eye on it. I'm happier now as I was initially worried that the seam tape was faulty.

In response to the comments I thought I'd add the following shots illustrating how Phoenix attempted to minimise the problem of having to sew loops to the flysheet to attach the inner tent. This flysheet is the newest of 3 Phreerangers I own, all purchased used. The best 2 are ironically the pre 1988 un-taped versions, the taped one while being the newest is in the worst condition. It may be difficult to see in the shots but the elastic loop has 1st been sew to a small square piece of fabric, the fabric has then been sewn to the fly using a row of stitching either side of the loop. The square piece of fabric is then taped which means that the un-taped stitching holding the loop to the fabric isn't sewn directly to the fly. While it would still be possible for water to penetrate eventually it certainly minimises it. Of course doing it this way involves much more work and goes some way to explaining why my original Phreeranger EB cost almost £200 back in 1990/91.

Vaude Power Lizard UL, Take 3

I’d decided the Power Lizard wasn’t for me so I’d offered it for sale on a few places but although I asked £250 including shipping and being open to offers there was no real interest. Having looked around I still couldn’t see anything else, no surprise as I’d been looking for quite some time prior to deciding on the Power Lizard so I decided to just keep it and try to sort out some of the things I don’t like. In the end in spite of the hype it isn’t really any better IMO than the Laser I had last year. I didn’t like the Laser for a variety of reasons.

At least on the Power Lizard the inner can be removed although the use of toggles and rings makes it more awkward than it needed to be. The worst ones as I mentioned before are the ones at the botom corners of the fly and at each end adjacent to the top of the end strut. For some reason while most of the fittings on the inner are toggles the ones at the corners are rings, this wouldn't be a problem if it wasn't for the fact that the toggles are attached to the fly with webbing thats only just long enough to allow you to push them through the rings. I've experimented with glove hooks on the fly, simply tied to the existing webbing and it makes hooking the inner on so much easier. I'd like to fit the glove hooks using thin shockcord without permanently altering the original fittings but it might not ne possible. At the ends adjacent to the strut the ring is attached to the fly but it's on a very short piece of webbing and suffers from the same lack of flexibility as the toggles on the bottom corners. When the fly is tensioned it's tricky to get the toggles through the rings. The toggles are attached using flat elastic but again I've attached glove hooks to the fly simply by tying them to the existing rings. The other attachment points aren't too bad as theres more room to work but the inner is very tight across the tent where it attaches to the webbing running from each end of the main pole. The webbing has rings attached, the fly has toggles but I'll simply add a shockcord loop to the existing ring at the porch side through which I can place the toggle.

I've already tried it out and it makes a big enough difference for me to be worth doing.

As I'm intending to remove the inner I'll need a footprint to keep the groundsheet clean and dry I haven't decided what to use. Silnylon would be my preferred option but it adds weight, temporary double glazing film is lighter and cheaper so perhaps I should try it 1st. If I use silnylon I could sew it into a bathtub form which would permit me to use the fly only but as the tent is pretty low I'm not about that. It would come down to how much weight I'd actually save by taking my Ti Goat Ptarmigan bivvy rather than the inner tent, I'm not counting the weight of a footprint as I'll be taking it anyway.

In the end as far as I'm concerned the Power Lizard is a better option only because I can remove the inner, in addition it's a bit lighter, about 200g IIRC. In every other respect the Laser is as good or better and while Vaude have attempted to address some of the criticism levelled at the Laser the solutions have in most case resulted in compromises elsewhere. I didn't have a Laser to hand for a direct comparison but my general observations and reasons for my comments are dealt with in the following paragraphs. Do bear in mind though that I couldn't do a direct comparison.

Vaude Power Lizard UL v's Terra Nova Laser

The Power Lizard was touted as a Laser with the problems sorted and on paper it looked good, it avoided the pole hood by using locking pole clips which simply hooked on to the pole once the pole ends had been inserted into the eyelets, it was claimed that locking the clips together with a Vangoesque internal tension cord improved the stability of the pole/tent. The end struts were 2 piece which helped reduce packed length and were fitted on the outside of the fly rather than underneath the fly. The inner was also removable to avoid getting it soaked when packed with a wet flysheet. In addition it provided extra space and was claimed to be more suited to those over 6’ tall, that wasn’t a particular concern of mine at 5’ 10”.

