If you haven't tried it... or even if you have, you will probably agree... backcountry Cold-tent camping during the Winter while snowshoeing or ski touring is a perfect combination. You are somewhere deep within the wilderness, heading whichever direction you please and soaking up the tranquility. There is one hold-up in this equation however, usually involving the inside of your backpack.
During the coldest Winter months a considerable amount of my backpack is probably taken up by my down sleeping bag. Space is a premium so you really have to analyze gear size, weight and functionality. Once you add a waterproof compression sack of clothes, a stove, some dehydrated food, and other bits of gear... you aren't left with much space to pack a shelter. When you're shopping for a four-season tent you'll find you now have an issue, not only are they enormous but they weigh down your backpack causing long trips to be a burden on your back and legs.
Mountain Safety Research recently released the Access series (Available in Solo, Two-Person, and 3-Person) four-season tents that fit comfortably between a heavy mountaineering tent and a lightweight backpacking tent. The tent is similar in design and shape as their excellent Hubba Hubba NX (read our review of it here) but built to be warmer, have greater wind resistance and handle snow-loading.
The entire 1.86 kg setup is based around a 46 x 15 cm stuff-sack that lets you cram the tent, fly, poles and pegs into a bag that has the step-by-step instructions sewn into the flap (which also keeps out the snow).
Just like the Hubba Hubba, the sack is one of my favourite design features as it lets you quickly disassemble the tent, return it to the bag and cinch it shut. There are also two compression sack straps built into the bag to remove even more air resulting in a very compact size.
Setup of the tent is quick and can be performed solo. You'll be amazed of the lightness of the 3 Easton® Syclone poles (made of multi-directionally wrapped aerospace grade S-Glass composite material) that compose the one-piece central frame as they click into place.
Where you will appreciate them even more is during the middle of a blustery night during a snow storm. Their weightlessness is deceiving as they stand up to strong winds without the fear of them getting bent out of shape or breaking (apparently they are 80% more resistant than aluminum poles to bending and breaking in windy conditions). Not even snow loading is a concern as the frame holds true.
The clips are made from plastic and were easy to attach and remove while wearing bulky gloves. The doors have mesh liners that you can open to assist with ventilation or close to help keep the warmth in. There were numerous tie-down points (although if you aren't within the shelter of trees, you might have to use your poles to tie to as there are only a set number of pegs included in the bag).
The fly (made from 20D ripstop nylon 1200mm Durashield™ polyurethane & silicone) is akin to three-season backpacking tents and doesn't go all the way to the ground. Because of this I always picture using this tent amongst the shelter of trees. A mountaineering tent (such as MSR's new Remote line of tents) would be better suited for high winds, altitudes, and barren areas as the wind would slip under the gap between the fly and the ground and cause annoying lift.
There isn't a gear loft nor are there attachment points to add one after the fact (not that they are as handy for storage/drying as in the Summer months) but the shape of the tent does allow for you to sit up easily inside. You certainly won't feel closterphobic inside while trying to worm your way into a sleeping bag or change out of wet clothing. There are also two mesh netting pockets that run along both the head and foot of the tent for small gear storage.
The symmetrical design means that there are two doors, each with their own vestibule. While the vestibules are a decent size, don't forget (depending on the snow conditions) you can dig down, resulting in ample area to stash your backpack. Sculpt the snow a bit as well to create a ridge to stop errant wind coming in while you are at it.
The floor is made from 30D ripstop nylon 3000mm Durashield™ polyurethane & DWR. You can purchase a footprint to help protect the bottom of your tent against abrasion which also packs up small and flat.
The MSR Access is the missing puzzle piece for me and Winter camping. Its small packable size, and solid design make backcountry trips a real joy. If you're not going the route of taking a sled with a pulk with you, a tent such as this really lends to being versatile where you go and where you set up camp in the backcountry. Scratch that Winter adventure itch and take this tent with you anywhere.