User Review: The North Face Minibus 33
Design: three-season, light-weight, free-standing, converted-dome, fantabulous tent!
Ease of Setup: Simple and quick set-up for one person.
Weight: 3.2 kg / 7 lbs
Price Paid: $425
If you are in the market for a roomy 3P tent for 2 adults then you owe it to yourself to check this one out in person in the store. Like most 3-person tents this one fits 2 people comfortably but could accommodate 3 provided that you all like to cuddle.
Before purchasing this tent I spent days pouring through the websites of all the top brand gear manufacturers. I was comparing weight, pack size, floor area, peak height; etc., etc. One measurement that most tent manufactures do not provide is tent volume.
Unlike any other tent on the market this Minibus 33 has as much volume in the top half of the tent as it has in the bottom half. That means more head room and more elbow room for changing clothes and organizing your gear. This translates into increased comfort and enjoyment while waiting out foul weather. For example, you can very comfortably accommodate four large adults in sitting position for playing cards or for pouring over maps and sharing fishing stories.
Therefore you can't just compare the floor area between tents, you need to compare usable floor area which is dictated by the by the headspace above that floor. In the case of the Minibus 33 approximately 95% of the floor space is usable by a large adult even while sitting upright. One of the other tents that made it onto my shortlist had a slightly larger floor area than the Minibus; however it had about 1/3 less volume rendering much of that floor space as unusable.
Once you are in this tent you start to notice North Face's attention to detail. There are so many thoughtful livability features that you won't find on most other light-weight tents in this category or price range:
- First is the integrated dual storm vents in the rain fly for both cross and top to bottom ventilation. This minimizes condensation under the fly and allows you to pack things up dry more quickly in the morning.
- Window. I've never had a tent window before and didn't realize how much it comes in handy until now. Use it for watching the weather and for quickly checking out if that noise you hear is some animal or another camping buddy playing with your pots and pans.
- VESTIBULES! Most double door - double vestibule tents have two dinky vestibules or one large and one so small that it is nothing more than a short extension of the fly with a zipper in it. This tent has two equally mammoth vestibules with enough room for each person to stow their backpack, hiking boots, and other gear while still leaving ample room to enter and exit the tent. On top of that they provide stunning vista views when fully opened during fair weather.
- The two doors are positioned to be at the sides of the sleeping campers, not at the head and toe. This means better access to your gear stored in your personal vestibule and it means easy access in and out of the tent without disturbing your sleeping tent mate.
- Zippers are designed for quiet one-hand operation, even while wearing gloves. In addition there are convenient tabs to hold doors open and out of the way. There is even a handy little tab and loop on each vestibule door to keep it zipped up 95% of the way while holding the bottom corner open for added ventilation.
- Pockets. There are three pockets along each side of the tent, for a total of 6. Two of these, one at each of the feet of the two campers, have a zipper to the outside vestibule. This allows you to access the contents of the pocket from either inside or outside of the tent. Also you can use it to access smaller items, such as your water bottle, stored in the vestibule without having to open the door.
- Pole configuration is very well designed. Everything is color coded and all of the connectors, hubs and Jake's Feet make setting this tent up and taking it down a snap for one person. All pole intersections and everywhere that the tent body clips to a pole are done at pole joints where they are the strongest. DAC pole hubs and clips at these intersections are designed to stop slippage between poles, thus keeping the tent's shape in heavy winds and rain.
- Length. This tent is over 92" long giving tall campers lots of space to stretch out completely with plenty of room to spare.
- Privacy. The tent has a nice balance of screen and nylon material to maximize ventilation while still keeping it windproof. As a side benefit this also provides some privacy even while the mammoth vestibule D-doors are both wide open.
- Compression stuff sack is included and allows you to minimize the diameter of the packed tent.
- There are 8 convenient gear loops in the ceiling for hanging lanterns, etc., and the optional gear loft.
A couple of things that could be improved:
- It only comes with 8 stakes; but requires a minimum of 10 in order to pull taught the fly. Even then it could use yet another 4 to stake out the guy lines; for a total of 14. Therefore be sure to pick up 6 extra.
- The fly vents cannot be closed. I haven't yet had a single drop of water come in as these are very well designed; however this may also be partially due to proper positioning of the tent. My concern is that if the wind were to ever change direction to just the right angle it may be possible to have a small amount of rain blown in. As unlikely as this may be, I would like to have the option to cinch them shut.
Pure luxury! With its generous volume and many comfort features this would be a suitable basecamp tent as would it satisfy the needs of most recreational car campers. However, it is light and compact enough for all but the most weight-conscious backpacker, cyclist or canoeist.
I myself do not mind carrying an extra pound for the sake of all the 5-star luxury that this Minibus 33 affords at the campsite. Masseuse and white terrycloth bathrobe not included.