2015 Sierra Designs Convert 3 Tent Review

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NOTICE: The Convert 3 worked very well on Mt Rainier. See my updated thoughts at the bottom of this post. 

For an upcoming trip to climb Mt Rainier my friend and I will be using the Convert 3 from Sierra Designs for our shelter needs. The tent is on loan from Backpacker Magazine, and while I have it I thought I’d take a few pics and share my impressions. At this time I haven’t used the tent, but after our trip I will be sure to update this post with our experience. So what are we looking at…

On Paper

On paper the Convert 3 looks pretty great! Initially we were planning to rent a Mountain Hardwear Trango 3 for this trip. At just over 11 lbs I wasn’t exactly excited at the thought of lugging it up a mountain. The Convert 3 is less than half the weight and offers a larger vestibule and almost the same amount of interior space. It’s probably not as bomber of a shelter as the Trango… but here’s hoping the weather will be kind to us. That said, the Convert tents are supposedly pretty dang sturdy and you can see some of the wind tunnel testing that Sierra Designs did HERE

Convert 3 Stats:

  • Seasons: 4
  • Capacity: 3
  • Minimum Weight: 5 lbs 13 oz
  • Interior Floor Space: 41.7 square feet
  • Gear Storage: (vestibule space): 17.1 square feet
  • Peak Height: 43 in
  • Length: 87 in
  • Width: 69 in
  • Fly Fabric: 20D Polyester Ripstop, 1200mm PE Coating
  • Floor Fabric: 30D Nylon Ripstop, 3000mm PE Coating
  • Packed Size: 19 x 6 in (pole sack + tent sack)
  • Cost: $689.95

Exterior

First let’s take a look at the outside. The Convert lineup utilizes similar design features to Sierra Design’s other backpacking tents the Flash and the Lightning. All of these tents use an external pole design where the rainfly attaches via clips and the main tent body hangs from the fly. This design makes the tent very quick erect and will keep the internal area dry even if setup in the rain. Hilleberg has been using a similar external pole design since the 1970’s and they’re tents are widely regarded as some of the most burly and bombproof shelters in the world. 

 

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This view shows the hooped pole structure. The Convert 3 in some ways resembles many of the hooped tunnel tent designs used by other brands because of their incredible strength. It’s different as it has a center pole the connects the three main arches adding some stability. This makes it more freestanding that other tunnel tents, but unfortunately it still falls short of being stable and freestanding. Once staked out though, things tighten up and the Convert becomes a very study shelter. 

 

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The poles are primarily held in place by clips. The clips are pretty typical. They’re made of plastic and seem study enough. They snap on easily, hold well, and aren’t too terrible to remove.

 

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The Convert 3 uses one hubbed pole, and one straight pole. The hubbed pole is made up of the center pole and the two outside arch poles. Where these poles cross there is a plastic hub, and this hub attaches to the tent body using a special connector. Again, this connector appears plenty sturdy and goes on and off without hassle. 

 

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The center arch pole is, thankfully, not part of the main hubbed pole assembly. To reduce the cumbersomeness of having a third hub, Sierra Designs uses an interesting plastic hub assembly that has a latch mechanism to connect to the center pole. The tent body then attaches to this assembly with the same style clip that is used at the other hubbed intersections. 

I have to say I like this little attachment system, but wish they had implemented it slightly differently. The hubbed pole assembly used by the Convert creates an when put together, and then the third pole attaches in the middle. I would prefer if the attached hub were in the middle so that the hubbed system formed an X, and that the two end poles attached using SD’s latching mechanism. I feel that this would actually speed setup and teardown. The H setup is quite unwieldy and I believe this increases the chance of bending or breaking a pole. Straight poles are easier to manage and I think this slight change would make the tent easier and faster to setup. Anyway… 

 

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This is the end of the center pole above the vestibule. There is a clear clip that attaches the tent to the end of the pole and hold up the awning. The black clip provides additional support for the vestibule. Everything fits together securely and connects quickly. 

