Toby Archer enjoys the living space on offer from this summer-oriented backpacking tent, but he's not sure it's the best choice for the UK's full-on wet and windy weather.
Amongst what MSR call their backpacking tents, the Zoic range was new for 2019, and fits between the more expensive and lighter Hubba series and the cheaper and slightly heavier Elixir range. A major feature of the Zoic tents is that their inners are made solely out of mosquito netting, unlike the Elixir which is mainly nylon panels with just a few "windows" of netting. This makes the Zoic range particularly suited to summer backpacking, a claim that MSR make themselves, particularly in areas where insects can be an annoyance. The preponderance of mesh makes it particularly well-vented for hot weather use, but the tradeoff is that this will be a draughty and cold tent in windy or wintry weather.
I have, of course, tested the Zoic 2 in some miserable weather. One weekend in North Wales in particular, as the remnants of an Atlantic hurricane crashed into the British Isles, brought what in retrospect could be called "great tent testing conditions" - high winds and driving rain. The design of the Zoic 2 is not inherently weak at all, but that miserable weekend did show a few weaknesses in the tent as delivered - most notably the lack of seam-sealing - which does make me think that the Zoic probably isn't the best all round tent for UK walkers or climbers.
The Zoic 2 is a "classic" inner first pitching dome tent with rectangular floor plan. Two poles run from corner to corner and are neatly connected by a plastic widget called a "hub", so the poles stay together when packing or assembling them. The hub holds the poles together at the highest point where the poles cross. The tent goes up inner first, with the poles clipping into grommets on the corners of the inner and then plastic clips suspend the inner from the poles. A third short pole sits on top of the hub across the tent, attaching to the inner and meaning that the long sides (which are both doors which roll-back opening nearly the full side of the inner) are almost vertical.
Unlike the Elixir range, the Zoics don't come with groundsheet protectors. Of course you can add your own but for testing I didn't. The groundsheet is "70D taffeta nylon 3000mm Xtreme Shield™ polyurethane & DWR", I was a bit concerned that after camping on a sandy beach with the odd thistle growing through, but subsequent nights on a completely saturated campsite proved the groundsheet to still be completely waterproof.
The flysheet is thrown over the tent and clips onto the base of the poles, with a few velcro tabs attaching it to the poles next to the guylines. Until pegged down, the whole tent is free standing and can be picked up and moved around if you want. There are four guylines on each corner of the tent, that along with the flysheet pegging points, keep the Zoic firmly planted in windy weather. The flysheet can also be released on one side and rolled back allowing you to enjoy the views and fine weather but not get eaten by midges, or covered in flying ants and whatever all the other swarms of bugs were when I took the Zoic along the first three days of the Pennine Way late this summer!
Altogether the design of the inner means there is loads of room, plenty for two adults and positively palatial if you are using the tent on your own. MSR give the dimensions of the inner tent as 223 x 137cm; and it feels big - considering the 'standard' sleeping mat width seems to be 50cm, you still have going on 40cm of spare space on the floor. I'm 175cm tall, so have loads of space at my head and feet; the Zoic will take taller people without much trouble. The top of the tent is a metre high, which is loads of headroom for me when sitting. The inner tent also has loads of pockets - two up high, and one in each corner - making tent organisation a breeze. With the space, headroom, airiness of the mesh, and clever features like the pockets, the Zoic 2 is a really nice tent to spend time in.
Once pegged down the tent has two good sized alcoves on each side that are both zipped entrances into the tent, allowing two campers each to access the door on their side of the inner tent. Also the two alcoves mean both have equal space to put their pack, boots and so on. The alcoves allow you to cook in shelter (as ever - be very careful!) if the weather is horrible. Having the two alcoves means you can open only the more sheltered side of the tent.
All packed up the Zoic 2 weighs 2221g (MSR say 2190g: that would be minus the three additional pegs and elastic loops I added - so sounds spot on). Packed, the tent is about 50cm long and I think quite compact for a two man tent.
So onto the problems, or at least limitations of the Zoic 2. Firstly, MSR don't supply it with enough pegs for all the peg down points and guylines. Additionally halfway along the short side of the flysheet at the base are additional tabs - but to use these you need to add elastic loops yourself and of course then two more pegs. I've found the fly can be blown against the inner tent at this point if you don't do this DIY work yourself. I'm not sure why companies that otherwise make well designed, high quality tents don't supply enough pegs - it's genuinely annoying.
The second major issue related to bad weather performance is that the tent isn't seam-sealed and, unlike some firms, MSR don't provide the tent with some seam sealant should you wish to give it a go yourself. On one night in drizzle and low cloud, this seemed not to be an issue, but using it in Wales in the tail end of the hurricane turned out differently. When I went to sleep at about midnight the tent had only been exposed to heavy but brief showers and was completely watertight. I woke a couple of times during the night because of the noise of wind driven rain on the tent, but the tent was standing firm and everything seemed watertight and working as it should. At first light it became clear that the seams had leaked, water had dripped onto the inner tent at the top and in one spot come through the netting dripping down onto the floor. I was on my own in the tent that night and had by chance slept on the side where the water hadn't accumulated, but had a second person been in the tent I don't imagine they would have had a good night! The previous day's cotton t-shirt was sacrificed as a floor cloth and with one wringing out into the vestibule, mopped most of it up. But had I not been car camping on a campsite it would have been considerably more annoying.
A couple of points should be made here: the weather was absolutely foul - but no more foul than we all know is perfectly possible in the Welsh hills in September. I also suspect that if the inner tent was not netting, the leak would have dribbled down the outside of the inner tent and not dripped through into the inner - still not ideal but better a wet inner tent than a wet sleeping bag. I have seam-sealed tents before, but frankly it's a faff, particularly without a garage big enough to allow you to pitch the tent, fly inside out. I've done it in a garden once although of course it started raining halfway through.
The RRP for the Zoic 2 is £345 although they are available at a good discount. Nevertheless the MSR Elixir 2 sells for £225, comes with a ground sheet protector and has factory taped seams. It is about half a kilo heavier, but having reviewed the Elixir 1 last year, my feeling is that for UK conditions it might actually be the better option than the Zoic. That's not to say the Zoic isn't a very civilised tent - it really is. But some of its features just seem to make it better suited to less moist conditions than the UK so regularly provides. If you're going somewhere warmer and drier, it'd be the business.
Stay cool and comfortable on warm nights in the wilderness with this ultra-breathable, spacious tent designed to help you rest up for more productive days of adventuring. Light enough to take into the backcountry, the Zoic 2 offers a lot of extra space for stretching out and storing gear. Great for first-time and warm-weather backpackers, the Zoic tent can go from trailhead camping to remote mountain lakes with ease, and its easy-pitch design allows for more time to hang out with friends or to enjoy the scenery. Two doors and two gear lofts make for convenient access and gear storage.
- Packaged Weight: 2.19kg
- Floor Dimensions: 223 x 137cm
- Floor area: 3.07m2
- Vestibule area: 1.67m2
- Interior peak height: 100cm
- Poles: 2 x 7000 series aluminum
- Rainfly Fabric: 40D ripstop nylon 1500mm Xtreme Shield™ polyurethane & silicone
- 15D nylon micromesh inner
- Floor Fabric: 70D taffeta nylon 3000mm Xtreme Shield™ polyurethane & DWR
For more info see msrgear.com