Ultimate 3 & 4-Person Tents — Directly From the Designer
A pair of beyond state-of-the-art tents presented in a detailed, fair, and reasoned fashion - all stuff, no fluff.
Alas, a lack. It has proven to be 4.914 times harder than I hoped it would be to find the right customers for the RugRats and so this project has failed.
The need for these tents is there - as my backers can attest - and I will continue to look for ways to get them made. Maybe even with another Kickstarter project once the economics have changed enough. You can check TheTentLab for their current status or email me directly: mike at thetentlab.com.
Many thanks to my Backers, well-wishers in the Outdoor World who wrote about this project, and everyone who took the time to check the project out.
Here's some great outdoors bloggers who helped us.
********the Historical Documents Follow (like all old Kickstarter pages)********
My name is Mike Cecot-Scherer. I’m a freelance tent designer who's been making tents for the outdoor industry since 1985. My lifetime total stands at 245 tents so far, but these two are truly exceptional. My resumé is here.
I call these tents the RugRats. They are the most advanced and versatile tents in the backpacking or camping world. Period. They're freestanding and there's a 3-person and a 4-person size. I designed them as I personally would want them and how I would recommend them to friends – a mix of completely new ideas, minimalist design and longtime-user must-haves. I'll be discussing design details here, that I promise will challenge your preconceptions and hopefully offer an "Aha!" moment or two. This tent is well beyond the state-of-the-art.
Here's a link to a reviewer that has actually used one.
It also bears mentioning right up front that the RugRats are made of exotic, new, expensive materials. They're being offered here for about half the cost of what a legitimate retail price would be. If you weren't getting them directly from the designer - me - these tents would be over $1000 (details at the bottom).
Whether the RugRats are right for you or not, I'm hoping you'll be interested, impressed and excited about them enough to pass a page link along to your friends. If you like this project, I really, actually, truly need your help finding the people it's right for. We need to hit 300 tents (the factory minimum) or we fail.
It's the Priorities
What’s different about the RugRat tents? Design, poles, fabrics, features – so just about everything. It's kind of a long and daunting list to discuss. Let me try to make it simpler: Every product is shaped by the priorities that its creators use. The priorities are the DNA of the product. In this case, the focus on trying to help young families has made the top priorities: sleep, reliability, and enjoyment. So features such as making the tent easy to anchor have been elevated to the number one spot. Priorities like "make it as lightweight as you possibly can and screw the features" are demoted to second place.
This has led to a very versatile tent. It's lightweight and compact enough to take backpacking and it's strong enough to go anywhere in the world, above or below timberline, Spring through Fall. And It's just-so amounts of windows, roof mesh and vents make it comfortable in hot OR cold weather. On top of all that, its roominess and enjoyable interior makes it a fantastic rafting, canoeing or car-camping tent.
Here's how the priorities drove the RugRats' design:
It turns out that the RugRats are for anyone who appreciates being out with beautifully designed gear, kids or no. It's solid enough and UV resistant enough to leave up for days while climbing in the desert. As a car-, raft- or canoe-camping tent, it is peerless: it's zipper/sand feature alone (see features video) puts this tent into it's own class, never mind that there's no other tent this big that's so light and stowable (and such pleasant protection from bugs).
That seems simple enough. But here's the thing, infants, toddlers and young kids are TERRIBLE tent-mates for sleeping. They’re like little windmills that kick, crawl, thrash and snore. If you can’t get far enough away from them, you’re not going to get much sleep. So we come to the first special design criteria: enough floor space to give each kid a wide berth. There's no fudging this, no squeezing them in because they're small.
Likewise, the interior volume needs to be big enough and inviting enough for kidplay mayhem. This is especially true during storms or when the kids need to stay safely inside – when, for instance, one parent gets water while the other is cooking. Kiddo lockdown is essential sometimes, but it can't feel like jail. So here's the second special design criteria: have a big open interior with fun things to do and see built in. That's why the RugRats have almost vertical walls and a bunch of round windows at various heights. Peeking and hiding and literally bouncing off the walls is what kids do in this tent. The smallest round windows even have zipper covers for kids to play with (and to close against blowing sand or snow). If you’re camping with another family with kids, your RugRat will be playhouse central – it’s where everyone will want to hang out.
