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Preview: Big Agnes Carbon Tents || Dyneema for the (rich) masses

In spring 2019 Big Agnes will release five shelters made of Dyneema Composite Fabric, making it the first wholesaler to offer DCF tents and the only source for semi-freestanding DCF models.

Originally published July 30. Revised November 10.

My coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2018 begins with Big Agnes, which revealed new editions of three existing tent geometries:

  • Fly Creek 1 Carbon ($800, 1 lb) and Fly Creek 2 Carbon ($850, 1 lb 2 oz)
  • Tiger Wall 2 Carbon ($1000, 1 lb 9 oz)and Tiger Wall 3 Carbon ($1200, 1 lb 14 oz)
  • Scout 2 Carbon ($700, 11 oz)

This new family also includes two new products:

  • Onyx Tarp Carbon ($500, 8 oz), a 8.5′ x 8.5′ square tarp; and,
  • Flower Wall Bivy Carbon ($TBD, 6 oz)

These “Carbon” models are made primarily of Dyneema Composite Fabric (aka DCF, and formerly known as Cuben Fiber), which is lighter, more waterproof, and stronger than the more conventional 15d and 7d nylons that Big Agnes uses in its UL and Platinum editions. So the point is not lost, I will repeat that: DCF is a better shelter fabric in all key metrics, and it weighs less.

Of course, DCF comes at a price. The prices of Carbon models are 1.5 to 2.6 times more expensive than the UL and Platinum equivalents. For example, the Tiger Wall UL 3 (my review) costs $450 and weighs 2 lbs 11 oz (for its trail weight, or fly + inner + poles). The new Carbon version weighs 13 oz less and will retail for a staggering $1200, or $57 per ounce saved.

Read more about the performance and price of DCF.

The Tiger Wall Carbon uses .34-oz DCF for its fly, .51-oz for its floor, and an uncoated poly or nylon for the bulk of its inner body.

BFD?

Cottage manufacturers like Hammock Gear, Mountain Laurel Designs, and Zpacks have been successfully making DCF shelters for over a decade. So the Carbon tents are not unique in this regard. But they are still newsworthy:

1. Big Agnes is the first wholesaler to make DCF tents, and it’s possible that Carbon models will be available in Spring 2019 from Backcountry.com and your local REI. Is DCF about to go mainstream? Will more widespread use translate into lower prices for DCF?

2. The Fly Creek and Tiger Wall are the first semi-freestanding DCF tents in the marketplace. Many backpackers are unwilling to fuss (even a little bit) with shelters that are supported with trekking poles, so this demographic now has DCF options.

Fabric specs

Per Big Agnes, the tent flies are made with 12 g/m2 (0.34 oz/yd2) DCF; the floors, with 18 g/m2 (0.51 oz/yd2). I’m not a DCF expert, and I’m hopeful that Big Agnes extensively tested its Carbon lineup, but these seem like bold selections. Just ask the experts:

According to Zpacks, which uses a LOT of DCF, the 0.34-oz is, “very thin and does not take much to puncture. We use it for our limited use/emergency shelter, the Hexamid Pocket tarp.” And Ripstop by the Roll, which sells DCF for DIY projects, describes it as being, “best for super ultralight tarps, tents, flys, and light duty stuff sacks. Note that this variant is the lightest, least abrasion resistant DCF variant on the market. Extra care is needed to ensure longer life of your project or product.”

The 0.51-oz variant is the default weight for Zpacks tarps and tents. “It has high tensile strength, but only moderate abrasion and puncture resistance due to the thin membrane material.” Ripstop says it’s best for, “ultralight tarps, tents, flys, and light duty stuff sacks.” And Mountain Laurel Designs, which also uses a LOT of DCF, reports that it, “will have a shorter service life [than the 0.75-oz version]” but that, “it is good for 3+ season use.”

What does all of this mean?

  1. Treat the Carbon products extremely delicately.
  2. If you need a shelter that will endure a few hundred nights, consider one made of heavier 0.75-oz DCF or a premium sil-nylon with a 3k+ hydrostatic head rating.
  3. Use a ground sheet made of polycryo to protect the floor from abrasion.

The tent flies and Onyx Tarp and Flower Wall bivy are made of 0.34-oz/yd2 DCF, which is stronger than it looks but still delicate relative to heavier .51- and .75-oz variants.

