The MSR Carbon Reflex 2 tent utilizes lightweight fabrics and carbon fiber poles to achieve its sub-three pound trail weight. The tent is elegantly designed to maximize interior volume and usable space.
The new Carbon Reflex tents for spring 2009 are the lightest tents ever from MSR and set a new standard for a lightweight tent from a major manufacturer. The Carbon Reflex 2 reviewed here is based on the popular Hubba Hubba, but weighs about one and a half pounds less, arriving at a trail weight of slightly less than three pounds. The low weight is achieved by using lightweight fabrics and mesh, carbon fiber poles, and a unique one-plus pole design consisting of a single hoop plus a top strut. All of this weight reduction was accomplished without compromising the tent’s interior volume or floor space. How did the Carbon Reflex 2 fare in our field tests, and how does it compare with lightweight tents from Big Sky International and Terra Nova?
|2009 MSR Carbon Reflex 2|
|Three-season, two-person, double-wall, non-freestanding tent with floor, 1.5 vestibules, and one side entry door|
|Tent body, fly, two carbon fiber poles, eight aluminum stakes, pole repair sleeve, two guylines, pole sack, stake sack, tent stuff sack|
|Body is 20d x 330T ripstop nylon 66 and 20d polyester mesh; floor is 40d x 238T ripstop nylon 6, 10,000 mm PU coated; fly is 20d x 330T ripstop nylon 66, 1000 mm PU and silicone coated|
Poles and Stakes
|Two Easton FX carbon fiber poles, eight MSR Needle stakes (7000 series aluminum, anodized, 6 in/15 cm long)|
|Manufacturer specifications: Length 84 in (213 cm), width 50 in (127 cm), height 40 in (102 cm). |
Note: the measured floor width at the center is actually 40 in (102 cm), see * below.
|Easton carbon fiber poles, “unbendable” aluminum alloy stakes, 1+ pole design (ridge pole plus top strut), unique geometry provides maximum interior space, front vestibule and zippered rear window access to rear vestibule, water-resistant zipper in fly with two sliders, large L-shaped mesh entry door with two sliders, four interior mesh pockets, multiple ceiling loops, StayDry entrance (fly overhangs entry door so rain does not hit the tent floor)|
|20 x 7 in (51 x 18 cm)|
|Measured weight: 3 lb 2.8 oz (1.44 kg)|
Manufacturer specification: 3 lb 4 oz (1.47 kg)
|Measured weight: 2 lb 15.8 oz (1.36 kg)|
Manufacturer specification: 2 lb 13 oz (1.28 kg) (excludes stuff sacks and pole repair sleeve)
|Manufacturer specifications: floor area 29 ft2 (2.7 m2); entry vestibule 9 ft2 (0.84 m2), rear vestibule 5 ft2 (0.46 m2), total vestibule area 14 ft2 (1.3 m2); total protected area 43 ft2 (4 m2). Note: the actual floor area is 23.3 ft2 (2.16 m2), see * below.|
Protected Area/Trail Weight Ratio*
|14.4 ft2/lb (based on manufacturer area specifications)|
|Footprint (6.3 oz/179 g/US$39.95)|
|We normally use manufacturer floor and vestibule data in our specifications table and trust that it is accurate, but this time it is not. The width of the tent’s floor at the center is 40 inches, not 50 inches as specified or implied. Thus the floor area is actually 23.3 ft2, the total protected area is 37.3 ft2, and the protected area/trail weight ratio is 12.5 ft2/lb.|
Design and Features
The new Carbon Reflex 2 is basically a lighter version of the popular Hubba Hubba. Weight was trimmed by eliminating the hubs and wishbones at the ends of the tent, eliminating one door and shrinking the vestibule, and going to carbon fiber poles instead of aluminum. The total weight reduction (based on manufacturer total weights) is 1 pound 7 ounces. The extra cost for this weight savings is $200.
It’s important to note that the Carbon Reflex 2 has only one entry, while the Hubba Hubba has two. The rear vestibule has been retained, but it has been reduced to a storage area accessible only from the inside through a vertical zipper.
Views of the MSR Carbon Reflex 2. Entry is from the side (top left) via a vestibule-protected L-shaped mesh entry door. The end view (top right) shows the larger entry vestibule on the right and small storage vestibule on the left. The rear view (bottom left) shows that the rear vestibule does not have outside access. In the top view (bottom right), the entry is at the top of the photo.
