I bought my Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 1 in 2010 after my backpacking trip in Kauai’i. I had carried a 5 pound tent on that trip that I ended up trading to someone for 2 weeks worth of food. Sometimes I look back on that decision with regret, as the North Face Rock 22 was actually a great tent. I don’t have much of a need for it now, but compared to the Fly Creek, it was like a mansion (excellent car camping tent).
The Fly Creek has since been a very handy companion. Weighing in at 2 pounds, it was never a burden to carry and it lasted through many trips; including my thru-hike of the PCT. It always kept the rain out (and I saw some serious rain in this tent), it kept me incredibly warm on cold nights and it provided me with a sense of privacy and security that I sometimes really needed in more crowded areas. I could have the tent set up or broken down in less than 2 minutes, and without a rain fly I watched many starry nights through the mesh ceiling.
I really only came out of owning this tent with 3 complaints:
- Condensation. This tent is small, so with my style of restless sleep the sleeping bag was often in contact with the tent wall. I would regularly have to do some moisture control during my hike, taking all of my gear out of my pack to dry. This was a nuisance at times, though never the end of the world.
- Front Entry. I realize I’m not a fan of this after all these years. This is really just a personal preference and I can’t exactly pinpoint what I dislike about it, just that I prefer a side entry tent. I think side entry is easier to get in and out of, especially during a rainstorm, and I feel a larger vestibule has many benefits. Sometimes you find you need to cook something while in your shelter, and with a small front vestibule I’d sometimes forgo cooking as a safety concern. Also, a larger vestibule gives more space for gear storage; that and a larger window to the world when the rain fly is open.
- No head room. I couldn’t sit up in this tent, so it was difficult to change clothes in there, and during rainstorms I was always stuck laying down.
In the end I wouldn’t even replace the tent if I didn’t have to. But, after years of use this old girl has been through a lot. On a recent backpacking trip in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness some sort of rodent decided they wanted in, and also having issue with front entry decided to nibble on through the bathtub floor. I fixed this with Gorilla Tape but it’s not a long term solution, especially if I want to take this tent on the CDT. Then, just a few weeks ago up on Mt. Hood, one of the poles cracked open. I realize this is all replaceable in a piecemeal fashion, but the tent has seen better days and it is time for an upgrade.
Now, I’m swimming in a sea of options. There are so many great tents out there, and I have to decide what is going to work best for me. The factors that I’m weighing in my decision are:
- Weight. My main goal is to keep the tent under 2 pounds, which in this day and age is not a difficult task, especially with the popularity of cuben fiber.
- Size. I basically want to be sure my sleeping bag isn’t going to be in contact with the tent wall all night. A rectangular floor design would be better here, as opposed to the Fly Creek’s tapered floor. I also want some head room so I can sit up comfortably and change clothes without making it look like I’m wrestling a bear in my tent.
- Free standing. I like the idea of a tent that doesn’t need to be staked out. Some tents require 8+ stakes, and this can be a challenge in certain terrain. This isn’t necessarily going to be a deciding factor, but it would be especially cool if I could find a free standing tent that has the other features I seek.
- Side entry.
- Cost. Let’s face it, tents are expensive. I definitely want something that is going to last, and therefore be worth the cost, but I also have to be somewhat frugal. I still can’t justify the cost of cuben fiber right now, especially since silnylon has always worked well for me.
With these factors in mind, I have narrowed down my selection to the following candidates:
Tarptent Rainbow: This is my number one choice at the moment. It has all of the features I am looking for in a tent, including an affordable price tag. It can be set up without stakes, using trekking poles to stretch out the head and foot of the tent; it has an adjustable bathtub floor to help with splashback from rain, or conversely add more ventilation to help with condensation; it has a large vestibule with side entry and is light enough to justify taking on a thru-hike. I think the only thing that would sell this tent is a removable rain fly. I like to lay in my tent and stare out at the world through the mesh ceiling, and this one always has the rain fly attached.
Lightheart Solo: This is a very attractive tent, especially when the price tag and weight are factored in. It uses trekking poles for setup, eliminating the need for tent poles (though does require stakes), and it has a great side entry with large mesh walls for taking in views. It is the cheapest tent I am looking at, and my only hesitation is the floor plan, which has a large footprint, and it is not free standing. With a diamond shaped floor as opposed to a rectangular shape, I am concerned with the sleeping bag/tent wall contact issue, though talking with a friend who has this tent, he said condensation wasn’t really an issue for him (and he’s 6′ tall).
Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1: This tent eliminates the problems I had with the Fly Creek, but it costs over $100 more than my other options. I will admit that I coveted this tent on the PCT. I’d be struggling in my tiny little Fly Creek while I watched friends spread out in their Copper Spur so comfortably. It’s a dreamy tent, but keeping in mind that it’s just a sleeping space, it is more luxury than anything. I only add it to the list because in a fancy world, I’d buy this tent without hesitation … but I don’t live in a fancy world, and likely won’t be purchasing this tent anytime soon. I figured it deserved honorable mention.
Other tents with honorable mention:
Hexamid Solo: I can’t justify the cost of cuben fiber. Plus, this requires more stakes than I’m wanting to wrestle with on a nightly basis. I love the concept of this tent, and the weight alone is drool worthy.
Duomid: I love the idea of the simplicity of this tent, but I would want to add the innernet which costs an additional $175. Sometimes it all comes down to the almighty dollar.
So, that’s where my head is at regarding tents right now. I will be pulling the trigger sometime in January – so there is time to learn about a whole new tent, or to become better educated regarding the tents I’m considering.
Do you have experience with any of these tents?
Do you have suggestions for tents I should consider?