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Big Agnes, based in Steamboat Springs in my home state of Colorado has always made some of my favorite camping gear, from great sleeping bags to innovative inflatable sleeping pads. The company kept up to its history when it introduced the mtnGLO Tent Light Technology into its tent line, bringing convenient lighting built into the tent without needing to hang a lantern. The Big House line is for car campers and families that want more space than a typical backpacking tent.
mtnGLO Tent Light Technology: A great feature that needs refinement
I wanted to start by talking about the headline feature of the Big House 4 mtnGLO that gives it its namesake. Lighting while camping is something that has always required some combination of headlamps, lanterns, and flashlights to truly do everything you might want when it gets dark out and because of this, it has always required carrying more gear. Big Agnes recognized this and thought “why not integrate lighting into the place that people are most likely to not want to have a headlamp strapped on (inside their tent)?” and thus the mtnGLO lighting system was inspired.
Walking into a tent and being able to have a nice even illumination without hanging a bulky lantern is a really nice idea and Big Agnes is on the right track here. Unfortunately, the first version definitely comes with some flaws but we will start with the positives. mtnGLO consists of a series of durable LED lights stitched into the tent seams that are flexible enough to withstand the rigors of being repeatedly pitched and stuffed, which is great because the last thing you want is to worry about breaking electronics when you break down camp in a hurry. LEDs were a very good decision because they are super efficient and last more or less forever without needing replacement. The light strands in the Big House 4 mtnGLO follow the two cross seams at the top of the tent and end at the top corners.
To power the LEDs, a light controller uses 3 AAA batteries and has a button for controlling light output. This is where the flaws begin. The controller resides in a pouch that sits up in the corner of the tent where it can not be accessed while lying down. If you’re reading/playing a bed time game, etc, you don’t really want to stand up to turn a light off and Big Agnes missed an opportunity here to have the controller down low at a level you could reach while in your sleeping bag. The light controller has three levels; off, on and 50% brightness. Unfortunately, these equate to off, not very bright, and useless. The fact is, these little LEDs simply are not powerful enough to provide much usable illumination and I found myself still needing a headlamp to do what I wanted. This was at night, mind you, so forget about using them on a rainy afternoon as anything particularly helpful. Basically, I found the lights to be a nice additional ambient lighting option and at the 50% setting, they were a good nightlight, which the kids might appreciate. I still commend Big Agnes for creating this and I’m sure they will refine it in the next generation or two.
Big Agnes 4 mtnGLO: A big house for a small family
Setting up the Big Agnes Big House 4 mtnGLO is fairly straightforward once you understand how to use the two shorter poles and there are decent instructions included on the carrying bag. After assembling the two (super long) cross poles, you attach a kinked pole above the front door and another pole to hold the rain fly’s front up. I had to write on each of these poles in permanent marker so I could remember which was which. All of the clips and pole attachments are easy to use and the color coded ends make it easy to know where to put the rain fly. Staking out the tent turned out to be an awful experience because the stakes are some of the cheapest ones I’ve ever used and pretty much everyone of them bent on the first time I set up the tent. Replace them with MSR Groundhogs or something better if you want to not be frustrated. The tent uses a fairly conventional pole design to create a very large interior with plenty of space for 4 adults or 2 adults and a few kiddos. My girlfriend and I loved using the Big House 4 when camping with the dog because there was plenty of space for all of us.
A full 57sq feet of floor area is available and the head height peaks at 68″, meaning that shorter adults and all children can fully stand inside. At 6’1″, I had to crouch but I still appreciated the headroom. There are no vestibules for gear but that is not uncommon with a car camping tent because you will likely have most of your stuff in the car or set up outside. Eliminating the vestibules also keeps the tent to a reasonable packed size of 5″x16″x26″. Speaking of packed size, one of the best features of the Big House 4 mtnGLO is the wonderfully designed carrying bag that has special places for the tent, rainfly, poles, and stakes and rolls up neatly with a carrying handle and shoulder straps.
Going back to the interior of the tent, something else I absolutely loved during testing was the incredible amount of pockets lining both sides. The pockets are big, deep, and plentiful and it makes sharing the tent with multiple people much more enjoyable. Two large doors offer easy entrance and exit from either side of the tent and have a nice feature that lets you open a mesh vent on them to let extra air in. Moving outside, there is a “welcome mat” on the front door that is pretty much a gimmick that makes very little sense since it is just nylon and it pools water in the rain and doesn’t offer any sort of doormat functionality.
Bad weather performance: Decent, not great
We unfortunately were able to test the Big House 4’s skills in the rain because our Crested Butte trip had some serious downpours. The results were mixed. Most parts of the tent stayed perfectly dry but the weather stripping lip of the front door filled up with water that rolled right into the tent when I opened it up and left a nice little puddle there. The problem is two-fold. The first is that the rain fly is designed in such a way that it just barely overlaps the bottom of the front door and if the rain is hard, it will not keep it from falling there. Secondly, because of the aforementioned cheap included stakes, it is hard to get the front to be pulled tight, which probably would have kept the weather stripping on the door zipper from accumulating water. Because of this, it is hard for me to recommend the Big House 4 mtnGLO if there is a chance of significantly bad weather.
Final Thoughts on the Big Agnes 4 mtnGLO
I really wanted to love the Big Agnes Big House 4 mtnGLO but I’m left feeling it has a few too many flaws to fully recommend. On the positive side, you get a ton of space and great storage on the inside and a nice ambient lighting from the mtnGLO feature. The tradeoffs are less than stellar weather performance and lights that still require additional task lighting. I might suggest holding off on this version unless you can get a great deal on it. For more info on this and other Big Agnes tents, visit www.rei.com or www.amazon.com/bigagnes.