Monday, 7 June 2010

Moelwyns in May - first Field Trip for the Vaude Power Lizard UL


My first field trip in the Vaude Power Lizard UL took place recently on the weekend of 7th to 9th May 2010. Two of us travelled to the Moelwyns in Snowdonia and this was to be the first outing testing the Power Lizard. Conditions seemed nonpareil for a genuine test - 45-55mph winds, severe wind chill, rain and temperatures of around 2C at 600m where we would be pitching. My friend would be in a Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 & I would occupy "Lizzie", as he had dubbed the Power Lizard.

The first night, in order to break up the 5hr journey from our London homes, was spent at Sytche campsite in Much Wenlock, a particular favourite of mine and a convenient stop-off point. The campsite at Sytche is a pleasant, lush green grassy affair (£7 per person, per night) within easy walking distance of the village high street, pubs and a rather good Indian restaurant. Note, however, that all the pubs stop serving food at 9pm. Irksome, given we normally arrive shortly thereafter, but the Indian is rarely buy enough that late arrivals cannot be seated.
It rained all that night, Friday, and temperatures hovered around 5C. The noise of the rain was as expected and no worse than any other lightweight shelters. There was not a leak in sight of course & not a hint of anything on the inside of the groundsheet. Unlike the Seedhouse, I was not showered with water when I opened the fly door. The Seedhouse fly door sits at an angle not best suited to huge amounts of porch storage nor does it protect the user from rain when opening it. However, I was slightly concerned to see some condensation on the inner and a significant amount on the fly. It was certainly quite cold but not such that, on a well ventilated tent, condensation should form. That said, it was not particularly bad - simply sporadic beads of moisture clinging to the inner above my head. Whether this is simply down to the design, I cannot say - perhaps it is present on the Laser Comp and the Akto as well, but the design could do with more ventilation - something I would be confirming Saturday night. I know some users have jury-rigged the Akto to provide better ventilation. Packing was easy, despite the wetness of the tent but when pitching again - if you have good weather - leave the porch door open to ventilate the inner and fly, and wipe down the inside floor with an MSR pack towel (or similar). The rest of the moisture evaporates quickly.
Pitching, refining & using the tent remains unproblematic. I find that following the guide I set in my last review, and then tightening the pitching via the end poles and the pegs next to the end poles in the corners. It is easier to pull the top of the end poles away from the middle of the tent by hand, then adjusting the line-locks to tighten the pitch whilst still holding the poles. This creates a very taut pitch which obviates any problem with inner touching the fly and creates a very effective barrier against inclement weather. The porch area swallows kit whilst still permitting comfortable egress for late-night toilet excursions. The only thing I noticed in comparison to the Seedhouse was that the guylines, which do tend to extend significantly beyond the footprint of the tent as there are no line locks, are not reflective, unlike those on the Seedhouse. One modification would be to get reflective dyneema with line locks to shorten the distance they extend and so they can be seen more easily in the dark. This could be easily sourced through Bob at Backpackinglight, for example.

On Saturday, we drove to Snowdonia and headed into the Moelwyns. It was windy, cold & wet underfoot but otherwise good conditions for walking. After about 20km and traversing the Moel Meirch & Ysgafell Wen ridgeline towards Cnicht, we camped by Llyn yr Adar. The ground was boggy underfoot but we found a site to pitch that was relatively moistureless & sheltered sufficiently from the wind. The air itself was cold but dry. Overnight, I found the Power Lizard to be somewhat warmer than my Big Agnes Seedhouse has previously been but the temperature outside had dropped to 2C so it was still pretty cold. The condensation problem again became apparent but this time, it was significantly worse. Around 60% of the roof of the inner was replete with tiny beads of condensation. The fly was also wet to the touch. I do not consider it to be a pivotal complication as, even when the hood of my sleeping bag brushed against it, there was not enough moisture to cause me any real concern - the DWR on any sleeping bag will shrug off that sort of moisture and, given the weather, I cannot see it being any worse than that. It was not, for example, dripping on me! It does however suggest that the ventilation is not as good as it could be - something perhaps for Vaude to look at. When airing the tent at home, the inner can be easily disconnected from the fly and, in a warm house, the whole tent is dry within hours.

I also find, even when the fly is taut, that the inner remains less taut, across the wider end, than I would care for. It's not a considerable drawback and for a 1kg tent with enormous space, it is doubtless pedantry but it might be for some. It does tend to mean that the roof of the inner tends to sag slightly. I also find the porch zip incessantly catches the thin material covering it from the elements. Again, these are punctilious, but worthy of note.
The groundsheet, for an ultralight tent, is as strong as I have seen on an ultralight tent weight 1kg. I would not think, if pitched sensitively and the ground properly inspected, that a footprint/groundsheet protector would be necessary. The inner and fly are of a significantly thinner material which does require care, but not as much as would immediately be apparent when first touching them. Ultralight material does not necessarily mean ultra-delicate! When hanging both to air dry at home, I found them to be pretty resilient. Also, when adjusting the fly to make it taut, it can take much more abuse to get a taut pitch than you might think.
The Vaude Power Lizard UL is an extremely good tent indeed and many of the trivialities I have précised may, as for me, matter little to some. There is an opulence of space for the weight and it really can be considered a snug 2 person tent, in my view (rather than the Laser Comp's 1+ “rating”). At 1kg, that is startling and I think it genuinely will be as indomitable and protective as Vaude claim it to be. That said, the layout (the Laser Comp/Akto setup) is not for me. I bought the Power Lizard as the ability to sit upright in the tent and cook in the porch, or converse with my hillwalking confederate, would be a boon. The high-point of the Seedhouse was set too far back for that to be tenable. However, the milieu in the Seedhouse suits me better - it is an unquantifiable thing. I will in fact be looking into the lighter version of the Seedhouse form Big Agnes - the Fly Creek UL1 which suits the way I sleep more readily. Take nothing away from the Power Lizard - it is something rather special, just not for me.

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