Mountaineers don’t buy three men tents if they want small, minimalist, and compact. People who buy a three person tent usually want large, expansive, and roomy. That is what Sierra Designs Zolo 3 delivers. Backpacker magazine calls it, “a palatial three-person tent.” Before we get carried away, I will say that it stops short of accommodating bunk beds like the wizard tents in the Harry Potter movies, but for folks over six feet tall, it is accommodating enough stretch out to an eight-foot length. The square footage for the floor multiplies out to a comfy 48 ft².
At six pounds, five ounces, it is not the lightest backpacking tent you will ever see, but it is a reasonable weight for a three person tent. The people who give it the biggest raves are the ones who drive most of the way and then hike the last few hundred yards to their campsite. Its size also makes it a big hit with small families and couples who go camping with dogs.
Another consistent point of agreement among those who have spent a few nights in this tent is the ease of set up. It really is easy enough for one person to do alone. The genius is in having the corner poles connect at a swiveling plastic hub, so they are more controllable during assembly. Clips along the corner ridges of the tent snap quickly onto the poles.
Sierra Designs Zolo 3 is new for 2010 and hasn’t yet compiled a lot of history, but one area where it is proving itself early on is in the ability to withstand wind and rain. It stayed put in Rocky Mountain winds and throughout a tropical storm on the East Coast. Some testers credit its low to the ground design for staying put in high wind. Others gave those points to the taut pitch of the fly. It is probably both. The fly did channel rain water toward the door when the vestibule was open. For a moderate to heavy rain where the tent is closed up, it is not a problem, but in the case of some light non-blowing rains, you may have drips if it is left open to catch some air.
When the storms do hit, there are two storm windows in the fly. Since the tent itself has large areas of mesh, these add an ever greater feeling of spaciousness. A roundish fly over a rectangular tent creates two covered storage vestibules. This added storage area is particularly useful for campers who like to organize right down to the tent peg. It can be divvied up as yours and mine, or one side can be storage and the other used for drying wet and muddy items.
Most tents use zippered closings, and this was one area where we did not come to a consensus. Some testers loved the double-sided opening feature. Others thought they were difficult to close at the top where they let mosquitoes in. Personally, I thought they were—ordinary tent zippers.
Remembering that this is a three-season tent, not suitable for winter camping and tested only during a mild summer, I found the overall ventilation to be excellent, zipped or unzipped.
Sierra Designs Zolo 3 retails for $289.95. A footprint flooring protector is available separately. I’d give it a rating of 4.5 based on the ease of set-up for such a large tent. If you are tall, or just like extra headroom, the Zolo 3 may be the tent for you.