 

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Here you can see how the poles attach to the floor of the tent. It’s a typical round peg, round hole setup. Nothing special. However, the tensioner utilizes accessory cord instead of webbing. This is great in that it should be easily replaceable when and if the time comes. However, the real value is that you can easily replace the short stake loops with longer ones that would make it easier to attach to a deadman when camping in the snow. 

 

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The vestibule on the Convert 3 is a little different. First, it’s removable, and can be attached to either side of the tent. This means that you can attach a second one in the event that you need a ton of extra storage space. Also, it looks quite odd. At first glance you might think that the designers at SD totally forgot about the vestibule during the design phase, remembered they needed one at the last minute, and then hacked something together and called it good. However, when you start to look closer you see that a lot of thought went into the design. 

In the image above you can see the grey skirts that can be buried in the snow or the sand to help keep blowing debris out. The design uses a single, short pole for support and once staked out provides an incredible amount of useable storage. 

 

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The zipper on the left is where the vestibule attaches to the main tent. It attaches under the rainfly which still allows for some air to move under the fly helping with ventilation. 

 

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Here you can see all of the glorious storage space available in the vestibule area. There is a ton of space. Vestibules are typically measured using square feet. Often though, much of this space isn’t actually usable. In the Convert 3 the steep walls of the vestibule make for some seriously practical space. Two people will have no problem stashing all of their gear without it hindering access to the main living space. 

 

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The pole that holds up the vestibule is located on the outside and slides into a small sleeve which holds it in place. Now, this particular tent is was marked as a sample, and maybe the production version will be different, but this area could use some work. 

In the image you can see how, when under tension, the guyline attachment point is forced to the side. I feel this puts unnecessary stress on this joint, and… well… it just looks like crap. If it were up to me I would attach the guyline at the bottom of the sleeve. This would keep it centered, should be plenty strong, and would look better. 

 

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Here are the guyline attachment points on the outside of the tent. There are (6) attachment points total. One of the benefits of having the poles on the outside is that you can wrap your guylines around the pole a few times transferring some of the load to the pole. This reduces stress on the fly without sacrificing strength. 

 

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Interior

The interior of the tent is very livable, though it’s not particularly feature rich. The tunnel shape means the walls are quite steep providing a good bit of headroom. Here you can see an Exped SynMat that is 77 x 25 x 4. It’s a very large mat and as you can see there is plenty of room. This tent is going to be a palace for myself and my friend. 

 

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Here’s a look at the door opposite the vestibule with the nylon panel unzipped to expose the mesh. The Convert is actually a hybrid single-wall/double-wall design. Most of the tent provides two layers of fabric between you and the elements outside. However, on the ends there is just a single layer of waterproof fabric. Is this good or bad? I don’t know. On one hand the single wall ends probably sacrifice some heat retention. However, on the other hand, this design is likely more breathable which should keep condensation down. 

 

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The inside of the tent is very yellow. It might be a little too yellow. I have the Sierra Designs Flash 2 and it has a neutral colored ceiling, with yellow walls. It’s nice. It’s bright and the yellow helps warm things up a bit.

The Convert… it’s very yellow. However, a white or grey fly would make it hard to spot against a white, snow covered background. So, if we come at this from a visibility perspective, I much prefer the yellow color to some of the other choices… primarily red or orange.

In this photo you can also see (2) of the (4) interior stash pockets. Storage is an area that SD has overlooked. The options in the SD Flash suck, and the options in the Convert aren’t much better. Come’on Sierra Designs! Would it really kill you to include some more interior storage. Just replace the existing pockets with mesh that runs along the entire length of the tent and open at the top. I just want to be able to get stuff off the floor so it’s easier to find and keep organized. 

 

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Along the apex of the ceiling I noticed there was a series of loops. I took advantage of these loops and added a clothes line so that we have a place to hang things up to dry. I assume that’s what these were for anyway.

 

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This is the space between the rainfly and the interior tent body. On Sierra Design’s 3-season tents the interior tent body is made of mesh. On the 4-season models they use a breathable, uncoated nylon. They do this to maintain a significant level of ventilation while providing additional protection from blowing snow and sand. 

