Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight 2
$200, 3 lbs. 6 oz.
After it was first introduced in the early 1980s, the Clip Flashlight became an iconic tent among backpackers and bikepackers—you’d see them everywhere, and I used one for years. So when the updated version was introduced this spring, curiosity and a little bit of nostalgia prodded me to try it out—and see how this classic shelter holds up in comparison to modern tents. On high-desert trips from southern Utah to southern Idaho in May and June, the Clip Flashlight held up well through serious wind and rainstorms. While I found faults with some aspects of its design, its strengths—and a good price—make it a backcountry shelter worth considering.
For three nights of camping at over 7,000 feet in Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve, strong winds gusted to 30 mph and higher most of the time, and we got a thunderstorm with hard, wind-driven rain one evening. The Clip Flashlight kept my teenage daughter and her friend dry and held up through that weather.
Although not freestanding, the Clip Flashlight pitches very intuitively and quickly, with a longer pole arching over the head end of the tent and a shorter pole over the foot end; once staked out completely, the design stands up to wind as well as many tents in its weight class. The Clip Flashlight has always been more of a shelter for sleeping than for hanging out inside—it’s not capacious. Still, the 30-square-foot interior, with 52 inches of width and a length of 89 inches, compares well with many tents in this weight class, and is a little more spacious than some. The 42-inch peak height exists only at the head end of the tent—the ceiling slopes downward to the foot end. But there’s adequate space for two average-size people to sit up and move around, thanks partly to vertical walls, and the arch pole at the foot end is high enough that the ceiling doesn’t slope at a steep angle.
The big, D-shaped tent door makes entry and exiting easy, alleviating some of the inconvenience of having just one door. But when exiting with the rainfly door closed, you have to bend over and reach all the way to the far bottom end of that door to grab the zipper pulls. (Note to Sierra Designs: If the rainfly door had two-way zippers, it would be easier to get in and out by opening the zippers’ top ends down far enough to step over the bottom end of the door or over the vestibule side walls; that would also keep the door fabric from dragging on the ground as much.) This tent is better for backpacking and bike touring in relatively good weather; it would feel cramped if you’re holed up inside in an extended stretch of wet weather.
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While having just one door means it lacks the cross-ventilation created by two doors, ventilation is good enough to prevent any condensation building up on cool, damp nights with the rainfly door zipped shut, because of the all-mesh interior canopy and the way the rainfly stakes out away from the mesh, allowing air flow. The mesh canopy also granted me an unobstructed view of the stars when I slept in it with the rainfly off on a clear night at around 8,500 feet in Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument. The high bathtub floor keeps splashing rain and mud out in a downpour.
Interior features include spacious pockets on each side and a lantern pouch hanging above the doorway that you can place a headlamp inside to disperse soft light throughout the tent at night; but given the dimming capability of the best headlamps out there today, I’m dubious about the usefulness of the lantern pouch. At just under nine square feet, the one vestibule has the space that you often find in each of the two vestibules on many two-door tents in this category, so storage is limited, and restricted by the fact that it’s all within the tent’s sole entrance.
I give the Clip Flashlight a few demerits. I’m not a fan of the roll-up, awning-style rainfly door, even though there are some benefits: You can extend the awning horizontally, using two trekking poles and guylines to fashion a roof over the tent’s entrance, protecting it from straight-down rain, as long as winds aren’t strong enough to blow the awning around; and rolling up that rainfly door does allow a good view of the stars. But having two zippers creates more work opening and closing the door; the awning won’t keep anything under it very dry in wind-driven rain; erecting the awning forces you to bend over when entering and exiting; and the long, steeply angled door results in its fabric quickly getting dirty and degraded on its bottom edge from dragging on the ground.
The rainfly doesn’t extend out over the tent doorway to keep rain out of the tent interior when entering and exiting. I’ve also never liked using grommets to secure the rainfly to the ends of the poles around the tent’s perimeter, especially having to handle them in the cold, or in wet or muddy conditions; clips are simply easier and faster. I bent one of the low-quality stakes the first time I pitched the tent.
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You can certainly get a single-door or two-door tent that’s lighter than the Clip Flashlight, but you’d pay a lot more for one of this quality. In fact, SD’s own Flash 2 FL (one of my favorite backpacking tents) has far more space and two doors while weighing only four ounces more—but it’s also twice as expensive.
Despite a few shortcomings, the Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight 2 is a sturdy, lightweight, well-ventilated, reasonably roomy tent for most backpacking, bikepacking, or even car camping—as long as you’re not holing up in it through long periods of wet weather—and comes at a good price.
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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.