Published on May 10th, 2013 | by Greg
Kelty Mach 4: Inflatable Tents? Lunar Colony, Here We Come
One of the worst parts of camping is the setup process. Figuring out tent stakes and trying to assemble the pieces in the right order can be an ordeal, especially with kids screaming, or weather making life difficult. After a hike or drive, you just want a shelter fast, and luckily tents have come a long way since the old “here’s a bag of parts, have fun for the next thirty minutes”. But metal poles are still awkward, and we always wondered if there was a better way. It turns out: there is, and we wished we would have thought of it first.
The Kelty Mach 4 Air-Pitch Inflatable Tent is an interesting solution that works surprisingly well, and shakes up the entire notion of tents. It’s not perfect- there are still some tweaks to be made- but it’s actually really fun and definitely draws the attention of any other campers. Having fewer pieces to lose or break makes sense, but don’t expect to save on weight or bulk for this one- it’s aimed at the car camper crowd, and offers plenty of room for four with a large vestibule for additional cover and storage. Weighing in at 20 pounds total, it offers 50 square feet of floor area plus an equal amount in a vestibule, and definitely won’t fit in a backpack.
Aimed at three-season campers, we took the Mach 4 out in both light rain and sunny conditions, and it performed well. We were truly curious to see if it met their claim: “pitches in under a minute with an included high volume, dual-action floor pump”. Well, good news- as long as someone is inside to gently assist with a bit of lift, then you can indeed expect it to be nearly that quick. You’ll need to pump in two separate inlets, and should make sure to inflate fully, to ensure that you get a good, solid structure. There is a bit of a bend, not much more than traditional poles, and we didn’t notice any decrease in air pressure over night. In the video, you can see a guy smack the tent with a big branch and it suffers no ill effects. Deflation is also easy- takedown is simple and fast. Note that the tent must be staked down before inflation- this isn’t a freestanding tent you can move once set up, which rarely matters for us but can in some locations.
For inclement conditions, Kelty helpfully included a UV-resistant polyester rainfly with seams nicely taped. It’s nicely integrated, so you don’t need to carry around a separate piece! We rolled it down and didn’t feel a drop get by. There are a few other premium features as well, like the noiseless zippers that we hope to see included on other tents in the near future (it makes those nighttime nature calls a little less obnoxious to your fellow campers). Internal storage pockets keep items out of the way, and there is quite a bit of ventilation. Upper and lower vents allow you some control, though we do like tents with a little more visibility up top so you can watch the stars.
Available in a six-person model as well, we definitely recommend getting the optional footprint. Otherwise, your sizeable vestibule will lack a floor, which is fine for bike storage but less optimal if you’re trying to use it as a living room. Comfortable for four, we liked the roomy interior and the easy setup. The color scheme- orange and grey- might not be everyone’s favorite though. And the hand pump, while certainly decent, does take a bit of strength and definitely adds weight and bulk.
Are airpoles the future of camping? Is an automatic pump the next step? Will we soon have a model with an integrated air mattress? Will it be that much different from a bouncy castle? Either way, Kelty’s Mach 4 is incredibly innovative, and perhaps the most exciting thing to happen to camping since S’mores. Available now, online and in stores, for around $400. It’s fairly expensive but we’ve also found their pricing reasonable and their gear durable- we love Kelty’s tents, like the inexpensive and lovely Salida and the Hula House 6 from a few years ago, which offers plenty of space.