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Stephensons Warmlite 2R Review

Tunnel Tents Tutorial and State of the Market Report - Mini Reviews

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by Roger Caffin | 2012-04-24 00:00:00-06

This is a mini-review to go with our series on tunnel tents. It reviews the Stephensons Warmlite 2R. Some of the illustrations are from the manufacturer's web site, used here with acknowledgement.


Stephensons Warmlite 2R Review - 1

The Stephensons Warmlite 2R is a tapered two-pole two-man double-skin tunnel. First, the specifications.

Brand Stephensons
Model Warmlite 2R
Poles 2, custom
Skins 2
Fly Fabric 30d ripstop nylon, silicone
Entries 1
Vestibules 0
Persons 2
Listed Weight ? - see below
Tent Weight 1.41 kg (3 lb 2 oz)
Pole Weight 268 g (9.5 oz)
Stakes, Weight not supplied
Stuff Sacks 19 g (0.7 oz)

The web site lists the weight of the 2R as 2.75 lbs (1.25 kg), but that is considerably less than the weight of the tent tested. It may refer to the weight of the tent without the poles, or it may be that the zips on the tent tested were extra.


This is a rather small tapered two-pole two-man double-skin tunnel tent deriving from the mid-2000s. The brand was created by Jack Stephenson, and the company is now run by his son Bill. The brand was famous (legendary? notorious?) for the scantily clad ladies in the early catalogs. Stephensons were very early users of lightweight materials and VBL materials. This tent would seem to be made from standard silnylon - in almost any of the wide range of colours available.

Stephensons Warmlite 2R Review - 2
The interior of the tent has reasonable floor space for two as shown here.

The sides are moderately wide, so you have plenty of storage space for gear at your sides. However, the rear end of the tent both tapers in and slopes down, so that it is only useful for your feet while sleeping.

Stephensons Warmlite 2R Review - 3
There is an entry end bell, but it does not provide any vestibule space.

The rear end, of course, has none either. That means you have no space to store your packs or shoes, and no space to cook during bad weather. We list the sitting space in Part 2 - that area where there is at least 80 cm of head room as being a scant 70 cm x 40 cm. One person might sit at the entrance, but the second person (and this is a two-man tent) will have to lie down the whole time.

Can one fit shoes outside the groundsheet but under the fly? No, because that narrow gap is covered in mesh to keep all the insects out. This mesh is visible in the photo here.

The entrance to the tent is a little strange. There is a single door on the end bell (no inner mesh door to keep out insects), but this door is secured by two sets of zips. There is an inner zip that runs from the pole arch down the side and across the bottom, making a sharp turn at the corner. It meets another zip coming down the other side. These are visible in the photo. But then there is a second zip running all the way down from the pole arch, in parallel with the first. It may be that this is meant to serve as a rain-flap over the first, but the design is extremely complex.

Stephensons Warmlite 2R Review - 4

Unfortunately, it gets worse. The outer zip then extends beyond the end bell to form part of the ground anchor system for this tent. Just how strong the zipper is would be questionable. In addition, the zipper leaves the end bell at a bit of an angle, putting a very high load on the silnylon fabric at the point of departure. Fortunately, there is also a webbing anchor in parallel with the zipper. It is possible to tighten the webbing so it takes most of the load. However, half that tension goes to the groundsheet, which is also a strange decision. I find allowing a little slack in the groundsheet is essential on rough ground. The design also means that only half the tension in the webbing is applied to the roof of the tunnel, and this tension is crucial to the tent staying erect in bad weather.

Stephensons Warmlite 2R Review - 5
The tent poles are totally custom. The small rear pole is 9.5 mm OD and has a very high curvature built in. There is no way you could get this curvature in the field. The larger pole has a nominal OD of 16 mm - huge! It too has most of the curvature built in. These poles are quite short and very stiff: they will not buckle in the field.

