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Backpacker Magazine – August 2009

Gear School: Ultralight Tents

Looking to cut shelter weight in half this summer? A featherweight tent is just the ticket.

by: Kelly Bastone, Illustration by Don Foley

PAGE 1 2

BUY
Consider these options:
  • Go for a "conventional" ultralight tent if you want the easiest way to cut weight without sacrificing convenience. These designs look and function much like standard shelters, but they weigh less and cost more. Two-person models in this category typically weigh three to four pounds and cost $300 to $400; the lightest we've tested, the MSR Carbon Reflex 2, weighs just two pounds, 13 ounces.
  • True zealots turn to niche manufacturers like Mountain Laurel Designs, Six Moon Designs, and Tarptent, which use weight-saving structures—such as shelters that pitch with trekking poles—and high-tech fabrics to go as low as a pound and a half for a two- person tent. These models cost about the same as conventional ultralights, but are typically less durable, less stable in bad weather, and require practice to pitch effectively.
  • In both categories, nonfreestanding designs offer a better space-to-weight ratio, while freestanding models are easier to set up—especially on tricky surfaces like slickrock or sand.
  • Make smart concessions on space. If a tent expands in one dimension, it will trim elsewhere to make up for it. Let your body type be your guide: Tall guys should choose a longer design with a narrower floor, while shorter, wider campers can get away with less length and more elbow- or headroom.
  • Single-wall designs, in which the tent body is waterproof, save significant weight, but suffer from condensation problems. Double-wall shelters perform better in humid weather.

USE
Featherweight shelters require special care in the field. Here's how ultralighter Paul Cronshaw, who once hiked 212 miles on the John Muir Trail with a 10-pound base weight, gets a good night's sleep in his Gossamer Gear The One ($295, 1 lb.; gossamergear.com).
  • Reduce condensation (the bane of single-wall shelters) by pitching under a tree instead of out in the open. Leave vestibules and vents completely open for maximum ventilation.
  • Set up behind natural windbreaks, such as bushes or boulders, and angle the tent's corner into the wind.
  • Protect the tent floor by taking extra care to remove sharp sticks, rocks, and other debris from the site—and always use a footprint (Cronshaw likes Gossamer Gear's Polycryo Ground Cloth; $8, 1.5 oz.).
  • In windy conditions, when you're pitching a tent that uses trekking poles for support, first secure all corners with rocks on top of the stakes. Then quickly incorporate the poles and stake all guy points.
  • Mark trekking poles (with tape or a Sharpie) so you can quickly adjust them from hiking length to shelter length.

    FIX
  • Silnylon requires seam sealing to ensure waterproofness (factory-applied seam tape doesn't bond to silicone). Use a syringe to apply SilNet ($7, mcnett.com) to all seams on the inside.
  • Carry a lightweight repair kit in a zip-top bag: one small tube of Seam Grip, a pole sleeve, and a few strips of repair tape (like McNett's Tenacious Tape, $4.50).
     
DECODE THE NUMBERS
Manufacturers report tent weights in several ways. When comparing shelters, the minimum weight gives the fairest figure.
  • Minimum weight: just the tent body, poles, and fly— no stakes, guylines, footprint, or stuffsacks
  • Packaged weight: everything sold with the tent
  • Pitchlight or fastpitch weight: just the fly, poles, and footprint

 

 
PAGE 1 2

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READERS COMMENTS

Shana
Feb 26, 2011

Different strokes for different folks! My needs, as a wilderness instructor who spends 3-4 weeks straight in a tent are different than someone who takes young kids or goes mountaineering. I am willing to spend 300 on a tent because it's where I spend half my life. Someone who goes occasionally could get my on a lower-quality tent. Advice is useless if you don't understand who your giving it to! So no more preaching!

Anonymous
Apr 07, 2010

I live in oklahoma and the weather is a bit bi-polar and brutal. On my last backpacking trip i was using my sierra designs Zeta 2 not the lightest tent at about 5 lbs but it withstood the 50 mph plus wind. And in the same situation my walmart and cheaper tents have just got ripped apart like it was nothin.

knarfster
Apr 06, 2010

"True Zealots"? "These models cost about the same as conventional ultralights". I am no zealot, I am an older guy who thinks its silly to lug around a 6-8 lb tent. Tents like the Tartptent Double Rainbow are way cheaper than their "commercial" counter parts, and are nearly as durable. Most tents are "durable" if you treat them with respect, not like a hooligan.

Sean
Apr 06, 2010

All of you need to chill out. Backpacker is going to push the main stream gear for two reasons. One it comes with a proven history of use. These companies have bee building and selling gear for decades. They are not on the fringe of the industry building gear in their garage or small shops. I'm not saying these small companies aren't good, but they just aren't going to get the press of the big companies. Second these main stream companies are the ones that advertise in their magazine! I am not an ultralight backpacker, but I do try to keep the weight at a minimum. I have seen and used this so called true ultralight gear, and in my opinion it just isn't as durable or comfertable. I live in the southest, and I don't want to wake up to condesation and bugs all over me. I know you can't help but get dirty, wet, and bit by bugs if you backpack, but I like having a dry bug free tent to retire to for the night. Give me the lightest weight conventional gear you have, and I will be a happy camper for many years to come.

