Billed as a light-but-strong two-person shelter for North American winter ski touring, MSR's Access 2 has an obvious year-round crossover into the rough weather of the UK hills too, finds Richard Prideaux.
There is something rather important that I need to make clear from the very top of this review: The Access 2 also comes in green. Blimey, this thing is very orange. It could be a presidential candidate with tones like that. There is virtually no chance of losing this tent unless you pitch it on David Dickinson's face. Right, with that out of the way...
It's solidly built, it goes together instinctively and without fuss and it's spacious for one and adequate for two
The MSR Access 2 is listed as being a 4-season, 2-person ski touring tent. My review item weighs 1.88kg with all included parts – heavier than most modern ultralight tents but it does have a reassuringly rugged feel in the important areas. As a winter-worthy shelter, its weight is justified.
The poles go together in a symmetrical fashion. So as long as you assemble the longer one first and the shorter one second it doesn't matter which way round it attaches - always a bonus when arriving late and pitching in the dark.
Actually, let's talk about those poles. They're the rather clever new offering from Easton – the Syclone composite, designed to flex under winds rather than bend or snap. They certainly seem up to the task, although so far I have only tried them in winds of around 40mph on a damp Clogwyn Mawr. They assemble as an exterior skeleton from which the inner hangs, and the flysheet is draped over.
The fly sheet is 20 denier ripstop nylon with a Durashield treatment, giving it a 1200mm hydrostatic head. Underneath, the groundsheet is a slightly tougher 30 denier ripstop with a 3000mm hydrostatic head rating. The inner is a mix of 20 denier ripstop nylon and nylon mesh - notably less mesh than MSR provide on their more summer backpacking-oriented models, which for cold windy UK use is a good thing.
Deep stormflaps protect the outer zips, and so far the zips have been completely snag-free. Adjustable pegging points on the corners of the inner line up with the ends of the poles, and the twin porch areas are shaped by additional pegging points. Ladder-lock webbing buckles allow for easy tensioning.
The storage bag itself is solidly built with an inner skirt preventing the contents spilling out, and thin compression straps.
Fabric and weather performance
Let's go back to the hydrostatic head for a minute - the figure for how waterproof a fabric is in laboratory test conditions.
At just 1200mm for the fly and 3000mm for the groundsheet, the Access 2 does not compare well with similar competitors on paper. However, in real world use this doesn't seem to matter; in my experience this tent is up to Welsh rain, which as we all know is the wettest rain there is.
A couple of MSR tents have been reviewed previously on UKH/UKC, and since the the hydrostatic head question came up last time, it's worth repeating here what they told us then:
'[In] every other market except Europe, the rating is around 1000-1500mm for rainflies and 3000mm for floors' they said.
'While our tent designers recognize that the perception is that a higher number equals being more waterproof, their extensive quality testing does not support that theory. A thicker coating may increase the mm rating, but at the expense of fabric tear strength. As fabrics become increasingly light to meet demand, tear strength becomes even more important to the durability of a tent. MSR's goal is to balance waterproofness, weight, and strength in every tent they make.'
'Our extensive in-the-field testing takes place in a very wet climate similar to Britain's (Seattle, Washington); we do not get wet in our tents, and stand behind their durability.'
Pitching and Use
The MSR Access 2 pitches inner-first, and until you have that fully erected there's no realistic way of attaching the flysheet to the poles or inner to at least keep part of the inner dry during heavy rain. The two poles clip to the inner, are pegged out and then the fly is clipped to those corners before being tensioned out. The major components are all symmetrical and can be pitched either way round – again, a nice touch when you're tired and setting up in the dark.
The doors open from top or bottom – useful if the tent is banked out in snow and entry from the top is the easiest option; and also good for venting if you don't want your doors flapping in the wind. The porches are just big enough to cook in without having to evict your boots and rucksack into the rain, and there is just enough overhang from the flysheet to prevent rain from dripping into the inner when looking out of the doorway and contemplating the miles to come. You get a door and vestibule on each side of the tent, too, which makes sharing the space between two people that bit more practical.
The inner is just about big enough for two people, but only just. The width is 1.27m from wall to wall, and 2.13m long. That's just enough for two adjacent sleeping mats, so you'll need to get on well with your tent partner. The internal height is 1.07m – not quite enough for me to be able to comfortably crouch in, but nobody has ever accused me of being 'average size'.
"A door and vestibule on each side of the tent makes sharing the space between two people that bit more practical"
Other than that it performs like any other four-season tent. It's solidly built, it goes together instinctively and without fuss and is spacious for one and adequate for two. I would be confident pitching this in Scottish winter and having snow build up on the sides, which are in any case steeply angled in order to minimise the weight of snow. Overall, the tent's weight is worth it for the peace of mind that its build quality delivers.
Living with the issues
So it's well-built, it has some nice touches and it isn't too heavy. But the Access 2 is also not without niggles and annoyances. The most obvious is the inner-first pitching. MSR are a US company, and the marketing material suggests this is primarily designed as a ski-touring tent for use in snow where inner-first pitching isn't a problem. Despite the brand's Northwest Pacific coast heritage - not a US region known for its dry conditions - I doubt the designer has contemplated setting up in a gloriously wet-and-windy British summer.
There is another curious omission. Why are there two more pegging points than the number of pegs provided? I've seen this with other modern tent offerings, and in those cases the obvious answer was "to save weight". Hmmm.
That brings me to the third possible issue – the price. At £560 this is not remotely a budget buy. That said, in quality terms you certainly get what you pay for here, and there are much more expensive tents on the market.
In short, this is a very particular tent, with compromises in some areas, but one that delivers strongly in others.
The MSR Access 2 is a very solid and well-designed four season tent, and though its primary purpose is for ski touring it has obvious year-round crossover into backpacking and UK hillwalking too. With a body shape that's designed to shed snow, and an inner that does not feature too much airy mesh, I would be happy to rely on it in the worst of a British winter. If you can accept the compromise of inner-first pitching, and have a spare couple of tent pegs somewhere to supplement the number you're given, then this tent is definitely worth looking at.
Light, warm and strong—the ultimate two-person tent for winter backcountry touring.
Our new MSR Access tents let you spend comfortable days in the winter backcountry without hauling around heavy mountaineering tents. Warm, light and strong, these tents provide skiers, split-boarders and other touring users with a robust home base for their mountain pursuits.
- Price: £560
- Weight: 1.64kg (min)
- Strong Easton® Syclone™ poles resist breaking
- Unique central support frame optimizes interior space, resists snow loading
- Lighter than our mountaineering tents, warmer than our backpacking tents
- Frame is easy to set up in cold conditions
- Two doors and easy access for two people
For more info see msrgear.com
- Floor + vestibule: 2.69 + 1.62 m2
- Peak height: 1.07m
- Fly: 20D ripstop nylon 1200mm DuraShield™ polyurethane & silicone
- Inner: 20D ripstop nylon / 10D polyester micromesh
- Groundsheet: 30D ripstop nylon 3000mm DuraShield™ polyurethane & DWR
About Richard Prideaux
Richard Prideaux is the owner of established North Wales outdoor skills training and activity business Original Outdoors. He spends on average one night per week sleeping in a forest, up a mountain or on a beach somewhere in the UK and further afield and the rest of the time teaching navigation, foraging, tracking and other wilderness skills.
For more info see originaloutdoors.co.uk