The backpacking tent industry has been mercilessly driven to lower weight and price no matter what it takes. As a result, most tents have been stripped of features; even good ones that really help basic usability. These tents come at it the other way, they have a slew of great features that add very little weight and cost.
It's fair to say that most 3-season tents these days have modest strength and, often, full net bodies; leading sensible campers to pitch them in protected hollows. But that’s a harsh deal: in that kind of camp you can’t see squat and the tent quickly becomes claustrophobic even for adults – let alone rambunctious kids. The RugRats take another approach: to help your family engage with nature they have high strength and lots of windows. This is the third special design criteria: STRENGTH. The RugRats are the strong silent type. They can safely be pitched in the less protected areas where the views are and still have quiet and worry-free sleep. And if the sunset becomes glorious while you’re inside your RugRat, you’ve got a fighting chance of knowing it so you can get out and take a look.
ROCK SOLID in 30-35mph Winds From ANY Direction (35-40mph at 10,000ft)
First things first, 30-35mph is NOT the windspeed to BREAK the RugRats, it's the windspeed needed to BUDGE them. It's the speed up to which they're, well, rock solid. Winds that actually flatten the RugRats are in the 40+ to 50+ range depending on wind direction (at sea level). This contrasts sharply with the marketing approach of giving you the knockdown-breakdown windspeed (in just 1 direction). To my knowledge we are the first in the world to test a tent in all directions and show the public the results. Most tents have 1 or 2 strong directions. We tested all 5 unique strength directions and the results even amazed us. The RugRats have remarkably uniform and high strength in every direction.
Most backpacking tents would be flattened by winds roughly half the speed (1/4 the strength) of these winds. And unlike every wind tunnel test result you've ever seen or heard of, 30-35mph isn't the breaking limit of the RugRats. Once you pitch the RugRats ~ anchored well ~ you can rest easy. Even if a major storm blows in, you can enjoy it or ignore it until the wind is SO LOUD that you can't sleep through it even with ear plugs. Here's the wind tunnel tests:
Full-length wind tests are on TheTentLab's YouTube Channel
Polyester vs Nylon Fabrics When Wet
We're using 100% polyester fabrics on the RugRat tents. They cost twice as much as similar nylon fabrics - a full 24% of the tent-backer price - so we better have a DARNED GOOD good reason to use them. We do. It almost completely eliminates fabric sagging.
In rain, nylon absorbs water and expands 2-3% in length; polyester is unchanged for all practical purposes. That doesn't sound like much, but if you do the math it's dramatic. Small tents have at least one fabric dimension over 100" long that will shrink and expand 3" from full dry to full wet. Little dome tents measure more like 140" over their tops, so that's 4" of expansion when wet. Big tents, well, the numbers get so large that all big tents have been forced into polyester for quality control reasons some years ago. You can't even make a large nylon tent in China that will set up correctly in the Western US. Take a look, every quality manufacturer of large tents uses polyester for at least their rainflies.
What this all means is that when you pitch a NYLON tent and it looks beautifully setup and taut like this:
When it rains it sags and looks like this, causing massive condensation and dripping on the inside and flapping and higher wind loads if there's a wind:
But the same tent with a polyester rainfly doesn't sag when wet:
Talk about stoic! Backpackers have put up with this sagging for DECADES. This probably explains a lot to you experienced tent users out there. You knew something like this must be going on. But you dutifully went out to re-tighten everything in the middle of the night so it wouldn't flap and drip. But it wasn't your pitch job coming loose or fabric stretch or the weight of the water on the fly or anything like that – it was just the nylon expanding because it got wet (probably also made worse by nylon guyline cords). Pretty shocking and completely unacceptable for our purposes here: to have the ultimate no fuss, set-it-and-forget-it tent.
Now that sagging and stretching nylon is outed, it can be understood as a tradeoff that ultralight backpackers must make (in 2014) to have the absolute lightest tents possible.
