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Cheap Tents: Philosophy, Review, and Raw Emotion
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Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Cheap Tents: Philosophy, Review, and Raw Emotion on 03/12/2014 13:55:47 MDT Print View

Full write-up with more pics here:

I loved my Big Agnes Fly Creek 1 Platinum dearly. It was home for a while! It's a beautiful tent and I never had a problem with it. But... I met a girl! The only flaw was the "1" next to the name...

So, I decided to diversify my holdings. I traded the Fly Creek 1 Platinum for a Fly Creek 3 (thanks, Mike!) and the lady and I tested it out, and she liked the idea of the tent but didn't particularly covet the Fly Creek. I, on the other hand, found the Fly Creek 3 to be absolutely monstrous in size, way too big for my solo ambitions.

I sold the Fly Creek 3 (thanks, Kim!) and bought a Borah Gear Snowyside full e-Vent Bivy and loved it, and I used the remaining $100 to get...

A cheap tent. Stoic Templum 2.1.

Templum 2.1

The tent is heavier than most tents, but not by that much, actually. A Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 has 29 square feet, and the Stoic Templum has 30 square feet, so it's just as roomy as the competition. The Copper Spur's weight is 3lb 2oz, and the Templum comes in at 4.75oz with stakes, tent body, tent poles, and tent fly.

Overall, I was impressed with the quality. I would be hard-pressed to do better than $96. I know it's on sale, but Backcountry sales on Stoic gear are so regular and predictable, I just wait for sales. They'll come.


You can see some reinforcing fabric sticking out here. Not 100% clean. However, all the seams are doubled and feel perfect in the stitching and strength. There's also an extra webbing loop there, which I can (and will) cut out carefully. I can't, for the life of me, figure out what it's intended for.


The hook to hold the tent poles in place feels kind of flimsy. It also feels like a solid ounce. Tsk, tsk.


I took a pair of wire cutters and sliced right through the hook and removed it, leaving the webbing loop intact. The tent came with two silnylon tying straps for when it was rolled up; one of those makes a fine tie for the poles. A nice little bow on top!


Low-quality zipper pulls will be replaced.


It took one minute to set up. very easy. The tent fly is white, so stealth camping is going to be difficult to impossible, but that's ok! For my intended purpose, white is actually perfect; we'll stay cool and comfortable on lazy summer mornings. It's entirely livable!

So, without the extras like the footprint, loft, and stuff sacks, we're looking at a tent that is competitive with everything under the $300 cap, and *close* to the Big Agnes flagship in the same design (two door, two vestibule rectangular).


I know cost is a poor metric of measurement in quality or function, and I don't want to purport that the Templum is somehow "better." It's not. However, it does make me wonder at the marketing that goes into free-standing tents as a modifier of price. Other than a slightly heavier weight set of poles, this tent can be considered nearly identical to a more expensive tent. Manufacturing lighter poles doesn't seem unreasonably more complicated, so what I'm paying for is the DAC logo.

So, that's why I'm kind of in two camps at the moment (no pun intended):

Option 1: Buy Cottage Gear. This is going to be minimalist, lightweight, custom fit to purpose, and the price will be un-inflated. Plus, you get to support American and Canadian businesses.

Option 2: Slash price by going with the lowest-common-denominator tent I'm comfortable with, and sacrifice some quality but maintain function. The Templum is functionally the same for me as a Big Agnes.

I used to have an Option 3. Option 3 was to go with the highest quality shelter manufactured by the big-box companies as a combination of quality and light weight, but after seeing this tent come so close for a fraction of the price, I no longer think that's a good idea. I pay a lot for something that still can't match the weight and packability of a cottage product, and I pay through the nose for the brand.

Reminds me of the (infamous?) Sierra Designs Cuben UFO. All marketing, all hype, no value.

I'm finally coming to my senses on cottage gear, and now it's hard to look elsewhere...

Edited by mdilthey on 03/12/2014 18:03:23 MDT.

Matt Dirksen
(NamelessWay) - MLife

Locale: Mid Atlantic
Re: Cheap Tents: Philosophy, Review, and Raw Emotion on 03/12/2014 14:16:14 MDT Print View

"I'm finally coming to my senses on cottage gear, and now it's hard to look elsewhere..."

