Stress testing first impressions Oztrail 6P Fast Frame Blockout tent

Written by Gary on January 2nd, 2023

 

Much of this post is a repeat of my blog post of my detailed long use review of the similar but smaller Oztrail 4P Fast Frame Blockout Tent much of which also applies to this tent but there are some differences which I will highlight here as well as comment on the Blockout on a hot sunny 34degC Australian summer day.

This “6 person” tent is a touring style tent designed with a fast set up frame and the fly has an extra layer to blockout sunlight or other lights which makes it cooler to be in during the day time and a good option for festival goers as well as those traveling to summer camp sites by car.

Being a touring tent it allows one to stand inside the tent and has a porch with awning.

What makes it stand apart from many other touring tents is the large rear door with awning, the Blockout layer for a Dark Tent functionality and the almost fully mesh ceiling of the inner tent.

A rear door and awning gives you a potentially important second exit point (imagine a fire in the front vestibule, or a snake entering the tent) and gives you much more versatility if the weather changes direction.

Most good quality polyester tents such as this one should last at least 5-10 years depending upon use, UV exposure and storage. For better durability than polyester tents, you could consider various canvas options but these tents rarely have a rear door and are MUCH heavier and much more expensive.

For those looking for a 10P tent, I personally would prefer to have two 6P tents or one 6P and one 4P as this makes for a much more versatile set up – you can opt to just take one tent when needed, each of the 4P and 6P tents can be set up by one person and the component weights are much reduced saving your back, while you have more flexibility in choosing camp sites as they don’t need to be as large, plus you can create some spacial separation from the snorers! Finally, if one tent fails, you still have another functioning tent.

Disclaimer: I purchased my tent online and have not been sponsored by any party in relation to this tent and I have used it only for the one night in a storm with up to 60-80kph wind gusts with only the inner frame without the fly on as it was a hot night and not forecast to rain.

Tent set up

tent ready to set up

 

Inner canopy with fast frame being set up – just open the legs outwards as above, then bend the leg hinges to the opposite direction as they are in the photo, then extend the legs to reach full set up – very easy! I managed to do this by myself in reasonable winds even though the instructions state it needs at least two people, and I managed to take it down by myself in 60kph plus wind gusts with ease.

 

Inner canopy set up

Inner canopy set up showing the front door (the rear door has red corner pole holders). If a strong wind were to push two walls inwards making the frame hinge angle the opposite way, the frame will collapse. Hence the importance of the fly being attached to the frame and guy ropes preventing the walls being pushed inwards.

In my testing, as very strong winds came up unexpectedly overnight with no fly on, I managed to secure the inner tent without the fly with 4 good guy ropes attached to just above the elbow joint of each frame leg and this really stabilised the tent very well and it survived several hours of these wind gusts until I decided not to push my luck and take it down. I did have all window and doors mesh only to minimise the wind resistance.

 

Set up tips

When packing the inner frame, ensure you do it without tangling legs etc up otherwise you may take an hour to work out how to get it set up again! This is an issue as trying to dry the floor out can easily result in everything getting tangled up! Do this in an orderly manner when possible.

Lay out the inner tent on the ground with frame hub UPWARDS (flat surface of the hub faces the ground!) on TOP of the floor, and the red buckle straps where you would like the REAR door to be then open out the legs then unfold each leg 270deg so that they will end up standing on the ground.

Extend each leg until they lock into place with the locking pin.

Pull out each leg so the floor is stretched out taut between them then peg them down (if it is very windy you may wish to do this before extending the legs). Peg out the centre of the rear and front floor.

Insert two fly buckles into the buckle corners at the windiest end, then throw the fly over the top of the tent (if this is a struggle you may need to lower the legs first) and buckle in the remaining two corners.

Adjust the fly position so that seams match the top frame arms and go under the fly to attach the internal velcro attachments to the legs.

Under the pockets which hold the two front vestibule pole supports and insert the front vestibule cross pole through the vestibule tunnel and attach the pole supports at each end. Then attach the two main vestibule poles to the pole support and the provided ground pin of the inner tent.

Guy out the fly as desired and optionally set up as an awning with the awning poles at either the front or rear.

Finally, insert the rear vestibule pole into the two eyelets at the rear of the inner frame to give more head room at the rear awning section (consider using an external clamp to hold this in position when the awning door is not rolled up and secured by the toggles which could otherwise help support this pole).

 

Packing up tips

Packing up is essentially the reverse of setting up (zip up all the window and door inner fabrics first), HOWEVER, you will need to ensure it is dry before storage and this is probably best done when you get home. I like to take the inner frame part home wrapped up in a tarp, and have the fly separate.

To dry out the floor, lay the inner out on dry paving or concrete then dry out a third of the floor at a time – initially fold in one leg from each hub for the first third. When that is dry, fold in the other two legs and they will probably stay near vertical. When that is dry you have to try to dry out the middle part without getting it all tangled up.

Make sure you don’t dry it out where your cat can claw a hole in the floor like mine did for me!

