UKC

REVIEW: MSR Elixir 4 Tent

Billed by MSR as a backpacking tent for four people, the Elixir 4 is quick to pitch, reasonably light for its capacity, and easy to live with. Its price tag and build quality are good too. But is it genuinely roomy enough for regular use by four adults, plus their gear? And is its design a perfect match for the prolonged wet weather that hillwalkers have to expect in the UK? I'm not 100% convinced.

You'd need to split the load between three or four adults to consider this for serious backpacking use. As I don't generally go backpacking mob-handed, I've just been using it for the more casual family-and-friends sort of camping, either straight out of the car or at most a short stroll from the road. For this it is ideal.

MSR Elixir 4 tent on a coastal wild camp, 201 kb
MSR Elixir 4 tent on a coastal wild camp
© Dan Bailey

Weight and packed size

MSR's stated weight of 4.18kg all-in is about right, give or take a few grams. It doesn't feel like the last word in ultralight, but you won't find may 4-person tents that are significantly less. Add another 330g for the the optional 'footprint' undersheet, which comes supplied. You can squeeze the lot, footprint too, into the large main stuff sack - a bag of about 55cm (length) x 75cm (diameter). However, given its weight and bulk, if you're carrying the tent any distance then you may prefer to divide it between several people. A group of four walkers could as easily carry this between them as two two-person tents at about 2kg apiece, or indeed four one-person tents of around 1kg; I suppose it depends how sociable you feel. I've generally been carrying the poles and pegs in a separate bag (supplied), which resulted in a predictable disaster on one family camping trip in May (the tent does not really work without poles, whoulda thunk it).

Pitching

Sussing out the pole arrangement - instructions are for wimps, 137 kb
Sussing out the pole arrangement - instructions are for wimps
© Dan Bailey

The Elixir 4 pitches inner first, which is only a drawback if it's raining at the time. Setting it up is simple and intuitive thanks to colour coded poles and matching tabs on the inner and fly. The two main poles, made of robust aluminium, are hinged together into a single piece, to which the inner tent attaches via a series of hooks to make a really taut self-supporting structure. Add a little third pole that runs crosswise to boost internal headroom; chuck the fly over the top, and pop it into place with plastic clips at each corner; peg out the entrance vestibule at each side; then pin out the four guys, and job done. In all it takes one person a fairly leisurely 10 minutes, and doubtless a lot less for a group. The large aluminium pegs supplied are good and strong - no token toothpicks to save weight here.

Living space

Good consistent headroom, for a backpacking tent, 192 kb
Good consistent headroom, for a backpacking tent
© Dan Bailey

Headroom is where the Elixir 4 really excels. Its maximum internal height of 121cm is enough for me to comfortably kneel upright (I am about 183cm tall), and while this is no higher than the max on some rival tents, with the broad slope of the roof and its steep side walls, this headroom extends across much of the interior. If you are reasonably tall, the Elixir 4 is a very livable space.

In terms of floor area, I'm not convinced by MSR's quoted 5 square metres. I make it about 210 x 210cm of usable floor space (or more like 4.5 sq m). Since the footprint is basically square there's plenty of length for all but the very tallest to fully stretch out, and you can align yourself either parallel with or at right angles to the doors. However I do think that 210cm of width is rather on the tight side for four grown adults. The floor fits four standard camping mats from the Bailey collection, but with nothing to spare. Two of our four are very small children, so for us there's wiggle room; but four adults would lie shoulder-to-shoulder across the tent. If you weren't already close friends, you would be by the end of the trip.

With four adults in residence you'll be sleeping shoulder to shoulder, 140 kb
With four adults in residence you'll be sleeping shoulder to shoulder
© Dan Bailey

An entrance vestibule at each side gives you options for getting in and out - handy if you don't want to climb over three sleeping bodies for your night time pee. The twin porches also offer storage space for boots and rucksacks - indispensible, if the interior is full of people, and somewhere to cook if the weather's awful outside too. However these vestibules are not huge; a couple of trekking packs on each side basically fills them, creating something of a barrier to entry and exit. For all those small loose items that you want to hand in the night - book, torch, water, snacks, teddies (or is that just us?) - internal storage is generous, with two very large main mesh pockets low down and more smaller ones up high. On our pre-production test sample the advertised 'attic gear loft' was not supplied, so all I can say about this is that it sounds a good idea.

