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Eureka Zeus 1 Exo

category: three-season backpacking tent

rating: 4.5 ["very good"]

on my rating scale

What I was looking for

(in rough order of importance):
structural stability, light weight, small bulk, quick setup, space, ventilation

How Tested:

three weeks backpacking in Denali National Park, Alaska


[intro] [packability] [setup] [interior] [vestibule] [performance]


I love this tent. After all, how can you complain about a self-supporting tent that only weighs three pounds? Well, actually, the tent has a few minor imperfections. But I'll get to those in a minute. First, I want to be very clear about the standards by which I'm judging this tent.

This tent is for backpackers who value light weight and small bulk and expect to sacrifice some comfort to achieve this goal. Casual weekend car-campers, people who anticipate remaining inside the tent on rainy days, or anyone else who values generous headroom should look for a bigger, heavier tent. This tent is also unsuitable for winter camping or high-altitude mountaineering, for reasons that will be explained. Finally, I haven't tested it in summer heat. Though I've heard that its ventilation is acceptable even in summer, I still suspect that a more traditional tent design would keep you cooler.

OK, so you're looking for the lightest tent you can get. Aren't there other tents that are even lighter?

You could choose a tent with a only one full-size hoop, like this one. Obviously, such a design saves weight-- poles are heavy. The drawback to such a design is also obvious: the tent only stays upright because of tension on the tent stakes. On ground that is too hard or too soft, you may not be able to pitch your tent. Worse, it might collapse in the middle of the night. I bought this tent especially for my trip to Alaska, so I expected I'd be pitching on frozen ground, wet tundra, loose sand and gravel, and sloping ground. I also expected high winds and some snowfall, which I figured would increase the danger of collapse. I wasn't willing to take that risk, so I only considered self-supporting tents, that is, tents with two crossed poles.

The Exo is dramatically lighter than other self-supporting tents because of its radical "single-layer" design. Traditional tents have an outer, waterproof shell or "fly", which goes above the frame, and an inner, breathable (and insect-proof) layer, which goes inside the frame. (Sometimes a waterproof floor is a separate piece, sometimes it's built into the inner layer.) The traditional design is an excellent way to solve the problem of providing shelter from the weather while allowing good ventilation and preventing the build-up of condensation inside the tent.

The Exo takes a different tack: there is essentially only one layer, the waterproof one. (It is hung on the inside of the frame, or as the designers saw it, the frame is an "exoskeleton" outside the tent, which is how this tent got its name.) The single-shell design requires much less fabric, which means less weight and a smaller packed size. As an added bonus, the external frame is a great place for hanging your clothes to dry in the sun.


As I may have mentioned a few times, the Exo is wonderfully lightweight and non-bulky, thanks to its single-layer design. In fact, it's less than half the weight, and half the packed bulk, of the first tent I bought. It comes with a waterproof sleeve, and bags for the stakes and the frame. As you'd expect, the poles separate into segments which are joined by an elastic cord running through the interior. The segments are unusually short, which allows you to pack the frame horizonally inside your backpack. (I can't think of a good reason for doing so, but it's the thought that counts.) The pegs are lightweight and shorter than usual. (Don't worry, they'll still hold the tent even in high winds.)


The Exo is a snap to set up, literally. The frame rods almost assemble themselves, and their ends fit easily and securely into grommets at the tent corners. Best of all, raising the tent is simply a question of snapping spring-gated carabiners onto the frame. The tent pegs, being shorter than usual, are slightly less likely to fall victim to accidental bending. But they can still bend fairly easily if you're not careful. Habitual peg-benders (like myself) should consider getting extra-strength lightweight titanium pegs.

Tear-down is just as quick and easy. I appreciated this feature. Just ask my hiking buddies Michal and Justyna: in the mornings, I need every time-saving advantage I can get.

Interior Space

At 24 sq feet, the Exo offers plenty of legroom and elbow room. In fact there's not much less floor space than some two-man tents. (The Kelty Sage 2, for example, has under 27 square feet).

On the other hand, headroom is limited. Even at the apex of the dome, I can't quite sit up straight (see photo at top of page -- that's me inside the tent). [If you're considering the two- or three-person version of this tent, you'll be glad to know they're appreciably taller.] I quickly abandoned the idea of storing anything in an overhead net.

Pockets inside the sides of the tent proved big enough to hold the stuff from my pockets each night, so I didnt miss the storage space.


