Opinionated World

Gear

Jack Wolfskin Exolight II Tent – Review

Our first tent review comes courtesy of Jack Wolfskin and their Exolight II Dome Tent. Their lightest offering is built with an exoskeleton pole system which allows for an ultra-fast pitch time.

It isn’t until you own a tent and have used it, that you truly find its positives and weaknesses. Unlike buying a jacket, where the features are relatively obvious and the specifications speak for themselves; buying a tent can be a little more tricky. Until you have the opportunity to carry, pitch and spend the night in a tent, it’s hard to say whether you really like what it has to offer.

For example: will the tent be spacious enough? Will it have enough head room? Will it be easy to pitch? How long will it take to pitch? Will it be easy to pack up when you’re in a hurry? All these are questions you don’t have to ask when buying a jacket. Once you’ve picked one with the specification you’re after, and have tried it on; you are set. Feature lists do their best to tell you what to expect, but who sets the claimed pitch times; who are they aimed at?

In the case of the Exolight II, I have done the leg work for you. In this review, you’ll find accurate pitching times, and more detail than you’ll find on any product page, which should help to answer some of the questions you would otherwise be asking.

The Exolight II is Jack Wolfskin’s lightest offering, tipping the scales at just over 2kg; including pegs, repair kit and guylines. That’s the first real thing to note here; it isn’t the lightest tent available. If you, like me, are willing to sacrifice a bit of comfort for a few days, in order to save some weight on your back; then this might not be for you.

Having said that, it also isn’t the heaviest available. It packs up into an oversized roll-top bag that measures 45cm long – just about the same length as the poles – with an 11cm height. In comparison, my extremely lightweight Vango Helium 200 weighs 1kg and packs into roughly half the volume. Also inside the bag is a sleeve for the poles which has a fold over end to store the pegs and repair kit; all secured in place with a fixed elastic band.

My Helium however, doesn’t provide the same luxuriousness as the Exolight II, and despite having just one cross pole, it is also harder, more fiddly and more time consuming to pitch.

Two minutes from bag to built.

Two minutes from bag to built.

That’s the beauty of the Exolight II. The poles are all attached as one piece to form the frame. No more intersecting poles or thin sleeves. At two points along the frame, the poles fan out from a sturdy aluminium ring, which diverts them out to the corners of the tent.

The flysheet is attached with angled plastic clips which snap over the poles with ease. Two shorter poles with a ball joint end are firmly clicked into a plastic cup. With one corner left to slot through the corner loop, all that’s required is a firm push before the tent is fully up.

Ball joint ends. Simple and intuitive.

Ball joint ends. Simple and intuitive.

The first time I attempted to erect the tent, I had to double check the instructions to be sure which way around the pole system goes. Once you’re clear on that, it’s incredibly intuitive and going from packed to standing will take an experienced camper only a couple of minutes.

Of course, the tent must still be pegged down (and guyed if the weather dictates) but the part we would usually class as the most difficult, is completed faster than the time it sometimes takes to find the pole sleeve on some tents.

You’ll need one peg per corner and one in the centre of each end. Then the ‘wings’ splay out on either side, requiring one more each. 11 pegs are provided and they are lightweight, V shaped along their length, and have a slot at the top to more easily secure a guyline – instead of the more conventional flat or turned-over end. Think of them as a skewer, rather than a peg. Speaking of guylines – there are five provided.

Clips to attach the flysheet to the exoskeleton.

Clips to attach the flysheet to the exoskeleton.

The Exolight II stands 115cm at its highest point outside, and it creates a 230cm x 135cm footprint, minus the angled sides. Each wing offers 60cm of width, which is a decent space to stow a rucksack, boots and any other bulky or muddy bits of kit. With the door open, it works well as a cooking space too.

You might be wondering why there are two wings, one on each side. The answer is: there are two doors. This was something I had never really thought about, but it proved to be absolutely fantastic; a luxury I didn’t know I needed. With two people sharing a tent, it’s always tricky getting inside – one person always has to go first and of course, you have to go in one-by-one. The dual doors on the Exolight II allow you to get in and out separately, whenever you please. Need a pee in the night? No more waking up your companion while you clamber over them in the pitch black of night. It really is as good, and as practical, as it sounds. Aside from the quick pitching, this is by far and away my favourite feature.

A wide entrance and spacious wing area.

A wide entrance and spacious wing area.

With the wings pegged out, the tent has a somewhat futuristic look about it; particularly from the back, where the intricate pole system is most visible.

The inner is attached to the flysheet, so you won’t have to pitch that separately either. Another benefit when the weather is bad.

So what about the space inside? The sleeping compartment, by my standards was pretty spacious. I have come from the claustrophobic interior of the Helium 200, so anything bigger than my sleeping bag (we were both using Jack Wolfskin’s Smoozip -7) was going to be a bonus. There’s exactly 100cm of height, which is just enough to kneel in if you’re 5ft10in. In length, you have 215cm to play with and in width, you have 120cm, tapering down to 100cm at your feet. That’s what I would call ‘plenty’. There’s enough space to comfortably turn around without digging your buddy in the ribs while trying to untangle yourself from your twisted sleeping bag; and there’s even enough additional space the head-end, to store to essential items.

Plenty of room for two.

Plenty of room for two.

Up top is a gear loft; a thin piece of stretchy material which gives you a storage place and a pocket to store your phone, wallet and more. It attaches with a simple toggle system. Pockets in the sides of tents are all very well, but any moisture on the inside, will invariably run into them; they’re not as practical, either. As well as the gear loft, there are four additional pockets, two on each side, attached diagonally across the corners of the mesh – no run-off here.

