Gear Review: Big Agnes Tensleep Station 6 Base Camp
In which our intrepid reviewer spends a week in the bush with the Big Agnes Tensleep Station 6 tent.
By Dana Sturn

The weather has been crap in British Columbia. Can I say that? Because there’s really no other way to say it. Weeks and weeks of rain. We might have a few days of kinda nice weather sprinkled in there—high fluffy clouds, sunshine, a light breeze. Then back around at you with the crap, like a tetherball spinning on a pole in your grade school courtyard. Remember those? You really had to pay attention so you didn’t get whacked. Same thing with spring weather this year. Impossible to plan a week-long fishing trip because you never really knew what that tetherball was gonna do when it came around again.

Did I say the weather has been crap? So, not exactly the best conditions to enjoy spring lake fishing. A little rain is fine. But cold, nasty, hard-driving rain, hail and thunderstorms, and overnight temperatures down to freezing puts a damper on the fun part of fish camping. But strangely enough, this is exactly the kind of weather that makes for a great tent review. Which was kinda the point anyways.

A few months ago, when my Plan A of a Ford F350 and a giant camper got derailed by Covid and the Kremlin, I needed a big comfortable place to sleep that wouldn’t break the bank. So the good folks at Big Agnes sent me a 3-season tent, the Tensleep Station 6. The objective was to get it out before fishing season and bash around a little in camping country to see how it held up. But the late, wet and cold spring kept delaying things, and it took a while to actually set up an extended period where I could give it a good test.

Eventually it became clear that the test wouldn’t happen in advance of the fishing season, which wasn’t such a bad thing. Still, week-long fishing trips were planned and cancelled several times, because the weather (and the fishing) just weren’t cooperating. Finally I’d had enough and decided it was time to go, come hell or high water.

The high water did indeed arrive, along with the minor league hell that accompanied it. It rained daily for a week. Not the pleasant “let’s go fishing and bring your rain gear” kind of rain. Nope, this was the biblical kind. The kind that makes you worried about whether your roof at home will hold up. Your tent? Well, let’s just say I kept my expectations very low. Way down in the hole low, to extend the biblical reference, with thanks of course to Mr Tom Waits.

On the afternoon up, we drove a mountain highway to elevations around 5,000 feet. Along the way it rained and hailed so hard that we pulled over because we couldn’t see. And when our wipers were able to clear a little water from the windshield, we found that every incline had a river running down it, so high speed travel was rather dangerous, the truck hydroplaning at speeds over 30 mph, even with the great tires I have on it. When we finally got to the lake we quickly set up my friend Scott’s tarp and huddled under it while we waited for the storm to pass. After a few hours the worst seemed behind us, but we could see more coming. So I decided to set up.

I pitched the tent without a practice run during that evening’s lull in the monsoon. Now I know you’re always supposed to do a dry run at home before a trip, but I wanted everything to be as authentic as possible. So I rolled the dice and set it up for the first time, a wet run I guess you could say.

Without any help, and stopping here and there to review the clear instructions that are affixed to the tent’s storage bag, it took me maybe 20 minutes. With an extra pair of hands it would have been faster. The only challenge, really, was keeping the tent poles in the grommets as I moved around the tent. But I quickly discovered that inserting the pole end into the grommet and then pushing the pole towards that grommet while I wiggled the other grommet on the opposite end of the pole into place worked quite well. Once I figured that out the rest was pretty easy. The tent’s three-pole design makes it quick business to have it free standing, and then you clip the rest of the tent body to the poles and you’re almost ready to move in.

