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Phoenix Solo Canoe Review

The Phoenix is a slightly larger version of the no longer manufactured Bell Wildfire/Yellowstone solo canoes. Its extra volume (I judge about 15 percent) is carried more forward and aft than in these smaller, earlier boats. Performance in waves is impressive: unlike the aforementioned smaller canoes which tend to run wet through big waves, the Phoenix bucks quickly over them. Even with nearly 300 pounds in the belly, this boat runs dry in two foot high waves. Really! The Gunnel beam is a narrow 26 inches, same as the Wildfire/YS, so those who come from these narrow-waisted boats will quickly feel right at home. I weigh 132 pounds and when I first paddled the Phoenix, I thought it was too large for me. But with a good load it's just right for my size. Empty, it responds instantly to your commands. Empty or loaded, the boat remains sporty, controllable and always fun-to-paddle.

I recently paddled the Phoenix 150 miles on the upper Missouri River. We encountered high winds, quick currents and some unexpected big waves. My total load, including my weight, was about 265 pounds* (no portages; we carried ice and went heavy). The boat barely drew three inches of water and it never lost its lively feel. I think it will easily accommodate 300 pounds without complaining. Like its predecessors, the Wildfire/YS, the Phoenix will pivot on a penny without the need for extensive leans. I rate the boat competent in high Class II where big waves and quick turns are the rule, even with 265 pounds aboard. Add a full spray cover and I'd trust her in low Class III.

Some have suggested that the Phoenix isn't fast. Well...I find it fast enough. In practical touring it keeps up just fine with similar but smaller cruising canoes like the Wildfire/YS, We-no-nah Argosy, Mad River Slipper and its ilk. Speed wise, it's not a We-no-nah Prism and it doesn't pretend to be. It's spade card is its "versatility--FreeStyle play on a quiet pond,, Boundary Waters touring, or long-haul expedition whitewater. The Phoenix does it all, with grace, predictability and fun.

Layups: I wanted this boat for whitewater tripping so I chose the new IXP layup. At 42 pounds (on my scale) it weighs more than the other layups but it's much more substantial. Northstar claims it's as tough as Royalex. We'll see. Note: I selected wood trim knowing that it is heavier than aluminum. No matter: I gotta have "pretty"!

Wind: One look at the comparably high-sided Phoenix and you may think it will be a handful in wind. I found it wasn't. Paddled empty (but well), there is minimal concern. Add a light camping outfit and the boat cruises easily. There is no serious tendency to spin into the wind.

If you want a do-it-all solo cruiser that's at home in the BWCA and well beyond, the Phoenix is a great choice. It does everything well except go "real fast". But good paddlers shouldn't have any trouble keeping up with their friends in typical tandem canoes. Oh, did I mention that this canoe is absolutely gorgeous?

Important: Be sure to order the Phoenix with the HIGH seat drops. Sitting low, with your armpits in the gunnels--or kneeling beneath a dangerously low seat (foot entrapment!) discourages control and defies smiles. In moving water, you'll want to be on your knees in this boat. You simply can't ring out top performance sitting on a low-mounted seat.

*Northstar rates displacement at the 3-inch waterline at 260 pounds; 360 pounds at the 4-inch waterline. Recommended optimal load is 170 to 350 pounds. This canoe will carry a lot! Gracefully!

The Fillo pillow may be the most comfortable camping pillow on the planet. It mates a layer of three inch thick open cell foam to a one-inch thick layer of memory foam. The foam is covered with Nemo's luxurious micro-suede Pillowtop cover. A locking oral inflation valve controls air flow and pillow thickness. An elastic net on the pillow bottom secures clothing (to add thickness) and keeps the pillow in place on a car or airline headrest. Another "A" product!

SPECIFICATIONS
Filo pillow weight: 11 ounces
Size: 10.5 x 17"
Packed size: 6" x 4"
Fabric: Washable Polyester Microsuede

