Welcome! Ultralight backpacking is my passion, and keeping up on new technologies, gear, and techniques relevant to UL backpacking is what floats my boat. I'm always looking for the lightest, most functional gear to improve a lightweight or ultralight backpacking kit, and report my impressions and field testing results here. For hikers wanting to keep up on the latest and greatest ultralight backpacking gear, this is a good place to hang out. Also, there is a lot of information here (and on our informational website Southwest Ultralight Backpacking) on useful techniques and backcountry etiquette -- food for thought for hikers wanting to lighten their load and their impacts.

My goal for Ultralight Insights is to understand, test, and report on new technologies and gear of interest to lightweight and ultralight backpackers. It's a passion after all, so we just plain enjoy talking about it. I hope readers will add their own wisdom and comments, respond to my questions, ask their own questions, and correct me if I get something wrong. Happy hiking! Will

Sunday, August 18, 2013

GEAR REVIEW: Big Sky International Mirage 2P Tent

By Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl

The Mirage 2P is a 3-season free-standing single wall tent with the same dimensions as the double-wall Evolution 2P; it’s the Evolution 2P without a fly. The X-configuration poles are external and the tent body is attached with clips.

The beauty of a single wall tent is its simplicity, lightweight, and fast setup. The downside is condensation, or is it really that big of an issue?

The Big Sky Mirage 2P is a single wall version of the popular Evolution 2P. It’s free-standing and has two side entry doors with vestibules.


Mirage 2P (Revision E)
Configuration Tested
SuprSil fabric, UL aluminum poles, clip attachment, 8 stakes in sack (2 tubular stakes for vestibules and 6 titanium shepherd hook stakes), storage compression sack, 4 guylines
2 pounds, 13.4 ounces (includes tent body, poles, 8 stakes in stuff sack, 4 guylines, compression storage sack
Floor Dimensions
91” long x 53/47” wide x 42” high. Area is 31.6 sq ft
Two side entry doors with vestibules, large mesh interior doors with 2-way zippers, 4 interior storage pockets, two closable top vents
MSRP as Tested
Other Options Tested
ShelterSaver groundsheet

Most Big Sky International tents are purchased ala carte, meaning that for each tent component (fly, poles, stakes, etc.) you have to choose from a list of options. As one would expect, the lightest options (such as UL fabric, composite poles, and titanium stakes) cost more to reduce tent weight. This is a really nice approach for knowledgeable buyers, because it allows them to purchase the exact configuration they want. Although the process can be a bit daunting for inexperienced buyers (more on that later), choosing the basic configuration still results in a very lightweight tent. Hopefully this review will help with those decisions.

The Mirage 2P is a free-standing single wall tent with two side entry doors with vestibules. Within each vestibule is a mesh wall with a 2-way zippered entry door and two mesh storage pockets (total of 4). Technically it’s a hybrid tent since the two sides are double wall (vestibule and mesh entry).

Our test tent is made of standard SuprSil fabric, which is a high-tenacity nylon ripstop impregnated (soaked) with silicone; the fabric weight is approximately 1.3 ounces per sq yd. A lighter weight version of this fabric (SuprSil UL, about 1 ounce per sq yd) is available as an option, which saves 3 ounces and costs $50 extra. The aluminum poles tested are the standard 17-inch folded length; UL DAC Featherlite aluminum poles are available as a $7 option. Their packed length is 2.6 inches shorter and weight is about 2 ounces less, so this option is a good value.

Side Views: Big Sky Mirage 2P with doors closed (left) and doors open (right).

End Views: Head end (left) and foot end (right). The head end (black stakeouts) is 6 inches wider than the foot end (red stakeouts), and the wall is steeper for more headroom.

Top View: The Mirage 2P is supported by two aluminum poles in an X-configuration and the tent body is attached with clips. The tent is free-standing but the two side vestibules need to be staked out.

Inside View: Two side entry doors provide separate access and a vestibule for each occupant. The floor is wide enough to provide extra space on the sides and foot end for storage.

Pockets: Every Big Sky tent provides plenty of storage pockets, a total of four big ones.

Packed: With Big Sky’s compression stuff sack, the Mirage 2P compresses to a small volume for packing.

Since the floor is slippery silnylon, it’s a good idea to paint stripes of silicone across the floor. Use McNett SilNet or DuPont Silicone II and dilute it with paint thinner to the consistency of pancake syrup, then paint it on. The seams on a Big Sky tent do not need seam sealing, which is a big plus.

