The Starlight II by EMS is a sub-5 pound, two-person, three-season backpacking tent. It features dual vestibules and a very breathable mesh inner tent. Ample living area complete with "office space" up front, make this tent quite comfortable to live in; there is room for a 6-foot tall person to sit up and change clothes. However, it is not particularly light, is non-freestanding, and proved difficult to achieve a very taut pitch. At just $149 though, the EMS Starlight II is an excellent value and is quite comfortable to live in.
|2004 EMS Starlight II|
|Double wall tent with floor|
|Fly: 70d 190t nylon with 1200 mm coating
Tent Fabric: 70d 190t breathable taffeta, 40d no-see-um netting
Tent Floor: 70d 190t nylon with 2000 mm coating
|Two aluminum poles; DAC Featherlite|
Weight Full Package
|5 lb 1 oz (2.30 kg) measured weight; manufacturer's specification 4 lb 9 oz (2.07 kg)|
Weight Manufacturer Minimum
|4 lb 12.5 oz (2.17 kg) measured weight|
Weight Backpacking Light Minimum
|4 lb 7.75 oz (2.03 kg) measured weight|
|Floor area: 34.6 ft2 (3.22 m2) |
Vestibule area: 4.9 ft2 (0.46 m2)
Floor Area/Backpacking Light Minimum Weight Ratio
|Length: 107 in (272 cm) |
Width: 58/24 in (147/61 cm)
Peak height: 40 in (102 cm)
The EMS Starlight II features easy access and plenty of usable vestibule area on each side. The tent body is mostly mesh, which makes for good ventilation and condensation performance.
Ease of setup
The Starlight II sets up in a similar fashion to many non-freestanding tunnel-style double wall tents. First, the two shock-corded aluminum poles (color coded to match tent clips) are slipped through short sleeve sections in the tent ceiling and inserted into grommets/straps at the floor of the tent's shoulder section. Second, the tent's foot end is staked in place. Third, the tent's head end is stretched tight and staked. Finally, the sides are staked down. Care must be taken when staking to ensure a flat and tightly stretched floor.
Rain fly assembly involves attaching four Velcro straps to the aluminum poles, attaching the foot and head ends to the correct side-release buckles and then tightening. Finally, the left and right side vestibules are stretched out and staked in place. Each vestibule zipper has two stakeout loops on either side. The loops provide an option for which way the vestibule doors unzip.
EMS prints step-by-step illustrated directions on the side of the pole bag that were helpful but unnecessary; with no prior practice or forethought, the tent can be set up in 10 minutes. Proficient setup can be in much less than 5 minutes, largely depending upon the ground surface and ease of staking.
This tent needs a minimum of 10 stakes to provide proper tension and floor area. Optional guyline attachments utilize four additional stakes. Even with all 14 attachment points, achieving a "drum-tight" rainfly is very difficult. While the tent can be set up to be quite tight and very weatherproof, it is not a bomb shelter and is not intended for mountaineering.
Usable Features / Options
This majority of the inner tent is mesh and nearly the entirety of both sides unzip for very easy access. The large vestibule openings and large mesh doors make stashing and organizing gear inside the tent very quick and easy. Two tent doors make access for two people from either side, which is very nice. The twin vestibules also are great for separating each person's gear. Ample room in each vestibule area accommodates shoes and a medium-sized pack.
Inside, there is nearly 3 feet of usable space ahead of the sleeping area. This space makes lying in the tent and reading or reviewing maps very convenient and comfortable. There is nearly 40 inches of headroom at the peak, which provides plenty of room for a 6-foot tall person to sit up and move around. However, due to the canopy's slope there is not enough room for two to comfortably sit up at the same time. The shoulder/head width of the sleeping area is moderately spacious at 58 inches. The shin area width is 44 inches and the foot width is just 24 inches. The foot area can be slightly cramped unless one of the occupants is shorter; however, this is not a great inconvenience.
Additional features: Three interior mesh pockets are above floor level at the front. They're useful for storing small pieces of gear such as knives, lights, glasses, etc. The exterior guy loops are reflective, which helps somewhat in locating the tent at night. The rain fly's gray color blends unobtrusively into the landscape.
The tent provides full insect protection and excellent views when not using the vestibule.
Weight / Sizing
At 34.6 square feet (3.22 m2), the Starlight II is moderately spacious for two, providing ample room for sleeping and reading after a day on the trail. However, the space is most usable when lying down. Weighing in at the 5-pound mark, the Starlight II is not among the lightest tents in its class. The usable vestibule area for gear or cooking, and the extra living space beyond the sleeping area makes it quite an enjoyable shelter to use.
