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  • Andy Mytys
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 3, 2008
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      Field Report: - February 5, 2008

      Field Locations and Conditions:

      October 10-14, 2007 - High Country Pathway, Pigeon River Country State
      Forest, Montmorency County, Michigan

      Hike Description: A five-day hike along a 74 mile (120 km) loop
      through rolling glacial moraines, outwash plains, floodings, and
      swamps. Flat campsites were not difficult to find, though sometimes
      the shelter was pitched in a field of waist-high grass. Soil
      conditions were sandy.

      Nightly Temperature Range: 25° F / -4° C to 46° F / 8° C

      Humidity: 60 - 100%

      Dew Point Conditions: As it rained at least a little on each night of
      this trip, wet conditions were always present. Low temperatures and
      high levels of humidity overnight meant that the tent was never dry by
      the morning. I had to pack a wet tent each morning and, at best, find
      a moment to dry it during the day.

      Precipitation: Used during periods of heavy rain and nonstop rain
      throughout the night.

      Maximum Wind Speed: 10 mph / 16 km/h

      November 9-11, 2007 - North Country Trail, Manistee National Forest,
      Newaygo County, Michigan

      Hike Description: A three-day trail maintenance session along a 6.3
      mile (10 km) section of the NCT. This section of the NCT is comprised
      mainly of deciduous forest with some areas of pine plantation. The
      shelter was pitched in a flat area with sandy soil conditions.

      Nightly Temperature Range: 21° F / -6° C to 41° F / 5° C

      Humidity: 80 - 100%

      Dew Point Conditions: Light rain and fog were present throughout each
      night, so wet and damp conditions prevailed.

      Precipitation: Light rain for short periods of time throughout the night.

      Maximum Wind Speed: 10 mph / 16 kph

      January 31 - February 1, 2008 - Waterloo State Recreation Area,
      Jackson County, Michigan

      Hike Description: An overnight jaunt into the Waterloo Recreation Area.

      Nightly Temperature Range: 24° F / -4° C to 28° F / -2° C

      Humidity: 57 - 93%

      Precipitation: 3 inches (7.5 cm) of snowfall overnight. The snow was
      wet enough to be balled up in my gloves, but it would not hold
      together well when rolled on the ground. I could make a snowball, but
      making a snowman was difficult.

      Maximum Wind Speed: 18 mph / 30 km/h

      Pitching the Cirque:

      The Cirque has proven to be easy enough to pitch in the field, and
      I've found that I can even leave the fly attached to the tent when I'm
      packing it, saving me a few steps when setting it back up and, should
      it be raining outside, providing some protection to the inner tent
      body during setup.

      When sharing the setup task with someone who's new to the tent, the
      procedure is straightforward and easy to explain. I found that the
      colored pole tips and sections of webbing aided in explaining the
      setup process.

      While getting the tent set up, staked down, and pitched taught is easy
      enough, I did find that centering the fly onto the inner tent body was
      a little tricky. There are a two pairs of Velcro tabs on the fly that
      attach to the tent body below the awning, and additional Velcro tabs
      that lock the fly to the tent body at the end of each tent pole
      sleeve. These Velcro tabs can be difficult to find and attach if the
      fly is placed onto a standing tent. This is yet another reason to have
      the tent fly attached to the body before setting up the tent. During
      those times when I was forced to pack a wet tent, I hung the fly and
      tent body out to dry separately as soon as the weather was appropriate
      - I always made sure to attach the Velcro tabs on the fly to the tent
      body before packing the tent up again though.

      Maximum Occupancy/Roominess:

      While the Cirque is billed as a 2-person tent, I found that it is
      really best suited for one.

      Both myself and my wife have what I would consider a thin build yet,
      lying in the tent in with our sleeping bags touching, we found that
      the sides of our bags that faced the tent walls brushed up against
      them. This was the case while using sleeping bags with a mere 5 inches
      (13 cm) of loft - bags that I consider to be more appropriate for
      spring and fall. With winter conditions often bringing about sub-zero
      (below -18° C) temperatures, the bags used in such extremes contain
      even more loft, which exasperates the problem further. The space issue
      I found was limited to the width of the Cirque - both my wife and I
      were more than happy with the amount of headroom the shelter offered,
      as well as the overall length of the tent.

      The width issue was so pronounced, however, that my wife and I
      developed a "never again" or "only in emergencies" attitude towards
      using the Cirque in a two-person capacity. The primary reason for this
      is that, by morning, we found that the sides facing the tent walls
      were soaked with moisture. My wife got the worst of this effect - as
      she tends to twist and turn her sleeping bag around her as she sleeps.
      As a result, most of the surface area of her bag was wet by morning.
      Due to the coatings on the fabric of our sleeping bags, the insulation
      inside never got wet, but we did spend quite a bit of time in the
      morning soaking up the moisture from our bags and allowing our bags to
      dry before packing them up. Given the reduced amount of daylight in
      the winter, I'd rather spend my time on the trail than dealing with
      wet gear.

