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Sierra Designs Lightning Tent REVIEW

Lightweight, freestanding double wall tent with Easton FX Carbon poles. Is this the ultimate compromise in a do-it-all three-season tent?

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by Doug Johnson | 2006-01-17 03:00:00-07

Introduction

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At just over 4 pounds, the Sierra Designs Lightning is a freestanding, two-person tent with large mesh panels, a huge single door, and strong, lightweight Easton FX Carbon poles. It strikes a solid compromise between light weight, storm protection, usable space, and wind stability. However, it has a minimal vestibule and a small door on the rainfly. Does the Lightning offer the best set of features in a double wall tent?

What's Good

  • Easton Carbon Fiber FX poles are very strong for their weight
  • Vestibule offers space for two small packs and access to entry door
  • Mesh inner tent offers views and ventilation
  • Lower 16 inches of the inner tent at the back and sides is rip stop nylon which protects against splashing rain
  • Erects quickly with easy-to-use Swift Clips
  • Good wind stability for a three-season tent

What's Not So Good

  • Door on rainfly doesn't open fully, making entry difficult
  • Not the lightest at just over 4 pounds
  • Two pole design isn't the best for usable space and headroom
  • Rear fly doesn't come to ground level - good for ventilation but bad for windblown sand and spindrift
  • Floor absorbs some water in extremely wet conditions

Specifications

  Year/Model

2004 Sierra Designs Lightning

  Style

Double wall tent with floor

  Fabrics

Floor: 70d taffeta nylon, water resistance rated to 1800 mm hydrostatic head; body: 40d nylon rip stop; fly: 40d NT ripstop nylon, water resistance rated to 1500 mm hydrostatic head, pu/silicone-coated

  Pole Material

Carbon fiber - Easton 340 Carbon FX (ultimate tensile strength: poles - 200,000 psi, inserts - 96,000 psi)

  Weight Full Package
As supplied by manufacturer with all included items.

4 lb 13.1 oz (2.19 kg) measured weight for all items

  Weight Manufacturer Minimum
Includes minimum number of items needed to erect tent.

4 lb 2.1 oz (1.87 kg) measured weight; manufacturer's specification 4 lb 2 oz (1.56 kg)

  Weight Backpacking Light Minimum
Same as Manufacturer Minimum but with 0.25 oz titanium stakes and 0.004 oz/ft Spectra guylines.

4 lb 1.2 oz (1.85 kg) measured weight

  Area

Floor area: 31 ft2 (2.88 m2)
Vestibule area: 9.0 ft2 (0.84 m2)

  Floor Area/Backpacking Light Minimum Weight Ratio

0.48 ft2/oz

  Dimensions

Length: 84.5 in (215 cm)
Width: 53 in (135 cm)
Height: 40 in (102 cm)

  MSRP

$249

Performance

The Sierra Designs Lightning is a classic wedge design tent, with two poles that cross in the middle. The Easton Carbon FX poles are stronger and lighter than their aluminum counterparts (and increase the "cool factor" dramatically); they easily extend with shock cords. Once inserted into the grommets at the corners of the tent, the top pole intersection is secured by a "Clip-Loc," a single plastic clip with an elastic cord which wraps around the poles and attaches to the clip - a secure and elegant design. "Swift Clip" plastic clip attachments on the rest of the tent allow for rapid set up. The rainfly attaches to the corners with plastic snap buckles and has adjustable straps to tighten the fly. Eight Velcro pole attachment loops are sewn into the fly to increase wind stability. The rainfly requires a minimum of three stakes - two in the front and one in the rear. A total of eleven guyout points are available on the tent (four at the bottom corners, seven on the fly).

The nylon tent has the large mesh panels at the sides and rear and a very large mesh-only door. The door has dual sliders that allow it to be virtually removed. A single interior pocket is just large enough to stash the door, getting it completely out of your way. When using the tent with the rainfly removed, the front entrance is nearly as large as the front wall, allowing easy entry and exit. The fly, on the other hand, has a zipper on only one side of the entrance and doesn't zip along the top. This creates a small, angled entry when the rainfly is attached, which is cramped. Opening the door also exposes most of the small vestibule to precipitation, although the tent remains fully covered.

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Easton FX Carbon poles are both lighter and stronger than comparable aluminum poles. Swift Clip attachments are secure, durable, and very easy to use.

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The included aluminum peg stakes were kind to hands and inserted easily into hard, rocky soils. After using countless Y, V, and needle stakes (which I typically ditch for titanium pegs), these were a welcomed change.

Stuff sacks are included with the Sierra Designs Lightning for the tent (1.9 ounce), poles (0.8 ounce) and stakes (0.4 ounce). Several nylon cord guylines are included as well as six aluminum alloy peg stakes. After reviewing many tents with the hard-on-the-hands Y, V, and needle stakes, the 0.6-ounce aluminum pegs were nice on the hands and easy to insert into rocky ground. While they did bend more easily than titanium models, they proved to be tough for their weight.

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The large door of the inner tent (top) zips almost completely off and offers excellent access. However, the door of the fly (bottom) is much shorter and cramped due to a zipper that only goes up one side and not across.

