The new Fly Creek UL2 is the lightest two-person tent that Big Agnes has ever made. In fact, it is the lightest two-person double-wall tent made by any manufacturer at the time of this writing. By tweaking the design of their popular Seedhouse SL2 and using some new components and materials, Big Agnes was able to drop 12 ounces from the total weight for a tent that ends up with a trail weight of only 2.39 pounds (Note: Big Agnes' trail weight is stated at a lower weight of 2.12 lb (0.96 kg). As their trail weight does not include stakes, and I found that at least four are required for set up, the BPL trail weight is higher.). This puts it in the realm of single-wall tents for weight. But while low weight is one thing, a tent needs to be livable too. How did the Fly Creek do in extended field tests, and how did it compare to lightweight stand-outs from Big Sky International, MSR and Terra Nova?
|Year/Manufacturer/Model||2009 Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 2 Person Tent|
|Style||Three-season, two-person, double-wall tent.|
|Fabrics||Body: ultralight breathable nylon rip-stop and polyester mesh
Floor and Fly: ultralight silicone treated nylon rip-stop with a 1200mm waterproof polyurethane coating
|Poles and Stakes||Poles: DAC Featherlite NSL pole system with press fit connectors and lightweight hubs, total weight 10.2 oz (289 g)
Stakes: 10x 6.25 in (15.9 cm) DAC aluminum J stakes, total weight 4 oz (113 g)
|Dimensions||Length Listed: 86 in (218 cm)
Width Listed: Head 52 in/Foot 42 in (132/107 cm)
Inside Height Listed: 38 in (97 cm)
BPL Verified Accurate
|Packed Size||6.5 x 19 in (16 x 48 cm)|
|Total Weight||Listed Weight: 2.62 lb (1.19 kg)|
|BPL Measured Weight:||2.58 lb (1.17 kg)|
|Trail Weight||2.39 lb (1.08 kg)|
|Protected Area||Floor Area Listed: 28 ft2 (2.6 m2)
Vestibule Area: 7 ft2 (0.65 m2)
BPL Verified Accurate
|Protected Area/Trail Weight Ratio||14.64 ft2/lb (3.01 m2/kg)|
|Options||Fast Fly Footprint, 5 oz (142 g)|
Design and Features
The new Fly Creek UL2 is the two-person version of last year's Fly Creek UL1. Both tents are basically reengineered and lighter versions of the Seedhouse SL tents. I have been using every generation of the Seedhouse SL2 as my go-to solo shelter since its introduction in 2004. I found it very interesting that the Fly Creek bests the Seedhouse SL2 by 12 oz (113 g), yet the Fly Creek has more floor space, as it is two inches longer. It is only 4 oz (340 g) heavier than the Seedhouse SL1, yet boasts 27% more floor space.
The Fly Creek 2's most noticeable difference is in its 9 mm DAC pole system. By eliminating the back hub and two angled rear poles, Big Agnes was able to drop 3 oz from the pole weight. With the Fly Creek, three sections of poles meet in a front hub to form a Y, the short ends (arms of the Y) of which go to either side of the door. The long part curves over the tent to anchor in a grommet centered in the back. While it can be called a free-standing tent, the back corners need to be staked to take full advantage of all the available space.
The tent body attaches to the poles with DAC Swift Clips. These newer clips are much faster to deploy and remove than the old style clips. The center clip is a two piece DAC H-Clip. The female end H-Clip is permanently attached to the poles and when attached to the corresponding male end on the top of the tent keeps the tent from sliding along the poles. DAC even provides the J-stakes (aluminum, with a V cross-section); they weigh only 0.4 oz each.
The tent body is made of solid, lightweight, breathable nylon on the lower sections of the body, only using the trademark mesh on the top third or so.
The only entrance to the Fly Creek is by way of a large D-shaped mesh door in the front. A loop and toggle allow it to be gathered to the side. To either side of the door inside the tent are mesh gear pockets. A third small mesh pocket sits centered above the door. On the top of the tent are the loops to attach an optional Triangle Gear Loft.
