Big Sky International Montana 2P Tent Review

At 2 pounds, 10 ounces, the Montana is the lightest two-person double-wall tent available, but extreme lightness comes with a few tradeoffs.

Recommended

Overall Rating: Recommended

The Montana 2P gains a lot of distinction from being the world's lightest two-person double-wall tent, but its extreme lightness comes with some tradeoffs. Headroom, usable space, and user-friendliness are reduced by its end entry, lower profile, and draping sidewalls. Hikers who place a high value on user-friendliness should probably consider the Big Sky Evolution or Convertible rather than the Montana. However, hikers who place a high value on lightness and fast setup will be very happy with the Montana.

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by Will Rietveld |

Introduction

Big Sky International Montana 2P Tent Review - 1
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?

Specifications

  Year/Manufacturer/Model

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)

  Style

Three- or four-season, two-person, double-wall tent with floor

  Fabrics

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

  Floor Dimensions

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)

  Packed Size

19 x 5 in (48 x 13 cm)

  Total Weight

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)

  Trail Weight

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)

  Protected Area

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

  MSRP

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

  Options

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.

Big Sky International Montana 2P Tent Review - 2
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.

Big Sky International Montana 2P Tent Review - 3
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.

Big Sky International Montana 2P Tent Review - 4
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).

Big Sky International Montana 2P Tent Review - 5
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.

Big Sky International Montana 2P Tent Review - 6
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.

Performance

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.

Big Sky International Montana 2P Tent Review - 7
Heavy condensation on the inside of the tent's fly on a calm/cool/damp night.

Assessment

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.

What's Good

  • 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

What's Unique

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

Citation

"Big Sky International Montana 2P Tent Review," by Will Rietveld. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/BSI_montana_2p_tent_review.html, 2009-02-24 00:05:00-07.

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Big Sky International Montana 2P Tent Review
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Big Sky International Montana 2P Tent Review on 02/24/2009 19:55:57 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Big Sky International Montana 2P Tent Review

Douglas Frick
(Otter) - MLife

Locale: Wyoming
Lightest? on 02/25/2009 06:36:12 MST Print View

"...at 3 pounds, 15 ounces for the four-season version, it's also the lightest two-person double-wall four-season tent..."

This is heavier than the Stephenson Warmlite 2R (claimed weight 2.75 pounds), which is an "all season" tent. Does the 2R not fit in this category?

Edited by Otter on 02/25/2009 06:37:07 MST.

Matt Lutz
(citystuckhiker) - F

Locale: Midwest
Re: Lightest? on 02/25/2009 07:02:03 MST Print View

My thoughts exactly. Warmlite anyone?

Nicholas Miller
(nmiller08) - F

Locale: Montana
Re: Lightest? on 02/25/2009 10:09:41 MST Print View

Not only the weight difference, but the 2R has been described as well beyond "winter-lite" by many users

Darrell Trump
(dtrumpster1) - F

Locale: Connecticut
Lightest??? on 02/25/2009 10:46:20 MST Print View

trumpster

Ok, I admit it, I am a big SL1 fan, have spent many nights in one. Having said that, in reviewing bigagnes.com, it lists the SL1 at 2lb 6oz. Add a couple oz for stakes and my math says it is still lighter than the 2lbs 10oz you are quoting for the Montana 2P. And who is lacking enough in brain matter to cough up another $260 for a lighter fly and poles. Most anywhere you can buy the SL1 complete for $200

Scott Toraason
(kimot2)
Re: Lightest??? on 02/25/2009 11:59:08 MST Print View

My Stephenson 2R with full front door and side windows after sealing (and I did seal the devil out of it) comes in at 3lbs 2oz in the sack with side window tie outs. Now the standard 2R/2C has single wall ends, be that as it may, an extra feature offered by the Stephenson’s is to double wall the ends for just a couple extra ounces of weight for a completely double walled tent. So it appears that the Montana 4 season version needs to go to Jenny Craig to compete with a Stephenson 2R/2C. Stephenson 2R

Edited by kimot2 on 02/25/2009 12:01:27 MST.

Will Rietveld
(WilliWabbit) - MLife

Locale: Southwest Colorado
Re: Lightest? on 02/25/2009 12:01:54 MST Print View

We need to compare apples with apples here. The stated weight of the Stephenson's 2R standard tent without options is 2.75 pounds. The measured trail weight (with stakes) of the BSI 3-season Montana is 2 pounds 10 ounces; that's 2 ounces lighter. Both are double wall 2-person tents with two aluminum poles. Based on these numbers, I am correct in stating that the BSI Montana is the lightest two-person double wall-tent. Sorry I didn't mention the Stephenson's 2R in my article; the weight is very close and the 2R is a very well designed tent. Another consideration is the 2R costs $500 while the Montana costs $350

Darrell mentioned that his Big Agnes SL1 is only 2 pounds 6 ounces, which is lighter, but that is comparing apples and oranges because the SL1 is a one-person double wall tent.

Edited by WilliWabbit on 02/25/2009 12:23:05 MST.

