Ultralight Backpacking Tent
Slingfin Portal 2
$485, 2 lbs. 14 oz.
Everyone wants a super lightweight tent—which makes sense: Give that your tent is one of the heaviest pieces of gear you carry, it offers great potential for weight savings. But not everyone wants the drawbacks of an ultralight tent, which can include tight living quarters and, in particular, so-so stability in strong wind. Enter the Slingfin Portal 2, one of the sturdiest sub-three-pound tents out there, as I discovered on a six-day, 74-mile backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon and stormy nights camping at Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve.
In the Grand Canyon in mid-spring, the Portal 2 stood up to winds frequently gusting to 30 mph or more. And while camping at the City of Rocks in May, it also withstood similar winds—and survived a night of crazy wind events: The tent suffered no damage despite being lifted in the air by the wind—due entirely to the sandy soil not holding stakes well—and sent tumbling into sagebrush. But when the wind started blowing at least 50 mph one evening, I had to take the tent down because I was afraid poles would get snapped; I pitched it again later, after the windstorm passed.
Those were unusual conditions that would trash many three-season backpacking tents, but also a reminder that even the strongest ultralight tents have limits—don’t expect performance approaching the stoutest (and much heavier) three-season or mountaineering tents.
Slingfin carried some technologies from mountaineering tents over to the Portal, to improve stability and weather resistance while keeping it under three pounds. It pitches using two DAC Featherlite NFL 8.7mm poles and one NFL 9mm pole. A trekking pole can optionally be used to prop up the rainfly at the peak of each vestibule, bolstering the tent’s wind resistance and strength under snow loads. Pre-installed internal guylines (similar to Slingfin’s 2Lite Trek) can be tensioned from inside to increase lateral stability when the wind’s blowing—and they add virtually no weight to the tent. (See instructions on installing a second set of internal guylines at slingfin.com.)
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Ten external guy points are matched to toggles to attach the fly to the poles for added structural strength in multi-directional wind. The toggles also allow rolling the fly up halfway over the tent—opening up night sky views while facilitating a quick switch to full rain protection during the night, if necessary, a very nice feature.
In short, the design gives the sub-three-pound Portal 2 the wind resistance you’d find in tents weighing at least a pound more.
The Portal 2’s livability compares favorably with leading competitors in this weight class (like the Big Agnes HV UL2), with two doors and vestibules, a snug but tolerable 27.5 square feet of floor area, good length (85 inches) and width at the head (51 inches) and foot (42 inches), and a generous peak height (44 inches). The pole architecture boosts headroom without the hubs found on tents from other brands; Slingfin told me they consider hubs a “weakness.” There are seven internal pockets: two each on the ceiling, at the head, and on the sides and one at the foot.
All of the above attributes are noteworthy in a tent that’s under three pounds, although the packed size of 14×5 inches is typical for a tent in this category.
The offset vestibules each have 8.4 square feet of storage area, similar to many lightweight two-person tents.
Ventilation is good, thanks to the mesh interior canopy, vents high on both vestibule doors that can be propped open with struts that still provide full rain protection even when open. Having two doors, of course, greatly improves any tent’s ventilation. Both vestibule doors roll back to create openings nearly the size of the tent’s side walls—which, combined with the ease of rolling back the rainfly, gives the tent a wonderful, open-air feeling on clear nights—and can be kept open in light rain because the drip line doesn’t allow rain inside the tent.
It’s not the fastest three-season tent to pitch; trekking poles aren’t required (and unnecessary in calm weather) but do improve stability, and add time to the job. But it’s easy and faster after you’ve done it once or twice. Matching reflective tabs on the rainfly and tent body make pitching easier.
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The Portal 2 is built with more durability than many ultralight tents. It uses 20-denier nylon ripstop in the floor, 15-denier nylon no-see-um mesh in the tent body, and an 1800mm, 10-denier nylon 66 ripstop silicone rainfly that, unlike PU coatings, doesn’t absorb water, meaning it won’t stretch and sag when wet. Slingfin employs fabrics with good UV and mildew resistance to extend their life, adds extra zipper sliders to double the lifespan of the zippers, and foregoes PU coatings that deteriorate over time. All stress-point seams are reinforced.
A footprint (sold separately, $67, 5 oz.) protects the tent floor and allows pitching the Portal 2 with only the rainfly, slashing the shelter’s total weight to two pounds two ounces. Alternatively, Slingfin also sells separately a Portal Tub Floor ($106, 7.5 oz.) that has sidewalls to keep water from splashing in when pitching it only with the rainfly, a setup that also weighs just two pounds two ounces.
While barely making the (arbitrary) weight limit for an ultralight tent, the Slingfin Portal 2 carves out a unique space in this category by striking a keen balance between solid stability and livability while weighing under three pounds, making it a good choice for any backpacker who wants to reduce pack weight while getting the wind resistance of a heavier tent.
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See my “Review: The 7 Best Backpacking Tents” (which includes another Slingfin tent) and all of my reviews of backpacking tents, ultralight backpacking tents, backpacking gear, and ultralight backpacking gear that I like.
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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.