Gear Review: A full Season with the Seek Outside Redcliff - All You Need To Know
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I’ve spent the summer of 2016 taking the Seek Outside Redcliff (affiliate link) with me on every single outing into the backcountry. Throughout my experience, I analyzed whether or not it’s a compatible shelter for how I like to backpack and came away with some great realizations. Switching from a traditional style backpacking tent to an ultralight tipi was a little like walking into the unknown, but I can confidently say now that the benefits in which a tipi offers far outweigh any potential downside.
Because this post might be lengthy, I’m going to break it up into small chunks by topic so you can jump around easily without having to dig for information on what you’re curious about. Just scroll down until you see a picture or a topic you like and then skip around.
-Before we dive in, lets first discuss a couple of administrative items-
How much Have a Used the Tipi?
I received my Seek Outside Redcliff (affiliate link)in early 2016 and have used it on every trip throughout the summer. This includes, an overnighter in May up to Mount St. Helens, again on a 3-day trek around the base of Mount St. Helens, on two more overnighters…again on Helens, and finally on a 4-night elk hunting trip…near Helens. I’ve had it in high winds, pitched it on sand, and lived out of it during 80-degree blue sky days. I have not had it in the rain just yet, so I won’t speak to that on this review. I've slept in it solo, with one other friend, and once with 4 adults for a couple of nights.
First Impressions and Why I Chose the Seek Outside Redcliff
The design of the Redcliff is what sold me on it from the beginning. When I get curious about a piece of gear, I tend to do a lot of research before I purchase anything, especially when it’s in the hundreds of dollars’ range. For those of you researching this topic as well, you probably bounce between Kifaru and Seek Outside (there are others but those are the two I was deciding between). I sincerely hope that I can experience a Kifaru shelter at some point, but my main reason for choosing Seek Outside was because when the design of the Redcliff first came out, it just made sense to me. It looked simple to pitch and I liked the size and weight that it came in. I also liked the idea of the “sod skirt” around the bottom of the shelter to help with drafts. Having spent a summer with the Redcliff, I think I made a great choice. Because this is my first tipi style tent, I don’t have anything to compare it to at the moment so just keep that in mind.
Switching to a Floorless Shelter
I was a little uneasy at first about the idea of moving away from a traditional backpacking tent, but nearly every forum post I read about making the switch offered nothing but positive experiences. The main concern that I hear from everybody when it comes to living in my tipi is in regard to the missing floor. It actually makes me laugh a little because there are just some people who can’t get over the idea of giving bugs the ability to snuggle with you when they’re sleeping. For me, bugs don’t cause worry. I don’t live in an area where I need to be concerned about small deadly creatures getting in my bag or biting my face off, so to me it’s a non-issue. Sure, I’ve had a couple spiders on me from time to time, but they come off pretty easily with a nice flick of the finger. I have spiders in my house from time to time so what’s the big difference? Bugs don’t bother me…but for some, it’s a no go.
One of the forums I read about bugs and floor-less shelters said that the flying type tend to congregate around the peak of the tipi – as it turns out, it’s true. I’d see all kinds of flying critters up there when I was going to bed. For whatever reason, they never seem to fly around down low where you’re sleeping.
It’s important to keep in mind that you need to look carefully at the ground before you pitch the tipi to make sure you’re not going to be sleeping on an ant nest or any sort of hive. For trips where I know it’s going to be super buggy out, I might consider leaving the tipi at home just to gain that added bug protection, but so far I’ve yet to have it be that bad. The way I look at it, if you know it’s going to snow you bring snow clothes, right? The same goes for bugs – bring the tent that makes the most sense for the conditions. There are some places in my area during certain times of the year that I just wouldn’t take the tipi because the bugs are so bad. In those cases, I’d likely just switch back to something with more protection and save the tipi for next time, OR use what Seek Outside calls “nests.” They’re like a tent within the tipi that has a ground floor and protects you from any flying or crawling critters. I currently do not have this Nest so until that time, I’d have to revert to my other tent with more bug protection.