The rain fly and floor are made of ultralight, high tenacity micro-denier ripstop nylon. Due to its proprietary nature, that is as much information about it as they will share. It is very light and pretty tough from what I have seen so far. All seams have been taped to ensure waterproofness. Big Agnes includes pre-attached guy lines and lightweight sliding tensioners at the guy points and ventilation pull-out points on the rain fly. At these spots inside the fly are straps with hooks that attach to a reinforced loop on the inner tent to allow it to be pulled out to give added space.
The fly pulls away in front of the door to provide a small vestibule. It is not really big enough to store more than boots and possibly a small pack inside and still be able to get in and out of the tent.
Top left: The single hub Y-shaped poles go to just three points at the ground. Top right: Just one DAC H-clip and five Swift clips are needed to attach the body to the poles. The solid material on the lower two-thirds of the side walls help keep out blowing dirt. Bottom left: The large single door takes up the entire front face of the Fly Creek. Two pads (one regular sized and one Long shown) fit with no problem. The sloping side walls do make it cramped for two people to do much more than sleep. Bottom right: the fly provides full coverage and good weather protection.
Left: Stuff sacks galore! The Fly Creek comes with the tent, fly poles, eleven DAC J-stakes and stuff sacks for all of them. A pole repair section was sent too, but it is not in the picture. Right: The Fly Creek makes a pretty compact package. By carrying the poles separately (as I do), it gets even smaller.
As I have owned so many of Big Agnes' tents over the years, set-up was pretty quick. I almost always use the optional footprint to stop abrasion of the floor from all the rock I find myself making camp on when in the mountains of California. In humid, rainy Minnesota, I use it just to keep the bottom clean.
I often set the guy lines on all my tents, and I have found that they are even more beneficial for the Fly Creek UL2. All of the Big Agnes tents with this design suffer from wind stability when it comes from the side. It can't be helped with the flat face presented. Always try to make sure the back is to the wind, as this is the strongest, most aerodynamically stable position. The first time I set it up was right before a thunderstorm hit. The winds were at 18 mph with gusts to 31 mph. I attached the fly-to-body points and deployed the guy lines, and set it with the back to the wind, but the sides still blew inward quite a bit. I watched the wind hitting it straight on, finally putting enough pressure on one side to cause the single pole to flex to one side, finally jumping inside when the rain hit.
Present this side into the wind for best performance.
The Fly Creek spent an evening, night, and most of the next day in a very big thunderstorm in Moorhead, Minnesota. I escaped back to my house in the morning but left the tent up until the rain was completely through. It weathered it quite well. (Note: I bring tents to Minnesota, where I spend at least a week each month with my twin children, for the opportunity to use them in weather that I may not see for months at a time in California.) The back has no provision to pull the fly out further like the sides do to provide more space for ventilation. Thinking about it later, I realized that when the rain was being driven into the back of the tent by the wind, it is better this way. When there is little or no wind, the fly sits out as far as the stake placement allows. The stronger the wind against it, the more it seals itself.
On a backpacking trip in the northern Sierra Nevada, I encountered temperatures to 29 F (-2 C), but pretty low humidity as it was at 50% to 54% the entire time. It rained and snowed one night, but the Fly Creek shrugged it off without a bit of condensation. (The humidity was so low that, with the wind, everything was dry by morning.)
The same was true of two nights in Domeland Wilderness further south in the Sierra Nevada that saw temperatures of 27 F (-3 C) at night. This area is almost high desert in places and has a lot more bare ground and dirt than the northern Sierra. The wind was blowing almost the entire trip.
A last trip to the south Sierra Wilderness with the Fly Creek saw two nights down to 32 F (0 C) with humidity levels at 67%. On this trip I purposely left the vestibule completely shut one night, and just the top of the door unzipped the next. Buttoned up all the first night, there was light condensation build-up on the inside of the rain fly. It was not enough to drip or run, but I could wipe moisture from the walls. The night with the top of the vestibule door opened at the top just a few inches created enough of a draw to wake up to completely dry walls in the morning.
The Fly Creek 2 in the Domeland Wilderness. The solid walls helped keep blowing dirt out of the tent here.
