Sierra Designs Flash 3

Sierra Designs Flash 3

Three-Season Tent
Sierra Designs Flash 3
$400, 4 lbs. 15 oz. (tent and poles only)

Backpacking with my kids amplifies a challenge any backpacker faces: finding a tent that provides good living space and stability without being a burdensome weight or filling your backpack. My kids are young enough that they carry just personal gear (bag, pad, clothes, snacks, water). So on a recent overnight trip with my kids in the Needles District of Utah’s Canyonlands National Park, without my wife or another adult to share the family food and gear load, I took the Flash 3 for a test drive and was blown away by the amount of space it has for a sub-five-pound, freestanding shelter.

The cavernous interior is created by lightweight, hubbed DAC NSL poles that assemble in a flash, and a small, awning pole across the roof. Together, they lift the ceiling to a peak height of 44 inches—but more importantly, provide good headroom out to the side walls, so three adults can sit up comfortably. With a floor measuring 41 square feet (86 inches/218cm x 69 inches/175 cm), and that ample headroom, all but the tallest people can lie in either direction, across the width or length of the tent. I was able to fit my 72-inch-long air mattress across the width, so the kids and I slept with our heads and feet at the doors, with the kind of space between us that I’ve rarely enjoyed in a backcountry tent. Taller people would lay the length of the tent, meaning the person in the middle has to climb over someone to get out. But even in that orientation, there’s space between pads so you’re not elbowing one another.

Sierra Designs Flash 3

Sierra Designs Flash 3

The pole structure and integrated design—with the rainfly attached to the interior canopy—stands up to fierce weather and allows pitching the tent in rain without getting the interior wet, as I discovered with last year’s version of the Flash 2 (which differs primarily in lacking some updates featured in this year’s model). When a violent thunderstorm erupted one afternoon on a five-day family backpacking trip in Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness, I erected the Flash 2 in a few minutes, and it withstood 30-mph gusts that lasted through the 90-minute storm.

The hybrid single- and double-wall design, with a rainfly over the roof and side walls only, eliminates traditional vestibules outside the two doors. That loss is a gain, though, making entering and exiting much easier—the drop doors are huge—while the awning pole prevents rain dripping inside. Plus, the doors have solid panels that zip up over the mesh when you need to keep blowing rain out. Replacing the vestibules are two, seven-square-foot “gear closets” outside the walls rather than the doors, each accessed by a zippered, inside hatch door. So boots and wet stuff get smartly stored out of the way of the doors. Although it’s freestanding, you’ll want to stake out the Flash 3 even on calm nights, otherwise the side walls of the rainfly will lie against the mesh canopy and you’d lose the gear closets.

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The big, open doorways and all-mesh interior canopy create excellent ventilation (a rarity in typical, single-wall tents). On our first night in The Needles backcountry, the temperature dropped below freezing and there wasn’t a breath of wind—conditions that usually ensure a frost-covered interior by morning. But even with three of us inside, and the solid door panels only partly open, there wasn’t a bead of condensation. I had similar results in the Flash 2, which collected no condensation on raw, rainy nights and stayed comfortably cool on warm nights.

All in all, the Flash 3 offers great space and stability for its weight, at a competitive price for this category. The new version of the Flash 2 is $300 and 4 lbs., 12 oz. See more reviews of backpacking tents I like and all of my reviews of backpacking gear.

See my “5 Tips For Buying a Backpacking Tent,” all of my reviews of backpacking tents and backpacking gear, and “My 10 Most-Read Gear Reviews,” “Best New Gear of the Year: My Top 10 Favorites,” “The Simple Equation of Ultralight Backpacking: Less Weight = More Fun,” “Buying Gear? Read This First,” “5 Tips For Spending Less on Hiking and Backpacking Gear,” and “Ask Me: How Do We Begin Lightening Up Our Backpacking Gear?

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—Michael Lanza