Over the past year, Sierra Designs has become one of my favorite outdoor gear companies. Why? Because they’re designing gear smarter than the other guys. And that ‘s exactly what the Tensegrity 1 Elite solo tent is: smart. It’s not your momma’s single person tent, and it doesn’t act like it. But it has what you want in an ultralight solo shelter – and a lot of what you didn’t know you needed – and cuts what you don’t.
First, let’s talk about the material. The Tensegrity is made with fully Siliconized Nylon fabric, meaning it’s water repellent without needing a rainfly and incredibly lightweight. It’s made to be so lightweight, in fact, that it doesn’t meet the FR standard CPAI-84 that limits your exposure to FR chemicals. This isn’t an issue for me in Washington, but it does mean that the tent can’t be sold or shipped in California, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey or New York. The fact that this fabric allows the tent to weigh 1 lb 11 oz is enough of an incentive for me, but I also think it’s kind of badass to have a tent that’s illegal in seven states. The fabric also stood up to my durability tests despite feeling incredibly soft and thin.
The Tensegrity 1 Elite is the lightest tent Sierra Designs makes, which is partly thanks to a design that replaces tent poles with trekking poles. The only tent pole the Tensegrity uses is down by the foot box; the rest of the structure stands with two trekking poles and a few stakes. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, this setup creates an ultralight, extremely roomy, totally stable shelter. But, I will admit, it takes a while to master the setup process. Keep the directions with you for the first few outings, because the tent needs to be setup in a pretty specific order for it to stand properly. For the first few trips, it took me about ten minutes plus to setup the Tensegrity by myself. Now that I’ve gotten the system down, it goes up in a flash.
Once you’ve gotten over the learning curve on the setup, you’ll realize how smart the tent’s design truly is. The Tensegrity can be used with both fixed length and adjustable trekking poles due to an adjustable grommet system on the bottom of the front panel of the tent. After you have the tent staked down and the trekking poles are erecting the tent, the Tensegrity’s guylines and stake out cords are easily adjustable to fine-tune a perfect setup. The Tensegrity has a large front vestibule panel that creates a “gear closest” in the front of the tent. You can store your gear there to keep it out of the elements without blocking the tent door, and a mesh panel allows easy access to your gear from inside the tent. The tent’s one door is easily accessible since there isn’t a vestibule over the door, and the way the trekking pole leans over the door prevents rain from coming in even with the mesh venting completely exposed.
Because you control whether the Siliconized Nylon fabric or the mesh venting fabric is over the door and lefthand ventilation panel while inside the tent, you can batten down the hatches in a storm or open up all of the panels for crazy good ventilation. The mesh on my tent is showing some minor pilling, but no holes have appeared in three months of use.
Perhaps the coolest part of the Tensegrity is the amount of room you have inside the tent. Usually with one-person shelters, you either have a relatively roomy tent that makes you feel it with weight, or an ultralight shelter that makes you feel like you’re suffocating the entire time you’re inside. Neither is true with the Tensegrity; because the trekking pole design creates inverted side walls, the shoulder and head room in the tent is significantly wider than the floor space. I was able to sit up more than comfortably in the tent, open up the ventilation panels and actually hang out inside the Tensegrity – no other one-person shelter has made me want to hang out inside of it.
Sierra Designs bills the Tensegrity 1 Elite as a tent for “expert users,” and I would agree with them there. The tent’s setup process doesn’t allow for any laziness: no bad staking jobs, no poor spot locations, no sloppy guyouts, which can take time to get yourself in the habit of. The Tensegrity also doesn’t come factory seam sealed, so if you want to seam seal the tent, you’ll have to do it yourself – not a difficult process, but a day’s work at home.
A few gripes I had with the Tensegrity: because the tent is non-freestanding, it’s pretty hard to brush dirt and sand out of the inside. I got sand inside the Tensegrity on one trip and had to live with it for a few days, as I couldn’t easily shake out the tent like with freestanding tents. Speaking of sand, I found in nearly impossible to setup the Tensegrity on the beach by myself. I think with a really expert beach staking job, you may be able to do it, but I gave up and moved to the dirt.
This shelter is hyper-functional and ultralight. Sierra Designs is just doing things smarter.
Availability: Available Now
Capacity: 1 Person
Minimum Weight: 1 lb 11 oz
Packed Weight: 2 lbs 1 oz
Interior Area: 17.10 ft2
Internal Peak Height: 41 in.
Length 88 in.
Width: Front – 30 in. Rear – 26 in.