Gear Review

4 5

Great tent, just learn to use it correctly!

A few months ago a friend and I ventured into the White Mountains of New Hampshire for a multi-day backpacking and snowshoeing trip. I consider myself an experienced backpacker, but most of my experience comes from trekking in the spring, summer, and fall. So I decided to brush up on winter survival skills before the trip. I read a few guidebooks and spoke with experienced winter adventurers at my school’s mountaineering club. The more I learned about the harsh winds and subzero temperatures of the White Mountains, the more I became convinced: I needed a new tent. Enter the Eldorado—a well-known and well-tested mountaineering tent from the Black Diamond Equipment, Ltd. Overall, I liked the tent. It was light, strong, and simple to setup. Despite my praises I have one caveat: the tent walls collect a lot of condensation at sub-zero temperatures. I’ll discuss this problem in more detail below.

The Eldorado uses no rainfly because of its single-wall design. Its walls are made from a windproof and waterproof material, called ToddTex. ToddTex weighs only slightly more than traditional tent material, so removing the rainfly leaves the tent several pounds lighter than rival mountaineering tents. This design offers other benefits as well. Setup time is minimal with no rainfly. I set it up in two minutes on my first try (not counting the time to stake and guy out the tent). The instruction manual says setup should take less than two minutes—with some practice. Black Diamond also constructed ToddTex to breath like the popular Gore-Tex material: the tent walls absorb and transport water vapor to the outside, minimizing condensation buildup on the inside.

The ToddTex material unfortunately failed to live up to its reputation during our trip. Nightly temperatures fell between ten and fifteen degrees below zero, and in this range the tent’s inside walls collected water vapor from our breath. The vapor froze, and throughout the night it fell like snowflakes onto our sleeping bags. We awoke in the morning to find the outside of our sleeping bags wet to the touch. Wet sleeping bags do not work well.

Given the Eldorado’s stellar reputation, recommendations, and otherwise impressive design, I suspected (and hoped) that someone had already solved the condensation problem. When I arrived home I put Google to work. Several online backpacking forums explained that no four-season tent, including the Eldorado, will effectively transport moisture when the temperature falls far below zero. Proper ventilation, however, will evacuate water vapor and prevent buildup inside the tent. The tent must face the wind, with the door slightly unzipped, allowing a light breeze to carry moisture out before it freezes.

This solution seemed strange to me, however, because I understood the tent was meant for four season use; so why wouldn’t the ToddTex material function in the cold of winter? Also, my friend and I read the instruction manual beforehand and thought we had set up the tent to achieve proper ventilation. It’s possible we missed something, of course. I haven’t had a chance to experiment with proper ventilation in subzero temperatures since this trip. If anyone has any experiences with this problem, or any other ideas or solutions, please let me know.

Responded on

Mr. Perkins, your comment didn't help me whatsoever!! Instead of being negative toward the reviewer, why don't you give us some of your expertise, since you are rated as a Gear Guru. Your information, if you choose to give any that is constructive, can help all of us out with some ideas on properly setting up a tent in the winter time. Thank you.

Responded on

Water Vapor is made when molecules of air drop below the dew point temps. This happens everywhere, and without some sort of mechanical device, it will happen if you are in a house, your car, or in a tent. The reason you do not see it in the summer, is that the temps stay high so that does not happen inside your tent, but if you go outside early in the morning and touch anything, it is covered in water.. same principle inside your 4 season tent, in below freezing temps. Most 4 seasons I have dealt with, have a fly and many possible vents. depending on the temps and wind outside, I will need to play with the vents till I get the good mix of temp and moisture. Having never used this tent, I can only look at pics, but I can see two obvious roof vents, those should obviously be open, and quite possibly, you will need to have another source of air movement to exchange the air inside your tents. So if you have no other way, then the front door will need to be cracked

If it is a minor problem, you can do what I normally do, to give me a small edge. I put in a gear loft and some sort of fabric, it will absorb most of condensation from your breath overnight

Responded on

I have used this tent and have been an owner for a number of years. First off set uo tent with door into the wind! not blocking the wind. always open vents on top fully unless weathering epic storm condensation be damned. Next open front door at bottom enough to allow airflow. I never expect a tent to warm me only to know down breeze and to keep precip off. Keeping warm is the job of clothing and sleeping bags. The only times I have had issues with frost/condensation was camping by river of fast moving water in sub freezing temps and when my daughter woke up to releave herself and upon returning sealed tent drum tight with me sound asleep. hope this helps.

Responded on

I should add that I have the add on vestibule and found it to be a great addition if weight is not at a premium. The note worthy observation was that the vestibule is made of ripstop nylon not the Tod ex that the tent is made of. Condensation was noticeable on the vestibule while the tent remained nearly dry. The critical factor in setting up a winter base was air flow. If using the vestibule for cooking and blocking the wind is the objective when you are finished cooking dig out under the front of the vestibule to allow airflow. keep the door open to some degree on the main tent with top vents open. Attempt to create a venturi/draft effect. Cold air in at bottom warm moist out the top. I admit I have purchased a tent since in attempt to cut weight. I had noticeable condensation problems with its silicone nylon fabric but admittingly we were under siege by mosquitoes and kept tent fairly sealed. If this tent was sub 3 lbs I would not look elsewhere period. Still this tent is tops on my list for 4 season two man tents. Just force team mate to carry his/her share of weight!

Responded on

Well then door unziped facing into the wind just sleep in a covered snow trench then or try a rab