      On the contrary, using the Cirque as a solo shelter is an absolute
      luxury. I could position myself at the center of the floor and have
      plenty of room to my sides, such that touching a side wall was not a
      concern. As I use long versions of sleeping bags and I tend to sleep
      with by arms folded under my head, I find that I use up the length on
      most tents - the Cirque is no exception. What I really like about the
      Cirque is the size of the mesh pockets found at the head and foot of
      the tent. They are almost as wide as the wall itself, and they're tall
      too. I could easily fold up my hiking pants and store them in this
      pocket overnight. What I found was that the material of the pants made
      for an excellent buffer between the inside of the tent and moisture on
      its outside wall, such that when the foot of my bag brushed up against
      the pants there was never any moisture transferred onto the bag as
      often happens when my bag brushes up against the bare wall of the tent.

      Using the Cirque as a solo shelter also allowed for plenty extra space
      inside, something that I appreciated as I found the vestibules to be a
      bit on the small side given the way I like to spread my gear out. It
      goes without saying that, without a partner in the tent with me, I had
      all the room I needed to change clothes, read, clean my camera gear,
      and take care of other light chores.

      Doors and Windows:

      The size of the Cirque's doors is generous, and I found that I could
      easily open them and either access gear in the vestibule or exit the
      tent itself, without hitting the doorwalls and causing rain or snow
      that accumulated on the outside of the tent to fall on me.

      I found that the zippers on the two door panels tended to stick,
      particularly when moving around the curved portions of the zipper
      track. Opening and closing the tent's doors is a two-hand job, where
      one hand has to maneuver the zipper while the other holds the
      surrounding fabric tight. While this can be classified as an
      annoyance, it is not a characteristic that I expected to find on a
      tent that costs almost $250.

      As the days are short this time of year, I really haven't found the
      skylight/window of the Cirque to be of much use. As shown in the image
      to the right, the panel of fabric that the skylight is installed on
      does not have as sharp of a downward angle as the panel on the
      opposite side of the fly's roofline - in fact, it is near flat in
      areas. The close-up of this area, shown in the red circle, shows the
      affect of this flat area in the form of raindrops that have pooled
      together. What will happen when snow falls on the Cirque? Read on!

      Heat Retention:

      I'm very pleased by how much body heat the Cirque traps inside of it.
      I've measured a good 15° F (8° C) variance between temperatures inside
      and outside the shelter when all the panels are closed. What's
      especially nice about this characteristic is that I can go out in mild
      winter conditions using a 3-season sleeping bag rated in the 15° to
      20° F range (-10° to -7° C) and feel secure which, compared to
      carrying a loftier option, saves on both weight and space in my pack.


      I've been fortunate enough to encounter rain on almost every night
      I've spent in the Cirque. The seams are waterproof, and the tent fly
      is sized appropriately - no rain found its way onto the inner walls of
      the tent, even when driving winds were present.

      When used in the rain, the only real issue I've found with the Cirque
      has been with the fly. Many of its panels are rather loose when fitted
      over the tent and they cannot be tightened using existing pullouts. As
      the fly's nylon fabric stretches when wet, it eventually sags down to
      the point that it touches the inner body of the tent, resulting in wet
      spots forming on the walls of the tent. This affect is pictured in the
      image, above, highlighted in the circle labeled "Wet From Fly."

      In The Snow:

      The Cirque's problems really come to light after some snow has
      accumulated outside.

      As seen in the image to the left, the vestibule, side wall, and roof
      each have a considerable amount of snow accumulated on them. The roof
      panel shown here is the side with the steeper angle to it - the
      "flatter" side didn't shed much snow at all.

      The vestibule only has a single point of attachment at the ground
      level - at its center - so there's really not much to support the
      fabric and keep it from stretching and sagging. Room inside the
      vestibule suffers as a result. This characteristic can be mitigated to
      some degree with some proactive measures, such as propping a pack up
      against the wall of the vestibule to give it a bit of support.

      In the image to the right, the "flat" section of the roof is shown -
      the slice of snow at the left corner of the roof is almost 2 inches (5
      cm) thick! This amount of snow easily caused the panel of the fly to
      sag down and press against the ceiling of the inner tent. As this area
      is directly over the ceiling's mesh panel, interior ventilation and
      airflow was cut off to a great degree, causing condensation levels
      inside the tent to noticeably increase.

      In the image to the left, the shadow that's circled is snow that's
      accumulated on the outside of the fly - its weight has caused the fly
      to be pressed against the side wall of the inner tent. Now, there's
      even more of the inner tent's surface area that can wet out when
      touched, and the "dry zone" for two people has been further decreased.


      The level of ventilation that can be realized inside the Cirque
      impresses me. On wet, foggy mornings where I expected to see the
      inside walls of the Cirque dripping in condensation, there was none. I
      was able to keep interior condensation minimized by exposing the mesh
      inside doorwalls and opening the tops of each vestibule below the
      awning of the Cirque, allowing for cross ventilation to occur. Even
      when there was little in the way of a breeze present, I could exposed
      the mesh panel along the ceiling, allowing any moisture exhaled in my
      breath to be pumped out of the tent.