Pole set

DCF is the headline, but the Carbon tents have another unique spec: carbon fiber poles, instead of aluminum.

It sounds like additional R&D will be necessary to pull this off, however. When carbon fiber poles are stressed, they break catastrophically, and a sharp-edged pole will make quick work out of a 0.34-oz tent fly. Breakage can be negated with thicker pole shafts, but at some point the weight and price will make aluminum a better option.

BA’s PR rep ended the conversation by saying, “There is a possibility that there will be some tweaks” to the Carbon tents between now and Spring 2019.

Update: In November 2018, Big Agnes confirmed that it will use Easton carbon fiber poles. Samples were not on hand, and the media contact was not familiar with the testing that had been done to make them field-ready.

Assessment

The Fly Creek Carbon and Tiger Wall Carbon models are jaw-droppingly priced, but they’re unique and there’s probably an audience for them.

I think the single-wall Scout 2 Carbon is the most interesting. At just 11 oz, it’s a lot of tent for one person, and technically big enough for two.

I’m struggling with the the Onyx Tarp and Flower Wall Bivy. The former does not stand out among the competition (it’s just a simple 8.5′ x 8.5′ tarp), and it’s priced much higher. In comparison, look at the Zpacks 7 x 9 or 8.5 x 10 tarps, which cost about half of the Onyx.  Meanwhile, the bivy is made completely out of DCF, which is a non-breathable fabric, so moisture (from insensible perspiration and damp clothing) will remain stuck in the bivy. It might be okay for FKT-style sufferfests, but I don’t see it as being a sustainable shelter choice. The Flower Wall Bivy has been dropped from the line, per conversations with Big Agnes in November at Outdoor Retailer. The explanation was murky, but it was likely due to performance concerns realized in-house or raised by dealers and/or media.

The 8.5′ x 8.5′ Onyx Tarp weighs an amazing 8 oz, or $62.50 per ounce.

Final thoughts

The Carbon products remind me of the Osprey Levity/Lumina. On one hand, I’m excited to see respected and influential wholesalers being innovative and pushing limits. On the other, I’m nervous for them: Do their customers really understand the limitations and care requirements of these items? And would they be better off as-is, by selling Exos/Eja packs and Fly Creeks by the pallet at REI, and leaving the fringe stuff to cottage manufacturers that attract a better educated customer and that have business models better suited to low-volume premium goods?

Questions about the Big Agnes Carbon line? Leave a comment.


Disclosure. This website is supported mostly through affiliate marketing, whereby for referral traffic I receive a small commission from select vendors, at no cost to the reader. This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

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37 Responses to Preview: Big Agnes Carbon Tents || Dyneema for the (rich) masses

  1. Matt S July 30, 2018 at 5:13 pm #

    .34 DCF… Hard Pass!

    • CJ July 30, 2018 at 5:24 pm #

      For the cost/durability ratio I’ll stick with my Duplex

    • Hap August 4, 2018 at 9:21 am #

      Having made and used a lot of DCF gear over the years, these fabric weights are too lite. Otherwise these look interesting and $$$$$$….

  2. MJHolmes July 30, 2018 at 5:39 pm #

    For folks wanting a tent with poles, the Zpacks 2P Duplex Flex (optional poles make it freestanding) seems like a much better deal. 30oz., .51 DCF for $724 and the floor is sturdy enough to use without a groundsheet. .34 DCF is extremely fragile.

    • Joe August 1, 2018 at 3:58 pm #

      +1.
      It was a hard bullet to bite, at $700+, but as THEY say, it only hurts once to buy the best.

      I’m very pleased with my Zpacks duplex, and the freestanding pole option.

      In western Colorado, pegs are often not an option. To know that I will be able to pitch in any situation is a huge comfort to me.

  3. Rob Davidson July 30, 2018 at 8:04 pm #

    As long as DCF laminates are a proprietary product, it is unlikely we will see a price drop hinged with volume. As a survivor of an iced over bivy that could not breathe, the Flower Wall bivy should be DOA.

  4. Hunter July 30, 2018 at 8:16 pm #

    I just don’t see the point… I have a duplex and the freestanding poles, which I rarely use.

    For that price I could get a much more versatile and durable kit from MLD or HMG…

    Perhaps aspiring lawyers/yuppies will like this? It’ll be interesting to see how many get returned to REI….