The rainfly was probably the biggest challenge for one person. It’s big, and for folks under say 5’10” it might be a bit problematic tossing it over the main tent and lining it up right. Of course, with an extra pair of hands this wouldn’t be a problem. I’m just a tad under 6’2”, so it wasn’t a big deal. The fly, of course, wanted to slip off the main body of the tent, but once I got it lined up with the color-coded clips on the main tent body things got pretty simple. There’s one pole that supports the front vestibule of the fly, and once this is in and the ends popped into the grommets, the fly is pretty much sorted. Clip it in, attach the Velcro straps to the tent poles, and the worst of it is done. Big Agnes thoughtfully supplies enough tent pegs to secure everything, so it’s just a matter of walking around the tent, sliding a peg into each loop and tapping them into the ground with a hammer or the back of a hatchet head. I didn’t use all of them because I didn’t guy out the tent 100 percent. I used about 1/2 the attached guy lines and that was more than enough, even in the really bad weather I experienced. I was fairly well sheltered from the wind though— if I wasn’t I would have used all the guy lines.

The main tent body has two doors that have mesh panels along the top half, and the walls are ½ mesh paneled for ventilation. As this is a three-season tent there isn’t an option to zip fabric over these. To keep any rain out, you need to set up the rainfly. The fly has two doors as well, and the front vestibule is pretty slick. You can easily seat two in there with camp chairs and a small table, and zip it right up to keep the rain out. This vestibule also has a variety of rigging options that allow you to use it as kind of a little tarp when using separate tent poles or trekking poles. You can also roll this right up to allow for maximum ventilation, or roll up one side or the other. Because of the rain, I just left it in its original configuration to provide maximum protection from the elements.

The one criticism I had of the rainfly was the lack of a guy line about half-way along the bottom, which would allow a person to pull the fly away from the main tent body. There are loops down there, but I had to attach additional, longer loops of paracord to these and then use them to stake out the bottom of the tent. This is a minor thing, but in the rain that I experienced it was good to have all the edges of the rain fly as far away from the tent as possible to prevent water from pooling right next to the tent floor. Sure I could have gotten out my shovel and dug a trench around the tent, but who really ever does that?

Before my trip I read the online info about the Tensleep Station 6 and was expecting a monster of a tent. While it’s certainly a big tent, it’s not gigantic. I learned a long time ago to take the number of sleepers a manufacturer rates their tents for and divide it by two. So while the Tensleep Station 6 could probably cram six roughing it campers on the floor, it’s really a 2-3 person tent, at least for the kind of camping I like to do. I set it up with a huge Teton Outdoors XXL cot, some carpet runners, and a couple of camping tubs as night tables—it was the perfect size for me to spread out and feel at home. But it would have been tough fitting anyone else in there, especially if they wanted to be comfortable. Using smaller cots, this would be a great tent for two cot sleepers to feel comfortable without being cramped.

Something I immediately appreciated is the internal height of the tent. I’m easily able to stand up in it by just dropping my chin slightly. This is great for layering up or down, or navigating the interior of the tent half-asleep if you’re dealing with those late night nature calls.

During the week of testing the outside temperature ranged from about 36 to 72 Fahrenheit, a good workout for a 3-season tent. That almost steady rain made certain the humidity was high, a real test of the tent’s venting system, not to mention the reliability of its rainfly. Despite my expectation of a wet interior,  every night when I unzipped the front door, I found that everything was dry. Well, dry-ish, because of course nothing is ever really dry when humidity gets that high. Especially sleeping bags and pillows. But none of this had anything to do with the tent. The Tensleep Station 6 brushed off the weather as nothing more than a minor annoyance. Each morning a few beads of condensation were evident near the bottom of one of the walls, but that was it. Everywhere else was dry. To say I was impressed is an understatement. Under pretty extreme conditions, the Tensleep Station 6 surpassed all of my expectations.

The Tensleep Station 6 comes complete with everything you need to set up a bomber basecamp shelter. The main tent and fly are both made of durable polyester, and the fly is polyurethane coated to 1,500mm waterproofness. Four aluminum poles and a bunch of aluminum stakes are provided. The footprint (which protects the bottom of the tent—highly recommended) and other accessories are sold separately. Check out the Tensleep Station 6 and other Big Agnes tents at $500

Dana Sturn

Dana Sturn is a steelhead devotee and the founder of Spey Pages. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia and can be found each year, minus 2020 of course, swinging up chinook and steel on the Dean River, among other places. Follow him on IG @danawsturn