Tents and shelters come and go; designs get updated, modified, messed with; fashions and desires change. Sometimes classic designs disappear, only to be revived by another manufacturer years later. In the case of the Eureka! / Nigor WickiUp 3 SUL, the story is a little different.
[NOTE: This article was updated 23.8.12 with an addendum concerning the materials used, seam sealing, and relationship with GoLite.]
When searching for a shelter, the holy grail is something simple to pitch, weatherproof, roomy, and light. It's an ideal that many tents don't quite reach; they can very light, but very flimsy; very strong, but very, very heavy; architecturally elegant, but overly complex.
And then there's pyramid tarps and shelters: a few stakes, just one pole, and Bob's your uncle – a voluminous shelter that's reasonably light, and sheds wind and water as if they were coming straight off a duck's back. Is there anything simpler? It's no coincidence that the indigenous peoples of multiple continents used pyramid-style teepees for hundreds of years.
A long time ago, in a continent, far, far away, a company called GoLite released a rather nice pyramid tent called the Hex3. Many were happy. Time passed, and the tent evolved and was given a name befitting such a utopian shelter: the Shangri-La 3. Even more people were happy. Indeed, many of these people still are, as their tents continue to give them joy and protection from the elements to this very day.
But all was not well in paradise. The small company grew larger, LessLite-er, and a little aloof. It no longer saw the world as worthy of its benevolence, and closed its doors to all but the most favored [sic] of nations. And thus, GoLite became a US-centric company, and the rest of the world became sad. How could we find Shangri-La now?
Fear not, rejected citizens of the old world! Another company has taken up the reins, and now sells almost identical versions of the Shangri-La to the rejoicing citizens of Europe (and, who knows, maybe even the rest of the world). The name of that company is Eureka! (although in a few weeks you'll find them under the Nigor brand – more on that later). And the tent you are looking at is the WickiUp 3 SUL.
Okay, so the name isn't quite as sexy as the Shangri-La, but to all intents and purposes, in other respects it's identical – and in some ways superior.
Don't believe me? Let's have at it then.
As I said, design-wise, the WickiUp is an almost identical copy of the Shangri-La 3 (SL3): a six-sided pyramid tarp with an inner tent featuring a full bathtub floor. The tent can be pitched with or without the inner, and a single pole and 6 stakes are all you need to pitch it (both inner and outer can be pitched with those 6 stakes – but more on that in a minute), and that is exactly what you get in the package.
In the above photo: inner at top; pole in the middle; fly underneath; the platypus is just to give an idea of scale. The stakes come in their own silnylon pouch, and are about as crap as you would expect. You could use them just for the inner, but I'd ditch them immediately and invest in some decent stakes (I like Easton Nano's for less vital stuff, and the 8" versions, which now seem to be branded Mountain Hardware, for the key load-bearing points. To be fair, the user guide also advises getting better stakes.
Packed tightly it all looks a bit like this:
If you're like me, however, it will never look like that again.
It takes about 4 minutes to erect the fly. It is supremely easy. Stake out the 6 corners. Make the pole and stick it in the apex. Put it in position, and tighten the cord locks – which, incidentally, are nice and sturdy.
If you want to use the inner, it's almost as easy. Why "almost"? Well, first you pitch the inner in the manner described above (theoretically, you can put the fly up first, but getting the inner over the apex pole while it's holding up the fly requires some fumbling). Then you throw the fly over, which is not so easy to do alone – even without wind – as it's a large shelter.
One good thing about the pole: it has pre-drilled holes and can be easily extended to different heights:
You can also use trekking poles, with a pole connector (and perhaps lose a little stability), or use a packraft paddle, so in that sense it's very flexible and suited to a lot of different adventure styles.
Getting back to the fly, maybe I'm easily confused, but even with the swanky new orange storm flap (take that, GoLite!), I somehow manage to get the door positioned incorrectly every time, and end up having to un-peg it and move it around. This will pass with more use, of course, but a simple colour-matched stake tensioner (say, a red one by the door) would eliminate the confusion entirely. It's more of a user error than a design fault, and certainly falls under "first world problems", but it's the little things. I might just stick some duct tape to them to make it more obvious for my simple mind.
Back to the issue of stakes. As you can see in the image above, in calm weather or sheltered locations, it is possible to pitch the entire shelter using just six stakes. But, as we all know, when it rains, or conditions change, silnylon stretches, and before you know it...
...you've got a sagging wet fly in contact with the mesh inner, which is less than ideal.
This can be avoided by a) not being lazy, and getting up during the night to tighten the cords, and/or, b) using separate stakes for the fly and inner to create more separation between the two.
