I have been using small 2 – 3 man tents for nearly 15 years now as part of my professional life. I am a wildland firefighter and go to some of the most rugged out-of-the-way country in the continental United States. When I come off the fireline I need a few minutes to eat and then catch 4 – 6 hours of sleep before returning to the fireline for another 14 – 16 hour shift. To get good quality sleep I need a tent; a tent large enough for me to stretch out on my air mattress plus allow enough room for two gear bags.
Yes, I use an air mattress! At my age, after all the toll on my back, I need a relatively comfortable platform for me to relax and not depend on Aleve for a good night’s sleep.
So what kind of requirements do I have for my tent? My tent must:
- Be large enough for me and two gear bags. So I need at least 6’6” in length. The width can vary. I keep my boots outside of my tent to reduce the dirt and smell.
- It must be very sturdy and rugged. The temperature is often 100+ during the day so the material must stand up to intense UV rays. There is lots of sand and dirt flying around in high winds (30 – 60mph is not uncommon), so the zippers, seems, and tie-downs must be sturdy and reliable.
- I might put up and take down my tent each day for 10 – 16 days, so the tent must be easy to set-up and take down in a short period of time.
- It must be able to allow good air movement. The majority of the time I am using a tent it is very hot when I first lay down at night. Also, there are times I work night shift on fires and sleep during the day. The tent must be able to allow enough air flow that I can stay as comfortable as possible for as long as possible.
- It has to have a “comfortable” feel to it. Hard to describe this requirement but it has to make me feel relaxed and “at home” enough to sleep well.
- The tent must be able to handle a hard rain. Yes, it rains more than you think during wildfires so the tent must be a refuge from the elements.
- This will not be a long-term camp tent, this is an “on-the-road” tent, not a cushy cabin tent.
What the tent didn’t have to be:
- I wasn’t planning on “back packing” the tent anywhere; it would come with me via my truck.
- I am not planning to use this tent in Artic camping conditions.
- I am not planning on using this for any long-term camping environment. The tent will probably never be used for more than 3-weeks at a time.
- I will probably only use this tent by myself as 1-person tent, maybe my wife if she can tough it out if we go camping or hunting together..
I have used Coleman, Kelty and a variety of other name brand tents. I have generally been impressed with Kelty over the years but I was still looking for something even better. I think I found just such a tent. ..The Bunker by Snugpak.
I had heard about The Bunker from a friend and thought enough about his opinion to give the tent a try. I ordered my Bunker from Proforce Equipment in Miramar, FL. They shipped very quickly and it arrived within a couple of days. I like that!! Yes, I am impatient when waiting for new gear that I want to try out.
The first thing I noticed was the quality of the compression bag that the tent comes in. Yeah, the storage bag is the first thing I am impressed with – go figure! But it was very sturdy and the buckles were high quality. I think a compression bag for storing the tent is a great idea. Tents are hard enough to fit into a storage bag as it is. Having a little extra space makes it easier to get the tent into the bag, but then being able to tighten the straps to reduce the bag’s overall size is a very cool option. So, having said that, I raised my expectations for the tent itself. I mean if the storage bag is so good, the tent must be awesome.
Note: Spare parts and repair kit in a bag is attached to the inside of the compression storage bag. Nice!
So I get the tent out of the bag along with the poles and stakes. I wasn’t impressed with the stakes at first. They seemed small, very lightweight and a little too lightweight to go the job. But more on the stakes later. So the poles were next. There are three of them and they are colored-coded; yes, color-coded. I like that idea and it comes into play later when you start to set it up. The poles are obviously high quality and very light weight but strong. And I must add they are very flexible as well. Yup, the first thing I did was perform a “flex test” on them. No, they didn’t break. They did bend as expected with a sturdy feel to them. I did notice that the “bungee cord” running down the middle of them is larger than normal, higher quality than normal and has great tension to it. I think the larger cord will keep them in service far better for a much longer period of time.
Then I decided to read the “instructions”; yeah, I thought that would be a good idea before I decided to set it up. And here was my second great surprise…a heavy duty waterproof treated instruction sheet that was large enough for me to read without my glasses! The instructions were easy to read and understand. So on to the next step…
So I am in the living room of my house, my wife is still at work, the wind was blowing pretty good outside so the decision was easy; I would set this puppy up in my living room. I laid out the fly and once more was very impressed with the quality of the material, the seams were strong, well sewn, and treated for added strength. The “channels” for the poles were strong and very adequate for the job. And the built-in tie downs were very sturdily sewn and good quality paracord-like rope.
This is a “fly first” tent. Which means you set up the rain fly first with the poles and then attach the tent to the inside of the fly. So this was a culture shock to me for sure, I had never used a tent like this before. So I got the fly laid out and it was hilarious! I am thinking like I was setting up my current tent, a Kelty. But this experience was setting up a whole different tent system. So back to the instructions I went. It was easy from that point forward to get it set up. Another pleasant surprise along the way was the flat nylon strapping that keeps the rain fly shape intact as you set it up. Allowed the rain fly to form to its intended shape with no effort on my part since the strap connect the corners. (Picture Left: See the black straps between the pole ends at the base of the tent.)
