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 Seek Ouside VersaShelter is a single-wall, three/four-season, tipi-style shelter. The largest tipi in the VersaShelter line, the 6-Person Tipi has almost a third more protected area than other shelters we have tested in the same weight class. A significant amount of the weight savings comes from the use of an all carbon fiber pole.
The Seek Outside VersaShelter after weathering a healthy east coast rain, showing the typical sag of wet, cold silnylon. When dry, the VersaShelter pitches much tighter, but imperfect manufacturing tolerances prevent a perfectly taut shelter with tension exactly distributed across the surface area of all panels.
|Year/Manufacturer/Model||2011 Seek Outside VersaShelter 6-Person Tipi|
|Style||Four-season, six-person, tipi-style, single-wall, non-freestanding shelter, with front and rear doors.|
|Included||Tipi, pole, stakes, tensioners, pole storage bag, stake storage bag, tent storage bag|
|Fabrics||Tipi fabric is 30 denier ripstop sil-nylon 1.47 oz/yd2 (50 g/m2)|
|Poles and Stakes||One 15 mm diameter adjustable carbon fiber pole and 16 8-in (20-cm) plastic stakes|
|Floor Dimensions||170 in (432 cm) long, 160 in (406 cm) wide|
|Features||Two zippered doors (front door has no-see-um mesh), Versa Vent peak vent which converts to a stove jack, sod skirt, guyline tie-outs, self-adjusting tensioners.|
|Packed Size||Tent Body: 12 x 9 in (30 x 23 cm)
Pole: 26 x 2 in (66 x 5 cm)
|Total Weight||Specified: 5 lb 3 oz ( 2.4 kg)
Measured: 5 lb 9 oz (2.5 kg)
|Trail Weight *||Specified: 5 lb 3 oz (2.4 kg)
Measured: 5 lb 3 oz (2.4 kg)
|Protected Area||Floor Area: 148 ft2 (13.3 m2)|
|Protected Area/Trail Weight Ratio||28.5 ft2/lb (5.4 m2/kg)|
|Options||Four-season DWR liner, siliconized fiberglass stove jack, titanium wood stove, floor (flat or bathtub), awning (which converts to a two-person tarp)|
*Trail weight: BPL’s measured trail weight includes the minimum required to pitch the tent: tent body, center pole, and 16 stakes.
The basic tent package (not including the optional floor).
Design and Features
The VersaShelter is a tipi-style shelter with an oval shaped footprint. It features a pole-forward design, which means that the center pole is closer to the front door of the tipi than the back. The reason for this design is to make the front entry a little steeper, while making the back a little shallower to accommodate for gear storage and/or stove use. The center pole is constructed out of carbon fiber and is adjustable in one-inch increments.
The tent has a full-height (from base to peak) zippered door on the front and a half-height zippered door on the back. Both doors have storm flaps, and the front door features a zippered no-see-um mesh panel. A second optional no-see-um mesh panel can also be fastened across the back door to allow for increased ventilation while minimizing bugs. Attached around the bottom perimeter edge of the tent is a four-inch sod skirt.
The peak vent (called the Versa Vent) is a square hole with velcro around its perimeter on both the inside and the outside. Attached to the velcro on the outside is piece of no-see-um mesh and a weatherproof storm flap. The mesh vent assembly can be removed and replaced with an optional siliconized fiberglass stove jack, or closed-off completely with a square silnylon panel.
Several tie-out points are placed on the inside and outside of the tent body, anchored at the seams. The external tie-outs can be used for guylines or attaching accessories (screens, etc.), and the internal tie-outs can be used for whatever you like (hanging lights, lines, etc.), or tying lines for additional wind stabilization.
The tent comes with sixteen Durapeg tent pegs and a full set of elasticized tensioners. The tensioners can be used (although not required) to both keep the tent pitch taut and to pitch the tent higher off the ground for increased ventilation. They are especially handy for situations on uneven ground where getting a good pitch might be difficult.
Left: A typical tie-out with the optional elastic tensioner in place. Right: The carbon fiber pole.
Left: The front door, partially open with the bug netting screen behind. Right: The half-height rear door.
Left: Attached bug-netting screen across the open back door. The screen can be attached from either the outside or the inside. Right: The rear door with screen, as seen from the inside. There did not appear to be any way to roll-up and tie back the rear door.
Left: The Versa Port peak vent with no-see-um netting and storm hood. Right: Another view of the Versa Port peak vent.
Left: Versa Port attachments: A fiberglas stove jack, a waterproof cover, and a no-see-um mesh screen. Right: The optional floor, tied-in around the perimeter.
The optional floor.
The tent takes some practice to set up properly. The set-up instructions are as follows:
- Find the back stakeout location (the small rear zipper) and stake it down.
- Next find the front stakeout location (main door zipper), pull it out 14 feet from the rear stake and stake it down.