      During snowfall, I continued to use the vestibule openings for
      ventilation, and while I wouldn't classify the snow outside as
      "spindrift," there was wind present and the inside of the vestibule
      remained snow-free. Unfortunately, the sagging tent fly caused the
      ceiling vent to be effectively closed, and I did notice increased
      levels of condensation inside as a result. As I was using the shelter
      in a solo capacity though, this really wasn't a concern.


      Having two vestibules certainly is a joy, particularly in acclimate
      weather. I was always able to find an area under one vestibule or the
      other that was sheltered enough to where I could comfortably cook my
      dinner underneath, with the vestibule door opened to some degree for
      ventilation and fire safety. While cooking, I used fuel sources with
      controlled flames, such as Esbit fuel tablets or canister stoves - I
      NEVER cook with a white gas stove under a vestibule due to the flame's
      unpredictable nature.

      As mentioned in my Initial Report, the Cirque's vestibules are small,
      especially when the additional gear needed in the wintertime comes
      along for the ride. When I used the Cirque with my wife, we would each
      have to make due with just one vestibule, with no real room to spill
      over into the cramped quarters of the tent or into each others
      vestibules. I felt better when she exclaimed that her vestibule was
      too small as well. I pretty much kept the bulk of my gear inside my
      pack and stored that under the vestibule - whenever I needed something
      I had to dig through the pack, rather than being able to just spread
      out a few essentials under the vestibule as I'm accustomed to doing.
      Since neither my wife nor I feel that the Cirque is a two-person tent
      anymore, and I don't hike with anyone smaller than my wife, the Cirque
      has now been converted to my personal winter palace. Used as a solo
      shelter, I have lots of extra space inside, and two vestibules for my
      gear. No more complaints, I suppose.

      Interior Storage:

      I've already mentioned how much I like the large mesh pockets found at
      the head and foot end of the Cirque. They can hold LOTS of items for
      quick and easy access. In the field, they've proven to be really
      practical. As mentioned above, I like storing my hiking pants in the
      foot pocket, to take care of that "wet footbox" I often have on my
      sleeping bag by the morning. The pockets have lots of room to store
      both small and large items alike. I typically have a pack towel,
      handkerchief, wristwatch, flashlight, hat, neck gaiter, and other
      items that I might need at night inside - and that's just in one
      pocket. I also typically use one of the small loops hanging off of the
      ceiling to hang my eyeglasses from, and another to hang a ditty bag of
      miscellaneous items from.


      In my Initial Report, I commented on how I disliked the stakes that
      came with the Cirque. The stakes tended to painfully press into the
      skin of my hands when I pressed them into the ground, and they even
      tore into the tread of my running shoe when I tried using my foot
      instead. As much as I dislike these stakes for 3-season use, in
      subfreezing temperatures they've proven to be very appropriate. Their
      3-sided design eats into frozen ground much better than traditional
      "peg" designs, though I have to find a rock or carry a hammer to pound
      them into the ground. In the morning, they easily pull out, even if
      there's been a little "thaw and freeze" that has occurred. I think
      I'll keep using these stakes during the winter, and move to a
      different design in the warmer months.

      Possible Improvements:

      In addition to the improvements suggested in the Initial Report, I
      feel that the following changes would improve the Cirque significantly:

      * Increase the slope of the roof panel that the "skylight" is
      installed on so that it does a better job of shedding rain and snow.

      * Improve the zipper track so movement is smooth and can be operated
      with one hand.

      * Either increase the width of the floor or the angle of the side
      walls so that two people can sleep in the Cirque without their
      sleeping bags touching the side walls.

      * Consider simply narrowing the width of the floor, which would
      increase the slope of the side walls, improving the snow-shedding
      capabilities of the Cirque - in short, make a one-person version of
      this tent and realize better performance at the same time.

      Thoughts Thus Far:

      I feel that the REI Cirque is a shelter with numerous trade-offs.
      While the tent is relatively lightweight for a four-season shelter, it
      must be recognized that the shortcuts taken to achieve this weight
      (e.g. a two poles freestanding design) result in there being less
      overall support to key areas of the tent, such as the fly and
      vestibule. The Cirque has thus far withstood strong gusts of wind and
      supported limited accumulation of wet snow without incident. In cold
      temperatures, it holds in heat admirably. It has a flexible
      ventilation system that allows for a variable amount of airflow proven
      to be effective in combating interior condensation. For the solo
      hiker, it is a spacious shelter.

      I can only say that I do not feel that the Cirque is in any way a
      two-person shelter and that, given any sort of snow accumulation,
      ventilation options are reduced with the result being an increased
      level of interior condensation.

      This concludes my Field Report. The Long-Term Report will be appended
      to this report in approximately one month from the date of this
      report. Please check back then for further information.

      - End of Field Report -
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