Durability is a tough one to capture. What’s really durable and who’s defining it? Everyone has a different kind of need or desire in this area depending on how they use and abuse their gear. If you’re the ultralight type, then you’re aware that most ultralight set ups are delicate. Durability has a lot to do with overall weight based on materials. I think the Redcliff lies somewhere in the middle between wicked rugged and crazy ultralight. You probably shouldn’t throw it around like a rag-doll, but you don’t have to treat it like a princess. After all of my trips this summer which included a crazy windstorm that snapped a guy line rated to 250 lbs. in half, the Redcliff has only shown wear in one area and I’m not sure it’s any sort of manufacturing default. There’s a small tear near one of the stake out points and it showed up after one of my first trips. I’ve monitored it all summer with no issue. I’m not certain whether it was due to stress or some sort of rubbing, but regardless, that’s the only damage to the tent I’ve witnessed thus far.
Besides the small hole in the base, the tent has performed flawlessly minus one moment during that wind storm when I caught a zipper on some extra fabric while trying to get in and out of the tent in a hurry. The Redcliff isn’t a finicky tent that requires it to be used in a specific manner. It’s just a good ol’ tent that does the job like it should. It’s not complicated to understand and literally everyone who’s lived out of it with me has loved it.
I referenced this above briefly, but let me just explain my first outing in the Redcliff. I literally thought I was going to be blown off the mountain that night. Pucker factor was through the roof and it was bad enough for me to start thinking about a plan B in the event the tent decided to fly away. I’d never personally experienced being in a windstorm of that magnitude and all I kept thinking was “this tent is 7 ft. tall….my goose is cooked!” I had my dog with me that evening and the look on his face told me that he thought he might not get out of there alive. All night long I kept going around the tent making sure the rocks I had put over top of the ground stakes were doing their duties and that the guy lines were still secure. The noise inside the tent was unreal and I couldn’t decide which part of the tent was going to rip first. Would a gust come from under one of the sides then turn the tent into a sail - leaving myself and the dog to scatter about finding shelter? Or, would a seam give way and blow everything away? Maybe the center carbon fiber pole would break in half due to the incredible amount of bending that it was exhibiting! Having no ability to prevent the first two situations from happening, I remember getting up to stabilize the center pole as if I was the only thing keeping it all together. After clutching that pole in death grip for a minute or so, I looked down and realized that my dog might need more attention than the tent did. I quickly gave up the task of supporting the center pole in order to comfort my four legged friend who was likely cursing my name in dog speak.
Needless to say, it was windy. It was probably too windy to be camped where we were, but I had no other choice that night due to every other option being covered in deep snow. When the sun came up the next morning, the wind subsided at once and I was able to inspect the tent for damage. I hadn’t slept but maybe an hour throughout the entire night and fully expected there to be some sort of issue to resolve. After my inspection, I found there to be no damage at all. The only thing I discovered was guy line rated to 250 lbs. had snapped in half at some point in the night. Just think about that for a minute and you’ll appreciate the kind of wind my Redcliff was sustaining for hours on end.
Though I never wanted to experience such a storm ever again, I knew that if I did, I’d be just fine. The carbon fiber pole bent and swayed like that of a longbow but never showed any sign of failing on me. The seams held up in the wind and my confidence soared.
The Redcliff is as durable as they come and can handle wind which means it can likely handle pretty much anything else you can throw at it.
The one thing I love about this tent is the livability it provides me and those I’m with. It’s a palace for two and functional for four with all packs stashed inside the tent. You can stand up to change your pants, sit in a camp chair, and host up to six individuals with ease. Sleeping five or six is doable, but it would likely require gear to be stashed outside. When it’s just me and another person I tend to get pretty lazy with my items because there is just so much room. For a tent that weighs no more than 6 lbs., I just don’t see how it can get any better than this.
I currently don’t have a box stove to go with the Redcliff, but it is capable of hosting one. This would reduce the amount of space in side by about 1 person, but I rarely ever need all that space anyhow. This past elk season I had four guys living out of the tent for two nights and we had all the room we needed. The Redcliff is a backcountry shelter that you can actually live out of for long periods of time. I assure you you’ll never feel cramped when waiting out a storm.
