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NOTE: The Kelty TN series have been succeeded by the Kelty Dirt Motel series. We’ve also updated our article to reflect this change!
Since the very dawn of human beings’ time on this planet, one phenomenon has attracted their attention quite unlike any other: stars.
They’ve provided the theme to countless metaphors, featured in just as many lines of poetry, and been the object of attention of many a brooder on the wonders of our universe and very existence.
For many of us — and particularly those stuck in the big city — sightings of nature’s own, ever-present light show are a rarity, and something we only ever get the chance to enjoy thoroughly when we remove ourselves from the false constellations comprised in the fluorescent glow flooding out of our high-rises and street lighting to where the real, authentic magic happens: nature.
But going all that way to then hole yourself up inside a small, enclosed plastic vestibule when all the wonders of the night sky are right there above you is a bit of a pity, right? Having made the effort to get yourself out to where the good stuff’s at, we’d highly recommend you sample as much of it as you possibly can.
One way of doing so is to get your hands on a suitable means of letting the views of nature’s wonders continue even when the last of the daylight has seeped out of the sky: the stargazing tent.
The what? you might ask…
In this article, we aim to answer the above question by bringing you all you need to know about stargazing tents, starting off with a quick look at what goes into the making of a good one before then delving into some tips for would-be buyers.
Finally, we’ll get down to the nitty-gritty with our review of the seven best stargazing tents currently on the market, from ultralight backpacking models to mansion-esque affairs fit to house all the family for a group session of gazing at the stars.
For those who wants to make decisions now, here are our selection for the seven best stargazing tents out there this year.
|Model||Stargazing (1-5)||Value for Money (1-5)||Weight||Total floor (sq. ft.)||Season Rating||Capacity|
|Kelty Dirt Motel Tent (Updated version of Kelty TN)||3 season||2 person|
|Kelty Night Owl 4P(Updated version of Trail Ridge)||57||3 season||4 person (3 person in practice)|
|MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2-Person Tent||3lbs 7oz||29||3 season||2 person|
|Big Agnes – Copper Spur HV Ultralight Backpacking Tent||(… if you choose the olive green option)||3lbs 7oz||41||3 season||3 person|
|Coleman Sundome 4-Person Tent||9lbs 7oz||52||2 season||4 person|
|Mountainsmith Morrison 2-Person 3-Season Tent||5lbs 9oz||35||3 season||2 person|
|CORE 9 Person Extended Dome Tent||18.25lbs||Approx. 100||2 season||9 person|
If you wonder how we decided on these tents, you find out by clicking here.
What is a Stargazing Tent?
In a nutshell, a star-gazing tent is one either purposefully designed or inadvertently better suited to allowing its occupants the best views of the night sky. While very few manufacturers actually label their tents as being of the “stargazing” variety, certain models naturally lend themselves to the pursuit and others include features purpose-made for getting your gaze on.
So, you might be thinking: but what exactly makes any tent better for stargazing than another?
Good question. The short answer is this: any tent that is constructed with plenty of mesh openings or windows through which you can view the stars without obstruction from the floor of your tent. For the longer, more detailed answer, check out our Six Key Components of a Stargazing Tent, below.
Why You Might Want to Own One
The great outdoors are replete with natural wonders of all kinds: glaciers, forests, flora, fauna, mountains, hills, dales, rivers, waterfalls…the list goes on.
While all of these natural features are more than enough to make any backcountry trip memorable, at night a further awe-inspiring attraction appears that many of us are apt to miss out on while catching our kip: the skies within which all of these wonders of our planet are contained, spangled with our galaxy’s copious collection of glittery astronomical bling — stars!
Given that most of us spend the vast majority of our lives locked up in little cubicles known as houses, apartments, cars, or offices, doesn’t it make sense that when we go into the great outdoors we should make every effort to remain as close to nature as possible in order to experience it fully?
While sleeping without a tent may not be possible because of bugs etc, a stargazing tent represents perhaps the next best thing.
On a personal note, one of my greatest pleasures while camping is the feeling of closeness to nature, of reconnecting to something from which I’ve become estranged since any previous visit.
Lugging up all the conveniences we have at home and putting ourselves up in a “bombproof” synthetic shelter that does pretty much what our houses do back in the town or city can certainly detract from that feeling, so taking any measures that can help to amplify the sense of connection and immersing yourself in the natural world are certainly good ones.
