GEAR REVIEW: Terra Nova Mountaineering Tents

A tent intended to be used on remote trips in Alaska needs to be the epitome of toughness. Alaska dishes out weather so horrendous that simply camping out becomes an exercise in survival tactics. If you're only going to buy one tent for Alaska, make it a mountaineering tent.


Wild Country tent in snowstorm

What is a mountaineering tent, anyway? It's a tent specifically designed for expedition mountain climbing in country with lots of snow, ice and rock. Expedition climbers frequenty encounter weather at the extreme ends of what humans can endure, therefore tents that can take this kind of abuse are ideal for the conditions Alaska has the potential to dish out.

Features of a Mountaineering Tent

A mountaineering tent is a sturdy structure that can withstand high winds, wind-driven rain and snow, and rough handling. Additionally it needs to be reasonably light-weight, because it will be backpacked long distances (typically packers will split the weight of the rainfly, tent body, poles, stakes and tiedowns between two or more backpacks. Here's a wish-list of features to look for:

  1. Bathtub Floor. The floor fabric must extend part-way up the sidewalls of your tent in order to be truly waterproof. Avoid tents with seams in the corners; these can leak over time, even if the seams are taped. In fact, avoid floor seams altogether if you can.
  2. Low Profile. The low, sloping design sheds wind very well and is an essential in a mountaineering tent.
  3. Full-length Rainfly. The fly should come down almost clear to the ground. This prevents the wind from blowing rain and snow up under the fly, where it can mist right through the tent body, soaking your sleeping bag in short order.
  4. Plenty of Tiedowns. Your tent should have tiedowns at the lower, middle, and top of the rainfly. This allows you to really nail the tent down securely in a high wind situation.
  5. Full-length mesh pole sleeves. Full-length sleeves provide superior support for the tent body, and exert less stress on the seams. Mesh sleeves allow air to flow between the tent body and the fly, a critical factor in wicking moisture away from the tent body.
  6. Double doors. Having a door at each end of the tent allows you to enter and exit on the downwind side, even if the wind changes. This can be crucial to preventing the wind from blowing rain or snow into your tent when you open the door. Double doors also allow you to quietly open both ends of the tent to scan your camping area for bears or other wildlife that may have crept in during the night.
  7. Aluminum poles. Avoid fiberglass poles; they can splinter and break during the stress of high winds. Most quality tents nowadays use Easton Aluminum poles for maximum support.
  8. Same-length, shock-corded poles. Setting your tent up in the dark or during a storm is much easier if each pole is shock-corded together and if all the poles are the same length.
  9. Free-standing. Free-standing tents can be moved around to find that perfect flat spot without having to pull up stakes and such.
  10. Conveniences. Inner pockets, hanging loops and the like make life in your tent much easier. Though they are not essential, they are a nice convenience.

The mountaineering tents made by Terra Nova all have these features and more.

Terra Nova Mountaineering Tents
Model Weight Packed Size True Capacity
Terra Firma 15 lbs. 8.6"x30.7" bag 2-3 man
Hyperspace 11 lbs. 7"x28" 2-3 man
Super Quasar 9 lbs.  8"x21" 2-3 man
Quasar 9 lbs. 7"x21" 2 man

  Wild Country Mountain Quasar tent

Terra Nova and Wild Country

Terra Nova originally made two lines of mountaineering tents; the Terra Nova brand (available in the UK only) and Wild Country, which was exported to the United States from Terra Nova's plant in the UK. The picture above shows a Wild Country Mountain Quasar, which may still be found on the used market. This tent is identical to the Terra Nova Quasar, with the exception of the color of the fly, which is now a solid color.

Terra Nova makes what many consider to be the finest mountaineering / expedition tents in the world, and they are routinely seen on climbing expeditions to Everest and other parts of the Himalayas, as well as other rugged climbing destinations around the world. In short, they can handle the worst sorts of weather, including gale-force winds, driving rain and heavy snow loads. All of the tents listed above have bathtub floors, hooded vents, full-length rainflies, dual-entry doors, continuous mesh pole sleeves, and multiple gusseted tiedown points along the bottom and middle of the tent body.

Recommended Add-Ons

Terra Nova offers several ground sheets that can be used under the floor to protect the fabric from abrasion. But a tarp is cheaper to replace, once it wears out. Select a tarp that's the same size as your floor, and place it under your tent. Tuck in any edges that protrude beyond the floor area, or rain may run down onto the tarp, and flow under your tent.

It is suggested that you add 4-inch loops of 1/4" bungee cord to each tiedown point, and secure several feet of tiedown cord to each one (parachute cord is ideal). Run one end of the bungee through the tiedown point, and secure it back to itself with two zip-ties. Trim the end of the zip-ties flush with the slider to avoid sharp edges that could cut your rainfly.

Terra Nova tents come with aluminum rod stakes, however it is recommended that you augment your stake selection with some wide-flange stakes, a handful of plastic stakes in the 10-inch range for tundra and sand, and four log spikes or galvanized spike nails about 10-inches in length. The spikes allow the four corners of the rainfly to be firmly staked down on gravel bars with softball-sized rocks.

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