Packability (might not be a real word)
With how large the Redcliff is, it actually packs down pretty small. I can fit the whole thing (without the pole) into a small sleeping bag stuff sack. I’ve also stuffed it into a big Kifaru Pull Out with no problem at all. What works best for me and to save room inside my pack is I lash it to the load shelf on my Exo Mountain Gear 3500. Doing this allows me to leave the entire main bag of my pack free for other gear.
Pitching and Tearing Down the Tipi
I remember before I purchased the Redcliff, I saw a photo or two of the tent and maybe a video half explaining how to pitch it. Within a half hour of receiving the tipi, I had it up in the backyard without wondering how everything worked. With the hybrid design of the Redcliff, you essentially stake out four corners, run the pole up, and stake out the remaining bits. After that it’s just a matter of fine tuning to get everything how you want it.
Throughout the summer, I found myself at times struggling to make the tent pitch correctly because I’d end up getting it too tight which caused the corners to lay flat instead of at the correct angle. I wondered what the heck was going on and realized that the uneven ground was causing an issue for me so after my initial pitch, I’d have to go back around and ensure everything had the right amount of tension. Sometimes the pitch was perfect right off the bat, other times I’d screw it up and have to go around making it set right. Truth be told that in an emergency, my initial pitches were just fine, but it was my own internal perfectionism that caused me to take longer to pitch it.
At a minimum, the Redcliff can be pitched in about 5 minutes. Fine tuning can take another 5 or 10 minutes unless you’ve got some crazy uneven ground or just screwed it up from the beginning and have to start all over.
I wrote about seam sealing in my original post, but it’s worth mentioning again. I had no idea how to seam seal prior to owning the Redcliff and probably still have no idea because it’s not the most intuitive thing to do, nor is it a five-minute activity. The sealer that Seek Outside provided with the tent left something to be desired, but I did my best to use it until I realized I was going to be in the backyard for days if I didn’t do something different. I ended up using the application that came with a Kifaru Tarp I had purchased and it made the job much easier and faster. You basically mix the silicon with some paint thinner and just paint it on over each seam. I haven’t had my tent in a downpour just yet so I have no idea how well I did, but I’m going to assume I’ll likely need to do it again.
I pitched the tipi in the yard, grabbed a step ladder and went to town slapping on as much as I could so I knew it would do the job. Honestly, I really hate the idea of seam sealing for one major reason – I don’t trust myself to do it the right way. Plus, it ends up looking crappy. From all the research I’ve done, the reason that companies don’t seam-seal tents in the factory for you is because it can be costly to do so (still trying to understand this). Well, the way I look at it is that I’m already paying a premium for the tent, so what’s another 50 to 100 dollars to make sure the weather will remain on the outside of the tipi.
Here’s where I’d like to see a little change up for companies like Seek Outside. For about $75, Seek Outside will seam seal for you, but what I’d really like to see is the tipi to come sealed at no additional cost. Is this a pipe dream? Maybe, but to me it’s like building a car and selling it without windows included (not sure that's a good example...). Could you buy them separate? Sure, but it’s super annoying and a hassle to deal with. Increase the cost a bit to cover the seam sealing across all tents sold and call it good! I just like the idea of a tent coming from the factory ready to rock and not leaving it up to the customer to do the final touches. Think about it for a moment, what if a customer orders the tipi during a rainy time of the year and has to wait weeks before the weather clears up enough to pitch it outside for a night after sealing it. This just doesn't work! I live in the Pacific NW where rain is a thing...all the time. I'm lucky I was able to get my seam sealing done so quickly.
Here’s the kicker, nearly all of these tipi makers are of the same mindset. They allow the user to seam seal on their own so it’s not like this is a huge differentiator when it comes to making the purchase…but it could be! I haven’t personally been in a conversation with anyone from Seek Outside about this topic, so I can’t speak to what the business reasons are behind this decision not to seam seal for the customer, but to me as a consumer it’s just a no brainer. Why build a kickass product, but leave weatherizing it in the hands of the purchaser? You could literally be risking a customer having a bad experience with the product you just made for them. Think of it as product and customer insurance and seam seal in the factory no matter what.
