Quiet descended over our tent as the wind retreated, gathering for another vicious gust. The moon cast a yellowish glow upon the tarn; an eerie, bright spotlight amid the suddenly still valley. A distant rush swept over the cliff faces, fading momentarily before striking our tent broadside with full force. The impact rattled tent poles and pushed fabric into my face. We were supposed to get up and go but were quite certain we wouldn’t be able to stand up in this gale. Another hour of sleep, then.
It was over breakfast a couple hours later that we learned our partners’ tent, a BD Firstlight, had been collapsing through most of the night during the wind gusts. The Big Agnes Shield 2 rattled and shook, and the fabric flapped into my face a couple of times, but it never felt like it might collapse.
The Shield 2 (S2 from now on) is a single-wall, two-pole, one-door alpine climbing / mountaineering tent, along the same lines as many others out there but with a number of unique features. It’s made of a waterproof-breathable fabric that is ‘painted’ with something called 37.5 particle technology.
37.5 particle technology coats the fabric on the inside. 37.5 tech is rather hard to comprehend (unless you are familiar with particle-level physics; I think) and even after an hour-long presentation I’m still not quite sure I understand how it works. The idea is that it lets moisture through easily and maintains an optimal 37.5C temperature around the body. Though it’s hard to prove if this stuff works, I can report that our tent had absolutely no condensation and the fabric remained dry on the inside through extended rain and wet snow.
The S2 has the typical guy-out points along the tent poles, but it also adds two guy-out points on each of the side walls. Another feature that adds to its stability is a third mini-pole cross-brace above the door. This also keeps the fabric around the door firmer and tauter, letting the zipper run easy and snag-free.
The door has a little window so you can peer out without opening it to the elements; a useful feature when the snow’s swirling around. There’s a vent above the door, as well as two hooded vents in the roof. Each of the roof vents has a pass-through in the mesh so you can tie in if needed.
Given that it’s an alpine tent, the S2 is not particularly big at just 218cm long. Width tapers from 132cm by the door to 107cm at the feet, and it’s just 102cm at the peak. It weighs 2070 grams with 8 stakes and all the stuff sacks, which is in line with similar tents, and it packs down quite small (43cm long x 17cm diameter). I really like that the stuff sacks are roomy enough to fit the tent and poles without having to pay too much attention to rolling the tent.
Unlike many other small alpine tents, the poles are on the outside of the tent, and are secured via two sleeves and several small clips. This style of pole retention is stronger than velcro straps or twist-clips but it is not ideal for setup in very windy or otherwise inclement conditions. When the weather is decent, it is quick and easy, though.
Inside, there are two pockets by the door, though I’m told retail models have four pockets (mine is a pre-production version). You can also hang an (optional) gear loft inside but that seems unnecessary in an alpine tent.
Like other single-wall alpine tents utilizing waterproof-breathable fabrics, the S2 is not cheap. $600 is a lot of money for such a specialized tent, but you’ll be glad to have it when your tent is merely rattling in the breeze while a competitor’s has flattened out! (Ok, it was definitely more than a breeze.)
I’ve used several of these minimalist single-wall alpine tents, and the Big Agnes ranks right up there. It’s a solid tent you can’t really go wrong with.
Pros: strong construction, stable, waterproof, great fabric, window!
Cons: heavier than some others, outside pole design not ideal for inclement weather
Overall: A great single-wall alpine-style tent that readily competes with others in this rarefied category.
The Alpine Start received a sample of the tent from Big Agnes for review, but that doesn’t influence our opinion.