Nearly all backpacking shelters from cottage manufacturers use trekking poles for support, e.g. MLD SoloMid, TarpTent Notch, and ZPacks Duplex.
The explanation is simple: This saves weight over geometries that require dedicated pole sets, e.g. Big Agnes Copper Spur, REI Quarter Dome. Some of the weight must be given back to achieve a minimum of interior space — extra fabric or lightweight struts help to counter sloping walls and near-useless perimeter space — but the savings are still considerable.
In the brick-and-mortar and online retail channel, however, shelters supported with trekking poles have gained little traction. Big Agnes offers just one model; MSR, three; Nemo, one; REI, none; Sierra Designs, one. Is this a reflection of consumer preferences or the result of slow innovation? I think it’s probably both.
Preview: Black Diamond Distance Tent
So I was pleased to find the new Black Diamond Distance Tent at Outdoor Retailer. It’s a full sided, fully enclosed single-wall design that uses two trekking poles for support. It reminds me most of the LightHeart FireFly ($275, 1 lb 13 oz), which similarly uses a short ridge pole to increase interior volume in the peak area.
When paired with Black Diamond’s new Distance Carbon AR (“accessory ready”) trekking poles, the Distance Tent weighs 1 lb 7 oz. If you already own trekking poles, you will need two 1-oz pole grip adapters, bringing the total weight to 1 lb 9 oz. It will retail for $400 with the Distance Carbon AR poles, or a reasonable $250 with the adapters.
The fly and floor are made of 30d coated polyester, which stretches less than silicone- and polyurethane-coated nylons.
The Distance is described as a 2-person shelter, but I think it’s more suitable for one: it has just 26 square feet of interior space, no vestibules, only one door, and sloping (not vertical) side panels. For context, the FireFly — which LightHeart describes as “a roomy 1-person” shelter — has dimensions of 105″ x 55″ x 45″ (length x max width x height), whereas the Distance is 95″ x 58″ x 41″.
My prediction: A sweat box
I want to like the Distance Tent, and I want Black Diamond (and other brands) to utilize trekking poles in more of their shelters. But on the showroom floor, the Distance Tent seemed fundamentally flawed. Why? Because its ventilation is woefully inadequate.
The Distance Tent has just two small vents, at the peak and at the foot. Both are covered with no-see-um bug mesh, the air permeability of which is shockingly low — without at least a moderate breeze, air does not push through. There are no vents along the bottom perimeter, and the side door does not have a separate mesh panel.
So if it’s raining or buggy, the Distance Tent will need to be zipped tight. In most environments — where nights are generally calm and low temperatures approach the dew point — I think the two vents will be quickly overwhelmed. As configured, the Distance Tent may perform adequately in arid and bug-free areas.
Black Diamond has six months to remedy this design. A door awning and mesh door would go a long way. While they’re at it, I also hope they rearrange the door zipper so that the door does not fall in the dirt/sand when the shelter is opened, which will reduce the lifespan of the zipper.