We periodically like to spotlight a product we really, really like- in this case, the MSR Access series of tents, reviewed & vetted in the field by our staff.
The Quick Review – MSR Access 3 Tent
The good: extremely light (sub-4 lbs.), extremely packable (disappears into a pack like a single-wall tent), extremely livable (headroom, pockets, double-vestibule, massive floor), and it looks great in photos!
The bad: easy to tear the fabric if careless (it’s light), complicated to guy out the large side-panels, and flexy (the fancy carbon poles bend without breaking, but that means the tent feels malleable in stronger winds).
Overall: this is the tent series to pick if you’re heading into the mountains in good-to-marginal conditions. It’s what I will turn to when the weather isn’t bad enough to merit an expedition tent 4-times the weight, but my trip isn’t short enough to safely consider a single-wall tent or open bivvies.
The Expanded Review
MSR has finally answered the call for a “3+” or “4-” season tent. So often we’re forced to pick between a backpacking tent- too light and meshy for damp & breezy conditions on the Sulphide Glacier- and a Denali-caliber tent- clearly overkill when you’re camping only a few thousand meters above sea level in moderate weather. With the Access, we finally have a middle option.
Livability. These tents are almost ridiculously livable. Where we treat most 3-person tents as 2-person tents, the Access 3 is actually large enough to house 3 climbers for a week. Check out the photo of 3 full-length sleeping pads, two of them the wider rectangular shape, and note how much floor space is still showing between each pad. Wow. In addition, what you can’t tell from this photo is the Access tents have steep side walls (read: you don’t feel like your face is pushed up against the sidewalls), and are quite tall inside. Two of our testers were over 6′ tall and could sit up comfortably inside the tent. Lastly- the 2 & 3 person versions of this tent feature two doors and vestibules. Nothing is better than having some personal space for your boots, pack, and gear.
Weight & Bulk. A prime consideration for any shelter, the Access 3 disappears into any pack. All in all, the fabrics used are the lightest & most packable while still offering enough strength and waterproofness for more challenging conditions. The Easton Syclone poles are skinny but strong, and incredibly flexible to ensure that they won’t snap even under high winds. Split among 3 climbers, the Access 3 is barely noticeable in your pack.
Setup & Rigging
Setup is super straightforward- two poles are all it takes; one pole hoops over the top of tent’s width, and one pole arches lengthwise over top of the tent to create strong triangular side-walls. The shape of the poles & tent make it relatively foolproof, unlike other tents that feature 4-6 different, but similar pole shapes or sizes. Rigging this tent is a little more complicated, and presents the biggest downside to this tent. The large vestibule/door panels are tough to rig taut, although this issue can be handled by orienting the triangular head or foot of the tent into the wind. Other points on this tent are straightforward to rig well whether using sliders, tautline, or trucker’s hitches.
In August of 2016, I took the Access 3 on a 6-day romp through the North Cascades. I used the tent on Mount Baker, Mount Shuksan, and Eldorado Peak– myself and two 6′, fairly broad shouldered buddies used this tent each night. In terms of space & function, the tent was great. There’s plenty of vestibule space, tons of head room, and a large enough floor plan for 3 grown men + gear.
The tent performed well when used body-only on a hot, windless night- and performed equally well in driving rain on the side of Mount Baker. It’s worth noting that the fly kept the vestibule and the lower reaches of the tent completely dry, even in windblown rain. In wind-driven snow (temps dropped overnight), the tent was comfortable and warm.
Inside the tent- the light is even and bright but not overwhelming…and there are so many pockets! A large line of pockets crosses each side of the tent, and overhead stack pockets are present, too. This was a true pleasure when organizing gear & getting ready quickly for summit bids.
Lastly, I’ll mention that the tent was always easy to spot- this wasn’t a necessity due to really easy weather and familiar routes & camp locations; however, I look forward to using this tent while ski-touring in the winter, where the blaze-orange fly color is going to be the most visible in whiteout conditions. Top marks to MSR for picking such a visible color!
Final Details on the Access Tent Series
Overall, the 1-person is ideal for the dedicated solo backpacker, ski-tourer, and mountaineer. The 2-person version would be comfortable and spacious for two with a moderate amount of gear, or for one with a large amount of gear. The 3-person version would be comfortable on a short (2-3 night) trip for most parties of 3, or spacious and ideal for parties of 2 on longer trips or when the weather might leave you tent-bound.
For those considering an Alpine Ascents mountaineering course, this tent is recommend for our 6, 8, 10, and 13-day courses- especially for courses taking place June through August. It is also light enough to play double-duty as a bike-packing, pack rafting, or backpacking tent- a huge plus for those who want to maximize a gear investment.
The Access is available in 1-person (3 lb., $499), 2-person (3.6 lb., $599), and 3-person (4.3 lb., $699) versions- Alpine Ascents is able to offer all 3 versions, along with the full line of MSR tent accessories, in our online store.
-Matt Miller, AAI Ops Manager