Here's a huge reason you've never seen a tent like the RugRats before. The RugRats are big, so they must be made out of polyester. But they're also lightweight, so they can't use the regular polyester fabrics used in most big tents (which really are superb values for the customer BTW). Lightweight polyester fabrics cost 2X as much as weight-equivalent nylons and 6X more than the regular polyester camping tent fabrics (which weigh twice as much). So using them poses an impossible obstacle for sales and marketing through normal channels. No one can come out with a thousand-plus dollar family tent with the implicit message: oh by the way, about that nylon we've been selling you... *cough*
Here's the video that the photos above are from. BTW this video shows what about 2% expansion does. I didn't start with 100% dry fabric nor finish it 100% soaked (which would have taken longer):
POLES - World Debut of the DAC PL13.55mm
Both RugRat models use 13.55mm “PL” poles from Dongah Aluminum Co. (DAC). If you're a geek like me, you've probably heard of DAC. They make virtually all the world’s highest quality aluminum tent poles. If you haven’t heard of PL 13.55mm poles, that’s not surprising since they’re the latest invention of the owner and designer at DAC, Jake Lah. And they’re really something.
A normal 3- or 4-person backpacking tent would use poles ranging from the DAC 9.6mm NSL to the 11mm PressFit. The small end would be for the weight obsessed; the large end, for more strength and stability valuing customers. We're off the scale with the 13.55 PL poles. They're 45% stiffer (and therefore in a sense 45% quieter) than the 11mm poles but they weigh 7% LESS than those poles. Compared to the NSL 9.6mm, they're just 1/3rd heavier but they're 2X stronger and almost 3X stiffer.
The cool thing is that the PL pole also displays a bizarre sort of super-elasticity that I have never seen in an aluminum pole before. The pole takes crazy amounts of flexing without breaking or even losing its straightness when the load is removed. The alloy they're made from is proprietary and called TH 72M but it might as well be called Adamantium (or perhaps Obtainedium). It’s just an incredible pole and a no-brainer to use them in service of a good night's sleep.
Hubs for the PL poles aren't made by DAC yet, so we're manufacturing them right here in Louisville Colorado. I gave them their unique polygonal design and optimized them to run on the swiss machines at Techniques LLC. They're a new-low in hub-weight for such large diameter poles. But being made of 7075-T6511 aerospace grade aluminum, they're actually quite burly.
Set It and Forget It
Set it and forget it is the fourth special design criteria of the RugRats. Again this was inspired by trying to help sleep deprived parents, but it's a good idea for everyone. A tent this size needs to be anchored WELL. It has far too much kite capability to fool around. So the RugRats anchor very well with just 7 good stakes (4 tent, plus 3 fly vestibules). Each anchor point is designed so the stake can easily and quickly avoid buried rocks or use boulders or logs instead. It's all right there, no fiddling, no "Oh heck we have to leave this side unstaked because of the big rock under here," no digging in your pack for extra cord to tie on. PLEASE watch the setup and anchoring videos to see what I mean. Remember, anchoring everything is being made super-convenient because it's super-important.
And for good measure there are 8 long reflective guylines pre-attached and stowed in individual pouches on the outside of the rainfly. Use these to nail your RugRat down for serious conditions. Each guyline is made from incredibly strong Dyneema and each sports the new Duraflex Phantom guyline adjuster on the ends, which work incredibly well and weigh almost nothing. This is an example of what I call a long-time user must-have feature. I can't tell you how many hours and $$$ I've spent rigging a tent before taking it out. It's all done for you with the RugRats. Note that for the wind tunnel tests we didn't even use the guy lines but that doesn't mean you should ignore them.
SET UP – Easy But a Little Different
Setup is easy but it requires knowing something new. It has to do with the technique of flexing the eye pole when putting it together and, especially, when taking it back apart. The one thing you must get right is to flex the eye pole against a solid object when inserting or removing the pole from the three-way hub. It's not hard to do, just important to know.