  5. Edward July 30, 2018 at 9:15 pm #

    $1000 for a Tiger Wall 2 Carbon.

    For $1000, I’m sure my wife would rather I spend the money on two tickets to paradise (Kauai, Maui, Margaritaville), and I would completely agree.

    Having had a carbon pole snap during setup, albeit ~11 years ago, no more carbon poles until someone can demonstrate they won’t snap under ordinary force.

    Really, .34 oz cuben sounds so fragile, it’ll get punctured and abused just tossing it onto the ground with pine cones and granite and pine needles.

    Who on earth wants an outrageously expensive tent that they know is going to fail with only mild abuse (other than the poseurs going around bragging how ultralight they are)?

  6. Leroy July 30, 2018 at 9:24 pm #

    I think a lot of folks are going to be surprised by this one. Sure, it’ll take a couple of iterations to get right, like most good products do. But Big Agnes is a serious company and the single most universal trend in outdoor gear now is making strong products lighter. It seems to me that BA has the ability to spend the money to see this through. Sure, cottage manufacturers have been using DCF for years now. But almost none of those companies has made a semi-freestanding shelter that provides weather and bug protection and doesn’t require the use of trekking poles. (The design is already proven by BA–my understanding is that the Fly Creek tents are exceptional sellers.) Trekking poles, despite what you see in adverts and in blogs like this one, are still only used by a minority of backcountry travelers. For the majority that don’t use them, and don’t intend on carrying an extra 10-18 oz in poles just to set up a “UL” tarp above treeline or in desert locales, this tent could fill the void that’s in the market currently. Yes, the price is tough. But as anybody who pays attention knows, it’s easy to find major retailers gear on discount after the initial offering plays out.

    • Patrick July 31, 2018 at 11:46 am #

      Having just completed the JMT, I saw more people using trekking poles and semi/freestanding tents than any other setup. Those without poles were quite rare IMO.

      • CJ August 4, 2018 at 1:44 pm #

        And those that are going to be casually backpacking are NOT going to be dropping $1000 for an ultra-light tent. And those of us who are willing to invest in DCF tents are going to be doing a lot more research and realize how fragile these things are and that we can get a better, more durable free-standing tent for less money (Duplex with Flex pole kit).

    • MT Buckeye November 20, 2018 at 3:20 pm #

      I agree – I used to use Lekis – but they slow me down, snag on stuff all the time, and I end up just carrying them in my hands or pack most of the time. Trekking poles are overrated.

  7. Leroy July 30, 2018 at 9:32 pm #

    And let’s not forget, we all make rationalizations on prices. HMG was (still is?) the darling of the industry for some years, and their echolite with mesh insert comes in at over a grand…and weighs like 44oz and that’s before including the weight of trekking poles!

    • PS July 31, 2018 at 11:17 am #

      Nope. HMG’s Echo 2 is currently $700 and has been for a while. Had mine for several years now and paid a bit less catching a rare Christmas time sale. AND HMG is .8oz fabric. WAYYYY better than BA is offering here.

      • Leroy July 31, 2018 at 11:50 am #

        Yup, my bad. I forgot they include the mesh insert nowadays. So $700 plus the cost of trekking poles (roughly $180 for some nice carbon bd poles). Not significantly different in price than the BA offering. My point is that once apples are compared to apples, these BA tents compare pretty nicely in both weight AND cost with some of the other high end products out there, while filling a pretty large gap in the current UL shelter offering (semi-freestanding bug/weather shelter that doesn’t require trekking poles, which most people don’t use anyway). The durability issue is a different story altogether, and til I try this product out myself, I’m not sold. Sounds like there are some well-informed concerns out there.

  8. Kevin July 31, 2018 at 12:23 am #

    I love BA products, so I’m excited to see them start using DCF.

    These tents are expensive, but considering what I’ve spent on other gear, I can imagine dropping $850 for a two man tent weighing in at 18 oz. Hopefully BA can work out the durability concerns.

  9. Daniel H July 31, 2018 at 5:17 am #

    I would rather see these tents in .51 DCF.
    I’m afraid these tents will have an opposite effect and make mainstream hikers avoid DCF-products.

    Regarding that this is the Only semi-freestanding tents (soon) on the market.. what about Zpacks Duplex?
    I know it’s an optional extra, but they are semi-freestanding too.

