Many tents are touted to be "lightweight" and we even see the word "ultralight" in the name of a tent. There is a lot of misleading information out there, and a lot of heavier shelters (by our standards) are being hyped as "lightweight," and they win awards from other magazines. So, do you buy it? A five+ pound three-season two-person tent is not ultralight or even lightweight; it's not even close. There are literally hundreds of shelters on the market, but only a small fraction of them are truly lightweight and well suited for lightweight backpacking. Our interest is in that select few.
The new Tarptent Sublite one-person tent (19 ounces) is available now in a Tyvek version (shown) and will be available soon in a silnylon version. The Tyvek Sublite is made of soft, durable, breathable type 1443 "soft structure" Tyvek, not the house-wrap type of Tyvek.
To define our standards, I would like to share with you our current weight limits for what we consider to be a lightweight tent:
Double-Wall Tent (Three-Season)
|Capacity (persons)||No vestibules
Maximum Weight (lb)
Maximum Weight (lb)
Single-Wall Tent with Floor (Three-Season)
|Capacity (persons)||No vestibules
Maximum Weight (lb)
Maximum Weight (lb)
|Capacity (persons)||No vestibules
Maximum Weight (lb)
As you can see, a tent has to be very light to meet our standards. The weights above are for a complete tent, including stakes. Many manufacturers specify a "minimum weight" or "trail weight," but it is not clear what's included, and it usually omits stakes. The weights listed in this roundup are total weights or "packaged weights," which include all components. In our reviews, we define our "minimum trail weight" as the weight of a complete tent (with stakes, but minus stuff sacks and other accessories) so we can compare tents on the same basis.
Many larger companies, which are well represented at Outdoor Retailer, have a lightweight product line that we focus on at OR, and many new technologies are announced at OR. So, we are always there to report on the cutting edge of technology. However, our roundups are not limited to the Outdoor Retailer trade show, because many new lightweight and (especially) ultralight products of interest come from small companies who typically are not present at OR.
New Double-Wall Tents
I have some exciting new tents to report on in this category. For a long time, manufacturers were lightening their tents a little and calling them "lightweight" or "ultralight." Now, they are getting serious, and tents really are getting light. The number of sub-four-pound two-person tents is increasing, and a few are approaching the weight of a single-wall tent.
Terra Nova's Laser Photon is Claimed to be the Lightest Double-Wall Tent in the World
Europeans prefer double-wall tents, and it seems they have evolved the double-wall tent to extremes. Good! At the extreme lightweight end is the new Terra Nova Laser Photon (1 pound, 12 ounces, US$500), which is claimed to be the lightest double-wall solo tent in the world. The Photon is a "fly first" design, meaning the pole inserts into a sleeve on the fly and the tent body clips to that. The tent can be left assembled and erected as a unit. The new Laser Photon is one step lighter than the Laser Competition, due to the development of stakes weighing just one gram and new lighter weight fabrics. The weight of the Photon will drop to twenty-four ounces in 2009 by incorporating new materials and making the tent slightly smaller.
The Photon is long enough for a person taller than six feet, but headroom diminishes a lot at the ends. Fortunately, the inner tent is made of uncoated nylon and is really distanced away from the fly, so there should be little condensation on the inside.
Terra Nova's updated Laser tent (2 pounds, 14 ounces, US$420) is similarly claimed to be the lightest two-person double-wall tent available. The design is basically the same as the Photon, with side entry, vestibule, and flow-through ventilation that can be adjusted from the inside.
The Terra Nova Laser Photon (top photo, 1 pound, 12 ounces, US$500) and Laser (bottom photo, 2 pounds, 14 ounces, US$420) are claimed to be the lightest double-wall tents in the world.
The Terra Nova tents are a bit spendy, but the distinction of "lightest in the world" comes at a price. Terra Nova products are now available in the United States through four retailers, and they expect to establish a U.S. distribution center in 2009 to expanded the availability of their products.
