Over dinner at The Pump House in Fairbanks, I read to my co-guides — Alan Dixon, Flyin’ Brian Robinson, and Justin Simoni — the disclaimer-filled email about the Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 Carbon Tent, sent to me by BA’s PR firm:
“The [Tiger Wall Carbon] is intended for only the most advanced users. Although it’s extremely strong for its weight, it’s not indestructible. Special care during setup and extended trips is important, as rough handling, long-term abrasion, exposure to sharp objects, or rocky campsite selection may result in fabric punctures and tears. We’ve provided a footprint to improve durability and self-adhesive patches for field repairs. Do not pitch it under pine trees or where it will rub against branches.“
I was skeptical about the Tiger Wall Carbon (TWC) and the four other Carbon models when I previewed them at Outdoor Retailer last summer. And this email made me even more concerned about using it on two 8-day guided trips in the Brooks Range, which started in the morning. When I asked the table for a second opinion, they were in universal agreement: Don’t do it.
But the forecast looked friendly for the first trip and Justin had extra room in his tent, so I packed it anyway.
Perhaps to everyone’s surprise, the TWC survived two weeks of benign conditions north of the Arctic Circle. But it failed the following month in Yosemite: on its twenty-second night out, I put a 5-inch tear in the fly while setting it up. Further inspection revealed another pencil eraser-sized hole of unknown origin elsewhere on the fly.
Long-term review: Big Agnes Tiger Wall Carbon Tent
The Big Agnes Tiger Wall Carbon is a guilty pleasure. The 2-person and 3-person are exorbitantly expensive and unacceptably fragile, but they rival the weight of the lightest full-sided double-wall shelters while being more user-friendly because of their semi-freestanding pitch and often more spacious because of their steep sides and ends.
It’s a novel tent, but I’d only recommend it only if you match the criteria below. You:
- Can afford to spend $1000 to $1200 on just a shelter;
- Baby your gear;
- Will not use it often, and mostly in calm and dry conditions;
- Prioritize the weight of your gear over its performance; and,
- Care not to learn or fuss with the minor eccentricities of trekking pole-supported shelters.
Overall, the Tiger Wall Carbon is exactly what I feared: stupid light.
I believe that demand exists for semi-freestanding and freestanding tents that are made of Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF) and that are available from retail giants like REI and brick-and-mortar stores like Neptune Mountaineering. But, as it’s currently configured, the TWC does not properly address this niche.
Thankfully, the fix is very easy: Big Agnes must replace the 0.34 oz/yd2 DCF fly with heavier-duty 0.51 oz/yd2 fabric (if not the 0.75 oz/yd), and replace the 0.51 oz/yd2 floor with 0.75 or 1.0.
These changes would bump the TWC’s weight closer to the Platinum build, but it’d be outrageously durable, waterproof, and storm-resistant. It might only be marginally lighter, but it’d be much higher performance.
What should you buy instead?
If you are no longer considering the TWC but don’t know where else to look, let me offer two suggestions:
1. If you like the Tiger Wall design, consider the Ultralight or Platinum trims, which are more durable and much more economical. Then, invest the leftover cash in other equipment that will offset the weight penalty.
- Tiger Wall UL 2 ($400, 2 lbs 3 oz)
- Tiger Wall UL 3 ($450, 2 lbs 11 oz)
- Tiger Wall 2 Platinum ($550, 1 lb 15 oz)
- Tiger Wall 3 Platinum ($600, 2 lbs 6 oz)
2. If you want a very lightweight full-sided shelter that is more durable, and you’re willing to embrace a fussier pitch, look to the cottage industry:
- Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid XL + inner ($430, 1 lb 11 oz)
- Mountain Laurel Designs DuoMid XL + inner ($560, 2 lbs 4 oz)
- Tarptent Aeon Li ($535, 1 lb)
- Tarptent Notch ($540, 1 lbs 3 oz)
- Tarptent Stratosphire 2 Li ($690, 1 lbs 10 oz)
- ZPacks Duplex ($600, 1 lbs 3 oz)
- ZPacks Duplex + freestanding pole set ($725, 1 lbs 15 oz)
No other semi-freestanding double-wall shelter on the market rivals the weight (or cost) of the Tiger Wall Carbon. Its key specs:
Along with the Tiger Wall 2 Carbon and Tiger Wall 3 Carbon, Big Agnes also released four other Carbon shelters in spring 2019:
- Fly Creek 1 Carbon ($800, 1 lb)
- Fly Creek 2 Carbon ($850, 1 lb 2 oz)
- Scout 2 Carbon ($700, 11 oz)
- Onyx Tarp Carbon ($500, 8 oz)
The only “new” product is the Onyx, which is an overpriced 8.5′ x 8.5′ square tarp. Otherwise, the Carbon builds are premium editions of existing Big Agnes models. Versus the Tiger Wall Platinum, the Carbon editions are 24 to 29 percent lighter; versus the Tiger Wall UL, the Carbon editions are 33 to 37 percent lighter.