It’s not the end of the world to seam seal a tent, but it’s not something I look forward to doing. I’m more of the mindset that I want to have a product arrive with the ability to use it that very day.
I'll put it this way; if two different brands' products are equal in all manners except that one comes seam sealed and one doesn't, you can bet your ass I'd purchase the tent coming from the company that seam sealed it for me even if it cost slightly more. Don't let me make the mistake of seem sealing on my own!
And now I’ll step off my soap-box…
Thoughts on Overall Size
The Redcliff has changed my entire outlook on life in the backcountry. Other than weight savings, I have no idea why I would ever want to crawl inside a tent ever again when I can literally walk into one and change standing up. It’s great for housing 4 people and gear, but it’s simply amazing for two. The worst thing about tent camping is not having enough room. For only 5 -6 lbs. of weight, you can live like a king in the backcountry with the Redcliff. I don’t have a stove so I can’t speak to that, but it wouldn’t make much of a difference with 2-3 people living in the tent.
I’ve had 5 people hanging out inside of my Redcliff and not felt cramped at all. Be it in a camp chair or on the ground, the livability is just great. I will say that it’s a little overkill for long treks where you're packing up each morning, but for those who want to use it as a base camp tent, it just doesn’t get much better than the Redcliff.
Thoughts on Weight
For how large the Redcliff is, it’s really light. Go ahead and search out other 5-6 man tents and see how much they weigh. The Redcliff weighs no more than 6 lbs. altogether which is likely half as much as most tents in that category. Take Hilleberg for example; their 4-man base camp tent has a listed packed weight of 14 lbs.!!!! Sure, it’s a different style, but the it only hosts 4 people and is more than double the weight of the Redcliff. Do you see now why floorless is so great? You could use this in a mountain setting, in snow, in weather, and have a hot stove for less weight than a Hilleberg that only allows 4 people to sleep like sardines in it! And the price…nearly double if not more.
Thoughts on Moisture Control
The Redcliff is a single layer tipi, meaning that there is only one layer of material between you and the outside world. This also means that condensation can become an issue depending on the climate you’re in. I’ve had the walls damp in the early mornings, but have yet to have an issue with it. This is because the Redcliff is so large that you can avoid touching the sides. It also airs out really well so once the sun is up, the condensation goes away pretty quickly (at least in my experience). You can order the Redcliff with a liner which would turn it into a double layer tent, but to me it’s not an issue and I’d rather save the weight.
Thoughts on Bugs
Yes, bugs do exist outside in the open air. The Redcliff has no floor so be advised that if you want more bug protection, you can get a “nest” from Seek Outside that goes inside the tent and provides that kind of protection. I personally haven’t had an issue with too many bugs, but I’m not kidding myself because I know there will come a time when it could get bad. In those instances, I’ll just bring more protection with me or use a different tent. When pitching your tent, make sure you look for ant hills or nests so you can avoid having an issue. I’ve had a spider or two on me from time to time, but nothing that was too concerning. It’s the wild…right? If you’re worried about critters, make sure to button up your food so nothing is tempted and wrap up your sleeping bag until you get inside it for the night. Going floor-less really isn’t a big deal and the pros far outweigh the cons.
What is this Tent Good For?
The Seek Outside Redcliff is perfect for that backcountry explorer who plans to set up a basecamp and live out it for a day or two. Without a doubt, you can easily pack this tent up each morning as you move down that trail, but if you’re wanting to cover mileage, hauling around a 5-6 lbs. tent probably isn’t the most efficient use of energy. As with everything, it’s all a matter of what you’re willing to give up to have a palace or not have a palace to live out of for the night.
Things I Love
Let’s do this in bullet points
- I love the floor-less idea of ultralight tipis. It’s great and saves so much overall weight. It also means I don’t have to take my shoes off.
- The overall weight of the Redcliff is so little in comparison to traditional tents, especially when you look at how much a 5-man tent weighs in a traditional configuration.
