$350, 1 lb. 9 oz. (not including stakes)
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.
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.
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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.