COMPACT AND TOUGH
Mountain Hardwear Skyledge 3
Floor space 38 sq. ft.
Vestibules (total) 24 sq. ft.
Weight 4 lbs. 14 oz.
Contact (800) 953-8375; mountainhardwear.com
Need a lightweight shelter that can handle truly nasty conditions? This is your tent. Though under five pounds, with a compact footprint, it proved itself in numerous hard-blowing rainstorms above 8,000 feet. The cavernous vestibules (12 sq. ft. each) have doors angled to keep rain out even when they’re left open. A generous gap between canopy and rainfly encouraged airflow on a humid, 80°F morning, and eliminates all condensation in cool temps. The crossing-poles setup is easy to pitch, and eight pockets provide ample storage. Vertical walls make the modest interior space feel bigger than it really is, and six-foot-plus campers lauded the surplus headroom. But there’s only 38 square feet of floor space; as one tester summed up, "It’s not a true three-person tent, but better for two campers who want more space without picking up weight." The tent doors, while large, were difficult to open unless the pitch was quite taut (because the slack fabric caused the zipper to stick). And the rainfly-only setup (3 lbs. 6 oz., with optional $50 footprint) has few clips securing the rainfly to the poles, so it’s not as stable as a hubbed-pole setup.
SPACIOUS AND STURDY
Marmot Aeros 3p
Floor space 46 sq. ft.
Vestibules (total) 20 sq. ft.
Weight 5 lbs. 5 oz.
Contact (707) 544-4590; marmot.com
If you’re pursuing the middle ground–not too heavy, not too small, not too pricey–look no further. Roomy for three, the 46-square-foot Aeros ranks second only to the Vista in floor space, yet it’s more than a half-pound lighter. Two bridge poles and Marmot’s unique "knees" in the crossing poles balloon the elbowroom. The vestibules (10 sq. ft. each) store three campers’ packs and gear. Color-coded tabs and curved clips make it a fast pitch. Testers liked Marmot’s multi-hole stake tabs, which improve flexibility when setting up on rocky, hard ground. The sturdy pole structure, low profile, and ample stake and guy points made it a fortress in Cascades wind and rain. "Love all that mesh–we had no condensation on nights below freezing in the Tetons," one tester said. The sturdy rainfly nylon promises long durability. Downsides: Six-footers called the length inadequate. A bad drip line brought rain inside when opening vestibule doors, and the doorways are annoyingly tight. Plus, the rainfly-only setup (4 lbs. 2 oz., with optional $45 footprint) has so few tabs attaching rainfly to poles that it’s aggravating to pitch–and flimsy.
CRITERIA New 3-season, 3-person, double-wall tents / Maximum trail weight is 6 lbs. (2 lbs. per person) / Must have adequate bug protection (no funky tarp shelters) / Two doors and two vestibules / Maximum price is $500
*Rating Scale: 5= perfect gear, 1= save your money
**Weights are for rainfly, canopy, and poles only, according to BACKPACKER scales.