Lightweight shelter

| Comments (2) | Gear JMT
Some sort of shelter is one of the "big three" heavy backpacking items (the other two are backpack and sleeping bag). Traditionally, of course, this means a tent, but some ultralight backpackers have started to go with some even more lightweight options, such as tarps (see for instance: Tarptent). Tarp construction varies, but at a high level they're single-wall tents with various degrees of full enclosure. A lot of them save weight by using a trekking pole as a tent pole, thus avoiding the need to carry a separate pole. With this technique you can get a single-person shelter for around 20 oz (assuming you're using trekking poles anyway).

I don't use trekking poles myself, and my personal preference is for an ultralight tent: the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1. The Fly Creek UL1 is a double wall tent: an ultralight mostly mesh bag held up by a single pole and then a separate rain fly. The entire apparatus weighs 1.04 kg (2 lbs, 5 oz) including stuff sacks, stakes, etc. [Big Agnes lists this as 2 lbs, 3 oz, but my scale gives the above number]. It's nominally freestanding, but as a practical matter you at minimum want to stake out the foot of the tent, since there's only a single pole running to the foot the corners tend to flop in otherwise. In addition, if it's cold you need to be careful about how you stake out the rain fly: unless you guy it out especially in the vestibule, you don't get adequate ventilation and there's a lot of condensation inside the tent—I've seen this happen with my Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 as well. In addition, if you just leave the vestibule slack you get a lot of draft. So, finding a site where you can put the stakes in can be a little tricky. The other minor issue is that the tent only has 38" of headroom so I at least can't sit up straight except in one location and even then I suspect I'm a little bent over. On the other hand, you don't really want to spend that much time in your tent.

If set up properly, the Fly Creek UL1 does a great job of keeping you warm and dry. The next to last day of my JMT trip it started to rain right after I got to Guitar Lake at 3ish and kept going for the next 11 hours or so. I stayed in the tent warm and dry pretty much the whole time and slept well. The two guys next to me were in tarp tents (not sure which model) and complained that they had a lot of wind and rain intrusion (I think due to the requirement to keep some openings for ventilation) and that they were extremely cold and wet and didn't really sleep at all. Seems like that difference was worth a few ounces and I saw other people ogling my Big Agnes.

I should mention that on about day 8 (probably the 9th day I'd used the tent) I went to stow it in the stuff sack and the top 3-4" of the stuff sack tore almost completely off (there's a seam running down one side and that didn't tear). This doesn't affect the functionality of the tent—it's just the stuff sack—but it's a minor inconvenience. I've contacted BA and they're sending me a new stuff sack.


So did you use the rain fly all the time--even when it wasn't going to rain? I assume the tent is significantly warmer with the rain fly even under dry conditions.

Yeah, that's what I did. Some people like to see the stars but I prefer to sleep warm.

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