Things we've done to make pitching easy include:
- The Poles will be color coded to the webs on the corners AND the clips
- The rainfly attaches to the tent with adjustable quick release buckles and those webs are color coded too
- Pole ends attach by snapping into the "Jake's Foot" corners. They don't pop out when you go from one side of the tent to the other.
- All stake- and guy-line cords are adjustable and long enough to be used with rocks and logs without additional cord
DESIGN – The RugRats' Architecture
A Tent's form IS its function — there is no follow. Here's an explanation of the RugRats' freestanding pole architecture by way of a simple deconstruct-then-reconstruct exercise:
- You want steep walls? Mentally, above each side of a four-sided floor, put a pole sideways, halfway up a tent .
- You want a ridge line at the top of the tent to shed water and snow? Add one diagonal pole up high and tilt the side poles.
- Connect these poles to the floor corners using as little pole as you can.
- Now make everything rounded, lock the intersections together for unitized strength and what do you have? A RugRat!
This also shows that the RugRats do, in fact, come from a minimalist mindset. They're made with as little pole as can do the job, it's just that the job it does has more than just survival in mind.
Yes, of course. The tent by itself (without the rainfly) is very freestanding – it's one of the most rigid tents you'll ever see. With the rainfly on, in pleasant conditions, it needs 3 stakes to pull out the vestibules. But if there's ANY possibility of higher winds coming in, for safety you should also use the four corner stakes, at least. Big, strong, rigid tents like this make terrific kites and three stakes may not be enough to hold them down if winds kick up. Anchoring is so important, we made the RugRats easier to anchor than any other tent in the world. They come fully pre-rigged with guy lines (in their own pouches no less) and the stake loops are crazy-adjustable (up to 30") so you won't have a struggle to find a spot where a stake can go in. We don't want any RugRats to become airborne or tumbled along the ground.
Features List – just the high points
Yes we have tons of intelligent details and convenient features. Plenty of pockets and loops and nice touches everywhere. All executed as lightweight as possible. Here's a big list of features:
BSotA = Beyond State-of-the-Art
- BSotA Wind tunnel proven – rock solid in 30-35mph winds from any direction (35-40mph at 10,000ft)
- BSotA World debut of the DAC PL 13.55mm pole - an incredible pole
- Eye-pole architecture with near-vertical walls so you can use every bit of the floor and a ridgeline pole for excellent shedding of rain and snow
- BSotA 20D polyester fabrics used throughout. 92% recycled content floor. Exceptionally good UV performance.
- Huge net roof for stargazing and warm weather livability,
- High non-net walls for warmth and less breeziness inside when it's cold
- 8 clear polyurethane windows in the rainfly, 10 net windows in the sides of the tent (8 round)
- Stake loops with 30" of adjustment with ITW Lineloc3 cord adjusters - long enough to be used with rocks, trees and logs if stakes won't work
BSotA Made in USA "polygon" style pole hubs are gorgeously machined out of 7075-T6511 aerospace grade aluminum
- BSotA Pre-attached 9ft reflective Dyneema guy lines with individual pouches for stowing. They're the good kind too: with a polyester over-braid for friction in buckles, holding knots and heat sealing the ends.
- 2 doors, 2 vestibules
- 4 closable, through-the-rainfly vents including two high ones (with zipper access from inside)
- 4 large net wall pockets, 2 large net roof bins
- BSotA doubled rainfly top seam stays on the pole, doesn't roll off and upset the pitch
- BSotA 6 exterior hang loops — HANG your wet gear in the vestibules
- 7 interior hang loops
- BSotA 2 sets of emergency zipper repair sliders pre-installed
- Door shape lets you spin your legs in or out without scrunching
- Cord zipper pulls that don't jingle in the wind
- BSotA UTX Phantom guyline adjusters (new last January)
- A boat-load of stakes: 8 - 6" DAC J-stakes-S for hard ground plus 8 - 8" DAC J-stakes-M for soft ground. Mix and match for each trip
- Included footprint for car camping or as a tarp
"Blendy" might not be a word, but it perfectly describes the RugRat colors. The final color scheme is shown in the CAD fly-around video at the top of the page. Obviously tan and green is designed to blend into an outdoor environment because that's the polite thing to do. What's maybe not so obvious is that even the green color has a lot of yellow/orange in it so the interior feels cheerful even in bad weather, not blue and depressing. We have also tested these colors for bleeding onto one another when packed wet and there is no color transfer even after extended periods.