So a couple of minutes and I have the rain fly set-up in the living room and I am totally impressed! Here’s why…there are times on a fire when it is 10 or 11 o’clock at night, I am bone tired ready for some sleep. And I need to set up my tent for shelter and I am just whipped. As I looked at the tent’s rain fly coming almost to the ground I thought there is my “quickie” solution! Just set up the tent fly, inflate my air mattress and call it good for the night. I like that idea; just put up what I need.
After sitting there totally impressed for a couple minutes I figured I better continue getting the “tent” part set-up. Here is the mind-blowing experience. If you’ve never set-up a “fly first” tent it seems awkward as all get out until you get the concept; then it is a wonderful thing.
I am sitting there hooking up the toggles on the tent ridge to the inside of the fly into the heavy-duty loops. And it dawns on me what is happening. If it had been raining or snowing I would be out of the elements (under the rain fly) setting up my tent. Yeah! That makes all the sense in the world. The folks at Snugpak are geniuses.
I finish hooking the tent up and then connect the corner flat straps to the fly’s corner buckles that are connected into the poles. And bingo! The tent is good to go.
Next…wife comes home, tent goes back into storage and I wait for the following weekend where some of us dads are going camping with our sons. It will be in the 20’s overnight so this will be a good tryout.
Tent Review – The Bunker : Part #2 (two-weeks later)
We arrived at a desert mesa covered with mesquite and rock that would be our campsite for the night. Thankfully it had a great view of mountains in two directions and a huge arroyo opening up into a valley in the third direction. But as with all good campers the first thing we had on our to-do list was set-up our tents.
Remember that I had only set up this tent once before, and that was in the living room. I got out the tent, spread out the fly and made sure I left the directions in the truck, I wanted the “real man” experience. I put the poles together next. And once again I want to say good things about the poles – they are top quality and have that quality “feel” to them that they will standup to hard use and stiff winds. The poles easily slide through the channels on the fly. This time I used the inside grommets on the ground straps to anchor the poles. Mistake! Dang, it was really hard to get the poles bent enough, but I did it. I should have used the outside grommets even though there is only an inch difference.
I get the fly up and facing the right direction relative to the future campfire, and then a stiff north wind comes up. So I adjust the tents positioning and decide to anchor the fly with a couple of stakes and rope tie-downs. This is a great tent to handle wind. With the tent properly positioned, and due to the tents shape, it resisted the wind very easily.
However, remember I was a little concerned about the tent stakes? I thought they might be a little lightweight, remember? Well, I was right. They appear to be made out of a strong lightweight alloy to be sure. But the end of the stake that holds the paracord tie-down becomes very narrow and that is the weak point. The ground we set-up on was rocky to be sure, but there was dirt that I would be driving the stakes into. I used a small hammer that I keep in the truck to drive the stakes into the ground. 3 out of the 4 stakes began to bend at that weak point where the rope wraps around the stake. Now, in defense of The Bunker’s stakes – I’ve never seen stakes that come with any tent to be sturdy enough. I’ve always bought aftermarket stakes or made my own. I will be doing that with The Bunker as well. On a positive side, they do include and two extra stakes as spares.
Ok, so I get the fly up and staked in and realize that I can put up the tent while protected from the wind since I will be working inside of the domed rain fly. And that was a very weird realization, and one aspect that I really like about The Bunker. However, it took me several minutes to identify which part of the tent was the bottom and another couple of minutes to identify which side goes where to match up the fly doors with the tent doors. Once that was done I started at the back of the tent snapping the buckles into place and hooking the tent toggles to the fly loops that suspends the tent under the fly.
What I might do this week as I dry out and clean up the tent will be to hook the buckles up once again and give each set a little shot of spray paint; a different color for each set of buckles. That way when I set up the tent again I will just match up the colors and it will be simple and quick. In defense of The Bunker, it is a different method (fly-first) set-up method from what I have used for the last 40+ years.
The other issue I ran into was a “footprint” or ground cloth for the tent. The tent is a different shape than the square or rectangle shape that I am used to. I went out and bought a 6’x9’ ground cloth to use. But it was a bit awkward to get placed correctly. I like a little “porch” in front on the tent’s door where I can place my socked feet and not be on dirt. When I am doing a long-term camp I place a carpet sample there and just inside my tent door for a luxury feel to my set-up and to keep the tent cleaner. It would be nice if Snugpak or some third party would make a heavy-duty footprint for the tent that integrated with the pole straps.
Back to the tent setup – I got the tent all hooked in and anchored. Boy, did I start getting the attention! The other campers, boys and men, came over to check it out. They all loved the color and commented on how sturdy it appeared. None of them had ever heard of a “fly first” tent. When I explained how it worked and how you could use the fly only if just a temporary shelter was needed, they all expressed how smart of an idea that was.
Later in the evening we had a wind shift and the smoke headed straight to my tent. Normally I like the smell of smoke from a campfire but I also didn’t want to fill my tent up with it before going to bed. No problem! The fly vents have a piece of Velcro on them that allows you to close the vent up tight. I closed up the vents and all was just fine.
