Gimme Shelter (for less than four hundred bucks if possible)

Gear Review: The REI Quarter Dome 2 Tent

 

*Note that BecauseItzThere receives NO compensation of any kind from any brand, retail store or outfitter. The products you see reviewed here are purchased with our own funds and objectively reviewed under field conditions.*

**Please also  note that in writing this article Brian did in fact refrain from using the phrase “That’s In-Tents!” except for just once, right there. He apologizes for this slip up.

Though Sylvia and I have used many tents over the years, the majority of them have been purchased through our favorite three letter outdoor retailer, REI. Most of them have in fact been REI proprietary brand tents which are generally well known through the outdoor recreation world – IE, the “Some Percentage of Dome” series (half, quarter, etc. I don’t know if they have yet released a Full Dome.)

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Our home on two feet, deployed at Long Branch Shelter, AT.

We have selected REI tents for mostly economical reasons. We do lot of camping but not all of it is lightweight backpacking. Some of it is traditional car camping, since living well away from the mountains we often stage our adventures from nearby campgrounds. We therefore do not need a very specialized tent…we need one that works in a variety of circumstances.

REI “Dome” tents are reasonably lightweight, durable and generally weatherproof at an affordably price. I’ve not had one leak or seriously fail on me yet. Being relatively low priced (by outdoor equipment standards) gives them another advantage – they are generally easy to replace when they wear out. And yes, they do wear out.

My experience is, ALL lightweight outdoor equipment being sold today is effectively disposable. The fabrics and designs being sold today are designed to weigh nothing, not last forever. The days of camping equipment that would last a lifetime (albeit a lifetime beset by back problems from carrying it) are pretty much history.

Due to an odd combination of circumstances (in the form of a defective zipper) we recently replaced our Dome Tent twice in the space of a year. (REI may not be as generous as they used to be with their return policy…maybe for the stated reasons above concerning the near inevitability of replacing all outdoor goods. But they are still generous.) The first tent was a Quarter Dome T2 purchased  back about seven years ago. Seven years, by the way, being the stated lifespan of an average tent, assuming it is properly maintained.

The Quarter Dome T2 served us well, but eventually broke down. As with most modern tents, the waterproofing and seams slowly disintegrated with time and use, a process that is hastened by improper storage and lack of care. But even if proper care is exercised, this process (like aging itself) is pretty much inevitable. Once it begins to come apart – you will know it because the outside of the tent becomes sticky and looks like a glazed donut, then dries and starts to flake – there is pretty much no reversing it.

We replaced the T2 last year with a brand new 2016 model Quarter Dome. We used it for just a few months before the zipper came apart in the field. Another disadvantage of wimpy, lightweight outdoor fabrics is they can rip, tear or burn very easily. See here for further brilliant exposition on outdoor fabrics.

And so we ended up with a new NEW Quarter Dome 2, actually a ‘model year’ 2017 tent, which was re-designed from the previous year. Or, as REI’s website states. “Completely redesigned with new architecture and lightweight, rugged materials.”

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The REI QD2 in its stuff sack. Has there ever been finer red lozenge?

There is no question that the design is different. The previous (Old-new) QD2 tent that we had for a few months had some wonky sort of sliding clips on the top that fixed the tent to the overhead poles…I don’t have that tent anymore, but www.outdoorgearlab.com has a picture of it here in their own very thorough review. I thought the clips seemed…makeshift. The tent was overall a little less roomy than the old T2 but MUCH lighter (over a pound lighter, in fact.)

In the NEW new (2017) Quarter Dome 2 the wonky clips are gone, and the entire assembly has been streamlined and now seems more straightforward. Several other changes include the replacement of the old ‘candy cane’ style tent pegs with far better v-shaped pegs that can be MUCH more easily pounded into the ground, and the rain fly now pulls onto the poles by means of a clip rather than a grommet. The grommets were a pain in the rear to pull into place sometimes, but on the other hand, they didn’t fail when dirt or debris got inside them (as I suspect the clips might.)

Left the old grommets on the T2 rain fly; Right, the clips on the new.