By way of comparison, the vertical yellow tube is an Easton 344 (8.50 mm) pole. There are only two poles: Stephenson asserts that you don't need a middle pole, although they will fit mid-point guy rope anchors to the fly at an extra cost.

However, considerable care needs to be taken with these poles as the walls are very, very thin, and the ferrules are very thin-walled. I measured the larger pole as having a 0.3 mm wall thickness; the Easton 344 pole has a wall thickness of 0.48 mm. What this means is that although the poles will be very stiff in the field, they will also be very susceptible to damage: dents will easily occur, and inadequate insertion will be disastrous.

Stephensons Warmlite 2R Review - 6
The ends of the poles are captured inside the sleeves at both ends. You insert the pole all the way into the sleeve and push the near end inside as shown here.

It's a rather ingenious arrangement. It is also a bit hard to find the first time you pitch the tent! There is no provision with this sort of design for tensioning the sleeve, but the sleeves seem to come out reasonably tensioned by design.

Stephensons Warmlite 2R Review - 7

Now, guy ropes and anchoring. Well, there is no provision for guy ropes. None at all (unless you opt for the extra-cost mid-point 'Wind Stabilisers'). Saves weight I guess. In truth, the rear end is probably small enough that it simply does not need any guy ropes, and the pole at the entry end is huge, so maybe it does not need any guy ropes either. Maybe. But that means the tent must be staked out with a very high lengthwise tension: far higher than normal. All that tension, plus the wind loading from the rear end, goes on one solitary staking point, shown here. Do you feel lucky? You may note that I chose to put two stakes (orange Ti wires) into the ground in the photo, and I had reservations about how well they would hold tension. I imagine a well-sunk ice axe might be a good idea in the mountains.

Stephensons Warmlite 2R Review - 8
For a small tent like this ventilation can be very important.

The rear end of the tent is blocked by mesh, with an ingenious silnylon cover flap. You pull the top end of the string and the flap comes up to block the mesh. No zip at the sides, but I think the idea is that the wind will push the silnylon flap against the mesh and block it that way. To get inwards ventilation, you pull the lower end of the cord. The main door has a mesh-covered vent as well. It can be zipped shut to keep the rain out. When open there is a bit of light elastic that keep the silnylon cover away from the mesh, to let the air through. However, there is no hood over the vent, so in bad weather you won't get much ventilation.

Stephensons Warmlite 2R Review - 9
The inner tent (if specified) is aluminised silnylon, not a breathable fabric. Not a lot of ventilation (or even fresh air) there. However, for extra cost you can have one or two awnings put in the side of your tent, as shown here. They supply guy ropes for the corners of the awning and you get mesh screens as well. Yes, you can open the mesh screen to shut the awning in the fly from inside, but you have to deal with the guy ropes somehow. Alternately, you can specify the tent with no inner lining. I find the concept of the side openings a little strange in a tent designed for the mountains, but if you also want to use this tent in the lowlands in fine weather, the openings are probably essential for comfort.

Stephensons Warmlite 2R Review - 10
I must express considerable dissatisfaction over the quality of manufacture.

The sewing is rough and very amateur, and so are some design features. Seen here is a major seam: it is single-stitched, with no hemming at all. Now it may be that a single line of stitches is strong enough in this position, but it looks terrible. This style of construction was found all over the tent. See also my comments about the main door zippers for instance, and look at the photos of the pole sleeve end and the loose bungee cord sticking out of the pole end cap. In our previous review of the Warmlite down air mat, the same problems with construction were found and commented on. For a tent priced at over $500, this is just not good enough. It pains me to say so, but the Chinese tents I own show a much higher quality of manufacture.


If you are looking for an ultralight survival tent for two people in the mountains, this might be just the thing. Expect it to function as a reasonable bivy bag for two and it will do that. Mind you, I would skip the side awnings and add the 'wind stabilisers' to the order. But if you want a bit more comfort, room for getting changed, sheltering for your gear, and room for cooking in bad weather, plus the ability to sit up in the tent, look elsewhere.

Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and the author/BPL has returned or will return this product to the manufacturer upon completion of the review. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to the manufacturer to review this product under the terms of this agreement.


"Stephensons Warmlite 2R Review," by Roger Caffin. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2012-04-24 00:00:00-06.


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Tunnel Tents Tutorial and State of the Market Report - Part 3: The Mini-Reviews
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Tunnel Tents Tutorial and State of the Market Report - Part 3: The Mini-Reviews on 04/24/2012 14:48:59 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Tunnel Tents Tutorial and State of the Market Report - Part 3: The Mini-Reviews

Edited by addiebedford on 04/24/2012 16:10:05 MDT.

Inaki Diaz de Etura
(inaki) - MLife

Locale: Iberia highlands
Warmlite 2R front upper vent on 04/24/2012 16:15:52 MDT Print View

Loads of super-interesting info to digest! This is really fun. For the moment, just a comment on that weird front upper vent in the 2R:

> in bad weather you won't get much ventilation

The design is unusual but it works, maybe not any better than the most typical hood covered vent but it works. The hood is actually there but inside the main, mesh covered wall instead of outside of it. It can be left open in bad weather unless the wind blows horizontal rain/whatever in.

It takes some inside room but the exterior is more streamlined and the hood needs no stiffener.

Stuart Murphy
(stu_m) - MLife
Mini review not as thorough as your usual reviews -- but I guess that's why it's called "mini" on 04/24/2012 17:59:36 MDT Print View

You didn't show the versatility/variety of ways the front vestibule can be configured. Shame on you :)

Not up to your usual methodical high standard (eg. you mention the Nallo 2 can be double-poled, neglect to mention that the First arrow can too, neglect to consider that the velcro attachment of inner to outer for the Olympus is fiddly at best -- far easier to separate and reattach the inner in the First Arrow, so for me the value of the mini reviews is limited).

Point being, these mini reviews are just that and I'm not sure that they particularly give much information beyond what a little experience and erecting the tent in a shop and looking at it would yield which is a little disappointing (not everyone gets access to tents they can play with in the field).

That said, I did learn a few things (including on tents I am unlikely to have the chance to play with like the Stephenson) so appreciate your review.

I know Vango don't market the Tempest as 4 season, but wonder whether you can speculate why it is less robust than other 2 pole tunnels like the Nallo (yes the fabric will have a lower tear strength... who cares to a degree... and the poles are probably not quite as high quality but do you have a feel for whether this is significant for the majority of conditions likely to be encoutnered)?

Disclaimer: I do not recommend the use of this tent for 4 seasons just as Vango do not market it as such. Just curious as to where you think corners have been cut that really would impact performance in wind and snow.


Edited by stu_m on 04/24/2012 19:15:45 MDT.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Mini review not as thorough as your usual reviews -- but I guess that's why it's called "mini" on 04/24/2012 20:32:31 MDT Print View

Hi Stuart

Yes, these are just MINI-reviews, to go with the Survey & Tutorial. They are as much examples or illustration as anything else. I was hoping the pictures of each tent would give a bit more info, beyond the basic specs.

Double-poling. Frankly, I suspect this is another one of those great ideas which never get used in practice. My winter tent was fine with single 7 mm CF poles in that storm.

Velcro attachment fiddly: yes, but I think one would have to be nuts to even contemplate ever separating the inner from the outer on any light-weight tent. There is just no point. The only time I might do it would be to wash the inner tent!

Vango Tempest 200 - can it be used 4-season? Well ... it is not a bad tent, despite the very low price. I think it is aimed more at wet weather with wind than serious high-altitude snow - and at DoE kids. Just how well it would survive a serious snow storm might depend rather a lot on the skill of the person in finding a site with a little protection and in pitching the tent. You would not expect DoE kids to be camping on top of the Ben for instance.


Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Tunnel Tents Tutorial and State of the Market Report - Part 3: The Mini-Reviews on 04/24/2012 20:37:48 MDT Print View

Kind of a anti climax as Part 1 started a furor. A big project. Thanks for all the time Roger.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: Warmlite 2R front upper vent on 04/25/2012 04:25:03 MDT Print View

Yeah, I pretty much agree with the front upper vent not working that well. I have used the Stephensons in some really wet conditions in the NE part of the USA (including one ten day trip that rained solidly for 3 days and every day we were out paddling.) The vent itself is simply too small and is the ONLY high vent in the entire tent. I believe it needs more, high ventilation to provide a proper chimney effect. So, except in winds greater than 30mph, it really doesn't work that well. Most of the time, we easily find some sort of wind shelter, often a grove of trees, a larger rock or bushes, to hide the tent from major winds. I have asked the wife to put a second vent in below the first. The style seems good. We *did* have a minor leak at the base of the vent (the bottom of the "V".) I seam sealed it again and it went away. This was the only downside to the vent design.

The tension does not appear to be a problem. In fact, it seems to accur as a product of the angle to the ground. So, the three basic stakes are enough to do the job. In higher winds, four others are needed, at each hoop end, of course. I also use 16" guy lines on the window awnings leaving about a bit of vent clearence on the bottom. These also supply additional stake points for the canopy leaving a total of 11 staking(pegging) points on the tent. It does NOT move.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
"Tunnel Tents Tutorial and State of the Market Report - Part 3: The Mini-Reviews" on 04/25/2012 04:51:11 MDT Print View

Exped dropped the Aries tent from their offerings this year.
The Sirius has been gone for a while, 2006 or so? But, this included a light, fabric inner tent. Good in windy conditions. The vents are all zippered to allow adjustment of the outer vent hood from the inside. Overly elaborate....

Stuart Murphy
(stu_m) - MLife
Separating inner and outer on 04/25/2012 06:17:05 MDT Print View

I think I have occasionally done it for drying. Never for load sharing.

For temporarily enlarging the vestibule I think it can be useful (the attacjment on the WE tents is very quick and easy and I think from memory vango may use a similar system). Also to take the outer alone, which I did once and have learnt my lesson (trip turned into a sand pit, with plenty of rain and even mosquitoes one night (the last two not expected at all as advised by park rangers pre trip)... probably never again.

Also if the weather was particularly not very nice (edited due to possible profanity) to be able to pack up dry. I'm not sure I've ever had to resort to that though.

Taking fly only allowed me to take a nice heavy camera however, so once the memory of that trip fades, maybe I'll give it another go...

I guess one liveability thing against the Vango in winter is the vents which can't be closed.

Incidentally, the bracing Vango (so called TBS) uses on the poles - they specifically do not claim this increases wind resistance (though it obviously should increase stability in cross winds, i.e. liveability but this is not to be confused with an increase in the upper performance limit of the tent in a crosswind I think - in fact I would not be surprised if it actually reduces it by concentrating forces). Anyway, I'm interested in the concept. With luck maybe such a system will appear in the wind testing project BPL is doing for lightweight tents.


Jeremy Osburn

Locale: New England
A bit of a let down on 04/25/2012 11:01:18 MDT Print View

The qualities of the reviews aren't the let down, the product on the market is. I have skimmed the mini reviews and looked at the comparison table. I can't decide if it is writer’s bias or truly lame designs available on the market. All of the tunnel tents on here don't seem to hold a candle to the Caffin designs... Either you pay a large weight penalty for high quality or you pay a size or quality penalty for weight.

Except of course when you look at the two Caffin tents that have seen years of service, are still going strong, and are substantially lighter than anything else available.

What do I do now, I had decided about a year ago that a tunnel tent was in my future for strong conditioned winter climbing but none on the market seem to be reasonable.

I may just have to look into making one.

How much effort and sewing skill go into making the Caffin Winter Special?

