The Sierra Designs Nightwatch takes everything I liked about the Lightning 2: an awning, gear closets, and a stable design, and enhances it by implementing a roll back fly for star gazing and better ventilation. Despite looking quite similar, the design has been heavily modified in a variety of ways. How does this new model hold up? My review.
The Nightwatch 2 is designed around the concept of ditching the long standing classic: the vestibule. Instead of a vestibule the Nightwatch implements a waterproof, vertical front door with a protective awning over top. Gear storage has been moved to the sides of the tent in the form of “gear closets” that can be accessed from inside or outside the tent via two zippered doors, one on each side of the tent, or by lifting the rainfly. The front door is constructed of two layers, a waterproof layer on the inside that can be unzipped and rolled down for better airflow and viewing, and a breezy mesh outer for protection from bugs and debris. The rainfly can be used in three positions: the traditional full coverage position, the half back position (some sun protection but a lot more ventilation and a better view), and the rolled back position that allows for unobstructed viewing and air flow. The poles are high quality 9 mm DAC Pressfit aluminum. The frame comes together to form a small arch at the foot, with a larger arch at the shoulder, with a tensioned vertical pole running the length of the tent, one end clipping into the vestibule with the other clipping into the foot of the tent. The rainfly is polyurethane coated 75D polyester tafetta (1500mm), paired with a coated 70D floor (3000mm) and 20D no-see-um mesh. The tent weighs 5 lbs packed, includes the Night Glow kit, and retails for 239.95, with a more expensive FL model available for $389.95.
What I liked
Livability with the Nightwatch 2 ranks with the best shelters I’ve tested. The interior of the tent is open, with plenty of room for a cozy couple to move around, change clothes, read books, or whatever else you might need to do while inside. Never did I ever find myself feeling trapped or smothered from a lack of usable space. That’s not because the interior is cavernous, because it’s not. The space provided is simply used used very well. The tent gets out of the way and allows the users to enjoy their time inside, with steep walls, extra shoulder space, and a generously long footprint. Two users can freely sit up side my side without getting in each others way too much, although there will be some light shoulder rubbing on the walls. The foot of the shelter provides more than enough room to move feet around completely unobstructed, and testers at 5’10” had no issues with head or foot room. I even found that I had extra space for a few extra pieces of gear also, always a plus.
Ditching vestibules for an awning and gear closets is a brilliant move, for several reasons. Moving the gear storage to the side eliminates the need to crawl over or around gear, and the vertical door provides for a clear path of egress, without the need to reach for vestibule zippers that often feel miles away. This makes coming and going much easier with no crawling or fighting with soaked vestibules flapping wildly in the wind.
This awning design also prevents rain from dumping in when opening the door. A vestibule will often get wet during a storm, and when unzipped, they tend to unceremoniously pour water onto my backpack, boots and otherwise dry entry way. Instead, If I unzip the vertical front door I’m generally still fully protected from rain. The awning provides enough cover to prevent any moisture from getting inside the tent or on my gear, assuming the rain isn’t blowing sideways against the face of the door that is.
I really enjoy the ability to unzipp the waterproof barrier on the door, which reveals a large screen window. I can usually have it completely open while staying dry inside despite rough weather outside, allowing me to watch the rain and keep an eye on the changing conditions. It’s relaxing and furnishes a better connection with my surroundings, greatly boosting my enjoyment of hiding out during foul weather.
While inside, a large “D” shaped zipper allows me to get to any gear I might want, without having to keep anything inside the tent itself. If I’m walking around outside of my tent, I can simply reach under the vestibule to pull out my stove or water bottle, or I unhook the vestibule from it’s stake point to access larger items. These smaller doors can also be used to slip in and out of the tent if the rainfly is rolled back, but I never felt the need.
As far as wind stability, the Nightwatch is quite impressive. The front of the tent has the rugged 9 mm aluminum pole go through a full fabric sleeve instead of using small clips. This method is used in many mountaineering tents to improve strength and durability, and it works here too. This simple change dramatically increases tension, force distribution, and thus wind resistance of the entire shelter. The rest of the tent sits low, allowing wind to slip over top and it’s reinforced with multiple guy out and stake points with no long panels that would otherwise act like sails. The pole that runs lengthwise along the top of the tent doesn’t just attach with clips along the pole, but also ball points at the tips of the pole. This adds tension throughout the body, dramatically improving how it handles harsh wind from every angle. It pitches taut, and when properly staked, guyed and tensioned, it doesn’t budge in a storm. There is practically no buffeting or flapping, and it’s nice and quiet during late night wind storms, creating a peaceful resting environment.
