View Full Version : Warmlite/Stephenson's & McHale
I have been doing a lot of research in the last little while on various forums about top quality shelters and backpacks and two names kept popping up. Warmlite/Stephensonís and McHale.
Now I looked over these sites and the products look amazing. The quality looks and sounds amazing and there are lots of options to choose from. The prices are high but apparently the products are durable and will basically last a lifetime. Is it worth it to pay that much for gear? Does expensive mean itís the best? Not always but most of the time top quality will cost you a few extra pennies. Well a lot of extra pennies in this case.
Well letís start of with Warmlite/Stephensonís WARNING NUDITY http://www.warmlite.com/start.htm (http://www.warmlite.com/start.htm). When you read his site you realize that he is very opinionated about his products among other things which is fine if all what he claim is true. The whole vapor barrier stuff is weird. I understand that they do work and are very useful but if you read his article on it, well letís just say itís different. He also will tell you about one of his options for a tent and then say that it is worthless and you donít need it. Weird. Anyways I am still somewhat interested in his products especially the 2R/2X tent with side windows. Are the side windows worth it? I mostly only here rave reviews of his stuff with only a few minor negative problems like condensation in certain situations and that the tent requires a very strong taut stake out to remain upright which can be hard on if not impossible on certain ground. Is there any truth to this? Anyways looking for feed back of users of his stuff (tents, sleeping bags, down air mattress). How is the customer service over there, and how are warranty issues dealt with.
AND FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WOULD SOME PLEASE POST A PICTURE OF THEIR TENT.
I never have seen a picture other that what is on the website. Maybe everyone who says they have one is lying, I donít know.
Now on to McHale packs. http://www.mchalepacks.com/ (http://www.mchalepacks.com/) Man there seems to be a strong cult following building up of McHale users. Obviously he makes a great product and a custom pack will feel better that an off the shelf pack, that is pretty much a given. So is the long wait and ordering process worth it? He has some many options to choose from its mind-boggling. I donít even know where to start. I am looking at the POP Speed Bump and 0-Sarc UL. I like the option to broaden the upper half to carry a bear canister horizontally. How is customer service and warranty issues dealt with? Anyways any feed back from users would be nice.
My journal from the TMB this summer - you can see various picks of a 2R in light green. A quick bit of googling will pull up this and other stuff, there's lots of views on rec.backcountry including a handful of less positive ones. A phone call or email to stephensons will yield a few more pics on email. http://www.trailjournals.com/photos.cfm?trailname=2281
Great tent for the weight - nothing comes close, does have some condensation problems with 2 people at low temperatures; my key lessons were:
1) Need to camp somewhere with a slight breeze. at c. 30F in the mountains air doesn't carry enough moisture for his chimney venting system to keep the tent dry without some wind assistance. Sheltered sites aren't the best for this beast. If the air's warmer or there's any breeze this isn't a problem.
2) Need to be very careful about not overheating - if you like to bury yourself in the sleeping bag until you feel really warm, you're probably sweating, and without a stiff breeze this will end up coating the tent inner.
3) The windows and large door are great. Almost everyone gets them.
4) Don't get light ("luminous") green. They claim it blends in best in forests and fields. That's some strange coloured fields they have in new hampshire :-) My fault for being impatient rather than getting a sample of the material sent.
5) The tent goes up perfectly well on 3 stakes but its a big tent, so if there's lots of wind, those stakes will carry all the load and need to be well anchored. Hasn't been a problem for us - the strength of the tent means you don't spend hours looking for sheltered pitches like others might need, so you're much less restricted in sites than almost any other shelter.
6) Not only is it light, its warm (hence the warmlite!) and thus saves you a few oz on the sleeping bag.
Stephenson's sell options, that, to paraphrase them, are for 'stupid people' because said people keep asking for them :-)
The tent is extremely well made and very simple to put up. We're off round the world travelling for 6 months and hiking the PCT for 6 months - the warmlite will be coming with us. However, we'll also (for the RTW travelling) bring a second tent that we can put up and leave up without worrying about UV eating the warmlite.
Stephenson's are opinonated in their literature, in my experience this is justified albeit a little extreme at times. In person they are very helpful - they do not deliver a sales pitch for the tent, just tell you what it does, how it works and let you make your own mind up. They've been doing it for nearly 40 yrs, chances are any ideas you've had they've tried before.
There is not a traditional all encompassing warranty as such - stephensons warrant against poor workmanship but from the quality of my tent, I very much doubt you'll get that. They make it clear (with good reason) that most other problems are user error. If a pole breaks, I suspect you'd struggle to convince them that you'd cared for it correctly (silicone oiling it, regularly filing the ends if they get any tiny nicks). Then again, they will talk you through repairs of things that go wrong either through accident (a fox attacked mine and ripped it, but they talked me through the repair on the phone, and very promptly sent me the material for free) and their spares and repairs prices are clearly identified.
You may get a lot of people telling you 'I've heard they're hard to deal with'. Somehow they've got that reputation (I guess because they don't mollycoddle their customers), but most people I've seen who have (or claim) firsthand experience find them decent folks to do business with. I would happily buy another product from them.
I also have a Stephenson 2R and agee with what aardvarkdave said. While I usually hammock camp now, I did use my 2R extensively one season when I did a lot of backpacking as a couple. It is nice. I loved the photos from the previous post but did not see one when the side windows where used as an awning. The side windows can be unzipped, pulled out and then secured with either stakes or rocks with the included 'rock sacks' that have a few feet of cord sewn to them. This provides cross ventilation with protection from moderate rain. The inside of the tarp also has a zippered area of ripstop nylon that mirrows the zippered side windows, with fixed no-see-um netting between the zippered inner and outter layers. There is not a covered floorless area to stash wet gear or to cook out of the rain.