Loads of space in the pockets for all the little essentials like, err, stuffed monkeys and flamenco dresses, 162 kb
Loads of space in the pockets for all the little essentials like, err, stuffed monkeys and flamenco dresses
© Dan Bailey

Weather performance

On paper the figures for hydrostatic head - how waterproof a fabric is in laboratory conditions - do not compare well with some competitors: it's just 3000mm for the floor and 1500mm for the fly. Having reviewed a tent from MSR a couple of years ago (the Hubba Hubba NX - see here) this is a question I was expecting to come up again with the Elixir 4, so I'll just repeat what MSR told me last time:

'[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 lighter 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.'

Having used the Elixir 4 over the dismal British summer of 2016, I have no complaint so far with the waterproofness of the fabrics. The deep-sided bucket design of the groundsheet helps in this regard too, protecting you from any rain that manages to blow under the fly. And of course if you were pitched on boggy ground and concerned about potential seepage in the groundsheet under the pressure of knees and bums, you could always double up with the footprint sheet.

When they're not zipped up tight, the vestibules lack structure, 214 kb
When they're not zipped up tight, the vestibules lack structure
© Dan Bailey

The fabrics seem up to British wind and rain; however I am less convinced by the geometry of the outer. Overall the structure is pretty solid, and in windy weather the tent can be guyed out securely on all four sides. But while the inner stands nice and taut, some facets of the fly are less tight than others. The problem is around the vestibules, where no matter how hard you try to peg things out there's still a slightly baggy feel. As it's not really that well supported on the inside at this point, the tent tends to billow and bow in the wind here. Worse, when the door is unzipped, one side of the vestibule sags. I have tried repeatedly to address this when pitching, but so far to no avail. As a result, if you were using the door in heavy rain (particularly plus wind) then drips would inevitably end up all over anything stored in the porch, and to an extent even inside the tent itself.

In fine weather rain drips are of course no issue, and instead the need for ventilation comes to the fore. The inner of the Elixir 4 has sufficient mesh for comfortable airflow in warmer conditions, but not so much that it's likely to feel too draughty in colder weather. With little pop-up vents in the fly, and doors at each side that can be rolled back for maximum ventilation, this is a light and airy tent for summer camping.

Summary

For fair weather camping the Elixir 4 is more than adequate, and overall it is pretty solid in the wind too. But in prolonged wet conditions those saggy door flaps would be an annoyance. The Elixir 4 is well suited to car camping, but at around 4kg it's only realistic for backpacking when split between several people. However, if you're after a livable experience for a party of full-sized adults then it is better treated as a roomy three person tent than a borderline four. Build quality is good and the price seems fair for what you're getting.

MSR Elixir 4 tent review, 224 kb

MSR say:

New for 2016: Spacious backpacking tent for four plus gear.

Featuring generous headroom and an optimized floor area that sleeps four comfortably, the Elixir 4 tent offers the livability you want for the whole group, whether you're taking your friends into the backcountry or your family on a wilderness canoe trip. Two large StayDry™ doors provide easy access, and two large vestibules let you stow lots of gear. Breathable mesh fabric is balanced with solid canopy fabric to provide more privacy, and storm-ready, adjustable guy lines are pre-attached on the rainfly to offer extra stability when needed. The easy-to-assemble, freestanding tent comes with plenty of extras, including an MSR Footprint and a built-in attic gear loft.

MSR Elixir 4 tent product shot, 16 kb

  • Fast & Light® Minimum Weight w/ footprint 2.36kg
  • Minimum Weight 3.58kg
  • Packed Weight 4.18kg
  • Floor Area 5.02 sq.m
  • Vestibule Area 1.67 sq.m
  • Tent Volume 3285 liters
  • Vestibule Volume 538 liters
  • Interior Peak Height 121cm
  • Packed Size 56 x 17cm
  • Number of Doors 2
  • Freestanding yes
  • Number of Poles 2 Aluminum 7000 Series
  • Rainfly Fabric 68D ripstop polyester 1,500mm polyurethane and silicone
  • Canopy Fabric 40D ripstop nylon DWR
  • Mesh Type 20D nylon micro-mesh
  • Floor Fabric 70D taffeta nylon 3000mm polyurethane & DWR

For more info see: cascadedesigns.com

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