Kelty Mach 4 Tent Review

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WHO DOESN’T KNOW KELTY?

Kelty has long been known as a staple of the outdoor world. Their products are easy to use,  quality, and generally just make life just a bit simpler. Kelty makes a range of tents, from ultra lightweight backpacking tents all the way to family camping tents. The Kelty Mach 4 Tent falls into the latter of those two categories. Engineered for the car camping family, the Kelty Mach 4 Tent fit my family of four comfortably… with a little bit of room left over to spare.

INITIAL THOUGHTS ON THE KELTY MACH 4 TENT

First time setting up the Kelty Mach 4 Tent outdoors. Note the lack of guy lines in the photo, that’ll be important later…

I was intrigued and excited to know that the good folks at Kelty were sending over a tent for testing this summer – testing Kelty products in the past has always been fun, and hey – it was another excuse to get out and go camping (like I needed one). Over the summer, I was able to pack the wife and kids up once a month and get them up into the mountains for 2-3 day trips; it was over these excursions that we gave the Kelty Mach 4 Tent a full round of testing. This summer in Colorado was pretty wet , but  we only had the tent in a couple of light drizzles, and a few times in moderate to high winds. Overall, our camping conditions were ideal for families – I know you’d all like to hear about how the tent does in a blizzard, but hey – take your own kids out in a blizzard. I wanted mine to have fun.

To begin with, this is a car camping tent. What you should understand from this is that it’s big and heavy. Now,  when the Kelty Mach 4 Tent is considered in it’s own category (family camping tents), it’s not really all that big or bulky. But if you’re used to backpacking tents (like I was before I had kids), the size of the tent when packed up is just a bit intimidating. It comes in a bag the size of a large duffle. The duffle is tough, appears stitched well at the seams, and held up to quite a bit of abuse over the summer. We jammed it in our car, used it to carry wood to the campsite, let our child run around in it (he likes to pretend he’s a ghost), and generally just put it through all the things that a family with two small boy (ages 3.5 and 1.5) can put it through. I like the fact that it not only has a zipper, but two reinforced pull straps on the side, so getting it closed with the Kelty Mach 4 Tent inside it was easier. It’s not a breeze to pack it up, but considering the size, it could’ve been a lot harder. More on that to come.

SETTING UP THE KELTY MACH 4 TENT

Step one – figure out how all these tubes work.

I initially thought to set this up in my living room the night before we camped out, you know, just to see how it all worked. The only downfall of the Kelty Mach 4 Tent, I found, was the directions. The directions are just a bit vague; granted, after I got the hang of setting up the tent I found out why, but still I wanted something a bit more concrete. If you head over to Kelty’s website, you’ll find a video detailing the set up of the Kelty Mach 4 Tent. Even this video was a bit vague. I decided to just roll the tent out and start pumping it up to see if it worked. The truth was, it didn’t. I was actually fairly skeptical of the tent going into our first camping trip due to this. When I pumped it up in my living room, it wouldn’t stay up. Granted, the boys had a great time with this, but the whole point of a tent is to stay up, not fall down. They make it look so easy in the video, too. Upon arrival at the camp site, I found out why the tent never stayed up. Yes, an air pitch tent pole seems like a great idea, but the fact of the matter is it won’t just stand there on it’s own.

Two air nozzles are all it takes to set up the vestibule and the sleeping compartment on the Kelty Mach 4 Tent. I actually prefer pumping one at a time, but you can hook both up at once.

If you watch the video closely (and I did, several times prior to our first trip) you’ll notice one thing – every time they walk up and start pumping, the tent is securely staked out first. I’d always staked out my tents after everything was all set up, but not so with the Kelty Mach 4 Tent. You have to stake all of the corners and sides of the tent FIRST in order to get it work like the video. On my first trip, I did exactly that. And then pumped it up so quickly (the Kelty Mach 4 Tent has two air nozzles to pump, one for the sleeping room, and one for the gear room) that I was left standing there scratching my head. Normally, setting up something as large as the Kelty Mach 4 Tent would take quite a bit of time – each time I set it up, it actually took less and less time. I can’t promise it sets up in less than a minute, but it is quick.

CAMPING IN THE KELTY MACH 4 TENT

The first night we camped in Kelty Mach 4 Tent, it actually fell over on us. That night, a stiff breeze kicked up at about 3 am. I had staked the tent out securely, pumped it up… and then just started playing with the boys. It was so simple to just pump it up, and looked completely done once finished – I totally forgot to set the guy lines. Oops. So there I was, stumbling around at 3 am with a headlamp, finding guy lines, and staking them down. It had also gotten much cooler that night, so I gave the tent another couple of quick pumps to keep the poles in place. And then… nothing. We woke up the next morning, and the Kelty Mach 4 Tent hadn’t moved an inch. So word to the wise – fully stake it, and set up those guy lines. You’ll be much happier that you did.

