REI Arete ASL 2 Tent Review

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.

The Arete 2 Footprint clips very easily to the tent's corners

Laid out and ready for the 3 poles

Two shockcorded orange poles go into the corner sleeves; the third aluminum pole has a horizontal sleeve near the door

Free standing, ready to clip footprint and attach fly

Rainfly clips attach directly to tent corners at six connections

Fly and Footprint corner attachments as simple as any I've seen; ready for stakes

Extra guylines included; in heavy wind staked out sides (required 2 extra stakes, only 8 included)

Staked, with open vestibule. Wind gusts to 35 mph during this shot

Interior sufficiently sized for two, especially with UL gear. Narrow, but with generous headroom

Small vestibule; sufficient for boots, cooking but little else. Nice flexible wire door brim/overhang

Top vents work extremely well; optional pole provides fantastic breeze-through stability

Clear 'window' a great vestibule feature. Total setup time 12 minutes!

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.

Pros:

  • 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

Cons:

  • 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.

About McLovin

Author: MCLOVIN. Age: 41. Disposition: Gimpy. Resident: Itinerary Obsessive. Ancestry: Dutch. Politically: Left/Side. Nutshell: Magellan, P.I. Philosophy: Kali Ma!
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7 Responses to REI Arete ASL 2 Tent Review

  1. ploss says:

    Nice review. The thing looks really well made. I’m going to look at several 4-season shelters including the GoLite ShangriLa-3 and MLD Duomid. The Duomid, with insert is ~2 lbs. The ShangriLa-3, with insert is less than 4 lbs.

    It looks as if you’d get wet in a situation when the vestibule and the door to the tent had to be open, such as when you’re setting up and unloading yer junk.

    Like the price and agree that it will complete your gear, for the most part, other than items that you’re not admitting to want/need at this time. 🙂

  2. McLovin says:

    Yeah if the wind/rain is blowing right at you, the vestibule door/interior door will provide only marginal cover from the flexible wire brim/overhang; the angle of ascension isn’t particularly shallow, but isn’t that typical of most vestibules? Soaker is soaker!? 😉

    The DuoMid and SoloMid have previously (and continue to) intrigue me, the latter appears to be a highly versatile solo tent, and the insert is rather bug bivens-like in its own right. “Great for moderate snow loads and strong wind” sounds key but I’m still a little dubious as to how bombproof either would be: would you rock this thing at Lunch Counter? Anytime 6″+ of snow was in the forecast? Good price point – though I’m assuming you’ll be rocking Cuben fiber and stealth fabric! 🙂

    The Shangri-La 3 is less appealing to me, only b/c when used floorless…it’s less useful to me than my Gatewood Cape, and I would prefer the MLD insert if I wanted to go bivy-less near some buggy swamp/lake. I like the size of the thing, but it’s less versatile for what I’m likely to do. As it stands, the Arete + one of my billion bivens + Gatewood is likely to meet my needs. I haven’t entirely given up on adding a tarp option to my kit either…just not that OP Packframe Poncho I “reviewed” in 2008!

  3. hiker_b says:

    Do you think this tent would be miserable during warmer weather(70 deg. at night type weather)? I would like to get a tent that would have enough ventaltion in the warmer months, but be able to stand up to some mild winter weather. I had a 3 season tent collapse this past weekend under some snow, not fun…not fun at all.

    • McLovin says:

      Personally I’ve found that a tarp or a single wall tent like the SMD Gatewood Cape (the latter being a multi-purpose poncho as well) works really well in warm weather, especially in conjunction with a light bivy sack with Noseeum netting sewn-in; this REI Arete ASL 2 tent has really good upper ventilation but my initial impressions are that it would be like a greenhouse in Summer or early Fall weather – there’s no cross ventilation with just a single entrance and no back flap. I’m hoping to provide an updated report in snow conditions soon; there just isn’t any snow here in the Pacific Northwest right now…

  4. Pingback: Best of the Best « smackpacker

  5. mamamia says:

    Do you think this tent will suffice any PNW snowcamping, wet and heavy snow conditions. How do you manage to stake the tent.

    • McLovin says:

      This tent performed admirably in Pacific NW wet snow on two occasions, it does a great job shedding snow from the crown and the pole setup makes the tent pretty bomber in strong wind gusts. I’ve used SMC aluminum snow stakes with the Arete 2 in deep snow (+ 8″) with great results. It’s by no means the lightest 4 season tent but it’s affordable and performs very well.

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