The three stakes that hold the tent taut have to be good. I use stakes I got at REI that are about 9" long and are straight with a dull point and something of a 'nail head' at the end with a small loop of cord running through it at the head. The loop of cord is used to help with extraction of the stakes. The stake weighs about 0.5 ounce and is a very hard type of tubular aluminum. It is very difficult to bend and if the ground is too hard to push the stake in using my shoe, I pound it with a rock. The only time I have bent one was when I was pounding it with a rock and I suspect that there was a rock beneath the soil.
The only time I have needed to repair mine was when I poked a small hole in the bottom due to the stubble of a small bush that I broke off to clear a camping space. I easily repaired it when I returned home using the extra fabric and repair instructions sent with the tent, along with silicone caulking, mineral spirits and scotch tape.
I have bought other equipment from Stephenson's since.
You can do a search on Rec.bc (or dejanews) and turn up many opinions both good and bad about Stephenson. I have several friends that have been staunch supporters of him since the late 60's, but I have heard by more than a few that he can be a real jerk (and quite insulting) - Especially if you "try" to return something that was damaged or with a claim that it doesn't function as well as you think it should. Good Luck
[font='Times New Roman']Now on to McHale packs. http://www.mchalepacks.com/ (http://www.mchalepacks.com/) Man there seems to be a strong cult following building up of McHale users. Obviously he makes a great product and a custom pack will feel better that an off the shelf pack, that is pretty much a given. So is the long wait and ordering process worth it? He has some many options to choose from its mind-boggling. I donít even know where to start. I am looking at the POP Speed Bump and 0-Sarc UL. I like the option to broaden the upper half to carry a bear canister horizontally. How is customer service and warranty issues dealt with? Anyways any feed back from users would be nice.
Cant help with the tent but I have two mcHale packs and i have purchased one for a son, all a few years ago.
You want require customer service. His handmade packs are of a quality that they may just outlast you. They are also larger than what you may think. He does not exaggerate as many pack manufacturers do so his packs willjust appear largerto you. If you carry a lot of weight, then his custom fit of your torso will also make the load feel lighter to you. His two buckle belt design just does not slip so you want be constantly bringing it up to above your pelvis bones, as other packs waist belts I have had were apt to do. His packs excell in heavier loads greater, I'd guess, at 40 pounds or more. They do run heavier but that is the price you pay for quality. But they are not so heavy, say, than Dana designs top of the line "off the rack" models and will last much longer and carry better and I say that from experience, albeit mine.
I have a SARC, my son has a SARC and I later had him make one for me to my dimensions, more ultralight. So, if you are apt to carry heavy loads I doubt there is a better pack for it.
Iíve had Stephenson 2ís since the early Ď70s (when they were Stephenson 6ís). They are huge tents for their weight -- the biggest 2-person tents Iíve ever seen or used, and they weigh less than most standard 1-man bivies. They have been for me the perfect ďletís goĒ shelter, light enough to carry almost anywhere and tough enough to stand up to almost anything. They can be pitched in the dark of night in about two minutes flat, with all your stuff inside and you crawling into your sack as you listen to others outside flapping fabric, clashing poles, and swearing. (Been there many times.)
The gigantic side window option is great for moderate weather camping. The optional big door can be staked out, too, creating a lightly sheltered area to cook in during misty rains. The big door option comes without mosquito netting, which feels weird for a while, but those huge side windows are well-screened, so all is well.
The tents have no true floorless vestibule for winter cooking. In winter I usually set up my stove in a small pit just outside and lie inside with my hands and arms out when necessary, which is slightly awkward because of the front staking arrangement. Of course, in really bad winter conditions, youíre forced to cook inside no matter what tent youíre using.
I have never had what I consider a condensation ďproblemĒ though of course Iíve had condensation on the inside surface. (which is true of just about every other tent Iíve used -- and tarps, too, under the same ďcondensation richĒ conditions.
Iíve fallen over Stephenson tents twice in the dark and broken not the poles themselves but one of the sleeves that create the connections between sections. Easy to jury-rig on the trail and a snap to fix at home with a part Stephensonís sent free. (I now keep a spare around). I carry the tent in one stuffsack, and the poles and stakes in a smaller bag. This is just easier for me, given my style of packing, and I think it helps avoid damaging the fabric.
Iíve also got a Stephenson sleeping bag, now 30 years old. I love it for VERY COLD temps Ė it comes into its own below 20 and is superb below 0. But if you donít FULLY understand the VB concept, donít get one. That will save a lot of bitching and moaning on both sides. Iíd give roughly the same advice about the tent. If it will freak you out to see ANY condensation on your inside surface under any circumstances, just donít buy one. Get something more conventional, with more conventional inherent problems and solutions.
Iíve never had any trouble at all working with Stephensonís Iíve gotten good service, good information, good advice. This is not true of everyone. This is a family operation. They make unique products, they do things their way, and they have what I consider a well-earned disdain for ďmarket drivenĒ equipment design. It sometimes shows in their attitudes. Jack, especially doesnít suffer people HE considers fools gladly. And if youíre at all aggressive about not agreeing with him or asking him why he doesnítí do something like TNF or somebody, heíll consider you a fool.
I tend to pro-rate expense when I buy gear. Would I buy a Stephenson tent or bag for a short backpack or trip? Nope. But for my purposes, the per-night-use cost of my Stephenson gear is tiny. For someone who uses it a lot, quality custom gear like this makes financial sense.