Of course. Every major brand and every major overseas factory makes really waterproof tents. We should all take comfort from that. Now, in the US, with our style of camping (camps are moved regularly and low-spots are fairly easy to avoid), it's entirely a non-issue. Before taped seams you had to go to great lengths to seam seal everything, but now the seams are literally the most waterproof part of any tent. That's something that takes time to sink in because there are a ton of "arguments" out there about more and less seam waterproofness. They're FUD and nonsense for practical purposes. Once a seam is waterproof, it's waterproof (there's isn't 'more waterproof' than 'won't leak').
Every US manufacturer, including those using 1500mm coatings or similar, has great stories where their customers were dry even when they woke up in a "waterbed" because the lake they were next to rose into camp. (Naturally they were lucky not to have holes in the floor at the time, but that's another issue – reminding us to bring some of the excellent repair tape available these days). But really, how trustworthy are manufacturers? If only there was someone who could check behind the scenes, someone who has relationships with many companies... Oh wait, that's me. And as a matter of fact, I have asked many repair/service departments about this (including "my" repair/service department during my 16 years at Kelty). I'm happy to report that it's quite rare for a tent to actually leak without being damaged (usually by animals). Manufacturers are doing right by their customers. I find that pleasing.
Condensation on the other hand, is common and often inevitable due to high humidity conditions. If your tent has sags or has water collection spots in the rainfly, drips will definitely be a problem. That's why RugRats use polyester fabrics – to prevent sags. Vents in the rainfly can, however, be a great help. So the RugRats have four such vents, two high on the tent.
Even 1200mm coatings are now being used by a number of reputable US manufacturers and they too, are probably just fine. I very much approve of trying to find out what specs users ACTUALLY NEED. Our industry has been driven by spec chart comparisons for far too long – resulting in heavier and more expensive products – and it's stunted the exploration of new and better products. Remember, umbrellas do great and they're uncoated.
RugRats have 2200mm coatings on the rainfly (a little more than I want) and 2900mm coating on the floor (which is also a bit high but it's a floor, so OK).
- Floor size: 72" x 96" (6ft x 8ft, 48 sqft; 182cm x 243cm, 4.4sqm)
- Minimum Weight: 7 lbs 7 oz (still trying for better)*
- Poles: 2 lbs 9 oz, Tent body: 2 lbs 7 oz, Rainfly: 2 lbs 7 oz
- interior peak height: 51" (129cm)
- packed size: 7 1/2" diameter x 22" long
- vestibules are 11 and 13 square feet (1 & 1.2 sq meters)
- Floor size: 96" x 96" (8ft x 8ft, 64 sqft; 243cm x 243cm, 5.9 sqm)
- Minimum Weight: 8 lbs 4 oz (still trying for better)*
- Poles: 2 lbs 11oz, Tent body: 2 lbs 13 oz, Rainfly: 2 lbs 12 oz
- interior peak height: 56" (142cm)
- packed size: 8 1/2" diameter x 23" long
- vestibules are 11 and 13 square feet
* As reference, the one tent in the car-camp market most generally similar to the RugRat is almost 13 pounds. The most comparable tent in the ultralight backpacking world is about 6 pounds, but it uses nylon fabrics, is smaller, and has bare-bone features.
Car, Canoe, and Raft Camping
The RugRats are awesome car-camping and boating tents. They come from the fast and light school of camping, not the need-a-trailer-and-a-rocketbox-to-carry-it-all school. This style is ideally suited to travel: setting up or breaking camp easily and quickly, stowing in a modest space, and getting on with the day's exploration. You can have one of these down and packed before the campsite next to you has even figured out how to re-fold their "camp kitchen."