We set up in a rocky area so I used an air mattress to smooth my sleeping area. But at my age and all the aches and pains, I would have used an air mattress anyways regardless of the rocks. I stand 6’ ½” tall, just short of 73” so I buy an air mattress that is 75” long so I am comfortable and my head or feet don’t hang off the ends. But that also brought out a minor flaw in the tent. I did a little research and in England the average man is 5’ 9-1/2” tall. In the U.S. the average man is 5’ 10-1/2” tall and I am 6’ ½”. So I am 3” taller than the average man where these tents are designed and manufactured. And then add another 3” for my air mattress and I have max’d out the inside of the tent and gently pushed the sides just a bit.
But, in fairness I got out my Thermarest that I use when I occasionally sleep in the bed of my pick-up truck when on fires. It fit just fine and my DW and I could fit in the tent with no problems. Now, the dogs and gear would never fit in there with us, but that is not what the tent is designed for or will be used for.
One aspect that is important doing a lot of desert camping in my area is the security of the tent itself. The Bunker’s floor is an integral part of the tent and the zippers close it up tight. That is important here due to the snakes, scorpions and anything else that might be looking for an overnight home. This tent will keep all those little bad guys outside where they belong.
I crawled into my tent about 10:30 that night, temperature hovering about 30 degrees. I settled in and was very comfortable. At 05:30 when I woke up I was really pleasantly surprised at how warm I was in my tent. The wind was blowing and it was about 24 degrees or so but I was quite comfortable. I sat up and began to get dressed. Normally I would have to deal with frost on the inside of my tent dropping down on me, my sleeping bag and my clothes – but not in The Bunker. The frost was all on the underside of the fly NOT on the inside of the tent. Very nice! And I am telling you this is a warm tent. Yeah, a warm tent; seriously? I have no idea how, but this tent was warmer than any other I’ve used before in cold temps. But I wouldn’t worry about it in warm temps because there is plenty of ventilation built-in to the tent’s design.
When it came time to break camp I noticed that there was a considerable amount of ash that had settled on my tent. But the heavy duty material prevented any little burn holes or discoloration. As I breaking camp I realized that had the weather been foul, I would be tucked safety and snugly under the fly while taking down the tent suspended underneath the fly. Taking the fly down was no problem at all. The compression sack was easy to use and holds the entire tent, fly poles and stakes with no problem whatsoever.
Once I get the tent cleaned up I would be tempted to keep the tent connected to the fly. Then when it came time to put the tent up all I would have to do is put the poles in and “poof!” the tent would be up and ready for staking and tie-downs.
- Sturdy, well-built, high quality materials.
- Shape can handle high winds with ease.
- Poles are very high quality and will stand up to years and years of use. Colored coded for the channels in the fly.
- All buckles and grommets are installed and placed correctly and obvious attention to detail.
- Venting on the tent and the fly are well placed and work really well. Fly vents can be closed and held closed with Velcro but keep their shape when not Velcro’d closed.
- Tent has two doors for easier entry and exit. This is especially awesome for two people sharing the tent.
- Tent doors have a separate screen window that can be open it increase ventilation or closed as needed. Those “No-See-Um-Mesh” screens allow for additional ventilation where you would lay your head. Great ventilation!
- Fly comes to the ground. Well, within an inch or so. That allows for great ventilation but keeps rain, snow and wind outside where it belongs.
- No moisture collection inside the tent.
- Zippers appear to be very sturdy, I expect they will hold up to years of use.
- Extra tent stakes and other parts are included in a little packet.
- There are 4 good-sized pockets for stuff on the inside of the tent hanging on the walls.
- The fly and tent fabric is heavy and appears to have no-rip feature.
- All screening appears it will even keep “no-see-ums” and all other insects out.
- I believe it to be absolutely a 4-season tent.
- Quality, quality, quality!
- Takes a little time to get use to “fly first” set-up.
- Takes time to understand installing the tent properly inside of the fly.
- Tent stakes are not adequate for use on ground that is even a little tough to drive the stakes into.
- No footprint available for a ground cloth.
- A little crowed with a 75” air mattress.
- Tent is not large enough for anyone over 6’ 1” or 2”. The tent will not hold 3 people unless they would be tiny tiny people or children all under the age of 10.
- I like a covered area to keep my boots and a little other gear outside of the then but under cover. You don’t get that with this tent.
- This is not a cheap tent. Best price is about $260 with shipping. But it is not a “cheap” tent, this is a high-quality tent and worth every penny. You get what you pay for!
SUMMARY: This is a very high quality tent at a fair price. This is not a kids’ play tent, this is every bit a high-country, 4-season tent that should last a lifetime. From a preparedness perspective I don’t think you could ask for more.
Note: I wasn’t able to “rain test” it. However, a friend who bought one of these tents did leave his up for 3 days in the rain behind his house. His report was the tent stayed 100% dry on the inside. He did mention that when it turned to snow there was some buildup on the very top where the three poles channels come together. He is going to rig-up a tiny little “fly” for that area to use when the snow flies. Other than that he absolutely loves the tent and couldn’t be happier.
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