In calm weather, you can probably get away with just staking out the six corners. But if you want the thrill of an exposed fell- or mountain-top camp in "a bit of a breeze", you're going to need some additional cordage. Fortunately, the WickiUp has tie-outs a-plenty, all regaled with reflective decals so you can find them in the dark. Unfortunately, no cord is supplied with the tent, so I hope you paid attention to the bit about knots in Ultralight Makeover Pt. 10.
To SL3 owners, those tie-out points, the reflective decal, the whole shebang, in fact, will surely look eerily familiar (save the aformentioned swanky orange bits, over which you are no doubt gnashing your teeth). Here's another photo to to drive you wild with envy.
There are a few subtle but important differences between the WickiUp 3 SUL and the SL3.
First, there are three vents on the WickiUp fly,
Second, the inner is 3/4 nylon, 1/4 no-see-um mesh, which is a far more in keeping with European principles of common decency than the shockingly exhibitionist full-mesh inner on the SL3. Truth be told, it's more to suit the Northern European climate, I suspect.
However, the side-effect of this is that the WickiUp's inner weighs less (877g) than GoLite's mesh inner (940g).
Third, I think on the SL3 the fly door zips around a little further under the mesh vent. Correct me if I'm wrong, SL3-ers (see photo above)
Fourth, it has an orange floor!!!
Fifth, the fly materials are slightly tougher than the SL3. The WickiUp I've been testing uses 30D/PU 3000mm silnylon. The SL3 uses 15D/PU1200mm. In a few weeks, the updated version of the WickUp will be available (under the Nigor brand), and that has employs an even stronger 20D GorLyn material and is siliconised on both sides. So, in theory at least, the WickiUp should cope a bit better with harsh weather, UV, and have a bit more longevity.
As a result of that material difference, the Eureka! WickiUp fly is a touch heavier (725g) than the SL3's (650g). The weight of the new version has yet to be announced.
Between the lighter inner, and heavier fly, the weight differences between the shelter balance out pretty evenly. The total weights (the pole is 310g for both shelters) are 1912g for the WickiUp, and 1900g for the SL3. Swings, as they say, and roundabouts (well, Americans don't say "roundabouts", but "swings and rotaries" doesn't work quite so well).
Sixth, the seams on the WickiUp are not sealed or taped. While this is still not uncommon with tents per se, especially in Europe, the SL3 is sold with all seams factory taped. Now, I don't mind seam sealing; on a fine day it can be a quite nice little project. But with the ease of taping seams, the reason most manufactuers give that it takes too much time and space to seal the seams is no longer valid. If I'm paying good money for a tent (especially if it costs more than the competition) I would expect the seams to be sealed. This is one area I would definitely like to see an improvement in, especially at this price point.
Seventh, is something far more alarming: the WickiUp has a bold exclamation mark (!) near the door. You can see it in the following photograph, by Jaakko's left foot.
|Jaako is happy to discover there is nothing to be alarmed about. Phew.|
Alas, no; it is apparently merely "design" – simply an element of the Eureka! logo which has been used to identify the inner. Fortunately, Nigor, which will be selling the new version of the WickiUp, is exclamation free.
There is one final important difference: price. When GoLite pulled out of Europe and the entire dealership system, they were able to cut their retail prices by 50% across the board. This is why, on their site you'll see the SL3 advertised thus:
So they are able to sell it for $249.99 instead of $500. Even with the probable manipulation of the truth, that's still a remarkably good price for an ultralight shelter with an inner. Sure, it's probably made in China and doesn't have all the home-spun goodness of an MLD DuoMid, but still. Bargain City!
Except, of course, for those of us living outside America.
Although GoLite prioritise US distribution, you can, occasionally find a store selling GoLite gear in the EU. At the time of writing, Trekking Lite has the SL3 in stock for €349.95 – or $466, which hardly qualifies as equivalent pricing. GoLite won't ship overseas to us evil foreigners, so if you want one from them you'll need to find a friendly American to order one and send it to you. The rough cost of that is $250 for the SL3, plus about $20 tax, plus about $15 shipping to your friend, and then let's say $30 to send it insured by USPS to Europe. That's about $315 in total, or around €236. It's a bit of a hassle, but compared to Trekking Lite's €350, the savings are significant.
The WickiUp sells for €399.95 ($499), and the best prices I've seen are around €379. You get a tougher shelter that is more suited to a European climate (especially Northen Euope). That's not far off Trekking Lite's price for the SL3 price, but compared to the "get-a-friend-to-send" option, it's still quite expensive.
