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Gear Review: MSR FlyLite Tent

MRS FlyLite

MRS FlyLite

Ultralight Tent
MSR FlyLite
$350, 1 lb. 9 oz. (not including stakes)
moosejaw.com

More backpackers are realizing what tent makers have known for years: The smartest way to reduce pack weight is by trimming the single heaviest item in your backpack—your tent. And you achieve the greatest weight savings there by eliminating or at least greatly reducing the poles and rainfly. The MSR FlyLite does both. On a five-day, late-March backpacking trip with my family in Paria Canyon, in Utah and Arizona, the FlyLite shined for having an outstanding space-to-weight ratio while proving itself stable in strong gusts, and not very susceptible to the bane of most single-wall tents: condensation.

The FlyLite looks unusual at first glance because this single-wall shelter lacks a rainfly and is pitched using trekking poles (which smart hikers and backpackers carry, anyway) and a short, third pole that supports the foot end. Pitching a non-freestanding tent typically demands a little more effort and attention to staking it properly, and isn’t easy on solid rock or any ground where stakes don’t sit well (like loose sand), when you have to secure the tent using rocks or whatever is available. That said, I could pitch the FlyLite by myself in about four minutes once I got the hang of it, which didn’t take long. And it held up well in 30 mph gusts, although I would try to avoid facing its vertical front wall into strong wind. While we saw no rain, the FlyLite’s awning with side wings overhangs the doorway, creating a drip line that keeps water from entering through the door.

The FlyLite avoids the usual shortcoming of single-wall tents—poor ventilation—with mesh vents high on the door and at the foot end: Only a little condensation accumulated on the ceiling—which was damp but not dripping, so didn’t really affect us—on the one night in Paria that was cool and dead calm, with a low in the 30s. But there was no condensation inside the FlyLite on nights that were breezy or entirely calm but milder, with lows in the 40s.

 

Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside, which has made several top outdoors blog lists. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter, or enter your email address in the box in the left sidebar or at the bottom of this story. Click here to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Follow my adventures on Facebook, TwitterInstagram, and Youtube.

 

MRS FlyLite

MRS FlyLite

The 29 square feet of interior space, with a peak height of 44 inches and vertical walls that create lots of headroom, is comfortable for two six-footers, or an adult and a child. I shared it with my son and daughter on separate nights, and my wife, who is five feet, 10 inches, was comfortable in it with one child, too. While MSR markets this as a two-person tent, given its low weight, it’s a legitimate solo shelter, and cavernous for one person with gear (when you’re even less likely to see condensation). The big door and no vestibule mean very easy entry and exit without feeling like you’re crawling into a small cave. Of course, the tradeoff is no storage space for backpacks with two people inside, but there’s little inconvenience in leaving a pack covered (in case of rain) outside.

Construction looks solid, including taped seams and reinforced stress points, although I’d be a little careful not to expose the 10-denier, coated, ripstop-nylon tent fabric to sharp points; the 20-denier ripstop floor fabric should endure years of average use.

 

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I’ve used numerous single-wall tents in which the condensation problem was intolerable, or interior space was cramped; and neither of those issues plagues the FlyLite. Whether you’re an ultralight backpacker, thru-hiking a long trail, backpacking with a young child, or just smart enough to want to minimize pack weight, the MSR FlyLite is an excellent choice if you use trekking poles and don’t mind sacrificing the convenience of a freestanding tent.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking either of these links to buy an MSR FlyLite at moosejaw.com or rei.com.

 

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See all of my reviews of backpacking tents I like and all of my reviews of backpacking gear.

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 categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.

—Michael Lanza

 

About The Author

Michael Lanza

A former field editor and primary gear reviewer for Backpacker Magazine, Michael Lanza created The Big Outside to share stories and images from his many backpacking, hiking, and other outdoor adventures, as well as expert tips and gear reviews to help readers plan and pull off their own great adventures.

6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Great review – in fact, one great review among many on this site, which I have just discovered. I found you by looking for reviews of the TarpTent Double Moment. Looking at the FlyLite, and comparing it to the Double Moment or Double Rainbow, I’m kind of surprised that ventilation isn’t more of a problem. Also, how is it in high winds?

    Reply
    • michaellanza

      Hi Alex, I’m glad you found my blog. I found the FlyLite’s ample ventilation all but eliminated condensation; it’s basically no worse than you’d find in a smaller, ultralight, double-wall, two-person tent. I wouldn’t recommend the FlyLite or Double Moment in “high” winds, i.e., winds over 30 mph in any campsite that’s completely exposed. I faced winds like that with the Double Moment in the Grand Canyon, without any wind protection, and even though we staked and guyed it out quite thoroughly with big rocks, gusts hitting the tent broadside would bend it in. The Double Moment and FlyLite are best for somewhat protected sites; but that’s true of many lightweight tents.

      Reply
      • Avatar

        Thanks for the reply. That’s actually incredibly useful advice, as I’m looking for an ultralight two-man for hiking, but I’m also doing a float trip in the Grand Canyon next year, and I was hoping to kill two birds with one stone. Doesn’t sound like either TarpTent or the FlyLite would be ideal.

        Reply
        • michaellanza

          Well, as you can see in the photos in this review, we did use the FlyLite in a desert canyon (Paria Canyon, a northern tributary of the Grand Canyon). Often, it’s fine. In the strongest winds you could face, you’ll be trying to find a somewhat sheltered spot or doing your best to guy it out. The tradeoff in getting a tent that’s more stable in strong winds is that you’re carrying much more weight all the time for circumstances you may encounter rarely. Just suggesting you consider both sides of the coin.

          Reply
  2. Avatar

    Dang, if I wasn’t planning my thru with a significant other I’d be turning in my Copper Spur right now. This tent looks like a palace for 1, and with a great weight to match!

    Reply
    • michaellanza

      Hi Kira, I shared this tent with my 14-year-old, 90-pound, five-foot son perfectly comfortably. It’s worth a look at it pitched to see whether you think it has enough space for the two of you.

      Reply

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