  10. dgray July 31, 2018 at 8:25 am #

    Is 8 oz. the correct weight for the Onyx tarp? It seems odd that the bigger Zpacks 8.5×10 tarp in heavier .51 DCF (with stuff sack) that you linked to weighs 6.4 oz. while the Onyx 8.5×8.5 in .34 DCF weighs 8 oz. Perhaps guy lines or linelocks are a part of the discrepancy? Even then it doesn’t quite add up for me.

  11. Dan Durston July 31, 2018 at 9:33 am #

    Wow so all of these DCF tents – even the Tiger wall – are using 0.34oz cuben for the fly? That seems crazy to me. I’ve built gear from 0.34oz cuben and can not imagine paying >$1000 for a tent that I expect would look pretty rough after 30 nights.

    I view 0.5oz DCF as a bold but liveable fabric choice for a fly, and 1.0oz DCF is alright for a floor but much more expensive and not lighter than a 15 – 20D woven floor.

  12. Brad R July 31, 2018 at 4:22 pm #

    Is Big Agnes the first wholesaler to sell a DCF tent? I thought Sierra Designs, Brooks Range, and Terra Nova have all done DCF shelters in the past.

    • Andrew Skurka July 31, 2018 at 4:32 pm #

      To be more accurate, I probably should have said that BA is the only wholesaler to offer DCF. Although, to BA’s credit, I don’t think any of those other brands launched with seven DCF SKU’s. The SD tent was before my time, but I think it was just one tent, and it was dropped within a season.

  13. heliumhiker July 31, 2018 at 6:15 pm #

    That .34 oz/sq.yd cuben’s mylar layer is going to be abraded SO quickly on the freestanding poles unless they reinforce the locations of the poles with additional fabric.

    Additionally, anyone got a link to the Scout 2 Carbon? I love my Scout Plus UL2 (vestibule), but if they double down on “breathable non-waterproof nylon” replacing mesh (and the normal Scout already has substantially less ventilation than the Scout Plus) it’s going to be nearly as bad as their all-cuben bivy – i.e. not worth the 54% weight reduction.

  14. Jeremiah Gillam July 31, 2018 at 7:25 pm #

    I am going to guess that their material choice is going to be too thin and too short in longevity. I have 2 Zpacks tents in .74 DCF and like this thickness.

  15. InsGadget August 1, 2018 at 7:52 am #

    I’ve been using the same ZPacks Pocket Tarp, with its .34 oz/sq yd DCF since 2015. It needs some cuben fiber tape here and there at times, but it has held up surprisingly well as my primary shelter for three years now. It’s tougher than some of you realize. With that said, it is not ideal for your average REI shopper. We’ll see.

  16. jim seamans August 1, 2018 at 11:16 am #

    I use both a zpack hexi-plus and a BA fly creek 2 platinum. I like both for different uses that often conflict, but I am happy with both. The hexi is reinforced at contact points with extra layers, the floor is netting on the outside with dcf inside which takes care of the abration problems. My zpack weighs about 17 oz and the BA 28 oz.. The idea of a 18 oz semi-free standing tent is very interesting but I question using the .34 oz material.

  17. Ron Moak August 3, 2018 at 8:01 am #

    Technically it’s not correct that Big Agnes was the first to wholesale DCF shelters. Six Moon Designs had DCF In stores for years around the world. We certainly don’t have the extensive dealer base of Big Agnes. Still, we do have a number of retail stores. Particularly in Japan.

    • Jake G. August 6, 2018 at 10:07 am #

      And I think many would love to see a DCF Haven tarp and net tent be available again! 🙂

      • RON Moak August 6, 2018 at 1:44 pm #

        Stay tuned. It’s in the works. We’ve been working to revamp DCF production so it can be scaled up significantly.

    • Ron Sowers September 2, 2018 at 9:51 am #

      I would sell my Duplex today for a Dyneema Skyscape Treckker with a 1.0 floor, an 8″ bathtub and .51 body in olive. For me, that would be the coolest tent design I have ever seen. I love how it rolls up into a wide open net tent on clear nights.

  18. Richard August 3, 2018 at 9:20 am #

    I imagine that dynema is slightly more rugged than polycryo but I wonder by how much. And polycryo is available is just about every hardware store. Take a page from the ultralight backpacking book. The purpose of hiking is to hike… (me: so what does a tent offer you?)

