Editors' Choice 2009: Sierra Designs Lightning XT 4 Tent

Four is not a crowd in this family-size featherweight.

Through the summer and fall, this shelter won plenty of fans on test trips from Colorado to Vermont. But then came the clinching moment in Wales. In a rain- and hail-blasted camp high on the Glyders–a sharply rising 3,000-foot range in Snowdonia National Park–with 40-mph gusts that knocked testers off their feet, seven staffers sat comfortably in the Lightning, playing cards and toasting the creation of an all-new tent category: ultralight and ultra-large.

At just under seven pounds, this three-season, freestanding shelter is as light as some two-person tents, yet it legitimately fits four adults (and offers palatial digs for two parents and kids). With a 49-inch peak height, even our tallest tester (6'6") could sit up–in a camp chair, no less–while we rode out that storm in Snowdonia.

To trim weight without shrinking interior space, Sierra Designs developed an innovative hubbed pole configuration that yields a stable structure while using fewer inches of aluminum (it's a cinch to pitch after one practice round to master the asymmetrical design). But it's not size alone, as they say, that matters. Fully guyed, the Lightning survived gusts that would've shredded lesser shelters, and it didn't leak a drop in driving sleet and puddling rain. The 20-denier nylon all-mesh canopy saves ounces and enhances ventilation, making condensation a non-issue–even when we packed it full to capacity in humid conditions. Two big doors ensured fuss-free exits on that overcrowded game night. The two vestibules (totaling 27.5 square feet) proved spacious enough for cooking and storing boots, but backpacks stacked there blocked the entrance–our only gripe. $450; 92-by-95-inch floor; 6 lbs. 13 oz.; sierradesigns.com