Someone said ‘In theory there’s no difference between theory and practice but in practice there is” and that proved to be the case with the Power Lizard. With regard to the method of locating the main pole I didn’t find the clips to be any quicker in the end than the pole sleeve/hood on the Laser. On the Laser once the pole is fitted and tensioned from the outside using the tension cord on the pole hood you’re finished. On the Power Lizard you fit the pole, then attach the clips but leave them unlocked, then when the fly is fully pegged you need open the door, tension the cord, close the door again and lock down the clips so in reality it isn’t any quicker, just different. I didn’t notice the pole on the Laser being particularly un-stable and in any case the design of the clips suggests that it won’t take long until they don’t actually lock anyway, as it is even locked you can move them without too much effort. The clips even if they do offer a marginal improvement in ease of use or stability introduce another problem. Due to the way the clips are spaced the fly takes on a hexagonal form directly under the pole which in turn prevents the fly zip from following a natural curve, instead it’s forced to follow the same hexagonal form which places extra tension on the zip especially adjacent to the 2nd clip down from the apex, you can easily see the teeth on the zip being pulled apart at this point. Finally even if the fly tension had been improved it only really affects an area 3-4” either side of the pole, the main areas of fabric are still just as prone to flapping as those on the Laser. One final thing to consider is that as the pole isn’t a standard diameter and the clips are a unique design repairs are going to be more difficult/costly and should you need to use the pole repair section to fix a break close to a pole clip the clip will no lomger fit. In the end all things taken into consideration the pole clips don’t in my opinion actually improve on the sleeve/hood used on the Laser, they do however introduce their own problems.

Zip being pulled apart adjacent to Pole Clip

Laser end Tape which hold the position of the Strut relative to the main pole

I found it difficult or at least time consuming to get a taut pitch on the Laser, unfortunately I found it equally difficult on the Power Lizard and it comes down partly to how the end struts are located. On the Laser the inner is fixed but the end tapes/pegging points are part of the inner. The struts are located in pockets, one on the fly (Top) and one on the end tape (bottom) in addition they’re held in place by a shock cord. Once you peg out the end tape the position of the strut and distance from the main pole is fixed, on the Power Lizard this isn’t the case as although the strut is located top and bottom there’s nothing to hold it at a set distance relative to the main pole, the bottom of the strut is free to move around and only really stays put if the end that protrudes through the eyelet penetrates the ground. This means that when you peg out the fly and fit the main pole you need to reset both end struts to the correct distance and angle before you can get a taut pitch, I found I needed to readjust the end strut position and angle more than once at each end and readjust the fly sheet pegging points a similar number of times before I had everything pitched to a reasonable standard. The end strut guyline runs from the vent hood at the top of the strut down at approx 45° to the pegging point which is a plastic ring then back to the bottom of the strut. The plastic rings are too small to allow you to use aluminium ‘V’ or ’Y’ section pegs but also means that when you try to tension the strut by angling it back towards the pegging point there’s even more tension trying to pull the bottom of the strut back towards you which is the last thing you want because if the bottom of the strut slides back towards the peg the top gets pulled forward towards the main pole and the end of the tent collapses. While it may be slightly easier to insert the struts the disadvantages greatly out weigh any advantage there may be. I personally didn’t like the 1 piece struts on the Laser as I felt they were too long for packing but in the end I feel the 2 piece struts on the Power Lizard are a weak point given the amount of tension they‘re under. On both the Laser and Power Lizard the stability and strength of the end struts is critical as the they take a greater share of the loading than any other pegging point, if they fail in strong winds the tent is likely to collapse as most of the tension will be lost and the main body of fabric will lose any wind shedding ability that it had, effectively becoming a sail. The Laser design does a better job of ensuring that the strut is set correctly and keeping it that way.