 

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Bottom Line

The bottom line… I really can’t say as I have yet to spend a night in the Convert. However, upon initial inspection things look pretty darn good. The Convert is light, has a ton of space, that space is very usable, and it seems burley as heck… Not a bad combo. If you’re in the market for a 4-season tent do yourself a favor and check out the Convert lineup from Sierra Designs. 

Also, stay tuned as I will be updating this post once I’ve spent a little quality time with the Convert 3. 

Happy Outdoorsing!


UPDATE: Post Mt Rainier

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Where to start… Well, let’s just begin with stating that we think the new Convert 3 from Sierra Designs is pretty dang awesome, and after calling it home for the better part of a week at 10,000 feet on Mt Rainier we’re pretty keen on this shelter. 

The Convert 3 is extremely livable, especially when used for 2 people. Once setup it allowed us to forget about it and get on with our business. The large vestibule was perfect for getting things out of the weather, and it’s more than large enough for 2 packs and gear while still leaving plenty of space to easily enter and exit. 

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In the evenings we would close up the doors and then unzip the nylon panel exposing the mesh between the main body and the vestibule. We hoped that this would have the effect of keeping the condensation down. Maybe it worked… Maybe it didn’t… It’s hard to say. All we know is that we had zero condensation problems inside the tent.

On the morning we made our summit bid, we awoke around 11pm. When exiting the tent it was hard not to notice all of the condensation built up on the outside. For a moment I thought it had rained, but regardless the inside was bone dry. 

The Convert 3 is well ventilated, warm, comfortable, and I would gladly own this tent. I’m not sure how it would hold up in warmer temps, but it was perfect for our trip to Rainier and would have been ideal for exploring Iceland.

I used to covet the Hillenberg Nallo 3 GT, but after spending time with the Convert 3 that has changed. The Convert 3 is almost $200 cheaper while being roughly the same weight and having more interior space. The vestibule on the Convert is smaller than the Nallo GT’s, but it’s proven plenty large enough for my needs. If I really needed/wanted extra storage I could always add on a second vestibule to the Convert 3. 

If you’re looking for a sturdy shelter with plenty of space that you won’t hate carrying, definitely check out the 3-person, 4-season Convert 3 from Sierra Designs. I promise you won’t regret it. 

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10 thoughts on “2015 Sierra Designs Convert 3 Tent Review

  1. Arnaud de Wilde

    Thanks! I have been looking for a good tent to use all year round on expeditions. Looks like this could be the one. Thamk you for your extensive and clear comments.

    Regards,
    Arnaud de Wilde
    Twitter:ArnaudDeWilde

  2. Alex C

    Good Review. I liked that you were very canid about things you didnt like. Just purchased a Flash 2FL (havent used yet). But also, I just ordered a Convert 2 (on sale!). Your review has reconfirmed that my choice was a good one. Only thing is I am thinking maybe I should have ordered the 3 person version!

  3. Steve C.

    Awesome review. I have a Convert 3 and am likely heading out for the first time in late fall. There will not be snow (north GA/TN area) and we’ll likely be in a heavily pine area. Do you recommend a footprint or is the 30D floor enough protection?

  4. igmaino Post author

    Steve… Footprints are never a bad idea if it’s not a problem to carry it. With my other tents I consider the surface I’m going to be camping on and how much weight I want to carry. Sometimes carrying the extra weight of a footprint is no big deal. Sometimes it might be more of a concern. Sleeping on snow… No worries. Sleeping on volcanic dirt and rocks in Iceland… definitely bring the footprint. The thing is every time you take your tent out you’re putting a little more wear and tear on the floor. Getting into the habit of using the footprint more often than not is only going to prolong the life of your tent. That’s not a bad thing.

