Monday, February 19, 2007

Back from my backpacking trip...

There's nothing like backpacking into the wilderness with all of civilization being the 30 pounds on your back to realize just how nice civilization is. Especially grocery stores. I took enough food for three days. I finished it all by the end of day two. I must be the only penguin in existence that can actually gain weight while hiking 20 miles a day with 5,000 feet altitude gain both ways (don't ask -- I swear that this particular park defies the laws of physics here!).

Anyhow, other than blistered feet (forgot the Right Guard to sweat-proof my feet!), I'm back, and intact. Meanwhile, let me tell you a little story about tents, and condensation.

I have Eureka Zeus EXO tent. It's about 5 years old, and well used. This is a large 2-man tent, but very lightweight (under 4 pounds) because it is a single-wall tent built with coated nylon ripstop rather than with polyester. One day a couple of months ago I managed to "force" one of the poles and it split at the end. The whole tent is looking rather faded, so it looked like it was time to buy a new tent rather than get a replacement part for the old one. The nylon fabric these things are made of is UV sensitive and decays with time, and I'd rather replace it after five years than risk the thing totally failing when I needed it.

So anyhow, I look for a replacement tent, and they've replaced the Zeus EXO with the Zeus LE. The Zeus LE has two doors rather than one. It has two top vents rather than one. It should ventilate better than the EXO did. Not that I had any problems with the ventilation of the EXO, mind you. But still, seemed like a reasonable thing to pull the trigger and get the new LE.

BIG mistake. I went to the exact same location, under the exact same conditions, with the LE and found out a few things:

  • All tents condense on the inside of their outer fabric when the air goes below dewpoint. What matters is how well they keep the wet fabric away from you. So let's see how well the two tents do that:
    1. The EXO had your head at the all-mesh door that was between you and the vestibule fabric. It had side flies that started about a foot and a half up at the head, and came down to the foot corner on the side. All that could get wet was your feet. Big deal.
    2. The LE only has about six inches of mesh at the head. It is easy to rub the wet fabric above it with yoru head. On the left and right of your head is the outer wall. It is easy to roll over and rub your head on the outer wall. BAD news.
  • The Zeus EXO already required an astounding eight stakes to stake it out -- four at the dome corners, two for the vestibule, and two to pull out the side flies. The Zeus LE requires *TEN* (10) stakes to stake it out -- four at the doam corners, four for the two vestibules, and two for the end flies.
  • If you have the vestibule open on the EXO to get more ventilation, you can still put your boots under the remaining half of the vestibule to keep the mud and dirt out of your tent. If your vestibule is open on the LE, your boots are out there in the open ready to get full of water if it rains or dew if it gets below dewpoint.
  • The LE is a *very* complicated design, with lots of little pieces of fabric stitched together. This gives it lots of places to leak. Which means lots of places to work seam-sealer into the stitching. Which means lots of places where you can miss getting seam-sealer into the stitching and thus get a leak :-(.
Progress? Hardly. The Eureka Zeus LE simply *sucks* compared to the EXO. The Eureka marketing department looked at the common complaints about the EXO -- that it only had one door (the one at the head of the tent), that it needed more ventilation (true, it can get a little stuffy in there with the vestibule closed), and then they completely ruined it. Part of the problem is that they were working under a strict weight budget and thus, for example, could not make the side flies wide enough to fully protect the side walls. Part of the problem is that they were working under a strict dollar budget and thus could not go to a more lightweight fabric. And part of the problem is simply lack of imagination on the part of the Eureka engineers.

The good news is that Eureka apparently realized that they screwed up. On their website it appears they have discontinued the Zeus LE in favor of resurrecting the old Zeus EXO as the "Zeus Classic". The "Classic" still has the same flaws that led to the LE redesign -- the ventilation is still poor when you close the vestibule and it still only has one door -- but at least it isn't dangerous when it's damp outside. Not that this matters to me anymore. I've decided to eBay the Zeus LE to someone who lives in a desert (where condensation isn't an issue) and get a tent that weighs an entire 23 ounces, and only needs six stakes to set it up, not eight or ten. Yes, the Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo weighs an entire 23 ounces, or roughly 1 1/2 pounds... now that's more like it when ya have to haul your entire house on your back!

Anyhow, now you know why I'm a conservative (of the old fashioned sort, not one of these big-spendin' big-war-makin' neo-conservative types). You don't take a reasonable design (like the old EXO) and just throw it away and start over from scratch. You look for little ways to improve it, ways that will address the biggest flaws without totally discarding the good parts. The ventilation could have been improved, for example, by making the vestibule vent slightly larger and the top vent slightly larger to get better cross-flow through them. There was no need to simply re-do the entire tent and risk ruining it. Yet that is what they did. Similarly, there was no need to invade Iraq and get involved in a gigantic nation-building scheme, when sanctions were working fine at containing Saddam's ambitions. If it turned out that the sanctions were leaky, the conservative thing to do would have been to re-tool the sanctions to give them more teeth. Yet taking the huge risk of invading Iraq, a risk which George H.W. Bush had warned about ten years prior, is exactly what the neo-cons did rather than taking the conservative choice of tweaking what was already working. Conservative? Hardly! Bah humbug!

- Badtux the Backpacking Penguin


  1. I live near Eureka's factory outlet. They also make a lot of tents onsite. The place still hasn't recovered completely from the flooding last year. I've forgotten what backpacking tents my parents have (they have one each). I have a 6-man tent for myself and my sweetie, as we do "prop-intensive" camping. :)

  2. most of the time, in my part of the desert anyway, i tend to just dispense with the whole tent part, sleep with a full view of the stars while resting my head on my saddle (that's one of the very few things that the western movie guys got right, we really do that). we are in the planning stages of a horse packing trip into havasupai canyon come june. tents will be called for.

  3. Yeah, I remember sleeping on top of Peter's Mesa on Chrismas Eve one year, just me in my sleeping bag on my ground sheet while resting my head on my back pack. It was great. Same deal when I was sleeping in Warm Spring Canyon near Death Valley.

    But then there's the Emigrant Parking Lot/Campground (again in Death Valley). I pulled in one evening at around 5:30pm, the light was going, and I started setting up my tent. The tent pegs I had with me wouldn't go into the desert pavement, so I started hauling over some big rocks and tying the tent out to them (and one line to the picnic table). The guys in the next slot had a great big camping tent set up and made a comment along the lines of "why not just sleep under the stars instead of doing all that work?" I merely smiled and said, "when the wind comes up, I'm going to appreciate the tent." Because as the air in the surrounding hills cools, it comes whooshing down and whips down the desert floor like a small hurricane to replace the hot air still rising off the hot-baked valley floor. Sure enough, a couple of hours later the wind came up, I felt a few little gusts through the side vents of my tent and the top of my tent bent over a little, I smiled, and returned to reading my book.

    Point being that even in the desert, sometimes a tent can be nice to have, depending on where you're set up. It's not always possible to set up in a protected spot where you're not going to have sand blasting at your eyes when the wind whips up.

    - Badtux the Camping Penguin

  4. We're just glad you're back and not stranded off on some broken off icebergy sort of thing.


Ground rules: Comments that consist solely of insults, fact-free talking points, are off-topic, or simply spam the same argument over and over will be deleted. The penguin is the only one allowed to be an ass here. All viewpoints, however, are welcomed, even if I disagree vehemently with you.

WARNING: You are entitled to create your own arguments, but you are NOT entitled to create your own facts. If you spew scientific denialism, or insist that the sky is purple, or otherwise insist that your made-up universe of pink unicorns and cotton candy trees is "real", well -- expect the banhammer.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.