After almost four years of regular abuse, my Vaude Ferret I two-man tent finally reached retirement age. It seems that aluminium poles get some fatigue over time and become prone to breaking. So I repaired the poles as best I can and decided to shop for a new tent, with the Vaude becoming a backup when I take extra people into the wild.
No longer in production, the Ferret I was not an option and face it, importing German tents to South Africa is expensive. I also wanted a bit more space, without compromising on durability and ease of use. The new tent would need to be tough, durable, easy to pitch and as light as possible. It must withstand bad weather and be very waterproof.
After shopping around I placed my bet on the K-Way Basecamp, a three-person expedition tent. I purchased it from Cape Union Mart for R3,000 (about $289). Not the cheapest tent around, but with great reviews and a super reputation it sounded like the kind of tent that can make me happy.
Let’s quickly look at the geeky stuff. K-Way pitches this tent as a backcountry technical hiking tent part of their expedition series. It has a 3000mm waterhead making it very waterproof. The fly sheet is ripstop nylon, and aluminium poles keep the whole structure up. It comes in a waterproof-style bag and includes a small tent repair kit and some durable looking tent pegs. It is part of the K-Way expedition series. You can find all the tech stuff here.
On their website, K-Way describes it like this: “The K-Way Basecamp is designed to handle bad weather and extreme conditions ensuring a comfortable night’s sleep. It has an aerodynamic design and a streamlined profile which helps it to stay under the wind.”
The field test
This past weekend I took my brand spanking new Basecamp tent out to Tranquilitas Adventure Farm for the weekend. The camping grounds would provide a safe and civilized camping experience to test my new home. To give the experience a bit of a challenge I pitched close to a tree, to see how the tent pegs would fare when they are confronted with underground challenges.
The lightweight aluminium tent poles have a durable look and feel to them, and K-Way obviously did not go budget in procuring well machined linking system for the poles, that fit snugly into each other. A colour coded system makes it easy to decide which pole goes where and the inner tent was proudly erect in a very short time. I spread out my trusty (albeit smallish) groundsheet and placed the tent over it into position.
The &^%$ pegs
I don’t carry a hammer with me. It takes up space. There is always a small rock somewhere that will also serve the purpose. I fist size specimen became my hammer as I pegged the corners to the ground.
The aluminium pegs K-Way supply are round rods, thicker than the usual budget pegs, and has the traditional hook at the end. The other end is sharpened to facilitate penetration. All the design mods made no difference when I hit my first tree root. These pegs bend at the slightest hint of pressure, even without the leverage advantage of a proper hammer.
The fly sheet
Touching the fly sheet for the first time made me feel a lot better, as I prepared to flip it over the tent. It is thicker than I am used to and has a leathery feel, providing me with pleasant visions of dry evenings during cloud bursts!
But hey, what are these velcro straps doing in all over the inside of the fly sheet? I figured out that they come around the tent poles to keep it in place. I’ve seen these before in budget beginner tents, and came to the conclusion that they can serve only two purposes: Guiding a beginner into pitching a tent, or to cover up bad design of a poorly fitted fly sheet.
Anyway, I followed design intent, and wasted a lot of time securing the fly sheet to the poles.
A nice addition are the buckle-clips for securing the fly sheet extremities to the tent. I’m not sure how much of an improvement this design investment is over a rubber-band-plus-hook or tensioned-webbing system but it looks cool and adds more adjustment points.
The finishing touches of pegging down the vestibules left me a bit flabbergasted; with the many securing points that look like you use them according to how you want to enter the tent. Since I did not know the tent yet, I just hammered them all in. The next day I removed the excess ones and facilitate easy access to the inside of the tent.
I left the guy ropes in their factory coiled up state, because I did not expect any wind.
Expedition tents often has flaps, extending from the edges of the fly sheet to the ground. The basic idea is that the adventurer can pile snow of dirt onto these flaps to make the tent very wind proof, creating a pleasant micro-climate inside. The K-Way Basecamp also has these. But what completely baffles me is that they only exist on the vestibule side of the fly sheet, and leaves two fist size holes between the part joining the vestibule to the rest of the tent. Maybe one day I will reach enlightenment and figure out why these flaps only cover the vestibule, leaving a gap between the flysheet and the ground for cold air to come in and greet you all around the rest of the tent. Except for this design feature the tent is close to a four season machine.
Pitching the tent was more complicated than I expected. It has a lot little features that makes it easier if you know what you want, but adds complexity to the whole tent-pitching ritual. When erecting a shelter in a controlled environment this is no big deal, but to a hypothermic high altitude adventurer setting up his base camp in a gale force wind this may be a slightly problematic.
The Mpumalanga escarpment can get cold, and although night one was no record breaker, we had a chilly early winter evening at Tranquilitas Adventure Farm. The tent provided all the warmth I needed, and I woke up a happy camper.
