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Exclusive 25% off discount on my four favorite Sierra Designs products

Through Monday, July 6, Sierra Designs is offering a 20% sitewide discount on tents, sleeping bags, men’s apparel, and women’s apparel. But my readers get even more love: take 25% off!

Since I partnered with Sierra Designs earlier this year, I’ve had the opportunity to test out many of its products, both current and future. Here are four of my top picks:

You got us, Justin, nice job. Last month in Rocky Mountain National Park, wearing the SD Pack Polo (long-sleeve), with Flyin' Brian Robinson.

You got us, Justin, nice job. Last month in Rocky Mountain National Park, wearing the SD Pack Polo (long-sleeve), with Flyin’ Brian Robinson.

Short-Sleeve Pack Polo

For most of the backpacking season, the Pack Polo is my go-to hiking shirt. It’s ideal in mild and warm temperatures for the shady East, and okay for the sunny West in conjunction with sunscreen. (Last year I picked up a long-sleeve version, which unfortunately is no longer in the line.)

For starters, the Pack Polo is sharp-looking, far more attractive than a boring and sloppily fitting athletic shirt. More functionally, the fabric offers superb air permeability (at walking speed, you can nearly feel a breeze), so I stay drier and cooler than I would in a stuffier fabric. And it’s shockingly durable, too: there is no pilling or picking even after about two months of use, including some extensive bushwhacking.

The shirt’s only short-coming is its lack of insect resistance. Bugs will bite through the fabric, so it’s not appropriate for moderate or heavy bug pressure unless you treat it with permethrin or send it off to Insect Shield.

Also, this shirt is too airy for cool or cold temperatures. Instead, try the Solar Wind Shirt (mens, womens), which I wore for 3 weeks straight in southern Utah in April. Its primary fabric has less air permeability, but the back panel is made of the same fabric as the Pack Polo — so it’s warmer but still equally resistant to SBS (sweaty back syndrome).

Alan Dixon in southern Utah with a loaned UL Trench Rain Jacket. He reluctantly gave it back to me at the end of the trip.

Alan Dixon in southern Utah with a loaned UL Trench Rain Jacket. He reluctantly gave it back to me at the end of the trip.

UL Rain Trench

Be skeptical of any manufacturer claims touting the “breathability” of their waterproof-breathable rain gear. Technically, it may be breathable, but the technology is inherently flawed and you will almost inevitably end up wet — from the inside or the outside, or both — during extended wet conditions.

The Sierra Designs UL Trench Rain Jacket (mens, womens) offers a more effective solution to prevent you from soaking in your own sweat: generous airflow via a hip belt vent and armpit vents, and an open crotch courtesy of its long torso length and the matching Elite Chaps (unisex).

Publicity has focused on the Sierra Designs Cagoule (unisex), but after using both products I think that the UL Trench is the better jacket. It’s 4 oz heavier and $60 more, but I really value its full-length zipper and durable 3-layer fabric, versus the Cagoule’s pull-over design and 2-layer fabric.

The Tentsegrity 2 in Rocky Mountain National Park last month. Notice the amount of ventilation possible even when its raining (via the mesh on the doors and under the awning). Also, gear is stored under the awning, not in front of the door, minimizing tripping hazards.

The Tentsegrity 2 in Rocky Mountain National Park last month. Notice the amount of ventilation possible even when its raining (via the mesh on the doors and under the awning). Also, gear is stored under the awning, not in front of the door, minimizing tripping hazards.

Tentsegrity Tents

There are four versions available: 1-person Elite, 1-person Featherlight (FL), 2-person Elite, and 2-person FL. The Elite version is lighter and stronger than the FL version, but will require seam-sealing and is not available in all states.