Secondly, I tend to be a pretty minimalist (read: “lazy”) backcountry camper. I spent much of my youth lugging 60-pound packs through the mountains of Europe but soon learned from the old adage that “less is more”.
On nights when I’m sure the weather’s going to be good, I can save myself a pound or so of weight by leaving my tent’s rainfly at home and venturing into the hills or mountains with only my tent’s inner body.
Less energy expended carrying stuff you don’t need equals more energy to go exploring and enjoy your time in your surroundings.
Sleeping with only a thin layer of see-through mesh between you and the outside world also means that the figurative cherry is put on top of any day, no matter how good or bad, when I set up camp for the night and lie back to take in the continuing gift of grand scenery that’s now settled in above me in the night sky.
The Six Key Components of a Stargazing Tent
Naturally, many of the components that go into the making of a good stargazing tent are the same as those that go into a standard tent. That said, there are a few standout features that can really make the difference between a mediocre stargazing tent and a great one.
1. A Solid “Viewing Platform”
Even though you’re only likely to be doing your stargazing in good weather, that doesn’t mean that having a solid, safe foundation to do it from isn’t important.
Factors like bugs, condensation, dew, rocky terrain, spiky brush, and wind all need to be taken into consideration…and dealt with. Doing calls for a well-made tent built with the needs of the backcountry camper in mind.
But just what kind of well-made tent foundation are we talking about?
Ideally, one that features the “bathtub-style” design of groundsheet — that is, one with a groundsheet that rises a reasonable height from the floor. This will not only limit the chances of any bugs entering your tent but also offer protection from the wind (when you’re in a lying down position), wet ground, and dew.
Ideally, that groundsheet should also be substantial enough (circa 60D and upwards) to provide an ample buffer against any rocks or pebbles and also have a decent hydrostatic head (i.e. waterproof) rating — somewhere in the region of 3,000mm and upwards should do the trick.
2. Minimal Obstructions
Ever been at a concert or show and found someone or something smack bang in the middle of your line of vision and, thus, ruining your view? Well, that’s kinda what’s gonna happen to your stargazing sessions if you don’t do plenty of pre-purchase research for your stargazing tent.
In general, the best tent designs for stargazing are found in either dome or tunnel models (although some semi-geodesic varieties are also suitable) that use fewer poles and have a ceiling and walls either entirely or mostly composed of see-through mesh.
While geodesic tents are great for providing stability in inclement weather conditions, they aren’t the best choice for stargazing as they tend to have a lot of poles crisscrossing the roof and walls of the tent, thereby dissecting your view into multiple, fairly small triangles.
3. Windows Galore
Ideally, whatever tent you buy should have a body or inner sheet that has plenty of mesh panels through which you can do your gazing. Some tents excel in this respect, whereas others don’t feature any mesh at all or use large fabric inserts that severely limit what might have been your window to the outside world, meaning you won’t be able to see much at all.
As a general rule, any tent with walls and a ceiling that contain more mesh than material will be best suited to catching the best views of the party in the skies.
4. Protection from the Elements
Usually, the debate over tent functionality and preferences centers on the choice between single-walled tents or double-walled tents, but in this case our minds are made up for us.
Because the “walls” in single-walled tents are built to provide weather resistance, they of course lack the option of removing the outer fly to leave just the tent body through which we can ogle the skies above.
A double-walled tent, as the name suggests, is made with two “walls”, namely the tent body and the rainfly.
The trouble lies in the fact that the rainfly is 100% waterproof but allows us to see precisely zip (except in very few models that incorporate windows), while the inner tent or tent body usually has plenty of spaces through which we can do our stargazing but is about as effective at keeping out the elements as it is bears: i.e. not at all.
So what to do?
Although you won’t be doing any stargazing on overcast and rainy nights, unless you only plan on doing your camping when the weather is absolutely flawless and cloud-free then you’re going to need a tent that offers protection from the elements to keep you and your tentmates dry in the event of a shower or two.
This means a double-walled tent with solid water resistance — anything above 3,000 mm hydrostatic head is good for a rainfly, but the higher you go, the less likely you are to suffer any leaks during the night.
