UKC

2-Person 3-Season Tents Group Test

Most climbers and hillwalkers need a two-person tent. Whether it's a lightweight mountain shelter for two, or generous base camp accommodation for one, the balance of space, weather performance and packability makes this a versatile size. Over spring and summer we've been using seven different models pitched around the 3-season category; each has its pros and cons.

Ideally it'll be big enough for two, but light enough to carry all day..., 111 kb
Ideally it'll be big enough for two, but light enough to carry all day...
© Dan Bailey

Light, cheap and strong, goes the old adage; when it comes to choosing a tent you can pick only two. That may be a cliche, but it's a reminder that any tent design is a compromise. Spaciousness versus weight is another calculation; and if that's not enough to be getting on with we'll also add ventilation versus warmth/weatherproofness. Even if money were no object, the perfect tent may not exist. Each design will meet a particular set of priorities. Are you willing to sacrifice space for the lightest possible model? Are you less bothered by weight but prefer something roomy? Do you need it to be well vented and airy for warm weather, or a bombproof haven for windy, wet and cold conditions?

How it pitches can make or break your relationship with a tent. Is it quick and intuitive, or an annoying fiddle? If the inner has to go up before the fly is fitted then everything gets wet in the rain; on the other hand designs that allow you to erect the whole thing in one go are brilliant.

Tent fabric may be a niche topic, but if you want yours to last then it's worth considering. All else being equal, a thicker, heavier fabric will be more durable than an ultralight one. Its level of waterproofness, or hydrostatic head, is a particular concern in prolonged or wind-driven rain, and especially for the groundsheet which gets pitched in puddles, knelt on and generally abused. How about the choice of material itself? Put simply, polyester is less prone than nylon to sagging when wet, and withstands UV damage better; however nylon is available at a lighter weight, and has a higher tear strength, which explains its use in many posh backpacking tents. A tight pole structure can help prevent sagging. But what are those poles made of? You want something light, yet robust and flexible. Not all poles are of equal quality, so that's yet another thing to bear in mind.

We've looked at all of the above in this review.

The weights quoted here are ours, not the manufacturers', and include tent, pegs, poles, guylines and stuff sack. The dimensions are based on our measurements too.

Overall summary

Alpkit

Jaran 2

Price: £259

Weight: 1797g

Floor area: 2.75m2

Jaran 2 prod shot, 44 kb

Pros: Light; large floor area; well vented; affordable

Cons: Limited headroom; buckles in high wind; cold in winter; pitches inner first


