The name of the game among tent manufacturers these days seems to be “how light can you go?”. MSR has been one of the leaders in this particular field and the MSR Carbon Reflex tent takes this almost to what feels like it ought to be the limit for a fully-fledged tent (as opposed to just a simple shelter or tarp).
They’ve spared little expense and adopted some pretty cutting edge technology in this tent, all in the aim of shaving off a few ounces here and there. So how does it stack up?
Well, on the weight front, it is hard to fault this tent. It comes in at just 1,2 kg in its minimalist pack weight. That’s 2 lbs and 11 oz for those of you who haven’t gone metric yet. But that’s not all. In this configuration we are still talking about a full tent. Switch to a footprint and fly sheet only, and although you will lose some convenience, you’ll still have something that keeps you dry and out of the wind. In this stripped-down configuration and you’re adding just 853g to your pack (1 lb 14 oz). That seems hard to beat. In fact a lot of sleeping bags etc. weigh more than that. Carrying such a light tent would really push me over the edge into ultra-light geekyness and I’d end up sawing the handle off my toothbrush next.
So how do they get the weight so low?
There’s a clue in the name. The MSR Carbon Reflex 2 ditches aluminium poles for carbon fibre poles. These are a lot lighter and, according to the company, a lot stronger than aluminium ones used in the similar (and heavier) MSR Hubba Hubba. Now I’m not against this idea. Carbon fibre has found its way into space ships, jet fighters, tennis rackets and golf clubs. I just have had bad experiences in the past with badly-made cheap tents that used fibre-glass poles that snapped. I know there is a world of difference between glass-fibre and carbon-fibre in terms of strength and all, but I remember how those poles used to fracture and break under stress. Aluminium tends to bend before it breaks, so you have a greater safety margin in high storms and all.
Still, these poles shave a pound off the weight of the Carbon Reflex 2 tent giving a really lightweight package that still offers all of the comfort of heavier tents including lots of room.
I just wouldn’t use it for high altitude or really bad weather camping. For summer or, at a stretch, three season use this should be more than adequate and if you follow through and reduce the weight of all your other gear, will offer a really enjoyable and lightweight experience.
What do others say about the MSR Carbon Reflex 2?
The guys and girls over at Backpacker magazine said that:
The featherweight structure withstood moderate winds. Biggest concession is durability: After test trips from Vermont to Colorado, the all-mesh canopy had snags and the carbon pole had a stress fracture (but didn’t break).
I’m afraid that just goes to reinforce my original judgement about its durability. A point that is noted in some of the Carbon Reflex reviews over at Trailspace.com:
So I take it out for my long 80-mile hike and it breaks.
This is like the fourth MSR tent I have owned and I so wanted it to work. I liked the door, the rectangle floor design, the weight, everything about this tent I thought was great. Then on the seventh night the long carbon fiber pole breaks on me and the repair part duct taped into the broken section is too long and can’t bend at the correct angle, hence the tent will not setup right and the fly wall touches the inner tent and condensation wets my sleeping bag.
I end up finishing my hike a day early because of it. So the tent went back and I now own a Big Agnes. I wish someone could combine the best of these tents.
I’d be misleading you if I left you only with negative reviews. The team at National Geographic Adventure really liked this tent (and gave it an award in 2009). They even thought it was sexy.
It’s impossible to look at the MSR Carbon Reflex 2 and not think about lingerie. (Bear with me.) This featherweight backpacking tent is mostly see-through mesh, so light it’s hardly there, and is, yes, kinda sexy. And it should be: This is one of the lightest two-person backpacking tents you can buy; MSR pared down the Carbon Reflex to the bare essentials—a body, two poles, and a fly.
You can find the full specs on the manufacturer’s website here.
What about the MSR Carbon Reflex 1?
This is the slimmed down 1-person tent version. It is (according to MSR) the:
The Carbon Reflex 1 tent is the lightest, double-wall solo tent we’ve ever made, crossing the barrier from ultralight tohyperlight.
In its slimmed down minimalist, fly and footprint only setup it weighs just 688g (1 lb 8 oz). That’s insane. Throw the inner back in and it goes up to 1.1 kg. Again, that’s really not much. It has about the same internal volume as the MSR Hubba but weighs almost (but not quite) 1 quarter less. It comes in in a totally minimalist set up at 979g. The downside is that you pay almost double for the weight saving, so unless you are rolling in cash you may be better off just going with the Hubba.
The MSR Carbon Reflex 3 is the big daddy of this range. It has space for 3, nice straight walls and a roomy top and in its usual set up weighs in at under 2 kg, stripped down it is less than 1.4 kg. Split that between three people and you are carrying just a few hundred grams each for shelter. Now that is hard to beat. There is more on the range of tents at MSR’s site.