This is a mini-review to go with our series on tunnel tents. It reviews the Macpac Olympus. Some of the illustrations are from the manufacturer’s web site and from friends, used here with acknowledgement.
The Macpac Olympus is a world-class tunnel tent designed to handle some of the harshest conditions in the world: the New Zealand Alps in winter. The Maori name for New Zealand is ‘The Land of the Long White Cloud;’ the rest of us often call it ‘The Land of the Long Black Never-Disappearing Cloud.’ I make no apologies for this tent. First, the specifications. Please note that they are for the current model of the Olympus, but I used to have the older version.
|Poles||3, DAC Featherlite NSL 9.6 mm|
|Fly Fabric||"UV30TMSI / TorrentwearTM XP"|
|Listed Weight||3.1 kg ( lb oz)|
|Tent Weight||2.30 kg (5 lb 1 oz)|
|Pole Weight||0.54 kg (1 lb 3 oz)|
|Stakes, Weight||11, 0.18 kg (6.5 oz)|
|Stuff Sacks||90 g (3.2 oz)|
This is a double-skin tunnel designed for very serious winter use, but usable all year round. I better point out that I owned an earlier model of the Olympus for many years, and found it lived up to its reputation in every way, so I may sound a little biased. I have also found that the distinctive shape gets recognized even in Europe – with respect. The sunny photos were, as usual, taken at my place – much warmer than in the snow!
The poles supplied with the tent are DAC Featherlite NSL. They are colour-coded so you know which pole goes where in a howling storm. However, at my urging, Easton supplied me with a matching pole set using their Carbon FX tubing and their alloy elbows. These poles weighed 395 g (13.9 oz), somewhat lighter, but very strong. At the time of writing, I understand Macpac was in discussion with Easton about this option. Both sorts of poles have those silly knobs on the pole feet, but the knobs are fairly small and the eyelets are rather large. I doubt the knobs will be a problem.
The Torrentwear XP fabric used on the bathtub groundsheet is a PU-coated nylon with a hydrostatic head of 10 metres – that’s a lot. The seams are tape-sealed. This, and the name, reflects the nature of the ground frequently encountered in New Zealand. (This is not a criticism of NZ: they will tell you this themselves.) I cheat slightly here in trying to illustrate this: the Minaret tent shown here is the smaller two-pole twin to the Olympus. Photo by Marty Schmidt, NZ Guide, East Ridge, Mount Cook.
The UV30 fabric used for the fly is double-coated 30-denier double rip-stop nylon, basically a form of silnylon. At 60 gsm it is heavier than the common Westmark silnylon, but it still seems very light. As the name implies, the silicone polymer provides some UV resistance, and of course increases the fabric strength. It is rated to 3.5 metres hydrostatic head, which is very good compared to many silnylons.
While the tent does allow access from both ends, plan on only using the front end where there is a decent-sized vestibule. The rear end-bell shown here is largely occupied by the rear end of the groundsheet, providing access, but no vestibule space. This is a change from the earlier model, which was symmetrical in design. We used to stow our packs at the rear end. Doing so left the front vestibule clear for cooking and so on, but the vestibule was smaller. Frankly, I think the only use for the rear ‘access’ will be ventilation in fine weather, and maybe an emergency exit for the second person while the first is up front cooking.
At the rear end there is good provision for ventilation, even when the weather is foul and the main door is closed. There are some small vents protected by mesh that can be left open or sealed right up. Full mesh doors at both ends as well as the standard fabric doors protect you from the deadly New Zealand sand flies while you sleep, with a good amount of through-ventilation. (Sand flies are very similar to Scottish midges; both are nasty.) Note however that the zipper on the inner door does go around a corner at the bottom: you need to exercise a little care here.
Owing to the design of the bathtub floor and the interior tent, it is possible to unclip the front end of the ground sheet to roll it back a bit to make an even larger vestibule space. This can be very helpful when the weather is filthy and you need sheltered space to strip off storm gear. It also makes for a very large cooking area – larger in fact than one would normally need.
The inner tent is a very light white fabric. It isn’t quite see-through, but it certainly does not block incoming light. It does block most of the wind though. I can’t help it that under benign conditions it looks a bit like the inside of a harem… The inner tent has huge pockets on both sides for light gear you don’t want lost (or squashed) on the floor. The inner doors (rear one shown) can be held out of the way by small elastic toggles. These were a bit tight on the tent supplied, but Macpac took note of my comment and said they would fix that. There’s a bit of room at the sides for gear, keeping your quilt off the sidewalls too.
These two photos are before and after ones, taken in the Australian Alps by Jon Legg, Macpac staff, Adelaide. While some types of tents tend to collapse a bit under snow loading, a good tunnel tent does not. Incidentally, I have numerous similar photos of the older model Olympus in similar situations. You might like to note the small dark areas at the end of the tent: the vents are still open and functioning. This ability to handle high winds and snow loading is one of the key features of any good tunnel.
The Olympus has the pole sleeve inside the fly rather than outside – it has always been that way. The distinctive shape of the tent helps to locate the poles exactly where they should be, and I can attest that this works very well. You can only insert the poles from one side – they go into a webbing socket at the other end. The pole feet have little knobs but the eyelet on the insertion side is large enough. Sleeve tightening is achieved using webbing. The tent that I owned used Easton poles, but, as noted, Macpac has since switched to DAC poles.
This is a tent designed to handle very serious conditions. Macpac supplies four large tube stakes for the ends and 12 special Macpac-design channel stakes, and a very light silnylon bag. They should hold under any summer conditions, but are not usually good enough for the snow. A common end-bell anchor for snow conditions with this tent is often a couple of ice axes, although two deadman anchors are fine.
Yes, lots of hype, lots of claims, not the lightest tent on the market, and expensive. That does not stop an awful lot of people in our neck of the woods from buying this tent and using it hard. It was born for use in this sort of country and is regarded by many as a gold standard for tunnels.
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.