Macpac

Minaret

Price: £450

Weight: 2300g

Floor area: 2.35m2

Best in Test Highly Recommended Large, 14 kb

Minaret prod shot, 34 kb

Pros: Durable; weatherproof; warm; fast-pitching

Cons: Cramped interior; quite pricey; not the lightest


MSR

Access 2

Price: £560

Weight: 1875g

Floor area: 2.52m2

Best in Test Highly Recommended Large, 14 kb

MSR Access 2 prod shot, 50 kb

Pros: Great balance of weight, space & weather performance

Cons: Very expensive; pitches inner first


Salewa

Sierra Leone II

Price: £295

Weight: 3103g

Floor area: 2.52m2

Best in Test Good Value Large, 10 kb

Sierra Leone II prod shot, 29 kb

Pros: Solid in stormy weather; excellent value

Cons: Very heavy; poles may not be that strong


Exped

Mira 2

Price: £525

Weight: 1563g

Floor area: 2.6m2

Mira 2 prod shot, 39 kb

Pros: Incredibly light for its size; very airy for summer

Cons: Poor in high wind; draughty; pricey; not tough; pitches inner first


Lightwave

t20 trail

Price: £349

Weight: 2530g

Floor area: c.2.5m2

Best in Test Highly Recommended Large, 14 kb

t20 trail prod shot, 35 kb

Pros: Highly durable; very weatherproof; excellent value

Cons: Quite heavy; not the most spacious


Marmot

Limelight 2P

Price: £300

Weight: 2688g

Floor area: 3m2

Best in Test Good Value Large, 10 kb

Limelight 2P prod shot, 43 kb

Pros: Hugely spacious; well ventilated; good value; robust fabrics

Cons: Heavy; not the best for cold/stormy weather; pitches inner first


Alpkit Jaran 2 - £259

With a big floor area for little weight, the Jaran 2 is one of the more spacious models in this review, making it an attractive option for longer two-person trips where a bit of elbow room is particularly welcome. Unfortunately the otherwise roomy feel is slightly let down by limited headroom. With a small pack size and a weight well under 2kg it suits lightweight backpacking, bikepacking or general travel. On the plus side it is well vented for warm weather, and affordably priced; the chief negative, on the other hand, is its poor performance in stormy conditions, for which the Jaran 2's floppy structure is particularly ill-suited.

As a summer backpacking tent it's good value, but it performs poorly in wind , 175 kb
As a summer backpacking tent it's good value, but it performs poorly in wind
© Dan Bailey

Weight and build quality

At just 1797g, the Jaran 2 is one of the lighter models in this review, a big advantage if your priority is minimising weight. At this weight, you could carry it as a luxuriously spacious one-person model. The build quality seems very good for the price, though some of its more expensive rivals do feel more robust, so the Jaran 2 would not be top of the list of you're expecting to give the tent a lot of rough treatment.

Fabric and poles

Alpkit have used a 30 denier ripstop nylon on both the fly and the groundsheet. For the canopy this seems a sensible balance of lightness versus durability - the fly certainly doesn't feel flimsy - but for the abuse that a groundsheet inevitably receives this is a bit thin for our liking. We've been pricked by thistles through the floor of the Jaran 2! For long term use it seems inevitable that a floor this thin will suffer. To protect the groundsheet and give the porches a floor, a footprint is available as an optional extra (£35 if bought separately, or £20 more on the tent price if bought together). This seems an advisable investment, though it's worth noting that it adds 205g to the overall pack weight, nudging the Jaran 2 up to about 2kg all-in. With taped seams and a 3000mm hydrostatic head, the fly and groundsheet are easily waterproof enough for wet conditions; however the fly does get quite saggy and sorry-looking after prolonged rain.

The inner is comprised of 20 denier ripstop nylon, and large areas of 20 denier mesh; since an inner tent gets the least abuse it made sense for Alpkit to go light here. Poles, meanwhile, are DAC Featherlite NSL Green, a market-leading aluminium pole that's been anodised in a less environmentally damaging way. Since the poles get a lot of abuse, it was sensible for Alpkit to use a model of a quality that you might expect in a higher-priced tent, rather than something cheaper and generic. The full spec isn't available on the Alpkit website but we think these are 9mm poles.

The Jaran 2 is an inner-pitch-first design, 131 kb
The Jaran 2 is an inner-pitch-first design
© Dan Bailey

Various attachments secure the inner to the poles, 166 kb
Various attachments secure the inner to the poles
© Dan Bailey

Pitching

A dome design with two pole arches linked by a cross piece, the Jaran 2 is fairly straightforward to put up if you pay attention to the colour coded tabs, but it is still more fiddly than some designs. It's inner-first pitching, too, which is a disadvantage in very wet weather. The poles are all hinged into a single unit, which can be quite awkward to wrestle with - particularly if it's windy. Peg out the inner, pop the pole ends into their press-fit connectors on the corners, then hang the fabric from the structure via a series of hooks and hubs. So far, so easy: but fitting the fly neatly over the top of this can take a bit of effort, especially if you're pitched on uneven ground. The fly clips into the peg points at the four corners of the inner, and can be adjusted for tension here, which is a nice touch. For the structure to hold its shape in the wind it then also has to be velcroed onto the poles at eight separate points - a real faff.

The semi-geodesic design needs only 6 pegs for basic pitching, but you could use up to 12, 131 kb
The semi-geodesic design needs only 6 pegs for basic pitching, but you could use up to 12
© Pegs Bailey

Peg out each vestibule - adjustable loops help you find the best ground for your pegs - and you're done. Just six pegs are required for basic pitching; Alpkit supply 10, along with four guylines. These DAC angled pegs are light and robust, and with a slightly rounded top they're not too painful on the hands compared to some. The dark green guylines are hard to see, and thus easy to trip over - something we've managed several times when camping with the Jaran 2.

