Four-season version of the Big Sky International Montana 2P after a snowy, windy night at 11,600 feet.
At 2 pounds, 10 ounces trail weight for the three-season version, the Big Sky International Montana 2P can claim the title of world's lightest two-person double-wall tent. If you're willing to fork out an additional $260 for a spinnaker fly and carbon fiber poles, you can reduce the trail weight down to an incredible 2 pounds, 4 ounces. Likewise, at 3 pounds, 15 ounces for the four-season version, it's also the lightest two-person double-wall four-season tent to be found anywhere. To minimize weight, the Montana is a completely different design from other Big Sky tents; it has an end entry and vestibule on the front and a less usable vestibule on the rear. Extreme lightweight is very nice, but how user-friendly is Big Sky's newest tent design, and how well does it perform? And how does it compare with other lightweight double-wall tents from Big Sky and Terra Nova?
|2008 Big Sky International Montana 2P (Note: review and specifications are based on Rev. A of the Montana 2P; the current model is Rev. C)|
|Three- or four-season, two-person, double-wall tent with floor|
|Standard fly and floor are 1.3 oz/yd2 (44 g/m2) silnylon; summer interior is no-see-um mesh; winter interior is 1.1 oz/yd2 (37 g/m2) uncoated ripstop nylon; very light fly is 0.9 oz/yd2 (30 g/m2) spinnaker fabric|
Poles and Stakes
|Summer version uses two lightweight carbon fiber or aluminum poles; winter version uses three heavy duty carbon fiber or aluminum poles; a minimum of six stakes are needed for a secure pitch|
|Length: 84 in (213 cm)
Width at head end: 56 in (142 cm)
Width at foot end: 46 in (117 cm)
Front height: 45 in (114 cm)
Rear height: 24 in (61 cm)
|19 x 5 in (48 x 13 cm)|
|Tent is purchased a la carte, with numerous options to choose from. Example summer configuration is 2 pounds, 12 oz (1.25 kg), winter configuration is 4 pounds, 1 oz (1.84 kg) (includes fly, tent body, aluminum poles, compression stuff sack, six stakes, stake sack)|
|With aluminum poles, summer configuration is 2 pounds, 10 oz (1.19 kg), winter configuration is 3 pounds, 15 oz (1.79 kg) (excludes compression stuff sack and stake sack)|
|Floor area: 32.7 ft2 (3.04 m2)
Vestibule area: 13.2 ft2 (1.23 m2)
Total area: 45.9 ft2 (4.64 m2)
Protected Area/Trail Weight Ratio
|17.5 ft2/lb for summer configuration; 11.7 ft2/lb for winter configuration|
|Varies with options selected; US$348.75 for the summer version with lightweight aluminum poles; US$496.90 for the winter version with heavy duty aluminum poles and SnoAnchor stakes|
|Summer or winter fly, summer or winter body, lightweight or heavy duty aluminum or carbon fiber poles, several stake choices, guylines, storage bag, X-cord, footprint|
Design and Features
The design of the Montana 2P departs from other Big Sky double-wall tents, as it has one end entry with a vestibule on each end, as opposed to two side entries with vestibules on their popular Evolution 2P and Convertible 2P tents.
The distinctive design elements that set the Montana 2P apart from the Evolution 2P are as follows:
- The inner tent is attached to the fly with mini quick-release fasteners.
- Two lateral poles are used at the front and rear (the four-season version has a third pole in the center), so the Montana is basically an A-frame tent design.
- The poles are inserted into sleeves on the fly, rather than sleeves on the inner tent, and the body + fly are set up as a unit.
- High vents at the front and rear provide flow-through ventilation.
- Snow flaps around the perimeter of the winter fly help secure the tent in a snowstorm and minimize spindrift.
The Big Sky Montana 2P is available in four-season and three-season versions. Using Big Sky's a la carte approach, buyers can configure the tent any way they want. A typical four-season version (left) has an uncoated nylon interior, snow flaps on the fly, and three heavy duty lateral poles for support. A typical three-season configuration (right) has a mesh interior and two poles.
Purchasing a Big Sky tent is like ordering a la carte in a restaurant - it allows you to get exactly what you want, but you need to make a decision on each component rather than order a pre-selected package. You have your choice of flies, interiors, poles, stakes, and accessories. For example, many hikers prefer a nylon interior instead of a mesh interior in a three-season tent; with Big Sky's a la carte system, that's no problem. I recommend getting Big Sky's "Y-Not" stakes; they weigh only 0.5 ounce more than a set of titanium shepherd hook stakes and hold a lot better.