Once it is dry, lay it out on the dry ground just as you would when about to set it up, with the hubs on top and each folded leg spread out. Then sequentially do the final fold of each leg towards the connecting beam between the hubs and as you do fold in any excess floor. Then you should be able to use the two supplied straps to bind it nicely for storage.

The fly may need to be spread out over an outdoor setting or similar to dry out. Once dry it can be stuffed back into the bag for storage.

Differences compared to the Oztrail 4P Fast Frame Blockout Tent

Much of this tent is identical to the 4P version, but it has a number of differences to note:

  • larger floor size of the inner tent, now 300x280cm instead of 240x220cm and this gives you a LOT more room, indeed if like me you like to use a 2P freestanding dome inside the inner tent, unlike the 4P version, there is now plenty of room to walk around the 2P tent to get to the opposite door.
  • DUAL HUB fast frame instead of single hub frame – does make it a touch more complicated but once you get the hang of it, it works well.
  • much wider ceiling mesh for viewing the night sky when fly not in use
  • wider rear awning so they have added a rear Duraplus vestibule pole for added headroom which inserts into eyelets on each side of the inner then bows out to push the fly upwards and outwards – unfortunately they did not add a method to hold it in position so it slips out in any wind – a solution may be to clamp it in place from a clamp on the outside
  • each corner of the inner now has an internal tensioning strap (see issues below)
  • wider vestibule and rear awning area – now 3m wide
  • 3kg heavier now at 18kg instead of 15kg for the 4P

Main features I liked

Inner canopy with the fast frame design:

  • does indeed set up very fast within 2 minutes and folds down just as fast
  • has a large front AND rear door for versatility
  • as with the 4P, it gives you height for getting changed in clothing more comfortably as well as extra weather protection and amenity which you don’t get with a 2P or 3P dome tent.
  • has two very large mesh windows – one on each side
  • has two vent windows – one on each side which could be very useful on hot nights or during the day
  • the doors, windows and the low vents all have zip up inner fabric for total privacy or reduced wind chill
  • even with window and door fabric layer fully unzipped leaving only mesh for maximum ventilation on warm nights, you still get a LOT of privacy – people need to walk within 1-2m to see you sleeping on the floor!
  • the mesh is No-See-Um to stop even the midges getting in and being black affords a degree of privacy if the inside is dark
  • the ceiling has 4 large mesh windows so you can see the stars if you don’t use the fly
  • there are two hooks for a suspended ceiling light and the height of the ceiling is a generous 195cm
  • there are two power cord points – one at each end
  • the 300x280cm PolyOxford floor seems to be sufficiently durable with careful use and is appears to be adequately waterproof – my tests of the same flooring in the 4P tested in a 25mm overnight rain event which resulted in some water pooling under the tent but no water made it inside the tent from the floor – very impressed! This floor is far better than the crinkly, noisy, cheap polyethylene floors of the more budget models!

Fly with the blockout material:

  • Blockout seems to work great and does indeed provide for a better experience during the day time in summer .
  • the Blockout makes the inside nice and dark during the day and if there is no direct sunlight coming in, this adds a lot of privacy even if your door is fully open
  • NOTE: the Blockout will NOT lower the temperature below ambient temperatures in the shade – it only reduces how much the tent temperature will rise above ambient shade temperatures when in full sun. In my tests at 34degC in full afternoon summer sun in Australia, whilst the fly itself felt very hot – perhaps around 50degC, the air temperature near the floor was around 38degC with only one door and one window open for ventilation and minimal breeze. I am presuming without the Blockout layer this floor level temperature would have been much hotter. Had there been a breeze it would have been more comfortable but still hot at the ambient temperature as a minimum.
  • material seems adequate
  • when properly set up with full guy ropes and pegging, it stabilises the tent extremely well even in strong wind gusts, I have used the 4P version on many nights at The Prom with 60kph gusts all night and no damage (but used strong sand pegs and good guy ropes) and this should perform just as well given my tests of the inner tent alone with 4 guy ropes in similar winds.
  • has a reasonably large front vestibule, large enough for a small chair and small table, and the door can be unzipped and turned into an awning with the supplied poles. The bottom of the vestibule reaches out 120cm from the door whilst the top zip opening of the vestibule reaches out 65cm from the door to provide a reasonable rain protection overhang.
  • rear door can also be turned into an awning – on the 4P I often add a tarp as a side wall for added wind protection.
  • window covers can rolled up or can be guyed out to provide rain protection whilst allowing ventilation and also have a mesh layer for further privacy and reduction in wind chill
  • fly is rated at 3000mm waterhead which is sufficient – and in my testing of the 4P it worked extremely well in a 25mm rain event overnight with drops of water coming from the rear awning seam. This is much better than the 1500mm rated flys of the cheaper lighter models!

