Ultralight Backpacking Tent
MSR Freelite 2
$440, 2 lbs. 7 oz. (not including stuff sacks and stakes)
How important is low gear weight to you—and what are you willing to sacrifice to hike with a light pack? Your choice of backcountry shelter can achieve the most significant weight savings and entail the greatest compromises. As someone who generally chooses lightweight gear, with its pros and cons, I took MSR’s lightest freestanding tent on a pair of backcountry trips for which tents like this seem well suited: I shared it with my wife on a mid-July rafting and kayaking trip on the Green River through Lodore Canyon in Dinosaur National Monument; and used it by myself for two nights on a mid-August backpacking trip in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. I found the Freelite 2 has distinct advantages for a tent so light, while making relatively small compromises on space and strength.
At just under two-and-a-half pounds, it’s definitely among the lightest two-person, double-wall, freestanding tents with two doors and vestibules. The lightweight but strong 7000 series, double-hubbed aluminum pole assembles quickly—the entire tents pitches within a few minutes, once you figure out the correct pole alignment—and it withstood winds around 30 mph at unprotected beach campsites in Dinosaur National Monument, partly thanks to its low profile (although I deliberately pointed the tent’s foot end into the prevailing winds).
The two large doors make coming and going easy and create excellent cross-ventilation when the rainfly doors are open; and simply having two doors in an ultralight tent greatly boosts its livability. The all-mesh canopy aids ventilation; but with the rainfly doors completely closed on nights that are either chilly and calm or rainy, condensation collects on the inside of the rainfly.
As is true of other tents in this category, the tradeoff is living space: The 29 square feet of interior space is minimal for two average-size people; expect to bump into your partner. But on the positive side, the pole structure creates vertical walls and good headroom, with a respectable peak height of 36 inches—enough for most people to sit up straight—and 84 inches of length gives tall people space to stretch out. The two vestibules provide a combined 17.5 square feet of storage space, enough to keep lightweight packs and boots out of the rain with space remaining to exit without crawling over them.
As with other tents this light, the fabric is thin: The fly and floor’s PU-coated, 15-denier ripstop nylon won’t last as long as heavier fabrics.
Best of all, with a packed size of 18×6 inches, the Freelite 2 is one of the more compact tents you’ll find in this category. Pitching it with only the rainfly and the Freelite 2 footprint ($50, sold separately) reduces the tent weight to two pounds.
The Freelite 2 is a good choice for backcountry travelers who prioritize low weight over all else and don’t generally encounter numerous consecutive nights of really cold or wet conditions.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase an MSR Freelite 2 tent at backcountry.com.
See also my stories:
“The Simple Equation of Ultralight Backpacking: Less Weight = More Fun”
“Buying Gear? Read This First”
“Ask Me: How Do We Begin Lightening Up Our Backpacking Gear?”
“10 Tricks For Making Hiking and Backpacking Easier”
“My Top 10 Favorite Backpacking Trips”
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.
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