Monday, 06 June 2016 14:39

MSR Carbon Reflex 1 tested and reviewed

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The Carbon Reflex Series is MSR's lightest range of double skinned tents and the Solo's the lightest of them all. At 790g fully loaded (including all bags, pegs and tent) and taking up less space than a 2lt bottle it fits in a rucksack pocket and is designed for when every gram counts.

Carbon Reflex 2

What the manufacturers say:

Redesigned to be .31 kg lighter, the double-walled Carbon Reflex™ 1 tent offers the full protection, durability and simple setup of a tent while weighing as little as a tarp, and it packs down incredibly small, almost to water-bottle size. Carbon fiber poles, lightweight fabrics and a zipper-free vestibule make it ideal for ultralight backpacking at .66 kg (1 lb 7 oz), and its spacious interior and full-featured livability enhance any 3-season adventure you’re ready to take on—from bike touring through Central America to minimalist weekends. Sturdy and livable, the non-freestanding Carbon Reflex™ 1 tent proves our philosophy that traveling ultralight doesn’t mean sacrificing the other qualities you care about.


  • Simple, non-freestanding design
  • Unique pole geometry optimizes headroom
  • Weight-saving, zipper-free vestibule
  • Fast & Light setup with optional footprint
  • Large door provides easy entry and exit
  • Micromesh canopy
  • Waterproof, taped-seam rainfly and bathtub-style floor
  • Reinforced stress points for durability
  • Internal mesh storage pockets

Carbon Reflex 3

The Carbon Reflex uses the chacteristic MSR pole comination of single full pole and short cross pole.

When MSR say it ways 790g they're talking about it fully packed weight, with seperate pole, peg and tent bags incuded along with their contents. Drop the pole bag and roll the tent around them and you can drop another 10g or go for the minimalist Fast and Light setup of footprint (optional extra), poles and flysheet and you're down to just 660g!

How MSR manage to keep the weight down is obvious in the name; the poles are Carbon Fibre - and that's just the start. While not "cutting corners" in the traditional, negative, sense you can't help but notice that everything is optimised for weight on the Carbon Reflex. Along with Carbon fibre poles you get just 7 lightweight, but good quality, pegs, a predominantly mesh inner and a flysheet so light you fear it blowing away if a butterfly should fly past. The main door doesn't have a zip, but uses velcro patches, and the pre-attached guys are thin enough to give you paper cuts.

Carbon Reflex 5

A single mesh pocket is the only storage space in the inner.

Pitching is simple, very simple, but it's not exactly intuitive, particularly if you look at the instructions on the flap inside the main tent bag; This appears to indicate a Y shape at each end of the main pole, which may or may not be the case in larer models but certainly not with the solo. In practice pitching the Carbon Reflex Solo involves pegging the inner in place (4 pegs) then locating the main pole in grommets at each end- the grommets are located centrally at groundsheet level. With the main arch in place attach the plastic clips to tension the inner and add the cross pole at the centre, locating the ends in the appropriate grommets.

Carbon Reflex 7

With the inner erected simply throw the fly over the top and locate the ends of the cross pole into the reinforced attachments on the fly. Now you can tension the flysheet, pegging the dyneema cords to the same pegs holding the inner in place. A further peg secures the front door, leaving 2 pegs for the 4 available guylines.

Internally you get just 1.63 square metres of space, but while it may sound cramped it takes even Thermarest's oversized Base Camp mat and the arched pole gives both reasonable headroom and a prolile that keeps the inner mesh away from the face with room to spare. Again, at 0.65m2, the vestibule appears small in terms of figures but in practice there's more than enough room for a 50litre pack on one side of the central door without compromising access through the other side.

Carbon Reflex 8

If you haven't noticed the lack of weight during pitching it's impossible not to notice where the savings have been made once setup, although MSR have retained the right to throw in a couple of useful extras we weren't expecting. The Carbon Reflex is the first tent we've had in decades without a zipped entrance; instead you get narrow Velcro strips down each side of the main doorway with a metal clip at half height (inside) to keep the doorway closed. The "groundsheet" is 15D ripstop Nylon with a PU and DWR coating, something we're more accustomed to seeing as an outer fabric on clothing than tents and the flysheet goes even further with a 7D ripstop construction and Silicone coating. Combined with a 10D polyester micromesh inner the result is an extremely lightweight but well tensioned unit, but one with obvious questions over its durability.

Carbon Reflex 4

To date the Carbon Reflex has handled  a mix of continuous drizzle for several hours and a one-off heavy downpour lasting a good 40 minutes without issue. The fabrics are obviously a compromise between weight and durability that errs towards the lightweight side of the equation, and site selection is going to very important, but to date there's been no seepage from underneath to inside from the groundsheet and even at full stretch the tensioned flysheet is well reinforced at the main strain-taking points.

In use the Carbon Reflex turned out to be one of the quietest tents we've used, the fly remaining tight and flap free and the single inner zip being the only thing that can rattle, and the layout of inner door and vestibule makes it an addictive position to lie in; offering a wide angle view from the warmth of your sleeping bag.

Carbon Reflex 1

The wide door offers a superb viewing position

The jury is obviously out on the question of durability but in terms of stability, ease of pitch and space to weight ratio the Carbon Reflex has proved more than capable so far. At £370 the MSR Carbon Reflex 1 is undoubtedly a high-ticket purchase and even with a street price around £320 it's not cheap, but that's the premium you pay for truly ultralight kit. At this price and coming from one of the most respected manufacturers of technical outdoor equipment you expect good build quality and you won't be disappointed. There's no loose stitches, no loose flappy fly and all the tension points where poles attach are reinforced. While there are alternatives to the Carbon Reflex, even from the same manufacturer, no-one's presently even close to matching it in price to weight. How it performs long term is going to be very interesting.

Last modified on Tuesday, 22 November 2016 22:43

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