    That said… when looking at tents definitely look at the materials being used in the floor. Some brands like Big Agnes save considerable weight by going with extremely light floor fabrics. These light floor fabrics almost necessitate using a footprint killing any weight savings you thought you were getting. I used to really like Marmot tents because they used the same floors in the expedition tents as they did in their ultralight versions and were the only manufacturer I knew of at the time that would recommend use without a footprint. I’m not sure that’s still their philosophy, as most companies don’t trust the buyer to dig through the specs… they just want to see that weight as low as possible.

    If you plan to use your gear a lot and expect it to last a long time… use a footprint as much as possible. Making one out of Tyvek is super easy, inexpensive, and they’re typically lighter, and more packable as well.

  5. Laura Daniel

    Hi,
    Im in Australia and seriously considering the convert 3. Have you since hiked/camped in a wet/rain/wind situation? Im really keen to know how it held up and what the condensation was like in another, non snowy setting.

    Thanks,

    Laura

  6. igmaino Post author

    Laura,

    Unfortunately, I was only able to use the tent on our trip to Rainier. That said, I thought it was a great tent and it’s my current #1 choice for a winter shelter for my own personal use. We did have some wind one night and the Convert held up very well.

    As far as wet/rain… I wouldn’t be concerned at all about weather getting in. However, where you might see issues is when the humidity goes up. But that’s true for any tent. The convert is easily one of the best ventilated tents I’ve ever spent time in and I think it will do much better than just about any other tent in it’s class.

    If you can sacrifice a little strength the Flash 3 would be another great option. I own the Flash 2 and I think it’s probably one of, if not the, best tents for use in humid conditions available.

    What are the primary conditions like where you expect to be using the tent?

  7. Kevin D

    Excellent review! Considering getting one and saw the wind testing video and was slightly confused. On most 4-season tents, they orient the door away from the wind but in the wind test video, the designer says the strongest orientation is with the door/vestibule pointed into the wind.
    Thoughts on this?

    Thanks!
    Kevin

  8. igmaino Post author

    I could only find the wind test for the convert 2… I assume that’s the one you saw. I hope this makes sense, and that I can explain it in a way that is clear.

    The 2 isn’t symmetrical, and the slope from the front of the vestibule to the peak of the tent creates a line that is closer to being parallel to the wind (if the wind is blowing directly along the ground at the tent) than the other side. On the foot side of the tent the line from the front edge of the tent to the peak of the tent is steeper, meaning less in line with the wind. This in a sense catches more wind.

    Now, the surface areas of each side presenting to the wind should be similar, probably identical. However, on the vestibule side the short pole supporting the vestibule and the leading edge of the vestibule are catching the most wind reducing the strain on the rest of the tent support structures. On the non-vestibule side there isn’t any additional structure to break the wind, and the main support poles have to bear the full load. I think that’s why the vestibule side is stronger… it’s distributing the load and lessening the stress on the main poles. That very short pole that supports the vestibule can withstand a lot more force than the longer arch poles.

    For the 3 I believe something similar will be true. The vestibule should face into the wind should you expect winds in the 30+ mph range.

    Does this make sense? Does this help?

  9. Kevin D

    Greg,

    That does help and makes sense. Much appreciated!

    Final question, I see above that you had some wind on your Rainier bid. How did the tent fair? I think my biggest concern with bringing a tunnel tent on the mountain is the possibility of shifting wind direction. Like you, I’m not too keen on bringing a 9lb tent like the Trango…but if need be…

  10. igmaino Post author

    The wind on Rainer wasn’t an issue at all. I feel like this tent could handle all but the most extreme conditions. If you’re expecting serious weather than you are probably better off going with one of the heavier duty options from a company like Hilleburg. I personally think the Convert is a great tent for 95% of people needing a winter mountaineering style tent. So long as the tent is setup and guyed out well I don’t imagine you’ll have any issues. Also, keep in mind that you can always build snow walls around your tent to break the wind. This is a common practice at backcountry tent sites in places like Iceland and allows much less robust tents to survive more extreme conditions.

    If you’re looking at typical mountaineering objectives in the lower 48 I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to take the Sierra Designs Convert.

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