Views of the tent body. MSR has simplified the pole structure (left) to a single ridge pole plus a top strut that maximizes interior headroom and extends the vestibules. The top view (right) shows that the tent’s floor is rectangular. The body is mesh except for a diamond-shaped nylon ceiling panel.
Although the tent floor is specified to be 50 inches wide, I measured it at 40 inches wide seam to seam in the center of the tent. I reported the discrepancy to Cascade Designs, and the response I received from their tent designer was: "We measure the floor width from the widest point inside the tent, which is near the stake loops". I measured the tent floor between the stake loops at the ends of the tent, and found the width to be 46.5 inches. The extra width at the ends of the tent has little practical use; the center of the tent is 40 inches wide, not 50 inches as implied in MSR’s specifications. The length is 84 inches as specified. This means the floor area is actually 23.3 square feet, rather than the specified 29 square feet. See my further comments on this issue in the Performance and Assessment sections of this review.
Inside features. Although the floor (top left) is specified to be 50 inches wide, I measured it at only 40 inches at the center, wide enough for two standard 20 inch wide inflatable sleeping pads. Each corner has a mesh storage pocket (bottom left), which is a nice feature. The rear vestibule (right) is actually a storage area accessible only from the inside through a vertical zipper, which limits the passage of larger items like a backpack.
The Carbon Reflex 2 comes with two Easton carbon fiber poles, a pole repair sleeve, and eight aluminum alloy stakes (left). The fly attaches to the ridgepole (right) with six clips, five Velcro loops, and two grommets at the ends of the top strut.
Setting up the Carbon Reflex 2 is a conventional process and is not fast as claimed:
- Lay out the footprint (if you purchased one) and stake the corners.
- Lay the tent body on top of the footprint.
- Attach the ridgepole to grommets in the tent body and footprint.
- Attach the tent body to the ridgepole via six clips and attach the four corner tieouts to the stakes.
- Attach the top strut over the ridgepole to grommets on the tent body.
- Lay the tent fly over the tent body, attach four Velcro loops to the ridgepole, attach grommets on the fly to the ends of the top strut, and attach corner buckles to the tent body.
- Stake out the front and rear vestibules and end guylines.
As I said, setup is not fast and could be a bit stressful while in the rain or wind. However, once the process is learned, it is straightforward.
Once assembled, the Carbon Reflex 2 is a tight unit. The inner tent is very taut and maintains a 3-inch airspace between it and the fly, more at the top. The tautness also enables the zipper on the entry door to be operated with one hand. The 49 inch long top strut is a simple and clever design element; it maximizes interior headroom and usable space, and also extends the vestibules so rain does not fall directly into the tent.
The most noteworthy drawback of the Carbon Reflex 2 is its single entry door. This means that the sleeper in the back of the tent must climb over the front sleeper in order to enter and exit the tent. My wife and I found it quite livable, but it helps a lot for the rear sleeper to be smaller and more nimble
As mentioned in the previous section, the tent floor is 40 inches wide, not 50 inches as specified. As shown in one of the photos above, the tent is wide enough for two standard 20 inch wide sleeping pads and that’s all. That said, we did find the interior of the Carbon Reflex 2 to be adequately roomy. The roominess is enhanced by the tent’s top strut which maximizes interior headroom and usable space. We also liked the side entry into the tent’s four corner storage pockets, which is ergonomically more efficient than a top entry.
Although I was not able to test the tent in winds stronger than 20 miles per hour, I at least found that the Carbon Reflex 2 is stable in moderate winds. The tent is basically a dome shape which helps it shed wind.
The MSR Carbon Reflex will handle a coating of snow, but that’s not its forte’.
During our testing I was able to evaluate the tent’s storm worthiness and condensation resistance on several occasions. On two winter camping trips in southern Utah, nighttime temperatures dropped into the upper teens under clear calm conditions, and we saw no more than light condensation (frost) on the inside of the tent fly. On a 10-day trip in southeastern Arizona we experienced one all-night rain and several nights in the 30-34 F range. With the tent’s vestibule and mesh door closed every night, we had moderate condensation on the inside of the tent fly. On a March trip to New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon National Historical Park, we slept in the tent on a clear, calm night with a 40 F temperature drop, and had moderate condensation on the inside of the fly. The tent does not have a high vent, and we were frankly quite surprised and impressed with the tent’s storm and condensation resistance.