Rafters and boaters will love this very special feature: an extra set of zipper sliders pre-installed on the doors for use when sand wrecks the first pair. When you get to the point where the zipper doesn't zip, take off the cord pulls and tie them on the extra set at the bottom end of the zipper. You'll have lots of time to get the damaged sliders replaced, saving a ton of money over a full zipper replacement. You're welcome.
The RugRats also come with a footprint. Please don't ever take the footprint backpacking. Leave it behind. The RugRat can take tons of use on its own (as have millions of tents before the footprint craze). The sole exception is if you want to bring it as a tarp, then sure.
These are truly beyond state-of-the-art tents. If a regular manufacturer sold them, the RR3 would retail for between $920 and $1230 (Not $600); the RR4 for $1045-$1395 (Not $665) – NO KIDDING. I can honestly say that these tents are a tremendous deal that is unlikely to come again for many years, if ever. These are ULTIMATE tents and by backing one, you get it for barely over cost.
Here's the breakdown of what your money is going toward in a RugRat tent. The fabric cost we keep saying is high - it's 24% of the pledge amount going directly to the fabric supplier. 14% pole costs - the same. And so on. Note also that your pledge includes $48 worth of things that normally cost extra: footprint, US shipping, and dyneema guy lines.
Detailed $$$ breakdown graphic deleted at project end so it's sensitive information doesn't float around the internet forever.
Tent making is set to be pretty harried in Asia this fall. Factories are straining under the load of new business since a major manufacturer closed its doors last January. I promise you this: I will always keep you truthfully informed about what's going on and what I'm doing to help the situation. Backers from my last project, The Deuce of Spades™ told me that, if anything, I keep them updated slightly too well.
That said, because we are using such new materials, we don't have anyone competing with us for them. The base fabric is already woven and all that remains is to dye and finish it. DAC's pole production is already reserved.
So what do you think? Is it right for you? Are you in? This is a one-shot production run. There won't be another chance like this in years, if ever.
A Thousand Thanks,
Risks and challenges
• These are my 236th and 237th tents (yes, I've worked on 8 more tents since I designed these last Fall). The tents are prototyped (beautifully) and are ready to have final comments applied. So the tent itself is not a challenge.
• The timeline laid out here is as realistic as I and the factory can make it.
Nevertheless, so many factors can delay a production that I need to say straight out: do not order this tent if you have tight time constraints for delivery.
• The fabrics come from Teijin – a large and reputable supplier in Japan and the undyed goods (called the greige goods) are already woven. Luckily we appear to be the only ones who will use it this year (which isn't surprising since it was just introduced last January. Score!). Still, as is customary, the mills won’t promise anything until an order is in their hands.
• This tent is being made by Jasper Outdoor Products in China, a well known leader in making ultralight tents for some of the world’s top tent brands. They have done a beautiful job prototyping the RugRats. Jasper has excellent worker conditions and rights as verified by regular inspections by two of its largest customers. Interesting factoid: Jasper’s owner is to my knowledge the only Asian tent factory executive who actually goes camping with any regularity.
• An unusual, but possible, problem would be that the container ship with the tents sinks or just loses the container. We will be insuring the shipment, but this would introduce a delay of at least six months.
• The poles come from Dongah Aluminum Co. (DAC) which is the biggest and, arguably, the most advanced tent pole manufacturer in the world today. The DAC PL 13.55mm pole has been meticulously developed over the last few years. It's the highest performance pole I have ever used (or seen or heard of). This pole is the owner’s special project so any unforeseen problems would be dealt with quickly and honestly.
• The special hubs are being machined here in Louisville, Colorado – where TheTentLab is based. I will be personally overseeing that production so I can deal with anything that might come up.
• Once the tents arrive stateside, shepherding it through customs brokers and shipping channels is a painful but known process. My last Kickstarter project had just over 800 backers and I shipped almost all the rewards in just two days. So that kind of volume is no problem even though these are physically much larger.
• Large currency fluctuations could drive an untenable price increase. Given the short time frame between this offering and buying materials and actual production, this seems far-fetched, but it’s still important to keep an eye on.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (54 days)