Black Diamond Bombshelter Tent Review

Post by blogger | July 31, 2013      

The Black Diamond Bombshelter tent is aptly named. It’s a burly single wall dome tent.

I’ve never had a solid, strong mountaineering tent. For years I’ve used the lightweight and survivable combo of a bivy sack and a Megamid, or borrowed tents from friends. Also, being mostly a weekend warrior, I rarely spend that many consecutive nights in a tent. However, I knew that on my trip to Alaska this spring I’d need a good, strong tent. I started looking for something that would hold up to potentially heinous Alaskan weather, while still being versatile enough to use for other trips.

Home for ten days on the Davidson Glacier, Alaska.

I’ve always had the opinion that double wall tents were the only way to cut out excessive condensation while still being sufficiently weatherproof. Unfortunately most double wall mountain tents are heavy, making their single wall cousins more attractive. In my experience, single wall tents seem to work for short periods, but don’t breathe well enough to keep gear dry for a long period. Most waterproof breathable fabric is designed for use in clothing, and utilizes the temperature gradient between the warm body and the cold outdoors to transport moisture to the outside. Unfortunately that idea doesn’t work very well in tents, since the difference in interior/exterior temperature is frequently small, or may be nonexistent. Moisture tends to collect as condensation, and then drips or runs down the walls before it can be transported outside.

Nonetheless, after doing some research I decided to try out one of Black Diamond’s Bibler tents. The Bibler series is single wall, but uses a heavyweight ToddTex fabric that is designed to be very waterproof and breathable. The fabric is a little strange; it is some sort of traditional waterproof breathable laminate, but has a “fuzzy” material laminated on the inside that collects moisture and helps transport it to the outside. The fuzzy stuff supposedly helps it stay a bit warmer as well (another advantage of double wall tents).

The Bombshelter tent with the integrated front vestibule. Also notice our rad satellite phone blogging setup.

I picked up a Bombshelter just in time to test it out in Alaska last March. Our plans for basecamp were luxurious. Coop and I shared the four-man tent, giving us plenty of space for all our gear. We spent about 10 nights in the tent in all sorts of weather. I’ve used the tent on a few trips since then. We encountered a big variety of weather, everything from hot, sunny days, to windy storms that dumped snow, although thankfully no rain.

I was expecting to deal with tent wall condensation during the trip, but surprisingly it wasn’t an issue. It formed only on one or two occasions, and never in large amounts. Impressive! In addition to the breathable material, the Bombshelter has ample venting with two vestibules at either end. We kept the door open most nights, although we sealed it up during cold and stormy nocturnal interludes.

The Bombshelter, like all Bibler tents, sets up from the inside, with the poles simply pressing against the tent fabric. That has both advantages and disadvantages. It allows you to get out of the weather while setting it up. On a recent trip up to mosquito-infested Mt. Adams, it was great to be able to escape the little bloodsuckers, and set up the tent in peace. It also makes the tent simpler, and lighter weight. On the other hand, I found it a bit more difficult to get the poles in place, compared to just sliding them through sleeves. Also, there’s a very big risk of poking the pole through the tent, as you’re sliding it in. I almost did this at least once.

Another advantage of the pole system, is that once the Bombshelter is set up, the fabric is as tight as a drum. I’ve sat out some quite windy storms and the tent barely flaps at all — a big help if you’re trying to catch some shuteye during a big storm. Unfortunately the tautness also makes it a bit easier to rip the tent; I managed to put a little gash in the side with my shovel at one point. Luckily it was tiny and easily fixed with seam sealer.

The smaller integrated rear vestibule on the Black Diamond Bombshelter tent.

The Bombshelter is advertised as a four man tent, however like many mountaineering tents, it’s made as small as possible so it would be a tight squeeze for four. It would be quite comfortable for three, and for two (like we had) it’s spacious. The tent also has two integrated vestibules. The front has it’s own pole, and is large enough for storing lots of gear or cooking. The rear vestibule is much smaller and only useful for storing a few small things, and as a cover if you want to leave the back door open.

The Bombshelter proved to be a perfect choice for an Alaskan basecamp tent. In addition to being strong and spacious, it’s light enough to have been useful for a few other trips this winter and spring as well. Of course, a double wall tent is warmer and even better at dealing with condensation, but with most you pay a heavy weight penalty. Bibler tents have a well-deserved reputation for being burly, lightweight, and well thought out. The Bombshelter certainly lives up to the rep.

Another view of our camp on the Davidson Glacier. Yaaar!

Shop for the burly tent.


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9 Responses to “Black Diamond Bombshelter Tent Review”

  1. Crazy Horse July 31st, 2013 3:37 pm

    Fuzzy inner layer bonded to a “waterproof/breathable” single skin? Sounds exactly like my 25 year old Early Winters tent that is still going strong. It’s never been on an expedition, but everywhere else from Hawaii to all night rainstorms in the PNW.

    Is there really nothing new under the sun? :twisted

  2. Louie July 31st, 2013 4:01 pm

    Yep, Bibler has been around for a while, and I think the Todd Tex fabric has as well. I wouldn’t be surprised it if it is the same type of stuff in the Early Winters tent. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much advancement in single wall tent materials. It’s a fairly small market, especially compared to waterproof-breathable clothing.

    I’ve heard those Early Winters tents are awesome! Too bad they stopped making them.

  3. Chris August 1st, 2013 6:17 am

    Any thoughts on the Bibler compared to the Hilleberg tents you used on Denali? (Or any reason you didn’t take one on this trip?) After years with a Bibler Eldorado, I’ve been considering switching to a Hilleberg. Maybe due to the smaller volume of the Eldorado, or the conditions I’ve used it in, I’ve experienced more condensation than you described. Also, while the weight isn’t too bad, the Toddtex fabric is quite bulky to pack.

  4. Harpo August 1st, 2013 10:52 am

    I am in the same situation as Chris (thinking of upgrading my eldo) and have the questions as Chris.

  5. Nick August 1st, 2013 11:44 am

    I’ll have to try out this Bombshelter tent for my own trip to Alaska! Thanks for the review!

  6. Louie August 2nd, 2013 1:11 pm

    I’m a big fan of hillebergs as well. The one I used on Denali was a nammatj 3. Comparing that to bombshelter is a little tough, since they are different sizes. They are both sized for mountaineering, so they are pretty small for the size.

    The Hilleberg is bomber, and has the advantage of being double walled, making it more weather proof, and more breathable. It’s lightweight for what it is, too.

    The keron 4 looks to be more similar in size to the bombshelter, and it’s
    a little heavier.

    The main reason for bringing the bombshelter was of course to test it out. It also was nice to have a free standing tent, especially with the possibility that we might use it in town. The fact that it doesn’t flap in the wind was especially nice for getting a good night’s sleep.

  7. Jordan August 6th, 2013 2:48 am

    second the no flapping in the wind for the bomb shelter. We took 2 of these bad boys to Alaska last year and sat out a 6 day storm with 10 plus feet of snow. If it weren’t for the tent fever, we would have all slept like babies. We also had similar issues with putting holes in them while digging them out though.

    I had no issues with warmth in this or the Hilleburg we used on Denali. But I would say this was a quieter tent.

  8. Lou Dawson August 6th, 2013 7:33 am

    Thanks for your take Jordan! Lou

  9. Daniel March 17th, 2014 7:11 am

    I have never heard of a single wall tent that is free of condensation before. This is one of the main reasons why I use a double wall tent, even if it means I have to pay the price in weight.
    Do you need to use a ground tarp with this tent? Does Black Diamond have a tarp custom-made for the Bombshelter?

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