The 5.5-square-foot vestibule is sufficient to keep the rain off a full-size pack (plus a pair of boots), and still leave enough room to get in and out of the door. A little more space wouldn't hurt, though; you have to be careful that your gear doesn't peek out from the sides of the vestibule (the sides of the vestibule don't quite reach the ground, for extra ventilation).

Be advised that the vestibule does not have a ground cloth. It's a worthwhile weight savings in my opinion, but if you don't like putting your backpack down on (possibly wet) ground, you'll need to either pack an extra piece of plastic sheeting or look for a heavier tent.


1. Visibility

Hear a strange noise near your tent while you're inside? Want to look at the stars? With the EXO, you're out of luck. There's no window at all.

2. Condensation

The single-layer design, by having only one layer between the warm, moist interior and cool outside air, posed a serious design challenge. Watch the outside of a glass of ice on a warm, humid day, and you'll appreciate the problem. The Exo mitigates this problem with generous ventilation. There are vents along the lower sides of the tent, a small vent in the roof, and a vent in the vestibule. (Also, the door inside the vestibule is almost entirely porous, and as noted, the sides of the vestibule leave a small gap above the ground.) Even under the harsh weather conditions described below, condensation remained within acceptable limits.

I have read a few other reviews of the EXO in which the authors complained bitterly about condensation. But I spent three weeks in the EXO in cold and often damp weather, usually closing the vents to keep warm (see below), and while condensation was certainly present, it didnt exactly keep me awake at night. Sweep your hand over the inside of the tent in the morning, and itll come away wet. But nothing dripped onto the floor or onto my sleeping bag.

3. Wind

I was very impressed with the solidity of this tent. Under wind conditions that sometimes made my fifty-pound backpack feel like the tail of a weather vane, the EXO didn't even bend. And the short pegs that came with the tent all held. No whistling or humming of guy lines, either, and almost no flapping noises.

4. Cold

Alaska wasn't just windy, it was cold. The ceiling vent let heat escape as well as moisture. Worse, the vents along the side of the tent , in particular, would let below-freezing winds blow through unimpeded. Perhaps I should have brought a heavier sleeping bag, but I don't know how wind-resistant even a true winter bag would have been. I found that the problem of "indoor" wind could be more-or-less solved through a combination of careful tent orientation and judicious shortening of the guy wires on the flaps over the vents. After a little experimentation I was able to find a compromise with the vents mostly-closed, enough to block the wind but still allow humidity to escape. I was lucky to have mostly dry weather, so even though some condensation would build up overnight, opening the tent up during breakfast was usually enough to dry it.

5. Rain

One rainy night when the wind was gusting from all directions, a little rain blew in through the top vent. It was hardly any water, but it was enough to wake me up (which always makes me very cranky). The EXO doesn't provide a way to batten down the top vent in severe weather. When I got home, I fixed this problem with a small piece of Velcro. (While still in Alaska, I used duct tape.)

My greatest disappointment with this tent occurred near the end of my hiking trip. It had been raining all day. The only spot of open ground we could find was a patch of damp sand in a riverbed, only a couple of feet above the level of the river. Relying on the "factory-sealed seams" advertised on the box the tent came in, I pitched my tent and settled in for the night. (Well, actually, I spent half the night trying to repair my camp stove, but that's another story.) In the morning, I found puddles on the floor, especially in the corners of the floor, which had sunk into the soft sand. It wasn't all that much water (not enough to rise over my extra-thick sleeping pad), but a small corner of my sleeping bag did get soaked. Moral of the story: the EXO comes with a bottle of seam sealer. Use it before your first trip.

Another complaint I had is that when the fly is weighted down with rainwater, the zipper of the outer door has a tendency to get caught on the flap that's supposed to cover it. I never had much trouble unsticking it, but a balky zipper is pretty annoying when youre cold and wet. The manufacturer should reinforce the flap to make it stiffer.

6. Snow

As a reminder, the EXO is not designed to be a winter tent. See the paragraph about "cold" above, and recall that the manufacturer does not warrant that the frame will support the weight of snow. Nevertheless, I had an "opportunity" to test how well the EXO stood up to about an inch of wet, heavy snow falling overnight (see photo above). The result: the vestibule sagged a fair amount, but the tent dome stayed rock solid. There was no loss of interior space, and nothing got wet.


In conclusion, the EXO is exactly what I was looking for: an ultralightweight self-supporting three-season tent that's adequately roomy and quick to set up and tear down. It was really cheap, too. It's not the last word in comfort. For car camping I'll bring my heavy two-man tent with lots of headroom. And I still have "winter tent" on my wish list. But for backpacking, I'm sticking with the EXO.

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