Choosing a double-walled tent, therefore, gives you more flexibility in terms of when and where you do your camping. When the weather’s nice, you might want to carry only the tent body to save on weight and, if it stays nice throughout your trip, you’ll get away with having done so.
If the weather’s iffy, on the other hand, you can take both the tent body and the rain fly and only attach the latter when the wet stuff strikes.
5. Ease of Setup
Rocking up at your campsite after a long day driving and/or hiking and then having to struggle for upwards of an hour with unfathomable tent instructions and various unobliging bits and bobs of your tent’s components isn’t really anyone’s idea of a good time.
In fact, rocking up early in the morning, perfectly well rested and having to do the same thing isn’t exactly going to be added to any dictionary examples of “peachy” any time soon either, come to think of it.
As a young man, my father told me that the litmus test for any couples intent on getting married should be to send them into the backcountry in a rain shower and get them to pitch a tent and then spend the night together inside — if they could survive that, he said, then they’d survive anything.
And he was right.
For whatever reason, putting up a tent can be one of the most flummoxing, frustrating, and downright stressful things you’ll ever do. It can make PhD-holders looks like kids likely to flunk kindergarten.
And the moral of the story is…?
Get a PhD in pitching tents? Practice pitching your tent until your fingers bleed? Hire a backcountry boffin-cum-butler to do it for you? Just stay at home?
The answer, gladly, is none of the above, and goes something along the lines of the following:
When buying your tent, be sure to get one that is both intuitive to put up and which gives you a bit of a helping hand with any aspects that aren’t so intuitive, namely color-coded poles (with color-coded flashes on the pole sleeves if possible) and as few of them as possible — generally speaking, more poles equals more problems!
Also, some tents come with color-coded clips to ease attaching the rainfly — a feature that makes pitching a cinch even for absolute novices.
If you’re really keen on keeping things super simple, you could even go down the pop-up tent route, but be warned that this variety of tent tends to lack stability and weather resistance compared to regular tents.
6. Tent Size
Whether you’re headed into the outdoors for the purposes of stargazing or not, the size of your tent is always a key consideration.
On the one hand, you want to have plenty of space to make sure you and your camping partners can move around relatively freely inside the tent and also not cop a dose of cabin fever if the bad weather happens to keep you stuck inside the tent for any length of time.
On the other hand, in most cases the bigger a tent is, the more it will weigh — unless you happen to have a personal Sherpa who turns up on trail days to do your carrying for you, then that means the added burden is going to fall on your shoulders, back, quads, and calves.
In an ideal world, and if you can share the load of your tent between camping partners, then shooting for a tent that is rated for one or even two more people than will actually be occupying it is a good policy — particularly if you are headed into the wilds for a longer time or you have “personal space” issues(!). And when buying your tent, be wary of the product descriptions…
Although tents always come with a capacity rating based on the number of people the manufacturers believe can comfortably fit inside (“3-person”, “4-person” and so on), in our experience these figures are often unreliable, or else assume that the people in question are
- a) very small
- b) okay with spending their nights in the wild crammed up against their camping partners like sardines in a can.
Upcoming Stargazing Events
For info on stargazing events and other nocturnal spectacles coming soon to a sky near you, check out Space.com’s regularly updated list of Best Night Sky Events.
For those of you wanting to do some premature planning for 2020, this page from AstroPixels offers a comprehensive, at-a-glance overview that will help you fix some dates in your diary.
Stargazing Tent FAQs
1. But won’t I get wet if my tent has “windows”?
Naturally, you won’t be trying to look at any stars when the skies are overcast and it’s raining. That said, you don’t want to limit your camping trips or stargazing sessions only to those nights when the skies are sure to be 100% clear. In short, to overcome this small conundrum you need a tent with a rainfly that can be thrown over your “windows” in a hurry.
That’s why it’s important to choose a tent that’s easy to put up and — best case scenario — uses a rain fly you can attach partially or halfway, meaning all you have to do is roll it into place and pop in a peg or two if you wake up with the wet stuff disturbing your slumber.
2. Will I be able to see through the mesh of my tent?
In most cases, yes, but it’s well worth checking just how see-through the ten mesh is before you commit to buying. Ideally, get into an outdoor store to see the tent in person or, if that’s not possible, read user and expert reviews and pay attention to the pictures in any listing online.
