Ultra Lightweight Tents
By Steve Mann

Tent Resources
• Buyers Guide to Tents

Whenever you choose a particular piece of gear, there are always tradeoffs: size vs. features; weight vs comfort; general use vs specialized. The criteria most important to your customer depend on her background, intended usage, experience, and memory. Memory? Yeah, memory-specifically how well does she remember what it felt like to hump that 50-pound pack over Agony Pass?

Well, with our field test crew's memory very fresh over an excruciating pull out of Utah's Robber's Roost Canyon for recent stove tests, we hastily adopted the minimalist's credo, pledging to seek out lighter-weight gear. Perhaps you've felt the desire for pack lightening, too.

At GearReview.com we've reviewed sleeping pads and stoves, so we dug through the gear closet and found our one-inch Therm-A-Rest and a new Primus lightweight multi-fuel stove. After a trip to the local retailer for a smaller fuel bottle, we surveyed our success-two pieces of gear and down several pounds already.

Next stop, the tent. Looking through our three season backpacking tents review (www.gearreview.com/3season.asp), we found most to be in the six to seven pound range. "Must be a lighter option," we surmised. Several hours and dozens of gear catalogs later, the crew had started a new review of six ultralight tents destined to bring a condescending sneer to your face next time you starts up Agony Pass.

We defined ultra-lightweight to be four pounds or less for one person, or four pounds eight ounces or less for a two-person tent. These six ultralight beauties will shave anywhere from 2 to nearly 5 pounds off that pack weight, while affording ample protection from the elements.

We reviewed the following Tents:
Walrus Swift
Walrus Arch Rival
Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight CD
Quest Seescape
NorthFace Vapor
Eureka Gossamer

Walrus Swift

The Swift's skimpy three pounds belie its comfortable features-a set of features which compare favorably to many larger tunnel-style tents. The tent body has large mesh panels the length of the tent for good ventilation and nighttime viewing. A full cover rainfly drapes over the front hoop to create an adequate vestibule. The 29 square feet of floor space makes a roomy interior for one-plenty of room for a pack along side your sleeping bag.

While you'll find a few compromises Walrus made to shave the extra ounces, most are worth the weight loss. For example, the 30" peak height limits interior head room, but three other tents' with more head space add a pound or more in weight, the exception being the Sierra Designs tent at only an additional 10 ounces.

The poles slide through continuous sleeves, then fit into grommets in the stake-out straps. The fit is very tight, and was a struggle for our test crew. Once in place, the tension on the poles and sleeves makes the tent body taut

Rainfly coverage of the tent is adequate. You can't get the rainfly to fully cover the tent body on the sides near the pole ends, although only a couple of inches of the sealed floor are exposed. Doubtless, this floor area fabric is waterproof, so whatever is inside the tent will stay dry. The web straps on the side on the rainfly, half way between the front and rear poles, are too short for stakes at only one to two inches, so you must use guy strings to hold the fly away from the tent. The fly is taut enough without the guy string so it doesn't touch the body under normal conditions-you'd only need to use the guy strings for strong winds, heavy rains or snow. Once you do guy out the sides of the rainfly the wide body forms a scoop increasing ventilation to the inside of the tent.

The Swift's door opens forward, with two zippers, one vertically down the side and one horizontally across the bottom. At first we found two zippers to be inconvenient, but Walrus pointed out that tent door zippers are the most common repair on tents, and tend to fail on high tension points such as tight radius turns. The dual straight zippers are far less likely to fail than a single curved zipper.

The Swift's vestibule opens to the side while the door to the tent opens to the front. In rainy weather, it's tough to get inside without getting wet from the fly.

We noticed that the Walrus stakes were weaker than those on the Quest and North Face tents-i.e. they bent more easily-presumably as another weight saver. This was only a problem on very hardpacked ground, so if your customer typically camps in such areas you may want to sell them a set of upgraded stakes with the tent purchase.

Summary: Although we found a few minor flaws to pick at, the Swift meets all the important needs of a tent-including rain-worthiness, spaciousness, ventilation, and a functional vestibule-at a minuscule three pounds and a reasonable $150 price tag, and so wins as our favorite for a one-person reduce-weight-at-all-costs shelter.

