The Kelty TN4 is an excellent choice for trips in relatively benign weather conditions. The “Star-Gazing Fly” rainfly combines the feeling of open-air camping with the security of a weather resistant tent. Although impressively waterproof, its bulky packing profile and a tendency toward set-up quirks keep it from being a top contender.
The TN4 was the second shortest tent in the test; the sharp corner angles limited interior comfort for any more than three full-sized adults. Add a lack of internal storage (there is no gear loft) and somewhat narrow vestibules, and the tent began to feel even more crowded, especially over the long haul. The TN4 pitches tightly by design; drawing the vestibule corners tight means loading the brow pole slightly, creating added downturn at the tops of the doors. One of our testers found that anchoring the wall panels with guy lines created some roof sag, which added to interior constriction. Overall, the tent felt acceptable for three, but a very tight fit for four, which one would expect from a backpacking tent, but comes as a bit of an affront in a tent with the larger packed size of the TN4.
Simply put, the TN 4 packed on the fat side. Though not spectacularly heavy just short of seven pounds, its rainfly is stout and refused to compress tightly. Although the all-mesh tent body made up for some of it, the TN4 barely squeezed into a stuff sack that overflowed a 20-liter pack. Dispersed among four, the perceived bulk settled down, but that didn’t keep it from being one of the biggest packed tents in the category. The included roll-top stuff sack was inadequate to reduce the bulk of the entire tent package and merely served as storage for home or car camping. The TN4 made for an excellent front country or car camping tent, but the resistance to compaction rendered it problematic for hardcore backcountry use.
Setting up the TN4 was a challenge at first, but became more comfortable with practice; it’s not as straightforward as other tents. The construction is somewhat complicated and glossing over subtleties in the set-up can caused backtracking. For instance, the single pole’s central hub is unidirectional, so it’s possible to install most, or all, of the tent body before finding out you have to reverse the process and need to flip the structure over. The test teams did this a few times, especially when hurried—setting the tent up after dark, while exhausted, before/during a storm, etc. The brow pole was also problematic. It is highly possible to clip the tent body onto the brow pole incorrectly because the leg poles need to cross the brow pole at a specific angle for the rainfly to fit correctly. Depending on brow pole installation, the leg poles would either line up with the seams on the fly or the brow pole clips would get in the way, which resulted in a saggy rainfly and forced the camper to backtrack to resolve the issue. The fly also only fits on one way, a departure from symmetrical designs. Although the Kelty Hug Clip tent to pole connectors and color-coded poles/Jakes Feet are positives, the TN4 still required vigilance for a proper setup.
The TN4 performs exceptionally well in rainy conditions. Even though the tent floor seams ride relatively low to the ground, the stout rainfly and its tight fit combined to keep even persistent rain out. During one test, the TN4 held up and kept belongings dry in a storm that caused flash flooding. The deluge had pasted the fly to the tent walls but no droplets formed inside, and everything was dry, even a guidebook left laying directly on the floor. Though I was initially concerned about the brow vents, which have flimsy-at-best closure, they had let in no water. The vestibules have a low enough ground profile to keep water from blowing in and the floor never accumulated any perceptible moisture, which added confidence as the storm continued to rage. Additionally, although the TN4’s low wall angles subtract from interior comfort, they made up for in aerodynamics. The same storm that flooded the campsite during testing had produced winds high enough to pull another tent off its stakes and into nearby brush.
But in another test in desert country, the TN4 was one of a pair of tents that had temporary wall failure in strong gusts of wind. Only one tent out of three in this test did not have a wall temporarily cave in.
In warm conditions, when it wasn’t necessary to use the fly, the almost entirely mesh inner tent and the stargazing feature made for the most breathable and coolest tents in the test.
Satisfaction concerning the TN4’s bells and will ultimately boil down to user style and values. Kelty’s “Star-Gazing Fly” is unique, seemingly designed for folks who like the old-school feel of cowboy camping but still want something around them. The feature is well-designed and novel—users can roll the rainfly halfway up and secure it with clips at the tent brow. Because the tent body is primarily a bug net, it provided a distinct open-air feeling. The genius of the design is that if it starts raining, the camper doesn’t have to leave the comfort of the sleeping bag to get the fly back on; rolling the fly back down, re-clipping it and zipping the vestibule can all be done sitting up in the bag.
Generous brow vents with stiffeners and mesh allowed the TN4 to vent as well as or better than others in this test. This breathability was an asset toward its long-term livability, but what limited it from being outstanding was the lack of interior storage. With no gear loft and a pocket in each corner that was just big enough for a phone, keys, and maybe a headlamp, keeping belongings organized among multiple occupants was challenging, especially with tight vestibules and the overall economy of interior space.
Welded clear windows in the fly gave a view of the weather without unzipping, and all zipper pulls are noiseless. The DAC poles have 14-inch sections for more packing options, and Kelty tapes all floor and fly seams. A set of Kelty “Nobendium” stakes completes the package.
Seiji Ishii works as a trainer to professional supercross/motocross riders, adventure riding test editor at Dirt Rider Magazine and an AMGA certified rock climbing guide/instructor for White Star Mountain Guides/Austin Rock Gym. He lives in Wimberley, TX with wife Shay, 3 year old daughter Sequoia, 3 dogs and a cat. His personal time is spent rock climbing, any form of dirt biking, cycling, and training for the next mountaineering adventure.