MSR has made its name by providing some outstanding equipment for the discerning mountain professional and general outdoors person. Their products, whilst being niche quickly become the best product one can purchase in that category. Here we look at the MSR Access 1 which is sold as a solo four season backcountry shelter for the colder months.
Introduction to the MSR Access 1
The MSR Access 1 offers the user a sturdy lightweight shelter which has been tweaked to work best in the colder months. Taking advantage of a design made to minimise heat loss whilst protecting from stronger winds as well as snow load. With the MSR Access 1 the winter hiker can be comfortable and warm in the backcountry.
I opted for the footprint add on for my Access 1 so pitching starts for me with that first. However you can pack the footprint and groundsheet together at home so when you arrive at your camp spot you can simply take both out together. There is no way to attach the two together but if they are rolled up well enough they do not become tangled. Once the groundsheet with footprint below is pegged out you can assemble the poles.
The poles are made of two separate lengths but one is very large and contains the vast majority of the sections. This at first can be a little unwieldy to assemble but after a couple of pitches it becomes much easier. The larger bigger pole section tips are first put into eyelets at each corner of the Access 1 groundsheet. If you are using a footprint the poles go through both sets of eyelets.
Then you can raise the fabric up and using the clips attach the inner to the now curved poles. Once this is done you use the remaining pole section to tension out the ceiling fabric.
Finishing Touches to Pitching
The Access 1 pitches inner first and as with all inner first pitched tents the last step is to throw the fly sheet over everything. I opted for the green fly for wild camping here in the UK however there are other brightly coloured options available. The flysheet is then clipped in to all four corners using a buckle and then secured by pegs at the vestibule and all guy lines.
I added three additional guy lines to my Access 1 and this was to further stabilise the tent but also to stop the fly hitting the inner fabric so much when the wind blows. With the extra tension supplied to the fly by the additional guy lines the whole tent becomes super strong in wind furthermore the inner is left undisturbed. The result is a massive decrease in any condensation negatively affecting your experience by seeping into the inner. Reading other reviews online and many people have mentioned condensation however for me adding the guy lines has made me very happy with the experience of the Access 1. Basically the more additional guy lines you add the better the experience.
I have pitched the Access 1 in strong winds and used my rucksack to weigh the fabric down whilst pitching to stop it blowing away in a moment. If you are careful and methodical then pitching the tent in challenging conditions is perfectly doable. On the other hand once the Access 1 is fully pitched and the guy lines are under tension the tent is remarkable sturdy in strong wind. MSR does indicate that the Access 1 is designed for semi sheltered pitches and in this type of situation it will cope just fine.
The way MSR adds structural integrity is by the split pole sections. Which at each end of the tent radiate out pole sections from a central triple joining section. This goes someway to add overall strength to the tent and it does work, however this tent is not a semi geodesic. Keeping this in mind is vital to the appropriate use of this tent. Going above the snow line with the chance to face storm conditions? Then get a fully geodesic or mountain specific tent.
MSR has chosen the term four-season for the Access 1. I interpret this for use in semi sheltered pitches with snow cover in freezing or close to freezing conditions. Due to the weight and small pack size it makes for a great four season hike through, snowshoe expedition and ski touring tent. MSR has stated “Ideal for the protected winter conditions found near tree-line”.
Let us start with the poles. The Access 1 uses Easton Syclone poles which are a composite including a ballistic fibre. The poles in this new material claim to be high strength like carbon fibre but with 3-4 times the elongation and strain to failure properties. All whilst keeping Aluminium like stiffness. As evidence of this Easton demonstrates using many tests that they conduct on the composite material. As well as testing tent structure when under very heavy winds, 85mph in the Easton tests. The poles that use this new composite seem to exhibit great amounts of flexibility and bounce back well from high wind.
Winter Pole Design
MSR has decided to dedicate one pole to entirely resisting snow load. This pole pushes upwards and outwards on the top of the fly to stop snow from making the tent bend downwards.
