Published on July 28th, 2011 | by David0
Three Season Camping Gear from Sierra Designs and Kelty
I love camping in late summer and autumn- no sunburn, no crowds, and no permit waitlists make it easy, peaceful, and stress-free. Of course, camping later in the year means cooler temperatures and blustery winds, which is why it helps to have a warm sleeping bag on hand.
Sierra Designs has been around for ages, quietly making quality outdoors gear without all the flash and bling (and high price tags) of other manufacturers, as we’ve seen from previous reviews. With a solid warranty and repair policy, I’ve trusted them for tents, sleeping bags, and outerwear quite a few times, so I was excited to take their Pyro 15 Sleeping Bag out for a weekend.
The Pyro is a down-filled sleeping bag, with the regular model a nice fit for folks up to six feet tall (a long version is also available). In burnt orange, the only available color, it looks high quality but not as “techno-neon” as some other offerings. It has a smooth, sturdy zipper that never snagged on me, and a zipper draft tube to keep out the wind, and cool features like a “pillow pocket” for using the any extra clothing as an instant pillow so you don’t need to pack one! We’ve done that before, but this bag actually encourages it.
The Pyro is technically rated at 15 degrees, but Sierra also publishes the more accurate “EN Rating,” a scientific method of determining a comfortable sleeping temperature with a given bag and a single layer of clothes. The Pyro is rated at a “Comfort Limit” of 25 degrees F (-4 C), based on a standard woman having a comfortable night’s sleep, and a “Lower Limit” of 12 F (-11 C), based on the lowest temperature at which a standard man could have a comfortable night’s sleep.
For most people, 15 degrees is a three-season rating, though wearing multiple layers in a warm tent or car, the Pyro should do just fine in the winter, and if you run hot you might want a 20- or 25-degree bag for warmer summer expeditions. On my midsummer trip to a local Bay Area park, temperatures dropped to the mid-40s, and I was comfortable in a thin t-shirt and shorts. Available for around $175 online, it felt a bit expensive, but offers some nifty features that set it above the pack- like the straps that can allow no-slide use with a sleeping pad like a Thermarest. Also, it offers a truly waterproof shell- most competitors are water resistant, which means little in a real storm where seams will quickly soak through.
Along with the Pyro, I got to try out the Kelty Hula House 6. The Hula House is high-end, 3-season family camping tent that goes up easy and keeps out the elements. It has a standard clip-and-pole construction with 3 poles, and was easy for two averaged-size people to set up in 10 minutes or so. The name comes from the interesting pole structure- kind of like a hula hoop- that can be a bit tough to figure out at first but ended up drawing attention and making us wonder why no one had done this before. This isn’t a backpacking tent- at about 20 pounds, it’s far too heavy- but for car camping, it’s a great size. Inside, it comfortably sleeps six adults (four side-by-side, and two perpendicular to the rest). Four larger adults (over six foot) though, might be snug and enjoy the leg room.And this, like most tents we review, is a freestanding model, where you can set it up and then move it around if necessary.
Honestly, I often tend toward bare sleeping bags for summer camping; many tents get hot and stuffy in the sun. Thankfully, the Hula House has almost 360-degree mesh, perfect for keeping bugs and critters out while letting the breeze pass through. When the mosquitoes come out at dusk, it was great to retreat into the tent and watch the sunset without worrying about getting bitten. For colder or wet weather, you may want to put up the fly. With included stakes, taped seams and guyout points, it attaches securely and keeps out wind and mild rain, as well as warming up the interior of the tent a bit. If the six person model is a bit too large, they also make a smaller version that fits four and is about $100 less.
Car camping tents have fewer demands on them than backpacking tents- they don’t have to pack down into a pocket or weigh three ounces, and companies have more freedom to build a comfortable, easy-to-use outdoors shelter. The Hula House delivers, with a reasonable price, versatile design, and 3-season comfort. It’s the best large tent we’ve tested, and though cheaper ones can be found, this one will hold up better, set up more easily, and you’ll be able to repack it and use it again without something breaking or wind tearing through it. We found it at a significant discount from MSRP ($399), available for closer to $300 online it’s a stellar deal.