Let's Go Motorcycle Camping! The Search for Ultra Compact Gear2009-05-15 13:20
Anyone who's ever tried motorcycle camping knows it can be a great time, peppered with some less than great challenges, such as *shudder* rain and cages getting in your way. But the challenges start well before you hit the road - one of the early ones is packing equipment small enough to fit on your bike. Even if you skimp out on equipment for eating on the road, the three camping essentials - tent, sleeping bag, and mattress - can add A LOT of bulk to your load. If you're riding a Sportbike, then that load sits on a machine that saw a lot of attention paid to weight and compactness by its engineers. And you probably spent a chunk of money taking it a step further with a lighter exhaust system, stripping miscellaneous bits, and sometimes dropping the bank on some exotic wheels. It stands to reason then, that you would want to put a fair bit of effort into keeping your camping equipment light and compact too.
To that end, Bikeland has tried out several ultra compact and hi-tech camping options to make your motorcycle camping experience better. Today we're checking out the Seedhouse SL1 tent by Big Agnes... and it is light!
In previous years I've used a 2-person tent that was really quite nice in its own right, but man was that thing big and heavy. Not only was it downright cumbersome to pack on the back of a Sportbike but you really could feel the extra weight in the glorious California twisties, especially with the weight being as high as it was strapped to the pillion seat.
At a mere two and a half pounds, the new Seedhouse SL1 (that's Super Light 1 person) from Big Agnes certainly fits the bill, and its 5.5" x 16" packed size covers the goal of compactness nicely.
This is one of very few tents that will fit nicely into most saddle bags. An online search for competition showed that most compact tents—even those targeted at ultralight backpacking—ran 18" to 20" or longer, which is far harder to pack. Moreover, the only 1 person tent I could find that was lighter was another unit from Big Agnes. Everything else is at least half a pound heavier.
Weight should not come at the cost of a good design or material quality and I've seen plenty of examples of compact tents that fell short on both those characteristics. Thankfully the Seedhouse SL1 did not disappoint here.
This thing is just beautiful. I kept thinking they must have hired Ducati to manufacture the hard parts because the clever poles had billet ends that made the mechanical geek in me salivate like an 80's school girl that just got a New Kids on the Block poster. Even the pole sections are finished with what looks to be a copper sleeve. Yummy. And of course the DAC FeatherLite NSL poles weigh next to nothing.
The soft bits are very nice too. Everything about this tent is quality. The fly seams are all taped. With my tent set up on top of Laguna Seca's Fox Hill partly under a tree (which thanks to the infamous Cali coast fog means it is wetter than being in the open) no outside moisture found its way in. Self-produced moisture was handled well too, thanks to most of the inner tent being mesh. This of course made for excellent airflow. The expected trade-off is it can be quite drafty, which is why this tent retains its 3 season rating. On a particularly hot night with no chance of rain, put up just the inner tent for the ultimate shelter, basically the same as sleeping outside under the stars - minus the bugs.
Under the stars, but in a tent
Quality of design is also fantastic on this tent. Most everything is very well thought out. The one-piece poles go together in seconds and thanks to the slick pole ends and mount points, they take seconds to install. The fly is equally genius with three speedy buckles attaching it to the frame. Thanks to the user-friendly design, I was able to get the tent fully set up in less than 5 minutes. More impressively, if you are unfortunate enough to set up in the rain you can get the body and fly up in about a minute, minimizing the rain's opportunity to find it's way into your tent.
Despite these highpoints, assembly is where the tent's biggest weakness lies: it needs peggable ground. To keep the tent in its proper shape, several pegs (included) are required. Unlike some designs, without pegs the vestibule collapses, as does the foot end of the tent, and to a lesser extent the sides. If it's dry, this can all be ignored, but in the rain or a high humidity environment, this tent would not fare well if you couldn't get any pegs into the ground. Thankfully the included pegs are some of the sturdiest I've ever seen, which helps get them installed where cheaper pegs would fail. Speaking of tough surfaces, the ultra-light rip-stop nylon is understandably thin, so you would do well to use the optional footprint (basically a fitted ground sheet) to protect the floor. This adds a mere 5.5oz to the package.
Camping on Laguna Seca's Fox Hill, with a view of the track
Now that the tent is all set up and I've stopped drooling over the billet, I realize that the tent is pretty roomy. Headroom in particular is surprising for a one-person tent, as is length. I am able to stretch out my 6'3" comfortably without touching any walls, and sit up upright enough to change in relative comfort. However, I did quickly discover that while this would be enough for a backpacker (the core target audience for this model, not motorcyclists), interior storage room falls a bit short for a biker, since there is not enough room to comfortably keep your leathers, saddlebags, and helmet inside. You could squeeze all that gear in, but you would likely be pushing on the walls (bad for moisture handling) and would need to be someone who's comfortable sleeping in a tight space - I for one like some breathing room. The vestibule is handy for boots and your helmet (if not super humid), but not large enough to work well for larger saddle bags. Thankfully there is a simple solution to this: the Seedhouse SL2 provides an extra 11" of width but only adds a half pound and 1" of packed diameter. As a bonus, it has a slightly tweaked frame design that reduces the mandatory pegging on the foot end of the tent. Big Agnes has a couple other designs that promise even more room and less dependence on pegging, but the Seedhouse SL line remains the lightest and most compact.
Motorcycle-only camping on the top of Fox Hill, fully booked
Even though I only used the tent a few nights on the way to Monterey and back, I really appreciated that carrying the compact Seedhouse tent had little impact on my riding overall. Bringing it along for the ride didn't detract from how happy I was to have this unit packed on the back of my bike instead of the old one. Between this tent and a new compact sleeping bag, the pile of camping equipment heaped on the back of my bike was WAY smaller and lighter than in previous years, which just made the twisties that much more enjoyable (the natural weight of my ZX-12R not withstanding). And of course on those nights when I did use the tent, I didn't dread setting it up (except for the time lost admiring the billet bits).
If you're looking for a good tent for Sport Touring, definitely take a good look at Big Agnes Seedhouse SL line.
With Whistler, Canada in the background, sleeping in this tent for the February 2010 Olympics will probably cost as much as the tent... per night!
Big Agnes products are available at many sporting goods stores (click here to find one near you) or direct from www.bigagnes.com
The Seedhouse SL1 lists for $249 and the roomier Seedhouse SL2 is $319.
Click here to visit our forums to discuss this story
Tweets by @bikeland_org