Welcome! Ultralight backpacking is my passion, and keeping up on new technologies, gear, and techniques relevant to UL backpacking is what floats my boat. I'm always looking for the lightest, most functional gear to improve a lightweight or ultralight backpacking kit, and report my impressions and field testing results here. For hikers wanting to keep up on the latest and greatest ultralight backpacking gear, this is a good place to hang out. Also, there is a lot of information here (and on our informational website Southwest Ultralight Backpacking) on useful techniques and backcountry etiquette -- food for thought for hikers wanting to lighten their load and their impacts.

My goal for Ultralight Insights is to understand, test, and report on new technologies and gear of interest to lightweight and ultralight backpackers. It's a passion after all, so we just plain enjoy talking about it. I hope readers will add their own wisdom and comments, respond to my questions, ask their own questions, and correct me if I get something wrong. Happy hiking! Will

Monday, August 5, 2013

Highlights of the Summer 2013 Outdoor Retailer Trade Show: Lightweight Shelters

By Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl
Note to readers: My complete coverage of the summer 2013 OR Show, exclusive of shelters and backpacks, is at www.gossamergear.com (click on Blog, then Buzz).
Shelters keep getting lighter. Not that long ago, a sub-5-pound 2-person tent was considered “lightweight”. Now that is the case for a 2P shelter under 4 pounds. At the latest OR we started seeing a few dropping into the 2.5 pound range for a hybrid or double wall tent with floor, and less than that for a floorless shelter.
The shelters in this roundup from OR are mostly from larger manufacturers, and I am pleased to see the steady trend toward lighter shelters by incorporating lighter weight materials as they become available. However, note that the very lightest shelters come from small cottage manufacturers that cater to dedicated weight pinchers. For example, a two person single wall Cuben Fiber shelter with stakes and guylines can weigh less than one pound. For more info on those SuperUltraLight shelters, read my series on Mountain SuperUltraLight Backpacking at www.backpackinglight.com.
In this report I will clarify as much as possible what type of shelter each one is, and provide stats on floor area and headroom, and features, because all of these factors contribute to weight as well as user acceptance. Manufacturers can easily lighten a tent by making it smaller and removing features, which make it less acceptable. Buyers need to know that. We all have different preferences for a shelter, and are willing to accept certain tradeoffs to reduce weight, but we need to know what we are buying.
Types of Shelters:
1.      Single Wall – the entire tent is one layer of fabric, often supported by trekking poles to save weight.
2.      Hybrid – part of the tent is single wall (usually the ceiling) and part is double wall (usually a side entry with vestibules). The tent is erected as a unit and poles are external or internal. Some use trekking poles to save weight.
3.      Double Wall – consists of an inner tent (usually LW mesh to save weight and increase ventilation) and an outer fly. A DW tent is usually freestanding and heavier.
Note: Weights listed are manufacturer’s trail weights; what’s included in that weight can vary by manufacturer, and accuracy can vary. I did not weigh the tents. All shelters will be available in spring 2013 unless stated otherwise.

The Mountain Shelter LT by Mountainsmith Weighs Just 2 Pounds (Single Wall, Non-Freestanding, Floorless)
This simple, floorless, trekking pole supported, single wall shelter weighs just 2 pounds 1 ounce to shelter two hikers, and costs just $130. Its A-frame shaped with a vestibuled end entry and has one high vent on the foot end. Great value!

Big Agnes Angel Springs UL2 Almost Breaks the 2.5 Pound Barrier (Double Wall, Freestanding with Floor)
At 2 pounds 9 ounces the 2-person Angel Springs UL rivals the weight of many LW solo tents. It utilizes an X-Pole design to make it freestanding and has one large entry door with a large vestibule. The 29 square feet of floor area is 90 inches long and 52/42 inches wide at head and foot ends; height is 42 inches. Big Agnes uses very lightweight fabrics, poles, and stakes to achieve the remarkable lightweight. MSRP is $380. The 3-person version’s floor is 70/60 inches wide and height increases to 44 inches; MSRP is $450.

Big Agnes Adds New Features to the Scout UL2 Trekking Pole Supported Tent (Hybrid Non-Freestanding with Floor)
The A-frame trekking pole supported Scout Plus UL2 adds vestibule protection to the end entry, and the Super Scout UL2 adds a room at the entry! Interestingly, the Scout Plus has less floor area than the original Scout UL2 (29 sq ft versus 34), and compensates with its 14 sq ft vestibule. Weight of the Scout Plus is 1 pound 14 ounces and MSRP is $350. The Super Scout also has 29 square feet inside, but the front vestibule grows to 44 sq ft! The weight is only 2 pounds 3 ounces (only 5 ounces more for that huge vestibule, which suggests there could be a misprint somewhere), and MSRP is $400. The tent floor dimensions for both are 86 inches long x 54/42 inches wide, and 45 inches of headroom.

Sierra Designs Flashlight UL Tent Uses Trekking Poles to Achieve a Roomy 3- Pound 2-Person Tent (Hybrid Non-Freestanding with Floor)
The tent does have one arched aluminum pole at the foot end to provide more space inside, and front poles are included for those who don’t use trekking poles. The roomy 30 sq ft floor measures 50 inches wide x 90 inches long, and 46 inches high (great headroom). It has 2 doors but vestibules are limited to two gear closets at the head end, plus stash pockets inside. MSRP is $360 for the 2P; a 1P with one entry will also be available at 2 pounds 2 ounces for $300.

