The Tensleep Station 4 from Big Agnes is a fully featured tent that understands the fundamentals of a good car camping shelter; comfort, reliability and convenience. I recently had the luxury of living inside the Tensleep for 7 days on my recent trip to Acadia, putting it through the wringer, and this is what I thought.
Starting out, the Tensleep Station 4 is definitely a car camping tent. It’s large, heavy, and packs down to a considerable size. This is because it’s built to survive being pitched for long periods of time in practically any weather condition. It’s built around a beefy three pole frame system, forged from heavy duty aluminum. The poles are arranged in a way that they cross over at the center of the shelter, creating a lattice of metal that gives the tent a dome like shape. The inner body of the tent is constructed of nylon, mesh windows and a tough, coated, polyester floor. The poles attach to the inner body with a combination of nylon sleeves and clips, balancing ease of setup and strength. A fourth pole provides structure for the vestibule and slides through the rain fly itself, extending forward to create a large porch like awning for storage and rain protection. The vestibule also has two double layer sections; one mesh layer to act as a window that can be left open for viewing and ventilation, and a second waterproof layer that can be closed during inclement weather. The rainfly is constructed of a thick, DWR coated polyester with a top vent on the back of the shelter. There is also a secondary zippered door on the back, providing an alternative method of entering and exiting the tent. Inside, there are 8 pockets total, including two very large primary pockets near the head of the tent, with other pockets scattered about in convenient, easy to reach areas. Other features include storm flaps on the vestibule to block out blowing dirt, wind, sand or snow, several reflective guy lines, and internal media loft attachment points. At it’s thinnest, the tent is 96″ wide and 122″ long with a 69″x 65″ vestibule. It weighs 18 lbs 1 oz packed, has a peak height of 68″, includes a carry sack, 19 aluminum tent stakes, and retails for $449.95.
What I liked
Living inside any tent any considerable amount of time can get old real fast. Thankfully, this wasn’t the situation with the Tensleep Station 4. Instead, I found myself looking forward to making it back to camp to spend more time inside my home away from home. The differentiating factors comes from the thoughtful design, ease of use and ample living space provided. The tent is large enough that I can stand fully upright inside (for campers up to about 5’10”), making changing, moving about, and retrieving items a non-issue. The large floor space with extra room in the center makes for a sprawling palace for two people, easily accommodating large, over-sized sleeping pads, cots and pillows. It also allowed enough room for all of our gear to fit inside the tent, without creating a cramped clutter living space. With 4 campers inside, it still provides enough space for everyone to have an enjoyable stay, given their equipment is moved outside and underneath the vestibule. You can even fill the vestibule completely with gear, using the back door for an easy entry and exit. This pays off if you’re packing large items like bicycles or camp chairs that you would prefer to keep out of the rain.
Internal organization is exceptional. Pockets line nearly every inner surface of the tent, meaning things can be stored up high, along the walls, or tucked away to the back of the tent, cleaning up floor space and making passing through simple and convenient. Just having so much free space and the ability to sprawl out made for many delightful hours of resting and relaxing inside, regardless of how bad the weather became outside.
The large multi-use vestibule is certainly my favorite feature of the Tensleep. It can be staked out like a traditional vestibule, rolled up and stashed out of the way to open up the doorway, or combined with a couple trekking poles and some rope to make a large protected porch. This simple setup imparts a lot of flexibility into the use of the shelter and allows it to be adjusted to better suit the conditions at hand. I found that using the door in it’s porch mode provided plenty of protection from most rain storms, allowing me to have excellent ventilation, a nice view, and additional room to work without worrying about getting my gear wet or feeling trapped inside. Rolling the vestibule back allows for unobstructed entry, yet still provides some sun and wind protection. The awning that’s created is large enough for two to sit underneath on camp chairs while still being protected from light rains. Staking out the door to the ground blocks all wind and debris from blowing in, excellent for harsh storms or wintry conditions where snow drift might otherwise become a problem. On most nights, I chose to leave to vestibule in it’s awning position as it blocked the sun, kept the inside of the tent cool, garnered a nice view of the rain, and I still didn’t have to worry about anything getting wet underneath unless it was raining sideways. I just had to make sure the trekking poles were adjust a bit lower to the ground to make sure rain rolled off without pooling.