The Tentsegrity design solves many of the widespread problems with modern tents, and single-wall tents in particular. I’m not sure that retailers, backpackers, and media yet understand how this is a vastly superior design. There are many benefits to its inverted trapezoid profile over traditional dome tents and A-frame designs:

  • Per its weight and footprint, the Tentsegrity has much more livable space.
  • Its doors can be opened for entry and exit without exposing items inside the shelter to rain and snow, a.k.a. “dry entry”
  • Condensation is less likely to occur because the ventilation features need not be covered up during a rain event, exactly when humidity is at its highest.
  • Items in the “gear closet” can be easily accessed, but without being a tripping hazard like they are in a conventional vestibule located outside the front door.

Tentsegrity tents are definitely heavier than UL tarp solutions. And you’ll want to learn to set it up properly before going into the field with it (unless you want a sorry-looking pitch like some journalists have managed). But for backpackers who want or need a fully-enclosed shelter and the simplicity of a single-wall tent (rather than a modular system), this is an excellent choice. When Amanda and I go backpacking, for example, this is our pick.

A slickrock camp one night in southern Utah in April. Even when used without a bivy, the Backcountry Quilt is far less drafty than conventional quilts due to its generous size, hideaway hood, and full-length insulated arm sleeves.

A slickrock camp one night in southern Utah in April. Even when used without a bivy, the Backcountry Quilt is far less drafty than conventional quilts due to its generous size, hideaway hood, and full-length insulated arm sleeves.

Backcountry Quilt

Due to its oversized width, full-length insulated arm pockets, and its hideaway hood, I have found the Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt to be far less drafty (and thus warmer) than conventional quilts. These features have a weight penalty, but I feel that the extra ounces are invested well. The Backcountry Quilt is ideal for quilt virgins who are nervous about their draftiness, or for quilt veterans (like me) who recognize the limitations of conventional quilts.

This BCQ has been a hot item for Sierra Designs, and at this point they only have in stock the SYN 1.5-season version. However, Backcountry.com has the 800-fill DriDown version available right now for $240, or 25% off MSRP. For backpackers who are on a budget, who do not anticipate extensive use, and/or who are not weight conscious, the SYN version is adequate. But the DriDown version is the superior item: it’s lighter and more compressible for its warmth, and has a much longer lifespan.

Smiling in -10 F in Rocky Mountain National Park in late-February, and not just because Dave is a happy guy. His baffled parka is a must-have for winter hiking and camping.

Smiling in -10 F in Rocky Mountain National Park in late-February, and not just because Dave is a happy guy. His baffled parka is a must-have for winter hiking and camping.

DriDown Baffled Parka

I initially said Top 4, but I’m going to give you a fifth.

If you hike or camp in the wintertime — or want to — and don’t yet have a winter-worthy parka, consider the Sierra Designs DriDown Baffled Parka (mens, womens). When you are standing around in sub-freezing temperatures, oblivious to how cold it really is, you will appreciate this purchase. In contrast, maybe you’ll get to watch your hiking friend do jumping-jacks in order to warm up, since his attempt to extend his 3-season sewn-through parka (an inherently less thermally efficient design) is failing.

As a Sale item, the DriDown Baffled Parka is not eligible for my 25% discount. But it’s already at a great price ($150!), since it’s 50% off MSRP.

Posted in on July 1, 2015
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22 Comments

  1. Six2 on July 1, 2015 at 2:29 pm

    Calling the Indefinitely Wild blog “journalism” is a strong word. It is an outdoor blog run by indoorsy people.

    • Andrew Skurka on July 1, 2015 at 5:58 pm

      There are better and worse outdoor blogs out there. But that is the era we live in — anyone can have a microphone, and it’s up to the public to decide what is worth reading or watching. Given the huge amount of traffic they generate, it does not seem like your assessment is too widely shared.

      • Six2 on July 2, 2015 at 12:35 pm

        Gawker is a huge site with serious resources and some excellent stuff. Maybe IW will get it together and change my mind.

  2. joe on July 1, 2015 at 7:11 pm

    I would have jumped on that DriDown Baffled Parka but the largest they had was medium 🙁

    • Andrew Skurka on July 1, 2015 at 7:36 pm

      One for your significant other, perhaps?

