Snugpak Ionosphere Bivi/Tent

  • Just over a quarter of a century ago I had the good fortune to be posted to Berlin as a proper Cold War Warrior in the role of a Tour Officer with Brixmis. The job involved driving around East Germany, shaking off the Stasi tail, and ‘keeping a close eye’ on all things Soviet and military, whilst trying not to get caught in embarrassing circumstances. Sleeping arrangements were rough and ready and usually involved finding a quiet and mossy dingly dell in a forest, where, using bungees and green string, a poncho would be strung up to form a basha. The addition of a broom handle sawn in half with a screw fitted at the end was the high-tech solution for sleeping without trees. The driver, of course, slept in the wagon.

    In 1985 the Mission went modern; three hooped Gore-tex one man tents were issued. These were very cushty and outrageously expensive. We thought they were the bees’ knees. I was therefore very pleased and curious to be given the opportunity to review a modern one man tent supplied by RVOps; it is the Ionosphere made by Snugpak, a small outdoor company just over the moors from here in Silsden, near Keighley.

    The first impression is that the tent is significantly lighter (it weighs 1.52 kg all up) and, of course, prices have tumbled. There is a mesh inner, a pair of colour-coded, pre-shaped and anodised aluminium poles, a polyester rip-stop fly sheet (hydrostatic head of 5000mm), a set of pegs and a repair kit inside the stuff bag. The flask above is a US quart size for comparison.

    Putting the tent up is a doddle and takes two minutes. Simply slide the poles through the sleeves of the inner and peg it out. At this stage you have a self-standing mosquito net, ideal for those places where you know it’s not going to rain, but there are creepy-crawlies to fend off (Cyprus for ten months of the year and Scotland in that glorious summer of 1976 spring to mind). The fly sheet simply clips to the hoops with some Velcro loops and it can then be pegged out and steadied with the two guys, giving you a low profile tent very quickly.

    An attractive feature of the design is the off-set door which stops you having to fight past the guy-line and squeeze through a tight opening. Erecting it with the toe end almost into the wind means you can create a sheltered spot by the door. The tent is surprisingly spacious, a yard wide at the foot end, so there’s plenty of room for all your gear. A drawback, though, is that your kit is either inside the tent with you or has to be abandoned to the elements outside, there is no option of tucking it separately under the fly. Because the fly sits a good distance away from the inner and because it doesn’t quite reach the ground, the tent is well ventilated and so does not suffer from condensation. Of course, this also means you can’t build up a warm sweaty fug, so I reckon you would soon feel the cold in a winter like this last one. I’d probably call it a 3/4 season tent, assuming a relatively mild English winter.

    In order to do some cooking and stay out of the wind, it was an easy matter to simply unpeg the ground-sheet and pull it in a foot or so, thereby avoiding that embarrassing melting episode when you burn a hole in the tent.

    In summary, the Ionosphere is a very good value, workaday one man tent, retailing at about £125. It would be ideal for the lightweight hiker looking for a quick and low profile tent, walking the Pennine Way would be a good example. Mountain marathon types will probably want something lighter (and would have to pay quite a lot more for the privilege). Snugpak also sell a smaller, lighter bivvy bag, the Stratosphere. I’d also be tempted to carry it if walking in the hills with my wife, simply on the off-chance I might need some emergency shelter (in extremis, you could get 2 people in, but you would need to be very good friends). The main thing that has happened over those 26 years is that items, which were once highly specialised and pricey, are now mainstream and comparatively much cheaper.

    Snugpak Ionosphere Bivi/Tent kindly supplied by RVOps

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