The Tensleep 4 is impressively stable when properly pitched (guyed out and tensioned). Despite it’s tall, tower like interior, the shelter refused to give or sway in the wind. While attempting to shake some rain off of my shelter after a night of consistent drizzle, I found myself nearly unable to do so as the tent refused to budge even with the strength of two arms shoving against the frame. This is due largely to the taut pitch, and fact that the rugged frame system crosses over itself at 3 points as they pass through the pole sleeves (which greatly improve stability) and it stakes out in 19 different places with guy lines strategically placed in areas of high stress. There are also Velcro attachment points on the fly that attach t directly to the pole system to prevent walking and shifting of the cover. This quietens the tent while further reinforcing the structure. There are also a couple of additional connection points on the sides of the tent that can be utilized (with a couple of additional stakes and line) which reduce flapping and improve ventilation. With a full and proper pitch, I’m yet to have this shelter move. It’s burly and designed to hold it’s ground, and it will.
Aside from stability, the shelter is built very well with an impressively durable polyester floor and fly, a robust frame, and high quality stitching all around. Even after a week of camping on devestatingly abrasive and sharp granite gravel, which shredded my tarp footprint underneath in as many as 15 places(not a Big Agnes footprint), the floor of the shelter managed to hold up just fine regardless. Being pinned between the pointy rocks and the hard plastic feet from a cot for 6 days had little effect on the material. The fly is thankfully built from the same material, just coated differently for more water and tear resistance. Even after days of nonstop rain and ocean spray, the fly stayed taut and firm without sagging or stretching from the moisture. I never once even had to readjust the pitch to keep it taut despite the high humidity. The aluminum frame is thick, rugged, and after being pitched for about 144 hours straight, returned to their original shape without being bowed or warped from the constant tension. The stitch work and mesh are both incredibly consistent, without any frays or kinks to complain about. The guy lines and tensioners are also worthy of mentioning, as the new tensioners used slide along unusually easily, yet refuse to slip once in place. As far as car camping shelters goes, this is one of the best built I’ve ever tested utilizing many fabrics and materials that show up in some of my favorite 4-season shelter designs.
Setup is fairly simple and was appreciably straightforward even while setting it up solo. The three main poles are all the same length, making them interchangeable, and can be slid through and attached at any position on the tent body. After sliding them through the short sleeves on the top, simply pop one side into the grommet and lift the body to insert the other. The first pole requires a little effort as you’ll be lifting the weight of the tent and the three other poles to bend it into the dome shape, but after that the others bend easily into position with only a couple of clips left to finish the pitch. The rainfly clips are color coded to their appropriate location on the tent body, which eliminates any confusion that having two doors may otherwise bring. I usually align the yellow clips of the front door, clip them in place and simply pull the rest of the fly over the top without having to reach over the top of the tent. This makes setting it up by myself a cinch. Finally, the 4th pole (yellow) slides through the vestibule and after a little staking and guying, the tent is ready to use. When considering some of the other car camping tents I’ve pitched, this one is a breeze.
Ventilation and condensation management is fabulous here. There is a large top vent, two vents on the vestibule, and the rainfly can be tensioned and staked out, pulling the fabric away from the body, allowing for a nice flow of air in all directions. On a warm day, the back and front door can both be left open to create a wind tunnel of fresh air. Even better, most weather conditions even allow the front door to be left wide open for additional cooling thanks to the large awning. The mesh windows allow for extra air to make it into the interior of the tent while the high nylon walls (breathable) block direct currents from flowing over sleepers to prevent a chilling effect on colder days. During long periods of rain, high humidity, fog and even ocean mist I never had any condensation issues. The tent stays cool too. Even in 80 and 90 degree weather, the dark top and nylon walls blocked sun while the mesh panels vented heat outside, maintaining a comfortable environment without feeling too breezy.
The carry bag is a nice addition and for the most part pretty well designed. There is a large pocket on each side, one for the tent body and one for the rainfly, for stuffing the fabric inside. A sleeve is located in between these to slide the poles inside and a small zippered pocket keeps the tent stakes and any accessory line you might add organized. After everything is stuffed inside the bag folds in on itself and clips, turning into a duffel bag. It’s very fast, convenient, and works quite well.
What I didn’t like
The tent stakes, while numerous in number, are fairly basic aluminum sheep hooks. I was surprised to find that I could hammer them into some impressively hard earth (about 20 blows of a rock per stake to get them in) without them bending, but I did have a couple of them eventually start to cave. I decided to add 6 steel stakes to the kit to ensure that I could get a good pitch at the major attachment points even in terribly hard soil, and to have a few extra for some other features of the tent that require more than are included.