I feel the exact same way.

I guess the other option is to support the "used" camping gear industry. There are many "name brand" tents on EBay that are impeccably well made (perhaps also made in Canada or US). They might be a decade old but seem to be in awesome shape. I'm still amazed that some 15-20 year old "vintage" name brand USED tents are being sold at or above their original retail price.

It is possible the warranty on some of them will still be honored as well, if something goes wrong.

Either way, I realize that no matter what I am buying, I am also supporting the company that made it (including any and all the practices that go into it.)

So: "Who do I want to support" is an equally important question to me as the product itself... Usually. That's why supporting the cottage industry feels so good.

robert van putten

Locale: Planet Bob
cheap but good tents on 03/12/2014 16:19:49 MDT Print View

"But...I met a girl!"

Hehe, that has a way of changing priorities, don't it?

A bit over twenty years ago I broke down and got my first ever tent. No more sleeping with the bugs on canoe trips, where yer always next to water and mosquitoes.

I went to a "mountain shop" and looked at all the complicated domes. Then I spied a neat little A frame that reminded me of the canvas tents I'd used as a boy scout in the 1970s. It was also the cheapest tent there, so I bought it.

That was a Eureka Timberline 2. Heavy as heck ( about 6-1/2 pounds! ) but dang near a four season tent and roomy enough to sleep three, which I've done a time or two in it.

I still used tarps and ponchos backpacking...Until I met a girl!

My wife quite liked that tent, so I simply sucked it up and carried it. It certainly was a bullet proof shelter and never gave any troubles with condensation. In nasty weather my wife would sit up inside while I sat in the entrance and cooked hot meals over my stove. It was a great home away from home and that tent has many fond memories stored in it.

It was the only tent I owned and used fer twenty years. Can't say how many nights I slept in it but it was a heck of allot!

We liked it so much that when it finally wore out we got another just like it. It was still about 100 bucks.

Old and new -


I still sometimes like tarps for solo use and found a used Rainshadow 2 here at Backpackinglight, and that has become our backpacking tent, but the Timberline still gets used for car and canoe camping.

Many of my friends use Eureka or Alps Mountaineering tents and nothing else. To them, 100 bucks is definitely the upper range of what they can afford.
Dropping 300 bucks on a tent is unthinkable to 'em. They use Kelty packs, bulky synthetic bags, ordinary clothing from home and cheap tents.

300 bucks is probably more coin then they got sunk in their entire kit.

Of course they ain't UL backpackers, but they still get out there anyway, and that's the main thing. And I ain't a snob, I'll still hang with the "heavy" crowd! :)

It ain't got nuttin' to do with philosophy, it's got to do with how deep yer pockets are, and how much of a priority it is in yer life.

I quite like the looks of that Stoic tent and reckon you can get many a years use out of it.

By the by, what was it that yer gal didn't like about the BA?

Edited by Bawana on 03/12/2014 16:20:34 MDT.

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Re: cheap but good tents on 03/12/2014 16:28:46 MDT Print View


My outdoors club at my old college was outfitted with three of those Timberline beauties. I slept with one on Camel's Hump last year, and I've probably put ten nights into them. I slept in one with two other girls and we had plenty of space (I ended up dating one of them for a few months... was it the tent? That was last year).

It's probably the epitome of what I'm talking about. It's not a feat of engineering, it's not an ultralighter's dream, but the "budget" option sometimes does the job and the "real" ultralight gear from cottage companies can feed our lust for survivalism and, I guess, consumerism in the quest for less ounces.

As for the BA, she loved it. But she didn't love Big Agnes, she just loved the tent. So, what I meant when I said she didn't covet it was that she wasn't tied to the BA, I could swap it out if I wanted to and I did.

It's been too cold to camp with her, but I set the BA up in my room and put some sleeping pads down and we spent an evening in there before she had a flight out to China for a university trip. Very fun. My inner child was thrilled.

Edited by mdilthey on 03/12/2014 16:30:55 MDT.

rick .
(overheadview) - F

Locale: NYC
durability vs cost on 03/12/2014 16:35:32 MDT Print View

I think you've struck the right balance with "dollars per tent" and usability. And I liked following your thought process on the philosophy.