Marcin Moscicki
(turin) - F
Terra-Nova anyone? on 02/25/2009 12:34:24 MST Print View

My Voyager Superlite's net weight (before seam sealing) was 1610g, so I think it's lighter then Montana, even with 12 stakes for complete setup, and it's definitely a winter-lite! Actually, people use it as an assault tent.

Martin Rye
(rye1966) - F

Locale: UK
Re: Terra-Nova anyone? on 02/25/2009 12:47:02 MST Print View

The New 09 Voyager Superlite is set to drop to 1.450kg.

Edited by rye1966 on 02/25/2009 12:47:39 MST.

Nicholas Miller
(nmiller08) - F

Locale: Montana
Re: Re: Lightest? on 02/25/2009 12:47:45 MST Print View

If we're shooting for apples to apples, shouldn't the Stephenson's 2R be compared to the winter version of the Montana, which is listed as 3 lb. 15 oz. and $496? This puts the 2R at same price, lower weight, higher wind/snow potential I think, though not as much as it appears, because the Stephenson's weight is sans stakes and sealant. Trail weight of around 3 lb. seems to be common.

Granted, I've never used or even seen a Montana 2P, and in re-reading the article, the "winter-lite" comment isn't clearly attributed to a particular set of options so perhaps the Montana can be configured to a truly 4-season setup? But I guess I still don't see, from the numbers at least, how comparing the Warmlite to the 2 lb 10 oz configuration is apples to apples.

Of course, there are other considerations, like the 2R's lack of a vestibule which would distinguish some apples from other apples or whatever, but I think "lightest two person double wall four season" was the part that sparked the debate.

Edited by nmiller08 on 02/25/2009 12:59:56 MST.

Will Rietveld
(WilliWabbit) - MLife

Locale: Southwest Colorado
Re: Re: Re: Lightest? on 02/25/2009 13:38:21 MST Print View

Some debate here on which BSI Montana tent to compare the Stephenson's 2R to. I was comparing silnylon tents with 2 aluminum poles to each other, which seems like a fair comparison. The Montana winter version has 3 aluminum poles, nylon interior, and a snow skirt, so its a different construction.

The listed weight for the Terra Nova Voyager Superlight is 1.7 kg, which is 3 pounds 12 ounces. The TN website does not disclose how many poles the tent has, but it appears to be more comparable to the Montana winter version.

We are basing this discussion entirely on weight, and even that gets complex because it is not clear if stakes are included in some of the weights. Another important factor is storm worthiness, and I would speculate (based on the designs) that all of these tents are quite storm worthy.

Martin Rye
(rye1966) - F

Locale: UK
Re: Re: Re: Re: Lightest? on 02/25/2009 14:20:59 MST Print View

Will the Voyager has three poles and like I said is going to loose weight according to reports on UK web sites. Most notably by people involved in R&D for the company.

Ashley Brown
(ashleyb) - F
Re: Lightest? on 02/25/2009 16:52:06 MST Print View

Well, the "lightest" tent is academic really because they all have different features. People don't buy tents based on weight alone, any more than they buy cars based on top-speed alone. The SMD refuge-X is the lightest 2-person 3-season tent but so what?

Not something to make a big deal over. As long as they are all in a similar weight class, it is the other features (and price) which will usually determine which tent someone will buy.

Cheers, A

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: Melbourne
Big Sky International Montana 2P Tent Review on 02/25/2009 19:41:29 MST Print View

Calling the Stephenson a double wall tent is stretching it a bit, at this point you might as well call the Double Rainbow with the liner the lightest 2 person double wall tent.
Franco

Will Rietveld
(WilliWabbit) - MLife

Locale: Southwest Colorado
Re: Re: Lightest? on 02/26/2009 07:45:14 MST Print View

I think Ashley wins in this discussion. She's right, its more prudent to identify the tents that fit into a particular class based on weight and intended use, then make your decision based on tent features. We all want light weight, but then we start evaluating the pros and cons of each product to make that final decision. Kudos to Ashley for putting our feet back on the ground! Best, Will

Michael Febbo
(febbom)
What is the Montana's intended rating? on 02/28/2009 15:33:16 MST Print View

Before I weigh-in on what class of tents the Montana should be compared to, I need some clarification on its intended end-use.

Big Sky’s website states that the Montana, properly configured, is ""Mountain" or "Alpine" rated with 4-season shell and 3HD AL poles: Suitable for camping in snow and cold weather, and capable of withstanding wind and snow loads."
http://www.bigskyinternational.com/SummitShelters/BigSkyMontana2Pdetails.htm

This is contrasted with the “Winterlite” rating of the Convertible 2p… so either the website is incorrect, or your review misstates the companies classification for the Montana. Or, I am simply misreading something...

If the Montana is mountain rated, it would be of great interest to those seeking an above-treeline, alpine tent that would be comparable with the Warmlite and Hilleberg Nallo tents in terms of general design, lightweight and intended end-use. Personally, I can make almost any tent or tarp "Winterlite" worthy, but very much want the lightest true snow and wind worthy alpine tent available.

Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Video Tour of the Montana 2P on 03/24/2009 11:37:53 MDT Print View

Will's video tour was just added to the review. Check it out!

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Better Late Than Never on 03/26/2009 02:49:32 MDT Print View

Will:

Ashley is a guy.