Select Page

Gear Review: MSR Zoic 2 Backpacking Tent

Gear Review: MSR Zoic 2 Backpacking Tent

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.

Find your next adventure in your Inbox. Sign up for my FREE email newsletter now.

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.

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. Subscribe now to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Please follow my adventures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube.

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.

Plan your next great backpacking trip in Yosemite, Grand Teton, or other parks using my expert e-guides.

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.

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.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to buy an MSR Zoic 2 at,, or, a Zoic 1 at,, or, or a Zoic 3 at,, or

Tell me what you think.

I spent a lot of time writing this story, so if you enjoyed it, please consider giving it a share using one of the buttons below, and leave a comment or question at the bottom of this story. I’d really appreciate it.

See my “Gear Review: The 5 Best Backpacking Tents” and “5 Tips For Buying a Backpacking Tent,” and all of my reviews of backpacking tents, ultralight backpacking tents, backpacking gear, and ultralight backpacking gear that I like.

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

The Big Outside helps you find the best adventures. Subscribe now to read ALL stories and get a free e-guide!

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.


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Avatar

    Strongly considering the 3p tent. How did you find it in the cold since it seems to be marketed for warm weather camping. I would use it down to about -5 Celsius

    • MichaelALanza

      Hi Casey, good question. Three-season tents with all-mesh interior canopies are definitely designed for relatively mild nights, to keep you cooler. But it’s perfectly reasonable to spend nights around or just below freezing in a tent like the Zoic, and would not be that unusual in late summer in the mountains, anyway. It just becomes more important to have an adequately warm bag, because the tent is designed to trap less heat, and you’ll feel any cold wind blowing up under the rainfly. The mesh will provide the benefit of good ventilation to minimize condensation under the rainfly on cold, calm nights, but it still helps to get cross-ventilation by opening the rainfly doors even a little (emphasizing the need for warm bags).

      The only situation to avoid is the possibility of snow, because it would be unpleasant to have strong winds blowing snow up under the rainfly edges inside the tent, and the pole structure isn’t designed to hold a significant weight of snow on the rainfly.

      Good luck and enjoy the Zoic. It’s a good-quality tent.

    • Avatar

      What about (heavy) rain?

      Some reviewers said the tent doesn’t perform well in the rain. They wrote they got wet feet and heads.

      I’m considering buying the zoic and I’m going to use it in the Netherland, were it rains pretty often…

      • Michael Lanza

        That frankly surprises me a little, Marte. As I wrote above, the Zoic floor 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. The problem may have been that the ends of the tent rainfly lack a pre-installed guyline to pull the rainfly away from the head and foot ends of the tent, which would help prevent splashing in heavy rain. There is a small tab and you can install a guyline there to achieve that, but that would have to be done by the owner post-purchase. Overall, I think the Zoic is solidly rainproof.


Welcome to the Big Outside

photo of Michael Lanza

Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside and former Northwest Editor at Backpacker magazine. Click my photo to learn more about me and my blog. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside now to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. And click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This