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Sunday, 21 April 2013

Review: Force Ten Nitro Lite 200 tent

Force Ten Nitro Lite 200 wild camping
Yours truly and the Force Ten Nitro Lite 200 tent in Scotland only the other week.


"It's been absolutely hammered over the past winter. Believe me. It's seen it all. And held it's head high....you genuinely get the space normally needed for two people, but the Nitro Lite 200 performs outstandingly well in stormy conditions. Sure, it can move and shake as any tunnel tent might in high winds - but it's no "dad dancer" either. The gothic arch poles, sewn in pole sleeves and TBS system all contribute towards it's superb stability."


Force Ten (F10), the 'technical' outdoor gear brand from Vango has been going through a bit of a revamp over the past year and it's only in the coming months ahead folks will get to see the fruits of that labour. And the all new 2013 Nitro Lite 200 tunnel tent is a product born out of these efforts from the company.

I was lucky enough to get a glimpse of this new shelter last summer in the Alps while being commissioned to produce some photos and video for the company*, but only got kindly offered one to test and review last November. Now winter is all but over, here's some of my thoughts on what I think is an exciting new shelter from F10.



Force Ten Nitro Lite 200, wild camp
Loadsa room! That be a 100ltr rucksack on the right in the porch. Note the mesh pockets along the side of the inner.

As many of you will be aware, tunnel tents can't be beaten for their weight to space ratio - by their very design you are afforded good volume inside and are generally very quick to erect too. But they can be prone to some 'flapping' during inclement weather. So they really ought not to be considered bombproof shelters but up to a point they will definitely hold their own against other designs of tents out there. Given the traditionally excellent weight to space ratio, this might well be a trade-off some backpackers will happily go along with.

I've been using this tent regularly now through the whole course of the past winter (minimum 50 nights and counting). Camps have ranged from nights spent low down in valleys and glens to up on the highest and exposed ground. As you can imagine the wintry weather here in the UK pulls no punches and I'm pleased to say the Nitro Lite 200 has excelled performance-wise. In fact, it's astounded me at times.

What you have here is lightweight tunnel tent that packs small and comes in on the scales at a little over 1.4kg. Titanium toothpick pegs come as standard but you'll soon ditch these in favour of something more substantial as I find such pegs to be next to useless most of the time on the hills.

Taken out of it's stuffsack and positioned loose in your pack with the pegs and poles stashed elsewhere, saves a bit more room. You'll appreciate the surprisingly lightweight - almost silky - feel to the inner and outer fabrics. They help pack the tent down to next to nothing. But don't be fooled in to thinking the materials are weak. You got a minimum 15D ripstop SPU ripstop nylon 3000mm HH flysheet and 20D ripstop PU groundsheet proofed to 5000mm HH. More than tough enough and waterproof for most people's needs despite aspects of the materials being rather translucent.


cooking, Force Ten Nitro Lite 200
Cooking in the porch is an option thanks to the good sized and sheltered porch.

I'm pleased to say that for what is supposed to be a 2 person shelter - it really is a 2 person shelter, and to be frank quite luxurious for a solo backpacker. At little under 1.5kilos and with so much space available, this ticks so many boxes already.

Pitching is simple enough and it's when doing so you'll pick up on not only the quality of workmanship of the product (which is excellent - as good as any I've ever seen) but the attention to some details in the design that really makes this tent stand out from the crowd and furthermore contributes towards it's excellent performance during storms and such like.


wild camping, Scafell Pike
Wild camp on Scafell Pike last December - at NY 213 072

First off, the F10 own lightweight poles slip through an outer sewn in sleeve. Initially, I thought this process would prove to be tricky. More so during poor weather and you wish to pitch or pack in a hurry. Alas, sometimes it can be but in the main it's OK. The poles form a slight 'gothic arch' (think arches in churches and cathedrals). Coupled with the sewn in pole sleeve, the two work in tandem to enhance the stability and strength of the tent.

The Nitro Lite 200 pitches all-in-one. Excellent for British weather. No risk of the inner getting a soaking if you happening to be setting up camp for the night during a downpour that won't go away. But I have found the elastic loops that attach the inner tent to the outer to inadvertently detach from time to time when pitching - in truth, this can be a pain in the arse at times. Some may disagree, but during the heights of winter it's not something I particularly wish to fanny about doing with cold hands as it can be quite fiddly to correct.


