Kelty Hula House 4
As a more expensive Kelty tent it is a step up from…
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $260
As a more expensive Kelty tent it is a step up from the Trail Domes that I have had the misfortune of having when the winds were storming. It has plenty of headroom and lots of space, but the problems and lack of quality control outweigh the benefits. There are better ways to do it than to use a hula hoop. No, I would not recommend it because there are other offerings that do what Kelty has failed to produce.
- It is a better tent than the Trail Dome.
- Provides sufficient headroom to 6 feet; good for a 4-person tent.
- Ties to keep the poles from moving from the fly in high winds.
- DAC DA-17 aluminum poles are used.
- Quality control is lacking.
- Flimsy flooring with ArcEdge instead of bathtub design.
- Hula Hoop is not ready to be used yet, needs thinking.
- Lacks privacy unless the vestibule is closed.
- Hard to complete set-up with pole and underside ties.
- Stakes mediocre and insufficent for all guy-outs.
The Kelty Hula House 4 is meant for a starting family and those seeking great shelter for under $380, including a separate footprint. Intended for those who enjoy car camping, it is light enough at 13 pounds to be split between two or three people for backpacking. I purchased one in June 2012 from Backcountry Edge and now have used it for 51 camping nights at 17 different campsites in the Rocky Mountain States.
This four-person Kelty Hula House legitimately has adequate space for 3 people, and that goes for most 4-person rated tents. It has some features you expect to find in more expensive models, including color-coded coded webbing and buckles, locking pole ends with grommets, pole clips, sleeves, sealed seams and a patented ArcEdge floor model that raises the seams, instead of a bathtub design. It is a difference of about two inches of protection vs. the four or five inches that a bathtub design gives you.
The Hula House’s pole structure provides sufficient head room up to 6 feet. The poles are DAC DA-17 PressFit aluminum of varying diameters, to save weight. A "hooped" or circular shock-corded pole helps maximize the interior space and gives it added strength and stability in the process. When in place the hoop is slightly offset, and pulls tent walls outward to near-vertical. With this addition, the interior feels absolutely huge in comparison to many other four-person tents.
Some say that hoop is easy to assemble, but after 17 places for camping, with set-ups and take-downs, tent pitching was not quite that effortless. The problem is with the 3rd circular pole. Once you have nearly completed assembly, it is that last section’s ferrules must be joined together that causes some anguish. They just don’t go together easily.
Pulling the tent down was even a little bit more complicated. The difficulty is that the curved sections of the pole have ferrules that are not bent. Ferrules are connectors that join one pole section to another. The hoop is so tightly spring loaded it is hard to get the circular pole to collapse. There just is no release point on the hoop; if Kelty would add one it might make it a bit easier. You can remove it by holding the hoop and pushing it gently from you while applying pressure to straighten the ferrules. This should remove the pressure on those curved pole sections so the ferrules can slide apart.
The sturdy three pole design does a great job in preventing collapse in strong wind gusts — as long as it's staked properly with the supplied reflective guy-lines. This freestanding dome tent has a mesh doorway. The mesh panel can’t be sealed, but is covered by a fly vestibule with a smallish window. There are four small mesh pockets and this gives room for some gear, like boots, left outside the tent.
NOTE: Attention must be given to the care of the tent. Upon each breaking camps I carefully clean each ferrule connector and every tent peg, and give special attention to the zippers and pulls. And after camping each time I thoroughly clean the tent fabrics and lubricate all of the poles before putting them away. You can use products from Nikwax and McNett for minor repairs, cleaning and waterproofing, along with lubrication of zipper pulls and tent poles.
From a pitching perspective this tent could be a breeze. For first-timers setup might take 30 minutes to piece everything together. But later it could be done in as little as ten minutes with only one person. However, the Hula House’s rain-fly has ties that should be attached to poles, and that might add a couple of minutes.