    • Andrew Skurka August 3, 2018 at 6:07 pm #

      DCF is WAY more rugged than polycryo. DCF is a grid of Dyneema fibers embedded in a relatively thick plastic membrane. Polycryo is a much thinner plastic membrane, so it lacks the waterproofness, abrasion-resistance, and tear strength.

  19. Greenfire August 3, 2018 at 10:39 pm #

    Forget about the durability, the translucency of that .34 is going to be offputting rather more quickly to the regular REI shopper than the longevity. BA say anything about what their warranty will look like on any of these?

  20. Joe August 4, 2018 at 6:21 am #

    The new tiger wall 2 carbon at 1 lb 9 oz for the tent, fly, and poles is exactly the same weight as the nemo hornet elite 2p which weighs 1 lb 12 oz including tent, fly, poles, and 6 ultralight stakes.(half the weight of the ones included from nemo). Comparing apples to apples, the nemo hornet elite 2p is exactly the same weight for half the price and the silnylon material is much more abrasion and puncture resistant, and the aluminium poles for the nemo are more durable as well.

    • Andrew Skurka August 4, 2018 at 6:55 am #

      I’m not completely disagreeing, but your statements need some clarification.

      1. Weights
      * Tiger Wall: 1 lb 9 oz (minimum) and 1 lb 12 oz (packaged weight)
      * Hornet Elite: 1 lb 12 oz (mininum) and 2 lbs 1 oz (packaged)
      Minimum weight normally includes fly, body, and poles. Packaged weight includes stakes and stuff sacks.

      2. Fabric performance
      The Tiger Wall uses .34 and .51 DCF, whereas the Hornet Elite uses 7d and 10d nylon that is coated on one side with silicone and on the other with polyurethane. I don’t have the lab tests memorized, and I don’t know exactly where Nemo is getting its fabrics, but I think that the DCF variants are the better fabrics here, maybe even by multiples. No, these DCF’s are not bomber on an absolute basis, but 7d and 10d nylons are even worse.

      3. Geometry
      Have you compared the interior volume of a TW and Hornet? Neither wins any awards for roominess, but the “cathedral pole” on the Tiger Wall makes a big difference for interior space, because it makes both side walls much more vertical. The geometry of the Hornet is okay for soloists, kind of, but that fin-style architecture is not ideal if you can’t be sitting under the main ridgeline.

  21. Sven Erikson August 6, 2018 at 11:15 am #

    I just took out a preview copy of the Fly Creek HV2 Carbon this weekend for some peak-bagging in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness. Camped at 11400′ in a raging wind and rainstorm on Sat night. HV2 Carbon was bomber. I am worried a bit about the floor’s durability, but the rain fly didn’t strike me as anything to worry about. In fact, I liked the non-stretch factor, especially in a hard rainstorm where with other tarps or tents I may be forced to restake to compensate for stretch after the fly gets wet. Set up is as easy as it gets and I find the room of the HV2 to be more than plenty for one person and gear. I’m about 6′ tall, and would’ve liked just an inch or two more of headspace near the door, as I like to sit in the tent and cook under the vestibule in a storm (my head was coming into contact with the door frame/ceiling if I wasn’t sitting in just the right spot). The transparency of the fly was actually a plus, in my opinion; it was nice to get some moonlight filtering into the tent after the storm blew out (I will almost never be in a tent when the sun is out, so too much light in there is no concern of mine). The poles aren’t all carbon versions; the main joint and the first segment of all three arms that connect into the joint were aluminum. The tent I was able to try out was not a final version, but I like where they are heading with this. For me, this would make a nice mid-summer shelter for solo trips in the CO rockies where rainstorms/monsoons are generally short-lived, surfaces are generally forgiving, and mosquitos can be an issue. For what it is worth, I can’t stand trekking poles, for numerous reasons, so having a tent that doesn’t require them is a plus for me.

  22. Neil Provo August 22, 2018 at 7:11 pm #

    Hard to breat the Hyperlite Ultamid… best shelter on the planet!

    • Andrew Skurka August 28, 2018 at 10:24 pm #

      Sounds like you have not used enough shelters or hiked with enough other people to better qualify your comment.

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