I have used only the Tiger Wall 2 Carbon, but I think my experience and conclusions generally apply to the other Carbon models, too, given their shared materials and construction. If you didn’t meet the aforementioned criteria as a Tiger Wall Carbon customer, the other Carbon shelters won’t suit your needs either.
Two years ago I reviewed the Tiger Wall 3 UL, shortly after it was released. Read that review, because I’ll only provide a summary here.
- Steep side walls and ends, which optimize interior volume;
- Fast and foolproof pitch, even on unfavorable ground;
- Two side-entry doors and two vestibules;
- Modularity, with three unique configurations (fly+body, body only, body+footprint);
- Inherent weight penalty since it cannot be pitched with trekking poles;
- Body is vulnerable to precipitation during setup;
- Stock stake loops are non-adjustable, creating difficulties in rocky and rooty campsites;
- Realistically sleep less than advertised — the 2-person is a spacious 1-person, and the 3-person is a comfortable 2-person.
To drop weight from its already minimalist Platinum and UL builds, Big Agnes made four substitutions in creating the Carbon trims of the Tiger Wall, Fly Creek, and Scout:
- Fly: 0.34 oz/yd2 DCF, rather than 7d or 15d silicone/polyurethane-coated nylon;
- Floor: 0.51 oz/yd2 DCF, rather than 10d or 15d silicone/polyurethane-coated nylon;
- Poles: Easton carbon fiber, rather than DAC aluminum; and,
- Body: Breathable nylon ripstop, rather than heavier no-see-um mesh.
I slept in the Tiger Wall 2 Carbon for twenty-six nights, split about equally between the Brooks Range and Yosemite. Conditions were ideal for backpacking, less so for gear testing: the tent was rained on twice, endured light winds only on a few nights, placed on soft ground nearly every night, and kept away from dust and mud.
While setting it up on its twenty-second night, a 5-inch tear developed in the fly, along the edge of a reinforced area. Specifically, I was trying to insert the horizontal ceiling pole into its pockets. It’s a tight fit, and actually requires bending the pole — unlike the UL and Platinum fly fabrics, the DCF fly cannot be stretched over it. I knew this was a vulnerable spot, since I’d busted both pull loops earlier on.
Upon further inspection, we found another hole in the fly. I don’t know the exact cause, but abrasion seems most likely given the nature of it.
I’ve spent thousands of nights in the field, and I’ve helped clients set up hundreds of different shelters. But I’ve never seen a shelter fabric rip during setup or due to wind or precipitation; or develop an unexplained hole. The 0.34 DCF simply does not seem worthy of anything beyond just-in-case/emergency use. This observation is consistent with the application of DCF by cottage brands, which use 0.51 and 0.75 for the fly, and 0.75 and 1.0 for floors.
It’s worth noting that the floor, body, and poles all appear intact.
A repair kit is included with the TWC, or at least with mine. The kit includes DCF patches that adhere directly to the fabric.
Big Agnes does not recommend making repairs with duct tape, like I did. It “leaves a bad residue and renders the fabric un-repairable,” per Big Agnes PR.
For additional tent repair tips, refer to this video.
I want the Carbon builds to succeed: free-standing and semi-freestanding tents made of Dyneema Composite Fabric will be as light and user-friendly as their nylon counterparts, but offer vastly superior performance. Hopefully, increased use of DCF will also drive down its price.
I applaud Big Agnes for being the first to this market. But I’d encourage it to rethink its fabric choices, and will steer most people away from the Carbon line until a more reliable version is available.
Have questions about the Tiger Wall Carbon or the other Big Agnes Carbon tents? Or, have an experience with one? Leave a comment.
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