It used to be the case that you could buy the fly and inner separately from GoLite, in which case you could have saved even more money and bought a nice custom-made inner from OookWorks. As you now get the inner with both the WickiUp and SL3, the incentive to augment what you already have is somewhat lessened.
If we put aside financial aspect, we expose the underlying ethical question: is it better to buy from GoLite and implicitly support their closed-door policy of selling only to the US, or buy from a European company with open doors – but "borrowed" designs? (I'm awaiting clarification about the question of cloning the design.)
Personally, I'm very disappointed in GoLite. I can understand the business decision behind their actions, but at the same time there are plenty of other US companies that find a way to sell to Europe and the rest of the world. People continue to order from US cottage industries even though they have to pay import duty. Why couldn't GoLite establish an EU-based warehouse themselves, and distribute from there (much like TenkaraUSA does)?
It's for this reason that I'm happy Nigor/Eureka! is making and selling the WickiUp. If GoLite doesn't want to sell here, then nobody can complain if someone sells similarly-designed gear instead. It's not like Nigor are competing for the same customers in the same marketplace, because the cutsomers were essentially abandoned. The price of the WickiUp might be a bit more, but if quality is better, at least you're not giving your money to a company that doesn't want you to have access to its products.
A note on Eureka! / Nigor, and the importance of "First Look" Reviews
The WickiUp 3 SUL on test here was branded under Eureka! in Europe. An updated version of the shelter was announced at the OurDoor show in Fredrichshafen this summer, that will be sold under the NIGOR brand – which is a new high-end brand. Naming aside, the new version is the same shelter with improved materials.
This kind of rapid change in the industry highlights the importance of "first impression" reviews. If we wait until an item has been tested thoroughly over multiple seasons or years, the chances are the product will no longer be available.
If something good comes along, what's the point in waiting until it's no longer available to review it? Discuss.
The WickiUp 3 SUL is massive. Dimensionally speaking, the given sleeping area of the fly alone is 275x220cm. So, if you're over 275cm / 9 ft tall, you're bang out of luck. I was a little concerned that the inner would reduce this space and I'd be scraping my 6ft 1in (186cm) frame against the walls, but my concerns were unfounded – absurdly so. The claimed dimensions of the inner are 220 x 170cm, but frankly, the measurements are irrelevant. You will fit in this shelter. With ease, and with room to spare.
I feel the WickiUP really excels as a two-person shelter. Splitting the weight between two makes a lot of sense, and gives you a lot of space, especially if you don't need the inner. Without the inner, and if you use your trekking poles or a paddle to pitch, you're carrying the equivalent of 360g each (stakes, cords extra). Sure, there are lighter two-person tarps out there, but the WickiUp is a very comfortable shelter, with loads of headroom. It's the kind of place you'd be quite happy to hang out in a torrential rainstorm.
I did sometimes wish for a vestibule, especially when using the inner and sharing with a friend and/or dog, Shoes do fit between the fly and inner, but a bit of space would have been helpful to store all the junk you don't really need in the tent. And if you want to cook in the shelter, the only option witht he inner is to un-peg the front section, which collapses the door. If you'd like an inner and vestibule set-up, OookWorks has some very nice options in the shape of the BigNest, OookNest, or 2OookNest. They look very nice, and I am very tempted – a lighter inner with vestibule would be ideal. Alternatively, there is always the WickiUp 4 – the 3's bigger brother – which has a small porch and would suit a larger group or family.
I have read some criticisms of the SL3 that it is not good in bad winter weather. Well, there is probably some truth to that. Pyramid shelters, although entirely possible to pitch in snow, are not the best shelters for the simple reason that the stake-out points need to be very secure as they bear almost the entire load. Pitching a 'Mid well in soft snow takes time and skill. You have to know how to set a good, solid stake in snow, because good load-bearing is vital, and that's much harder to achieve than with a free-standing tent. It's not impossible, and when it's properly done it's very solid. But honestly, in winter, sometimes I just want to get a shelter up and not faff around with waiting for snow to sinter.
The bottom line:
The WickiUp3 SUL a great three-season tent for a two-person trip, especially if you don't need the inner. There's loads of room, and it packs up small, and it's very well made. The more durable materials boost its longevity and give you confidence in its ability to handle bad weather. Just get some better stakes.
It's absolutely fab with two people and a dog, and great as a lightweight tent for a small family – more prolific parents might want to consider the WickiUp4 / SL 5 (or a circus tent). The new Nigor range even includes a WickiUp 6, inside which you could almost fit 4 WickiUp 3's!
The WickiUp 3 SUL is maybe a little bit excessive if you're travelling alone, but with a trekking pole extender to replace the supplied pole (and save 310g), you get truly palatial space for 725g (plus stakes), which is pretty remarkable.