By choosing the appropriate components, the Montana 2P can be configured as a lightweight three-season tent or a sturdier lightweight four-season tent. Big Sky qualifies the latter as "WinterLite," meaning it's "Suitable for camping in snow and cold weather and capable of withstanding moderate wind and snow loads. Please note that this shelter is not 'Mountain,' 'Alpine,' or 'Expedition' rated and is NOT intended for use in extreme weather conditions." With their WinterLite rating, Big Sky has basically created a new tent category (as defined above) for hikers who want to do an occasional short duration winter camping trip under better weather conditions.
Views of the Montana 2P, winter version. The front end of the tent (top left) has a large entry vestibule and large zippered entry door. There is a large high vent at the top of the vestibule. The rear end of the tent (top right) also has a large high vent. The side view (bottom left) shows the Montana 2P's length (13 feet). The top view (bottom right) shows the tent's proportions.
My testing for this review was based on Revision A of the Montana 2P (left photo, foreground tent), which has a pointed front vestibule and smaller pole sleeves. The tent has evolved to the current Revision C (left photo, background tent), which has a trapezoidal front vestibule, a window, and larger pole sleeves. The right photo provides a closer view of the front of the current tent (Revision C).
Inside features. The tent's body is attached to the fly with clips at the front and rear (top left), but there are no attachment clips in the tent's mid-section, so the interior drapes inward. The floor shape and dimensions (top right) are identical to other Big Sky two-person tents. There is no access to the rear vestibule from inside the tent (bottom left). The Montana has two smaller mesh storage pockets at the front end (bottom right), which are minimal compared to the four large pockets at the front and rear of the Evolution 2P and Convertible 2P.
Outside features. The Montana 2P has large, closable top vents at the front (left photo) and rear of the tent (right photo). The smaller rear vestibule does not have any access other than lifting up the rear of the tent.
The Montana also has a fly-only option, consisting of the tent fly, poles, X-cord, and footprint (if desired). The X-cord connects the four corners of the tent to keep them from spreading. In both summer and winter versions, the Montana's fly-only option will create a really light and roomy single-wall tent.
The Montana's "fly first" design (tent body attached to the fly with clips, so it sets up as a single unit) allows the tent to be set up very quickly and also allows it to be set up in the rain without getting the interior wet. Setup is simple: lay out the tent, insert poles into sleeves on the fly, and stake it out. Six stakes (four at the corners and two on the ends) are required for a secure pitch. I recommend adding a set of four guylines and stakes for use in windy conditions.
The front (entry end) of the tent has a larger, taller vestibule and large zippered door which permit easy entry for both occupants. However, only half of the space is usable for storage because room is needed for entry/exit. Inside height is 45 inches at the front and 24 inches at the rear, so headroom for sitting up is adequate only at the front of the tent.
As mentioned, there is no access to the smaller rear vestibule from inside the tent. That is actually a moot issue because of the limited headroom at the rear of the tent. It's easier to access the rear vestibule from outside the tent, but there is no access other than pulling the rear stake and lifting the tent. Smaller items can be inserted under the bottom edge of the fly. To be fair, Big Sky only claims one+ vestibule for the Montana; the pointed rear vestibule is mainly there to stake out the rear and deflect wind.
Although the floor dimensions and area of the Montana 2P are exactly the same as the Evolution 2P and Convertible 2P, interior space is much less usable because of limited headroom and draping sidewalls of the inner tent body (see photos in previous section). Since the Montana is a double-wall tent, there is little problem with occupants or gear getting wet from brushing against the interior tent walls. The headroom situation inside the Montana 2P is a little better than a traditional Tarptent, with adequate headroom for sitting up and dressing only at the front of the tent. You must duck low to reach anything stored in the rear of the tent.
For a better viewing experience, please download the Flash Player. Video tour of the Big Sky International Montana 2P tent.
I found the Montana's design to be very wind stable, especially if the rear of the tent can be pointed into the wind. On a windy day, I tried pitching the Montana with only two long stakes (Easton 9-inch tubular) at the ends, and it easily withstood a 20 mile per hour wind (measured). However, I don't recommend that as standard practice; it's better to completely stake out the tent and use guylines as well, to protect your investment.