How much math and physics are in the design?

What are the approximate material needs for the Caffin Winter tent?

Edited by earn_my_turns on 04/25/2012 11:16:16 MDT.

peter michaloski

Locale: alaska
tunnel tent on 04/25/2012 11:03:44 MDT Print View

So Roger if you don't secure a manufacturing contract in the next so long say 6 months could we expect you to be selling patterns and instructions on making your own ? Or maybe a kit for making your own?

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: "Tunnel Tents Tutorial and State of the Market Report - Part 3: The Mini-Reviews" on 04/25/2012 15:23:09 MDT Print View

Hi James

> Exped dropped the Aries tent from their offerings this year.
> The Sirius has been gone for a while, 2006 or so?
I think you may be looking at the USA web site? Try the Swiss web site - their home country. Both tents are still current there.


Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: A bit of a let down on 04/25/2012 15:35:31 MDT Print View

Hi Jeremy and Peter

> selling patterns and instructions on making your own ? Or maybe a kit for making your own?
If the commercial deal does not go through I will be again helping people MYOG. But bear in mind that the 'instructions' are NOT a hand-hold job! They are MY guide, so much study is required.

> How much effort and sewing skill go into making the Caffin Winter Special?
A lot of effort. Yes, it is a long project. Sewing skills required are medium: it is just about all straight stitches. Much study of the plans and instructions needed. Careful pinning up and sewing is what makes it. Some tools required.

> How much math and physics are in the design?
The design is totally mathematical. It is based on parameters like height, width and lengths of sections, pole curvature, tilt angle ... Its a full 3D parametric model.
There is some physics as well, but more concealed in the design and model. Pole curvature for instance: limited to 1800 mm to avoid breakage, fabric stretch (a %) for tension, etc.
What comes out are the fabric patterns.

> What are the approximate material needs for the Caffin Winter tent?
Um ... roughly 8 m of silnylon and 4 m DWR fabric, plus netting and arrow shafts for poles, and string. Zippers are #3 coil. Some 20 mm hook&loop tape. Eyelets of 2 sizes. Also elbows - the difficult bit as they need a lathe, and pole feet.

Rest assured - I will update the status when I can.


Edited by rcaffin on 04/25/2012 19:07:59 MDT.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: A bit of a let down on 04/25/2012 15:54:03 MDT Print View

> The qualities of the reviews aren't the let down, the product on the market is.
That may be a little unfair to the commercial tents. Some of them are good, even in extreme weather.
The problems you are seeing come in several places:

* Range of customer requirements: not everyone is stupid enough to camp on a snow-covered saddle in a 100 kph storm. Many people genuinely need something a little lower in performance.

* Cost of manufacture: always higher for this sort of tent, even via China. The high quality tent has to be able to sell in competition with cheaper tents. And the manufacturer usually cannot afford to make a really wide range to cover every eventuality. He has to compromise a bit.

* Range of customer experience: let's face it: commercial products get bought by people of various skill levels. A mass-market tent has to be able to handle some misuse by novices in the field. The expert user pays for it.

* Retail resistance: unless you sell via the web, you have to placate the retailers as well. They don't like things which take a lot of explaining, and they really don't like things which novices break and return. This is a generic problem for the whole UL sector - which is why the cottagers sell via the web. Roll on web sales!

Yes, my tents are ultra-light, and yes they provide extreme performance, but they could be trashed by novice mistreatment. They have lasted so long because I care for them.

But maybe you have unfairly condemned the commercial tents anyhow. The Macpac Olympus is widely regarded as legendary in this part of the world. The other European tents are designed for European weather - which can be bad. You do have to pick the right model though - a Hilleberg pop-up is still a pop-up, even if well-made. The American tents seem less favoured: both suffer from design faults and one of them has very poor manufacturing quailty in my humble opinion. YMMV.


Edited by rcaffin on 04/25/2012 19:09:25 MDT.

