The Kifaru Tipi has generated a lot of interest in Alaska for people looking for a weather-tight, light-weight shelter that can handle rugged back-country use. It certainly fits the bill for a basic shelter, however, as with anything, you should know its limitations.
Kifaru makes several tipis, ranging in size from the diminutive "Four-Man" version, up to the giant "24-man" structure, which sports a 15' center height. As is the case with most mountain tents, the capacity of the tipi does not reflect the number of people who can comfortably sleep inside. Cut the number in half and you're probably okay. If you prefer to bring your gear inside, cut the number to 1/3 the rated capacity and you'll have plenty of room. Here are the stats on the various sizes:
|Model||Center Height||Footprint||Weight||Packed Size||True Capacity|
|4-man tipi||6.5'||10.5'x13'||5lb, 4oz.||6.5"x22" bag||2-man|
|6-man tipi||7' 6"||14'10"x13'2"||6lb, 4oz.||7.75"x23" bag||2-3 man|
|8-man tipi||8'6"||18'x15'||7lb, 9oz.||7.75"x23" bag||3-4 man|
|12-man tipi||10'6"||20'x17'||11lbs, 1oz.||
24"x9" bag 1, 28"x5" bag 2
|16-man tipi||12'||28'x26'||14lbs, 12oz.||24"x9" bag 1, 28"x5" bag 2||6-8 man|
|24-man tipi||15'||28'x26'||27lbs, 13oz.||24"x9" bag 1, 28"x5" bag 2||8-10 man|
|Sawtooth||7'||13'9"x9'9"x6'||4lbs, 8oz.||24"x4" bag 1, 10"x5" bag 2, 10"x4" bag 3||2-man|
The Sawtooth (listed above) is a modified tipi supported by two poles of unequal length. It is wider at the front and tapers to a six-foot width at the back and can accommodate two people on cots.
In addition to the various sizes of tipis, Kifaru also offers an open-style awning shelter, variously called a "Para Hootch" or a "Para Tarp" that can be supported by an ice axe, trekking poles or native materials. It is the ultimate in light-weight semi-shelters that could serve in a pinch where light weight, simplicity and mobility are the key factors.
The tipis are floorless, however some accessories are available. The mosquito netting is an essential for Alaska. Without it, the tipi will become a haven for mosquitos and white sox whenever the door is left open. With the net in place you can ventilate the tipi to evaporate accumulated moisture. Liners are also available, which are particularly important if you are not using the stove. Otherwise, condensation is trapped in the tipi and can drip on you while you are trying to sleep. The liner is highly recommended for brightening up the inside of the otherwise dark interior of the tipi. Without it, you'll break out your headlamp earlier in the evening. Several stoves are available, which are very light weight and pack flat in their own bag. The compact nature of the stove and pipe system is ideal for flyout trips where space in the aircraft is at a premium. It comes in several sizes; the smallest one is large enough to sleep two people, or one person with gear. It makes an excellent rainfly for equipment storage, or a vented covering for game meat that must be stored on the ground.
The tipi comes with tubular aluminum pegs, however it is recommended that you supplement your stakes with an assortment of standard 10" plastic tent pegs with wide flanges for riparian sand bars, tundra, or snow. A tarp is also a good idea, as the tipi is floorless. Without the tarp, you are left camping on wet or snow-covered ground if the weather is bad. Tuck the edges of the tarp under, so nothing protrudes beyond the outside edges of the tipi. Also be careful to avoid letting the edges of the tarp touch the inside of the tipi, or it could duct condensation out and across the floor. Cots are not essential, but they are recommended for camping on rough ground such as tundra and some gravel bars. It is also suggested that you bring along some extra parachute cord as the tipi has hanging loops high on the inside. The cord allows you to rig a line from which to hang damp clothing.
Some people won't like the floorless design, because it sometimes means setting up on wet ground. If the stove is used, however, it doesn't take long to dry out the inside of the shelter. One of the biggest issues involves ventilation. The tipi does have provisions to ventilate with the mosquito net in place, however there is no protection to keep rain from entering through the vented areas. This makes it difficult to ventilate in wet weather. A possible suggestion to Kifaru would be to develop a couple of hooded vent panels with netting over them to keep the bugs out.
The huge footprint of each of the tipi designs is an issue in places that offer limited campsite selection. It's not always easy to find a place large enough to accomodate the shelter, especially in timbered or brushy areas.
As to condensation, even with the liner installed, the tipi can still allow condensation to drip off the sidewalls and through the liner anyway. Care should be taken to sleep away from the sidewalls to prevent getting your sleeping bag wet.
Visibility is certainly an issue and some will find the lack of windows inconvenient. This is especially true of hunters who require good visibility of the surrounding area even while they're inside. This is particularly true in situations where the occupants are holed up in bad weather, but still need to occasionally see what's going on outside.
The tipi is currently only available in a brown earth-tone color, which can be very difficult to locate if you're hiking back to camp in the twilight after a day afield. It is also difficult for rescuers to see from the air in the event of a MEDIVAC situation. Some campers prefer a tent that's easier to spot from the air and while on the ground.
A final consideration is the relatively high price tag, which could push some shoppers over to a regular mountain tent that offers greater security against the weather at a much lower cost.
The tipi is a time-tested design, and Kifaru has done an excellent job merging tradition with innovation in their versions of it. The Kifaru tipi is a great choice for campers looking for a very light-weight yet roomy shelter that can be used in most weather conditions in Alaska.