Aspects I did not like or could be improved:

Inner canopy with the fast frame design:

  • like the 4P, is very unstable in strong winds if the fly is not used and is liable to collapse and be damaged, but at least it can be used alone if no winds or rain is forecast and you want a rapid set up to view the stars or to easily move sites. Inner tent needs to have guy out points so it can be used without the fly in stronger winds – I suspect the next version in 2023 will have this as Oztrail have added this to their new 3P Fast Frame tent. However, as mentioned above, in desperation I did secure the inner tent from strong winds successfully using 4 guy ropes, each attached just above the frame leg elbos.
  • like the 4P, it is more difficult to set up with one person in strong winds as it really needs the fly with guy ropes in place to stabilise it in these conditions
  • like the 4P, there are only 2 corner pockets which are often too far away to reach from your stretcher bed
  • like the 4P, the door and window inner fabric does not zip down low which makes it impossible to watch the local wildlife on the ground outside your tent
  • like the 4P, the ceiling mesh is vulnerable to damage when packing/unpacking due to the ends of the folding legs.
  • like the 4P, unlike a dome tent, it is impossible to roll it over on its side to dry out the under-floor before packing up as it will just collapse – you will probably need to pack it wet and dry it when you get home before storage – an option may be to hang it upside down fully assembled or just have it suspended to help it dry the floor out
  • New design issues not present on the 4P version as a result of it being a significantly wider tent:
    • each corner now has a tensioning strap inside which passes outside at the bottom to attach to the frame which leaves a 0.5x1cm gap at the bottom of each corner which could allow insects to come in.
    • My version did not seem as watertight as my 4P (although the inner is not meant to be watertight), with water leaking through the zips at the bottom of the doors and the floor level air vents.

Fly with the blockout material:

These are generally the same issues as the 4P tent:

  • as with all such tents, the fly takes about 20-30minutes to set up – pegging, multiple velcro attachments to the canopy frame which are important, and guy ropes if it is windy – unlike a dome tent, you really don’t want to be moving it to a different site in strong winds by yourself – choose a sheltered site in the first place if strong winds are forecast!
  • hard to throw the fly over the tent if you are a short solo camper without a helper – you may need to lower the frame to do so
  • harder to set up in a strong wind with only one person and does possibly risk the frame getting damaged which would make the tent useless
  • supplied guy ropes are not adequate to stabilise the tent in strong winds resulting in possible frame damage as above (this is especially the case with the larger dual hub 6P version) – buy some heavy duty ones!
  • supplied pegs are inadequate – get some decent ones – if you are carrying that weight, the extra weight of better pegs is not an issue!
  • the toggles that are used to hold the windows rolled up are poorly designed and easily rip out
  • the eyelets on the awnings are too small to allow OzTrails adjustable tent poles to fit (but at least there are elastic rings you can use instead) – I prefer adjustable poles to the supplied poles as in rain events the awning can be lowered to reduce water pooling on it.
  • the Blockout layer does start to rub off over friction areas over time.
  • a new design issue arises from the extra width of the fly resulting in the rear awning section sagging. Their solution was to add a rear Duraplus vestibule pole for added headroom which inserts into eyelets on each side of the inner then bows out to push the fly upwards and outwards – unfortunately they did not add a method to hold this rear vestibule pole in position so it slips out in any wind – a solution may be to clamp it in place from a clamp on the outside.

Quality control:

Admittedly you do get a lot of tent for the money, however, there are a number of issues I have already encountered with this tent but I still love it for the price:

  • when unpacking the first time, a clip had been placed in the wrong position which caused frustration and confusion in trying to undo the legs ready for set up. Perhaps this is a packing design but given the relative absence of good set up instructions it was not helpful.
  • I presume as with the 4P, the window toggles break very easily if you pull too hard
  • peg quality is just OK – buy better pegs!
  • guy rope system keeps coming lose in winds – buy better guy ropes!
  • as with the 4P, the carry bag could have been bigger – it is a tight fit – I decided to store the fly separately for transport home – when packing up in the rain, I either put the tent and fly separately into the pod on my car roof, or wrap the inner tent in a tarp and pack the fly in its bag. I would prefer they supplied it with a 2nd fly bag so each component would be a bit lighter to lift.

For extra warmth it even fits a 2P dome tent!

A freestanding 2P dome tent without its fly such as the MacPac Apollo will easily fit inside this tent and this can give you the best of both worlds in cold weather as it is much easier to warm up a 2P tent than a 6P tent.

A 2P full fabric dome tent allows a smaller air space to allow your body and any additional heaters such as 12V electric heating mats to heat up the air that you breathe. This can be a very useful technique if you suffer from asthma or cold-induced coughing. It can also provide an extra measure to combat mosquitoes. Your stretcher bed will also just fit inside the 2P dome tent as well which brings your face closer to the warmer air at the top of the 2P tent. You could also get more cold protection by covering the dome tent with insulating materials without worrying about the weather compromising them as the 6P tent will protect it.

My favourite is to use an Oztrail 2P Mozzie Tent inside which works well and means you can leave the main tent doors unzipped so you are not continually zipping and unzipping when walking around. It is easier to control mosquitoes inside a 2P tent than inside a 6P tent. It also addresses the potential design issues with the corner gaps potentially letting in insects, and when using the 6P tent without a fly, the Mozzie tent bucket floor provides extra waterproofing if it does rain and zipping the windows and doors up and adding a 4x4m tarp in top does not suffice to prevent all water ingress.

