Big Agnes Slater UL 2+
$390, 2 lbs. 11 oz. (tent, rainfly, poles)
My first impression of the Slater UL2+ was formed before I even pulled it out of the stuff sack: I couldn’t believe a two-person tent could possibly fit in such a small package. Given that I often backpack with my family—with my wife and I shouldering most of the gear because our kids are young—low weight and bulk take top priority with us. But any concerns about that low weight affecting the Slater’s sturdiness in weather were erased after backpacking and camping trips in Utah’s Coyote Gulch (two nights) and Capitol Reef National Park (two nights), Washington’s Glacier Peak Wilderness (four nights), and Idaho’s White Clouds Mountains (two nights) and City of Rocks National Reserve (two nights). This tent stood up to strong gusts repeatedly, including sustained, steady winds over 40 mph in the White Clouds and Capitol Reef, without even bending slightly.
The freestanding Slater, with just one door and vestibule (eight square feet), pitches fairly quickly using a strong, DAC Featherlite NSL hubbed-pole system that attaches to the tent canopy at just three corner grommets and six points on the canopy. Four clips connect the canopy to the rainfly to help pull the walls outward, buying a little more shoulder room. Unlike many ultralight tents, the Slater’s walls are made of lightweight nylon ripstop instead of mesh, trapping a little more warmth and keeping sand and dust from blowing inside. The tent door also has two zippered panels, mesh and polyester, offering the choice between ventilation and full protection. Ventilation is decent but not outstanding, given the solid walls and one door instead of two: We got a little condensation on cool, calm nights, but never enough to dampen the interior. The lightweight aluminum J stakes punch into hard ground easily and I never broke one. A footprint, sold separately ($60, 6 oz.), allows pitching the tent with just rainfly and floor, paring the weight (without stakes) to a trim 1 lb., 14 oz., without compromising its strength.
Of course, as with many ultralight tents, you sacrifice space. I found the 37-square-foot interior fine for my 80-pound son and me, but two full-size adults will find it cramped—although the 40-inch peak height and the way the side walls are lifted outward help make it livable. Plus, the 96-inch length creates space for gear or clothes at the foot end (which is just 26 inches tall, discouraging sleeping at opposite ends). The geometry is tricky, you have to position the stakes well to get a taut pitch and avoid the rainfly flapping in wind, but that’s easily mastered. Because the door angles outward for wind resistance, rain can drip inside the tent when you’re coming and going. And you have to exercise a little more care with tents in this category because materials are lighter and more fragile: I broke one zipper pull tab on the rainfly door. (I had to use the inside pull tab, not significantly affecting the ease of opening and closing the door.)
Overall, though, the Slater UL 2+ is a stout little freestanding shelter for two people who prioritize weight savings over living space.
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