It’s not every day that a five year gear review comes our way. Robbie’s tested his Wilderness Equipment Second Arrow Ultralight Tent in almost every environment, let’s see how it performs.
Since this tent came into my possession five years ago, it’s been on nearly every trip, keeping me safe and secure no matter what the conditions. I say, ‘came into my possession’, it actually belongs to my sister, but since she lives overseas, I have it all to myself! You can pick up one for yourself for around $730, which might seem pretty steep until you realise that you won’t need another tent, no matter the conditions.
I’ve resisted buying further tents because the Second Arrow has always had my back. So why is it so good?
The Wilderness Equipment Second Arrow Ultralight tent weighs in at 1.86kg and has a minimum weight of 1.66kg.
On the spectrum of overnight shelters, this might not appear like an ultralight tent. However, when you consider that this is an all season tent, designed to operate from bushwalking in the Bluies to ski-touring along Australia’s highest peaks, this is definitely an ultralight option.
When pegged against other four season tunnel tents such as the Macpac Minaret (around 2.1kg) or the burly Mont Epoch (3.8kg), 1.66kg is featherweight.
The minimum weight can be achieved by only taking three standard tent pegs and removing the pole-repair kit. Though saving weight is preferable, you should carefully consider whether an exposed campsite means you should take all your pegs to use the guy ropes. Or whether a pole could snap under gale-force winds.
It’s best to always err on the side of caution so I always bring the whole kit. Plus, using all the guy ropes and pegs means you can get the fly nice and taught, which can help keep you dry.
If you’re using snow pegs then this will push the weight higher too. For only a couple of hundred grams, I just take all the pegs.
Performance – A tent for all seasons?
How many seasons can the Second Arrow Ultralight tent handle? Get ready for this, according to Wilderness Equipment… five.
Eye grabbing, but what’s it mean? Obviously, a healthy dose of marketing, but Wilderness Equipment is right to loudly assert the versatility of this tent, ranging from its ability to take on gnarly alpine storms to providing excellent ventilation for warm nights.
The ‘fifth’ season might sound a bit silly, but it’s a way for manufacturers to distinguish tents designed for properly rough winter weather. Sure your 4 season tent might keep you warm in the depths of winter, but can it handle an alpine storm? A five-season tent can.
The Second Arrow is a full nylon tent, and designed to handle the darkest depths of winter. I’ve wrapped myself tightly in my sleeping bag and shut my eyes tightly whilst laying in my tent as it was punched and pummelled by 100kph winds. In response, once the wind died down, it just bounced back into shape.
It certainly takes a little bit longer to get my heart rate down after experiences like that!
Despite having a full fabric inner, this tent has also chugged along in summer without much discomfort. The door and window have a clever zip arrangement which means you can unzip the full nylon fabric to reveal a mesh door and window.
So long as you have a breeze, this dramatically improves airflow and makes it usable in summertime without being stifling. I recently took it to a campground in the Blue Mountains and slept in just my liner with the mesh ‘windows’ providing airflow.
Floor: 5000mm (siliconised and seam sealed)
Fly: 3000mm (siliconised and seam sealed)
A quick refresher on how these numbers are determined. A small section of the fabric is placed beneath a column which is then filled with water. As the pressure on the fabric increases, water droplets penetrate through. The point at which this happens is the fabric’s water column rating. As with rain jackets, tents are waterproof but only up to a point.
Three season tents often have a floor rating of 2000-3000mm, sometimes as low as 1200mm. That’s fine in the right conditions, but if you like testing yourself in bad weather, your gear needs to be up to snuff. That’s why I like the Second Arrow’s rating of 5000mm.
The waterproofing agent/chemical applied to the Second Arrow is silicone-based, not polyurethane as is common. Siliconised nylon has some amazing properties: it’s hydrophobic, it increases the fabric’s tear strength, and it’s long-lasting. Unfortunately, it costs more to produce than PU-treated fabrics.
The main benefit of siliconised nylon is not having to worry about hydrolysis, a slow breakdown that can affect PU-fabric. That being said, always make sure to properly clean your tent before you pack it away.
In all levels of rain and snow, I’ve only ever woken up with a few droplets on the floor in the tent, and that may just have been condensation or melted snow that I accidentally brought in with me.
This tent doesn’t have a footprint accessory (a protective layer of fabric you lay under the tent) like many do, but my tent floor is holding up just fine after five years. Pro tip: if you do prefer to use a footprint, you can always cut your own from Tyvek.
5000mm is, of course, not the highest level of waterproofing on the market. The Wilderness Equipment Second Arrow X, the UL’s tougher cousin, has a floor rating of 8000mm and is designed for regular heavy snow loads and high alpine conditions.