You will find these tie-downs on the underside of the fly – significantly something you won’t discover on cheaper tents. These side release buckles attach the fly to poles for fast easy set up and keep them from separating during storms.
The only part that was a bit of a pain was putting on the fly. To attach it to the poles you have to duck under the fly to secure them to the poles. They do provide an overall strength with quite a bit of wind resistance that plagues cheaper high profile dome tents without those inside connectors.
The floor is made of 68 denier nylon. And it has an 1800 mm waterproofolyuretane coating with taped seams. It seems a bit flimsy and would not last without a footprint or tarp placed underneath. Polyester is similar to nylon, but resists abrasion, UV damage, and acid rain better. And it does not shrink, stretch or sag. That relatively lightweight flooring material could have been made with a heavier grade nylon or polyester, but was not. It would add a couple of dollars to the cost.
However, there was a flaw in my floor that was caused by skipped stitching on the seam. While it did not leak while using the tent, how long that will last is unknown. We only had rain on five of the 51 days of camping in the Mountain West. With this pucker, or wrinkle, there is nothing but the tape to keep the seam from opening. Because it is on the floor of the Hula House, with its rather inadequate ArcEdge model rather than a bathtub design that comes with most high end tents, it is a real concern.
The body fabric is also only 68 denier. But the fly is a more substantial 75 denier polyester, with an 1800 mm coating of either silicone or polyurethane. All seams appear to be waterproofed with polyurethane. (Kelty doesn’t supply those details.) The polyester mesh ceiling, wall panels and ground level side vents promote air circulation. Inside this tent are several mesh storage pockets that comfortably store most wallets, lightweight gear and electronics.
While the tent is freestanding, it is a good practice to deploy guy lines which gives added strength and stability when high winds or gusts occur. This Hula House has 14 guy-out points but fewer superlight aluminum stakes are supplied. Kelty could put sturdier tent stakes in with this base camp tent, since the little hook ones bend easily. After all, the Hula House is not designed for back packing where weight is a factor.
Quality control could use more attention. For example, right out of the box I needed a replacement hooped pole as one of the ferrules was attached crooked. And now its replacement is showing problems with three of the ferrules after a full camping season. After a summer of use the Hula House 4 is exhibiting light signs of wear and tear. Be extra careful of the floor and the mesh and maybe it’ll last you for years.
As a suggestion, it is good practice to invest in more rugged tent stakes; something stronger that can be driven than those supplied by Kelty. And I personally would get rid of the little plastic tensioners that are packaged with the guy-lines - using others such as: MSR Cam Rings, Nite Ize Figure 9s, or Taut-ties.
You’ll be glad you paid extra for the Hula House 4, but if you look around you could find other offerings from Big Agnes or Marmot. The Big Agnes Big House is comparable in size but a bit cheaper; and Marmot’s Halo, while not as tall as the Kelty, exhibits quite a bit more quality and substance – but at a substantially higher price. You might even look at Kelty’s Hula House 6 for a larger tent.
Camping on the Northern California coast can test…
Price Paid: NA
Camping on the Northern California coast can test even the best tent. Gusty winds, blowing sand and cold, damp fog are but a few of the challenges. We chose to put the Kelty Hula House 4 through its paces on a trip to Bodega Bay and encountered all those factors. Luckily for us, the Hula House was more than up to the task.
The Kelty Hula House 4 withstood winds blowing consistently above 15 miles per hour and gusting above 25 thanks to the solid construction and roughly 14 stake and guy-out points. The combination of mesh interior and nylon exterior walls effectively eliminated condensation. The interior was so spacious and comfortable, it brought a smile to my face every evening as we bedded down.
The Hula House also proved more than able to withstand driving rain one week later. On a trip into the Santa Cruz mountains the tent weathered a late season storm with no leaks. Several other tents from manufacturers that will remain nameless failed completely.
I have no hesitation in recommending this tent. You can find a more complete review and photos at GearGuide.