Nothing in the literature I received from Big Agnes made any mention of the Fly Creek UL2 being the lightest two-person double-wall tent. Nothing I have been able to find perusing the "stacks" at BPL or the internet has given me any indication that this is not the case. So here it is, in its first long-term in-depth review. Big Agnes, you have a winner. Is it perfect? No. Is it viable? In a big way!
Because of the areas I frequent (mountains) and the four-season nature of my hiking, I have always preferred a double-wall tent. I have had many tarptents and use them on occasion, but I like a double-wall tent because the pros outweigh the cons for me. Yes, they are heavier. They take up more room in my pack. These are the main reasons that I carried the TT Rainbow and Squall 2. However, the advantages of condensation control and the ability to do without the protection from rain fly to just use the inner by itself makes me choose the weight hit on most of my trips. Big Agnes has hit into a weight versus convenience/features range that really blurs the lines between the two for me.
I really like the use of the solid nylon part way up the walls. The Fly Creek kept much cleaner inside than other mesh-walled tents, as it did not let as much dirt or dust blow in.
One drawback of all tents of this shape/configuration (my tarptents included) is the necessity to sleep with your head at the high end (door) of the tent. This limits choices when finding a good camp site. The areas I frequent rarely see a flat spot so I want my head to be at the uphill end of a sloped site. However, if the wind is blowing that way, I have to either choose to have the wind blowing in the door or sleep with my head downhill.
Another negative is the fact that the rain fly does not protect the door opening when the vestibule is open. Rain or snow can fall straight down into the tent. As this is where the users' heads are, care must be taken to move sleeping bags or quilts away from the front before somebody enters or exits in inclement weather.
As may be seen above, the rain fly does not cover the front of the tent when the vestibule door is open. This results in water inside the tent when entering or exiting in rainy conditions.
It would benefit from a high vent, as my experiment in the south Sierra Wilderness proved. The Fly Creek can be ventilated at the vestibule door, but if it is raining, this results in water on the inner tent. A small hooded vent would allow air to be drawn from below and the warm moist air inside could flow through it. Will it add weight? Yep, maybe an ounce or so. That may even knock it out of "lightest ever" range, but such a feature would make a tent that I would want to buy even more. Big Agnes does put a high vent on the Copper Spur series (I had the Copper Spur UL3 and now have the Copper Spur UL2), and it adds a lot to the ventilation capability. Changing the design of the rain fly to move the vestibule further away from the front of the tent would do the trick too. This would allow the top of the vestibule door to be open while still keeping rain off the front of the inner.
I used to do a lot of mountaineering, and I should be kicking it back up again soon. Unless I am on a mountain or with my wife, I do not like to share a tent. Because of my height (6'3" / 190.5 cm), I tend to use two-person tents as solo shelters. The Fly Creek has worked wonderfully in this role. I have plenty of room to bring my backpack inside, which is nice when I am packing up in the morning.
For two people, it is another story. While the Fly Creek UL2 has a head height of 38 in (97 cm), it is at one area directly centered in the tent towards the front. Only one person can sit and enjoy the maximum clearance. Two adults of my height would find it pretty hard to share the tent. I will use it with one of my kids, but not another adult, unless we were really REALLY friendly. My twins Emma and Ray used it together and thought it was the best, but they are 4'9" (145 cm) tall.
If insect protection is not needed, or you just want the lowest possible weight, the rain fly can be pitched with just the poles and optional footprint to cut 9.2 oz (261 g) off the total.
I am pretty impressed by the Fly Creek UL2. While it is a bit cramped for two adults, it still offers two people a weather-tight tent at a minuscule weight with the ability to forgo the rain fly on nice nights. Or, as in my case, it offers a very nice solo tent for a tall hiker. From what I have seen during the past few months, I believe that the durability is going to be better than my Seedhouses of old, even though the new materials are lighter.
Dare to Compare
In terms of comparisons, I believe that the Fly Creek's closest competitors are the Terra Nova Laser and the MSR Carbon Reflex, both of which are lightweight, two-person, double-wall tents.
