When this two-person dome debuted with an Editors’ Choice win in 2002, it was a lesson in both economics and smart shelter design. On the financial front, the Half Dome showed what REI, a big company with none of the middlemen who drive up costs for other manufacturers, could do if it put its mind to building the perfect three-season tent.
At only $149, the original model sent shockwaves through the industry: Here was a freestanding, two-vestibule tent with quality materials and an outstanding space-to-weight ratio—at a price that saved consumers at least $50 versus any comparable name-brand model. Not great news for mom-and-pop tent makers, to be sure, but a big win for wallet-conscious campers, who immediately bought the Half Dome in droves. (An REI spokesperson told us that it’s been the company’s best-selling backpacking tent for years.)
Today, the Half Dome remains the epitome of functional, affordable design, something we saw in Switzerland, Colorado, and Wyoming with most of the same testers who first used it eight years ago. Since 2002, it has gotten roomier (long and wide enough for two six-foot editors), taller (a new hub structure and crossing pole improve headroom), and stronger (more pole coverage). And it comes in a tall version (pictured). We’re still not thrilled that the vestibules—when opened fully—let water drip into the tent, but we’re psyched that the trail weight is still five pounds—exactly where it started.
Best of all, the price—in real terms—has come down slightly. The Half Dome would now cost $179.17 if it had kept up with inflation. $179; 5 lbs.; rei.com