The venerable wall tent has been around for over a thousand years. The Vikings, Romans, and soldiers of the Civil War, just to name a few, all used them. Some were made of animal skins, others of heavy canvas. The operable word there is—heavy. Traditional wall tents have always provided a cavernous and comfortable interior, but they’re usually weighty shelters best transported by a team of loyal porters. As Nemo Equipment is prone to do, they set out to reinvent the wall tent by cutting the heft without sacrificing any of the creature comforts. The result is the palatial portable abode they call the Dark Timber.
At only 17.5 pounds, the Dark Timber clocks in at a fraction of the weight of the traditional canvas wall tent and packs into a compact duffle bag measuring just 32 by 10 inches. The structure is provided by two large diameter aluminum poles held taught by 10 strong guy lines. The two-part system includes a spacious tent body clipped to the underside of a massive tarp. Once erected, the Dark Timber provides 70 square feet of floor space which is more than enough real estate for four sprawling sleepers.
With an internal peak height of 78 inches there’s sufficient headroom to stand and move around without feeling hunched over, and the two vertical walls further amplify the sense of spaciousness. Each of the two end walls have full-size doors, both backed with fine mesh for maximum air pass-through. Adjacent to the doors, large windows help import light and air. After spending several nights in the Dark Timber, the best way to describe it is to say it feels decidedly house like.
The benefit to the tarp-over-tent architecture is most noticeable during warmer temperatures as air circulates between the tarp and tent body. When the inevitable rain arrives, and we did endure one serious soaker during our first night’s testing, the protruding eves of the tarp do a sufficient job of protecting the windows and doors. On a recent outing we unclipped the inner tent, pushed it back, and used a giant awning to provide a large expanse of shaded relief from the blazing sun.
Like all Nemo Equipment products, its the tiny details that make the Dark Timber so liveable. Inside the tent body on both vertical walls there are large sections of pockets to help keep your must-haves always at the ready. The top pocket is made of opaque white nylon designed to help diffuse and disperse the light of a headlamp or flashlight. The zipper pulls and tracks are made of orange fabric and cord to make them easy to locate in low light and the brightly colored ceiling fabric keeps the interior from feeling gloomy and dark when sitting out a storm for hours on end.
Having used and evaluated a number of wall tents over the years, I had prepared myself for a difficult pitch. With only two poles and almost a dozen guy lines, the Dark Timber had the potential to be a complicated project, but I was pleasantly surprised to have it standing tall in just 25 minutes on the first try. Subsequent outings have trimmed that down to a little more than 15 minutes with practice and an experienced partner.
The key to a quick and fuss-free setup starts with level ground. Even slight irregularities in the ground will invite bunching and wrinkles in the tent walls, although they don’t noticeably detract from the comfort or weatherproofing. Placement of the poles, stakes, and tension on the fabric must be managed perfectly, which I admit takes practice. If you get things a bit out of balance, or not placed in just the right spot at the right angle, the tarp and inner tent will sag.
If foul weather is in the forecast, taking the time to tension the Dark Timber properly is important to maintain the shelter’s ability to withstand the added weight of rainwater as it rolls down the tarp. It’s hard to expect any wall tent with vertical walls and this much surface area to withstand a heavy wind, but the Dark Timber does surprisingly well if properly anchored and tensioned.
The wrap up
As much as I like to rough it and don’t mind sleeping in a bivy sack, there is something uniquely enjoyable about living in a luxurious habitat like the Dark Timber. It isn’t the quickest to set up, but it makes for a fine backwood bunk house on a long weekend. For protracted travels, pitching and striking the Dark Timber every day would be a bit of a tiresome chore, but for the occasional overnighter, or for use as a multi-night base camp hut, it doesn’t get much better.