My gear wish list was pretty short heading into the end of 2009, and was made up primarily of mountaineering and winter items – while I’m very happy with my UL kit I was ill prepared to extend my backpacking into the Fourth Season for much of anything other than a day hike. Courtesy of a serious Kali Ma! massive REI gift card Christmas tightener from my Pop-In-Law, I was able to acquire (among many other items) an REI Arete ASL 2 “all season” tent. Here’s what REI has to say about it:
There are two very good things to say about this tent right off the bat: it’s relatively light for a “4 season” tent at 5.2 – 5.8 lbs. depending upon configuration, and it’s dirt cheap in comparison to the competition. You can spend, well, all of your money on a hard core mountaineering tent and this bad boy set me back exactly $170 – a price point that just about anyone can live with, especially given the options available to use this year-round if one were so inclined. Given that I’m a die-hard Gatewood Cape/bivy sack user for 99% of my backpacking needs, the kind of January weather currently available is really where, er when, this tent will be useful for me.
Note: the Arete 2 Footprint, sold separately for about $15 at a weight of about 10.2 oz. (my scale, sans carrying bag) does push the maximum weight to about 6 lbs. and was included in this review.
Testing: take this review with a grain of salt from a conditions perspective – this was NOT a true field test, and the intent (heh) of this review is to demonstrate the features and provide a general overview of usage.
Conditions: 35° with strong wind gusts (30-40 mph) and periodic heavy overnight rain in the ol’ smackyard – that is to say, NOT in the field; not in/on snow/ice.
Setup: Another feather in the Arete’s cap is the ease of setup; I set this up solo, first time, pretty cold, gusty wind while taking photos in about 12 minutes – guessing I could reduce that to well under 10 and 2 motivated people could get it up in about 5 minutes I would bet.
Overnight Testing: overnight temps dropped to 34° with a heavy .25″ of rain, winds up to 40 mph (per my Oregon Scientific Weather Station inside the house). Sleep system: Marmot Arroyo 30° sleeping bag; Therm-a-Rest NeoAir pad (L). Slept like a baby 🙂 I vented the top vents only slightly, about halfway, and experienced zero condensation. Zero. In fact the entire interior of the tent was completely dry when I brought it inside after taking down. The wind noise was pretty severe in the trees surrounding me but the tent never so much as shuddered – very, very stable.
Conclusions: given the cost and weight, my first impression was outstanding and I’m highly optimistic that the Arete ASL 2 will become a regular fourth season shelter for me in serious weather. Clearly, I need to test this in snow but having snow camped in other 3 season domes and legitimate 4-season tents, I am confident the Arete will hold its own. Will it hold a foot of snow? I’ll get back to you on that one! Until then, this tent is recommended.
- Low cost
- ~6 lbs: f’n heavy by normal UL backpacking standards, but perfectly acceptable for weekend snowshoeing/mountaineering, especially if the carry weight can be divided between two peeps (tent + fly and poles)
- Good stability!
- Good ventilation! (My experience in this instance only; others have had complaints, be sure to read the REI reviews)
- Quick, easy setup
- Nice features including vestibule window, easy pole sleeves and clips, nice light aluminum stakes (will be replacing with titanium stakes, natch), several interior mesh pockets, ceiling loops, and plenty of guyline loops for added stability in wind/snow
- Could be a bit cramped for two if forced to wait out a storm etc.
- Limited/no internal or vestibule space for gear
- Heavier than a bivy sack/tarp rig – but you were expecting that!
- May or may not meet mountaineering (bombproof) requirements
- Door and vestibule door a bit finicky
- Limited useful configurations
UPDATE: I had an opportunity finally to field test the Arete ASL 2 in early March, and was overall quite pleased with how it performed in winter conditions. Camping at 4100′ on about 1 foot of packed snow, 27 degrees, light wind the Arete ASL 2 was an excellent single person shelter, albeit at a significant weight penalty for a solo tent. Highly motivated assembly took about 7 minutes with mitts in failing light; the instructions suggest leaving the fly attached (dry) for quick pitching, and I thought I’d give that a go by attaching the fly at home in advance. Bad call. Any time saved by having the fly attached ahead was completely negated by the extra effort required to insert and attach the poles/clips, and I highly recommend that you simply attach the fly separately each time you pitch. Other observations:
- Zero condensation. Zero. I did use the short fly vent pole on the ceiling, and vented the top vents only to about 3 inches on each side as I was very, very cold by the time I was ready to get in my bag. Very happy with the ventilation.
- Very easy to pitch under less than ideal conditions, with gloves. Not windy enough to require extra guylines on the sides, yet breezy enough to take note that the Arete ASL barely moved – even simply loosely staked into the snow.
- Takes down quickly and easily
- Ample interior pockets – plenty of stow space for two
- Sufficient space for two, would be cramped for extended periods
- Reasonable vestibule area, adequate for cooking, boots, small pack. Fairly easy to get out of the main tent and stand through the open vestibule w/o undue contortion as can happen with some vestibule designs.