Traveler's Gear Box: Sierra Design's Mirage 2 Tent

Sierra Design's Mirage 2 tent makes a great basecamp for two people. Kurt Repanshek photo.

Tent envy struck quickly.

"I really like your tent," the young man said as I exited the draperies of fabric that stood out in the Fruita Campground of Capitol Reef National Park as Sierra Design's Mirage 2.

Glancing at his campsite, I quickly understood his envy. He had a small dome tent for himself, his wife, and their young daughter to crawl into, while the Mirage 2 (MSRP $599.99) required no crawling, had an anteroom (aka vestibule) where you could arrange two chairs and a small table to get out of the rain or sun, and a separate sleeping area. And the peak interior height is 70 inches (76 in the Mirage 4 four-person model).

Basecamping, whether you do it in front-country national park campgrounds, or along a dirt road somewhere in the farflung realm of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, calls for, well, a good basecamp, and that's what the Mirage 2 provides. It is just one of the options ready to confront you if you're searching for this type of shelter; The North Face, Marmot, Big Agnes, Mountain Hardware, and REI all offer these models in various configurations and price tags.

Ideally, your basecamp tent will be big. How big depends on not only your entourage, but the toys you bring and the comforts you desire. The three-season Mirage 2 is intended for two people and their gear, there's also the Mirage 4, and other tent makers have models intended for as many as six sleepers.

One of the keys with the Mirage 2 is not to be overwhelmed when you pull it out of its bag. This is a big tent, weighing more than 20 pounds. Unrolled on the ground, you're confronted by seemingly baffling layers of fabric, all connected at various points, a pile of shock-corded poles, and cords dangling in various areas. There is no separate groundcloth, and the rainfly is attached, which is nice, but it adds another swath of fabric to ponder during your first attempt at raising this shelter.

Perhaps it was beginner's luck, but erecting the tent was fairly quick and easy with just one page (front and back) of instructions (perhaps our speed in raising this tent stemmed in no small part from the drizzle that began falling shortly after we found our campsite). The pole system makes sense, and there are ample cords for staking out the tent to withstand whatever weather might arrive.

The front half of the tent revolves around the anteroom, which is entered through a large front door. There are large mesh windows on the room's walls, as well as on the sides of the door that zips closed when weather dictates. And you can roll the walls up to the ceiling to really let the outdoors in if you'd like.

There is no floor to this room, which makes sense if you're planning to haul bikes or other potentially muddy or heavy gear in out of the elements. We found that having a separate ground cloth was great, if for no other reason than to cover any wet ground you might find at your campsite.

The sleeping area, which measures a decent 32.25 square feet and does have a floor, has two doors, one from the anteroom, the other to the outside. That's a nice touch if you don't like having to climb over your partner in the middle of the night. Plus, this sleeping compartment is actually suspended with clips from the top of the tent to the ground, so you can simply remove it if you just want a single large area.

While there are a reasonable number of mesh pockets to stash items, there are no loops along the ceiling for hanging items, such as a small tent lantern, or to string a line to hang out items to dry. Also, keep in mind the tent's footprint -- roughly 14.5 feet by 9 feet -- when looking for a place to stake it out.

And though this tent decidedly requires two people to raise, that's fine, as you're not going to head into the parks without someone to enjoy the experience with, right?