I won't mince words: The Cosmo Insulated Sleeping Pad with Pillowtop cover is the most comfortable and luxurious sleeping mat I've ever used. Here's what sets this pad above the crowd:
  • The air chambers run crossways—they follow the curve of your spine; this eliminates the "sinking between the tubes" feeling common to air mats with longitudinal tubes.
  • The luxurious polyester microsuede Pillowtop cover (an optional accessory) is a show-stopper. On hot nights you can comfortably sleep bare skin on the Pillowtop cover and use your sleeping bag as a blanket. There is none of the annoying skin-to-plastic feel common to traditional uncovered pads. I have long believed that every sleeping pad should have a porous cover. Again, Nemo got it right. I am aware of only one other high end air-pad (Exped) that has an optional factory cover.
    Manufacturers please take note!
  • The Cosmo is 25 inches wide, about five inches wider than most competitors. Those extra five inches are enough to keep your elbows from sliding off the pad onto the cold ground. I love the extra width!
For decadent luxury, add the (optional) layer of one-inch thick mesh-covered, open-cell memory foam. It rests on top of the pad, under the cover. Ties inside the Pillowtop cover keep it place. Now, you have a super-insulated trail pad that is nearly as comfortable as your mattress at home. When used together—Cosmo air pad, memory foam layer and Pillowtop cover—the comfort and warmth are remarkable. No other sleeping system even comes close. For car camping, or where weight and bulk are no object, use the entire system; for canoeing and kayaking where bulk is more important than weight, remove the memory foam. Ultra light hikers will carry the Cosmo pad alone or opt for the ultra light polyester Slipcover which weighs almost nothing.

HOW FAST DOES IT INFLATE AND DEFLATE?
A built-in pump at the head allows fast inflation—one minute if you use both hands, 30 seconds if you use a foot (impractical in a tent). The pad is about three inches thick when inflated so it smooths out everything below. A locking oral inflation valve allows you to let out excess air if you over-inflate. You can also inflate the pad by mouth if you don't want to use the hand pump. A huge dump valve completely deflates the pad in about three seconds. No kidding!

HOW WELL DOES IT INSULATE??
The Insulated Cosmo has a thin layer of polyurethane foam welded to the inner surface. The foam stops convective air currents and creates consistent and even insulation. The thin foam doesn't look like it will stop much cold air. But it does. For example, in June of this year, I used an Insulated Cosmo with Pillowtop cover (but no memory foam layer) on a two week wilderness canoe trip in Norway and Finland. We were 200 miles above the Arctic Circle and it was never T-shirt weather. The Cosmo was never cold. Later, I used it on a week long canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Minnesota. Again, it was plenty warm. I can't comment on its performance on snow or permafrost, but for three seasons, it's fine. The insulation adds just five ounces to the weight of the basic (non-insulated) pad.
Note: the pad goes completely flat when the air is exhausted and the insulation value drops to near zero. So don't use this pad on snow or ice unless you can repair a puncture in the field.

SPECIFICATIONS
Size: 25" x 76"
Thickness: 3"
Packed size: 9" x 6.5"
Weight (pad alone): 34 ounces

Nemo says the OBI-2P is a two person tent. It is, if you're a hobbit and madly in love! Otherwise, it is an extremely comfortable, almost luxurious, tent for one. It weighs 3 pounds 10 ounces (actual packed weight) with stakes, poles and lines; and stuffed, it is not much larger than a football. The tent is dry in rain and secure in wind, and unlike many of its competitors, you don't need an engineering degree to pitch it. Materials and construction are first-rate. I recently used the tent for a trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Minnesota. Here are my impressions:
  1. It sets up fast (about four minutes), even in wind.
  2. The fly covers every seam and zipper and stakes nearly to the ground so that blowing rain can't get in. This feature alone puts this tent ahead of the pack.
  3. Every tent should have one vestibule for gear storage. This tent has two.
  4. The OBI-2P has two opposing doors (for ventilation and security in the event a zipper fails on one entry). The doors are covered by the fly which forms the vestibules. The vestibules unzip at the apex and can be opened for cross-flow ventilation. The slightest breeze wafts through the tent. Very nice!
  5. The fly is ultra light silicone-treated nylon, the canopy is fine-mesh no-seeum net, colored black for high visibility. I generally dislike no-see-um netting because its tightly woven mesh stifles air flow. But Nemo did it right on this tent by choosing no-see-um net over more breathable mosquito mesh. Why? Because you can easily bug-proof a small no-see-um net door with repellents or Permetherin. But this would be impossible with the OBI whose canopy is all netting. Kudus on the black color which allow a near window-clear view of your surroundings. In 1917, Horace Kephart wrote in his book, "Camping and Woodcraft", that any color other than black will reflect light into your eyes and distort your vision. Congratulations to Nemo--they may be the only company on the planet who got it right!
  6. In calm weather you can pitch the tent with just two stakes (one at the apex of each vestibule). There are 12 stake points in all—enough to anchor the tent in a storm. A short bar Velcro's near the peak of each vestibule to provide protected ventilation in rain. The anodized arrow-shaft aluminum poles are shock-corded together as a single unit—nothing can be misplaced. The pole mass (which resembles a TV antenna) snaps together in seconds. The unique nylon "Jake's foot" fittings at the tent corners are fast and secure. The canopy is free-standing and can be pitched without the fly. Or, you can disconnect the "Jake's feet" and pitch the fly without the tent.
There are some clever touches: the diffused "light pocket" in the peak (which holds your headlamp) is one, as are the twin zippers on each vestibule which provide ventilation and star-gazing options. Oh, did I mention the star chart that is sewn to the tent bag? Each vestibule has a "canopy extender cord" that snaps to the mesh canopy and pulls it out to provide more interior space. This is nice in good weather but it can be problematic in rain (see #5 below). There is no fat on this tent—everything has been engineered for function.