At just over 4 pounds and with a floor area to weight ratio of 0.48 ft2/oz the Sierra Designs Lightning is in the ballpark with other freestanding, lightweight, double wall tents. Floor space of 31 square feet is sufficient for two hikers and some gear. The bottom pole section at each corner is pre-bent aluminum. This makes the bottom 2 feet of the tent walls nearly vertical, adding to the overall usable space. The sloping upper walls of the dual-pole design and a moderate peak height of 40 inches make it a bit more cramped to move around in; two hikers can sit up comfortably as long as they move toward the center of the tent.

An optional footprint is also available (not reviewed) that allows for a Fast Pack pitch in which only the fly and footprint are used; this option creates a freestanding tarp that weighs less than 2 1/2 pounds.

Dual-pole "wedge" tent designs are good at spilling winds due to their sloping walls. With the seven stakeout points on the fly engaged, the Lightning was able to handle moderate winds with ease. Attaching the fly to the poles with the Velcro straps helps with stability during windy conditions. The pitch was taut during storms, with only minor flapping on the smaller side panels of the fly. The rear of the fly doesn't come to ground level. While this helped with ventilation, it did funnel some gusts and windblown snow into the backside of the tent. This tendency was especially bad during high winds in a Utah storm when wind-blown dust blew up the back of the tent and through the mesh rear panel, covering everything inside the tent. When pitching during rough weather, it is best to protect this back section, either aiming it into the trees or away from the wind. With the upper guy lines rigged and the backside of these points directly attached to the strong Easton poles, the main tent structure remained very stiff during side gusts.

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During very wet weather, the floor of the Lightning seeped somewhat, wetting through but not causing puddling.

The Sierra Designs Lightning kept us consistently dry during downpours. While the fly is 6 inches above the ground on the sides and about 15 inches above ground in the rear, the lower 21 inches on the mostly mesh inner tent are water-resistant nylon. This is an excellent compromise for a three-season tent because it allows for more ventilation but also repels splashing rains during total downpours. While the front door is mesh nearly to ground level, the front of the rain fly pitches to ground level, keeping items in the vestibule very dry. When using the Lightning during the worst of Washington rainstorms, no water ever entered the inner tent. However, the floor did show minor seeping after sitting in a very wet area for more than a day, especially in areas that had been slept on; 1800 mm hydrostatic head pressure is low for a tent floor and waterproofing should be improved.

Despite the absence of vent options in the fly, the large mesh panels of the inner tent allow for moisture to easily transfer to outside of the living area. The raised fly at the sides and back allow for good ventilation, even during small breezes. However, an upper vent would allow for low/high venting that would increase airflow. Because of the lack of outside vents, I don't recommend cooking inside the Lightning.

With only one inner door and a cramped outer door, two hikers have to do some negotiating when getting in and out of the tent. It is a comfortable place to sit out a storm, but not exceptionally roomy and you have to leave the tent to cook. However, it is a good compromise for a lightweight double wall tent.

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The rear of the fly requires one stake to be taut. When properly staked out, the bottom is 15 inches above the ground and 21 inches away from the tent (top). While this offers excellent ventilation, it also allows windblown rain and snow to be blown into the tent. When attempting to minimize this effect, the back panel isn't taut and flaps in the wind (bottom).

Because of the large mesh panels and huge mesh door, the Lightning is a joy to use during clear weather. When bugs are swarming, this tent is a wonderful refuge, offering sweeping views.

After months of field testing, the Sierra Designs Lightning has shown no durability issues. All seams of the floor and fly are taped, and stressed seams such as those at the corners and guyout points are reinforced. The Easton FX poles have proven extremely durable in this and other tests. After using several Sierra Designs tents through the years, the Swift Clips have proven to be extremely durable and reliable. My only issue was seepage through the floor during very wet conditions; perhaps a better waterproof coating would improve this minor issue.

At $249, the Sierra Designs Lightning is an excellent value in a lightweight double wall tent. It is a good compromise between weight, usable space, wind stability, ventilation, and storm protection.

What's Unique

The Sierra Designs Lightning tent has a combination of features that make it unique. The huge front door that zips almost completely off and large mesh panels offer outstanding views and tent access during clear weather; with the exception of wind-blown sand and spindrift, the raised fly and higher inner-tent mesh panels are an excellent design that gives good ventilation and storm protection; and Swift Clips allow for very fast set up and excellent airflow. Easton FX carbon poles are an excellent addition to the tent, adding strength (and cool factor) while reducing tent weight.

Recommendations for Improvement

  • A more waterproof coating on the floor would eliminate seepage.
  • The Lightning could lose weight by using lighter silicone-coated fabrics, especially in the rainfly.
  • A rainfly door that zips across the top would improve tent access when using the rainfly.
  • A couple of interior pockets would improve interior organization at minimal weight gain.
  • An upper vent in the vestibule would increase low/high airflow.
  • Reducing the distance of the rear fly from the tent and the ground might be a better balance between ventilation and protection from windblown snow and sand.

Citation

"Sierra Designs Lightning Tent REVIEW ," by Doug Johnson. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/sierra_designs_lightning_tent_review.html, 2006-01-17 03:00:00-07.

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