  3. Landon Zimmer on July 1, 2015 at 10:42 pm

    If it’s your go-to shirt I’ll give it a shot! I’ll take a Duke grad’s/world-respected expert’s commentary as journalism over 99.99% of what else there is out there. Keep it up!

  4. Ric R on July 2, 2015 at 2:30 am

    Andrew, curious to know how the Tentsegrity 2 did on that trip (Rocky Mountain NP) relative to condensation. If any, would you consider it normal and/or excessive? I’m really appreciating the unique design and in buggy conditions this really seems to be a good alternative to a tarp. I’m about ready to pull the trigger on the Tentsegrity 2 – seems to be meeting all my conditions for a UL tent and I really appreciate the thought process they placed in the design.

    Thanks!

    Ric

    • Andrew Skurka on July 2, 2015 at 6:50 am

      The conditions in RMNP were very favorable and most shelters would have done very well — no precip and low humidity.

      In more challenging conditions, the Tentsegrity will perform better than other tents, nearly all of which present ventilation and storm-resistance as mutually exclusive features. This is completely backwards: since when one of these features is needed, the other often is too. Specifically, during a rain event, traditional double- and single-wall tents (e.g. dome, pup, pyramid) must be fully covered by a rain fly, thus limiting ventilation to the tent’s lower perimeter and perhaps some small rain fly vents. In contrast, with the Tentsegrity you can keep open both doors (which are protected by the awning), in addition to the big gear closet screen.

      That said, the Tentsegrity is not immune to condensation. If the humidity exceeds its dew point at your campsite, condensation will collect. It’s always recommended to find good campsites (relatively warm, relatively dry, a gentle breeze) but they aren’t always available.

      If you expect that condensation will regularly be unavoidable, I’ll admit that you may be better off in a traditional double-wall tent. It may collect more condensation than the Tentsegrity, but you’ll have a physical barrier between you and it.

      Finally, be ready to work with the pitch of the Tentsegrity. It’s unlike anything you’ve seen and it demands some backyard practice. Long guylines than the stock-supply are very helpful, too — add two to the ridgeline and the awning corners, and another to the rear apex; put shorter cords on all of the other stake-outs so that you have more flexibility of there is an inconveniently located rock or root in your way.

      • Ric R on July 3, 2015 at 6:43 am

        Andrew, I appreciate the detailed feedback – It helps, especially the advice on the guy-lines. I’m going to give the Tensegrity 2 a shot since it has many of the features I’ve been looking for that a traditional tarp (l love my Spinn Twin) provides (other than a tarp – best single wall tent design I’ve seen). I’m glad you commented on the guy-lines as I was wondering how that would complicate a pitch.

        I’m use to condensation in the southeast so I guess that’s a minus I just expect now. I have/use a Henry Shires Squall 2 for some time and I think the Tensegrity 2 is going to offer better storage, views, ventilation, ingress/egress (no dig on on Shires tents as they have their advantages as well). The only negative points may be pitching ease and pitch location challenges on the Tensegrity 2.

        Thanks again Andrew and I’ll let you know how it goes. By the way I have been really enjoying your Sierra Designs videos.

  5. Anthony on July 3, 2015 at 9:57 am

    Andrew, do you feel that the rain trench could have been built in a longer length? I sold the cagoule because I thought it would be longer. Zpacks has a rain trench that goes to the knees with a two way zipper for venting. I wonder if a two way zipper is just as effective for ventilation. Any experience with that?

    • Andrew Skurka on July 3, 2015 at 11:37 am

      I like the length of the UL Trench, which I think is a few inches shorter than the Cagoule but which is still long by rain jacket standards. A longer rain jacket will inhibit mobility, though is more important of a consideration when off-trail than on-trail.

      A 2-way zipper offers better ventilation than a 1-way zipper, but when you need the ventilation most — when it’s most humid and probably raining — it allows water to get through. So I’d rather have a flap/skirt as with the Cagoule and UL Trench, which offers full-time ventilation.

