Backpacking is in tents

Picking out a tent you’re going to spend months living in isn’t a decision one should take lightly, especially when you’ll be facing a plethora of weather conditions and having to set up and tear down your tent almost every day.  Finding the right balance between weight, function and durability can be a difficult one.  There are some really lightweight tents out there but I find myself questioning how well they will hold up on the trail, the last thing you want is for your tent to fail when your days away from civilization in a massive storm.  While I currently have a hand me down 2 person North Face Tent which does the job, is a bit bulky and heavier than I’d like. Plus it’s a bit old, so I don’t know if I trust it.

I considered making weight my top priority, looking at tarps and bivys ,but decided an actual tent would provide me with an extra bit of comfort and sanity that I’ll need while out on the trail. As I started my search  for a new tent my only prerequisites were that it be a 2 person tent and weighs under 3 lbs. While I am in fact only one person I like the idea of  having the extra room a 2 person tent offers, allowing me to either protect my backpack from the elements and critters by keeping it inside the tent, or have enough room for Cristina when she joins up with me to hike some sections.  Here are the tents I’ve taken into consideration:


MSR Carbon Reflex 2  

Nice and light weighing in at 1 lb 13 oz with  zipper free vestibules and dual doors.  It also has a “Fast & Light” configuration where you combine the rain fly with a footprint, cutting 6 ounces of weight when conditions don’t call for a full tent setup. This was my first pick when I began looking for a new tent but the negative comments about the rain fly, comparing it to saran wrap, made me reconsider. There were other comments stating that the materials were prone to punctures and tears, which doesn’t sound like a fun thing to have to deal with. Another point that I realized is that I needed to take into consideration is that the Carbon Reflex 2 is a non-free standing tent, like the North Face tent I currently have. The idea of having a tent that can be completely freestanding is appealing because finding the right area to steak out your tent can be difficult, especially if the ground is hard.  The Carbon Reflex 2 retails for $499.95, which I would gladly pay if I wasn’t so worried about the durability.

MSR FreeLite 2 

Another light MSR tent, heavier than the Carbon Reflex at 2 lbs 7 oz but still well under 3 lbs, and freestanding!! Awesome! Like the Carbon Reflex it has dual doors and a “Fast & Light” configuration which reduces the weight by 7 ounces. I was ready to order (and it was actually ordered by accident) until I  read a review stating that when the rain fly was added the ceiling was lowered by by 4 inches and the walls bowed. Being tall I need all the room I can get, so that was an immediate red flag. Also, it’s not really freestanding! with only one point of contact on one side it needs to be staked down as well. The Freelite 2 is a bit cheaper than the Carbon Reflex at $439.95 but the alleged space issue and my added criteria of a freestanding tent kept me from going through with the purchase.

Mountain Hardware Ghost UL 2 

This tent looks amazing on paper.  2 lbs 9oz , freestanding and 2 person! Unlike the MSR tents the Ghost UL  only has one door, which in itself isn’t a deal breaker. However, I once again lost interest when I read the reviews and saw comments about the tent being fragile. One reviewer stated that the material ripped when it brushed against a rock. Another reviewer called out the fact that the rain fly sags and design flaws which makes it hard to get in and out of. The Ghost UL is priced at $449, the same as the MSR FreeLite 2, but the potential for frustration seems high with this one.


Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2

When Cristina and I went to the PCT class at REI a few months ago the presenters mentioned the popularity of Big Agnes and after taking a closer look I can see why.  The Copper Spur HV UL is freestanding, has 2 doors, and a maximum height of 40 inches!  At 2 lbs 12 oz it’s the heaviest out of the tents I’ve considered but a little extra weight can go a long way.  It has a “4-way high volume hub design” for added strength and some magical “Proprietary random rip-stop pattern nylon” which makes it extremely durable. It also has some nice pockets for keeping things organized. The price is inline with the other tents I considered at $449.95 and at this point is my choice. Let’s see if that remains the case when I go to buy it this weekend.

There are a number of other great 2 person tents which weigh in over my self imposed 3 lb limit, such as the Nemo Dagger 2P and the REI Co-Op Quarter Dome 2 , both of which are cheaper than those above. If you’re looking for a lightweight tent for backpacking I’d take a look at those in particular.

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