Additionally, many tents have mesh panels that can be zipped open, leaving either a mesh-less window or a further layer of much finer mesh, both of which might act as adequate windows for stargazing sessions if the rest of the tent’s mesh is not of the see-through variety.
3. Where are some of the best locations for stargazing?
Generally speaking, anywhere far from artificial light sources and sources of concentrated air pollution, both of which can significantly impede your view of the skies. You’d be surprised by how little effort this can entail.
Two of my most memorable stargazing nights occurred in very different locations, but both within just an hour of the city. One was on a beach in Scotland, a mere 45 minutes from Edinburgh; the other on the Camp Smith Trail, which resident New Yorkers will know is only an hour by train from Grand Central Station!
Other, wilder locations where I’ve found amazing night skies include White Sands Desert in New Mexico (any desert, really, fulfills the criteria for optimal stargazing), the Grand Canyon, various spots above 10,000 feet in the Alps (the higher you go, the better the views get!), and a surreal trio of nights in the Langtang region of Nepal, during which my partners and I were able to look down on the thick smog in the Kathmandu Valley and up to a sky peppered with stars that seemed so close that we thought they might be eavesdropping on our conversations!
4. When is the best time to go stargazing?
The best time for stargazing is usually in the weeks preceding a full moon, so by simply checking the phase of the moon before your trip you can increase your chances of seeing the skies at their best.
Another point worth noting is that, by and large, the best time to see the stars at their brightest is in winter (in the Northern Hemisphere), when our place on the earth’s surface looks out onto the spiral arm of our galaxy as opposed to the heart of the Milky Way, which is, well, milkier and filled with the more dense light of billions of distant stars instead of the more concentrated, isolated light of the more remote stars on our galaxy’s periphery.
5. How many square feet do I need?
The following figures offer a rough guideline of the amount of square footage required per number of people:
|Number of adult campers||Square footage|
6. Do you have any recommendations for tents?
I’m glad you asked… 🙂
Seven of the Best Stargazing Tents for 2020
We start off our review with one of the most popular backpacking tents out there. The Dirt Motel is the updated version of the more popular TN series that won multiple awards. The new version has retained its predecessor’s quality build, relatively lightweight, and almost idiot-proof ease of setup. For stargazers, moreover, this tent boasts a handful of features that will expedite it to the top of your shortlist of potential tent purchases.
First up, the tent body is almost entirely mesh. As such, on rain-free nights lying inside this tent comes as close to matching the feel of sleeping tent-free as any other tent we’ve ever come across. It’s also light on obstructions, using just four slim poles that do not restrict your skyward view excessively.
The most endearing feature about the Dirt Motel, however, is its wonderfully practical “Stargazer Fly”. While with some tents the rainfly can either be totally on or totally off, the Dirt Motel is designed so that you can clip it halfway across the tent body, leaving plenty of viewing space in the mesh ceiling and walls, and then simply roll down the remaining fly material should the weather take a turn for the worse.
The whole process, we’re glad to report, will take you somewhere between thirty seconds and a minute…!
The TN series used to have a downside which is having only one door. Kelty took note of this and introduced another door for the updated version. No more scrambling over your camping partner for nighttime pee breaks!
Also, although a true 2-person tent, the sleeping area is a fraction on the small side, particularly if you and your camping partner happen to be fairly large or you have a canine companion along for the trip.
- Lightweight (4 lbs 4 oz)
- Large vestibule area – ideal for storage
- Relatively small pack size
- Easy to set up
- Color-coded poles
- Reasonably priced
- Quality build
- Mesh galore!
- Roll-up, “Stargazer Fly”
- Not the roomiest tent out there (28 sq. ft.)
Updated: Kelty Trail Ridge is no more in production and has been updated with the Kelty Night Owl model. The newer version has a smaller floor area of 54.75 sq. ft. for the 4 person tent as compared to the previous version which had 57 sq. ft. The weight has been reduced to 10 lbs 4 oz.
Those looking for a stargazing tent that’s a little bit roomier than the Dirt Motel would do well to give Kelty Night Owl some serious consideration. This tent isn’t quite as user-friendly in terms of setup as the Dirt Motel and is more suitable for three people than the four recommended in the product description, but otherwise, it’s a true ticker of boxes in terms of functionality and performance.
