A ‘magic tent’ for mountaineers

Oct 1, 2015


By Empa

At the Swiss Textiles Association’s Innovation Day, the new start-up firm Polarmond presented its patented “all-in-one” sleeping system. This combines the functions of a sleeping bag, sleeping mat and bivouac in one product. What is particularly special about it is that the spacious inner room allows the user to sleep comfortably — as if in their own bed — at temperatures down to -30°C, and yet it is heated by nothing more than the occupant’s body heat. Empa researchers Martin Camenzind and Matthew Morrissey assisted Polarmond in the search for suitable materials, and helped in finding a solution to the problems of thermal insulation and dealing with moisture.

The great challenge in terms of thermal insulation was the size of the space to be insulated. Despite the spacious inner room, the weight of the total system has to be kept as low as possible to make the product attractive for trekkers and mountaineers. “An inner room of this size is not the easiest option for a product that must be as light as possible,” explains Camenzind. “It would be more efficient to have the insulation layer in direct contact with the body.” Because of several requirements, like this one, which were contradictory, Morrissey and Camenzind initially decided to name the sleeping system “magic tent.”

The Empa researchers combined approaches, materials and techniques from very varied fields in an innovative way. “If you want to find new solutions, you have to think outside the box and look beyond the standard methods,” says Camenzind. And so the two scientists developed a so-called sandwich construction for the insulation, consisting of a fluffy synthetic filling with reflective layers, as is also used in spacesuits. Step by step, the “magic tent” became a real tent.

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5 comments on “A ‘magic tent’ for mountaineers

  • Phil rimmer
    Oct 2, 2015 at 11:34 am

    Water vapour management appears to have been tackled fairly well.

    I hope their claims can be born out in the field. I have seen some very unhappy campers in storms on mountains when my tent and a handful of others remained standing, while 20+ others despite manufacturers claims, did not.

    In the sort of temperatures they are suggesting, people do not want equipment failures – especially if travelling light without back-ups.

    The residual humidity is taken up by the warmed air in the sleeping cell and escapes via a zippered opening.

    I have tried extracting much needed equipment through iced up zips before!

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  • 4
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    It is interesting but there is another issue that seems undealt with… How to prevent snow and rain from getting into the tent while entering or exiting the magic tent during bad weather conditions… This isn’t an issue with a conventional tent since it has a vertical door but this tent appears to have an overhead opening.

    Also, where do you put your mud and/or sleet saturated hiking boots after removing them?… If it’s snowing or raining, you can’t leave them outside and you can’t keep them on without hopelessly soiling your “bed” or risk ripping the material. Adding a separate waterproof compartment for the hiker’s footwear would solve that problem though.

    Having done a bit of hiking myself in my younger days, I can tell you: starting off a 5 to 6 hour day of mountain trekking by slipping one’s feet in cold drenched boots is no fun at all especially when you know full well that your feet will remain cold and wet for the rest of the trek. Pretty much ruins the entire experience and almost garantees you will catch the worst cold of your life.

    If I have to sleep outside, I’ll take (dry) snow over rain any day. Wet snow OTOH is worse than rain because it sticks to everything. If one wants to evaluate properly how good these inventions are, one has to imagine (and test) how they would perform in the worst weather conditions.

    Sleeping outside when it’s really cold (-20 to -30 C ) but dry and calm requires only a very good “mummy type” sleeping bag and a good ski mask to keep your head and face warm. Very windy conditions is another story however… That’s when this magic tent could make a big difference. But does it remain dry in rain?

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