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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Gear Review: Big Agnes Copper Spur UL3 Tent

You can fit four people for a game of cards, three people for sleeping, and it still weighs less than many two-person tents.

by: Will Rochfort

The writer's beloved Copper Spur on location at Taft Point, Yosemite NP.
The writer's beloved Copper Spur on location at Taft Point, Yosemite NP.

The Specs
Weight: 4 lbs., 5 oz.
Price: $500
If I’m going to spend more money on a tent than I spend on groceries, I need it to be something I can use twelve months a year. I also need it to have sizable vestibules, more than one door, plenty of headroom, enough space to comfortably house winter gear, a serious ability to fight condensation, plenty of mesh for impromptu stargazing...Oh yeah, and it needs to weigh as close to four pounds as possible.

Five years ago, pickings may have been slim by my standards in the two-person tent category. These days, you have some awfully tough choices to make in the three-person tent category. Backpacker reviewed five of these in February 2008, and that’s when I first fell in love with the Big Agnes Copper Spur.

Amusingly, I actually bought it twice. I sold it the first time after buying a newfangled tent that would, supposedly, do everything the Copper Spur did for a few ounces less. After a few trips, I quickly realized that new technology doesn’t always mean better product, and I bought the Big Agnes for a second time. I haven’t looked back since.

With a simple hubbed pole design and curved clips, it pitches insanely fast; I can’t tell you how many tentmates have said, “Wait, that’s it?” when we pitched it for the first time. The hubbed poles save weight and increase ease of setup by having a single hub that allows for the connection of three poles, rather than multiple poles criss-crossing over your tent. The eyebrow pole extends a few inches beyond the side of the tent, which creates a little more headroom in the vestibules. I do have to crouch down a little more than usual when entering and exiting, but it’s easily worth it to me for the extra space.

At four pounds, five ounces, you can easily use this as a backcountry palace for two. And if you split it between three people, it’s luxuriously lightweight at less than 1.5 lbs per person. On one occasion, I even gave the entire tent to two compatriots, and they didn’t even notice when I didn’t take any for myself. Fortunately I used the lack of weight and extra volume to pack in a top-shelf merlot, which I used to barter my way back into the tent after they threatened to force me to sleep outside.

What really makes this tent work for me, however, is its livability. I took it to Taft Point on a cross-country ski trip through Yosemite last year, and we comfortably fit three people plus the usual smattering of winter gear. On top of all that, there was still minimal condensation after a still night in sub-freezing temps. I have to warn you though-- be careful when sharing this with just one other person. After a couple of nights of splitting 44 square feet, you may find it difficult to go back to anything less.

As a final note, I was initially concerned about the tent’s durability after handling the ultralight material. After getting pitched on everything from prickly deserts to coarse granite to windy ridgelines, it has held up just fine. Certainly, you’ll want to make sure you’re campsite is free of any obviously sharp objects, as well as take the time to guy it properly in windy conditions, but it doesn’t require any more TLC than any other ultralight piece of gear.

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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star Star


Jul 06, 2011

Love my new UL3 as well, but has anyone noticed any shrinking of the fly? I found on my first two-day trip with the new tent, that the fly was much more difficult to stretch across the cross pole on the second and subsequent days. Maybe shave off a mm from the pole itself?

Aug 16, 2010

Amen to that, copper spur ul3 all the way, although you certainly pay for it, it's the best tent out there!

Canyon Man
Aug 15, 2010

I have the Copper Spur UL2 and have the same great things to say about it. I have taken it on two recent trips to Yosemite and the Inyo National Forest and it has been great. No condensation, warm even when the temps dipped to near 30 degrees, and really light. I have always used the REI Half Dome and love it as well, but the Copper Spur is my new go-to tent.

My one complaint is the cross-bar pole can be a bit of a hazard, watch out and don't poke your eye out. It also makes getting in and out with the fly on a bit more challenging than my Half Dome, but I'll take it for a nearly 3 pound loss in weight.


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