 

That’s the full sized pack-n-play in the vestibule. Yes, that’s how big it is.

I really enjoyed the layout of the tent for camping with a family, especially on the afternoon that it rained pretty much from lunch until sunset. The front vestibule is very spacious (the exact dimensions of the Kelty Mach 4 Tent are on Kelty’s website – I’ll just relate space in terms of “family” here) – we were able to fit two camp chairs, one toddler chair, and our pack-n-play in the vestibule when it started raining. All four of us stayed in the vestibule all afternoon reading books and playing games together, even with this amount of gear in it due to the rain. The one thing I don’t particularly like about the vestibule is that it’s floorless – I’d rather have a tent floor here, but I solved this by using the footprint from another Kelty tent in it’s place. Kelty sells a footprint for the Kelty Mach 4 Tent if you’d prefer a floor. When on grass, I didn’t mind the lack of floor in the vestibule – it was only when camping on really arid ground that I preferred to have a floor in place.

Without the floor, the inside of the tent gets really, really dusty when camping in dry conditions.

The Kelty Mach 4 Tent is so named because it is designed to sleep four adults in the sleeping compartment. I can promise you that by keeping your gear in the vestibule, you’d easily have enough space to sleep four adults. We didn’t have to sleep four adults, though, so we brought a queen sized 16 inch thick blow up mattress. Even with the mattress in place, we still had enough room to have one adult sleep on the floor of the tent next to the mattress, and two people sleep up on the mattress. Our pack-n-play stayed out in the vestibule – we simply just zipped the outer compartment closed, left the inner flap open, and had one large tent. My three year old tends to shift around quite a bit at night, so it was nice to sleep next to the mattress, and still have quite a bit of elbow room. Four adults would easily be able to fit side by side with assorted crash pads and sleeping bags.

Queen sized air mattress? No problem in this sleeping compartment.

TAKING DOWN THE KELTY MACH 4 TENT

Overall, each time I set up the Kelty Mach 4 Tent, it got easier and easier. Taking it down got easier as well. It really does deflate in just a few seconds – just pull the plugs out, and watch it come down. Watching it come down is, of course, the easiest part. It does take a bit of meticulous folding to get the tent back in the duffle, though. The first time I had to fold it and re-fold it a couple of times to get it back in the duffle and still be able to fit the assorted pumps and tubes inside with it. Once you have a system for getting it folded, however, it gets easier with every strike. The key for me is to get all of the air out of the poles; the more air you get out of them, the easier it is to get a clean fold.

Getting a clean fold allows you to get the maximum space in the duffle. If you aren’t getting a clean fold, it won’t fit in the duffle, even with the aid of the cinch down straps. This is why I had to fold it a couple of times the first time I tried to get it back in the duffle – no matter how much I stuffed it in, I couldn’t get the duffle to zip – forget about the pump. Once I figured out how to get the maximum amount of air out of the poles, folding it up the right way became pretty easy. I now get the tent, the pump, the tubes, and the footprint into the duffle with ease.

As for claiming that the set up is so much easier than setting up poles, I don’t know. I’ve set up some pretty easy pole tents in my day. Some are definitely easier than others. I’ve also taken down so pretty easy pole tents as well. I will say that for the size of the tent, it was extremely easy to set up with only one person. The Kelty Mach 4 Tent actually is only a one person set up – you can’t really fit two people on the pump!

FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE KELTY MACH 4 TENT

For a family tent, it doesn’t get much more convenient than the Kelty Mach 4 Tent. Even with my two boys “helping” me set up, the set up was a breeze, and the use of space is great. Whether it was hanging out in the vestibule, or sleeping in the compartment, every part of the tent was quality and durable – in my opinion, if the tent survives my two boys (I caught one of the them trying to make an extra “door” in the tent with the hatchet I’d been using to make strips for a fire), it can pretty much handle anything you can throw at it. Once I remembered to a.) stake the tent out and b.) put the guy lines in, the tent withstood both rain and wind fairly well. I say fairly well because none of the conditions we camped in really put it to the test. I’d venture to say that I’d prefer traditional poles in a really stiff breeze, but for now, I really liked the air poles. I did not, however, have to patch the poles. If you’ve ever patched a bike tire, I’d imagine this wouldn’t be an issue, as the poles have a relatively low PSI. For the pricing ($399.95 retail), the Kelty Mach 4 Tent is a great buy for any outdoor family. It only comes in the one color, though, so you won’t be able to color coordinate it with your new Subaru. For more info on the Mach 4 and other Kelty products, visit www.kelty.com.

Zachary Rodasti: Zach's been testing gear with Active Gear Review since day one of the site, and just generally loves being outside doing any outdoor activity. He and his wife race year round, prefer long distance endurance events, and have raced marathons in multiple states nationwide. Recently, Zach added triathlons to his list of endeavors, and has competed in all distances up to a half iron. He has two young boys who are full of energy and get into all sorts of trouble on a regular basis - just like him.
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