But lying on my mattress an uneasy feeling creeped over me as I watched a section in the tent where the fly sheet started making passionate love to the inner tent, leaving condensate inside the inner tent as evidence of their romance. Every camper knows that the fly sheet must never make contact with the inner tent. When this happens, the protection the external fly sheet provides become negligible as the hotter humid air created by the presence of the sleepers condensate on the inside of the tent, and runs down the sides to make them wet, even when there is no rain.
Fortunately it was only a small section that made contact, and I was not much wetter for experiencing it. I actually slept quite dry. Still, this is a serious problem. Did I do something wrong? How did this happen?
After breakfast I did a thorough inspection of the tent. The sides of the fly sheet were not properly under tension at the bottom. This shows a bad fit of the fly sheet to the tent. I repositioned the pegs securing the tent to the tent to the ground. No luck, the fly sheet bottom stays floppy. Next I repositioned and tensioned the pegs securing the fly sheet vestibule. Still no luck. Then I started setting up the guy ropes.
Finally with the vigour of a Ugandan police officer in the presence of humosexuality, I had the fly sheet separated from the inner tent. The result was an over-tensioned setup. This trick will work for a while, but over time overtensioning of a tent will create fatigue on all the seams, and as the stitching becomes loose the tent will lose its waterproof properties, and worse may eventually separate the panels of the tent at their seams.
I never managed to get the floppy bottom of the fly sheet sorted out. This may cause issues in strong wind.
I found it peculiar that on the vestibule side the guy ropes obstruct your access to the tent. Maybe the designers assume that campers will enter the tent exclusively through the other entrance.
The tensioners for the guy ropes are made from pressed metal: It causes excessive friction that may wear through the guys ropes over time. There are better ways than this to tension guy ropes. I recommend throwing the tensioners into the recycling bin, and tension the ropes using a trucker’s hitch.
Night 2 & 3
The second and third nights went by without incident. The inside stayed dry, with no condensate forming. I got to appreciate the ergonomics of the tent: The four spacious pockets on the side, and the little gear net at the highest point proved particularly useful.
The bug net bugged me. When closing the tent completely you must either make peace with the bug net flopping around in your face or zip it closed. There is no way to secure it to the side when it is not needed. So when you go to bed you close the inner tent door. Then close the bug net (or leave it loose and in your face). If you want out, you must first open the bug net before you can zip open the inner-tent door to access the vestibule. Many other manufacturers integrate the bug sheet into the main door, so you can open the door in one go.
I love the vestibule. It is spacious, and offers good ground clearance. You can cook inside it if weather makes it necessary. You can access the vestibule from either side.
The tent has two entrances. One application would be to completely seal the vestibule off. Enter the tent from the other side, and pass through the tent to your bad-weather kitchen in the vestibule. I like entering through the vestibule, where my ground sheet serves as a door mat for getting rid of dust before entering my nest. However, late at night the other entrance provide a quick exit if you need to relieve yourself of excess liquids. Just make sure you set up the tent to your personal tastes when you pitch it.
Reasons to buy the K-Way Basecamp
- This is one of the coolest looking tents around.
- It is about 25% cheaper than other tents marketed for expedition purposes.
- A 3,000mm water head keeps you dry.
- A gazillion guy ropes and geodesic design ensures that a gale will not blow you away.
- It can sleep up to three people if needed.
- It has great headroom and a spacious vestibule.
- Nifty pockets and places to store small things.
- Good ventilation.
- Two entry points.
Why not to buy the K-Way Basecamp
- You are fanatic about a perfectly pitched tent. In your case this tent will drive nuts.
- The bottom of the fly sheet does not tension properly, and may flap wildly in high winds.
- You need to spend time and effort to keep the fly sheet and inner tent from not contacting each other when setting up.
- At 4.5kg it is slightly too heavy for multi-day hikes, except if you don’t mind heavy loads.
- The tent pegs are crap. Buy aftermarket pegs and donate the original ones to a recycling station if you do buy this tent.
- The velcro straps inside the fly sheet adds more frustration than value.
- The bug nets are not integrated into the tent doors.
- You often pitch your tent in a hypothermic state, and need an easy pitcher.
This tent is value for money, but it is not a top of the range expedition tent.
For the average South African adventure camper this is a really great tent with rugged looks. In all probability it is the best tent in the price range. It is competitively priced, about 25% cheaper than your imported thoroughbred four-season expedition tents. If you camp at mainstream South African adventure destinations this may just be the perfect tent for you.
However, if you are a bushwacking trailblazing adventurer that may need to rely on the performance of your tent for survival this may not be your best option. Consider saving up for a German import.
I do not recommend using the K-Way Basecamp as a high altitude base camp. If you do, make sure that you arrive at your destination in fair, happy weather. You do not want to try pitch this tent in a severe storm while suffering from altitude sickness in a sub-zero climate, with your energy sapping away as you wonder which little feature on this tent goes where. Once inside its ability to protect you against sub-zero temperatures remain questionable.
Do you own a K-Way Basecamp tent? Please share your thoughts below.