Field test and review
When I first started hiking I spent the first twelve months of my new ‘life of adventure’ exploring the state parks close to my home in western Victoria. As my skills and confidence grew shorter half day hikes evolved into lengthy and more challenging full day hikes, often up to 10 hours and 25km in length. I discovered my passion for hiking as a solo hiker, mainly due to the fact that none of my friends were really into the outdoors. I actually really enjoyed hiking alone but longed to head out in a few multi-day hikes and to do that I needed to find myself some hiking companions. To cut a long story short, I found one and married her.
So the planning for our first multi-day hike began and we headed out on the trail with a 2.7kg three-person tent. Compared to some of the tents I had used previously for car camping this one was as light as a feather and we loved that our packs only weighed around 18kg. Looking back, I can’t believe that I thought that was light.
As our love for multi-day adventures grew, so too did our passion for the alpine areas of Victoria. Our hikes became longer, more adventurous and deeper into the wilderness of the Victorian Alps. It quickly became apparent that we couldn’t go on hauling 18kg around with us on these hikes so we started searching for ways to lighten our load. Pack, sleeping bags, tents, cooking gear, clothing, camp stoves, toothbrushes; we soon discovered that by replacing everything that we owned with lighter (more expensive) gear we could shave kilos off our pack weight. So with a limited budget, where do you start.
To me it was obvious, you start with the heaviest item, our tent. After months of research we discovered the Big Sky Revolution tent, a tent that carries with it a mere 1.7kg pack weight. That was enough to sell me. Not really, there are so many other features to this tent that I loved. It is a brilliant example of a well thought out and well manufactured product. So light to carry, so small to pack, so quick to erect and so roomy inside (we purchased the 3P tent). I could go on about this tent all day, but this is not the purpose of this article. What I want to tell you about is the Revolutions smaller but tougher brother (or sister, I’m not really sure how to tell with tents).
Enter the Big Sky Chinook 2P 4 Season Tent
Made for more serious adventures such as snow camping, mountaineering and multi-day hikes, the Chinook is designed to perform at its peak in high-wind areas and snow. Starting from the exterior, the Chinook offers double-wall protection from the elements with enough room inside the tent for you, your hiking buddy and smaller packed items. The exoskeleton design, the same as the Revolution, consists of three sturdy aluminum poles secured to the outside of the fly. What this achieves is a super-taut pitch that allows you to setup your tent in any weather without exposing the interior to the elements. We optioned the snow skirts on the fly which add an additional layer of protection by extending the fly down onto the ground. You can bury the overlap under the snow to help keep the weather out and the warmth in.
Heading inside the Chinook has two large vestibules on either side of the tent which are perfect for stowing your pack. I love that the tent has door on both sides of the tent as it makes it really easy for both parties to come and go from the tent without disturbing the other. Beyond the vestibules and two zippered doors which provide access to a surprisingly roomy interior, complete with high ceilings, deep pockets and plenty of internal clips for hanging torches or clothes you are trying to dry. I should mention here that I have always used tents that are one person larger than the number of occupants so I started this field test with a little bit of skepticism about the size, 2-person tent for 2 people? I can honestly say that I find that this tent has more room than it larger sibling, the 3P Revolution.
We have tested the Chinook on a number of overnight hikes and have been fortunate enough to have been exposed to a range of weather conditions to really put it through its paces. We have camped in heavy rain, gale force winds and even a substantial dusting of snow and the Chinook has never let us down. Having already owned the Revolution I suppose I knew what to expect from Big Sky but it still amazes me every time that a tent that is so thin and so light can be so solid and provide you with the protection that it does from the elements.
It is worth noting that the Chinook can be easily converted from a 3 season to a 4 season tent simply by adding or removing the cross pole that supports the vestibules. This will also reduce your overall pack weight if you are certain that you are in for fine weather. As with the Revolution, the Chinook is available with a mesh inner which provides excellent ventilation during the warmer nights but is not so great when you are out in a snow storm or facing strong winds from the Southern Ocean. For the Chinook we opted for the breathable fabric inner which provides greater protection from the elements and with two people in the tent it will keep you exceptionally warm. As with all solid skins this will increase the possibility of condensation building on the inside of your tent. In order to counter this Big Sky have built two ventilation flaps in the ceiling that let some of the moist air out and help reduce buildup of moisture.
An additional benefit of the external poles is that the fly can be setup on its own without the inner tent. This floor-less design provides the lightest possible configuration for weather protection and allows the tent to be used as a shelter for lunch breaks as well as an ultralight shelter for those you like to only carry 6kg on an overnight hike.
The Chinook is light weight, flexible, durable, spacious, has large vestibules which are great for cooking, and packs down surprisingly small to fit neatly into your pack. When I purchased the Big Sky Revolution I thought I had found the ultimate 3 season tent but after field testing the Chinook 4 season I have to say that the little brother/sister wins my affection as the best tent I have ever used. I know that may sound like a big call but for those of you who know how extensive my backpack and hiking boot collection is you can safely assume that I have and still do own quite a number of tents and this is my favourite child (just don’t tell the others)
Big Sky tents are available in Melbourne from Backpacking Light.
Prices varies from $779 to $1069 depending on options
Now for those who have been dying for the technical info…
- Manufactured by Big Sky International
- Fabric, fly: SuprSil, 1500mm
- Fabric, floor: SuperSil, coated on both sides, 3000mm
- Fabric, interior: Mesh (breathable fabric inner upgrade available)
- Factory-sealed seams
- Material, poles: DAC NSL 9 mm (aluminum)
- 3 four-season poles
- 2 large vestibules
- 2 top vents on vestibules
- 2 large zippered side doors
- 4 interior pockets
- Pole length, four-season, folded: 43 cm
- Weight: 1,684 g with mesh inner
- Weight: 1,694 g with breathable fabric inner upgrade
Field Tested by
Darren Edwards > www.trailhiking.com.au