The MSR Carbon Reflex 2 is probably the closest comparison. With its 2-inch (5 cm) taller peak height and 1 sq ft (0.9 sq m) more floor space, it is slightly roomier than the Fly Creek, though it also weighs 9.4 oz (266 g) more.
The Terra Nova Laser is a two-person double-wall tent that is actually an over-sized single person tent as two standard-width sleeping pads can't fit inside unless they are stacked. With a mere 5.3 oz (150 g) heavier trail weight, it has much less head room and 22% less floor space. To its credit, the Laser sets up blazingly fast and has better ventilation than the Fly Creek.
It should also be noted that neither of those tents are freestanding and both cost at least 40% more than the Fly Creek UL2.
|Manufacturer and Model||Big Agnes Fly Creek SL2||MSR Carbon Reflex 2||Terra Nova Laser|
|Manufacturer Trail Weight*||2.12 lb (0.96 kg)||2.81 lb (1.28 kg)||2.47 lb (1.12 kg)|
|Backpacking Light Trail Weight**||2.39 lb (1.08 kg)||2.98 lb (1.36 kg)||2.72 lb (1.23 kg)|
|Fabrics||Floor/fly: 1200mm PU/silicone coated ripstop nylon
Body: nylon & polyester mesh
|Floor: 40D nylon 66, 10,000mm PU
Fly: 20D 1000mm PU/silicone coated nylon
Body: 20D nylon 66 & 20D polyester mesh
|Floor: 7000mm PU coated nylon
Fly: 4000mm silicone coated nylon
Body: nylon mesh
|Poles||DAC Featherlite NSL pole system with one hub||2 Easton FX carbon fiber poles||1 DAC aluminum pole, 2 carbon fiber struts|
|Dimensions*** L x W x H||86 x 52/42 x 38 in
(218 x 132/107 x 97 cm)
|84 x 46.5 x 40 in
(213 x 118 x 102 cm)
|87 x 34 x 33 in
(221 x 86 x 84 cm)
|Floor Area||28.0 sq ft (2.6 sq m)||27.1 sq ft (2.52 sq m)||21.8 sq ft (2.02 sq m)|
|Number of Vestibules & Area||1 7 sq ft (0.65 sq m)||2 14 sq ft (1.3 sq m)||1 7 sq ft (0.65 sq m)|
|Floor Area/Trail Weight Ratio****||11.71 sq ft / lb
(2.41 sq m / kg)
|9.64 sq ft / lb
(1.97 sq m / kg)
|8 sq ft / lb
(1.64 sq m / kg)
|Protected Area/Trail Weight Ratio*****||14.64 sq ft / lb
(3.01 sq m / kg)
|13.8 sq ft / lb
(2.81 sq m / kg)
|10.57 sq ft / lb
(2.17 sq m / kg)
*Manufacturer Trail Weight: Minimum weight as listed by the manufacturer. Different companies may include different components in this weight.
**Backpacking Light Trail Weight: This is the weight of tent, rain fly, poles, and stakes needed for basic set-up. It does not include stuffsacks, extra guylines, extra stakes, or repair kit.
***Dimensions: maximum Length x maximum Width x maximum Height (L x W x H). In the case of an odd shaped floor, a double measurement is given for head and foot (H/F). The numbers are as verified by BPL and may differ from the manufacturers' stated dimensions.
****Floor Area/Trail Weight Ratio: This is the floor area divided by the trail weight.
*****Protected Area/Trail Weight Ratio: This is the floor area plus vestibule area divided by the trail weight.
- Lightest two-person double-wall tent at this time.
- Very small packed size.
- Solid fabric blocks blowing dirt and snow.
- Proven storm worthiness.
- Light yet strong and durable materials.
- Decent ventilation.
What's Not So Good
- Too cramped to be useful for two adults of my height.
- Strong winds hitting the flat sides can cause problems.
- Rain will fall into tent when vestibule door is open.
Recommendations for Improvement
- Place a small high vent on the rain fly.
- Redesign fly to protect tent while exiting in rain.