Each entrance has a mesh screen to keep any bugs out and two zips, should you need to let a bit more air through. Incidentally, opening both doors on the flysheet creates a real through-draft, so if it’s too hot on a summer evening, there’s an instantly cooling solution available.

Not the most inconspicuous of designs.

Not the most inconspicuous of designs.

Jack Wolfskin have used a ‘Siliconised HT Nylon Ripstop 20D’ fabric for the flysheet. This translates as a durable, tear resistant material with a water-resistance rating of 1500mm. The seams are also taped, which is a necessity. The waterproof ratings are not the greatest, it has to be said. My Vango, by comparison, has a 5000mm rating.

Waterproof ratings  (Hydrostatic Head) are measured by placing a 1” square tube filled with water, over the fabric to determine how high the column – measured in millimetres – can be filled without leaking. The higher the number, the more waterproof the material is.

A 1000mm Hydrostatic Head rating will get you through heavy showers. However, if you are somewhere exposed, with driving rain, you would ideally need 2000mm or more. At 1500, it is on the low side and I’m not sure I would fancy being out in a storm in it for too long. The 40D groundsheet is rated to 5000mm, which is far better. The groundsheet is where the tent takes most of its pressure – from your body, so you will usually find this has a higher rating than the flysheet. The material is coated on both sides, with polyurethane on the inside and silicone on the outside. Curiously, the majority of Jack Wolfskin’s other tents are rated to 4k and 10k for the flysheet and groundsheet.

Stealthy by night.

Stealthy by night.

The frame system they have used allows the tent to be incredibly stable, and it is capable of withstanding up to 80mph winds. Fortunately, I haven’t had to test this out, but the entire thing feels incredibly secure, even just sat under its own weight, with nothing pegged down. I dare say that if conditions allowed it, you could get away without pegging it down at all. The wings would obviously be folded in, but if you just needed a power nap, it would be totally secure. I’m used to my other tent falling over, with its one-pole system, before I can get the first couple of pegs in.

Packing up is just as simple as the first pitch. Everyone knows how annoying it is to push a tent pole through a sleeve; and everyone knows how much more annoying it is trying to get them out.

The clips detach effortlessly with a flick of a finger, the ball-jointed poles unclip with a positive snap and once one corner is released, the others loosen off nicely by themselves. Folding the poles together is just as easy as any other system. The flysheet and inner fold together as one, using the pole/peg bag as a solid centre to roll it around. Two ties are provided to stop it unravelling. They could do with being another 15cm longer than they are – there’s no weight penalty to making them longer. At present, it’s a struggle to get them tied without the ends pulling through. Certainly no excess there; unlike with the roll-top bag.

Compact but spacious; somewhat futuristic.

Compact but spacious; somewhat futuristic.

Something I’ve left until last is the aesthetics of the Exolight II. Unlike with clothing, I am less bothered what a tent looks like. It needs to be the right weight, have the right amount of space required and it needs to keep the weather out. After that, I’ll shop for looks.

Jack Wolfskin make the Exolight II in only one colourway – ‘Steel Blue’. The flysheet is blue, with the ripstop lines creating a grid across its somewhat translucent surface. The poles are in a neural, matt finished green; while the rugged corners and clip attachments are fluorescent green. The inner tent is a similar green, while the groundsheet is grey. Jack Wolfskin logos contrast the main blue in a design which is overall, very minimalist.

Contrast branding on one corner. Very minimalist.

Contrast branding on one corner. Very minimalist.

So, the cost. It’s £350. In true Jack Wolfskin fashion, it isn’t cheap. There’s a lot of good technology in this tent, and that is something they have reflected in the price. Lots of tents in the same category are much more expensive – over £400 – but without the feature set. There are so many elements to the Exolight II that I can’t rate highly enough, but I still can’t get the low waterproof ratings out of my head. I haven’t been able to test it in driving rain, so I can’t say with certainty that it will let water in, but the numbers are there for a reason.

Unfortunately, the fantastic pole system, the ultra-quick pitching times and the practicality of having two entrances don’t offset that concern. What I do know for certain is: in the middle of the night, I would rather clamber over someone to go for a pee, than be worrying about an incoming storm and the material above my head.

The Exolight II lit by our camp fire.

The Exolight II lit by our camp fire.

Overall, the Exolight II is a fantastic design, at a price that isn’t too crazy. The only trouble is, I wouldn’t recommend it if you are planning on pitching it somewhere it’s going to take a battering. Which is a shame, given the fact it can withstand massively strong winds. Fair weather campers on the other hand, are unlikely to experience any issues whatsoever.

I’d be interested to see if Jack Wolfskin have some other information regarding the material. Maybe I’m missing something. I’ll post an update if I hear back from them.


Mentioned Products & Gear Seen


You Can Help

If you’re looking to purchase any products after reading the reviews on Opinionated World, we’d really appreciate you following the links through from here to the web-stores (links are highlighted orange) before buying  – we get a very small commission which helps to keep things up and running. Thank you for any help you can give us.


One comments on “Jack Wolfskin Exolight II Tent – Review
  1. Mat Rumbelow on said:

    A very good review Ste, and I agree wholeheartedly. Really really liked the double-door design, and despite my first misgivings, there was plenty of room. The gear lift was a great idea too – super fast access to glasses, headtorch etc.

Leave a Reply