The Night Owl is made with tough, 68D polyester fabric and has an interior that boasts more than enough mesh to let all of its occupants gain a great view of the sky without having to wriggle around to find the right angle.
As with the Dirt Motel, the rainfly on the Night Owl can be rolled up halfway and then quickly and easily rolled back down if and when need be — a huge bonus when camping in less-than-perfect weather.
Other endearing features are two doors with large vestibules, color-coded poles and clip-on fly connections, and an included groundsheet and gear loft.
Are there any downsides? Well, if we’re nitpicking we could say that at 10 lbs 4 oz this tent is a little on the heavy side, but if you’re planning on pitching up near where you park the car then this won’t be an issue.
- Groundsheet/footprint included
- 2 doors
- 2 vestibules
- Stargazer rainfly
- Relatively easy to set up
- Plenty of mesh for stargazing
- Tough, 68D polyester fabric
- Great head and shoulder room
- Longish floor
- Heavy (10 lbs 4 oz)
- Rainfly a little fiddly to put up initially
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first…The MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2-Person Tent isn’t cheap. In fact, it’s the most expensive tent in our review by quite some way. If that hasn’t put you off, then what follows might just convince you that it’s worth the hefty price tag that comes with it regardless.
This dome-style tent exudes quality in every stitch and inch of its construction. It’s built to withstand the worst the weather gods can throw at you (except, maybe, in the heart of winter in colder climes), and weighs in at a very friendly 2 pounds without the rainfly and 3 pounds 7 ounces with it — for backpackers, it’s hard to do a great deal better than that.
In terms of stargazing capacity the Hubba Hubba NX also excels, boasting walls and a ceiling composed almost entirely of see-through mesh. It also has two largish vestibules, two doors, and can easily accommodate two adults. If you have money to burn and prioritize quality over price, then this may well be the stargazing tent for you.
- Very open-top feel owing to wide mesh top
- Plenty of space for two people
- Very solid, quality build
- Lightweight (3lbs 7oz) – even lighter-weight (2lbs) without the rainfly
- Two spacious vestibules
- Small pack size
- Not the easiest to set up
- Footprint must be purchased separately (as if it wasn’t expensive enough!)
Big Agnes has developed into a major player in the outdoor world in recent years, and with good reason. The name itself has become almost synonymous with quality on account of very high-quality tents, great attention to detail, and the sort of reliability that merits the brands often lofty price tags.
>Yes, you might well have to rob a small bank to get your hands on the Copper Spur HV, but your efforts will be rewarded with a tent that’s not only built to last a lifetime but simply oozes quality and is also, handily, pretty much ideal for stargazing.
The Copper Spur comes in two color options, and while the orange is fairly fetching and perfectly fine for viewing the skies, the brighter mesh material on the tent body ceiling isn’t quite as see-through as the lighter mesh on the olive green model.
Other admirable factors are the Spur’s ease of use and general convenience — is uses color-coded poles, has “media pockets” that allow you to connect to stowed devices in the tent walls, and has two spacious vestibules.
All in all, this is a winner if you don’t mind the extra financial outlay and if the three persons in your camping pool aren’t of the six-foot-plus variety.
- Incredibly well made and built to last
- Two doors and vestibules
- Made with tough, durable ripstop nylon
- Easy to pitch
- Very light (3lbs 7oz)
- Small pack size
- Great weather resistance
- Very (very) expensive
- A bit of a squeeze for three adults
- Ceiling mesh on orange model* not the best for stargazing (but not bad, either)
How does a bona fide 4-person, budget-priced tent with enough room for two adults, two kids and the family pooch, and as much stargazing potential as any tent on our list sound? If “none too shabby” is your answer, then read on…
The Sundome caters for would-be stargazers with two large mesh windows in the tent body. While this offers less viewing potential than other models in our review, for most it will be more than adequate and enough to justify the huge savings made in choosing this tent over others that may cost — literally — ten times as much. There are, however, a few other compromises…
While listed as a 3-season tent, the Sundome’s hydrostatic head rating is a mere 600mm, which is just about enough to deal with a very light rain shower and no more. As such, this tent is a better bet for those who are on a tight budget and envision doing their camping in good weather.