      • Anthony on July 3, 2015 at 5:38 pm

        Thanks. I Just wish the UL Trench was longer (and maybe a little lighter:). Does it pack down small? But you have a good point about the zipper letting rain in on the Zpacks. Decisions decisions. I guess the rain chaps would take the place of needing a longer jacket to the knees.

        • Andrew Skurka on July 4, 2015 at 8:09 am

          Yes, packs down pretty small. It’s not a heavy 3-layer fabric.

  6. Sean on July 8, 2015 at 9:28 am

    Sad to say the Pack Polo is the first big miss I’ve had of your suggestions.

    It almost is perfect. I love the material, the weight, the knit, the overall look. It’s great.

    But I am a big guy, I ordered an XXL, and it feels like it’s more like an XL. I’d have to measure but it seems shorter than advertised (28.5 inch length on the back, my pack size/back length is 18 inches, so the shirt should not barely make it past my hips), and overall is pretty small for something measured to accomodate a 53 inch chest. I could actually feel strain on the fabric and seams across the shoulder, which is a first for me. It was so severe that I double-checked if it was an XXL, which it was, and even tried a second shirt on.

    Sadly they’re going back. If you’re not a big guy like me I can easily suggest the shirt, and I *really* wanted it to fit because I really love everything else about it. But the sizing just runs too small for me. If I was smaller (both bulk and skeletal size) I think it’d be my favorite shirt.

  7. Jesse on July 8, 2015 at 4:19 pm

    Any recommendation for a synthetic 3-season quilt for those of us with incredibly inconvenient allergies to down?

  8. Vadim Fedorovsky on August 6, 2015 at 11:46 am

    Andrew have you done any more testing of the UL rain trench, developed anymore thoughts on it?

    I am having difficulty coming to a decision if I want to keep it because as soon as I tried it on at my home I began to sweat. It seems to be very stuff but it’s hard to say.

    Any more thoughts on it?

    Thank you.

    -Vadim

    • Andrew Skurka on August 7, 2015 at 12:39 pm

      Well, if you put on any jacket in July in the mid-Atlantic, you will probably start to sweat. I have worn the UL Trench quite a bit and it is my current pick. It is still limited by the drawbacks inherent to WPB rain wear, but it is better than most due to its ventilation.

      • Vadim Fedorovsky on August 7, 2015 at 5:01 pm

        Good point, Andrew.

        Thank you. I am going to go with it.

  9. Matt on September 24, 2015 at 6:44 am

    I have the Flashlight 1 person model. I really like it, and have used it in the rain very successfully. Only problem was on slightly leaky seam on one pole pocket. Wondering if you have used the Flashlight at all and could comment on a comparison. I did note the Flashlight is a bit lighter, but does not have the inverted trapezoid as the Tensegrity, nor the huge gear closet. But I did love being able to leave my tent open in 1-3 inch per hour rain and have great ventilation as well as being able to see outside.

    • Andrew Skurka on September 24, 2015 at 8:22 am

      The Flashlights and Tentsegrities are similar, probably too similar. Advantages of the Flashlight: easier pitch, more useful side awnings (i.e. larger), smaller footprint. Advantages of the Tentsegrity: more headroom, huge gear closet, easier entry (because of the smaller side awning), and better ventilation.

      If you own the Flashlight already, I don’t think I would “upgrade” to the Tentsgrity, but probably wait until 2016 for another offering (hint, hint). If you are in the market for a new shelter, I think it depends on your needs, but I would generally lean towards the Tentsegrity.

  10. Matt on September 24, 2015 at 11:23 pm

    Thanks Andrew. I am sticking with the Flashlight for my one person needs, but am considering a Tensegrity 2 for my wife and I. Since we don’t have a trip planned for the near term, I will sit tight and see what is in store for next year. BTW, thanks for the hint 😉

  11. Alex on March 10, 2016 at 4:49 pm

    Thanks for the comment on your preferences regarding the SD Trench Rain jacket vs. the Cagoule.

    My PNW rain hiking has become infinitely more comfortable since discovering the Cagoule and chaps. Kudos to SD for thinking outside the “breathable membrane” fallacy box.

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