The Access 1 uses very lightweight fabrics all round, so I would recommend the purchase of the additional footprint. The included bath tub groundsheet is 30D ripstop Nylon with a 3000mm coating. The fly is 20D ripstop Nylon with a 1200mm coating. The inner fabric is 20D ripstop Nylon with a DWR added to prevent water drops soaking through too fast. As the Access 1 is a winter tent do not expect lots of mesh on the inner as this leaks warmth. Instead it is mainly non mesh to help trap heat inside.
Overall the fabrics and materials are of good quality. There are however some other essential components that need to be discussed. Like the plastic tabs that attach the inner to the pole structure and the buckles that attach the fly to the inner. They seem a little on the lightweight side and I do concern myself with them snapping. I do understand that the overall weight is a selling point so there is a limit on component weight. I have not personally experience any issues with these components.
I separate the poles away from the inner and fly material for easy packing. The resulting inner and fly stored in its bright orange stuff sack takes up little space. The stuff bag is a very useful colour for attracting attention in an emergency but also has a layer dividing each compartment. This helps a little in keeping a potentially wet fly sheet away from a dry inner.
The poles are stored in a lightweight stuff bag and I did notice that some middle sections of pole have rather sharp edges where the shock cord passes through. They were sharp enough to cut into the supplied pole bag and as a result I had to make another out of heavier fabric. To be fair I have noticed sharp pole sections on Hilleberg tents too but this is something you might want to fix before they cut through the fly or inner accidentally.
Out and About
Pitching is ok but as with all inner first tents you hope that it isn’t raining whilst you build your camp. The Access 1 goes up pretty quickly but no matter how quick you are there is a time where you are exposed to the weather. This is the total time before the fly sheet covering the inner. This is kind of fiddly to do especially in challenging conditions. In these moments take your time and weight the inner down with your rucksack and make sure your initial pegs holding the inner to the ground are bomb proof. Once everything is pitched and guyed out it becomes very stable and liveable when out on a trip. You can make use of a quick dry towel to dry the inner if water has indeed soaked through whilst you were pitching.
Little touches like reflective patches aid in finding your tent in the mist and in darkness. Allows for a slightly dubious colour choice of a green fly sheet as you can easily find the tent at night. It does come in safety orange for more serious winter use.
Internal Space and Vestibule
The internal storage is great with two pockets either end. Moreover the ability to rig up additional storage in the form of a paracord line. Which attaches to the three sewn in loops located on the inner ceiling.
For the taller hiker the headroom is adequate but to keep the wind profile of the tent as low as possible there is a limit to how high the tent can be. The Access 1 does a good job of striking a balance.
The vestibule is a good size and can take a 65 litre pack with footwear as well as a cooking system. Even with all these items out they are still sheltered from the elements when the door is open.
On the inside I found enough space for my regular size Thermarest NeoAir. However my feet did get a little damp from slightly brushing the inner and forcing that against the outer (which is where condensation normally sits). So ideally I would like some extra legroom and if you are really tall then consider something longer.
Conclusion for the MSR Access 1
Weighing in at around 1.6kg the Access 1 offers a lot of protection and liveability for this reasonable weight. The poles are a bit bulky but these can easily be stored separately from the tent itself. I pack mine down the side of my rucksack on the inside. The resulting tent is then easy to squish down into a very manageable size. The Access 1 is roomy and long enough for the taller hiker. Internal storage with the option of adding a drying line to the ceiling of the tent make it great for longer trips.
Pitching is not ideal for mixed conditions but for dry cold winter trips this tent is ideal. It also copes well in the UK with wet damp conditions once pitched. The coatings MSR use on the fly really keep the water out. From above and below I was kept totally dry. Of course any tent needs a re treatment once in a while. There are products you can purchase to spray a new coating on after you have been using the tent for a while.
Read our MSR Elixir 2 Review HERE