Believe it - New Ultralight Tents From MSR With Carbon Fiber Poles
More good news in the ultralight double-wall tent category (is that an oxymoron or not?) is the announcement of MSR's new Carbon Reflex tents, the lightest tents ever from MSR. The Reflex 1 weighs two pounds, ten ounces and retails for US$450, and the Reflex 2 weighs three pounds, four ounces and costs US$500. The low weights are achieved by using lightweight fabrics and mesh, carbon fiber poles, and a unique one-plus pole design consisting of a single hoop plus a top strut. Both tents have one door and one vestibule. Protected area (floor + vestibule) for the Reflex 1 is 17 + 9.5 square feet and the area for the Reflex 2 is 29 + 14 square feet. The floor areas sound small, but the bathtub floor is designed so a sleeper can press it to the sides to create more room. Floor lengths are eighty-six inches for the Reflex 1, and eighty-four inches for the Reflex 2; the fly is 20 denier rip-stop nylon, 1000 millimeter polyurethane and silicone coated, and the floor is 40 denier rip-stop nylon 10,000 millimeter polyurethane coated. Another nice feature is the top strut extends the ridgeline beyond the door opening, so vertical rain will not enter the tent.
This is really significant - ultralight double-wall tents coming from a major manufacturer in the U.S.! Large equipment manufacturers have heretofore only entered the lightweight gear category, which is a much larger market than ultralight gear. They normally avoid the ultralight gear category because they perceive the market to be too small and the gear not durable enough, resulting in unwanted returns and loss of reputation. In response to my inquiry about their rationale behind the Carbon Reflex tent introduction, MSR Brand Manager Chris Parkhurst responded: "Our Fast & Light tent design philosophy is to push the limits of light weight while still achieving the performance people demand and the livability that sets MSR tents apart. These designs are dependent on the right technical materials becoming available at a price that still nets out to be a reasonable investment for the consumer. We believe we've achieved this with the Carbon Reflex tents." Pretty cool, huh?
MSR's new Carbon Reflex double-wall tents tents for spring 2009 have carbon fiber poles and a unique pole design. The Reflex 1 (top) weighs two pounds, ten ounces and the Reflex 2 (bottom) weighs three pounds, four ounces. Both tents use a lightweight Easton FX 1+ carbon fiber pole system to save weight.
Big Sky Introduces the Convertible and Montana, Breaks the Three-Pound Barrier
Two new tents now available from Big Sky International are the Convertible and Montana. Both have three-season and four-season configurations. In their four-season configurations they require three heavy duty poles and weigh over four pounds, which is remarkable for a four-season tent. Both tents are a "fly first" design - poles are inserted into sleeves on the fly and the tent is set up as a unit. Read Backpacking Light's review of the Convertible here.
What is really remarkable is the summer configuration of the three-season Montana. With two lightweight aluminum poles and lightweight stakes, it weighs just 2 pounds, 10.8 ounces and costs US$347. It gets a half pound lighter with Big Sky's carbon fiber poles and spinnaker fly options, at a significant cost. The Montana is a tunnel design with two short A-frame shaped poles at the ends. It sets up very quickly and staking just the ends results in a very secure pitch. The interior is mesh and the fly is silnylon. It has a roomy entry vestibule and mesh entry door at the front, and a smaller vestibule at the foot end that is accessible only from the outside. A review of the Montana 2P is in progress.
The Big Sky International Montana 2P three-season configuration weighs just 2 pounds, 10.8 ounces for a two-person double-wall tent.