MORE KUDOS:
1) The folded or stuffed tent easily fits inside the bag even when the tent is wet and muddy. Is this an industry first?
2) The poles pack separately in a special bag that slides into a sleeve on the outside of the tent bag. A snap fastener keeps poles and tent together. Clever indeed.

NIGGLES

  1. The pole bag is too narrow. The poles fit but you have to work at it. Nylon shrinks about five percent over time - the tight fit will get tighter.
  2. If it rains, you won't want to pack the wet fly and dry tent in the same bag. A partitioned bag or two stuff sacks are the way to go.
  3. Nemo supplies high quality "you pound 'em" four-corner, aluminum stakes. These stakes are 6 inches long - too short for all but hard, rock-free ground. Eight or ten-inch aluminum pins that can be set by hand are better for all-round use but these are too long to fit in the stake bag. The pole bag should be longer.
  4. The canopy extenders (nylon ribbons) on the inside of the fly snap to tiny fabric loops on the netted canopy. The hooks have locking tongues which make them hard to use, more so, if it's dark and you can’t see what you're doing. A rigid D-ring here would make things easier.
  5. *Rain water may wick down the canopy extender ribbons and fall into the sleeping compartment. Solution? Waterproof (seam tape) the extender stitching on the fly or simply disconnect the extender when it rains.
  6. There are four storm-loops on the fly—three in front, one in back. The fly secures to the back pole with a Velcro tab which transfers wind-stress to the pole when the storm-loop is guyed out. Good idea! The loops adjacent to the front poles lack Velcro tabs. They need them too!
  7. The Fastex buckles on the tent bag add weight and bulk and slow down packing the tent. A simple drawstring bag would be faster, lighter and less bulky. The stuff sack is black; a bright color would be better.
  8. A serious side wind may distort the windward vestibule enough to expose gear or allow it to contact the tent canopy. Storm-loops sewn to the vestibule hems (between the apex stakes and corners) and fly face would stiffen the structure and increase storage space. Extra storm-loops are a welcome ounce on any tent; when guyed out they can spell the difference between a taut tent that defies the storm and a deformed one that doesn't.
  9. The tent measures 84 inches (seven feet) long and should accommodate those who are over six feet tall. But the ends slope in smartly which reduces foot room. A friend who is 6'3" says the tent is too short for him. Extending the floor six inches (to 7.5 feet) would make the tent more suitable for tall people.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Nit-picks aside, the OBI-2P is a terrific tent. It's very light, compact and roomy for one person. In nice weather, unzip the fly (vestibules) and fold them around the front poles. Then, lay back, gaze at the stars and enjoy the cross-flow of air. At the first raindrop, unzip the netted doors, grab the two fly sections that form the vestibules and zip them shut. The OBI-2P is wind-stable and dry and unlike some other super-light tents, it is not claustrophobic. Its 40 inch height (at the head) allows you to sit up comfortably. Overall, this tent earns an A.

SPECIFICATIONS
Capacity: 2 (if you're hobbit and in love!)
Actual packed weight (with pole, stakes, bag): 3 lbs 10 ounces*
Sleeping compartment measurement: 42" x 84"
Maximum interior height: 40"
Floor Area: 27 sq. ft.
Vestibule Area: 18 sq. feet
Included accessories: Dry bag style stuff sac, light pocket, stakes, repair kit.
*You can cut a few ounces if you replace the "dry bag" stuff sack and pole bag with ultra-light silicone nylon stuff sacks.