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Long-term review: Big Agnes Tiger Wall Carbon Tent || $1000+ fragile guilty pleasure

The Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 Carbon is too good to be true. It’s a semi-freestanding double-wall tent that weighs just 22 oz for the fly, body, and poles. But it’s too delicate and expensive. I used it on two 8-day trips in the Brooks Range (photo) and for another two weeks in Yosemite.

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.

A $1000 shelter should not tear during setup on its twenty-second night out. The 0.34 oz/yd2 Dyneema Composite Fabric is just not worthy of anything more than just-in-case/emergency use.

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.

Conditions while reviewing the Tiger Wall Carbon were ideal for backpacking, less so for testing gear. The TWC saw little rain, wind, or rough campsites.

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.

The Tiger Wall 3 UL in southern Utah. It’s heavier than the Carbon build, but much more durable and economical.

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:

The Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid XL (in sil-nylon) weighs a few ounces more than the Tiger Wall 2 Carbon, but it’s substantially more durable and storm-resistant.

Product specs

No other semi-freestanding double-wall shelter on the market rivals the weight (or cost) of the Tiger Wall Carbon. Its key specs:

“Crazylight”

Along with the Tiger Wall 2 Carbon and Tiger Wall 3 Carbon, Big Agnes also released four other Carbon shelters in spring 2019:

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.

The 8.5′ x 8.5′ Onxy Carbon retails for $500 and would be suitable as an emergency tarp.

Basic design

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.

The good:

  • 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);

The imperfect:

  • 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.
Technically, the 2-person Tiger Wall sleeps two people on 20-inch pads. Realistically, it’s a spacious 1-person shelter.

Fragility

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.
The fly fabric is 0.34 oz/yd2 Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF). It looks delicate, and in this case it is. But heavier versions of DCF are stronger and more waterproof than standard shelter nylons, while still being lighter weight.

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.

DCF fabric does not stretch, making it difficult to insert the horizontal ceiling pole into its pockets. Early on in my use of the Tiger Wall Carbon, I busted both pull loops while trying to do this.
I repaired the tear with the included patch kits plus some duct tape (not recommended by BA). It’s functional, but I don’t trust it. With additional use, I’m certain that other tears will occur.

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 pencil eraser-sized hole also developed in the fly. I’m uncertain the cause, but I suspect abrasion.

Repair recommendations

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.

Final thoughts

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.


Disclosure. I strive to offer field-tested and trustworthy information, insights, and advice. I have no financial affiliations with or interests in any brands or products, and I do not publish sponsored content

This website is supported by affiliate marketing, whereby for referral traffic I receive a small commission from select vendors like Amazon or REI, at no cost to the reader.

Posted in , , on August 17, 2019
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14 Comments

  1. Rodney Jones on August 17, 2019 at 11:26 pm

    Thank you for your fair and honest review. This is your domain of expertise.

  2. Ben on August 18, 2019 at 8:13 am

    Yours is the review I was waiting for, and sadly the review I was expecting. BA has no excuse here; they were amply warned, and there is no way this tent could or should have passed field testing. What a squandered opportunity.

    • Andrew Skurka on August 18, 2019 at 8:22 am

      I thought maybe BA knew something that the cottage industry did not. Turns out, no.

      I also think they looked at DCF the wrong way. Their approach was, “Let’s use it to drop as much weight from our existing builds as we can.” Whereas the better application of DCF is more two-fold: yes, save some weight; but also make the shelter substantially more robust than if it were made from the lightest coated nylons.

  3. JR Ramos on August 18, 2019 at 9:28 am

    I don’t think anyone (who knows the material) is surprised. It was incredulous that they would chose the lightest version IN a design that is a poled structure. It would have been interesting to see how it fared had you experienced other-than-bluebird weather, specifically some strong gusty winds typical of mountain weather that would have buffeted the pole structure and created some motion and friction on the inside of the fly. One might have thought that Big Agnes would have learned from the market mistakes of both Sierra Designs and Easton before making and manufacturing this design. I think it shows a real lack of knowledge and experience in both design and material savvy, which seems to be a theme with Big Agnes over the last several years despite a few winners from them. I’ll bet their warranty folks will be thrilled to cope with the fallout, or if they “update” to a heavier fly material as a replacement and then have to deal with customers who purchased space age advanced the-lightest for an extra pretty penny and must now swallow some weight gain. Then again, I would expect that sales of the carbon models have been very low. Might be fun to see what these go for on E-Bay in future years. Hopefully by then Big Agnes will have learned that the most significant weight savings in attempting to go ultralight in design is dropping the poles, not embracing ether-materials while using the same traditional techniques.

