By MSR Tent Designer Terry Breaux
I always look forward to fall. The reason in particular is our annual road trip to the Philmont Scout Ranch, the Boy Scouts’ largest national High Adventure Base in Cimarron, New Mexico. Since 2011, MSR has been producing custom tents for the ranch to offer their visiting troops. Each summer, the tents endure 3 straight months of hard use in one of the best proving grounds for design and durability. At the end of it all, I head down to audit how well the tents stood up to the challenge, and gain insight for future design improvements.
The MSR Thunder Ridge™ Tent
Exclusively designed for the Philmont Scout Ranch, the MSR Thunder Ridge 2-person tent is a heavy-duty, 3-season shelter built to handle the rigors of aggressive use in the demanding weather and rugged terrain of the Philmont tenure.
At MSR, we’ve been making tents for demanding environments since 1973. So when we agreed to make tents for Philmont, we thought the process would be no different than designing a shelter for any other outdoor user. Never underestimate the abuse 16-18 year old boy scouts can inflict on gear.
That first year, 50 tents came out of the season damaged in some way. Most of the issues were minor and common to backpacking and camping—a few broken poles, small tears in the rainfly. But strangely 13 tents had identical tears in the vestibules. Same location, same length of tear. We’d never seen anything like it and it took the better part of an hour to figure out what had happened and how we might prevent it next time.
Eventually, we realized the tear had been caused by the rainfly getting caught in the zipper, not unlike what happens when unzipping a sleeping bag. Instead of backing the zipper up to release the fly, the scouts would simply force the zipper further until the fabric tore and their tent door opened.
That was a big lesson learned. Since then, we’ve refined the design of the tent—from its zippers to its fabrics. Zippers are one of the first parts of a tent to wear out, and in extremely dusty conditions, they can break in as short as 2 or 3 days. For these tents, we persuaded the zipper sliders manufacturer to make their discontinued stainless steel zippers again. These stainless steel zipper sliders will generally last the entire life of the tent. The tent seams are factory seam-sealed to keep the campers dry and comfortable, and the 7000 series anodized aluminum frames are slightly oversized for increased durability.
Three years in, and the Thunder Ridge tent program has gone from 50 damaged tents a season down to just 7, all with minor issues.
Each year 20,000 young scouts camp at Philmont, hiking along its high country’s rugged and rocky trails. We know they leave with lasting memories. At MSR, we’re excited to be a part of their experience, and to be the company that the Philmont Scout Ranch has trusted to design and manufacture their outdoor shelters.
Terry Breaux has been designing tents since 1989; the last nine of those years at MSR. He fell in love with the outdoors as a child the first night he slept in a tent under the stars—in his backyard. Since then, he’s enjoyed countless backcountry nights, and has bikepacked in Europe and Asia, including through Pakistan and Mongolia, which left memories of a lifetime. A lifelong gearhead, Terry took two years off college to work at legendary tent design company Moss Tents, returning to work there after he graduated. He brings that creative ingenuity and design expertise to MSR’s high-performance tent line. He continues to pursue bikepacking expeditions, always testing gear and seeking ways to create better shelters for outdoor users.