Tuesday, April 7, 2015

GEAR REVIEW: Ozark Trail Screen Hexagon

There's a school of thought that aims to "buy it for life" that aims to buy the most durable, longest lasting gear regardless of price. If you're looking for a screen tent that fits that ethos, abandon ship now. Infact, flee any time you see the words "ozark trail" as the brand. Ozark Trail is Camping for "Wal-mart." and any prejudice you have on the matter of quality as regards their products is mostly justified. Now, while I talk a lot of trash here, I have made use of a number of things from the wal-mart camping aisle. If nothing else, their ubiquity is somewhat useful. I tend to buy things that are not something I expect to last forever. There's no need to pay more than $10 for a foam roll, nor am I likely to get a significantly better can of bug spray from elsewhere on short notice.

When my friends and I started out doing regular summer camping trips, I mostly used the old family equipment. We had an old screen tent from K-Mart that has lasted remarkably well save for a few flaws. First and foremost is the entirely nonfunctional zipper on it. Does not exactly do very well for keeping bugs out. Second of all, it's been around longer than I can recall and I doubt the waterproofing is all that potent any longer. Third, it's a nightmare to transport. Takes twice the room of either of the tents I own, or the aforementioned screen hexagon. That said, it is sturdy as all get-out. I will be shocked if the titular hexagon is still in service as long as this has been. This is the "circus tent" as Jim and I dubbed it.

So, when I saw for all of $40, a screen tent that I could bring along in place of the Circus Tent, I jumped at it. I figured for $40, if it lasted me 3 camping trips, I'd be plenty happy. Well... it lasted me 3 camping trips, and then some... but I don't know that "plenty happy" was the right term to assume I'd be. First off we were off to a great start, when the first time I deployed the tent the shock-cord in one of the three main poles snapped. Rather than run to the store for a new cord, I just duct taped the pole segments together. Kept doing that for a long while, actually. Until i had spare parts for tent pole repair around, and I got around to rebuilding the pole. Second of all, the hexagon tapers a little, like a thimble. Given the generous size of most Wisconsin State Park picnic tables, and the generous height of the blog's author, that means that if I'm standing in the tent working the stove or even moving in and out of it, I spend a lot of time brushing the walls. Shorter people, or smaller picnic tables might change this dynamic a bit, but it's an awkward fit for me.

So, what's nice about it? Well, it has outlasted my expectations. Cost to own this thing has been about $3-4 per year so far, since I've had it for over a decade. it does a decent job of keeping its contents low-bug and low-moisture. I've seen it go through some mildly gnarly weather without crumpling (a surprise given the cheap quality of the top poles) and it's not so hard to pack up. if you take one of the ceiling poles out, the remaining poles hold a rectangle shape that makes it easy to tuck things into and fold up, and the lower half poles, the ones with metal chains inside those are pretty sturdy.

Would I recommend it? Not without disclaimers. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I haven't seen its like in stores since. I haven't seen them cheaper than $100 even. So long as you know what you're getting into, and keep your expectations low, I say go ahead. It's not like you're going to be spending the night in it, and if something happens to it, well, for $40, it's pretty much disposable.Camp stove has some sort of flare up, or somebody backs the car into it, you've probably already got your money's worth out of it. I sure wouldn't pay any more than that for it though. And if you can suggest a better one that's worth the money (preferrably one that's square/cube-like, and not a canopy with add-on walls) I'm looking for better.

In Action, at Firefly Lake:

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