Conclusion:

As with the 4P tent, I do really like this tent and for me the extra space is worth the increased weight, size and complexity so I can more comfortably use my 2P tents inside.

It is a great tent for ONE to TWO people and is perhaps the goldilocks size for car camping without kids.

I love it for warm summer nights with no rain and minimal breezes – works well without the fly in these conditions and really does become a rapid set up and take down option with excellent flexibility in terms of privacy vs ventilation vs wind chill protection while still being able to see the stars through the ceiling mesh – and the rear door is a real benefit!

If mild rain is forecast and you want to just use the inner canopy as above for super fast set up and take down, just add a 4x4m tarp thrown over the top and clamped to the poles (get 4 strong clamps from Bunnings) provides adequate rain protection with the inner fabric of doors and mesh zipped up. If it gets a bit windy you can tie down the tarp with guy ropes to further protect the tent.

It is also great with the fly on for summer camping and the blockout and ventilation makes it a viable option for sleeping in during the daylight hours (if ambient temperatures are not too warm) and you won’t be woken by the early sunrise – but I would be very careful in site selection and use of good guy ropes and pegs if the forecast is for wind gusts over 50kph.

The RRP is $AU729 but can be found on special for around $AU329 making it a great value option – if you have space for it in your car!

The Australian distributor is Oztrail.

A comparable tent with similar features is the Coleman Instant Up 6P Gold Series Evo Tent – 6 Person but it has a smaller vestibule (and no vestibule arch poles) and no ceiling mesh nor blockout, and no rear door.

The Coleman Northstar Instant Up 6 Lighted DarkRoom Tent is closer to the specs of the OzTrail 6P Blockout tent as it does have the blockout and the larger vestibule but still no ceiling mesh although you do get LED lights and it is considerably more expensive.

The new BlackWolf Turbo BLK Lite 300 Tent is a slightly larger and taller blockout tent measuring 300x300x210cm high and having a more heavy duty and more durable pop-up style single hub aluminium frame which you push up from underneath, but it is 25.5kg with a much longer packed size of 140cm length, does not have a rear door or window and is far more expensive at $AU1599.

See also my photography and camping wikipedia – more Touring Tents.

 

Syracusa, Sicily

Written by Gary on January 1st, 2023

The old town of Syracusa on the east coast of Sicily is another lovely place to wander around and explore.

Here are some of my images from an afternoon spent there.

 

Pantalica, Sicily – a 13th-7thC BC necropolis

Written by Gary on October 9th, 2022

Pantalica in Sicily is a 13-7thC BC necropolis of tombs cut into the limestone cliffs of this valley near Sortino.

There are some 4000 tombs but we only managed to see a few as we had to run back up the 200-250m ascent (valley seems to be at ~160m elevation and the car park is at around 360m-400m elevation while the town of Sortino is at around 500m elevation) in 34deg sunshine to drive back to Sortino for the parade of patron saint, Saint Sophia.

Highly recommended for some nature hiking – there are quite a few different hikes of various lengths available.

Bring your own drinking water and sun shade (plus your bathers for a swim at the bottom!)

 

Malta September 2022 – Gozo

Written by Gary on October 6th, 2022

A trip to Malta should not miss a ferry ride to the little island of Gozo with its lovely variety of beaches, coastal towns and of course , its main town Victoria and the Citadel.

You can catch the ferry to Gozo from Cirkewwa at the tip of Malta and this is a short 20min free trip which doesn’t need any bookings. The ferry ride back to Malta does cost and need a ticket but you now also have the option of the 45min fast ferry to Valletta which may save you taxi fares and only costs 7.50 Euro.

The coastal waters of the Mediterranean at this time of year are a lovely 25degC – great for swimming, especially at Ramla which has a sandy beach – IF there are no stinging jellyfish and IF you avid stepping on the black sea urchins in the rock beaches.

Buttresses in an alley way in The Citadel.

Presumably these were designed to help withstand the regions earthquakes – a major one hit eastern Sicily in 1693 demolishing towns such as Ragusa and sending a tsunami to Malta as well as causing considerable building damage in Malta.

Another lane way in the Citadel.

The coastal town of Marsalforn.

 

 

 

 

 

The coastal town of Marsalforn.

A bar in Marsalforn.

The owner of the salt pans near Marsalforn.

At the remote rock beach cove – Dwejra Bay near the Inland Sea.

 

 

 

Malta in September 2022 – Mdina

Written by Gary on October 6th, 2022

Mdina is the old former capital of Malta, originally founded in the 8thC BC by the Phoenicians given its position on a high plateau making it naturally defensible, it is primarily a fortified Medieval city thought to have been built in the 8thC AD by the Byzantines to defend the threats from the Arabs.

It ceased to the be capital when the Knights of St John were given the island and moved the administrative capital to Birgu.