Force Ten Nitro Lite 200, wild camping, Scotland
A chilly camp on Cadha Mor in the Cairngorms.

Another bonus that helps maintain the strength of this tunnel tent is the tension band system (TBS) which is conveniently positioned (makes a change) within the main pole at the front of the shelter. You don't always need to attach it of course but it's worth noting that it really does make a difference to stability. And it's not a nuisance to negotiate if you're crawling in and out of the tent.

The rear pole is a slightly smaller and has no TBS. And it's the rear of the tent where you'll observe how vulnerable a tunnel tent can be in storms.




See how the tent was flexing and moving in that above video clip?

Even so, I'm yet to encounter any damage to the tent despite some horrific wind speeds last winter. In fact, I've been astounded to not find any tears along the seams of the sewn in pole sleeves, or discover misshapen tent poles. After several continuous nights use I have to add! Which leads me to the attention to detail again....

Guy ropes for tunnel tents are a necessity - not just for inclement weather but keeping the shelter from sagging in the middle too. Thankfully, the guys are fixed to the pole sleeves in such a way as it makes it easy to pull and peg the ropes away from the tent and thus help prevent any sagging.


Wild camping, Scotland, Force Ten Nitro Lite 200
Camping in the Cairngorms - note some sag in the fly.

Inevitably, the tunnel will slowly sink a little if the fabric is forced to deal with lots of moisture. But generally it performs spot on and it's hats off to F10 for paying attention to such details that help make the Nitro Lite 200 to be strong, easy to pitch and perform so well.

You'll find a vent in the flysheet to the rear (along with another guy rope) which is useful, but it's not one you can close shut either. Why? Well, on the odd stormy night out on the mountains, spindrift has blown through this vent and then come to a rest on the inner of the tent. Be it at the bottom, or more importantly on the large mesh panel on the inner tent (see the above video to note the positions). If you're inside warming up the tent, then you may find as I did on occasion that the spindrift can melt a little and consequently fall onto your sleeping bag or sprinkle through as frost. It's no big drama, but for those of a faint-heart they may find this of concern.

Personally, I just deal with it. No shelter is perfect. Yes, it be nice to seal it shut if needs be but how often will it occur? For me, just twice all winter.


rear vent, Force Ten Nitro Lite 200
Vent in flysheet at rear of the Nitro Lite 200.

However, I do hope in the future F10 will consider this slight flaw and also re-position one of the rear guy's attachment points. Because if the tent fly is sodden from rain, or just damp from several nights use, then the nylon will sag a little. And no matter how much you try and tighten the guy to keep the flysheet taught at the rear it can and will touch the inner tent at the bottom.

I have to say, no serious amount of moisture has come through - but it's enough to be annoying if you've inadvertently propped your feet up against the inner while sleeping through the night (say you're on a slight incline, for example). You come away with a damp foot end on your sleeping bag.

Despite this, there really is generous room around and between the inner and outer tent. Which is a big plus. It's almost like F10 have nailed it design-wise from the front of the tent and come a slight cropper with the rear. It's not a big deal by any means but it's best to mention it anyway.

The main tent door opens wide and has a two-way zip for venting options if forced to cook in the extremely generous and sheltered porch area. Or just peep out at the view if there's light rain at camp.

The inner tent door is huge!

You can seal it fully shut (all nylon) to keep out chilly breezes or unzip and roll back a panel to reveal some mesh on the upper part of the door for those balmy, still nights and where you require airflow. The inner door zips away to appear as though it has been completely removed. Excellent. Again, good attention to detail from F10.


Wild camp, Moine Mhor, Force Ten Nitro Lite 200
A wild camp on Moine Mhor in the Cairngorms National Park.

Along both sides of the inner you'll find mesh pocket after mesh pocket for storage. It's not often you come across this in lightweight shelters - or heavier more durable models either! So, if there's two of you residing in the Nitro Lite 200 you have plenty of options to keep odds and ends tidy and organised. And it's worth noting that you'll find hanging loops too, one at the rear and another near the front. So, if you prefer to hang a lamp for light at night then you can do so. Or you may wish to set up a washing line inside! As I have done on the odd trip out.


flysheet adjustable, Force Ten Nitro Lite 200
Flysheet can be adjusted to literally hugging the ground. Note also the sewn in pole sleeve.

