For families who want to do overnight backpacking trips or groups who need to set up a base camp, a larger tent is usually required. In both cases, this is a common scenario: the group carries their gear to a central location where a camp is established, from which day trips are launched. Tents used for this purpose are selected for their space, features, and comfort. They should be lightweight (if you are the parent you might have the whole thing in your pack), suitable for backpacking, easy to set up and enter/exit, and possess good wind stability, bug, and storm resistance. Tents in this category can also be used for car camping.
The Nemo Petalite is a four-person, three-season, single-wall, five-sided pyramid tent. With the optional nest, the Pentalite converts from a floorless shelter to a fully enclosed, bug-proof shelter with bathtub floor and vestibule, while maintaining a rectangular sleeping area.
A versatile shelter with a unique design, the Pentalite manages to bring something new to the realm of pyramid tent design: a large floorspace and optional full bug protection without a full-height inner bug net. The size, weight savings, and flexibility of this design make it a good candidate for a group backpacking, car camping, or base camp use. So far, so good, right?
|Year/Manufacturer/Model||2011 Nemo Pentalite|
|Style||Three-season, four-person, five-sided, pyramid-style, single-wall, non-freestanding shelter, with a single door|
|Included||Tent body, pole, stakes, two guylines, pole storage bag, stake storage bag, tent storage bag|
|Fabrics||Tent body: 30 denier PU coated ripstop nylon 1.8 oz/yd2 (61 g/m2)|
Wedge (floor): 30 denier PU coated nylon 2.98 oz/yd2 (101 g/m2) and noseum mesh 1.0 oz/yd2 (34 g/m2)
|Poles and Stakes||One 19-mm diameter aluminum pole and eight 6.25-in (16-cm) aluminum DAC V stakes|
|Floor Dimensions||130 in (330 cm) wide, 146 in (371 cm) long, each side of pyramid 100 in (254 cm) wide, 72 in (180 cm) high at peak|
|Features||Five-sided design, large front door that can be rolled back to create three-sided shelter, side vents on three sides,|
removable nest provides full bug protection and bathtub floor, roll-top dry bag stuffsack
|Packed Size||12 x 7 in (48 x 23 cm) for tent body in the stuffsack, folded pole measures 19 in|
|Total Weight||Specified: 4 lb 15 oz (2.2 kg)|
Measured: 4 lb 10 oz (2.1 kg)
|Trail Weight *||Specified: 3 lb 5 oz (1.5 kg)|
Measured: 4 lb 4 oz (1.9 kg)
|Protected Area||Floor Area: 77 ft2 (7.1 m2)|
Vestibule Area: 20 ft2 (1.9 m2)
Total Protected Area: 97 ft2 (9 m2)
|Protected Area/Trail Weight Ratio||15.6 ft2/lb (3.5 m2/kg)|
|Options||Wedge (bathtub floor and bug mesh) $140|
Pawprint (fabric tent liner to protect floor of tent from the inside) $6
* Trail weight: Nemo’s published trail weight (they call it minimum weight) includes the body and poles. BPL’s measured trail weight includes the minimum required to pitch the tent: tent body, poles, and five stakes.
Design and Features
The Nemo Pentalite is a five-sided pyramid-style shelter. It requires a minimum of five stakes (one at each corner) and no guylines to setup. Additional stakes and guylines (included) can be used to improve the stability and ventilation.
The use of five sides – rather than the four used in conventional pyramid shelters – has allowed Nemo to add a couple of unique features to the design:
- The shelter can be pitched with the door completely open, effectively making it a three-sided tarp shelter. In pleasant weather, this gives great ventilation and views.
- When used in combination with the inner wedge, one of the corners of the shelter becomes a vestibule, while the remaining space turns into a rectangular shaped sleeping area.
The shelter features an adjustable pole, which enables it to be pitched at varying heights for better ventilation or storm resistance. Three of the five sides have vents which can be guyed out to provide better air flow. Guying out the side vents also has the benefit of additional stability to the tent as well as additional volume by pulling out the sides.
The Wedge, an optional accessory, is another unique design element to this shelter. The Wedge is an insert that fastens into the shelter through a combination of zippers and Velcro, effectively adding full bug protection, a bathtub floor, and a vestibule space. What makes the Wedge unique is that it provides all of these features with minimum additional fabric. Other manufacturers typically design these inserts as a mesh pyramid with slightly smaller dimensions so that they fit neatly under the waterproof shelter. The Wedge fastens in by attaching to the interior of the shelter around the perimeter so that the mesh fabric is not required to go directly to the peak of the shelter all the way around. Another unique design element of the Wedge is that the center pole passes directly through the floor to prevent abrasion.
Left: Peak vent, from the outside. Right: Peak vent from the inside, can be zipped closed.
Left: Side vent, from the outside, doubles as a tie out for the guylines. Side vents can be pulled closed. Right: Side vent from the inside.
The pole-through-the-floor design prevents abrasion.
The set-up of the Pentalite is quite easy: with the door closed, stake out the five corners, then unzip the door and erect the pole. To improve tent stability, ventilation, and interior space, three more stakes can be used to guy out the side vents. The pitch can be tightened by pulling on the adjustable tie-outs at each stake, tightening the guylines, and by raising or lowering the center pole.
Once the tent is erected, the optional Wedge can be inserted to provide complete bug protection and a bathtub floor. The Wedge can remain in place when erecting or taking down the tent, eliminating that extra step if it is something you will always be using. Inserting the Wedge involves zipping it in around the door and attaching the bathtub floor using Velcro along the remaining three sides.
Left: The front mesh portion of the Wedge is zipped into the underside of the tent body. Right: The sides of the Wedge’s bathtub floor Velcro and snap to the bottom perimeter of the tent.
