Gear Review: Sierra Designs Tensegrity 2 FL Tent

Sierra Designs Tensegrity 2 FL
Sierra Designs Tensegrity 2 FL

Ultralight Tent
Sierra Designs Tensegrity 2 FL
$390, 2 lbs. 10 oz. (without the included stuff sack and nine sturdy stakes, which are needed to pitch the tent)

When I first saw this tent displayed at the Outdoor Retailer trade show a year ago, I wanted to test it in the backcountry. The whole concept behind SD’s new Tensegrity line intriguingly throws out the playbook on what backpacking tents are supposed to look like: Gone are the inward sloping walls, traditional vestibules, and poles, all with the goal of making a shelter that’s not just lighter but more functional. I took the Tensegrity 2 FL on a six-day rafting trip down Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon River—and mostly liked what I saw in this unusual shelter.

Sierra Designs Tensegrity 2 FL door.
Sierra Designs Tensegrity 2 FL door.

The non-freestanding, single-wall Tensegrity tents pitch using two trekking poles, one included DAC NFL arch pole that supports the tent’s foot end, and seven stakes. Eliminating tent poles shaves significant weight and bulk, making the tent light and compact while offering capacious space: While the Tensegrity 2 FL’s interior floor space is 29 square feet (and 88 inches long, with a peak height of 41 inches)—somewhat average for a two-person tent—the one-of-a-kind design makes it wider at the ceiling (57 inches) than at the floor (50 inches). Sitting inside really feels much roomier than many tents, certainly more than any bug-proof tent under three pounds. At the tent’s head end, a large awning can be pitched in three different configurations—angled to the ground lean-to style, straight outward (using two more poles), or rolled up completely. I found the angled option the best for protecting gear from rain, but really liked rolling it up for stargazing on clear nights.

In lieu of vestibules at the two side doors, it has a spacious 10-square-foot “gear closet,” which is smartly positioned at the front end of the tent (and accessed via a third, zippered door that’s large enough for entry and egress), so you don’t have to climb over your gear going in and out. It also means there’s no vestibule to crawl through, which really makes the tent more pleasantly livable. Plus, the enormous mesh wall at the head end and equally large mesh doors without vestibules lets you see the stars instead of feeling enclosed in a nylon cocoon.

Pitching it takes a little practice and time; I could eventually do it by myself, although it’s tricky when trying to tension two trekking poles. The Tensegrity proved sturdy enough to ward off rain and wind in violent thunderstorms on the Middle Fork. Awnings that extend out 12 inches over the side doors prevent rain dripping inside the tent when you come and go. The lightweight, silicone-treated, 30D nylon ripstop fabric in the floor and 20D polyester ripstop in the body, seam taped throughout, suffered no damage, but won’t be as durable as heavier fabric used in some tents.

Sierra Designs Tensegrity 2 FL awning
Sierra Designs Tensegrity 2 FL awning

The biggest demerit is that this shelter suffers from the bane of single-wall tents: condensation. On calm, humid nights with lows in the 40s, the ceiling collected a lot of condensation even with the solid door panels half to fully unzipped on each side to maximize ventilation (in addition to the big mesh door on the head end). One foggy morning, the condensation dripped from the ceiling onto sleeping bags and everything inside. But on other nights—one rainy, another clear and breezy, with my wife or son sharing the tent with me and the solid side doors unzipped for ventilation—we had zero condensation.

The Tensegrity 2 FL and its sister tents in that line are a good choice for backpacking in a relatively dry climate or on shorter trips in any weather. But on longer trips where you may face repeated rainy days, condensation and the inability to dry out the tent might eventually leave you with a wet shelter, inside and out. Unlike the FL version, the lighter and more-expensive Tensegrity 2 Elite ($490, 2 lbs., 2 oz.) requires seam sealing.

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See all of my reviews of backpacking tents I like and all of my reviews of backpacking gear.

See also my stories “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?

NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on the Gear Reviews category at left or in the main menu.

—Michael Lanza

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2 thoughts on “Gear Review: Sierra Designs Tensegrity 2 FL Tent”

    • Actually, view that SD video closely and you’ll see they pitch the Tensegrity with the poles at a variety of angles, because the tent allows you to do that. I found that was my experience with it, too. The reason it’s tricky for one person to pitch alone (not tricky for two people) is that the poles are held in place by the tension of the stakes and guy lines, and you stake the final guy lines only after putting the poles in place.