The flysheet can be adjusted to how low you wish it sit above the ground. Only on one side, mind and even then by only around 3 inches. Even so, with considerate pitching you can indeed even it out on all sides but if you aren't thoughtful when doing so you might struggle to adjust evenly how much off the ground you want the fly to reside.

Over the course of the past winter I've had to keep the fly relatively low to prevent spindrift blowing under the flysheet and up against the inner. Ideally, you'd want valances but that would add weight to the tent. So more often than not I just got hold of my ice axe and dug at the snow and used my boots to form a snow wall around the tent - a technique that has served me well over the years.


guy rope, Force Ten Nitro Lite 200
Clever positioning of guyropes help prevent sagging in the middle of the tent. Handy in inclement weather.

Saying that, though the tent sheds snow reasonably well it can accumulate somewhat at the rear which then leads to the outer sagging and kissing the inner part of the shelter. If F10 could re-position the attachments for the rear guy rope I'm sure this could easily remedied. But all said and done, it's not the end of the world and it's just one of those foibles one finds with every shelter in use.

Finally, I've not encountered much in the way of condensation issues either. The breathable inner tent and venting options do their job well. Admittedly, I've only used the Nitro Lite 200 solo which does make a difference to humidity inside.


PROS

Fantastic weight and packed size for a 2 person 3 season shelter - luxurious for solo use

Excellent weight to space ratio

Genuine room for 2 people

Quick and easy to erect and take down

Superb performance during inclement weather

Great sized porch and storage options inside


CONS

Rear vent could possibly be prone to letting in spindrift or even water ingress onto inner mesh pannel during storms

Flysheet on rear can sag somewhat post wet weather or after several nights use

Titanium toothpick pegs are next to useless - ideal only for firm ground in calm weather

The translucent fabrics may make it feel airy inside but can lead to early wake-ups during the summer months.

In windy wet weather (or cold!) the poles don't slip out of the pole sleeves as easily as one might wish.


As far as tunnel tents go, this has to be one of the best I've ever had the pleasure of using! It's been absolutely hammered over the past winter. Believe me. It's seen it all. And held it's head high. Despite it's foibles and some possible tweaks in it's design, this is now one of my favourite tents for backpacking. I shall indeed continue to use it, if F10 will kindly permit me to do so of course.

I love how light it is, and how small it packs down. Almost as small as some solo tents I've used over the years. More importantly, not only do you genuinely get the space normally needed for two people, but the Nitro Lite 200 performs outstandingly well in stormy conditions. Sure, it can move and shake as any tunnel tent might in high winds - but it's no "dad dancer" either. The gothic arch poles, sewn in pole sleeves and TBS system all contribute towards it's superb stability.

Aye, it might not be as stable as some reinforced solo shelters, and it isn't a strong geodesic mountain tent. It's not meant to be. You can't compare. It's a tunnel tent! But what you get here is a roomy, lightweight backpacking shelter for two that can handle more than most conditions folk will choose to camp out in on a given weekend.

I guess, one reason I keep mentioning the minor dislikes with this tent is down to the fact it's otherwise an excellent shelter in it's class. And probably cheaper too. There are no signs of wear and tear as of yet which is a good sign and I've seen them available online for around £300. Between two people you're not even lugging about a kilo in weight, but you get the room and comfort once it's pitched. And for solo use 1.4kgs for a two skin shelter is perfectly reasonable.


Force Ten Nitro Lite 200, camping on Bowfell
A winter wild camp on Bowfell last December - NY 244 066 - it's rock usually. But there was lots of deep snow!


*Despite having been commissioned to produce a series of photos and videos for Force Ten last year, this by any means does not affect my independent thoughts and review on this product. Which needless to say applies to any gear I may test. They know it, I know it and hopefully readers know it with the personal review.

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Terry Abraham
Outdoors filmmaker who wild camps to capture the landscapes at their very best. Also a blogger, photographer and gear tester.

I've been known to write from time to time and am a big fan of real ales.



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