For four people, the Pentalite is comfortable. In fact, the main sleeping area of the Wedge has enough room for our family of five, the only caveat being the person in the middle has to be our youngest child as the pole prevents a full-sized adult from fitting there. As a family, we found the triangular shaped vestibule to be somewhat limited in its usability due to the shape (you can’t fit much gear in the corners). For three or four adults, the vestibule would be more than adequate.
When sitting up in the tent, headroom is at a premium along the sides. The center two people have great headroom while the people on the sides have the sloped roof of the tent to contend with. At the center of the tent, there is enough room for an adult to stand in a hunched position.
We took the tent out on a spring weekend family backpacking trip in the White Mountians of New Hampshire. The weather dipped into to the high twenties during the night, and fresh snowfall greeted us in the early morning. Although there were no bugs, we decided to use the wedge so that we could see how it worked. Overall, the tent performed well with some minor issues worth noting.
Left: Designed for four but wide enough for five sleeping pads. If you do this, the middle person had better be short due to the center pole. Right: Limited headroom near the sides, even for kids.
In fair weather, the tent size was quite adequate. It wasn’t until the snow started falling that things began to feel a little cramped. When backpacking with kids, there is a lot of gear, clothes, packs, and shoes to deal with. Usually this stuff ends up spreading around at some point or another; it can be difficult to keep on top of organization. Having a large usable vestibule space really helps out in this regard, especially in inclement conditions. When the snow started to fly, we found the vestibule to be too cramped for anything other than making a big pile. There wasn’t enough room for cooking or organizing gear. Because the door of the tent opens right to the peak, when the door is open the actual protected area of the vestibule is quite small.
When we pitched the tent, we were on a slight slope with our feet lower than our heads. The long side of the bathtub floor (the side with the mesh and zippered door) could not be staked out. The result was that the entire Wedge slid a bit downhill towards our feet. The only thing that kept it from sliding further was the center pole, which seemed to be putting quite a bit of stress on the floor.
Condensation that collected on the tent walls ran down and pooled on the floor.
When it was time to break camp, we removed the Wedge and used the large floorspace as a gear packing area. Everyone stayed warm and dry while we organized our packs. The final step involved a quick exit and takedown of the tent prior to hitting the trail. When used floorless, the full space afforded by the tent is very nice.
Weather resistance was good. The seams are all factory sealed.
Left: The triangular shape of the vestibule has limited protected space, especially with the door open. Right: With the Wedge removed, sorting out gear and getting ready to pack up on a snowy day.
Two other pyramid shelters similar in design to the Nemo Pentalite are the Oware 10×10 silnylon pyramid tarp and the GoLite Shangri-La 5.
The Oware 10×10 silnylon pyramid shelter sleeps two to four people and weighs in at 1 pound 10 ounces for the shelter, stuff sack, and some guyline (not including pole or stakes). Adding the optional 6-foot collapsible/adjustable aluminum pole adds another 14 ounces, bringing the total to 2 pounds 8 ounces (without stakes). While Oware does not have an option for an inner tent, they do have an option to add an strip of noseum mesh along the bottom edge of the tent to improve bug protection. The tent has a single door and no high vents, and the seams are not factory sealed. It retails for $249 for the tent, $29 for the pole, and an additional $90 for the bug netting.
The GoLite Shangri-La 5, while slightly smaller in square footage (90 sq ft) than the Oware pyramid and the Nemo Pentalite, is listed as a five-person shelter. Built using GoLite’s SilLite fabric, its stated weight is 2 pounds 14 ounces, including an adjustable aluminum pole and stakes. The shelter features a single door, a high vent, and also has an optional mesh insert (called the nest) for full bug protection. The nest weighs 2 pounds 11 ounces, has a bathtub floor, an extra layer of fabric in the center to minimize pole abrasion, and has one corner chopped off at the door to create a vestibule area. Due to the reduced area of the nest (71 sq ft), and the odd shape, the tent is best suited for no more than four people when using the nest.
Nemo has taken the time-tested pyramid design and added a few improvements that actually work: the five-sided shape, the unique side venting, and the optional Wedge are the features that set it apart in an increasingly crowded pyramid market. As a floorless shelter, it is comparable in weight to most other silnylon pyramid tents on the market. As a fully enclosed bug-proof shelter (with the optional Wedge), it is on the lighter end when compared to tents of similar size. The versatility achieved by this combination make it a compelling option for people who are looking for one tent to work in a wide variety of scenarios.
Since it is a single-wall tent and despite the additional ventilation, the Pentalite still suffers from condensation, but nothing outside of what is normally expected from a shelter of this type. With the door fully closed, the restricted perimeter ventilation with the Wedge installed, and four people generating moisture, it performs as well as could be expected. As stated previously, the only real downside in this configuration is the fact that when the condensation runs down the walls, it collects on the bathtub floor.
- The through-the-floor pole design of the wedge is well thought out and protects the floor from excessive abrasion.
- The use of Velcro and zippers for attaching the Wedge eliminates the need for excessive material while still providing complete bug protection. This design saves weight over more traditional inserts.
What’s Not So Good
- Use of the Wedge means no perimeter ventilation along three sides.
- Condensation on the inside of the tent runs down the walls and collects on the floor of the Wedge.
- No tie-out on the front of the Wedge means that it can shift around, stressing the floor fabric around the pole.
- Triangular shape of the vestibule hinders use of all the floorspace.
Recommendations for Improvement
- Add a tie out point at the center front of the wedge to hold it more securely in place.
- The adjustable pole really only needs to be adjustable on one end. Weight could be shaved from the design by removing the adjustability from one of the two ends.
Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and it is owned by the author/BPL. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to the manufacturer to review this product under the terms of this agreement.