According to tradition when Paul the Apostle was shipwrecked on Malta, he cured the governor’s sick father and the city converted to Christianity. Paul was also allegedly bitten by a snake and tradition has it that he cast out all the venomous snakes from Malta.

It has some Baroque features added in the early 18th century.

It is one of the favourite places for tourists as it is less busy than most other tourist destinations in Malta, and its high walls offer shade from the summer sun.

 

 

 

Malta in September 2022 – part 1 – Valletta

Written by Gary on October 6th, 2022

Finally now that the Covid-19 pandemic issues have settled somewhat, I was able to get back to international travel and my first destination was the little island of Malta.

Malta in September is still very warm and humid with day time temperatures generally reaching 32-34degC and overnight minimums falling to only 22-24degC.

This means you need to either sleep with air conditioning on all night, or do as I did, sleep in a mosquito/sandfly proof (No-See-Um) mesh tent on balconies and rooftops to really take in the nocturnal balmy summer ambience. Perhaps the locals could take a leaf out of my book and save electricity and the environment.

Sand flies are a significant concern in much of the Mediterranean and this includes Malta and Sicily as these sand flies are true sand flies of the Phlebotomus genus (not the biting midgee “sandflies” found on Australia and NZ beaches), and they can carry the amoebic parasite which causes Leishmaniasis which is hard to prevent (without ensuring no sand fly bites) and not easy to treat – not something anyone wants to catch! The sand flies live in storm water drains and are active overnight so having skin exposed whilst walking at night or going to restaurants is a significant risk especially in September when they are at their peak activity.

Valletta is the main old town in Malta apart from Mdina and is a great place to explore although very touristic and so the restaurants and cafes do target the tourist trade.

Here are a few images that I captured on my first night there wandering around.

Valetta at dusk

Next up will be the old town of Mdina.

 

Review of OzTrail Fast Frame Blockout 4 Person Tent

Written by Gary on February 20th, 2022

This “4 person” tent is a touring style tent designed with a fast set up frame and the fly has an extra layer to blockout sunlight or other lights which makes it cooler to be in during the day time and a good option for festival goers as well as those traveling to summer camp sites by car.

Being a touring tent it allows one to stand inside the tent and has a porch with awning. The tent is large enough for a deluxe single person stretcher bed, and as a result, this tent is MUCH heavier and has a MUCH larger packed size than a hiking dome tent. It packs to 110 x 22 x 22cm and weighs 15kg.

Disclaimer: I purchased my tent online and have not been sponsored by any party in relation to this tent and I have used it now for about 20 nights of camping but only as a one person tent with a stretcher bed.

Tent set up

tent ready to set up

 

Inner canopy with fast frame being set up – just open the legs outwards as above, then bend the leg hinges to the opposite direction as they are in the photo, then extend the legs to reach full set up – very easy!

 

Inner canopy set up

Inner canopy set up showing the front door (the rear door has red corner pole holders). If a strong wind were to push two walls inwards making the frame hinge angle the opposite way, the frame will collapse. Hence the importance of the fly being attached to the frame and guy ropes preventing the walls being pushed inwards.

Main features I liked

Inner canopy with the fast frame design:

  • does indeed set up very fast within 2 minutes and folds down just as fast
  • has a large front AND rear door for versatility
  • has two very large mesh windows – one on each side
  • has two vent windows – one on each side which could be very useful on hot nights or during the day
  • the doors, windows and the low vents all have zip up inner fabric for total privacy or reduced wind chill
  • even with window and door fabric layer fully unzipped leaving only mesh for maximum ventilation on warm nights, you still get a LOT of privacy – people need to walk within 1-2m to see you sleeping on the floor!
  • the mesh is No-See-Um to stop even the midges getting in and being black affords a degree of privacy if the inside is dark
  • the ceiling has 4 large mesh windows so you can see the stars if you don’t use the fly
  • there is a hook for a suspended ceiling light and the height of the ceiling is a generous 195cm
  • there are two power cord points – one at each end
  • the 240x220cm PolyOxford floor seems to be sufficiently durable with careful use and is appears to be adequately waterproof – tested in a 25mm overnight rain event which resulted in some water pooling under the tent but no water made it inside the tent from the floor – very impressed! This floor is far better than the crinkly, noisy, cheap polyethylene floors of the more budget models!

Fly with the blockout material:

  • Blockout seems to work great and does indeed provide for a better experience during the day time in summer although I have not tested it on sunny days over 25degC but at least there are lots of ventilation options to support it – any tent will be hot if ambient temperatures are more than 30degc
  • the Blockout makes the inside nice and dark during the day and if there is no direct sunlight coming in, this adds a lot of privacy even if your door is fully open
  • material seems adequate
  • when properly set up with full guy ropes and pegging, it stabilises the tent extremely well even in strong wind gusts, I have used it on many nights at The Prom with 60kph gusts all night and n damage (but used strong sand pegs and good guy ropes).
  • has a reasonably large front vestibule, large enough for a small chair and small table, and the door can be unzipped and turned into an awning with the supplied poles.
  • rear door can also be turned into an awning – I often add a tarp as a side wall for added wind protection.
  • window covers can rolled up or can be guyed out to provide rain protection whilst allowing ventilation and also have a mesh layer for further privacy and reduction in wind chill
  • fly is rated at 3000mm waterhead which is sufficient – and in testing it worked extremely well in a 25mm rain event overnight with drops of water coming from the rear awning seam. This is much better than the 1500mm rated flys of the cheaper lighter models!

