Backpacking Tent
MSR Zoic 2
$350, 4 lbs. 6 oz.

Everyone wants ultralight backpacking gear—but not everyone wants to live with the sacrifices inherent to ultralight gear. While few pieces of gear can produce as much reduction in the weight of your gear kit as switching from a standard to an ultralight tent, you’ll also notice the tradeoffs in a tent more than with almost any other ultralight gear. With MSR’s new Zoic 2, backpackers get the comfort of a tent with good space, along with superior ventilation and good stability, weather performance, and durability.

I tested the Zoic 2 with a couple friends (alternating in it) on a 90-mile hike through Glacier National Park in September, and I shared it with my wife on a four-day family backpacking trip in August in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains.

The MSR Zoic 2 tent interior.
The MSR Zoic 2 tent in Glacier National Park.

A traditional freestanding, double-wall, two-door tent that pitches using crossing hubbed poles common in many backpacking tents, the Zoic goes up intuitively within a few minutes. A short “eyebrow” pole over the crown elevates the ceiling above both doors, creating more headroom and vertical side walls, overhung by the rainfly, that prevent rain from dripping inside when you enter and exit the tent. That pole geometry, with strong but lightweight 7000-series aluminum poles, creates a shelter that can withstand the kind of wind and weather most three-season backpackers encounter in the mountains: It demonstrated during windy evenings in Glacier and the Sawtooths that it holds up as well as most tents of comparable weight and design.

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The Zoic’s measurements speak to its livability: Its 33 square feet of interior space exceeds what you’ll find in many two-person backpacking tents (especially freestanding models) of comparable weight, while the 88-inch length and 39-inch peak height are both very good but not unusual in this weight category. But also unusual in this category, the tent’s width accommodates two 25-inch-wide air mattresses; many backcountry tents are only slightly wider than two standard, 20-inch-wide air mats. Two friends—one five feet, 10 inches, the other six feet tall—who alternated sharing it in Glacier both raved about its interior space.

The MSR Zoic 2 vestibule.
The MSR Zoic 2 vestibule.

Two opposing doors, common in backpacking tents, greatly enhance livability and ventilation—I wouldn’t recommend a backcountry tent without two doors except in ultralight models whose weight and other design advantages justify the inconvenience of a single door. The 18 square feet of total storage space in the two vestibules, also not uncommon in tents in this category, is definitely roomy enough for packs, boots, and wet stuff.

With 15-denier nylon micromesh throughout the interior canopy—except for solid nylon around the base of the walls, which helps keep out blowing sand or splashing water and mud during heavy rain—the Zoic 2 ventilates exceptionally well on mild nights and collected virtually no condensation under the rainfly after a calm night in the high 30s Fahrenheit with two of us inside (and both vestibule doors open) in Glacier.

While that overhead mesh is susceptible to tears if you’re not careful, the 70-denier taffeta nylon floor is tough, and has a 3000mm Xtreme Shield polyurethane treatment—that’s a waterproof coating that lasts up to three times longer than standard coatings, according to MSR—and watertight seams with a DWR (durable, water-repellant treatment).

The 40-denier rainfly rolls up easily to expose half the tent ceiling to the night sky for stargazing and warm, dry nights, while having it in place lets you quickly unfurl it again if rain comes during the night. The packed size of 21×5 inches is certainly much bulkier than ultralight tents, but no more or less bulky than tents of comparable weight.

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There are many good reasons to buy an ultralight backpacking tent. (See my expert tips in “How to Choose the Best Ultralight Tent for You.”) But none of those reasons compensates for the need or simple desire for more space—and none eliminates the tradeoffs inherent to ultralight tents (and other gear). Many backpackers are not pounding out the long miles every day that make pack weight their top priority.

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The Verdict

If you like the idea of a spacious tent that’s still only a few ounces over two pounds per person—light enough for backpacking and roomy enough for front country campgrounds—the Zoic 2 delivers solid performance at a price that’s also much lower than many ultralight shelters.

The Zoic 1 ($300, 3 lbs. 5 oz., 21.5 sq. ft.) and Zoic 3 ($400, 5 lbs. 7 oz., 46 sq. ft.) offer a similar design, space-to-weight ratio, and value.

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See my review of “The 8 (Very) Best Backpacking Tents” and all of my reviews of backpacking tents, ultralight backpacking tents, backpacking gear, and ultralight backpacking gear that I like.

See also my “5 Tips For Buying a Backpacking Tent” and “How to Choose the Best Ultralight Tent for You.” (Both of those stories require a paid subscription to The Big Outside to read, which costs as little as five bucks, or just pennies over $4 per month for an entire year.)

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

—Michael Lanza


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