Short Toggle attached to Fly lower corners

Result of packing as 1 when the fly is wet

The issue of whether the inner can easily be removed or not takes on less significance if by making it removable you make the tent more difficult to pitch. I considered a removable inner a key point but as it takes me so long to achieve a taut pitch I’m unlikely to detach the inner anyway, had I intended to keep it attached on the Laser my opinion of the Laser may well have been different. In any case Vaude have chosen to use a combination of toggles/rings to attach the inner and it simply serves to make the job more difficult than need be. Shock cord loops and ‘S’ or glove hooks would have been perfectly adequate and vastly easier to operate, instead the toggles at each corner of the fly are attached with very short webbing loops which makes the rings difficult to attach, the adjustable straps at both ends of the porch side don’t actually do anything as even fully tightened the head end of the inner is as wide or wider than the fly. It would probably by possible to swap the toggles/rings for shock cord/glove clips but it would have been better if Vaude had concentrated on making things easy to operate rather than looking nice.

The Power Lizard of course has been touted as being more suitable than the Laser for 2 person use due to having more width and suitable for taller people due to having greater internal length. On the 2nd point unless you sleep stretched full length there’s little advantage as the headroom is just the same as the Laser at 95cm, extra length comes primarily through extending the inner relative to the fly which reduces both inner/fly separation at the ends and loses the under fly storage space that you have at the ends of the Laser. For 2 person use the Power Lizard is only wider from the mid point to the head end otherwise it’s the same width as the Laser, the footprint of the Power Lizard being asymmetric. The Laser on the other hand has a door on both sides (only 1 porch) which is something worth considering for 2 person use. In addition the Laser has bigger mesh panels at each end and the fly can be pulled up from inside the inner tent to increase ventilation if required which should reduce condensation especially when used as a 2 person tent. In attempting to optimise internal space the inner/fly separation on the Power Lizard is reduced generally with as little as 25mm between fly and inner at the head end corner on the opposite side from the porch. I suspect that most people buying a Laser or Power Lizard are buying it primarily as a solo tent and the reality is that both have pro’s and con’s when used as 2 person tents.
Inner/Fly separation on the Power Lizard

Inner/Fly separation on the Laser

Lastly there’s the weight advantage, the Power Lizard comes in at between 150-200g lighter than the Laser, changing the pegs from those supplied will more than likely tip the balance in favour of the Power Lizard as it comes with 8 decent ti skewers rather than the ti toothpicks supplied with the Laser.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Vaude Power Lizard, Take 2

I tried the Power Lizard in the garden last night to see how it fared with regards to condensation, I’ll freely admit that testing a tent in the garden is akin to sleeping in your centrally heated lounge and claiming that your new sleeping bag rated to -30°c was worth every penny, that said there’s no way I’d take to the hills in an un-tried tent.

There aren’t any surprises regarding the tent to be honest and in use it’s so similar to the Laser I had last year that you’d be hard pressed to say one is better than the other unless you need the extra length of the Power Lizard. Of course while the extra length may be beneficial if you're over 6' you don't benefit from a similar increase in height so you'll be sitting crouched even at the apex. The extra length comes at the cost of under fly storage space as there's no space at the ends.

When I wakened up this morning there was plenty of condensation on the inside of the fly, the temperature last night outside was around 13°c, inside the inner tent it was around 18°c but there was a slight breeze all night. I noticed some condensation on the inner at the head end on the side away from the porch and there were also a fair few droplets where the condensation was shaken off the fly sheet. The headroom is less than I’m used to and sitting up meant leaning forward until I was at the apex before actually sitting up, trying to sit up from a lying position meant my head was in continual contact with the inner which resulted in contact between inner and fly. Checking the tent over once outside it was easy to see where the inner had touched the fly either due to the way the fly flaps about or due to me not being careful enough while inside. Maz mentioned being unable to tension the inner at floor level across the head end and there's a good reason for that, the inner is too wide.

Inner Tent Attached at the Head End,
The Webbing Strap is fully Tightened but the inner is still Loose.

The porch side attachment webbing is adjustable as I mentioned while the opposite side is fixed but even with the adjustable webbbing fully tightened the fly is still loose, in the middle where it attaches to the webbing connecting the ends of the main pole it's much too tight and for some reason the inner tends to get pulled away from the porch side and is a bit to close to the fly for my liking.