The above leads me to my second, albeit minor, complaint. There are two small loops on the side of the tent that allow for extra guying out of the tent. They don’t look important, but they are. Without using these two small guy points, you’ll end up with a flappy/loose side wall and a contact issue. You see, there are two large pockets inside the tent that hold a very generous amount of equipment. These are perfect for clothes, rain gear, etc. The problem, using these pockets full pushes the inner body out and against the rain fly, which can cause condensation and the wetting of the clothes or whatever is inside. Thankfully, those handy guy loops are provided to stake out the side of the tent which prevents this and flapping of the side wall (which will happen without staking this side out). The problem is there is no included guy line nor enough stakes to do this. You’ll want to add two more (short) lines and stakes to prevent these issues. There is also not enough includes stakes or line to porch out the vestibule. Considering what a lovely feature this is, it would be a tragedy to not add two more guy lines and stakes. This is 4 lines and stakes you’ll need/want to add to (in my opinion) have a fully functional tent without any missing features. Any blue lines in my photos were added by me, and not included by Big Agnes. It’s a minor and a very cheap fix, but it’s worth mentioning.
The vestibule has nice vents that can be unzipped for extra air, but they cannot be used without letting in rain as they remove a waterproof panel from the vestibule. Adding a couple of small props to keep the bottom open would fix this problem, as you could open up the vents completely by unzipping them or partially by simply wedging them open (like the top vent) from the bottom in rainy conditions. It’s an obvious addition that I’m baffled they didn’t include. A little air can get in even while they’re closed, but that’s simply because the panels are cut a bit loose. I can’t decide if this is intentional (seems likely, in which case good job!) or if it was simply a poorly sized panel, though.
The carry bag does have a couple of mild issues. Namely, the sleeve for the tent poles is a bit tight. It’s so tight in fact that whoever packaged mine from the factory had to force them inside, resulting in a small tear in the fabric before it even arrived at my house. The clips that close up the bag also have very short straps on them, so clipping it closed requires flattening out the packed contents (usually by me laying my body across it) to easily clip it. Once it’s close the short straps makes it difficult to compress, as you have such a small amount of fabric to grab onto. Otherwise…it’s a nice little carry sack. I found myself just not cinching the pole sleeve closed to alleviate pressure on the fabric. Instead, I simply tucked the end of the poles into the carry bag after it’s closed up and they stay in place nicely.
The mesh windows are actually silver instead of the black depicted in official photos. I’d rather have the black as it’s easier to see out, but some would prefer the silver as people cannot easily see inside.
After miles and miles of hiking, day after day, I couldn’t wait to return to my Tensleep Station for an evening of rest. Knowing I had a place to go that was clean, dry, roomy and well ventilated provided a constant boost of morale while out hammering out long trails. Being inside the Tensleep is not just enjoyable, at many times it was preferable to being outside. Thanks to the high ceilings, organized interior and copious floor space the tent becomes a mobile home, instead of a fallout to desperation. When the weather turned south, the Tensleep provided reliable, quiet protection without making the sleepers inside feel trapped. Opening up the vestibule provides a nice view of showers in most conditions and numerous vents allow the cool air to flow inside while doing an exceptional job of regulating condensation. It’s easy to set up, affordable for the size and has proven itself to be a more than competent shelter for any weather condition. Little features like attachments for a media loft (movie night anyone?), vestibule vents, and storm flaps only add to the already impressive feature set. Pack in some extra cord and stakes and the Tensleep makes for an exceptional shelter that adjusts to suit the challenge at hand without feeling like a compromise in space or security.
The highest of recommendations
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6 thoughts on “Big Agnes Tensleep Station 4 Review”
Thank you, Sir, for such a fantastic report! Yes, I want to get one, too, but I am not sure about the mesh. Is it good for no see ums? They do not specify it.
Yep! You’ll have no problems here.
Thank you! Nu the way, I just begin to realize what a wonderful site you have and what an expert you are. I am so impressed! I also congratulate you you life style ind interests. Thanks again!
Thank you for the kind words! I’ll do my best to keep it up.
Thanks for all the great details! I recently (Merry Christmas to me) purchased a tensleep 4 for the family annual car camping trip. Our first stop is the Colorado National Monument and I can just see the aluminum stakes curving to a C on day one. I’ll purchase steel stakes and extra guy lines before we set out. Thank you!
Glad I was able to help out! The Tensleep 4 is still my favorite car camping tent. It’s holding strong and has been through a lot.
Good call on the steel stakes! They’ve been a big help for me. Happy camping!