Friday, February 21, 2014

Gear Review: GoLite Imogene UL2

GoLite Imogene UL2 pitched with rainfly
 After lugging around a 5 pound 2-man tent for the better part of half a decade, I decided it was time for an upgrade. Really, I probably could have held out for another half decade with my REI Quarter Dome T2. I loved that dang tent. But when I saw the new GoLite Imogene UL2 my jaw dropped... 2.6 pounds... $250.0... Freestanding... Was I dreaming?

Let's backtrack for a minute. When I purchased the Quarter Dome T2 back in 2009 it was one of the lightest 2-man tents on the market. In fact, it seemed as if back then the big gear makers were just jumping on board the ultralight bandwagon, and most of the 2-man freestanding offerings hovered around 5 pounds. The Quarter Dome T2 was one of the few below 5 pounds, and that's why I bought it. But I paid big time for that listed 4 lb 8 oz weight (actual weight was higher). With the footprint, I think I paid around $360.0, which was actually a pretty good deal at the time compared with other sub-5-pound 2-man tents. Thinking I got the best freestanding tent (and certainly lightest) for my budget, I was content to ride the Quarter Dome T2 into the sunset.

Ultralight gear has come a long way since '09. I always keep my eye on the newest gear and what's always kept me away from "the latest and greatest" was the price. I don't have the budget to upgrade my gear every time something better comes along, and even though a lot of really lightweight freestanding tents have hit the market since then, I've kept my distance... Until the GoLite Imogene UL2 came around.

When I first pulled this tent out of the box I was surprised how light and how small the package was. The 20 denier ripstop nylon floor felt a little too light, and too thin, as did the fly. I had my doubts about it's durability, but pitch after pitch, night after night, it's held up fine. The first thing I did after I received this tent was weigh it. I know from experience that a manufacturers listed weight can be very generous. In the case of the Imogene UL2, the 2 lb 6 oz listed weight is right on the money.

The pitch on this tent is entirely different than what I'm used too. The pole system consists of one long main pole that runs along the spine, a shorter pole in the front that forms the shape of the door, and a small one for the back that creates a foot box. The smaller poles are attached to the main pole via two hubs, which makes things very simple for both pitching and stuffing into the sack. While this is a freestanding tent, to create the full box shape in the back of the tent (where your feet go) the tent needs to be staked in the back. Certainly this hybrid design is one reason why this tent is so light. Instead of another bowed pole in the back to form a tube like shape, it relies on a small horizontal pole that's probably around a foot-and-a-half in length that instead stretches the tent into the desired shape with the help of two adjustable guy lines on the corners. There just isn't a lot of pole in this tent, and in fact poles only touch the ground in 3 places: twice at the door, and one in the center of the back. It's actually much more simple then I'm describing, and the entire pitching process took me less than 5 minutes on my first try.

Pitch without fly
 Attaching the fly is elementary, as long as you have experience pitching double-walled freestanding tents. The only caveat is that in order to get a completely taut pitch, and create space between the fly and the tent in the back at the foot box, you have to guy the center line high, say at least a foot off the ground. In the desert this isn't always practical, but in the conditions I've encountered it hasn't made much of a difference. Speaking of conditions, living in the Sonoran Desert they are mostly dry. Usually the only adverse weather I encounter is wind, which for the Imogene UL2 hasn't been a problem. On one trip further north I managed to get rained on for a few hours, and the tent performed brilliantly. No leaks. No condensation. No problems.

One of the ways GoLite managed to cut weight on this thing was through a very narrow design. At 78 inches long on either side, and 30 inches wide at the door, there is just room enough for two. Sarah and I find the space perfect, but we don't mind getting cozy. I haven't shared it yet with someone else my size, but when I do, it'll be tight no doubt. The beauty of this tent is that for two people it's ultralight, and for one it's just as light. I've camped and backpacked with this tent solo plenty of times, and I have to say for one person this could be exactly the space you're looking for. You'll have plenty of room to maneuver and store your gear without feeling claustrophobic, and at 4 x 19 inches packed, you won't feel guilty taking it. For two people, gear storage is tight. Normally we don't keep our gear in the tent so it's not a problem for us, but between the tight quarters and the 5.7 sq. ft vestibule space, it's not made for storage. Yes, the vestibule is small, but it should work for you as long as you and your hiking partner don't normally store your backpacks their.

Lots of space as a solo shelter
 Perhaps the best thing about this tent is the price. I paid $250.00 about 7 months ago. That price can be half of what you would pay for a similar size/weight tent from other manufactures, and it's as functional as it is light. Everything works exactly the way it should, and so far it's held up great for me. If you want top-of-the-line quality and ultralight weight, and don't want to pay out the wazoo, I would highly recommend GoLite Imogene UL2 either as a 2-man, a 1-man, or both. My only real beef is the hunter's orange color of the rainfly. Not a big fan of bright colors in the backcountry, but that's just nitpicking.

Imogene UL2 in the rain