By Dorn Van Dommelen
For years I’ve wanted to have a floorless tent for various Alaskan adventures: an easy-to-pitch shelter that could be thrown up during a downpour as a lunchtime sanctuary, or a winter cooking/sleeping shelter that could squeeze in a crowd in a pinch. So, last year I added a Brooks-Range Stubai tent to the gear arsenal and made it a project to try it in a wide variety of situations. Helping me in this endeavor were my sons and a few others. Below are some of our conclusions.
The Stubai got a number of workouts on ski tours and mountaineering. My older son, Lang, took it on an attempt of the Dragon’s Spine in the Alaska Range, and my younger guy, Puck, and I used it on tours in both the Talkeetnas and the Chugach. As a straight up snow shelter the Stubai did well. Sleeping five in the tent would be a squeeze, but it’s palatial for two and pretty light, especially since we never used it with stakes. We did supplement pitching with a set of parachute anchors – a must have in the snow, in my opinion, which kept it remarkably stable in fairly high winds on a number of occasions. The tent held up to rain and snow well, but it needs to be cleared frequently in heavy snow; the single pole design just can’t bear a huge weight of snow. A complication noted by Lang was that in warm, soft snow, securing the walls can be a challenge, but the creative use of ice axes, skis, and other gear can help to stabilize the tent’s pitch. That said, a couple of tarps make it easy to set up camp under the tent and haul in a load of gear. On one trip we cooked in it while in our sleeping bags. Sort of cozy, even with the door wide open.
Perhaps the greatest success of the Stubai was as a snow kitchen shelter. On one backcountry skiing trip, in particular, we rigged the Stubai, which has five sides, over a circular trench/snow seating area, with a small snow cooking table in the center. The pole of the Stubai was supported by a small square of closed-cell foam, an essential for winter use, though a small chunk of 2 x 4 with a hole drilled for the tent pole might be even better. Glad we were to have the Stubai. Our ski trip saw almost no skiing as we were mostly trapped in camp by high winds and about two feet of snow. It took some work to maintain the tent, but it provided much needed protection as we fought to keep from being buried alive. Six of us were regularly squeezed into the Stubai, melting snow and arguing over whose turn it was to dig camp out.
As a “summer” tent the Stubai faces some of its greatest challenges. Note that the tent was used in Alaska summer conditions, with plenty of cool, rainy weather, even during a glorious Alaska summer. In the Alaska Range, Lang even road out a few thunderstorms in it. While we love to have it as an emergency shelter – try setting up anything else but a single pole tent in glacial moraine – the design of the tent allows a lot of moisture to build up, even with the vents wide open. We had similar problems with ice buildup while camping at -15F. This is to be expected with any single wall tent. The advantage of the Stubai is, however, that with a bunch of head clearance it’s pretty easy to avoid the moisture. And, we were pleasantly surprised that the tent didn’t become bug- infested on one recent trip, but it would be a stretch to use it in mosquito country. Sometimes you just want to crawl into a mosquito netted space.
Overall, we give the Stubai high marks. While it’s likely not our go-to shelter for non-winter backcountry travel, it can serve as a great cooking tent for a party of six. In the winter, the Stubai will nearly always be on the list. It proved to be easy to set up, stable and a nearly life-saving shelter in blizzard conditions.