Aspects I did not like or could be improved:

Inner canopy with the fast frame design:

  • is very unstable in strong winds if the fly is not used and is liable to collapse and be damaged, but at least it can be used alone if no winds or rain is forecast and you want a rapid set up to view the stars or to easily move sites. Inner tent needs to have guy out points so it can be used without the fly in stronger winds – I suspect the next version in 2023 will have this as Oztrail have added this to their new 3P Fast Frame tent.
  • is much more difficult to set up with one person in strong winds as it really needs the fly with guy ropes in place to stabilise it in these conditions
  • there are only 2 corner pockets which are often too far away to reach from your stretcher bed
  • the door and window inner fabric does not zip down low which makes it impossible to watch the local wildlife on the ground outside your tent
  • unlike a dome tent, it is impossible to roll it over on its side to dry out the under-floor before packing up as it will just collapse – you will probably need to pack it wet and dry it when you get home before storage – an option may be to hang it upside down fully assembled or just have it suspended to help it dry the floor out

Fly with the blockout material:

  • as with all such tents, the fly takes about 20-30minutes to set up – pegging, multiple velcro attachments to the canopy frame which are important, and guy ropes if it is windy – unlike a dome tent, you really don’t want to be moving it to a different site in strong winds by yourself – choose a sheltered site in the first place if strong winds are forecast!
  • hard to throw the fly over the tent if you are a short solo camper without a helper – you may need to lower the frame to do so
  • harder to set up in a strong wind with only one person and does possibly risk the frame getting damaged which would make the tent useless
  • supplied guy ropes are not adequate to stabilise the tent in strong winds resulting in possible frame damage as above (this is especially the case with the larger dual hub 6P version) – buy some heavy duty ones!
  • supplied pegs are inadequate – get some decent ones – if you are carrying that weight, the extra weight of better pegs is not an issue!
  • the toggles that are used to hold the windows rolled up are poorly designed and easily rip out
  • the eyelets on the awnings are too small to allow OzTrails adjustable tent poles to fit (but at least there are elastic rings you can use instead) – I prefer adjustable poles to the supplied poles as in rain events the awning can be lowered to reduce water pooling on it.
  • the Blockout layer does start to rub off over friction areas over time.

Quality control:

Admittedly you do get a lot of tent for the money, however, there are a number of issues I have already encountered with this tent but I still love it for the price:

  • an important buckle which attaches the fly to the inner canopy corner was already broken when the tent arrived (this issue has been reported by multiple purchasers on review) – I had to add a clip on device to the tent fly as a workaround as replacing the buckle would require an industrial sewing machine.
  • the window toggles break very easily if you pull too hard – I have replaced this with a workaround
  • peg quality is just OK – on testing it in well watered lawn in the urban backyard, one of the pegs bent with minimal effort and they also would not suffice in sand – just buy better pegs!
  • guy rope system keeps coming lose in winds – buy better guy ropes!
  • the ceiling mesh developed a tear on packing/unpacking – still can’t work out how that happened – perhaps I was too fast! – fixed with mesh repair tape.
  • carry bag could have been bigger – it is a tight fit – I decided to store the fly separately for transport home – when packing up in the rain, I either put the tent and fly separately into the pod on my car roof, or wrap the inner tent in a tarp and pack the fly in its bag.

For extra warmth it even fits a 2P dome tent!

A freestanding 2P dome tent without its fly such as the MacPac Apollo will fit snuggly inside this tent and this can give you the best of both worlds in cold weather.

The 4P tent gives you height for getting changed in clothing more comfortably as well as extra weather protection and amenity.

A 2P full fabric dome tent allows a smaller air space to allow your body and any additional heaters such as 12V electric heating mats to heat up the air that you breathe. This can be a very useful technique if you suffer from asthma or cold-induced coughing. It can also provide an extra measure to combat mosquitoes. Your stretcher bed will also just fit inside the 2P dome tent as well which brings your face closer to the warmer air at the top of the 2P tent. You could also get more cold protection by covering the dome tent with insulating materials without worrying about the weather compromising them as the 4P tent will protect it.

Conclusion:

I do really like this tent.

It is a great tent for ONE person with a deluxe stretcher – only one of these will fit and even so it is a little cramped – a couple would be better going for the 5P or 6P version for glamping comfort.

I love it for warm summer nights with no rain and minimal breezes – works well without the fly in these conditions and really does become a rapid set up and take down option with excellent flexibility in terms of privacy vs ventilation vs wind chill protection while still being able to see the stars through the ceiling mesh – and the rear door is a real benefit!