Also the cost issue isn't as big a deal as you seem to make it. I don't make alot of money, and work a factory job. I can afford all of this super expensive stuff. You can spend more on the front end and get good gear that will last for years, or you can buy gear at Walmart that will fall apart every year. If you backpack as much as I do you will get your money's worth out of the good stuff. By the way Backpacker does promote the chaeper mid grade gear. Check out the gear issue, and under every catagory they have a killer deal. It is usually a brand like Kelty, or something simular. It won't be the lightest, have all the trick features, but it will do the job well.

Anonymous
Apr 06, 2010

This isn't about frugal backpacking. Why are all the comments about money?
It is about the latest and greatest gear. I've used "walmart" gear and been fine, sure... but, the high end gear is better, lighter, cooler, and lasts. I've have my Serria Design tent for 16 years and no problems!

Anonymous
Apr 06, 2010

This isn't about frugal backpacking. Why are all the comments about money?
It is about the latest and greatest gear. I've used "walmart" gear and been fine, sure... but, the high end gear is better, lighter, cooler, and lasts. I've have my Serria Design tent for 16 years and no problems!

Old Lady
Apr 06, 2010

Hey, Our family has been backpacking almost every year for 32 years with kids and for 10 years before that without kids. You can buy a cheap tent at Kmart or Walmart that will work just fine. Check out the weight on the outside of the box and compare it with the weights of the pricier tents. Most of the tents we have used I would classify as 3 season tents just because I don't think they'd hold up well in a heavy snow.

Tom Whisenhunt
Dec 22, 2009

To the "here's a theory" guy. I'm older, and have been backpacking a long time so I can say this with confidence. Shop in the off season and do it online. There are bargains galore in bp gear. Clearance sales, Hot Web Deals, etc. all happen as much or more with bp gear. You just have to be patient. Oh yeah, don't forget ebay, the dealster! I'm using a Mountainsmith tent I bought new for $40, it weighs less than 3 lb. I actually bought two, one was for a buddy. It's actually fun, I have a Driclime Windshirt I got on ebay for $50. Thank you ebay. Anyway, it don't have to be expensive.

John McCoy
Sep 09, 2009

I have used a Wenzel Starlite for years. It weighs only 3.5 lbs and if it's going to be rainy I bring along two small tarps for a ground cloth and rain fly/vestibule. The best part is that the tent is around $25!

rcfan37
Sep 06, 2009


heres a theory
how about running a test of tents the average guy can afford so they don t thave all the cool stuff the big guns have the fact is that of all the tent tests you guys run most of them are over $200
there are a lot of guys who simply cannot afford
them i know lots of potential backpackers in my area and the first thing they say when i show them gear is oh i could never afford that tent!!
ok so the budget tents aren t as well build as the big dollar shelters and so they don t last as long in the field if a guy could afford them he would be more prone to get into the sport and if he only went on 5-6 trips a year his budget tent would last him while he is saving for a new
big agnes or msr bad ass shelter how about a test of tents under $150 maybe it would help the average guy get started in our great outdoor
world of backpacking

Enjoyment
Aug 31, 2009

Allright folks. We are all here to learn and trade info. Enjoy the outdoors with what ever weight you like. I am an UL'r but every now and then my wife and I go UH (ultra heavy) just for the hell of it. Lets be nice.

Captain Lars
Aug 29, 2009

Most of the companies that produce truly light/ultralight gear are relatively small and sell primarily through their web sites. As they are currently set up they simply cannot produce enough product to sell to the mass market. There's always going to be tradeoffs between weight and durability/convenience with gear and each hiker needs to decide where they fall on the spectrum. It would be nice if Backpacker would provide a little more information on these ultralight gear companies so those that want to explore more ways to reduce their pack weight will know where to look and what to expect.

Darren
Aug 27, 2009

I live outside and use my Integral Designs Siltrap as my shelter, as well as a ultra-light-weight bivy by the same manufacturer, and yes, condensation occurs nightly... but it has never been a problem for me because I just don't touch the tarp when it is wet (rather easily done)and I pitch it on a good enough angle to promote easy runoff... and if you sleep in until 9am, the sun dries it all off for you anyway.

Rick
Aug 27, 2009

I heartily agree with the comment about single wall tents being more prone to condensation - almost irrespective of the number and size of vents. Unless you're in a relatively dry climate, I would always choose double wall tents. This is especially true in the eastern US in the Appalachians, where humidity is especially prevalent, especially in the warmer months.

Mr. Literate
Aug 27, 2009

"Mr. Obvious" was oblivious when it came to reading this article. On page 2 it goes into everything he says above.

Mr. Obvious
Aug 27, 2009

Backpacker really needs to learn the definition of light and ultralight. Here' a hint - most stuff Backpacker claims to fall into one of these categories - doesn't. It's a true disservice to readers to push them into buying something they think will help their backpacking needs (i.e. a lighter pack as a result of lighter equipment) when the reality is that Backpacker pushes stuff with weights similar to everything on the market which is no lighter. Gossamer Gear, ULA-Equipment, Tarp Tent, Mountain Laurel Designs, Backpackinglight, Titanium Goat, etc....these vendors actually know the definition of lightweight and ultralight".

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