Field Testing
We tested the Mirage 2P on a number of summer backpacking trips in the southern Rockies. Conditions included fair weather with cool nights, as well as thunderstorms with rain, hail, and strong winds.

Setup – Quick and easy: 1) Lay the tent out in the desired orientation (red stakeouts on the foot end) and stake the four corners; 2) Lay the extended poles in an X-pattern on top of the tent, connect the tips to grommets on one end, then arch the poles and connect the other ends to grommets; 3) Holding onto the poles, connect all of the clips on the tent body to the poles; 4) Extend and stake out the vestibules with sturdy tube stakes; and 5) Stake out the four guylines using the corner stakes.

We found that it’s not necessary to stake the four corners of the tent, if you secure the tent with four guylines. We highly recommend purchasing the guyline kit and using it for a wind-secure pitch. A total of six stakes is required (we recommend 2 tube stakes for the vestibules and 4 titanium shepherd hook stakes for the guylines). Since the poles are external, there are no Velcro tabs to secure the tent body to the poles like the Evolution 2P, so the guyline kit is essential if you anticipate using the tent where there could be high winds. In a protected location, the Mirage 2P can be set up with one stake on each vestibule.

Wind Stability and Ventilation – With the four guyline setup described above the Mirage 2P is very wind stable. A more sturdy tube stake is recommended for the vestibules and titanium hook stakes hold surprisingly well on the guylines; putting a rock on top of each stake will double their holding power.

Ventilation is excellent. The bottom edge of the vestibules is raised about 6 inches to allow air to enter from the bottom and there is a top vent on each side, allowing for cross-ventilation.

 If there is any air movement at all, even a light breeze, the tent will stay essentially condensation-free. However, on a still clear night with a substantial temperature drop, it is hard to avoid condensation on the inside walls of any tent. And in a single wall tent, like the Mirage, you are directly exposed to the wetness. While many people shy away from a single wall tent because of the condensation issue, there is a simple solution: use a lightweight camp towel to wipe down the inside tent walls. It’s easy, fast, and effective, and you pack up a drier tent. You can’t do that as easily with a double wall tent, which collects condensation on the inside of the fly under the same conditions.

Livability – The Mirage has steep sidewalls all around, especially at the head end, so all of the interior volume is usable. Floor dimensions are generous by lightweight standards: specified dimensions are 91 inches long x 53/47 inches wide head/foot x 42 inches of headroom. My measurements verify the widths and height, but the floor length is only 90 inches, which is still longer than many other tents. This provides plenty of room for two people plus gear. If you tie the interior mesh doors open, items in the vestibules are within easy reach and the tent interior is much larger.

Because the Mirage 2P is a single wall tent with external poles, it does not have any fly-only setup or mesh-interior-only setup like the double wall Evolution 2P. However, each side of the tent can be tied completely open, providing loads of ventilation and views (see photos above).

I personally prefer a single wall tent, like the Mirage 1P or 2P, because it weighs less, sets up quickly and easily, and it’s less expensive. And condensation is no big deal if you simply wipe the inside tent walls with a camp towel.

While the Big Sky Mirage tents are not the lightest to be found (the very lightest ones have very thin fabrics and use trekking poles for support), they are free-standing, sturdy, roomy, and very livable. These tents will last for years, or a lifetime, depending on how much you use it.

The tent’s floor is 30-denier silnylon, which is adequately waterproof, but could puncture from sharp plant stubs or rocks. To be sure the floor is not damaged, order the Big Sky ShelterSaver goundsheet (5.5 ounces, $25) which is made of durable soft structure Tyvek, or use a light tarp or plastic sheet.

Overall the Mirage 2P has a lot to like and nothing to dislike. Frankly it’s hard to find a tent that gets everything right – light weight, ease of setup, easy entry, lots of interior room and great livability, good ventilation, good wind stability and storm resistance – but the Mirage 2P meets all of those ideals. I have tested a lot of tents over the years, and I always find it easy to review a Big Sky tent because it’s so well designed and refined.

Although the availability issue has mostly been resolved (Big Sky has its own factory now), the ordering process on Big Sky’s website is still a bit daunting, especially for buyers who don’t understand the options. It would really help if Big Sky would create a tent configurator that provides descriptive information on each option and interactively displays the cost and weight of the tent with options selected. Using such a tool would allow the buyer to choose the best configuration to meet his/her needs and budget.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Will

    Thanks a lot for the insightful review.
    How would you compare the Mirage 2P to the ZPacks Triplex?