Redesigned for 2016, the Montbell Thunderdome 2 tent has been created from the ground up to offer an uncompromising living experience for campers who demand more internal space, a luxurious floor plan and a palace like ceiling. I’ve been lucky enough to give it a vigorous shake down, and these are my thoughts.
The Thunderdome 2 is built around the unique “H” frame system, meaning the aluminum poles are affixed in an “H” shape instead of the more traditional crossing poles setup that most tents use. This unique shape combined with a combination of strategically placed 9 mm and 10.2 mm pole segments creates a much roomier internal compartment, near vertical walls and door, along with a 43.3 in (110cm) peak height that is maintained throughout most of the shelter. A secondary brow pole runs across the top of much of the length of the tent, greatly increasing headspace and raising the vestibule height up for easier entry and exit of the tent. The floor plan comes out to a full 32.2 square feet with a 90.6 inch length and a 51.2 inch width (230 x 130 cm). The tent is built from 70 denier rip-stop nylon for the floor, 40 denier taffeta nylon for the rainfly, and 20 denier mesh for the inner body with 7001 aluminum used for the poles. There are two always open vents and a double zippered door that can be partially unzipped to improve ventilation, and a single front entrance and vestibule to get in and out. The tent weighs 5 lbs 9 oz packed, includes 12 tent stakes and a stuff sack and retails for $329.
What I liked
I don’t think I’ve ever been so comfortable inside a backpacking tent. The interior of the shelter is cavernous to the point that it feels alien; like walking into a home with vaulted ceilings for the first time.Yet, it’s delightful to be able to move around so freely inside. I found myself able to sit up fully upright even at the far end of the foot of the tent without so much as touching the ceiling with my head. The impressive length and width provided more than enough room to move about, get dressed, or just to stretch out while still providing extra space for even two backpacks at the foot of the tent. I never once felt cramped and found myself wallowing in its generous sanctuary. Riding out multiple back-to-back thunderstorms, normally a trial of patience, was a pleasure as I never once felt trapped or locked away. Instead, I happily abided my time, spending my down time happily reading and playing games.
Per usual with Montbell, the build quality of the Thunderdome 2 is exceptional. High quality 7001 aluminum poles, rugged aluminum tent stakes, and very durable high quality nylon fabrics are used throughout the design, making it impressively rugged and resilient. The stitching is consistent with no loose threads or frays, and the mesh walls are smooth and uniform without excessive kinks or runs. Even the guy lines get extra attention with easy to use aluminum tensioners instead of the traditional cheap plastic most use, and thick yet easy to manipulate cordage is amply supplied, providing extra reach when trying to avoid rocks and stumps when guying out. The clips that attach the poles to the tent body are well thought out too, as they’re smooth and flat in design, which avoid creating pressure points that more traditional, pointy clips force onto the rainfly. Even the stakes are of surprisingly high quality. They’re essentially looped metal, but this makes them rugged and easy to use, despite being simple strands of curled metal.
As far as stability goes, the Thunderdome 2 doesn’t disappoint. The “H” shaped frame uses a high diameter pole in sections of high stress, typically a thickness reserved for 4 season tents, creating a stiff frame that resists winds easily from any direction. When fully staked out, the tent has 12 anchor points holding it in place, including the guy lines and body connections. This combination of a rigid frame and numerous guy outs provided from every angle allows the shelter to pitch taut and shrug off high speed gusts with little impact. The rainfly material doesn’t sag or stretch after prolonged exposure to moisture either, meaning once pitched it stays taut all night instead of getting flappy by the time morning rolls around. The steeply angled low profile vestibule also sheds wind, preventing the door from flopping around all night when things get rough. It’s a very stable shelter that I would trust even in light snow if the situation came up.
Setup is easy, with the frame snapping together quickly thanks to the shock corded design. The “H” frame is a little bewildering at first as it bucks tradition, but once you notice where the color coded sections go, it pops right in with no resistance. Simply line up the colors, pop in the poles, raise the clips to the poles and you’re ready to clip in the fly if desired. Just lay the poles out over the tent first, with the secondary yellow brow extension pointing forward and you’re good to go.
Ventilation is good thanks largely to the low riding mesh walls and the addition of two large vents, one on the front and one on the back of the tent. If positioned into the wind, this creates a nice flow of air that carries straight through the tent. The low riding mesh walls help too, as a bit of air can flow through from all sides, but it’s not so dramatic as to allow for a cold breeze to roll across the body of the sleeper. The door is double zippered too, allowing the top to be unzipped for a bit of extra air current without completely exposing the tent to wind or rain. This allows for excellent condensation management, even in the humid East Coast summer weather. The top vents cannot be closed, but they do a wonderful job of keeping out rain and debris, so that’s not going to be a problem.
The included tent stakes hold very well and are also easy to remove with a bare hand, which is a rarity as most stakes these days are sharp and jagged. The rounded ends of the pole don’t cut into the hand when tugging them out of the ground, making life much easier after they’ve been hammered to deep into the soil a bit too far.
Smaller details like a forked zipper (to avoid tension on the zipper and hangs), protective patches behind the stabilizing Velcro pole attachments (to protect from the Velcro rubbing the rain fly), tapered stuff sack (for easier packing) and reflective guy lines (no more late night “trips” to the bathroom), show a lot of thought and consideration went into the design.
The front door is impressively large for a front access tent, allowing a user to easily get in and out without having to army crawl through the mud to do so. I’ve been able to sit up at the door to lace up my boots, and I can sit straight up out of the shelter to walk away. No hunching over here.
What I didn’t like
With great luxury does come some additional weight. The tent, including stakes and such, comes in at 5 lbs 9 oz. While this is well within the backpacking range, those who are carrying it without splitting the weight between two people will notice the added mass on their back. This means it will take up more space inside of a backpack too, so take care to pack with this in mind. The guylines and stakes can be exchanged for lighter options though, as the included options are pretty burly and hefty in comparison to most. This can shave off several ounces and by leaving the stuff sacks at home, it can bring the weight down close to the 5 lb mark.
The vestibule overall is pretty small. Trying to stack the equipment from two campers (backpacks, boots and cook gear) takes a little bit of Tetris like enginuity. Even after carefully organizing it, the gear takes up the entire vestibule floor space, making getting in and out a problem. Luckily, the generous internal volume of the tent easily allows backpacks to be stored inside at the foot, head, or side of the tent without issue. There is also room on both sides of the sleeping pads for other goodies, clearing up the vestibule nicely. At that point, boots and cookware fit under one side of the vestibule, allowing a camper to come and go unobstructed. This is a problem if you’ve been backpacking in the rain and your backpack is soaked though, as you might not want to drag them inside. So, make sure to use a pack cover.
Internal organization is scant, with only a single small pocket located on one side of the tent. An optional loft accessory is said to be available, but I couldn’t find it online. There are several loops across the ceiling where items can be attached though.
Despite the heavy pack weight and small vestibule, I found myself growing increasingly fond of the Thunderdome 2. The huge interior makes living inside a true pleasure, especially when waiting out seemingly never ending rain storms. The sturdy build and taut pitch produces a shelter that is not only reliable, but quiet and inviting. Where most tents creak and groan, this Thunderdome is silent and resilient, allowing for an easy night full of rest, even on exposed windy peaks. It’s easy to set up, well ventilated, and comes in at a fair price. If you’re looking for a tent that focuses on usability, livability and reliability, this is an excellent option, if you don’t mind the weight.
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I wanted to send out a special thanks out to our friends at Montbell for their continued support and for providing this excellent piece of equipment to review. We couldn’t do this without their help. Thank you so much! Our full disclosure can be found on the about me/contact page.