Contact Walrus at 800-550-8368 or www.walrusgear.com>

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Walrus Arch Rival

The Arch Rival closely resembles the Swift, being basically the two-person version. As with the Swift, the Arch Rival features the dual-zipper door, large mesh body panels, and reasonable vestibule. Arch Rival's four pounds keep it in the ultralight category for a two-person tent.

Because of the larger size, entry into the tent's forward-facing door through the side-entry vestibule is easier than entering the Swift. Removing one additional vestibule stake makes entry even easier, but allows the vestibule to hang limp.

The sides of the rainfly look better than the Swift-more taut and better side coverage of tent body. Setup is simple, despite the struggle to get the pole ends into the grommets (as with the Swift).

Summary: The Arch Rival faces tough competition in the two-person category, being neither lighter, larger, nor cheaper than the competition, especially Quest's Seescape and Sierra Design's Clip Flashlight, which have five inches more peak height, equal vestibules and floor area, at about the same price. The Flashlight weighs six ounces less. The Arch Rival beats both the Seescape and Flashlight in fly tautness, however, and the dual door zippers mean less likelihood of repairs down the road.

Contact Walrus at 800-550-8368 or www.walrusgear.com>

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Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight CD

The Clip Flashlight CD offers the best compromise of weight and size in a two-person model. With a peak height of 43 inches and interior floor space of 32 square feet, the Flashlight ties for the highest peak and most interior space (only the Vapor has more room at 32.9 square feet), yet manages all that space at a slight three pounds 10 ounces. Add to that a bigger than average vestibule (in this category) and you've got an excellent weight to size balance.

The tent body uses less mesh than the others, perhaps limiting its ventilation properties. The rainfly covers the tent body well, except for two rear corners where about one to two inches of the waterproof floor are exposed. Sierra Designs could solve this problem by moving the fly's clip buckle further out on the web strap, pulling the fly farther away from the tent body. Small snaps allow you to attach the rainfly to the poles for additional strength.

Fully staked out the rainfly becomes fairly taut, although not as tight as North Face's Vapor or Quest's Seescape. A taut rainfly increases the likelihood of waterproofness in foul weather. The vestibule's peak lies directly over the inner mesh door, so that when you open the vestibule zipper to exit, rain can drip off the vestibule onto your tent floor. I mentioned this apparent design flaw to Sierra Designs at a recent trade show, and they indicated that the design is intentional. The sloping vestibule angle results in better wind dispersion. While that may be true, I still feel the tent could be improved by moving the vestibule peak forward to prevent rain from dripping into the tent.

Setup is extremely simple, the easiest in this test. The Flashlight's clip system creates tents that set up about as simple as it can get. If your customer frequently sets up in bad weather or in the dark, the Flashlight is an excellent choice.

Summary: The Flashlight achieves the best balance between space and weight, our favorite two-person tent, especially when weight is a primary consideration. Headroom and floor area make this is a lightweight tent in which you can comfortably wait out bad weather. The only negative is a vestibule design that allows rain to drip into the tent.

Contact Sierra Designs at 800-635-0461.

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Quest Seescape

The Seescape is a tunnel-style tent with mesh panels along the main body, very similar in shape and design to the Arch Rival. Our tester's preferred Seescape's vestibule design over the Arch Rival's, primarily because of the long straight zipper from the front of the vestibule to the top of the main pole. This design creates a forward-facing entrance, rather than the Rival's side entrance. We felt that Seescape's vestibule entrance could be improved by a slight curve in the zipper near the pole, allowing more of the vestibule to be folded back for better access to the tent door. In its current design it is difficult to enter/exit the tent when the fly is wet without getting wet yourself.

Seescape's rainfly extends much farther principally in the vestibule, making almost a 12 foot length overall. The result: a long, sloping, roomy vestibule, the largest of any tent in this test, and a long tent profile.

Setup is very simple. An innovative low-tech hook system makes attaching, removing, and tightening the rainfly easy. The top of the fly seems to bow slightly from between the two poles, creating less space between the fly and tent body. When wet the weight of the fly causes it to bow more and can result in the fly touching the tent body and allowing water to get onto the tent and eventually on you or your gear. To solve this problem we had to tie guy lines to straps along the front pole, pulling the pole and rainfly forward, tightening both the spine and sides of the fly.

