Gear Review: MSR Carbon Reflex 2 Tent
The MSR Carbon Reflex 2 is a seriously lightweight tent made for two, but as with most two-person tents, it’s better for one. It’s semi-freestanding, but sets up easily. The body with upper netting can be set up without the rainfly if you’re certain it won’t rain in the middle of the night. To escape mosquitoes I set up the body without stakes when I was alone inside a shelter, using heavy objects to spread out the tent floor. But the tent needs seam sealing to keep out rain, despite MSR’s introduction in 2019 of the Xtreme Shield System: durable, precision-stitched seams intended to do away with the standard seam taping. And durability of the carbon fiber poles is questionable after one broke during my testing.
MSR Carbon Reflex 2 At-a-Glance
Weight: 2 pounds, 3 ounces (lighter pitch options available, details below)
Entries: Two side-entry doors
Floor Area: 29 square feet
Vestibule Area: 14 square feet
Poles: Two Easton carbon fiber poles
Interior Peak Height: 34 inches
Rainfly Fabric: 7D ripstop nylon, 1,200mm Durashield.
Floor Fabric: 15D ripstop nylon, 1,200mm Xtreme Shield.
Circumstance of Review
I took this tent for several trips to Vermont, including a section hike on the Long Trail. The weight, packability, and generous interior space impressed me. Waking up two mornings to find water inside the tent did not.
The first night of sporadic, heavy rain left two small puddles of water on the tent floor, and me wondering how the water got in. The second night of all-night rain left large puddles on the floor, moisture on my sleeping bag, and water dripping onto my head.
I wasn’t happy. But after some research on MSR’s website when I got home, I discovered that the company recommends sealing the seams if you anticipate camping in heavy or extended rain. So I did, and the tent seams haven’t leaked since then. Read on for more of my thoughts on this.
My second surprise came when the tent was set up in my backyard to continue testing it for water resistance. After two days of scattered torrential downpours, the main pole supporting the body broke. MSR sent a new pole, and for two weeks I set up and took down the tent every day to test the flexibility of the poles. And it did withstand another torrential rain. I’ll test it again on backcountry trips in October, so check back for that update.
Waterproofing: Beginning in 2019, MSR uses what it calls the Xtreme Shield System for tents: durable, precision-stitched seams intended to do away with the standard seam taping. MSR says Xtreme Shield lasts up to three times longer than standard waterproof coatings. But here’s where it gets tricky. After touting its new rain-repellent technology, MSR recommends sealing the seams if you anticipate camping in heavy or extended rain. And after sleeping several nights in the rain and getting wet, I sealed the seams and haven’t had problems with rain through the seams. (Note that I said seams. Read below about condensation.) MSR recommends using Gear Aid Seam Grip +FC™ Fast Cure Sealant or Seam Grip +WP.
A Brief Explanation on Weight Listings
Confused by all those weight listings for tents? Here’s what they mean.
Packaged weight (2 pounds, 3 ounces) includes the total weight of the packaged contents off the shelf. This includes the tent body, rainfly, guylines, stakes, poles, stuff sacks.
Minimum weight (1 pound, 13 ounces) is the combined weight of the tent body, rainfly, and tent poles, but not stakes, guylines, and stuff sacks.
Fast and light weight (1 pound, 9 ounces) By MSR’s definition, this is pitching the tent with only the rainfly, poles, and footprint.
MSR follows the ASTM International F 1934-98 standards for determining weight.
I would not use this tent without stakes and guylines. It just wouldn’t provide a taut enough pitch against rain and wind.
The Carbon Reflex 2 is billed as a two-person tent, with two side doors and a rainfly that extends over both doors. Yes, two people can sleep inside, as long as they leave their gear in the vestibules and don’t move around too much while sleeping. For me the strength of this tent is the light weight, which makes it easy for one person to carry. And color me sold on keeping all my gear inside the tent with me. Especially after I pulled a slug out of my trail runners when I left the shoes in the vestibule on a moist night.
The rainfly is 7 Denier ripstop nylon, a loosely woven fabric that allows the fly to breathe. The 1,200mm Durashield (a polyurethane waterproof coating with a broad range of applications) rainfly coating refers to how long the tent can withstand rain. As an example, MSR says a 1,500mm coating will withstand a 1,500mm (five foot) column of water for more than one minute before a single drop might appear through the fabric. That’s strong enough to prevent rain from leaking into a tent in a hurricane-force storm, MSR says. After sealing the seams, I left the tent out in several horrendous thunderstorms with rain dropping like bullets—and the inside mostly stayed dry. But condensation built up on the inside of the rainfly, which sagged onto the mesh. And small drops of that condensation ended up on the floor of the tent. (As a comparison, I set up another tent during the same storms and condensation did not drip into the tent. Both tents were closed up, with no one inside.)
The floor is 15D ripstop nylon (a tighter woven, stronger fabric) 1,200mm Xtreme Shield. In my experience, the tent floor and rainfly were strong enough to repel water, but the seams leaked like crazy (see above). MSR recommends using a footprint that’s sold separately.
I found it’s best to spread out the tent body and secure the stakes to the four tent corners. Attach the long pole to the metal eyelets at both ends of the tent body, and hook the upper mesh to the pole. Fasten the short spreader pole next and the tent will stand on its own. The last step is putting on the rainfly. Guyline Tensioners are easy to use. Loop the guyline over the stake and tighten the line. Flip up the tab on the tensioner to release.
The tent uses two Easton carbon fiber poles. One long pole runs the length of the tent. Once that’s attached, a shorter pole acts as a spreader to connect the upper mesh and the rainfly. The rainfly can be left off for bug-free stargazing on a clear night. As I mentioned earlier, the long pole broke when nothing more than a heavy rain fell on it. MSR replaced it for purposes of this review, but the company’s policy, according to a rep I spoke with on the phone, is to repair it at zero cost.