If a tent costs 3x as much it aught to be 3x as durable, or 3x as beneficial (less weight, adaptable, sturdier, etc). Or all of the above. A $300+ car camping tent makes little sense to me. If you're above the treeline, fine, but for the typical usegroup of these style tents cost is likely the one and only factor.

If you have her carry half you're both around 2lbs for shelter, so there's that too. There are obviously lighter options (though none anywhere near $100) but that's a reasonable solo weight for each of you.

I'm keeping my 10 year old 2-person tent, but would replace it if need be in this same way. I'd never solo with it again, but it still has a lot of life in it for this type of use.

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Per-Person Weight on 03/12/2014 16:40:00 MDT Print View

Kell is in great shape from volleyball and tennis and lacrosse, but I suspect I'll (gladly) carry the tent when we hike this summer. I've got the endurance muscles, she's got the fast twitch.

She can chop wood, I think her arms are stronger than mine.

Dave Marcus
(Djrez4) - F

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Re: cheap but good tents on 03/12/2014 17:06:46 MDT Print View

I spent at least 50 nights in a Timberline as a camper in the BWCA/Quetico. They always worked.

Now, I have a HiLight that I snagged at an REI garage sale for $115 and a Sierra Designs Tengu (on clearance for $120, again at REI) that weighs a ton, but has the best setup and vestibule of any tent I've ever seen. Could I go lighter and more expensive? Sure. But I haven't yet found the tent that makes me want to.

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Check it out! on 03/12/2014 18:02:37 MDT Print View

If you're enjoying this thread, I did a full write-up with setup pics here:

hwc 1954
(wcollings) - M
LImelight 2P on 03/12/2014 18:19:18 MDT Print View

I picked up one of these on a killer deal last fall:

The green color, including a factory footprint, for $115. Including the footprint, all the stuff sacks, 12 MSR mini-ground hog stakes, all the guy lines, and an extra 50 feet of guylines for anchoring to tent platforms or trees, it weighs under 6 pounds. A third the price of an ultra-light that might save 2 pounds, but a VERY substantial tent. It's kind of crazy that you can get that much tent for $115.

I'm just going to use it for short overnights in the White Mountains, so the weight wasn't a big deal.

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

X-poles, 2 vestibules on 03/12/2014 23:11:17 MDT Print View

Looks real similar to the Stoic. Seems to be a common design for middle-of-the-road tents.

michael levi
(M.L) - F

Locale: W-Never Eat Soggy (W)affles
Re: LImelight 2P on 03/13/2014 13:49:31 MDT Print View

What about getting a tarp and a nice big net tent? From all the other options and info on this site I find it strange that you should want to attempt to fita5lb tent in a backpack.

michael levi
(M.L) - F

Locale: W-Never Eat Soggy (W)affles
Re: Cheap Tents: Philosophy, Review, and Raw Emotion on 03/13/2014 15:04:11 MDT Print View

Here is a 13ounce sts mosquito net, double. $50

Then you could get a silnylon or cuben tarp. A 8x10 borah tarp is $65 and 13.5ounces.

Lots of pitching options, if you did a half pyramid you could add a small tarp to the open side heavy rain. Way lighter and your pack weight will let you and your partner feel more nimble on your feet and hiking might be more fun. It's a bit of a compromise because it's not like a house/ car camping tent and not freestanding. It's also less than 2 pounds. Good luck I don't intend to say you are doing something wrong, but this is and heavy things are generally frowned upon. I would be looking for a change asap if it were me and I wanted to do any multi day hikes where weight and pack space play a big role on comfort.

sts tentborah

Edited by M.L on 03/13/2014 15:16:38 MDT.

hwc 1954
(wcollings) - M
Tarp? No thanks... on 03/13/2014 15:25:21 MDT Print View

>> What about getting a tarp and a nice big net tent? From all the other options and info on this site I find it strange that you should want to attempt to fit a5lb tent in a backpack.


I have absolutely zero interest in getting eaten alive and soaked sleeping under a tarp. I have a tarp. Use it a lot. Works great for covering the picnic table for car camping... With all the terrific tent options, I honestly don't understand the logic behind tarp camping at all.

