By T.C. WORLEY
True wilderness, if you can find it, will help clarify any question about a piece of equipment’s functionality. On a trip to Patagonia this winter, I tested my gear like never before. Shadowing adventure racers in the rainy, soggy fjord-lands of southern Chile, I gave my equipment an ultimate test of durability and practicality in use during one of my most serious, strenuous adventures ever in the outdoors.
One piece of gear I had not even used until the trip, the Nemo Pentalite Tent, proved to be a worthy choice. The tarp-style “backcountry pyramid” is marketed as an ultralight backpacking tent. Without a doubt, the weight, or lack thereof, was a major reason for choosing this tent. At 3 lbs., 5 oz., the Pentalite would be light in the pack, though large enough — with 77 sq. feet of floor space — to house two adventure filmmakers, myself and our collective gear.
Using a polyurethane-coated nylon tarp and a single aluminum pole in the middle to prop it up, the Pentalite is a simple structure. Five sides instead of the usual four give it a more efficient sleeping layout. It is, however, heavily dependent on good, solid stake placements. A minimum of five stakes are needed, but ideally more, to keep the tent tight and venting properly.
In Patagonia, we used just the main tent tarp without the optional “Wedge” component, which adds a screen and a floor. This was in an effort to save weight. Of course, in the soggy environment, anything touching the ground got wet — this included our sleeping bags where they rolled off the pads and some of the gear. It was a wet and cold trip. But under the shelter’s roof, we had a roomy escape from the wind and Patagonia’s down-pouring precip.
Back at home on less intense camping outings, I’ve opted to carry the extra weight of the “Wedge” for more protection from the elements. It adds about 2 pounds. On trips this spring, the Pentalite has kept my backpacking pals and I dry and comfortable in some pretty harsh rain. It has comfortably slept four men in the main compartment and one camper in the floor-less vestibule area.
A few things to note: Nemo claims you can use a trekking pole or boat paddle to replace the single pole. In my experience, the included pole really does the job best. And in warmer climates, this tent is great with its single wall and good ventilation. But I’d hesitate to recommend this tent for cold-weather camping without snow — it is just too drafty given the way its edges hover on or slightly over the ground. In snow, you could pack in around the edges to make a nice seal.
Price is high for the Pentalite. With its simple design and minimal materials, it costs $370. Add the Wedge piece and the tent is more than $500.
But as with other Nemo tents we have tested, the Pentalite is well made and slick for its intended job. Overall, I am impressed by the design and build quality from Nemo. For those seeking a light, roomy tent for serious minimal and fast-and-light adventures, the Pentalite should be on your short list.