I got the itch many years ago to try my hand at backpacking. The first and single most important piece of gear to get into the woods is a tent. The tent provides shelter, security and sometimes warmth. When you venture several miles from any civilization, a good tent can change a really crummy trip into a great experience in the woods.
My first backpacking experience is one of my favorite memories, but one of the worst experiences with a tent that I have ever had. A few (3) friends and I decided to undertake a daunting hiking trip spanning some 30+ miles over 4 days through the early spring Ozark Wilderness. Rain was barely in the forecast so we neglected to bring any real rain gear. We lucked out and avoided rain. The ground, however, was soaked from the previous 6 days of rain that hit the area. The awful Ozark Trail 4 man tent did not do what I had assumed it was made to do. This tent can be purchased at any of the thousands of Wal-Mart stores in the country and was created to be used in state parks and backyards when precipitation is not in the forecast.
We got soaked. To be fair there was a small creek running under the bottom of the tent and I am not sure the best of tents would have survived, but the big box store tent let us down. We were wet, cold, and unhappy that we lugged this big thing up and down the trails all spring break.
Upon returning from that trip to the Ozarks (which ended in a snowstorm, ushering our unprepared group off the trail and back home) I began researching backpacking tents that had to fit a few criteria:
- Price- The tent had to be less than $200. At the time, I was a college student with very little spending money. This dropped my options considerably as some ultralight tents can be had for upwards of $750! CRAZY!
- Weight- I wanted a tent that I could haul on solo trips and also split with someone on longer hauls into the wild. The Morrison came in under 5lbs which was much more manageable than the 12-15lbs I was carrying with the Wally World tent.
- Space- I am 6’3″ tall and had a very rough time finding a tent that I could lay in without my feet or head hitting the tent walls. I also wanted to be able to sit up and change or read while the doors are closed.
- BONUS- If I could manage it, I wanted vestibules on both doors. It is so much more convenient to be able to store your pack and wet/dirty gear outside and still have peace of mind that it is protected by the rain fly.
My constraints were pretty rigorous, but I knew a tent had to exist with these specs. I tried out several tents such as the ALPS Mountaineering LYNX, The North Face Stormbreak, and the Kelty Salida series and none of them met my criteria. I then found the Mountain Smith Morrison 2 and it checked every box!
The Morrison has several features that are big deal breakers for me now that I have used it rigorously for half a decade.
- IT IS HUGE! There is so much room inside, it feels like a bigger tent sometimes. I would feel comfortable cramming a third person in on extremely raining trips if need be. I can fully stretch out without turning diagonally and I can sit up to read or change without bumping into anything.
- It is one the simplest designs I have ever used. 2 poles, 4 stakes (for the tent, more with fly) and you are in business. It takes 2 people less than 2 minutes to set this tent up and less than 5 minutes solo.
- It is well made! This tent is solid. When guyed down we have used this tent in 50-60 MPH winds with no damage to the tent or us inside. The zippers are all high quality and all vents/windows provide adequate ventilation for hot trips. Any tent will get sticky when it is 90◦+ outside. The tent also retains heat really well in cold trips. I have had it down to below freezing several times and there is a noticeable warmth when compared to being outside.
Suggested changes-The tent is great right out of the box, but a few minor tweaks make it a spectacular 3 season backpacking tent.
First, quality stakes are a must. Although the stakes that come with the tent are sufficient for backyard/state park camping, I would not try to use them in rocky soil or muddy soil. We use MSR Cyclone stakes and they have been fantastic. The price is right and I have yet to remotely bend one.
Second, the Morrison comes with a stuff sack that is great for storing the tent. I suggest you always hang or spread out your tent in a cool dry area, but if that isn’t realistic than the provided sack will suffice. On the trail however, the sack will not cut it when it comes to compressing the tent down to as small of a package as possible.
We use a variety of stuff sacks accumulated over the years, but our newest is by far the favorite. Our Sea to Summit is a compression sack that is also water-resistant for when the rain or rapids get the best of you. You can cinch down the straps and compress the tent and rain fly to a very small (youth football) sized package.
Over the years, we accumulate gear that sticks with us and has an impact on how we experience the wild places that we visit. This tent is one of those pieces of gear. I can’t imagine going to the woods without it and it feels like home when I return to it. It seems crazy that a nylon shelter can feel like home, but I challenge you to give it a chance. You will be amazed at how much fun you can have in the woods with this little tent keeping you dry.
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