While silnylon tents from most manufacturers require seam sealing by the customer, Big Sky tents do not; they come seam sealed from the factory. Big Sky would not reveal their process, but I can verify that the Montana 2P is waterproof. I sprayed the seams using a garden hose with 30 pounds of pressure and found no leakage.
The Montana 2P performed admirably in rain and snow. The tent is A-frame shaped in cross-section, so it sheds snow well. Snow flaps on the four-season fly are very functional to help anchor the tent down and eliminate spindrift in wind-driven snow. The front and rear vents are also closable to further minimize spindrift.
The tent's fly reaches nearly to the ground on the long sides of the tent and is raised more on the vestibules. Ventilation is adequate when there is at least a light breeze and/or the entry door is left open at night, and even better if the front vestibule is left open as well. I experienced little or no condensation most of the time. However, it is subject to heavy condensation or frost on the inside of the fly on a calm/cool/damp night or rainy conditions - condensation is very hard to avoid under such conditions. The difference with a double wall tent is the condensation is on the inside of the fly, and the tent body (nylon or mesh) minimizes contact with the moisture.
Heavy condensation on the inside of the tent's fly on a calm/cool/damp night.
Although the Montana 2P (three-season version) is about 13 ounces lighter than the Convertible 2P and about 11 ounces lighter than the Evolution 2P, it is clearly not as user-friendly. Both the Convertible and Evolution are side entry, with two doors and two vestibules, while the Montana 2P has only one entry and one+ vestibule. Although the floor dimensions and area are the same for all three tents, the Convertible and Evolution are remarkably roomier inside, with abundant headroom. Each has four large storage pockets, compared to the Montana's two small ones. With the entry doors open, occupants can easily reach items stored in the side vestibules, so the vestibules are incorporated into the tent's usable space. Thus, compared to other Big Sky tents, headroom and usable space are a definite tradeoff for the weight reduction in the Montana 2P. Still, it is not hard to accept the Montana 2P on its own terms and savor its lightness. To illustrate, the two person Montana 2P is 11 ounces lighter than the popular one person Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 and has a heckuva lot more room. Bottom-line, the Montana 2P will probably appeal more to hikers who value light weight more than convenience and usable space.
The four-season version of the Montana 2P is equally remarkable in its lightness - a four-season two-person double-wall tent that weighs 4 pounds. The Montana's design is fairly typical for a four-season tent, a tried and true A-frame shape that sheds wind and snow well, especially with the foot of the tent facing the wind. The small vestibule at the foot end cuts the wind and provides some gear storage to keep it from getting lost in the snow. My biggest wish for the four-season version is to add clips between the tent body and fly at the center of the tent to pull it out more and keep it taut. The four-season version has a pole sleeve at the center, so the clips can easily be sewn in.
Weight-wise, the closest competitors to the Big Sky Montana 2P are the Terra Nova Laser and Argon 900. The Montana 2P beats the Laser by half a pound and the Argon 900 by a couple of ounces. Both Terra Nova tents are side entry with one door and vestibule.
Although I present typical summer and winter configurations in the above photos, the beauty of the Big Sky a la carte system is that users can select the components that best meet their needs, budget, and conditions. The flip side of having more choices is more complexity, and Big Sky's website does little to simplify the tent configuration process.
- Lightest two-person double-wall tent available
- Pole sleeves on the fly create a tighter, more stable tent
- Interchangeable summer and winter interior configurations
- Lightweight or heavy-duty aluminum or carbon fiber poles available
- Easy setup as a single unit
- Single unit setup keeps the interior dry in the rain
- Several stake options
- Snow flaps seal perimeter in a snowstorm
- Adequate space for two people plus gear
- More wind stable than the Evolution 2P
What's Not So Good
- Adequate headroom only at the front
- Tent body drapes inward, further reducing interior space
- Rear vestibule has no access from inside the tent and only limited outside access
The Montana 2P is the lightest two-person double-wall tent available. It's also the most customizable double-wall tent available (along with the Convertible), with multiple fly, body, pole, and stake options available to create an array of three- or four-season configurations. The entire tent can be quickly set up as a single unit.
Recommendations for Improvement
- Add attachment clips to the center of the tent body to pull it outward and make it more taut
- Create access to the rear vestibule from inside the tent