- I can stand up! I’m only 5’8’’ so for me it’s perfect, but I’ve had guys in my tent who are over 6 feet tall and they do just fine. When people see that they can walk in my tipi, they are floored.
- It’s easy to pitch. I didn’t know how to pitch the tent, but figured it out in about 5 minutes. ‘Nuff said.
- Holds tight in high winds. Reference my experience above…this thing is a tank and can take a beating in the wind.
- You can have a stove! Yep, there is a stove jack if you want to be warm in the winter months.
- Packable – For how large it is, it’s still very easy to pack. See above for packability.
- Two doors – You can swing these things wide open and sleep under the stars on a clear night. Having the ability to have a barn door open on your tent is just great.
- Oh…and it looks freaking sweet.
Things I Don’t Love
I know this is going to sound cliché, but coming up with a list of things I don’t like the about the Redcliff is actually hard because there really isn’t much I don’t like. I’m going to be as picky as I can be here with this list, but realize that none of these items are deal breakers for me. Rather, each of these bullet points is aimed toward improving the overall experience of living in the Redcliff.
- Securing the doors when you want them wide open can be a challenge. There is only one shoestring type tie-down for the door on either side, but it’s a little difficult to get just right. Eventually, the tie becomes lose when it’s windy and you are left dealing with the door flapping in the wind. There is a technique to rolling up the door and tying it off, but I don’t always get it right and always have to redo it.
- Suggestion: create two locations where you can secure the door wide open and make them more securable instead of just having to tie a knot. Put one at the bottom and one near the top and you’re good to go.
- Adjusting how taught the tent is after the initial pitch means you have to pull each stake out and reposition it. This can cause some big issues when the earth you’re trying to secure the tent into is soft or full of rocks. If it’s soft, you risk chewing up the ground too much to where the stake won’t stay put any longer. This is because you’re really only making minor adjustments within a few inches of one another. Eventually it’s like you just tilled the earth for a tiny garden. For rocky terrain or hard ground, it makes it just as difficult because sometimes the location where you need to put the ground stake has a big rock 3 inches down forcing you to have to relocate the stake. Because the grounding loops are fixed in one position, you don’t really have too many options for where to locate the stake. For a perfect pitch, it needs to be in the correct location or you’ll be too tight or too loose.
- Suggestion: Most tents have this problem so it’s nothing too ground breaking here. That said, I purchased a Sierra Designs tent two years ago and found that they had a GREAT solution to this issue. They located a sort of line lock on each corner of the tent so you can do the initial pitch and then go back around the tent to secure it all in place with the proper tension. It’s brilliant! I’m not 100 percent certain this would work for a tipi, but I think it’s worth a shot. I’ve considered retrofitting my Redcliff with something like this so I can avoid chewing up the earth when I pitch it wrong the first time. The other benefit to a line lock feature is that you can easily go back around the tent and retighten each corner throughout the day to ensure it remains taught. Seek Outside has something like a line lock you can install, but I believe it’s more for ventilation purposes.
As with every review I do, it’s never really over when I type the last word. It’s only just the beginning as long as I continue to use this tipi, which I fully intend to do. The Redcliff has been a champion for me this year and I’ve yet to really be frustrated with any portion or feature of it. I remember being concerned with the idea of not having a floor attached to my tent, but as it turns out, it’s pretty dang awesome. The livability of this tent is through the roof and I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t think that it’s worth the weight (again…it’s only about 5-6 lbs.). I can honestly say that I actually look forward to living in this shelter each evening because I know it’ll hold tight in the wind, protect my gear, and provide room enough for myself and a pile of friends.
If I could add one last note about the Redcliff in closing that has nothing to do with performance, it would be this; it simply looks at home in the mountains against any and every backdrop out there. The material colors that Seek Outside offers in their tents have this way of becoming part of their environments instead of detracting from the scene. It’s at home in the backcountry in every sense of the word, both visually and technically.
As of the date of this post, the Seek Outside Redcliff costs roughly $730 and is available in both green and brown. Always do your research before you purchase a product. If you have any questions at all, please feel free to email me at email@example.com or leave a comment below.
Thanks for reading this review!