Flexibility of Pitching
Due to the non-freestanding design and minimum of 10 stakes, the Starlight II is limited in where it can be sited. Also, the force required to stretch the floor tight (and a tight rainfly depends on a tight floor) is considerable. These factors mean we can't recommend the tent for desert sandy soil or rocky tundra above tree line, where stake purchase and exact stake placement are compromised.
Nearly every square inch of this tent is usable due to the tunnel design's steep sidewalls. The vestibule areas on each side offer excellent gear storage or cooking space for each occupant. Full access panels on each side make entering and exiting the tent and gear stashing very easy. The nearly 3 feet of extra head-end floor space past the sleeping area provides excellent "office space." For example, lying down and laying out maps or reading in front of you is very comfortable.
The nearly 40 inches of headroom at maximum height is ample for a 6-foot tall person to sit up and change clothes. Two can't comfortably sit up at the same time, though. There is less extra room at the tent's foot end due to the sloping roof and tapered floor, but it is still possible to sit up and reach the foot area for any small gear stored there.
The Starlight II has a vestibule area on either side. The actual usable area of each vestibule is just under 5 square feet - ample room for a moderately sized pack and a pair of shoes. The vestibules can also be used for cooking, but not while any gear is present. The vestibule portion of the fly zips completely back out of the way, making access from outside extremely easy.
Vestibules on each side of the tent provide good gear storage and the low angles allow the tent to easily spill wind during storms. However, the vestibule doesn't pitch to ground level, allowing some splash and wind-blown rain to enter the vestibule area.
The Starlight II is stable in moderate winds (below 20 mph). The low approach angles provided by the wide vestibule area allow wind to spill easily over the tent. Overall, the tent's angles and shape are well designed. The main problem is that the tent needs to be drum tight to minimize flapping, but I could not achieve a drum-tight pitch. The varied patchwork of angles and panels make this nearly impossible, even when stake placement is adjusted plus or minus an inch. While this tent is well suited for average inclement weather, I can't recommend it for storm chasing above tree-line, due to difficulties with stake placement and hold, and rainfly tightness.
The Starlight II is a reasonably comfortable place to sleep, read, or lounge in during a rainstorm, but is not comfortable for two people to sit up and play cards. The tent's above ground-level floor seams aren't sealed or taped, but no noticeable leakage occurred during rainstorms. The vestibules don't pitch to ground-level, allowing some splash and wind-blown rain to enter the vestibule areas. This didn't prove to be much of a problem during our tests, and the tradeoff of greater airflow was worth it in most three-season conditions.
With all the mesh in the tent canopy and the large sweeping vestibule area, ventilation is better than average. Airflow over the sweeping angles of the fly allows for good airflow inside during breezes. When the air is still and humid, condensation passes though the mesh of the inner tent quite well but collects on the fly. The canopy roof of the inner tent is uncoated nylon, which collects some condensation, but it is a small area that can easily be wiped dry. It’s also tall enough that the occupants and contents can easily avoid touching it.
All the stitching and bar-tacking are single-stitched. Given the tension required for achieving a taut setup, the stitching may represent a weak point over time. The tent's floor has a higher density coating than the fly (2000 mm versus 1200 mm), but is not bulletproof like some mountain tent floors. We took care not to pitch the tent on sharp objects, and recommend a supplemental ground cloth if headed to areas of highly abrasive or soggy ground.
At $149 MSRP, the Starlight II is a good value for a two-person, three-season backpacking tent that is also fairly lightweight. Because it's not an ultralight shelter and must be pitched in relatively spacious locations that accommodate at least 10 stakes, it is not a minimalist tent. Still, it's a very comfortable shelter that provides good ventilation, excellent usable space, reasonably good storm protection and excellent overall living comfort. We think this makes the Starlight II a great shelter for backpackers looking to make minimal monetary investment and lighten their shelter weight for touring backpacking trips, while not compromising comfort or storm protection.
Tips and Tricks
Do not try to set up the Starlight II for the first time at night, after a long day on the trail. Getting the tent body taut takes a little practice and time, and daylight helps too.
Because a tight rainfly pitch is difficult to achieve and is necessary for storm performance, we found it helpful to presoak the stakeout loops before staking the tent down. This allows them to stretch, as they will when they wet out from rain. Without this extra step we found the tightest setup we could achieve sagged enough to be aggravating after the rain started and the stakeout loops soaked and stretched. Restaking an occupied tent during a storm is not a fun proposition.
Recommendations for Improvement
Greater adjustability and longer straps with side release buckles to tension the fly would greatly aid in achieving a "drum-tight" fly.
A second hanging loop at for each door and vestibule would help keep the doors up and open for ease of getting gear in and out.