The zipper also appears more robust…we’ll see how that works out. Then tent shows the same weight as the last model year but FEELS lighter. REI advertises it at Three pounds, 5 ounces…but I weighted it in at Three pounds ten ounces, which is consistent with the figures on other reviews. In general, it is easier and faster to set up.

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The QD2 in action

One of the things I did not like about the Old new (2016) model was, it had mesh stuff pockets directly behind your head that were very roomy…but in fact only served to pull the walls down inward on your head the minute you put anything in them. The leg room for me, a man of ‘some length’ (six foot two inches) seemed less than generous, and I often found my toes in contact with the fabric.

Both these issues have been corrected in the 2017 model, though overall the interior seems narrower, and the arch of the tent at its highest slightly lower. Sylvia, who requires space for her ‘preparations’, found this annoying. Overall, she found the design changes to be less to her liking, while I found them more to mine.

Note that the QD2 is a true two-person tent. You will see many tents on the market advertised as 2, 3 or even more person tent that might in reality be a one person plus a midget tent. The QD2 does I  fact fit two fairly well. And let’s just say that Brian’s ballerina days are over…he is a man of ‘solid weight.’ REI also sells QD1 and QD3 models that fit roughly the number of people specified in the name. We have no experience with these models.

The walls of the 2017 tent seem thinner and more delicate than the 2016, and those weren’t exactly steel plate. They have almost no heft to them at all, which I find makes it a bit difficult to zip the thing up with one hand. Also it seemed a bit more drafty than the 2016, and certainly more so than the T2 models. We have been out in it in two brutally cold nights now, and there seemed less dead air inside than I would like, no matter how much I synched it down we felt a bit of a breeze. For lightweight backpackers this is just a fact of life…many now use tarps with no sides…but it bothered Sylvia, who built an impromptu ‘thermal barrier’ out of shoes, her pack and a strip of wood. It bothered me much less.

This tent is light. 😊. In fact, it is the lightest shelter I have ever owned excepting a bivy sack. Below are the specs for the 2017 QD2, the circa 2011 QDT2, and my solo MSR Hubba backpacking tent, now mostly obsolete, purchased in 2007 and upgraded with a new rain fly in 2014…

MSR Solo Hubba Tent (2007):                                    3 lbs 54 oz.

REI Quarter Dome T2 (circa 2011)                            4 lbs 39 oz

REI Quarter Dome 2 (2017)                                        3 lbs 10 oz

As you can see, the new QD2 2-person is actually lighter than what was considered a cutting edge lightweight solo ten years ago. No better illustration of the rapid evolution of outdoor gear toward the lightweight could be imagined. And here they are, side by side for comparison. Note the Hubba has a newer bag that shipped with its rainfly…

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Three Amigos…The Old Hubba, QD T2 and New NEW QD2

Here’s a comparison of the “Magic wand” style poles on the Hubba and those on the QD2. They even LOOK heavy in the picture, don’t they?

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Black poles at left are the Hubba. 

Man, what I wouldn’t do to be able to hike the Rae Lakes Loop (where I further damaged my ‘trick’ knee, maybe permanently) with this tent rather than the Hubba!

So, let’s talk about cost. The REI Quarter Dome 2 retails for $349.00 on the REI website. It is NOT cheap. However, it IS one of the most affordable tents in its class. Compare it to the NEW MSR Hubba Hubba ($399) or any comparable products from Big Agnes ($399-$450) There are many cheaper two person tents…most are heavier.

For those on a budget, REI makes the Quarter Dome series which retails for over $100 less…but is two pounds heavier. If two pounds sounds like a negligible sum to save a hundred bucks…then you probably aren’t a serious backpacker.

We would recommend the REI Quarter Dome 2. We feel its light weight has extended our range and the possible hikes we could do as a couple. Brian carried the tent for three days on the AT recently, crossing 5500 foot Standing Indian Mountain, and had no issues to speak of. While I have great respect for MSR and Big Agnes and their brand names they are a bit pricey for us at the moment. We believe the QD2 to be the correct shelter for us.

High Shoals Falls, South Mountains State Park, NC

 

 

 

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