The North Face Wawona 6

#1
I feel I need to preface this review with a disclaimer about my bias of The North Face (TNF). My first good shell jacket came from the TNF outlet in Cabazon, CA before the area turned into a SoCal version of Las Vegas. I still wear that shell, with the rotted away zipper gaskets and the patched rip in the sleeve proudly displayed like a good war scar. That was during my time of exile in the Mojave while Uncle Sam gave me everything else I needed. Afterwards I went to college, and holy hell I was surrounded by the TNF logo adorned fleeces. I have never been one to subscribe to brand elitism, but maybe TNF wasn't just out to be the best, maybe they just wanted to make a ton of money off their namesake.

I'm being pretentious I know, it is a business afterall, but it made me very cautious going forward in my gear selections knowing that the price may not indicate the product so much as the marketing, and I can't recall buying anything with that familiar logo since. However, just like a Jeep Rubicon being a sorority girl's vehicle of choice, the end user does not define an item. I needed a new tent, so did I get the barbie'mobile, or the offroad machine?

First off, it's just a family/car camping tent. I have already set the bar pretty low, but if I want outside time with the fam, I have to keep them dry. My criteria was this: Enclosed vestibule area, no sectioned fiberglass poles to snag and seperate, simple yet sturdy design, and of course the typical weather resistance and ventilation.
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This tent had all of these, and an interesting twist that it was a single wall design. This meant that once you erect the tent, you are done. No fighting with the additional rainfly, which is especially relevant for the larger 6+ designs. I was suspicious, but intrigued.

Our first field test was a weekend in the Elkmont Campground of The Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It rained 50% of the time, so it was a great test for the weather resistance, and we got in after-hours to test the ease of set-up under only headlamp illumination.

Setup: Fantastically easy for a tent this size. Time has not softened the agony of pitching the Sears canvas cabin tents when I was a kid (get one side up, the other falls), but this was nothing like it. I laid out the generic groundcloth and unrolled the tent. (Hint: during a backyard shakedown I rolled it back up so that the non-vestibule side was at the end. That way I always know where to position the tent for the area before unrolling). Stake 6 tieouts and thread the 2 large gold aluminum poles from corner to corner. At this point it is a basic dome style with a bunch of left over material. The large grey pole sets the forward wall, and the small grey pole supports the vestibule with is the only section that is not free-standing and needs to be staked taught on the end.

Performance: The Smokies were keeping their namesake on this trip, and there was never much time to dry out between downpours. No matter, the single wall design still held out the water. The larger vestibule made a great place to deal with wet shoes and keep all the non-bear bait gear. It wasn't until the last morning that I noticed a drop of water at the base of the sidewall. I think this may have been simply condensation with all the humidity in the still air.

Likes:
Roomy. 2 double air mattresses would fit, with some footspace underneath, and there is plenty of headroom. TNF lists the floor at over 86 sq/ft and 80" ceiling.
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Storage. Each corner has pockets and there is a row of pockets between the double door opening. The main vestibule can be entered from either side, similar to a motorcycle tent, and has another 44 sq/feet of space. On the back of the tent is another door that leads to a small sheltered area.
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Ventilation. Two kickstand vents on opposing sides capture any breeze, while both interior walls are full mesh. Two large opposing windows beneath the vents can be opened when it isn't raining. The air was humid and still for much of the weekend, but the tent never felt worse inside than out.
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The waterproof map material instructions were a nice touch.
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#2
Dislikes:
Stakes. Maybe it is only a matter of principle, but a tent this expensive should come with stakes better than the same steel scrap that comes with my daughter's unicorn princess slumberparty tent. The Kelty that this replaced had some decent aluminum stakes that I initially swapped for, then got some chi-dot-com titanium stakes. The longer stakes go on the ends.

TNF - Kelty - Ti 6" - Ti 8"
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Mesh. We already have damage, so this may lead to a warranty test. There is one spot where the seam pulled through the mesh leaving a 6" rip that was closed with duct tape to keep it from spreading. After inspecting, a few more spots are developing too, and I have not decided whether to check the warranty or just repair.
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Future leak? There is a flat spot on the top that does not shed water well. It won't let a full puddle develop, but I could see this being a weight load issue in snow. Any breakdown in waterproofing will likely show here first.
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Closing:

It's a nice tent. It was a little spendy compared to recreational oriented brands, but in line or even cheaper than comparable brands. The mesh issue I don't feel it is fully vetted yet but could be a deal killer since it comprises almost 50% of the wall space. My family love it though, and are already excited to get outside again. So far that's a win. Time to plan the next trip.
 
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smlobx

Adventurist
#3
"...However, just like a Jeep Rubicon being a sorority girl's vehicle of choice, the end user does not define an item..."

I hope Dave doesn't read this...

Seriously, nice report. How much does it cost? We have a Nemo 3 which is smaller but probably similarly priced and has held up very well in some hellacious storms. The screen ripping would be a concern for us though.
 

GeoYota

Adventurist
#6
Great review/report.

Mesh failure in that area of the tent's door during the first outing would not warm my hardened ground tenting heart.

I suffered similar issues with a Big Agnes Flying Diamond 4, and after a black widow visit in Death Valley, followed by mosquito facials in Sedona, we ended up sending the tent in to BA for repair.

Unfortunately the tent's design flaw never recovered, and I ended up returning it for a full refund...not the performance I expect from a $500 ground tent.

I would reach out to TNF's CS/warranty dept. ASAP.
 
#7
Some nostalgia/trivia. I gather the namesake of the tent is in Yosemite. There are a few things there that share the name, but I remember looking at the Wawona Tree in the bakelite View-Master as a kid.

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#8
A closeup of the seam. You can see where the stitching did a better job as perforations than an anchor. Definitely has to go back for warranty since there are some other spots threatening the same result.

Guy puts a fancy guarantee on a box ‘cause he wants you to feel all warm and toasty inside. -Tommy

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#9
Update: The tent goes back this week. Not for warranty, but returned. I may still end up with another but a warranty return is shipped on my dime and a return uses the prepaid return label. We used it this weekend and I did a temporary stitch job to keep the skeeters out. There are other places along the door where it is about to fail too. It is as if the panel was undersized for the area, there is a lot of tension on the mesh seams when pitched.

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#10
Just got the pictured email below that reminded me; please close this thread. The tent has been returned permanently (no warranty, just refunded). I think the review can stand on what has been posted thus far.

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