Inner Attached, With the Webbing Fully Tightened To Pull It Towards the Porch It Still gets pulled Away from the Porch

As I wasn’t entirely happy with the way I’d pitched the Power Lizard, especially the length of time I was taking to get it pitched and tensioned to my satisfaction I had a few more attempts today. In the end though it still takes me a good 8 minutes to unpack, pitch and fine tune with the inner attached. I shot a video to illustrate what I mean and while I feel the pitch was acceptable I still ended up adjusting it a few times more before I was reasonably satisfied, I‘m sure I could spend all day adjusting it and still not be 100% satisfied. It’s fair to say that if I can’t get it pitched to my satisfaction in a reasonable time in my own garden it’s extremely unlikely I’ll enjoy pitching it in less favourable circumstances.

Pitching The Power Lizard

Fine Tuning

I’m going to perserverve for a while and I’ll continue to practice pitching to see if things improve. The irony is that one reason for selling the Laser was the fixed inner and one plus point with regards to the Power Lizard was the removable inner but as it takes me so long to pitch it I’ll probably just keep the inner attached.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Vaude Power Lizard

I mentioned previously that I had ordered a new tent, I’d managed to sell a couple of tents that I wasn’t going to use and that provided the funds to try something else. I wanted a 2 skin tent which ruled out the Tarptent Rainbow which otherwise looked like it would suit me best, I liked the MSR Hubba HP but considered it too heavy, the Tarptent Moment looked nice but appeared to be too narrow at the head and foot and again was only a single skin, the Scarp is well liked but again too heavy, I’d already tried a TN Laser which I disliked so that ruled out the Laser Comp. In the end against my better judgement I bought a Vaude Power Lizard UL as it seemed to offer the best space for weight, that I got it at a very good price sealed it.

I don’t particularly like transverse hoop tents, while they should be more wind resistant than longitudinal single hoop designs they don’t in my opinion make the best use of the space and I found the Laser particularly awkward to pitch. Much has been said about the Power Lizard but there seems to be more speculation than facts and so far the only reviews I’ve seen have been by Maz (The Journeyman Traveller) and Robin (Step by Step).

Packed as Supplied

In a nutshell the Power Lizard takes the Laser design and addresses some of the issues that I and others had such as the pole hood and fixed inner. The packed pole length is smaller as the end struts are 2 piece aluminium tubing rather than 1 piece carbon fibre which is a bonus and the inner can easily be detached.

The Contents

The tent arrived yesterday so was checked over when I finished work. The 1st thing I did was to measure the end struts as it’s been reported that some tents are coming supplied with struts 545mm long when they should in fact be 530mm. Mine were the long ones but rather than go to the trouble of sending them back I simply cut them down to size using a small pipe cutter. The supplied pegs are similar to the 5g ti skewers supplied with the TN Voyager and as such are acceptable unlike the 2g skewers that came with my Laser, there are 10 pegging points in all but I only received 8 pegs but that’s no big deal. The fabric is very light, especially the inner tent and although the groundsheet feels tough enough I’ll be using a footprint anyway. I read various comments about the inner tent fabric with some reports claiming that it’s a very fine mesh, I have to disagree, the inner is an extremely fine ripstop, much lighter than the mesh used elsewhere on the tent.

I detached the inner tent as I wanted to pitch fly 1st which is how I would normally pitch my Phreeranger, the inner and fly pack down very small if the poles are stored separately and the whole package feels really light.

Pitched Fly 1st, Useable as a Single Skin Tent?

I pitched it for the 1st time fly only and I’m not sure if it’s any easier to pitch than a Laser, the end struts can be fiddly to locate in the webbing pocket under the vent hood and it’s advisable to double check that they are in place before you start to tension the fly as it looks like it would be possible to force the strut right through the fly. When attaching the clips to the main pole I seemed to manage to press the red locking part of the clips closed (locked) while attaching them to the pole, as Maz mentioned it would be an idea to mark the center of the main pole to make it easier to get the center clip in the correct place. The guyline on the end struts is attached to the fly where the pole locates top and bottom and runs through a plastic ring through which you place the skewer but unfortunately the rings are too small to allow you to use an alloy ’V’ or ’Y’ section peg.

