Martin Zemitis on Tent Testing at Mt Washington

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Martin Zemitis talks about his experience tent testing at Mt. Washington. 


Martin Zemitis:  We went for two winters – over two winters we went and spent a week up there at the summit of Mount Washington and it’s a very harsh place. Three storm tracks come together and they get compressed in a jet stream. It’s one of the windiest places on earth, if not the windiest place on earth and the highest recorded wind speeds of over 200 miles an hour as I recall. It’s hard to even walk on that observatory in those types of winds. It’s very challenging when you’re in a big down jacket.

And the other thing that’s interesting is you end up getting completely disoriented, you get vertigo when it starts to snow, when there’s wind like that and when there’s snow, the winds are so high for the observatory they have concrete blocks, pavers, big ones that they hold the roof down along with chains. And when it really starts getting windy the whole building rumbles. It’s a pretty scary thing.

So what we'd do is we’d set our tents up there and we’d guy-out, put guylines underneath the concrete blocks, and the Easton Aluminum team would be there with their computers and stress-strain gauges and we’d have the tent set up there for a whole week trying to figure out what it’s like to set up a tent in very high winds. We set up a tent in 87 mile an hour winds once, which is very challenging, fabrics flopping around, the poles are getting stressed and it’s much harder than you think to do. And when the winds get over 100 miles an hour, a lot of tents would fail. We’d bring some competitors’ tents up there along with our own.

One of the crew up there at the weather post, they were really disappointed that the mountain hadn’t beat our tents apart yet and destroyed our tents. And finally, one day at like 3:00 in the morning he came down and he goes, “Your tents are destroyed and I’m a happy guy.” And it turns out that the guylines were cut on the concrete pavers. And once the guylines got cut then the tent didn’t stand a chance. But it was 115 mile an hour winds, so the tents made like for a whole six hours and then once the guylines got cut then the tents fell apart.

When you’re testing up in the mountain like that you find out very quickly what the weak link is. And, you learn definitely what didn’t work and it was probably one of the best environments with which to work on the details of the tent to move the tent design forward. In tents we finally figured out that the poles were one of the big weak links that people weren’t using large enough diameter poles.

Another thing we learned was the fly attachments, the guyline attachments have to go directly to the poles, the fly attachment to the tent body has to be a certain way otherwise in the buffeting winds the buckles slip and the webbing slips and once that happens and there’s any slack in the system that tent fails very quickly. You find out what your competitors did right, you figure out what they did wrong and then you figure out what you did right and then you come back the next year and you try to improve it.

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