User Review: Mountain Hardwear Drifter 3
Design: Summer free standing dome (but light enough to be a backpacker tent)
Ease of Setup: Extremely easy - no time at all.
Weight: 5.3 lbs
Price Paid: See Above
We just bought this tent today; as such this will be a 2 part review. The reason I am writing two reviews instead of 1 is that the terrible lack of reviews for this product! But, being a Mountain Hardware fan and avid camper, I decided to go on a limb and be the first to review it. I've got a trip planned on the May Long Weekend (one week from today) so I'll enter the follow up then.
Basically, our decision came down to either the Drifter 3 of the Marmot Limelight 3 for me, my dear lady, and my dog. So, I'll draw on some observations of the Marmot several times through this review--the price, features, and general construction is very similar hence the decision.
The tent took my girlfriend and I about 2 minutes to set up the first time in our backyard, with no instructions (they were included, we just wanted to see how long it would take). Some key features that we really liked were the fact that it's 2 pole construction makes it foolproof. The poles seem sturdy with some solid elastic cable in them that sort of snaps them together on it's own. However, they are just basic aluminum--So, if you take a tumble with these unpadded in your pack, they may bend (but then, so would virtually any aluminum pole from any manufacturer!). I don't foresee that happening but that is honestly the only weak spot that I can imagine.
A major advantage in this tent is it's use of hooks rather then plastic clips to connect the body to the poles. Clips, which rely on tension in the plastic to grip the pole, have a tendency to snap in colder weather (in my experience). This is what the Marmot Limelight 3 has; while I cannot comment on the durability of those clips, the Drifter 3 eliminates the problem entirely by putting the tension in the fabric of the tent and using open S-type hooks. At first glance this may seem bad, as that may be unnecessary wear and tear on the fabric, but that brings me to my next point: Construction.
The fabric, stitching, and overall build quality of the tent is incredible. While the materials were comparable to the Marmot, there is a slightly heavier "d" rating in the mesh of the Drifter. Further, the Drifter has a completely mesh upper, while the Marmot does not--it has mesh windows instead, but not the entire upper. That may be an benefit in colder camping (spring and fall; this is in no way a winter tent), but in a hot, humid summer I welcome the extra ventilation.
There was plenty of sitting room inside--3 people comfortable with a dog--and all of us could sit up nicely.
The twin vestibules are roomy for gear, though I tend to like to keep my gear inside the tent (Especially my boots...I hate bugs in my boots!). That is a major weakness in both the Marmot and the Drifter--I don't see how they are a full 3 person tent. 2 person most certainly; I think it'd be more accurate to call this a 2.5 person tent. If you have a group of 3, you may want to look at a larger tent.
As far as general features, this tent can be pitched on a non-porous surface (ie you don't NEED to use the stakes), which is nice depending on the nature of where you are camping. Further, it includes a gear loft (despite what the salesperson said!). Other then that, creature comforts inside the tent are minimal. To me, that is a good thing--less weight, less set up, less junk--this is an extremely functional tent in that regard. It has everything you need (including mesh pockets for some gear inside) and nothing you don't.
A major strength of this tent (and in my opinion this brand in general) is the attention to the details in the stuff you don't see--the stitching, the quality of materials, etc. While other brands (not necessarily the Marmot, but the cheaper brands I've used) feature things like cell phone pockets and the like, the MHW Drifter pays attention to what really matters--good design, simple setup, and solid materials.
Overall the tent is lightweight, easy to pack, with sturdy construction and a lot of features. I strongly recommend this tent at this point; after this coming weekend when I give it a full field test, I'll chime in with my thoughts.
Update: May 24, 2010
Well, we're back from our MHW Drifter 3's first voyage to the backcountry. The tent performed very well, despite having Mother Nature throw some pretty interesting weather. We had cold, snow, wind, and rain. And maybe a few seconds of sunshine when I wasn't looking! This tent shed it all no problems.
We made an additional purchase of the purpose build groundsheet. It rained virtually all weekend, but the tent vented condensation very well. Due to the weather, our sleeping bag that we were using as a mattress was a bit damp, but this condition was "user error", not the fault of the tent.
Easy set up, it shed the rain with not a drop in on top of us. And at the end of the trip, it was an easy take down. I'd definitely buy this tent again, and am very happy with the purchase.
I recommend a compression stuff sack as well, though, as the tent in its own stuff sack takes up a fair bit of pack space.