Improvments? Maybe mid panel tie outs, á la DuoMid, for the really harsh conditions. The colour coded matching stake out point near the door would be a nice, simple addition. Most importantly, I do think seams should be taped for the price point.
Regarding the price, it could be dropped a bit – especially compared to the hand-crafted, cottage industry tents that are currently available elsewhere, it feels a little bit too expensive. If they to sell it for €300 they'd be flying off the shelves.
In the end, I think it's a very good, solid shelter, and if it meets or exceeds the reputation of it's forebear the SL3, it should prove to be capable for many years to come. And make a lot of people very happy.
ADDENDUM – MANUFACTURER UPDATE
On thursday I spoke to Geor Nicholaas at Nigor to get some clarification about materials and the designs of the new WickiUp tents following the questions raised in the review and in comments.
First, I asked about the lack of seam sealing. As it turns out, there are a couple of very good reasons why Nigor doesn't seam seal. Perhaps most importantly, Gorlyn 20, the new double-sided siliconized nylon they are using on the fly cannot be seam taped*. Seam taping is only possible on the non-siliconized side of PU treated fabrics, hence its popularity in the US, where the law requires tent materials meet the CPA 84 fire retardancy standard. Fire retardancy can only be achieved by adding resin to PU. The PU resin weakens the fabric quite substantially. Normal PU coatings tend to reduce the tear strength up to 70%, which in Nigor's opinion weakens the fabrics too much to use them in lightweight tent designs.
Nigor want their tent materials to be the most durable on the market, hence the premium quality silnylon they use. Interestingly, this approach is shared by Hilleberg, which also uses double-sided siliconization, further explaining (beyond their stitching method) why Hilleberg they don't seam seal their tents.
Geor told me that Nigor as a brand want to put an emphasis on high quality construction. They are moving the WickiUp tents over to Nigor in order to differentiate the tents from the Eureka! brand, and establish the Nigor brand as the pro quality range. They clearly have their sights more on matching or exceeding Hilleberg's level of quality than on producing a cheap alternative to GoLite's products. The materials they now use are all top of the range; from the silnylon to the thread to the needles used to stich the seams; they are aiming at very high production values. For example, the nylon 6.6 material Nigor uses is also used by Hilleberg. I somehow missed the part in the borchure Nigor sent me about materials when writing the review, but I've copied the relevant section below.
The result of this, of course, is a product that is not so cheap, but very high quality. Geor told me that during the OutDoor show he made a presentation where a pin was pushed through the nylon 6.6 fly fabric, and demonstrated how the material is able to "self-heal" by massaging the damaged area.
Because of the high quality material, the thread used, the fine needles used to make the seams, and the double siliconization, there should not be any need to seam seal. Only if a small leak were to appear would localized sealing be necessary.
Geor was keen to stress that Nigor is not aiming to produce the cheapest tent, but the best tent. The inner floor, for example, uses the best material available (a 40D/10.000mm waterproof silnylon, with a TPU (laminated thermo-plastic polueurethane) coating – far more waterproof and resilient than the 3000mm PU coated (liquid applied) material used by GoLite).
I also asked about the weight of the new fly, but they are still waiting for the final production samples. However, they had a new WickiUp 4 that also uses the new materials, and the fly of that was some 100-150g lighter, which is promising for the gram counters among us.
Finally, I asked about the circumstances of the development of the WickiUp shelters, and Nigor's relationship with GoLite. Following GoLite's withdrawal from worldwide markets, Mark Flanagan (European Sales Agent) and Marcus Bauer (Export Manager) left GoLite and asked Nigor to develop similar shelters to those previously offered by GoLite, as there was still a demand for the shelters in Europe. Nigor took up the challenge, and has attempted to improve on the designs in several areas.
To summarize, the upshot of all this is that there is now an alternative to the Shangri-La range of shelters (including the new WickiUp 6, which is a new design) in Europe, at weights comparible to GoLite's, but using better quality materials that aim towards Hilleberg quality, and are competitively priced for that level of quality.
*Apparently Vaude have developed a technique for seam-taping on double-sided siliconizes materials, but it's a proprietary method that no-one else currently has access to.
I'll be giving the WickiUp a decent challenge on the fells of the Muotkatunturi Wilderness Area in a week or two. I'll update this post with any new observations after that.
Thanks to Eureka! / Nigor for providing a WickiUp 3 SUL for testing and review.
For the nitty-gritty details on the differences between the WickiUp 3, the forthcoming Nigor updated version, and the SL 3, check out the stats below (click to view larger).