    • Andrew Skurka on August 18, 2019 at 10:08 am

      Because the conditions were so benign, it’s difficult to know exactly how fragile the Carbon tents are. Tearing while being set up is a bad start though.

      But, as you said, imagine if I’d seen heavy winds one night. Would the fabric have withstood constant abrasion from the plastic pole clips? Eek, I’m not sure, and kind of doubt it. The fabric in contact with the metal hub is reinforced with a small patch, ditto for all corners and the mid-panel tie-outs, but the pole clips are flush against unprotected DCF.

      The reinforced areas don’t necessarily eliminate concern, either. As the tear shows, some of the stress gets transferred to the un-reinforced fabric along the reinforced edge.

  4. NealJoseph on August 19, 2019 at 8:24 am

    Seems like Hyperlite Mountain Gear do a great job of taking advantage of DCF’s strength potential as opposed to simply putting the lightest weight on a spread sheet. A 0.7 fly and 1.0 floor would make a bomber tent and a lasting investment.

    • Andrew Skurka on August 19, 2019 at 9:12 am

      HMG is not alone in using heavier DCF variants. MLD, Tarptent, ZPacks and a host of others are all using 0.51 to 1.0 for flies and floors. BA ventured alone with the 0.34 oz.

      • NealJoseph on August 19, 2019 at 2:09 pm

        Yep. I have an old ZPacks Twin with the ~.7 body and ~1.O floor. This tent has seen many miles, many nights, and a lot of good PNW weather. Not a single patch or leak, the only maintenance has been to replace the zipper pulls.

  5. PS on August 19, 2019 at 8:31 am

    I’ll stick with my HLM Echo2 with it’s .8oz/yd2 DCF tarp and 1.3oz/yd2 tub. That stuff is tough! (though I admit that the “beak” the system uses is finicky…) 1/2 the price if you catch it on sale too…

    • Andrew Skurka on August 19, 2019 at 9:21 am

      If my only options were the Tiger Wall Carbon or the Echo, I’d agree with you as a matter of durability and price.

      However, if my options were the Tiger Wall Platinum/UL or the Echo, I’d go with the Tiger Wall, as a matter of user-friendliness and price: the TW has side entry, double doors, more interior volume (esp if it’s being used by 2 people), an easy pitch, better integration between the fly and body, and price tags of $150 to $300 less. The Platinum is only 2 ounces heavier; the UL, 6 ounces. They’re not quite as durable, but their long-term performance has been validated.

  6. Chad Lorenz on August 19, 2019 at 1:47 pm

    I think that it is fair to call these shelters a brilliant publicity stunt designed to push consumers towards the platinum line, which now look “downright affordable” by comparison. Bravo, BA marketing department!

    • Andrew Skurka on August 19, 2019 at 2:05 pm

      I heard a sales guy say as much.

      But I don’t think fragile $1000 tents is in their interest, regardless of whether it changes perspectives on cost.

    • Andrew Skurka on August 19, 2019 at 2:07 pm

      I heard a sales guy say as much.

      But I don’t think a $1000 tent that tears during setup is in their interest, it just looks bad. Plus, the cottage industry gives BA plenty of cover — a 2-person Tiger Wall Platinum for $500 looks like a deal versus a HMG Echo II for $700 or a Straosphire for $690.

  7. Scott on August 19, 2019 at 7:03 pm

    Andrew i had the same problem on the AT with the carbon 3 another thing that took me by surprise was the door toggles were only glued not stiched to the dcf fly and the tension popped them off rendering them useless i had to cut a larger dcf patch and slip the loop through it and re apply it the the fly

    Big ag definitely rushed this thing to market and hopefully they will engineer it a bit better I sent them over 30 pictures of all the same problems plus other ideas to solve the issues. I hope they take note from field testers like us 🙂

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