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October 2005

Tent Review: New-School Shelters

Slash weight, not weather protection, with this year's top new ultralight tents.

Ultralighters know that the fastest way to shed serious pack pounds is to downsize the shelter. But the traditional solution–sleeping under a tarp–leaves you vulnerable to storms and bugs. Lately, though, superlight materials and new tent configurations have helped designers produce a backpacker’s Holy Grail: a livable two-person, three-season tent that weighs less than 4 pounds. We spent more than a hundred nights testing models that meet these requirements, and we found four top performers that are perfect for everything short of rainforest and Himalayan basecamping. Read the reviews carefully to see which one is right for you.

©Mitch Mandel

Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2

Score: 4.1

Freestanding, sturdy, and barely more than 3 pounds–tents like this are as rare as bikinis on Everest.

It just doesn’t get any lighter than this, not without sacrificing weather protection. The Seedhouse’s single-hubbed pole/clip system sets up quickly without guesswork, and the taut pitch offers impressive stability. The solid pole structure, boosted by a few well-placed external guy lines, helped the Seedhouse stand strong in gusty winds from Washington’s Goat Rocks Wilderness to the southern Appalachians. The all-mesh canopy reduces stuffiness in warm weather, and allows horizon-to-horizon stargazing on clear nights. Interior space is adequate for two average-sized campers who care more about saving weight than hanging out. But like all the shelters we tested, there are minor tradeoffs to get the weight so low. Sloping walls take a bite out of usable headroom, and the length is cramped for 6-plus-footers. Vestibule space is also tight-fine for boots and small packs, but not for cooking or changing clothes. And while ventilation is adequate in most weather conditions, the close quarters and absence of fly vents caused condensation on cool, windless nights in Idaho’s Sawtooth Wilderness. Bonus feature: Pitch it rainfly-only with the footprint ($50, sold separately), and you get a slightly roomier shelter that shaves another 12 ounces. $299; 84″x52″x38″; 3 lbs. 3 oz. (877) 554-8975;

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