REI Updates the Quarter Dome
The new REI Quarter Dome T series tents were introduced in spring 2008 and are available now. These freestanding tents feature REI's "Tension Truss Frame" with DAC Featherlite NSL aluminum poles to reduce weight, convenient side entry, flow-through chimney ventilation, lots of inside pockets, and value pricing. The pole set is hubbed and color coded to assist setup, and once the process is mastered (this is one where you need to read the directions), the tent goes up very quickly. The Quarter Dome comes in three sizes: T1 (3 pounds, 4 ounces; US$179), T2 (4 pounds, 2 ounces; US$259), and T3 (5 pounds, US$289). The T1 model has one side entry door with vestibule and the T2 and T3 models have two doors and two vestibules. These well-designed tents are an excellent balance of lightweight materials, durability, usable space, and cost.
REI's updated T-series Quarter Dome tents (T2 shown, 4 pounds, 2 ounces, US$259), available in 1-, 2-, and 3-person versions, are well-designed, lightweight, and value priced.
Big Agnes Introduces a 2.25-Pound Double-Wall Solo Tent for 2009
BA's new Fly Creek Ultralight (2 pounds, 3 ounces, US$300) is their lightest tent ever. It achieves that weight with the lightest DAC poles available, mesh interior, and lightweight fabrics throughout. The floor area is twenty-two square feet, and the front entry vestibule adds five square feet. Floor length is eighty-six inches and front height is thirty-eight inches. A fast fly setup requires a footprint (4 ounces, US$50).
The 2009 Big Agnes Fly Creek double-wall solo tent weighs just 2.25 pounds.
Integral Designs' New BugDome Converts the SilDome to a Double-Wall Two-Person Tent
With the introduction of the mesh BugDome (1 pound, 10.7 ounces, US$195) for spring 2009, the combination of the BugDome and existing SilDome becomes a double-wall two-person tent weighing 3 pounds, 4.7 ounces. The floor space (96 inches long, 60 inches wide, 40 square feet) is long and roomy. Entry is through a zippered door with no vestibule. If purchased together, the cost is approximately US$350. The components will pitch separately or together, producing three combinations: a bug tent, a floorless single-wall tent, or a double-wall tent.
The new Integral Designs BugDome can be combined with the SilDome to create a 3.3 pound two-person double-wall tent.
Nemo Introduces the Go-Go EX for Tall Hikers up to Ten Feet
Ok, you guys keep asking for a tent for tall hikers; is ten feet long enough? The EX's 119-inch long floor is plenty long for a tall hiker plus gear. The Go-Go EX (2.8 pounds, US$299) is a double-wall tent with a low, flat profile for stability. The fly is asymmetric to provide some extra protected space on one side. It's a single air beam tent, so a lightweight pump is needed to inflate it (not included in the weight).
The Nemo Go-Go EX (2.8 pounds, US$299) is extra long, enough for a tall hiker plus gear. The fly extends further out on one side to provide some extra protected gear storage.
Sierra Designs Introduces Seventeen New Tents for Spring 2009
We have always liked Sierra Design's easy to set up tents, but they have always been a bit on the heavy side by our standards. For spring 2009, SD has re-designed most of their extensive tent line, and six of them now come in under our weight limits. I will highlight two of them.
The Lightning XT 2 (4 pounds, 7 ounces, US$289), a two-person freestanding double-wall tent, has two side entry doors with vestibules, and provides thirty square feet of floor space plus twenty-one square feet in the vestibules. A Lightning XT4 (four-person) is also available. These tents are a "Tunnel-Dome" design which incorporate elements of tunnel tents and dome tents.
The VaporLight 2 (3 pounds, 12 ounces, US$329) is also freestanding and has front entry and vestibule. Floor space is 25.5 square feet, and the front vestibule adds another 8 square feet of protected area.
To save weight, both the Lightning and VaporLight (below) use half poles with "Ballcap" pole ends that clip into the tent and fly to become a structural element, adding strength and headroom. They also use hubs that stay attached to the poles for fast setup, and "Jake's Feet" to quickly and securely attach the fly to the tieout straps. The poles are DAC Featherlight NSL.