- Incredibly cheap
- Super spacious both in terms of floor space and headroom
- Solid weatherproofing
- Very effective, water-resistant groundsheet
- Very simple setup
- Poles are a touch on the flimsy side
- It would be very “cozy” with four fully-grown adults inside
- Flysheet not as practical or user-friendly as that on either of the Kelty tents (above)
- No vestibule
- Stargazing limited to two windows and single front door
While not as explicitly well-suited to stargazing as some other items in our review, the Mountainsmith Morrison 2-person tent does enough to cater for the needs of all but the most demanding and fussy of stargazers.
Although the ridges below the pole fixtures on this tent do obscure the view to a certain extent (see pictures), there’s still plenty of mesh there through which you can do your gazing.
Otherwise, this is a well-built, 3-season tent that features a sturdy, bathtub-style floor, plenty of space for two people, a handful of handy storage points around the tent, and is as easy to put up as any other item on our list.
There aren’t many downsides to this tent, but if we were to be fussy we would point to the relative flimsiness of the materials used on the rainfly — something that makes them more liable to ripping and damage from general wear and tear — and in the poles.
Neither of these flaws is a deal-breaker, but they may be worth some consideration for those more likely to be putting their tent through a fair amount of rough and tumble out in the backcountry.
- Plenty of mesh for stargazing
- Reasonably priced
- Bathtub-style floor
- Putting it up is child’s play, even for novice campers
- More than adequate space for 2 people (35 sq. ft.)
- Two doors and vestibules
- Relatively light (5lbs 9oz)
- Material not as tear-resistant as in other models in our review
- The poles, although made of aluminum, have a distinctly fragile feel that fails to inspire confidence
For those who suffer from some serious claustrophobia, are likely to be camping with friends and their families, or who just like oodles (and oodles) of space, then the Core 9 may very well just become your next backcountry “pile of bricks”.
Taking the rainfly off of this veritable giant leaves you in a somewhat regal-sized chamber that has an almost cathedral-like feel to it owing to the tent’s curved, high ceiling. In that ceiling, moreover, and lining the walls too, there are huge mesh panels that act as ideal viewing portals to the giant light show in the skies.
On the downside, this tent doesn’t offer as reliable protection from the elements as most other items in our review. It is, essentially, built for good-weather campsite use, and not the rigors or extremes of the backcountry.
That said, if you happen to be a fair-weather camper, then this tent is about as luxurious as they come — insofar as space can be equated with luxury. It also boasts plenty of storage options both inside and out and is surprisingly easy to put up.
- It’s huge!
- Plenty of “viewing portals” in the tent body
- Full of handy little storage hooks and interior pockets
- Not as impossible to put up as first impressions might suggest
- Decently priced for such a large tent
- Groundsheet not in bathtub style
- Quite cheaply made, fiberglass poles
- Overkill if you’re camping with any less than 6 people
- Absolutely unsuitable for backpacking due to hefty weight (18.25 lbs)
- Relatively poor waterproofing capacity (600mm hydrostatic head rating in rainfly)
In the above review, we’ve seen a “stellar” (excuse the pun) selection of frankly awesome tents in which we might spend our nights in the backcountry kicking back, taking in the awe-inspiring views above us from the comfort of our sleeping bag.
Picking a favorite hasn’t been an easy task, and of course was further complicated by the knowledge that such variables as group size and the type of camper you are (backpacker or campsite camper) will make different tents appeal for different reasons.
That said, if pushed to pick one tent that truly lends itself to the practice-cum-hobby of stargazing, then the standout winner has to be the Kelty Dirt Motel 2 Person Tent.
The Kelty Dirt Motel gets our pick on account of doing everything we need a stargazing tent to do to a very high standard. It’s light, an absolute cinch to pitch, boasts extensive mesh coverage, offers solid weather resistance, and has that all-important element that is the ability to be transformed from a stargazing tent to a bad-weather bolthole in a matter of seconds.
On top of all this, the Dirt Motel is very reasonably priced, and here at Take Outdoors we’re suckers for a bargain, particularly when the product in question delivers on every front just as well, if not better, than most of its pricier competitors.
Kieran James Cunningham is a climber, mountaineer, camper, and all-round lover of all things wild and wonderful. He’s climbed a handful of 6,000-meter peaks in the Himalaya, 4,000ers in the Alps, and 14,000-footers in the Rockies and currently lives in the Italian Alps.