Although we were not able to test it, the Carbon Reflex 2 can also be set up in a fly & footprint mode as shown. The fly clips to the footprint at the corners. Trail weight in this setup is 2 pounds 2.1 ounces.
It would appear that MSR’s objective in designing the Carbon Reflex 2 was to get the trail weight below three pounds, which is remarkable since the tent is made of polyurethane coated fabrics rather than silnylon. Why not silnylon, which is the de-facto standard in the lightest double-wall and single-wall tents popular with backpackers? The answer is CPAI-84, which is a voluntary camping tent flammability standard developed in 1980 by the Industrial Fabrics Association International. The standard may be voluntary, but many states require tents to meet that standard, and there is always the liability concern of larger manufactures. Thus MSR and other larger manufacturers stick to polyurethane coated fabrics that contain a flame retardant and strive to make those fabrics lighter and better performing. MSR’s 20 denier ripstop nylon has the advantages of lightness, fire retardancy, a polyurethane coating on the inside that will accept seam tape, and a silicone coating on the outside to shed water. Small companies take their chances with silnylon under the "voluntary" nature of the standard and clearly warn buyers of the flammability of silnylon. Big Sky International even provides a swatch of silnylon for the buyer to burn and allows for the buyer to return the tent if he is not comfortable with its lack of fire retardancy.
A three-pound target weight is probably the reason that the Carbon Reflex 2 has only one entry door plus a rear storage area. Obviously two doors and two vestibules would be much better, but there are few opportunities to offset the weight, thus the compromise.
Overall I am very impressed with the design and functionality of the Carbon Reflex 2. It is elegantly designed and very taut. It resists wind, rain, and condensation well. Its drawbacks are its single entry door for two people and overstated floor width. Functionally, the floor area and vestibules are adequate for two people plus gear, but the tent is not as spacious as the specifications imply.
In spite of its light weight, the Carbon Reflex 2 is still a durable tent and will last many years with reasonable care. But how durable are the carbon fiber poles? Easton FX poles are supplied with the Carbon Reflex, which are stiffer and more durable than Fibraplex poles. The most common types of damage to carbon fiber poles is crushing them or breaking them at a connection. When assembling the poles, it’s very important to make sure that every connection is completely inserted. MSR’s lifetime pole guarantee states: "MSR offers a limited warranty, to the original owner, on all MSR tent framework. If your tent pole breaks, MSR will repair or replace it, free, for the lifetime of the tent, upon postage-paid delivery to the MSR Product Service Center."
The closest comparisons to the Carbon Reflex 2 are the Big Sky International Evolution 2P and the Terra Nova Laser. In a comparable configuration with carbon fiber poles, the Big Sky Evolution 2P has a trail weight of 2 pounds 13.5 ounces and cost of about US$481 (almost the same), but it has two doors and two vestibules, a true 29.75 square feet of floor space, two top vents, a window, and it’s freestanding. The Evolution 2P’s width is specified to be 56 inches at the head end and 46 inches at the foot end; I measured it and found it to be right on. The Terra Nova Laser has a trail weight of only 2 pounds 8 ounces, but its 22.3 square foot floor space (trapezoidal, 35.4 inches wide x 91 inches long) is very tight for two people, and it costs about US$463. Overall, the Carbon Reflex 2 compares somewhat favorably with the competition, but the final decision depends on the value placed on fire retardancy and two entry doors instead of one.
- Sub-three-pound (trail weight) two-person double-wall tent
- Elegantly designed to minimize weight and maximize interior usable space
- Easton FX carbon fiber poles and lightweight Needle "unbendable" stakes
- Tent is very taut and maintains an air space between the inner tent and fly
- StayDry entrance (fly overhangs entry door so rain does not hit the tent floor)
- Adequate space for two people plus gear
- Wind stable and storm worthy
- Surprisingly little condensation
What’s Not So Good
- Only one entry door
- Floor width and area are less than specified
- Difficult access to rear vestibule from inside the tent
Recommendations for Improvement
- Somehow, squeeze a second door into the feature set without adding weight
- Revise the specifications regarding the floor width and area
- Switch to an L-shaped zipper for improved access to the rear storage area