Inside, the Seescape is roomy with small mesh gear pockets along the sides of the body, and a high peak giving room to sit up.

Summary: A great two-person tent with better than average roominess and a large vestibule (one of Quest's trademarks.) Our testers preferred the Seescape slightly ahead of Walrus' Arch Rival, and about equal to the Clip Flashlight, the main distinctions being that the Flashlight is five ounces lighter, but the Seescape has a larger vestibule and better rainfly coverage/tautness, and more mesh for ventilation.

Contact Quest at 800-613-1225.

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NorthFace Vapor

Our test crew fell in love with the Vapor for its all-mesh body, two-D-door design, large interior mesh pockets, and great rainfly adjustments.

Setup is easy, the design allowing the tent and rainfly to be pitched and fully tightened using only three stakes. The rainfly coverage is the best of the lot-a very taut fit and complete coverage which means a dry stay through rough weather.

The dual D-style mesh doors give the Vapor the best accessibility, especially for two. Remove the fly and the whole tent mesh body means great ventilation. In dry warmer weather, the Vapor would mean good night views and cool sleeping.

The down sides are the small, almost non-existent vestibule, the tent's short length, and weight-the Vapor is the heaviest in this test at four pounds eight ounces. With only enough space for your boots, you can't count on the tiny vestibule for storage space.

Although all of our testers found the tent long enough, its length may be a problem for those over six feet tall.

The strong tent stakes North Face includes represent one more nice touch from this well-designed and efficient tent.

Summary: A favorite for features and design, but sacrificing a little in weight. The Vapor was the overall favorite of our test crew, but most admitted that if they had to make the pull up Agony Pass they'd certainly reconsider, possibly opting for the Clip Flashlight (two-person) or the Walrus Swift (one-person), for savings of 14 ounces and 24 ounces respectively.

Contact North Face at 800-719-6678 x155.

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Eureka Gossamer

So you want to go minimal-the lightest weight possible. The Eureka Gossamer may be as light as you can go and still deserve the tent moniker. At only two pounds eight ounces you should expect a compact, bare-essentials tent. The Gossamer matches that description-any smaller and you'd have to move it to the bivy category.

The Gossamer is another two-pole tunnel-style tent, with the rainfly permanently attached to the tent body at the forward hoop. Most of the tent body is mesh, so ventilation is no problem. The rainfly covers well, except for the foot of the tent, which is constructed of waterproof floor fabric.

To get the weight down, the Gossamer features a low peak height of 26 inches and only 16 square feet of interior space. Despite the small size, the Gossamer has a tent feel, rather than the mummy-bag feel of a bivy. Of course, you won't want to spend any extended time in the Gossamer, other than sleeping. You aren't going to sit up inside and entry/exit means sliding into your bag for the night. You wouldn't want to wait out storms in the Gossamer, just as you wouldn't want to in a bivy.

Eureka also sells the Solitaire tent, identical to the Gossamer except for color and poles. The Gossamer offers aluminum poles while the Solitaire features fiberglass.

Summary: A plus for the Gossamer is its low price. At $89 the Gossamer is a real value. For those who don't mind the small space and are true low-weight fanatics, the Gossamer provides basic shelter, low weight, and a great price.

Contact Eureka at 888-245-4984 or www.jwa.com.

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Tent Sleeps Weight Peak Height Vestibule Area Floor Area Retail Price
Walrus Swift 1 3 lbs. 30" 4 sq. ft. 29 sq. ft. $150
Walrus Arch Rival 2 4 lbs. 38" 5 sq. ft. 32 sq. ft. $185
North Face Vapor 2 4 lbs. 8 oz. 41" very small 32.9 sq. ft. $195
Eureka Gossamer 1 2 lbs. 8 oz. 26" 5 sq. ft. 16 sq. ft. $89
Quest Seescape 2 3 lbs. 15 oz. 43" 10 sq. ft. sq. ft. $195
Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight CD 2 3 lbs. 10 oz. 43" 6 sq. ft. 32 sq. ft. $185

Steve Mann would rather spend his time in a tent than in the office.

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