Sunday, February 23, 2020

Gear Review: REI Quarter Dome SL2

Quarter Dome SL2 on the Olympic Coast.

The Dirt:
REI Quarter Dome SL2

What is it? 2 Person Semi Free-standing Ultralight Backpacking Tent

Comes with: Tent, fly, stuff-sacks, stakes, extra guylines

Materials: Ripstop Nylon

Size: 88 x 52/42 inches. 32 inches peak height.

Minimum Trail Weight: 2 lbs. 8 oz.

REI has finally fielded a true contender in the ultralight semi-freestanding tent market. The Quarter Dome SL2 is an excellent lightweight 2-person option with a more wallet friendly price tag. It may be 5 ounces heavier than a Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2, but it's also fifty dollars less. That's the niche the Quarter Dome SL2 really fits. A bit heavier than comparable tents in its class, but less expensive and even a little roomier. In fact compared to the NEMO Hornet 2, the Quarter Dome SL2 is 3 inches longer and boasts more square footage in both the tent and the area covered by the vestibule.

Comparisons aside, the Quarter Dome SL2 is easy to pitch with its single hubbed pole set. Like other tents in its class, it can only pitch one way, with the pole contacting the ground in the back center of the foot. As long as the foot is staked out properly the result is a quick and sturdy pitch. The rainfly has ample vestibule room and pitches nice and taut. With the great forest green color it looks like it belongs in the woods. 

Stake out the foot. 

Tapered tents are the norm in this class but sometimes space can be so limited that calling a tent a "2-Man" is an exaggeration. Not so with the Quarter Dome SL2. It had plenty of room for several backpacking trips with my wife. With our packs stored under either side of the vestibule, it felt roomier than any ultralight tents we've used in the past. So much so that one beach-side camp morning we lazed in bed watching the waves and felt perfectly comfortable just hanging out.

The tent performed superbly in high coastal winds at Olympic National Park as well as all day downpours in Quinault Rain forest. In fact, in three separate Olympic Peninsula trips over the last year, in many days and nights of heavy rain I stayed totally dry inside, whether from rain or condensation. My only real gripe is that water tends to collect above the fly door and entering and exiting the tent in wet conditions will cause water to run from the roof through the mesh door into your tent. Not a huge deal as long as your in and out of your tent quickly, but after days of rain it can become annoying. 

In Quinault rain forest.
Overall this is a solid 2-person ultralight tent, especially for the price. I would recommend it to anyone who typically shares a tent and wants to lighten their load. Especially if you don't want to pay an arm and a leg. With REI member dividends fast approaching (along with a 20% off coupon) the potential for a great deal in time for Spring is high. If you primarily backpack in extremely wet environments, you might look elsewhere unless you like water splashing on your head every time you open the door.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Gear Review: BioLite Headlamp 330


The Dirt:

What is it? Rechargeable Headlamp

Comes with: Headlamp; micro USB cable

Batteries: 900 mAh Lithium ion

Weight: 2.4 ounces

Max Output: 330 Lumens

Battery Life: High: 3.5 hours: Low: 40 hours

Walk into any REI and have a look at the headlamp wall... Everything looks the same. Dozens of models from Black Diamond, Petzl and Princeton-Tec offering a wide range of lumens, functions and features. They all look the same, and essentially do the same thing. So which one do you choose? In a sea of sameness the Biolite Headlamp 330 rises to the top as an innovative leap forward in headlamp design.

It's all about the strap. All of this headlamp's hardware is built into it, and the battery moved to the back. This makes for a very secure, comfortable fit. The light actually sits flush on your forehead because it's built into the strap. None of the plastic housing touches your skin. The housing is so lightweight and small it's practically unnoticeable while wearing. In fact it feels like a headband, and it doesn't bounce when you walk or run. 

Which brings me to my only complaint.

Because the housing is so small, the single control button up top can be difficult to push when wearing gloves. With anything thicker than fleece gloves, manipulating the button or tilting the light's angle downward is nearly impossible.

Tiny house.

My only gripe aside, I love this headlamp. Other than the size and comfort, the simplicity is a breath of fresh air. Three brightness levels, a red light and strobe, ensure you're not wasting your time cycling through a million useless functions to find the right one. The 330 lumen spotlight is plenty bright for any camping or backpacking situation, and as long as you're not wasting the battery by needlessly running it on high, you can expect it to last any multi-day to week-long trip on one charge easy. 

At $59.95 the Biolite Headlamp 330 is on the expensive side, but remember, it's rechargeable. You'll never have to buy batteries which means you'll save money in the end. Especially considering that a single pack of four Energizer AAA lithium is nearly $10.00.

Bottom line is I would recommend the BioLite Headlamp 330 for hiking, camping, backpacking, running, or just everyday use. It's the most comfortable headlamp on the market, and the functions are simple and easy. If you're looking for a headlamp for mostly winter use, or have big hands, look elsewhere. The tiny button will drive you bonkers.