Sierra Design's new Lightning XT2 (top, 4 pounds, 7 ounces, US$289) is a "Tunnel-Dome" design, incorporating elements from tunnel and dome tents. The new VaporLight 2 (bottom, 3 pounds, 12 ounces, US$329) has a front entry.
Not to Be Outdone, The North Face Introduces Nineteen New Tents for Spring 2009
Space does not allow me to cover all of the new lightweight tents, so here's a sampling of the new North Face tents. All use DAC Featherlight poles with struts (half poles with "ballcap" ends) to extend and support the tent with minimum weight. The struts are hubbed to the other color-coded tent pole(s) to facilitate a fast setup.
The North Face Mica 12 (3 pounds, 2 ounces, US$229) is a one-person double wall tent with a 1.5 pole system and side entry with vestibule. The floor area is eighteen square feet and the side vestibule adds six square feet of protected area. The Meso 22 (4 pounds, 1 ounce) is the two-person version.
Mountain Hardwear's Helion 2 Features Cutting Edge Lightweight Components
The new Helion 2 tent (3 pounds, 5 ounces, US$395), available now, is their lightest two-person double-wall tent, and it's a freestanding three-pole design. The low weight is made possible by the use of superlight fly and floor fabrics, new Atlas UL poles, 1/4-inch webbing with molded clips, and an all-mesh canopy. Floor area is twenty-eight square feet and the entry vestibule adds 8.5 square feet of protected area. It has a tall front entry with vestibule. It also has a "Pitch Light" option (2 pounds, 11 ounces) consisting of the fly, poles, and a Tyvek footprint.
The Mountain Hardwear Helion 2 (3 pounds, 5 ounces, US$395) tent is a lightweight free-standing three-pole design using cutting edge lightweight components throughout.
Lightweight backpacking is a growing segment in the outdoor industry. Hikers in this category want gear that provides comfort and features, and they want it to be light, too. Lightweight backpackers prefer a double-wall tent because they want a bug-free, secure, roomy, and dry shelter, and they don't want to deal with the condensation issue of a single-wall tent. More and more people are realizing that a five+ pound two-person backpacking tent is simply too much weight to carry, and manufacturers are getting the message. A five+ pound tent is okay for car camping, but it's simply not acceptable for backpacking anymore.
Manufacturers now seem to have the will to design lighter tents. With the increased availability of lighter fabrics, poles, and fasteners we are seeing more and more double-wall tents that meet our weight limits. A few years ago, a sub-four-pound two-person tent was rare, and Big Sky International dominated that niche. Now, we have a growing selection of sub-four-pound tents in this category, with many of them coming from major manufacturers like MSR, Sierra Designs, Mountain Hardwear, and The North Face.
If my numbers are correct, two tents in this roundup break the three-pound barrier for a two-person double-wall tent. The Terra Nova Laser weighs two pounds, fourteen ounces, and is claimed to be the lightest two-person double-wall tent in the world. However, the Big Sky international Montana 2P weighs 2 pounds, 10.8 ounces. That's 3.3 ounces lighter; do we have a new world record?
New Single-Wall Tents
Using a single-wall tent has been considered a lightweight backpacking technique (base pack weight under twenty pounds), but some of the newest single wall tents like the Gossamer Gear The One, Six Moon Designs Refuge X, and Tarptent Sublite) are so light they can fit into an ultralight gear kit (base pack weight under ten pounds).
In this roundup I have several innovative and exciting single wall tents to report on. Each one is unique and remarkable in its own right, and together they represent some real progress in making the single-wall tent lighter and more user-friendly.
The Gossamer Gear The One is as Light as a Tarp
We recently reviewed the new Gossamer Gear The One, and found it to be amazingly user-friendly and protective for its minimal weight. The One uses two trekking poles for setup, has a protective vestibule on the front, large zippered entry door, and good ventilation. Why use a tarp when you can get an 18.5 ounce solo tent? Available now, but a shortage of spinnaker fabric makes it hard for Gossamer Gear to keep up with the demand for this tent.