Brooks-Range Tension 30 and Tension 40 Tents Feature a “Tension Truss” Structure (Double Wall, Freestanding with Floor)
The 30 and 40 are the floor areas of the two tents and occupancy translates to 2-person and 3-person versions. A lengthwise arched carbon fiber pole is hubbed to two lateral poles near the ends, creating a tensioned truss when connected to the inner tent. The 2P version has one vestibuled door and weighs 2.5 pounds (yes, that’s correct). The floor measures 86 inches long x 50 inches wide, and headroom is 40 inches. The 3P version has two doors with vestibules and weighs 3.5 pounds. Floor measurements are 94 inches long, 62 inches wide, and 42 inches of headroom. Both tents have one top vent and cost $449.

Easton Announces Revolutionary Syclone Composite Tent Poles
This new type of tent pole is made of “multi-directionally wrapped aerospace grade S-Glass composite fibers”. Notice the word “glass”; they are made of fiberglass, but it’s not the fiberglass of decades ago. The technology and strength of these poles lies in the quality of the materials, and the braiding and wrapping. The new Syclone poles are the same weight and cost as aluminum poles, are 80% more durable in wind and flex testing, and are similar in characteristics to carbon fiber. We saw them tested in a demonstration at Easton’s factory; they easily withstood 85 mph winds while aluminum and carbon fiber poles failed under the same conditions. The aluminum poles bent badly and the aluminum ferrules in the CF poles broke, but not the CF pole itself.

Easton Kinetic Carbon 3P is the Rebirth of the Kilo 3P (Double Wall, Freestanding with Floor)
Featuring Easton’s Carbon Ion pole system, the double wall Kinetic Carbon tent delivers 43 sq ft of floor space for three people. Weight is 3 pounds 3 ounces, which is excellent for a 3-person double wall tent. The single door end entry is sheltered by a small 6 sq ft vestibule. The floor measures 93.3 inches long x 70 inches wide x 40 inches high. MSRP is $500. The 2-person version is the redesigned Kilo 2P which weighs 2 pounds 3 ounces and has 29 sq ft of floor area but only 35 inches of headroom. Neither tent has a top vent.

The Ultimate UL Tent: The Easton Si2 Cuben (Single Wall Freestanding with Floor)
For just $2000 you can have the ultimate 2P tent. The new Easton Si2 Cuben is made of a WP/B Cuben Fiber and eVent laminate and supported by Easton’s Carbon Ion pole system. It has two side entry doors with vestibules, which are removable. Two top vents provide climate control. The tent is rated for 4-season use with 44.3 sq ft of floor area measuring 88 inches long x 51 inches wide, and 41 inches of headroom. Vestibules total 14 sq ft. There’s nothing to dislike except the cost. At least we know what the ultimate 2P tent looks like!

The Dash 2 – An Ultralight 2-Person Double Wall Tent from REI (Double Wall, Freestanding with Floor)
We are really pleased to see REI introducing some really lightweight gear. The new Dash 2 is a two-person double wall tent with two vestibuled doors that weighs just 2 pounds 7 ounces (yes, that’s correct). And the cost is a reasonable $349. It’s constructed of 15-denier fabrics, including the floor, and uses lightweight aluminum poles in a sturdy tension truss architecture. The 29 sq ft floor measures 90 inches long x 52 inches wide, and headroom is 42 inches. Vestibules are each 5.3 sq ft. REI’s proud tent designer is David Mydans (right).

Boreas Introduces a Lightweight 2-Person Tent (Double Wall, Non-Freestanding with Floor)
Boreas is a new company known for their innovative backpack designs. Their first tents are the Trava, a 2-person double wall, one pole tent with 2 vestibuled doors that weighs in at 3 pounds 10 ounces. The single lengthwise arched aluminum pole limits interior volume. Floor dimensions are 88 inches long x 50 inches wide, and 41 inches of headroom. Vestibules are 14.6 sq ft each. MSRP is $350. The 2-person Tiago has two lengthwise arched poles to provide proper interior space, but the weight jumps to 4 pounds 8 ounces; MSRP is $400.

The Single Wall Nemo Veda 2P Features Waterproof-Breathable Fabric and Trekking Pole Support (Single Wall, Non-Freestanding with floor)
The Nemo Veda 2P replaces the Meta 2P. The canopy is made of WP/B 20-denier fabrics and it’s supported by four trekking poles on the sides in a V-shape (right). Each of the two entry doors has a vestibule. The WP/B fabric reduces condensation inside, and the head end has a panel of tricot fabric inside to provide a softer/dryer surface should you brush against it. A perimeter mesh panel above the floor increases ventilation. Interior floor area is 35 sq ft with 42 inches of headroom. The weight is 2 pounds 14 ounces and MSRP is $430. The Veda 1P has 24 sq ft of floor area and MSRP of $350.

For Minimalists, the Adventure Medical Kits WP/B SOL Escape Bivvy Weighs Just 8 Ounces and Costs Just $50 (Single Wall Bivy Bag)
The Escape Bivvy (left) is an inexpensive shelter for minimalists. It’s made of a proprietary WP/B material and has a hooped zippered entry.  An even lighter version is the Escape-Lite (right, 5.5 ounces, $40) which does not have the hood or zipper.


  1. You forgot one of the best and lightest, Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo @ 24oz, with enough room for 2 fit people.

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