Sierra Designs Flash 2 FL
$400, 3 lbs. 10 oz. (not including stuff sacks and stakes)
The rain started as we searched for a campsite by Utah’s Dirty Devil River. Then the wind kicked up. My son and I quickly pitched this tent and stashed our gear inside without anything getting wet. And as we lounged inside, the Flash 2 FL withstood gusts of 30 to 40 mph—even when the swirling winds hit the tent broadside. But its stability is just part of the strong story of the Flash 2 FL, whose features and performance will appeal to many backpackers who want a lighter shelter, but can’t abide the cramped quarters of many ultralight tents.
Having liked previous iterations of SD’s Flash tents, I took the new and lighter Flash 2 FL on a trip to southern Utah in late March, backpacking to Robbers Roost Canyon, a tributary of the Dirty Devil River, and car camping during a week that saw lots of wind and some rain. I also used it on three nights during a four-day, mid-July family rafting trip on the Green River through Lodore Canyon in Dinosaur National Monument.
For starters, this freestanding tent’s unique, hybrid design marries the benefits of single- and double-wall tents by integrating the interior tent canopy with the rainfly: A partial rainfly roof and weatherproof side walls block wind and precipitation, and the side doors have both mesh and solid, weatherproof, zippered panels. That integrated design eliminates a step when pitching—so it goes up fast—and keeps the interior dry when erecting the tent in the rain. The light but strong DAC NFL poles assemble and dissemble easily and didn’t even bend from strong gusts in unsheltered desert campsites, and stood up to winds blowing over 30 mph in Lodore Canyon.
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Barely north of three-and-a-half pounds, the tent has 30 square feet of living space—good for this weight class—plus an 86-inch length and 50-inch width. And the pole structure creates vertical walls that expand headroom throughout the interior, with a generous, 43-inch peak height. There’s plenty of sleeping and personal space, and my family of four could hang out inside and play games when it rained. On our Utah trip, I had this and a lighter, smaller tent for my family, and everyone wanted to sleep in this one. I like how SD has replaced traditional vestibules with awnings over tent doorways and gear closets—big enough for a pack and boots—at both ends of the tent, accessed via inside zippers. Combine that with the two big doorways, and you don’t have to crawl when getting in and out, and the awnings give you more of a view outside.
Ventilation is excellent and condensation virtually non-existent because of the combination of a mesh canopy, air circulation through the gear closets, and the awnings overhanging the doors, which lets you leave the side doors either open completely or with only the mesh panels zipped up except during wind-driven, sideways rain. Plus, the drop doors let you adjust the amount of ventilation. The tent took on sand during strong windstorms in Utah, but not as much as a four-person tent our friends used, perhaps because the rainfly reaches low to the ground.
Materials are lightweight: silicone-coated, 20-denier ripstop rainfly; 30-denier, coated, polyester ripstop floor; and 15-denier nylon mesh walls. It will be reasonably durable, but some caution in handling it is advised.
With terrific living space for its low weight, a smart design, and impressive stability in wind, SD’s Flash 2 FL is one of my top recommendations among tents for backpackers looking for a nice balance between minimizing weight while maintaining good livability. There’s also a Flash 3 FL ($500, 4 lbs. 2 oz.)—which, for just another half pound of weight, is a smart choice for people who want extra space or alternately take trips as a pair or a trio.
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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.