If mild rain is forecast and you want to just use the inner canopy as above for super fast set up and take down, a 1.8×2.4m, or better still, a 2.4x3m tarp thrown over the top and clamped to the poles (get 4 strong clamps from Bunnings) provides adequate rain protection with the inner fabric of doors and mesh zipped up. If it gets a bit windy you can tie down the tarp with guy ropes to further protect the tent.

It is also great with the fly on for summer camping and the blockout and ventilation makes it a viable option for sleeping in during the daylight hours and you won’t be woken by the early sunrise – but I would be very careful in site selection and use of good guy ropes and pegs if the forecast is for wind gusts over 50kph.

The RRP is $AU549 but can be found on special for around $AU279 making it a great value option – if you have space for it in your car!

The Australian distributor is Oztrail.

For those paranoid about mosquito-borne viruses then although this tent has excellent insect protection, mozzies getting in undetected when you open the door zips can still be problematic as with any large tent – a great solution I have tried is to hook up the Sea 2 Summit Mosquito Net (double) which will drape very nicely over your large single stretcher bed (I have the Wanderer Premium Ultra Comfort Folding Stretcher King Single which is very comfy and just fits this tent nicely) and allow even greater mozzie protection. Alternatively, you can set up the Oztrail 2P Mozzie Tent inside which works well and means you can leave the main tent doors unzipped but there is no room to walk around it – the Oztrail 6P version solves this space issue but is substantially more difficult to set up for one person, 3kg heavier and longer to pack.

A comparable tent with similar features is the Coleman Instant Up 4P Gold Series Evo Tent – 4 Person but it has a smaller vestibule (and no vestibule arch poles) and no ceiling mesh nor blockout and is more expensive.

The Coleman Instant Up 4P Darkroom tent is exclusive to Anaconda, is lighter at 13.9kg, a little cheaper, but no rear door, no ceiling mesh, the fly is only 1500mm rated and the floor is a noisy, crinkly budget polyethylene.

The Coleman Northstar Instant Up 4 Lighted DarkRoom Tent is closer to the specs of the OzTrail 4P tent as it does have the blockout and the larger vestibule but still no ceiling mesh although you do get LED lights and it is considerably more expensive.

See also my photography and camping wikipedia – more Touring Tents.

 

Comet Leonard and meteor from Australia

Written by Gary on January 4th, 2022

Comet Leonard (C/2021 A1) has been creating quite a buzz in the Southern Hemisphere as a “Christmas comet” for 2021.  It had been a nice comet for those in the Northern Hemisphere in early December 2021.

Unfortunately it was a bit too dim for people to see with the naked eye unless in a dark sky area and even then it can be difficult making binoculars are useful adjunct.

Nevertheless, for astrophotographers it has been a fantastic comet which brightened in December 2021 and developed a lovely long tail and a greenish head due to short-lived dicarbon molecules being generated by UV light.

For a comet of this brightness close to the sun, astrophotographers had to wait until it was far enough from the sun so that twilight effects reduced sky glow and they had to seek a relatively dark sky region so light pollution effects were minimal, while timing it so the moonlight would not interfere and one had a clear night relatively free of clouds.

To get the best imagery, the camera needed to be mounted on some tracking device to allow longer exposure times without star trails, and the best would then take many such images and stack them in post-processing software to reduce the image noise.

Here is one of my single shot images tracked for a 20sec exposure which also happened to capture a nearby meteor.

Comet Leonard

This image was shot on 29th December 2021 with a Sony a7RIV camera with a Samyang 85mm f/1.4 lens at f/1.4 ISO 3200, uncropped and post-processed in OnOnePhotoRAW 2022.

Comet Leonard is a long period comet with an orbit which takes 80,000 years.

It was discovered in January 2021 and had its closest approach to Earth was on 12th Dec 2021 at 34.9 million km then it made a close approach to Venus of only 4.2 million km. It had its closest approach to the Sun (perihelion) on 3rd Jan 2022.

More information about comets in my wikipedia.

 

Camp ground etiquette

Written by Gary on December 10th, 2021

Most people want to go camping to get away, engage with nature, get as good as sleep as possible and have minimal problems.

Many enjoy their time away from other people while others like to take the opportunity to connect with other campers.

Here are some important general principles to consider to help you and others have a more enjoyable and stress-free experience.

It should not need emphasizing but one should be aware of, and comply with the rules of the camp ground.

LEAVE NO TRACE

see https://lnt.org/learn/7-principles

clean up after yourself

avoid fire scars

do not contaminate waterways with toileting or non-biodegradable soaps

ensure you choose your site carefully so there is no need to dig trenches

RESPECT others

Ensure your fun is not adversely impacting others.