Build quality is also fabulous, using great quality DAC aluminum poles, highly resilient high denier, coated polyester for the fly and body, and reinforced seams and stitches throughout, paired with a fully seam sealed body. I couldn’t find any flaws in construction, and the tent shows no signs of wear or abrasion after use despite camping on sticks and rocks.
Setup is easy enough. The inner body and rain fly are connected permanently at the front, somewhat simplifying the process. The front pole slides through the sleeve first, while the long pole that runs the length of the tent slides through a small pocket at the head of the tent into the awning clip. From there, the back pole (fixed to the long pole) is placed into the grommets and bent into the final arch shape. Clips raise the tent body, and a few stakes and guy lines later it’s all set up. It can be set up dry (meaning no rain gets in), although it takes a bit more effort. Overall, fairly simple.
Ventilation is great. The front entrance doubles as a large variable vent, and the tent body is almost entirely mesh, with the exception of a small single wall panel at the foot. There is also a large vent at the foot of the tent, allowing a nice flow of air to enter one side, exiting the other, which constantly flushes hot, humid air. When it’s toasty outside, rolling back the rain fly does an excellent job of moderating heat buildup, while leaving it down blocks most breezes from slipping through. Condensation was minimal, and when it did build up it was handled it quite well, keeping campers inside dry thanks to the near full double wall construction, with a mild exception (more later). It’s a large improvement over the Lightning series, which tends to wet out sleeping bags at the foot.
The included Night Glow kit is pretty handy inclusion(below). It allows a headlamp to be used as a tent light, providing excellent diffused source of light at practically no weight penalty. Just pop a light in, sinch it up and a soft glow emanates throughout. It’s a pretty sweet bonus and is included with all Nightwatch tents.
Priced at $239.95,the Nightwatch provides an value. AT this build quality and feature set, it’s hard to compete with when considering it’s stability, construction and use of quality materials.
What I didn’t like
The included tent stakes, although they provide good holding power, are surprisingly weak. I managed to bend three of them on my second use, and they’re a real pain to straighten back out. They’re also relatively heavy, adding to the pack weight. Thankfully, they’re a minor part of the shelter and can easily be swapped for lighter, stronger ones down the line if need be.
Packing the tent takes a little more time and consideration than most tents due to the small pole in the awning and thicker materials. The pole is fixed inside (technically removable, but I don’t recommend it) and is wider than most of my packs, meaning I have to take time to stuff that section into my pack vertically, then stuff the rest of the body in around it. The thicker materials take up a good amount of pack space, and are hard to stuff as well, only necessitating more intricate packing techniques to make sure everything fits well. I’m often afraid I’m going to damage the thin awning pole as I vigorously shoving it inside. It’s a minor complaint, and so far I’v had no real issues with it, but worth mentioning.
There is a small single wall section at the foot of the tent that has a slight tendency to condensate as it meets the rainfly. I have had some moisture build up here, which slightly dampened the surface of my sleeping bag, but it’s not been enough to worry about even in the humid conditions I test within.
The two tiny storage pockets sewn into the tent lay loosely on the floor and do little to keep things tidy.
The tent weighs in at an acceptable, but not ideal, five pounds. It’s well within backpacking standards, but some may seek something lighter. It’s possible to cut a couple ounces with lighter tent stakes, or you can shave an entire pound by switching to the FL version at the tune of an additional $150.
The overall design of the Nightwatch is quite clever. Vestibules are a pain at times, and eliminating them from their tents is a bold but appreciated move. Instead of crawling under a soaking wet vestibule during a storm, I can simply sit under the awning, enjoying the sights and sound of the storm rumbling around me. Moving the gear to the sides and into the “gear closets” eliminates any need to crawl over gear, and it’s easily accessible both inside and outside of the tent. Rolling back the rain fly under a clear sky nets an unobstructed view the stars and ushers in a well deserved gentle breeze on warm evenings. It pitches easy enough, it’s impressively stable, and it’s built to take a beating. It’s a bit on the heavy side, packing takes a little extra thought, and the included tent stakes are a bit disappointing, but overall it’s an excellent design that has greatly enhanced my backcountry experience, especially during a rainstorm.
For more information Sierra Designs and their gear, check out www.sierradesigns.com
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I want to extend a huge thanks Sierra Designs for providing this shelter for review. We couldn’t do it without their help. Our full disclosure can be found here.
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