Jason Elsworth
(jephoto) - M

Locale: New Zealand
Tunnel Tents Tutorial and State of the Market Report - Part 3: The Mini-Reviews on 04/25/2012 16:15:36 MDT Print View

Not sure if these have been mentioned yet and

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Mini review not as thorough as your usual reviews -- but I guess that's why it's called "mini" on 04/25/2012 16:18:49 MDT Print View

Roger, I'm curious why you decided to review the Vango Tempest 200, which is clearly not in the same class as the other tents, as one of your worst weather scenario tents, rather than the Vango Nitro Lite 200, which was specifically designed for the same conditions as the other tents, and is significantly lighter and made of better materials?

Vango Nitro Lite 200.

Vango NItro Lite 200

Edited by butuki on 04/25/2012 16:20:53 MDT.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: A bit of a let down on 04/25/2012 16:21:42 MDT Print View

"Zippers are #3 coil"

I've been experimenting with #3 coil zippers. I haven't totally decided if they're strong enough. I like the reduced weight compared to #5.

Do you put tension across the zipper, like when you have your 100 kph winds?

Do you think a #3 coil zipper might fail?

Do you use regular YKK zippers?

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Tunnel Tents Tutorial and State of the Market Report - Part 3: The Mini-Reviews on 04/25/2012 18:21:14 MDT Print View

Hi Jason

ID Traverse 2 is interesting, but floorless. A bug liner is available. I actually have one on the floor here, but so far the company has not replied to any of my questions about some VERY strange features in the tent.

Lightwave T2 Ultra: Nice tent, love to review it. I don't remember them replying though.


Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Mini review not as thorough as your usual reviews -- but I guess that's why it's called "mini" on 04/25/2012 18:24:21 MDT Print View

Hi Miguel

Ah, yes, I agree that the Nitro Lite is nice. But all the head office had in stock was the Tempest 200 - and I had to wait a while for that. Seems they build some of them to retail order maybe?

PS: don't knock it too much: the Tempest 200 would be a good reliable inexpensive tent for some adventurous kids.

Edited by rcaffin on 04/25/2012 19:06:56 MDT.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: A bit of a let down on 04/25/2012 19:05:59 MDT Print View

Hi Jerry and all

OK, getting technical now.

I have never had a #3 coil zip fail in the field, and they have had a 'fair bit of use'. No problems at all - in my hands.

So why do manufacturers use #8 and #10 zips? In a word: novices. Or perhaps more accurately, careless teenage males. Every manufacturer I have spoken to about this problem has virtually cried on my shoulder about the way some kids trash their gear - and then expect free repairs. Many of them agree that #3 has quite enough strength, but they dare not.

Under storm conditions the zips at the rear end of my tents do have a lot of tension along the tape but not too much across the zipper teeth. In fact, I actually use the strength of the nylon zipper tape as part of the design. When you look at the fabric tension distributed across a zip in most situations, it is not that high.

Caution: do not use a zipper slider to pull the two sides of a zip together. that way will trash both the teeth and the slider. Bring the two sides together by hand first, then run the slider up the length.

Do I use 'regular YKK zippers'? Not sure what you mean here. I use YKK, RiRi and a few other brands available locally, and truthfully I have not seen much difference between them. The zips on my tent are not YKK: they are off a large roll of continuous-chain coil-coil #3 zip. I do use solid metal sliders.

Comment: I see some manufacturers boasting about how they use 'only YKK'. I suspect they are being given a discount for saying this. The YKK brand is not very different from the others as far as I can see, but they have great marketing.


John Whynot

Locale: Southeast Texas
Re: Re: Mini review not as thorough as your usual reviews -- but I guess that's why it's called "mini" on 04/25/2012 19:15:08 MDT Print View

The description of the Vango Nitro Lite 200 looks good. I don't think Vango exports to the US. Too bad, it looks like it would be a good choice for a light, one-man tent for winter and bad-weather use...