MSR (Mountain Safety Research) was started in 1969 by a then 53 year old Larry Penberthy. On April 26, 1974 a patent was applied for # 3900281–the MSR Model 9 stove, and Mr. Penberthy was off and running. Inventing camping/climbing equipment and lots of testing was this engineer’s love. An innovative ice axe, and many other items followed the stove. Today MSR is owned by Cascade Designs. Acquired in 2001, MSR joined the other top of the line companies owned by Cascade which include MSR camping equipment, Therm-A-Rest self inflating pads, Seal Line water proof bags, Platypus hydration system, and Tracks walking sticks. Their gear is top of the heap, and spans pretty much the whole gamut of needed accessories for the modern climber/camper.
The MSR line is comprised of tents, stoves, cookware, water treatment, snowshoes, and camp towels. Our test subject today is from their “Fast & Light Tents” category and has two stable mates, those being the E-Wing and the E-Bivy. All of the E-Series shelters are made out of bright yellow Silnylon that you’re sure to be seen using (which is great since this is an emergency shelter and you want to be found!). MSR chose to use the ripstop nylon 66 silicone coated material, as it’s the more heavy duty of the Silnylons. The E-House is touted as being a full-coverage, tent-style emergency shelter. Since there is no floor in this shelter, it is definitely not a tent in the true sense. Being a shelter more than a tent means it can save some weight with that no floor design and still provide ample coverage and protection in case of an emergency night spent out in the wilds. It measures 12″ by 4″ when in the Silnylon stuff sack and weighs a mere 1 lb. 4 oz. including pegs and sack. This feature-packed shelter also has fully taped seams, a skirted base, and a floor area of 19 sq. ft. MSR says it will sleep 2 or if used like a tarp, four people will have shelter.
Ok, so out we go for a setup of the E-House and see what’s what. First impressions are that it’s very well made. The stuff sack and small bag that hold the pegs are made of the same Silnylon as the shelter and have draw strings with good quality small cord locks to hold things shut when stored. There are warning tags telling you the shelter is made of flame-resistant fabric but to keep away from all flames and heat sources. I had a small piece of this same #66 silicone coated nylon and thought I’d have my own fire test in the driveway. It melted and caught fire quickly and gave off the most pungent odor ever! Suffice it to say, play it safe and keep this shelter away from the fire! It’s quite easy to set up. As an emergency shelter, being able to throw it up quickly to get out of the weather is essential. Remembering the rule of 3’s again, 3 hours without shelter might be all you can handle. Staking out the four corners is the first step, which is easy enough with the provided pegs. The devil is in the details as they say, and the tent pegs are great. It’s a simple thing I know, but they work very well. Small enough to go into the ground easy, a yank on the cord under the hook end has them pulling up quick but only when your done with the shelter. MSR was kind enough to paint them red too for ease of spotting in the grass.
Next you’ll need some sort of roof support at each end whether it be two trekking poles wedged inside, two tree limbs you lopped off stuffed in there, or even a piece of paracord strung between two trees and through the provided loops in each reinforced top corner. How ever you choose to do it, that’s it for a quick setup. Unzip the one and only door and in you go for the night. A night out of the elements and where you can plan your rescue, survival, or what you’re going to do next. Now, if you think your going to be in there for a few days, or there are two people that you need this shelter to protect, I suggest guying out the middle of the long sides of it. There are reinforced loops provided for this but you’ll have whip up 2 of your own tent pegs. You DO have a knife on you right? A gentleman always carries a knife. Since there is no floor, you might want a small trench around it too to help keep out the rainwater. I know, I know, trenching is bad but I’m thinking survival situation here. Don’t worry about any weather getting through the Silnylon its tough stuff! When it gets too humid inside the E-House there is a slit vent on one wall to open and the door itself to allow for maximum airflow. The door can even be staked out to act more like a vestibule if you want too.
I slept out in this for a night while on a bicycle ride support trip. I found that I had to stake out the sides to have more room for myself. I can’t imagine spending the night in there with someone but I guess in a survival situation it would have to do. MSR says it will accommodate four people when used as a tarp. Really? First off, I can’t see how they want you to use it as a tarp. It has one door and no way to open the other end. If you could, I would see how you’d be able to splay it out as big as possible and string it up with paracord and make a tarp shelter, but with how it’s configured you could only zip the door shut, sort of lay it on it’s side and string it up into the trees. That looks feasible to do but covering four people is out of the question. Four very little kids maybe but not four adults. I even did a Google image search for it, thinking someone might have tried to configure this thing to accommodate 4 people, but all I could find was the stock picture from MSR. When I woke up in the morning I found that the shelter was about as wet on the inside as it was on the outside. This Silnylon just doesn’t seem to breath very well. I had lots of condensation inside and when I rolled and touched the side I got wet. I did have the sidewall vent open and the door about half so I was giving it a chance to breath but still no good. It was not raining but there was lots of dew in the air and no real breeze blowing. I’m sure this would be different in a more arid climate but in the hills here in Western Pennsylvania, it’s a bit dewy in the morning.
All in all I think that for what it’s being sold as it’s great. It’s not supposed to be a weeklong soloist tent. It’s meant to be an emergency shelter packed along in either a B.O.B., kept in the trunk, behind the seat in your truck, or as a backup to your main tent. It will keep you dry from rain and snow. It will let folks find you with its bright yellow color, and it’s quick and light to setup and carry. It offers the most protection in their E-Series line up but I think the E-Wing would suit me better, but then I’m a tarp camper. Thanks Larry for having the gumption to start the company! Forty years in business…they must be doing something right.