The places I want to backpack to almost all have wooden tent platforms (steep, rocky terrain. Anything but a free-standing tent would be a problem.

The choice for me was a $350 ultra light tent (saving 2 pounds) or $115 for a rugged (and spacious) Limelight 2P.

michael levi
(M.L) - F

Locale: W-Never Eat Soggy (W)affles
sts nano on 03/13/2014 15:27:48 MDT Print View

They also have the nano version which is 60 percent lighter.

Sts net 4.85oz
Borah tarp 13.5oz

18.3oz total!sts nano net

michael levi
(M.L) - F

Locale: W-Never Eat Soggy (W)affles
Re: Re: Cheap Tents: Philosophy, Review, and Raw Emotion on 03/13/2014 16:05:59 MDT Print View

Keep in mind you can switch tarps down the road if you have money for an upgrade.

I just bought a brown duomid for a girl and I. Brown is going to make shade and be cool in the tropics of Hawaii compared to the cuben hexamid solo I sold.

That sts nano net tent would fit niceley under one of these.mld max nano net

Michael Gillenwater
(mwgillenwater) - M

Locale: Seattle area
Re: cheap but good tents on 03/13/2014 17:36:44 MDT Print View

Funny Robert. I have that same Eureka Timberline tent, purchased in 1986. Still use it for car camping with the family. And believe it or not, I used to backpack with it as a kid, although we would pack 5 of us young college kids in it back then.

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Tarps vs Tents on 03/14/2014 11:05:21 MDT Print View

There's a psychological comfort in a tent, which doesn't matter at all to me but would probably affect my girlfriend's comfort in the outdoors. Having a bathtub floor and no pole in the middle and no guylines to trip on makes the trip seem a little simpler for her.

And for me, too, I think a little. Ha!

Dena Kelley

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
"Cheap Tents: Philosophy, Review, and Raw Emotion" on 03/14/2014 11:45:37 MDT Print View

I think most "cheap tents" are fine for construction, the penalty is going to be in weight as typically they use heavier "bomb proof" materials and sometimes even fiberglass poles (which are heavy as heck). I'm actually tempted to get a cheap family tent for car camping - something with a 6' high interior. Why not? If I don't have to carry the darn thing on my back, it can be 30 lbs and I won't care as long as it's relatively easy to set up.

My favorite tent for years was a private labeled two pole wedge style tent from Fred Meyer (Krogers in some parts of the US). It was a 2 man tent that weighed about 5 lbs, so figuring for the times it was actually fairly light.

If I lived in an area where bugs weren't a problem, I wouldn't hesitate to sleep in a tarp or a floorless mid. It's not psychological comfort I'm after in a tent, it's the bug free environment. I lay on my back and look up and just see a thousand mosquitoes sitting on the outside of the inner, trying to figure out how to come in and kill me. :)

Sunny Waller
(dancer) - M

Locale: Southeast USA
Cheap Car Camping Tent on 03/14/2014 12:28:01 MDT Print View

For a cheap car camping tent check out Coleman Sundown Tents. Waterproof bathtub polytarp floor with fantastic rain fly that comes all the way the sides. Great bug netting..super easy to put up and take down. You just wipe the floor clean if it gets muddy. I have used the 6 man version of this tent for years at a kids camp and never had a problem. It's nice to be able to stand up when car camping.

Valerie E
(Wildtowner) - M

Locale: Grand Canyon State
Re: Cheap Car Camping Tent on 03/14/2014 17:19:47 MDT Print View

I've got the BA Fly Creek 3 for backpacking with my husband; a cheaper 3-person Alps Mountaineering tent for rougher environments where an extra 1.5 lbs won't kill us, and a wonderful 6' high Coleman car camping tent (weight 16 lbs) where we sleep like royalty on our two 30" wide self-inflating mattresses and double sleeping bag. Comfy.

I totally understand what Max is saying about how slight the differences are between the "high-end" and "mid-price" options. Our cheaper tent has sailed through heavy thunderstorms in the Sierras with no problems, and a 1.5 lb weight penalty is not huge.

On the other hand, I don't own any cottage-made shelters, as we limit ourselves to free-standing only, but I buy other cottage-made goods (just not shelters), and I've always found the service excellent.