This is a mini-review to go with our series on tunnel tents. It reviews the Wilderness Equipment First Arrow. Some of the illustrations are from the manufacturer’s web site, used here with acknowledgement.
The Wilderness Equipment First Arrow is a tapered three-pole two-man double-skin tunnel. It is described on the company web site as a ‘5-season 2/3-person tent,’ but this is marketing spin. First, the specifications.
|Poles||3, Scandium Air Hercules FC|
|Fly Fabric||30D polyester, silicone/PU coating|
|Listed Weight||3.39 kg (7 lb 8 oz)|
|Tent Weight||2.54 kg (5 lb 9.5 oz)|
|Pole Weight||500 g (17.6 oz)|
|Stakes, Weight||9, 0.15 kg (5.3 oz)|
|Stuff Sacks||164 g (5.8 oz)|
Spare parts include two pole repair sleeves and two spare zipper sliders. The 150 mm long stakes have an X crosssection and loops of 2.5 mm guy rope cord.
This is a three-pole two-man double-skin tunnel tent. Despite having a modern silicone/PU polyester fly, it is rather heavy, which reflects two things. The first is that the basic design is now almost 30 years old. Nothing the matter there, but it brings a bit of heritage. The second – the heritage bit, is that it was, and still is, designed to be used by novices. That means that some components are designed to be misused, mishandled, and generally beaten up by novices. In fact, there is a heavier version available, with a 75 denier PU-coated polyester fly. That adds about 150 g (5.3 oz) to the tent weight – which tells you that the rest of this tent is made from even heavier fabrics. I should add here that I know the owner of the company and have argued this issue of fabrics with him. I understand the constraints of his market and of his retailers.
The design has a single vestibule as seen here.
Entry is from either side, but not from the end. In the photo here it looks as though the string from the end-bell corner goes to the corner of the bathtub groundsheet but that is not so: it goes to the foot of the pole. The groundsheet is clipped to that string via bungee cord and a hook. If it is pouring rain when you set this tent up, you will have to unclip the corner of the groundsheet before opening the door, or you will fill the groundsheet with rain. This approach makes the overall length of the tent shorter, but it imposes some inconveniences.
Looking at the tent from the rear shows how much of a taper there is in both height and width. There is enough floor space for two air mats and some gear when two people are sleeping in this tent, but there is a bit of a problem during meals in bad weather. If one person is cooking up front, where does the second person sit? The answer is that the second person has to be lying down on one side, or seriously scrunched up. This is reflected in the much-reduced ‘Sitting Space’ listed in Part 2 of this series.
The company web site lists this tent as a ‘5-season, 2/3-Person tent’. I will stick my neck out and call this marketing spin. I have never seen the fifth season – what is that? And while you could get three people into this tent, I don’t want to be one of them. It just is not that big! Okay, maybe you could sleep three in a pinch, in good weather. To their credit, the web site does admit ‘Despite the incredible versatility of the First Arrow, if you must have a tent that three or more people can sit around in comfort take a look at the Cirque model.’ I am all for a bit of comfort.
The tent itself is quite rugged. (Photo courtesy Grant Dixon and WE.)
The pole sleeves are very heavy fabric, far heavier than I would ever use myself. I was told that this has been necessitated by the way some novices try to poke the poles through the side of the pole sleeve. However, since I know that it is quite possible to thread poles through the length of a silnylon sleeve for years on end without damage, I am inclined to say that any novice who does that should pay for the repairs themself! My experience with these pole sleeves has been that the heavy fabric is its own problem: I had some trouble getting the poles into and out of the sleeves because the fabric was so heavy. When the fabric is icy, it gets even more difficult. Let’s just say I disagree with the company’s logic.
The groundsheet material is also rugged – similar logic. The guy ropes are ‘only’ 2.5 mm cord, but they still seem a bit heavy. However, the weight of the guys is not high, so it is a secondary matter. On the other hand, the First Arrow has been taken to the Indian Himalayas and used there successfully, as shown here. Okay, there are times when ‘rugged’ has a value! I will add that the rather heavy side-entry stuff sack provided with the tent does have a large (and rather superfluous) flap of groundsheet material: groundsheet repairs are definitely possible. Me, I would quickly make a lighter and smaller stuff sack. I think the company will also provide patches of the fly material if needed: they do carry some spare.
This tent does have something I haven’t seen on other tunnels, and it is a clever solution to a structural problem.
You can adjust the tension at the top of the tunnel using two end guys, visible in the photo here and in the next photo. On most tents, you set the tension by relying on the seams in the end bell. In addition, the guys can allow you to alter the curvature at the top of the pole – to reduce it, actually. This does protect the pole from being over-bent in the middle. But their real value is structural and is illustrated in the next photo.
The photo here shows the rear end of the tent with it wide open for ventilation. When you do this, the tent would collapse if it weren’t for the end guys. Since the market this tent is aiming at is ‘all-seasons’ in the Australian climate, lots of ventilation is needed. You can get it if you want it, or you can close the end right up for snow use.
The rear end does come to a point, so there is only one ‘end’ stake on this tent, but that does not mean the safety of the tent relies on that one end stake. As may be seen in two of the photos, there are two end guys as well to support the rear pole. The rear end is well braced.
There is little doubt this is a rugged tunnel tent, but you pay for it with extra weight, and the floor space and height are not great. That said, there is plenty of room for two people sleeping. There is adequate ventilation from the rear end for all-season use. You will need to be careful threading the poles into and out of the stiff sleeves (especially in the cold), and when opening the door in heavy rain. If you can handle all of that, it should last a long time.
Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and the author/BPL has returned or will return this product to the manufacturer upon completion of the review. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to the manufacturer to review this product under the terms of this agreement.