- Find tie-outs on the side of the tipi roughly half the distance between front and back. Pull these out away from the center to where they are taut; once they are taut, move in about an inch and place a stake.
- Raise the center pole.
- Stake out the rest of the tie-outs.
- Adjust the center pole as required to tighten the pitch.
The process is not quick and easy, especially if you are new at it. There were several times where I set up the tent and found that things weren’t quite right, making it difficult to get the fabric nice and tight. The tipi comes with a full set of elastic tensioners that can be used at each tie-out around the perimeter. Although not required, I found that I got consistently better results setting up the tent whenever I used the tensioners, as they are more forgiving and ensured consistent tension at all times.
Once set up, the amount of interior space available is huge. The tall center pole means a full-sized adult can stand near the center. When sitting, there is a lot of headroom available, making it possible for several people to sit in a circle around the pole. The amount of available floor space makes it easy to sleep six people, and since the floorplan is round, you can be creative with the layout of sleeping bags.
The large front door and mesh screen offer good ventilation. Although the front door zips right to the peak, if you are on the short side, you may find it difficult to unzip it all the way. Due to the slope of the wall at the front of the tent, we did find it somewhat difficult at times to unzip the doors from the inside, and the rear door did not have any way to tie it back.
The tent seams need to be sealed prior to taking it out in the rain. Sealing the seams around the peak and the peak vent proved to be a difficult process. The layers of fabric and the strips of velcro on both the outside and inside made it difficult for me to adequately get sealant in and around the thread holes. The end result was some leaking around the peak vent during a rain storm. On a related note, the protective hood over the peak vent does not cover enough of the vent, and so wind driven rain is prone to entering through the mesh (I have been told that this has been fixed in newer revisions).
The tent we received for review was a pre-production sample/prototype. The seams, while double-stitched, were not lap felled and they looked a little on the sloppy side. The center pole felt under-designed. We had also received a prototype titanium stove, which after some initial testing, didn’t inspire a lot of confidence. After communicating with the owner and outlining our initial impressions, we were sent a production version of the tent which also included a beefed-up pole. The stitching on the production version was much improved, and the pole felt much sturdier, but we experienced some failures with the updated tensioners. We opted not to test a production version of the stove as the cold winter weather was quickly transitioning to spring.
Left: Inconsistent and uneven seams in the pre-production version. Right: Testing the titanium wood stove. This version had some issues, but I have been told the production version has solved many of them. We opted not to review it as part of this article as it wasn’t production-ready in time.
Two tipi shelters that are similar in design to the Seek Outside VersaShelter are the Titanium Goat Vertex 7.5 and the Kifaru 6-Man Tipi.
The Titanium Goat Vertex 7.5 has an oval shape, similar to that of the Seek Outside shelter, with the pole being closer to the front door and a shallower slope towards the back of the tent. The Vertex is constructed out of the same 1.1 oz silnylon, has 133 square feet of covered space, and stands 7.5 feet tall. The Versa Port, at the peak of the tent, can be configured with either a vent or a stove boot. The tent is available with either an aluminum or carbon fiber adjustable pole. The aluminum pole version weighs 4 lbs 12 oz including tent, pole, stuff sack, and stakes, and retails for $750. The carbon fiber pole version weighs 11 oz less and costs $100 more.
The Kifaru 6-Man Tipi – also oval in shape – is constructed out of what they call UV coated paraglider fabric. At 14 ft 10 in long x 13 ft 2 in wide and 7 ft 6 in tall, it is similar in size and shape to both the Seek Outside and Titanium Goat versions. The tipi comes with a stove boot and storm flap, tent pegs, and an aluminum pole. The entire package weighs in at 6 lbs 4 oz and retails for $991.
When it comes to maximum floorspace for minimum weight, the VersaShelter is a worthy contender.
The Versa Shelter is well suited to western US alpine mountain environments – environments where there are large open spaces, few bugs, and the climate is relatively dry. In those conditions, the 6-Person Tipi is a good option for people who need a lot of space for groups of four to six people. For eastern climates where thick forests, tons of bugs, and lots of rain are the norm, this shelter may not be as well suited.
At the time of this review, this tent was still in its development phase. As a result, design changes were made along the way, and the last version we were able to test still did not reflect all of the changes in the current production version.
- Elastic tensioners are forgiving and do a good job of keeping the tent pitch nice and tight.
- Lots of floor space.
- Lots of headroom and standing room.
What’s Not So Good
- Somewhat slow and finicky to set up, and takes a lot of practice to get it right.
- Difficult to seal the seams around the Versa Vent due to the fact that there is velcro on both the inside and the outside.
- A significant amount of ventilation is lost if you close the doors in the rain.
Recommendations for Improvement
- The waterproof hood that covers the peak vent needs to be a little longer to prevent wind blown rain from entering through the mesh.
- A tie-back needs to be added for the rear door.
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.