Gossamer Gear's The One (18.5 ounces, US$275), made of spinnaker fabric and mesh, provides complete bug and rain protection.
Tarptent Introduces the Sublite, a Nineteen-Ounce Solo Tyvek Tent
The new one-person Tarptent Sublite tents are equally exciting. The Sublite is available now in a Tyvek version (19 ounces, US$179) and will be available soon in a silnylon version. The Sublite is the first use of Tyvek in a tent. The specific Tyvek is Type 1443R "soft structure" Tyvek, which is also used for disposable clothing. This type of Tyvek is soft, lightweight, highly water-resistant, very durable, and highly breathable. Technically, this is the world's lightest breathable fabric tent. The Sublite uses two trekking poles in an A-shape for support and has a side entry sans vestibule. The floor is silnylon. I am currently testing the Sublite and will publish a full review in late summer.
The Tarptent Sublite (19 ounces, US$179) is available now in the Tyvek version and will be available soon in silnylon.
New Six Moon Designs Refuge X Weighs just 17.5 Ounces, and It's a Two-Person Tent!
The new two-person Six Moon Designs Refuge tent comes in two versions, the Refuge X (about 17.5 ounces, US$400) made of cuben fiber, and the Refuge (about 28.5 ounces, US$260) made of silnylon. The Refuge X sets a new lightweight standard for a two-person single-wall tent, but requires special care because of its thin 0.6 ounce/yd2 cuben fabric. The refuge is similar to the Lunar Duo in design and uses two trekking poles for support, but does not have entry vestibules. Both tents have ample room for two people and flow-through chimney ventilation with two top vents. A review of the Refuge X is in progress and will be published soon.
Two new lightweight two-person single-wall tents from Six Moon Designs are the cuben fiber Refuge X (left) at 17.5 ounces, and the silnylon Refuge (right) at 28.5 ounces.
Big Sky International Introduces a Lightweight Single-Wall Tent
The two-person California (2 pounds, 5 ounces, US$310) is Big Sky International's first single-wall tent. The dimensions are the same as the Montana, except it is single-wall rather than double-wall. It's basically a tunnel tent design supported by A-shaped aluminum poles at the front and rear. Silnylon is used for the canopy and floor; flow-through ventilation is provided by vestibules at both ends. The front entry is through a large vestibule and zippered mesh door. There is a small vestibule for gear storage at the foot end, accessible from the outside only. The California sets up very quickly, and two six- or nine-inch Easton stakes will provide a very secure pitch. Expect a Backpacking Light review of the California this fall.
The single-wall two-person Big Sky International California has the same floor dimensions and area as their other tents. The tunnel design with short poles brings the weight down to thirty-seven ounces.
The New AntiGravityGear O2 Tent has Cross Ventilation and Loads of Floor Space
Another very interesting new two-person tent is the AntiGravityGear O2 (28 ounces, US$279). The O2 was created in response to our review of the AntiGravityGear Tarptent, and incorporates some solid refinements and functionality enhancements. The unique feature of this tent is its large protected area, a whopping forty-six square feet, including the entry vestibule. The O2 sets up with two trekking poles and has pull outs on the sides and rear to maximize inside volume. Backpacking Light will also publish a review of the O2 this fall.
The new AntiGravityGear O2 is a two-person single-wall tent that weighs just twenty-eight ounces and has forty-six square feet of protected area, convenient entry, and good ventilation.
The North Face Flight Series Tents
Among The North Face's rollout of new tents for spring 2009, the Flight Series of single-wall tents are the lightest. The lightest in the Flight Series are the Dyad 22 (3 pounds, 9 ounces) for two people and the Solo 12 (2 pounds, 10 ounces) for one person. The Dyad has a floor area of 36 square feet plus 4.5 square feet in the vestibule, lots of headroom at the front, and a good high/low ventilation system. The Solo 12 has 24.5 square feet of floor area plus three square feet in the front vestibule. North Face claims this tent has withstood ninety-five mph winds in their wind tests.
