This is a mini-review to go with our series on tunnel tents. It reviews the MSR Dragontail. Some of the illustrations are from the manufacturer’s web site, used here with acknowledgement.
The MSR Dragontail is one of two tunnels we know of that are made in America. First, the specifications.
|Fly Fabric||40 denier PU/silicone nylon, 1.5 m head for fly,
10 m for groundsheet
|Listed Weight||2.53 kg (5 lb 9 oz)|
|Tent Weight||1.64 kg (3 lb 10 oz)|
|Pole Weight||0.65 kg (1 lb 7 oz)|
|Stakes Weight||11, 0.19 kg (6.8 oz)|
|Stuff Sacks||175 g (6.2 oz)|
Extras include guy ropes, a spare guy rope toggle, and a pole repair sleeve. It should be noted that MSR has not been able to resist the massive overkill syndrome on the stuff sacks, especially on the tent bag. This can be pruned down of course.
This is a single-skin tunnel designed for winter use. There is an inherent contradiction in this claim of course, and users have reported that the inside surface does get a lot of frozen condensation on it which can be brushed off onto the occupants. The tent is well made, but is not without some deficiencies.
There is an ingenious ventilation arrangement visible in the first photo: there is a sort of tunnel through the tent at the top. It can be closed off with zippered flaps at each end.
If you have both ends open, there is a mesh floor to the tunnel that prevents insects from getting in. There are zips in both ends of the mesh tunnel floor to allow you to access the zippered exterior flap – in case the weather changes. There are also mesh doors inside the tent to keep out insects. However, the zip on the mesh front door goes down one side and then turns a sharp corner at the bottom before running across at floor level. In sub-zero conditions, that tight corner in the zipper may present real problems if the zip gets wet, then freezes.
The way the rear end can be closed up does present one unexpected problem. If you follow my recommendation to roll the tent up from the entry end to the rear end, there can be a bit of an issue with getting the air out of the rear end of the tent at the end of the rolling. You need to make sure there is not much air left in the tent before you start rolling. However, the stuff sack they supply is huge, far bigger than needed, so I guess you could pack the air away too. Or make a smaller stuff sack for field use.
Somewhere along the line, MSR changed the design of the Dragontail and how the poles are fitted. The early versions (see below) had the poles threaded into sleeves, making the tent fairly robust and making the fabric quite smooth when the tent is properly pitched. But, on later versions, (see above) the poles are not threaded into the fly; rather they are connected to the fly with a small number of clips. Was this change to make it easier to pitch the tent, or to reduce the cost of manufacture? I fear the latter, as the effect of the clips is to make the fabric surface look quite crinkled, as shown above. I could not get rid of this crinkling. I think someone at MSR lost sight of what a tunnel tent is meant for. I far prefer the threaded pole version, but you can no longer buy it.
My thanks to Ray Estrella and his friend Dave for this excellent photo of his tent in a storm.
On both versions, (old and new) there are a couple of fabric loops at mid-height and the top of each seam. These loops are of a length that could take the poles. When I first erected the clip version of the tent I automatically threaded the poles through these loops, but the official MSR photos show them lying unused. I think I misunderstood these loops, and that they are really meant to be guy rope attachment points. In the photo above you can see that Ray put a guy rope onto one of these loops on the far side of the tent, because of the wind direction.
However, all the official MSR photos show the tent without any guy ropes attached. I find this amazing. Does it mean that MSR does not expect the tent to be used under high wind conditions? Or was there a disconnect between the designers and the marketing team? I did find that the tent sways sideways quite a bit in a light side-on wind when there are no guy ropes. I also noted that the fabric does belly a bit in a side wind. I am quite sure the tent will need guy ropes in bad weather. Anyhow, the tent I received had four 3 mm guy ropes with plastic Nite Ize Figure 9 toggles – all with MSR logos as well. Since I can see not four but eight guy line attachment points, I was a bit disappointed by this shortfall. I would add that 3 mm cord is awfully heavy for guy lines (gross overkill actually), and that you don’t need any toggles on string this thick, just use a taut line hitch.
The tent comes with a handful of ‘groundhog’ stakes. These are the common Y-stake, but they have nicely rounded corners. I find these Y-stakes rather hard to insert compared to a tubular stake, and much harder than a Ti wire, but at least they didn’t hurt my hand. Each stake has a loop of the 3 mm guy rope cord to help you extract it. A lighter cord would have been adequate.
I had better add here that the tent supplied came with no guy ropes at all, which seemed strange. I inquired about this and was told that the designer had played with it, and he had forgotten to replace the guy ropes in the bag! Also I received only 11 stakes, although the specs say 12. They did send some guy ropes later, but I don’t know whether they sent the full compliment. These things happen.
There is only one vestibule on the tent.
The ‘vestibule’ space at the rear of the tent forms part of the groundsheet space. The front vestibule is not large, but it is adequate for gear and cooking with a little squeeze. It has only one access zip however: you need to make sure you’re not facing the wind on that side of the tent. Curiously, the zipper has two sliders. Exactly what one uses the top slider for is not clear to me. (I suspect a manufacturing mistake myself.) Once the door has been opened (unzipped) it can be held out of the way with a toggle at the pole seam. This is good. There is a matching toggle at the other side of the tent, and it seems to be totally useless to me (there is no zipper there).
The interior of the tent has reasonable floor space for two, and very reasonable headroom. The ends of the tent do not slope down to a useless tapered region. The sides go straight up. There are pockets at the sides for light gear during the night. This makes the tent quite livable. The vestibule has enough room for cooking, although two packs would be a squeeze at the same time.
The ground anchor points provide both a neat fabric loop and a cord tightener. I am not sure one needs both, but they are there. The method of attachment looks strong enough too.
The fittings at ends of the poles are called ‘feet.’ On most tents, the feet are designed to slip into a grommet or something similar. That applies here too, but (like some other companies) MSR has done something silly with the feet: they have knobs on the end. The usual explanation is that the knob helps keep the foot in the grommet, but that is not a sensible explanation. The pole foot is going to stay in the grommet regardless of any knob. What the knob usually does is to jam the pole foot in the grommet if there is any mud and grit around, and that did happen here. I had trouble getting the pole foot out during testing. I normally slim all the knobs down on a lathe before taking such a tent out. It makes life so much easier.
The poles fold up into a tidy bundle provided you get the bend at the top right. I am not going to explain how to do this: you need to have the poles in your hand. Anyhow, some neat design work here.
Despite the deficiencies listed, this remains a well-made tent that will serve nicely in the snow when not subject to extreme conditions (like really bad weather above the tree line). Add some permanent guy ropes to it for sure. Do up the windward ventilation window and it should take a fair bit of wind, although, being a single-skin, condensation (water or frost) then becomes a bigger problem than normal. The vestibule is not large, but one can cook in there.
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.