At long last, I’ve jotted down my thoughts on our new tent.
Parting is such sweet sorrow…
We here at Camp Granola have had many a wonderful outdoor adventure with our much-adored REI Geomountain 4. It’s been with us nearly as long as Fred has and she has sheltered us from some pretty intense weather over the years. So before I introduce you to her replacement, I would be remiss in not paying homage to the awesomeness that was the GeoMountain 4. She performed admirably.
Finding a tent to live up to the GeoMountain was no small task. In fact, we had a false start last fall with a tent that was just didn’t work for us and that shall remain nameless. It got great reviews and appeared initially to be much like the Geomountain. Alas, it was just wrong in so many ways so we went back to using our Geomountain for a little longer while we reconsidered our tent options. We thought there must be a way to restore the Geomountain to her former glory but found only dead ends. (If anyone has any tent restoration knowledge, please let me know. She’s still with us here at Camp Granola since I can’t seem to let go of the notion that there’s still some life left in the old girl.)
…but this diamond is a granola’s best friend.
After much after much (and I mean muuuuch) consideration, reviewing, hand-wringing, and gnashing of granola teeth we decided to give the Big Agnes Flying Diamond 6 a go. Why the excessive analysis?
Well, first off, when you’re camping, your tent is your home. It can not fail you.
Especially with kids in tow, your tent is one of the most important pieces of equipment you’ll own. Since we don’t shy away from inclement weather, a bad-ass tent is a requirement. Plus, we believe in quality equipment that lasts. Our gear doesn’t need to have the newest, fanciest features but it does need to be solid gear. Your tent is not the place to skimp on quality. We don’t take our gear investments lightly in case you didn’t pick up on that.
Given that the Geomountain was such a great tent, any contenders to replace it had to bring it. And I have to say Big Agnes has brought it. We were reluctant to go bigger with Agnes because we liked our little igloo. But the boys are growing. We now have a dog. We now have a smaller car. You get the idea. (Did I mention the boys are growing? Fast. Fred to the tune of 4 1/2 inches in the last year.) So yeah, we opted to upsize the tent.
The nitty gritty…
The Flying Diamond 6 (FD6) has a very similar setup to the Geomountain in shape but it also has a small second “room” making it a little bigger overall. It only requires two more stakes than the Geomountain and has proven to be a super fast setup. I can pop that baby up solo in no time. (Maybe I’ll time myself next trip to see exactly how long. Stay tuned for that.)
The FD6, like the Geomountain, is of the igloo variety so you won’t have large open views around you like with the more house style of car camping tent. But that’s also what makes it beefy. It has a lower profile overall and with the low fly, you’ve got yourself and really sturdy tent through heavy wind and rain. It does have the dual-purpose doors with a mesh section and a separate solid door section. (The tent-who-shall-not-be-named only had mesh doors and most of its body was mesh. That’s all well and good in summer but in sub-freezing temps you’re out of luck. I guess I really can’t fault it for only being a 3-season tent but even so, I had no confidence it would withstand a decent storm.)
The downside of the igloo (or dome) style, particularly the 4-season, is that it can get toasty in really warm weather since it has less air flow through doors and windows because of the reduced mesh. It’s still our preferred style though since we do camp from time-to-time in some weather that makes us question our sanity. We really don’t want to have to own more than one tent so we opt for the 4-season.
We all sleep quite comfortably in the main section which is roughly the equivalent of the Geomountain. The extra room works out well for our clothing, etc. that can now be in the tent with us instead of living in the car. Trust me, it sucks the joy out of camping to have to go running to the car in the cold or rain or late at night (or some combination of those) every time you realize you forgot something. So the extra room is a nice bonus and we can sleep 6 if the need ever arises.
I think most of the major changes in design we noticed are relatively universal for modern tents: the fly buckles into the grommet straps which is a pretty slick feature, the fly door can be staked out to form a little awning if you like, and the poles are color-coded. The FD6 has three vents on each side which is much more generous than the Geomountain. That helps a good bit with the ventilation.
It should be noted that pretty much all car-camping tents (at least that we’ve seen) come with wimpy stakes. For hard-packed campground tent pads, the standard issue stakes are worthless. So whatever tent you buy, if you’ll be using campgrounds, invest in thick, metal stakes and a good hammer.
So in a nutshell…
Really what it comes down to on the FD6 is that it’s basically what we had with the Geomountain with a few modern improvements. Yes, it’s a little bigger which we wouldn’t normally go for but that feature will prove beneficial in the long run with growing boys. So far the quality seems to be on par with the Geomountain and that’s one of the biggest factors for us obviously. The seams, the materials, the construction have all been to our liking in our two trips out with her so far. And we did give her a very good run for her money on her maiden voyage.
We are still learning her quirks as far as getting her staked out evenly. She definitely has a different dynamic than the Geomountain in that sense, I’m guessing just because of her size and her slightly different pole configuration, particularly for the center. You can see in her portraits that we have some over-pulled sections and some floppy sections but I don’t have any qualms about it. It’s a matter of us getting to know her.
We went out on a limb a little in going with the Big Agnes brand since we were unfamiliar with it until the FD6 caught our Camp Granola eye. The reviews I read on her were mixed as well so that concerned me a bit. But after looking at her ourselves we decided she was worth a try. As I mentioned, she initially seems to be constructed very well, she’s easy to pitch, and she’s very camper friendly. We’ll definitely keep you posted as we use her more.
And because I have this thing about corporate responsibility, I’m pleased with Big Agnes’ stance on the matter. No company, or individual for that matter, is perfect but I can certainly get behind a company that is making changes. As we know here at Val in Real Life HQ, those changes are hard and they take time and the folks at Big Agnes are putting in the effort as far as I can tell. Based on what we’ve seen with the FD6, we’ll definitely put BA on our radar as we approach new sleeping bags (since Fred is outgrowing his kid one and mine is 20 years old and not terribly warm).
The fine print…
Now keep in mind with this review that while we looked at a lot of tents, we’ve only actually used the FD6 and the other tent-who-shall-not-be-named. I’m not a professional product tester with the ability to compare all the options out there. So use your own judgement as to whether or not you think the FD6 is what you need for your adventures. You can always drop me a note if you have specific questions. I haven’t covered nearly all the details that could possibly be addressed in a review.
With that disclaimer out of the way, I have to say that I value product reviews. They are a great resource in narrowing down the vast choices out there so I hope you find this one worthwhile.