The Solo 12 (2 pounds, 10 ounces, US$209) is a one-person single wall tent with a 2.5 pole system and front entry with vestibule. Note the tight cut. The Dyad 22 (3 pounds, 9 ounces) is the two-person version.
Is the eVENT Tent Really Gone? The Code Name is Rab Summit Mountain Bivi
It's not eVENT, but the new Rab is made of Exchange Lite, a ePTFE fabric without a protective polyurethane layer, so it is very breathable. The Summit Mountain "Bivi" (4 pounds, 7 ounces, US$500) is 86 inches long x 47 inches wide x 39.4 inches high, which is cozy. It's designed as a mountaineering tent, with nine sturdy tieouts that allow the tent to be clipped in so it will withstand extreme winds. The tent has a zippered door and does not have any vestibules. There are four mesh pockets inside. This mountaineering tent is overkill for backpacking, but if you want a truly breathable fabric tent, this is it.
The Rab Summit Mountain Bivi (4 pounds, 7 ounces, US$500) is made of Exchange Lite ePTFE breathable fabric that is truly breathable.
Overall, single-wall tents are getting more refined and lighter. In fact, they are getting so light that they present a decision challenge between the diminishing weight advantage of a tarp versus the full weather and bug protection of a single-wall tent. The latest designs set up quickly, are easy to enter and exit, and have adequate space and headroom inside.
However, one thing that won't go away is condensation. Using a single wall tent means living with condensation on the inside walls. To understand why, read my article on Condensation in Single-walled Shelters: Contributing Factors and Tips for Reduction. You can't escape condensation inside a single-wall tent, but you can manage it effectively.
We also have more choices of single-wall tents as far as design, size, and features. Most are made of silnylon, with a few made of spinnaker fabric, and now one made of cuben fiber. Ten years ago, silnylon was a breakthrough technology for lightweight and ultralight backpacking gear. Now it is commonplace and cheap. Today, silnylon seems heavy, and we are looking for even lighter fabrics to use for shelters that will reduce weight some more, while retaining adequate strength and storm resistance.
Tyvek has emerged as a tent fabric. It's strong, light, breathable, and cheap, but it will require some time and testing to determine how suitable it is for shelters and how well hikers will accept it.
Besides tents, soft structure Tyvek can also be used for tarps and other floorless shelters, and as a groundsheet or bivy. It's easy to make your own Tyvek bivy: just go to http://ecom.citystar.com/hang-em-high/, order Part TYVEK-60 - Tyvek #14 White - Soft, and sew it on two sides like an envelope with one end open.
The new for spring 2009 Terra Nova Bivy Tarp (25.7 ounces, US$200) is a cross between a tarp and a single wall tent. It comes with two poles, tarp style flysheet, mesh inner, and fully seam sealed groundsheet. The protected area is eight-five inches long x fifty-nine inches wide, so it's large enough for two hikers.
The new Terra Nova Bivy Tarp (25.7 ounces, US200) comes with two poles, a mesh liner, and groundsheet and is large enough for two people.
The North Face Backpacking Bivy (2 pounds, US$200) is a hooped single wall breathable fabric bivy made of HyVent DT breathable fabric with a 40 denier nylon face, and features a zippered side entry with a window.
Coming Soon: Backpacking Light's 2008 Single-Wall Tent State of the Market Report
This is a good time to announce that a new State Of The Market report on single-wall tents is in the works, and will be published in the late fall at Backpackinglight.com. Our last report back in 2003 has become one of our most popular articles - it looks like a lot of our readers are interested in single-wall tents! A lot has changed since then, and Chris Townsend and I will document the evolution, provide specifications on tents that meet our selection criteria, and rate the tents on their performance for different applications. Judging from the innovations in this lightweight shelters update, we will have a lot to say in the new SOTM report.