End Strut Pegging Point, Too Small for 'V' or 'Y' Section Pegs.

As the pole isn’t fixed in the vertical position the guyline can slip through the plastic ring which causes the strut to drop forwards, an additional problem is that because the guyline runs from the top of the strut, through the pegging ring and back to the bottom of the strut any tension you apply to pull the top of the strut out to tension the fly is transferred through the ring to the bottom of the strut pulling it back towards the peg. On grass this isn’t a problem as the bottom end of the strut protrudes through the eyelet on the bottom tape and actually penetrates the ground thereby keeping the bottom of the strut fixed. What would worry me is if you were pitched on firmer ground or loose gravel or on grass with either hard ground or fine gravel underneath (or even on snow/ice or very soft ground for that matter) there’s nothing to stop the pole slipping back towards the peg allowing the strut to fall forward releasing the fly tension and causing the fly to drop down onto the inner.

Like the Laser and I suspect most transverse single pole tents it’s one thing getting it standing and another thing to get it taut. Like the Laser there’s an awful lot of unsupported fabric which I suspect will flap around in the slightest breeze, as far as I can tell the Tarptent Scarp and Moment have a seam/seams running from the center of the main pole to the end struts which I assume creates a catenary line and as such keeps everything tighter. That introduces a line/lines of stitching but as the Power Lizard is taped anway it shouldn’t have been a problem.

Inner Tent Attachment Tapes, Adjustable at the Porch Side

Once the fly was pitched I attempted to attach the inner, now on my Phreeranger the inner attaches using hooks sewn to the inside of the fly and shock cord loops attached to the inner, this makes it very easy to hook the inner in place, on the Power Lizard it’s toggles on webbing attached to the inner and rings on webbing or flat elastic on the fly. I find it more difficult to get the toggles through the rings than it is to attach shock cord loops onto ‘S’ hooks, the attachment points are fixed length apart from the ones at each end of the porch side, these use the same toggle/ring method but there’s a small ladder lock buckle to tension the inner. To be honest I think the attachment method is over engineered, shock cord/glove hooks would work every bit as well, would in my experience be easier to use and I suspect would be lighter. I think it’s simply a case of webbing/toggles/rings looking more professional rather than any actual advantage.

Pole Tension Cord

Tension Cord Line-Lok

There’s a version of Vango’s tension cord (TBS) running underneath the pole on the inside of the fly, it passes through webbing loops sewn in to match the position of the pole clips on the outside, a large Line-Lok is used to tension the cord/pole but I swapped it for a mini Line-Lok which does exactly the same job.

The inner tent is made from a very fine ripstop and the door has a piece of fine mesh along the top, there an elastic loop and toggle about midway down the door to hold the door back but it really needs to be lower down as the door tends to unroll itself at the lower end.

Inner Door Rolled and Fastened

At the apex there’s a loop for hanging a torch although most mini lanterns or torches I've seen have a loop for hanging rather than a hook so I'd have thought a hook on the inner tent rather than a loop would have been a better idea. The inner has 2 x mesh pockets on the porch side of the inner at the head end and there's one other small webbing loop on the side of the inner adjacent to the flysheet door but I haven't figured out what it's for.

Inner tent Fitted

Loads of Space, The Inner can be Detached from the Webbing strap and pulled Back to Increase Porch Space if Required

The inner tent is very spacious both width and length, there’s plenty of space on each side of my full size CCF mat and with the mat pulled up to the head end I have room to lay my ULA Conduit across the inner tent at the foot end. Initially I thought the porch was small but I could easily set up the MSR Reactor and still have plenty of extra space.

The Foot End, The Head End is Even Wider

Porch Width at the Head End (Narrower than the Foot End)

The headroom isn’t great, I’ve read that people 6’ + could sit upright at the high point but I’m only 5’ 10” and sitting on the groundsheet with my back straight my head is pressed into the inner tent, I can only assume that there’s plenty of headroom for people who are 6’ tall if they’ve got disproportionately long legs and a torso 2’ long.