Minimise noise (especially at night)

don’t get drunk

  • you are more likely to become loud and aggressive
  • you are more likely to injure yourself or others (eg. falling into a fire or not doing safety checks with gas BBQs)
  • your sleep will be adversely affected and you are much more likely to snore loudly

turn off loud music at a reasonable time

do not use power generators when others are around (these are banned at many sites)

do not use chainsaws near camp sites

do not use noisy dirt bikes near camp sites

moderate your childrens behavior

don’t take dogs that tend to bark a lot

Respect their privacy

do not walk into other camper’s sites without their consent unless it is an emergency to help them

ensure you tell your kids not to walk or ride bikes into other occupied camp sites and this includes care using torches at night such as looking for wombats and tell them not to ask for food from other campers – these can create difficulties

ensure your pets are not straying into other tent sites

don’t have your car headlights aimed at their tent

give others space

many prefer to sleep naked – it’s your responsibility as parents to keep your kids away from them and let them enjoy being at one with nature and as long as they are doing this discretely they should be allowed to do so without people making a fuss of it. Remember it is illegal in Australia to publish intimate photos of other people in public places without their consent if they take offense to it.

remember it is illegal in Australia to use drones within 30m of other people, at night, over populous areas such as beaches and they are illegal in National Parks without a permit.

Respect their assumed rights

most camp grounds have a first in, first served policy such as those who arrive first get to choose their camp site first, and many doing so also reserve sites for their friends or family – these people should do so in a reasonable manner

obviously do not commit criminal offences such as theft. Some campers do leave chairs or table on vacant sites to reserve them.

If there are pit toilets, leave the seat down to reduce the flies.

BE KIND but don’t be intrusive

offer help but understand some will prefer to not accept it at that time

a hello is not necessarily an invitation to dinner – that should be an explicit invite made to you

BE PATIENT and TOLERANT

some campers will snore loudly and its usually not their fault (unless they got drunk) – be prepared and bring your ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones

avoid getting upset, agitated or aggressive but do make polite communication of reasonable requests of others if their behaviour is impacting others

be tolerant of transient non-sexual nudity – surfers getting in and out of their wetsuits, people getting changed discretely outside their cramped tents, people discretely having a pee in the bush.

DO NOT FEED WILDLIFE including birds

this is generally bad for their health and tends to make them aggressive to people at meal times when they don’t get food

SEE MY WIKI for HEAPS of camping, hiking and photography information

 

Escaping Melbourne’s winter blues to sunny Echuca

Written by Gary on May 29th, 2021

Melbourne is well known for its propensity to have 4 seasons in one day, especially in Summer when it can be blistering hot 45DegC with strong north winds and then within an hour much cooler with strong southerly winds thanks to its geographical position which exposes it to frequent cold fronts from the Southern Ocean or from around Antarctica.

But in Winter, it can generally be relied upon to be cool to cold thanks to its latitude of around 38deg South and sitting south of the Great Dividing Range.

Fortunately for Melbournians it is only a 2.5 hour drive north over the Great Dividing Range to Echuca on the Murray River which may give a very different winter experience with sunny days and temperatures a few degrees warmer than Melbourne (although colder nights thanks to being inland and away from coastal maritime moderating influences).

Echuca was an important inland port on the Murray River in the late 19th and early 20th centuries after it was founded by Henry Hopwood in 1853 when punts and a pontoon bridge made it the only means of crossing the Murray and Campaspe Rivers. In 1855 Major Thomas Mitchell purchased allotment in 612 High St on which he built a hotel.

In 1864, Echuca became an increasingly important inland port when the Melbourne-Echuca railroad was completed allowing paddle steamers to transport wool from Darling & Murrumbidgee Rivers as far north as almost the Queensland border to Melbourne where it was then exported overseas.

In the 1870’s Echuca’s paddle steamer and red gum timber industries flourished to make it the largest inland port in Australia and second only to Melbourne as a port. Eventually though, the success of the railroad was to adversely impact the paddle steamer industries.

After a severe drought in 1914 which left most of the Murray River as a series of pools, work began in the 1920’s to construct dams and weirs along the river to better control flows and allow the steamers to run consistently.

Today, Echuca is mainly a tourist attraction with its historic port, historic paddle steamers, house boats, golf courses, nearby wineries, and being adjacent to the largest red gum Eucalypt forest in the world – one can drive a 4WD alongs its tracks (when not flooded) for some 380km including the adjacent Barmah forest to its north-east and the Gunbower National Park along the Murray to it west which have popular dispersed camping locations.

dispersed campsite along the Murray River with spray painted cricket stumps on a tree

Above is my photo of the beautiful red gums at a dispersed camp site along the Murray River in Gunbower National Park – note the spray painted cricket stumps for campers to enjoy a game of cricket.

If camping in the forest, you should not camp under branches of these trees, especially in Summer or Autumn after a drought as some of these trees tend to drop their branches suddenly and without warning and this can be lethal. Branches 10-30cm in diameter are more prone to fall and often have no signs of structural weakness and hence are very difficult to predict the risk.

One should also be aware that in the warmer months, especially after floods or heavy rains, mosquitoes can be problematic and these may transmit various viruses such as Murray Valley Encephalitis virus, Barmah Forest virus, and Ross River virus.

More information and links relating to Echuca can be found on my wikipedia here.