This is from msrgear.com:
Tent poles (Free): Broken poles are replaced for free thanks to their limited lifetime warranty. The technicians’ “Tent Bible” includes tent schematic drawings that date back to 1998, and the shop has the pole segments to service many of those tents.
Vestibules: Two, for a total of 14 square feet. Enough room to store gear if two are sleeping in the tent.
Mesh Body Doors: Two wide side doors in the upper mesh. The zippers opened and closed smoothly with no snagging.
Vestibule Doors: This is where the Carbon Reflex gets creative to save weight. Each door seals with two Velcro strips, and is also secured by two metal hook-and-ring connections. My initial reaction was that water would surely get through the door because there isn’t a continuous seal. But both vestibules stayed dry during several nights of rain. It’s been an adjustment to close the door using hooks and Velcro instead of a zipper, but after several nights I was dialed in. Getting out the 18-inch tall vestibule doors required me to get onto my hands and knees to duck under the low-hanging rainfly. (In comparison, my current one-person, one-door tent has a 30-inch tall vestibule door.)
Headroom: Thirty-four inches from floor to ceiling. I’m five feet, ten inches, and my head pushes up against the mesh ceiling when I sit up. The ceiling is low compared with other tents in this class.
Internal Mesh Storage Pockets: Two. Each one large enough for a phone and headlamp.
Floor: Bathtub style. High enough to keep rain from getting in under the fly.
Stakes: Ten. Their red color makes wayward stakes easier to see on the ground and harder to lose.
Corporate Responsibility: The MSR Impact Project works with local organizations worldwide to provide clean drinking water to communities. The company says that since 2015 its technologies have provided safe water and hygiene to more than half a million people. MSR is also a member of the Sustainability Working Group, a collaborative of more than 150 outdoor brands, retailers, and suppliers that are committed to sound environmental and social practices.
Point of Origin: Imported. Most of MSR’s products are made in Seattle, Washington, and Cork, Ireland.
Warranty: MSR’s three-year warranty covers defects in materials and workmanship for the original purchaser, provided the product was used for its intended purpose. As I mentioned earlier, poles are repaired free under a limited lifetime warranty. Wear and tear is not covered.
Weight: Light. At 2 pounds, 3 ounces, it rivals some one-person tents for weight.
Comfort: Sleeps two people, but really better for one. Plenty of room for one person to spread out with pack and gear. But not enough vertical room for anyone taller than about five feet, seven inches to sit up inside without scraping the ceiling. Two large mesh interior pockets to store small items.
Packability: I usually store my tent poles in an outside pack pocket but with the Carbon Reflex’s two poles everything went easily in the stuff sack and at the bottom of my pack.
Vestibules: Room for gear if two are sleeping inside.
Two Side Doors: Unlike one-door tents, it doesn’t matter which end of the tent is on the uphill because there’s not really a front or back. No more lying in the tent to determine whether your head is on the uphill side.
Material: Very thin and light.
Rainfly: A pro and a con (see below). Extends nearly to the ground, overlapping the bathtub floor to prevent rain from splashing into the tent.
Rainfly: Sags when it gets wet during rain, making contact with the tent mesh and restricting airflow. Condensation on the inside of the rainfly also leaks into the tent where the fly sags onto the mesh body. The tent setup uses a long pole running the length of the mesh body and a short cross pole to spread the rainfly, but just doesn’t spread it enough to prevent contact with the mesh. And the rainfly guyouts pull the fly down rather than away from the mesh. Still, I recommend using the guyouts for the best rain and wind protection.
Vestibules: The Velcro and ring-and-hook closures take getting used to. I didn’t like having to get on my knees inside the tent and lean forward on my hands into the vestibules to open and close the rainfly doors. Nor did I like getting onto my hands and knees to crawl out the vestibule door because of the low-hanging rainfly. The vestibule doors also don’t spread apart enough at the top to allow good air flow for ventilation that would reduce condensation.
Height: I’m five feet, ten inches and my head pushed up against the mesh ceiling when I sit up.
Waterproofing: The rainfly seams require sealing. If you don’t, be prepared to spend a wet night in the rain. I used Gear Aid Seam Grip +WP to treat the crucial seams. I recommend setting up the tent with the rainfly on upside down to seal the seams.
Overall / Value
The price is high for a tent of this size. I know that ultralight gear doesn’t come cheap, but the Carbon Reflex 2 stretches that envelope.
I did become accustomed to the side doors. For more years than I care to count I used a single-door, front-entry tent, so side doors were an adjustment. And I liked the roominess when sleeping alone in this tent.
I also liked that the tent weighs only two ounces more than my current big-name, one-person tent that has much less interior room.
Setting up the tent isn’t hard, even if like me on first setup you neglect to read the instructions printed twice—on the stuff sack for the tent body and again on the stuff sack for the poles. And though it’s not freestanding, I found the tent easy to move once the poles were attached.
But consider whether you want to seam-seal a new tent when many tents in this category have taped seams.
And consider whether the height may be an issue. Comparable tents in this class have three to five more inches of headroom. The interior square footage is the most in its class, but not by much.
In the end, the inside water seepage and questionable pole strength are serious flaws. I give this tent a grade of C.
Packaged Weight: 2 pounds, 8 ounces
Interior Height: 39 inches
Floor Area: 28 square feet
Packaged Weight: 2 pounds, 1 ounce
Interior Height: 37 inches
Floor area: 27.3 square feet
Packaged Weight: 2 pounds, 14 ounces
Interior Height: 38 inches
Floor Area: 28.7 square feet
This product was donated for purposes of review.
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