Mont, based in Canberra, produces tents that boast up to a 25,000mm rating on their floor. However, for my uses, across all kinds of environments and saving on weight, the 5000mm floor has held its own.
My 3,000mm fly has also never let me down. A higher waterproof rating on the fly is not as important as for the floor because the fly almost never has as much pressure exerted upon it.
Even with several inches of snow piled on top of my tent during a storm, it held up like a champ.
Design & Durability
As I mentioned, I’ve never used a footprint with this tent and after all these years there are only a few superficial marks on the fabric. I think 40D is a nice middle ground on the market. Going thinner obviously lowers the weight but also diminishes durability.
That being said, I’ve never pitched it on a rocky surface. If I had to I’d try to use a footprint.
The 30D fly has warded off hail and snow without breaking a sweat. In the morning, the nylon fabric has a tendency to lose its tension and sag under condensation but that’s the beauty of double-walled tents – the inner keeps most of it at bay – don’t forget to ventilate!
The poles are made by DAC, a South Korean company and are 9mm in diameter. DAC is responsible for manufacturing premium tent poles for top tier companies including Mont, Hilleberg, and MSR. Again, 9mm sits in the middle of pole diameters. I know of diameters ranging from 8.7mm-10mm.
Mine have never given me cause for concern. This tent also has the capability to be double-poled, to make it ready for incredibly foul weather.
Fortunately, one set of poles has been plenty for me, but it’s good to have the flexibility. I had to replace the shock cord inside them last year but this isn’t difficult. I also almost lost one after it skidded down a slope in the backcountry last year – secure your load!
Tunnel tents are designed to withstand high winds and shed snow. They’re usually less boxy than regular tents and therefore slightly less roomy which can be frustrating for tall folk (myself included).
A double-wall tent, while slightly heavier than alpine specific single-walled tents, gives you much more warmth, and better protection from condensation.
I believe this is preferable because when you’re camping in the snow, condensation can be minimised, but it often can’t be beaten. This is because the temperature difference between your tent and the outside air is often significant.
Ease of Use
Non free-standing means this tent needs to be pegged out to stay upright. This helps the tent save a surprising amount of weight but you have to know how to effectively use the various guy ropes and straps to properly tension the outer.
Correctly tensioning this tent will maximise space, shed snow better, and lessen the threat of buffeting winds. At the end of a long day, tensioning the tent can be tiring and at times I’m envious of my friends with their free-standing tents.
But I think it would be inappropriate to consider this a design flaw. With practice, it becomes increasingly easy to set up the Second Arrow properly – make sure to practice in the backyard! (Who doesn’t right?… right?)
This tent has an integrated inner and fly, so I can erect the whole thing in one go. This means my inner won’t get wet if I need to set up in the rain or snow which, let me tell you, is fantastic!
I haven’t tried it myself, but it’s possible to separate the two sections and just set up the outer with the poles, leaving the inner behind. A useful set-up for those who like a little more intimacy with insects and furry nocturnal animals.
At 190cm tall, (6’3” for you imperialists), the only part of the tent where I can sit upright without touching the ceiling is under the tall hoop. If frost settles on the roof, just be careful when your groggy self sits up in the morning! In my early backcountry days, I’d create a little snow shower every morning. Now I know better.
If I had to weather out a multi-day storm inside my tent, I reckon I’d come out a tad claustrophobic, but touch wood I haven’t had to do this yet. For the most part, I think having less room is a reasonable sacrifice – this tent wasn’t designed for car campers, after all.
If you try hard enough, you can cram several bodies into just about any tent – no promises for comfort! You can squeeze two people inside the Second Arrow but this leaves very little room for gear, which is instead confined to the vestibule.
I much prefer this tent as a roomy one person shelter, with plenty of room for interior storage, especially in winter. There are two generous pouches on the wall for you to deposit all your gadgets and other bits.
The tent does come with a (detachable) gear loft included, but I confess I bumped my head against it so often that I don’t bring it with me any more.
The vestibule is very spacious too. Room for boots, the pack, pots, pans (maybe not the kitchen sink). In the snow I dig a small hole in the vestibule which makes for an excellent space to put my boots on in the morning.
Where have I taken it? What conditions has it seen?
I’m deeply in love with Australia’s alpine, and when I worked at Paddy Pallin Canberra, Kosciuszko National Park was just down the road, ready and waiting.
I’ve used this tent numerous times along Kosciuszko’s Main Range, in summer and winter, as well as further north in the park along the NSW-ACT border.
I’ve also used it in summer in the Blue Mountains and the Royal National Park. Throughout its use, the Wilderness Equipment Second Arrow Ultralight has seen snow, rain, icy winds, hail, and a little more snow, and it’s not done yet.
This is an impartial review and the views are Robbie’s alone.