Buckle to Reduce Tension on the Fly Zip

The zip on the fly door is one way which may cause concern for some but it doesn’t bother me at all, there’s a small plastic Q/R buckle at the bottom to take the tension off the zip and the rain flap covering the zip has an edge binding of lycra which keeps it tight to the fly.

Lycra Binding on the Fly Zip Rain Flap

Someone mentioned that the rain flap had a tendency to catch in the door zip and that it could easily damage the fabric, I didn’t have a problem at 1st but eventually it did catch and the zip did in fact almost cut through the fabric, I suppose it doesn’t matter too much as it’s not really part of the flysheet. Like the Laser the method of hooking the fly door back isn’t all that satisfactory as it hooks back underneath the fly and attaches to a ring on the inner tent so any rain/condensation on the door is transferred to the inner tent, Robin’s idea of using a small plastic clamp (or clothes peg) looks like a better method.

One thing I noticed was the way the end struts stress the fabric underneath the end vent hoods, There’s a seam running horizontally under the hood where a piece of mesh is stitched to the plain fabric, the seam is really stretched here and the stitch holes are opened up noticeably, as I mentioned I’d cut the strut length down from the supplied 545mm but initially only removed 10mm. In the 1st pic the poles are still 5mm over length, when I noticed the tension on the seam I reduced the length to the proper 530mm but the problem still exists. I think they should have had a length of webbing running from the top strut pocket to the bottom eyelet to take the tension off the fly fabric, the way it is I’ll be surprised if it isn’t a weak area.

Stressed Seam, Pole Still Too Long After Removing 10mm

Seam Still Stressed Although Pole is Correct Length

The guylines at the end struts come with a very basic looking plastic runner, at the price I’d have expected Line-Loks instead of runners similar to the ones that come on a £25 tent from Argos, the main pole guylines don’t have a runner at all so I’ve fitted mini Line-Locks to all the guylines.

Cheap Runner, Now Replaced with Mini Line-Loks

Striking the tent was easy enough and this time I left the inner attached to the fly as I wanted to see how easy it would be to pitch all in one. Pitching was fine but nothing special, the 1st attempt took over 10mins but much of that was spent adjusting/readjusting the end struts and end pegging points to get the tension right, a 2nd attempt took just over 5 mins, by way of comparison I could unpack - pitch - strike- repack my F10 Nitro in under 5mins and that involved threading 2 poles (the Nitro being a tunnel design). I expect that it’ll improve as I become more familiar with the tent although given the conditions today it’s likely to take me significantly longer in less than ideal conditions.

So what’s the verdict? Well it’s about 700g lighter than the Phreeranger but I still dislike transverse single hoop tents, they’re just to difficult to tension properly in my opinion and the amount of unsupported fabric means that they flap around quite a bit unless like the Scarp/Moment they have a seam/seams running from the apex of the main pole to the end struts. The pole clips seem on paper to be a good solution to the pole hood on the Laser but I’m leaning towards the view that they’re simply different with their own set of problems. The end strut location is again different to the Laser but if it wasn’t for the bottom end of the strut actually sticking into the ground the pole may slip under tension and collapse forward as the guylines slips through the plastic ring, that’s just speculation though. The plastic ring on the end strut guylines will need a loop of cord attached if I want to use pegs other than those supplied and given that the security of the end struts is a significant factor in keeping the tent upright I’d like to be able to use something with more holding power than a thin ti skewer although the skewers are fine for the fly pegging loops.

Update/Re Think on Pegs and Strut Location

I mentioned above that I only received 8 pegs but I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that they came with 13. I figured on needing 10 pegs, the extra 2 being required for the pegging points at the ends of the main pole. Thinking about it there are also 2 webbing loops at each of the end strut lower locating points, I wonder if these should be pegged to prevent the bottom of the strut slipping out of position. If so that makes 12 pegs plus a spare would be 13.

To be perfectly honest I don’t particularly like the Power Lizard for many of the reasons that I disliked the Laser, how long I’ll keep it is anyone’s guess but I certainly won’t buy another transverse hoop design. The problem is that while it’s significantly lighter than the Phreeranger it doesn’t offer any more useable space, is more difficult to pitch taut and has less headroom but I’ll give it a shot anyway as the main reason for buying was for the weight saving, I might even get to like it :-).