Ultralight Backpacking Tent
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2
$450, 2 lbs. 12 oz.
I’ll tolerate reasonably close living quarters in a tent that’s lightweight and performs well in the backcountry, because I prioritize my comfort on the trail (read: light pack) and usually only crawl inside the tent to sleep. But not all of my backpacking companions share my tolerance for a snug shelter. The Big Agnes Copper Spur line of tents have long made me and my elbowroom-loving tentmates happy, by marrying low weight and a high ratio of interior space per ounce. So with a new design making the Copper Spur HV UL2 roomier while keeping its weight under three pounds, I took it out on a five-day, 80-mile backpacking trip through the North Cascades with a six-foot friend to see whether the tent would measure up to the hype.
NOTE: This review covers the previous version of the Copper Spur HV UL2. The 2020 model adds awning-style doors and other improvements. Get it here and watch for my upcoming review of it.
For starters, there aren’t many freestanding, two-person tents with two doors and vestibules that weigh under three pounds, so if that’s what you’re shopping for, you already have a short list. The first time I picked up the Copper Spur HV UL2’s poles, I couldn’t believe how light they are (and I’ve tested a lot of tents over the past two decades). The new DAC Featherlite NFL hubbed pole structure creates steeper walls (as well as boosting structural strength by 25 percent, according to Big Agnes) that make the tent feel roomier than its 29 square feet, a standard footprint area for tents in this category. Plus, tall people will be happy with its 40-inch peak height and 88-inch length. My six-foot friend and I bumped into each other occasionally while sitting or lying down—as much as we would in many tents that are about as wide as two standard sleeping pads—but not enough to be annoying or keep us awake. Big Agnes claims the Copper Spur’s latest iteration increases interior volume by 20 percent over its predecessor, and that’s the difference you notice when inside it.
The tent was quick and intuitive to pitch the first time, thanks to clips that attach the inner canopy to the poles and color coding of the poles and tabs on the tent. The tent doors have dual zippers that move smoothly, and smartly open from a bottom corner, allowing you to crack the door slightly to slide boots on outside without letting a squadron of mosquitoes inside. The doors stash conveniently into small pockets when fully opened. A couple of interior mesh pockets provide adequate organization.
Besides making the Copper Spur HV UL2 more livable, the two doors and vestibules improve ventilation. And with nine square feet of space, each vestibule stores a mid-size pack and boots. One rainfly vent helps minimize condensation—which was negligible on dry, cool nights with two people in the tent, although we never had sustained, cold rain—and the fly overhangs the vestibules, so no rain enters when coming and going. We hardly noticed when light rain fell early one morning in the North Cascades, while we were still in the tent; all seams are taped with waterproof, solvent-free polyurethane tape (no PVC or VOCs).
Big Agnes says the lightweight, ripstop nylon fabric used in the rainfly and floor reduces weight and has 25 percent better tear strength than the tent’s previous generation. But as with any ultralight tent, it’s wise exercise some care with campsite selection and handling the tent when packing it up, to avoid tears. A footprint (sold separately, $70) allows pitching it rainfly-only, without the interior tent, reducing the shelter’s weight by 10 ounces.
The ultralight, freestanding tents with two doors and vestibules that weigh under three pounds comprise a very small club. The list grows by several models when the weight ceiling rises to three-and-a-half pounds—but those are a full half-pound heavier than the Copper Spur HV UL2, largely without improving on its space or performance. If, like me, you prefer minimizing pack weight, but don’t want to sleep in a breadbox and like the advantages of a freestanding, two-door design, the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 has little competition.
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Want to make your pack lighter and all of your backpacking trips more enjoyable? See my story “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking.” If you don’t have a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read part of that story for free, or click here to download that full story without having a paid membership.
NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See my Gear Reviews page at The Big Outside for categorized menus of all of my reviews and my expert buying tips.