Interior space

For its modest weight the Jaran 2 is excellent on floor space, with an area of about 2.75m2 - among the biggest in the review. We're not sure how Alpkit arrived at the dimensions quoted on their website: having measured the Jaran 2 ourselves, we've found the interior floor is actually somewhat larger than they give it credit for. At 227cm it's one of the longest inners in this review, while the width - 136cm at one end, tapering to 106cm at the other - is similarly generous. Even two larger adults can stretch out comfortably, so for extended trips this is a more liveable amount of floor than that on offer from most of the competition. Sadly, however, headroom is less generous. Coming to just 89cm at its inside max, the height is consistent along the apex of the roof but rapidly tapers at each end. Taller users will sit hunched even in the middle of the tent, while the doorways are lower still, so you really have to crouch down on entry.

A fair amount of porch space for kit and cooking, 190 kb
A fair amount of porch space for kit and cooking
© Pegs Bailey

On a more positive note, with a door at each side you can each have your own entrance. The identical vestibules are both generously sized, at about 75cm deep (max), giving you a lot of gear storage or cooking space. We've found it hard to keep the outer doors neatly rolled up out of the way; they always seem to want to escape their retainers and flap around.

It's a decent floor area for two people, 196 kb
It's a decent floor area for two people
© Dan Bailey

But door height is limited for taller users, 224 kb
But door height is limited for taller users
© Dan Bailey

With a total of six mesh pockets on the inner, enough for all the bits and bobs that camping seems to require, you can keep well organised in the Jaran 2. Not many tents in this test are as good in this regard.

Weather performance

This is the weak point in an otherwise strong offering from Alpkit. Because the pole structure is not remotely rigid, and the walls include some large flat planes that catch the wind, the Jaran 2 tends to flap and bow alarmingly in stormy weather. In high wind we've found this to be the case even when it's guyed out using all four available guy points. Due to its doubtful stability in heavy weather we'd say the Jaran 2 is best considered a 2-season model (ie summer and the less challenging ends of spring and autumn) and it's definitely not one for winter hill use. However, the fly is certainly rain-proof enough for wet British conditions.

When it's cold and windy it's good to be able to tighten your flysheet as close to the ground as possible. With tension adjustment at the corners, and a secondary pegging point at each end of the fly, you can get the Jaran 2's fly down to about 6cm from the ground in places, but at other points - the porches for instance - we've struggled to improve on about 10cm. This makes the tent draughty in windy weather. Further to this, the bathtub-style groundsheet does not come particularly high inside, and can sag right to the ground in the doorways - obviously not ideal in the wettest conditions. Having an inner with more mesh than fabric does not lend itself to cold conditions, and on a wet and windy spring night one of our reviewers was pretty chilled inside. Of course this airy well-vented inner is a positive advantage in hot weather. The outer doors have only a single zipper, which is limited use for airing the tent at night, but you do get a venting flap on each side of the fly. Overall there's a lot of air flow through the Jaran 2, another reason we think it's best in summer.

Packing

The Jaran 2 has a lightweight stuff sack which feels a little flimsy for long-term abuse (shoving sharp poles down the side, for instance). Alpkit haven't added compression straps, but none are needed since this is already a pretty compact tent when packed away - one person can carry it easily.

Alpkit bag, 223 kb

Alpkit say:

With semi-geodesic construction, Jaran 2 fills that sweet spot between weight, durability and space. Offering comfort and space by night without compromising on strength or packability, it is suitable for prolonged escapades and uber-light exploration. Jaran 2 is inner pitch first and simple to assemble: one person can do it whilst the other gets the dinner on. The crossbar adds stability against the wind and maximises your liveable space for long-term comfort. Its freestanding setup means you can pitch it almost anywhere with just 6 pegs, optional guy ropes are included.

Jaran 2 prod shot, 45 kb

  • Weight: 1797g
  • Interior dimensions: L 227cm, W 136/106cm (tapers), H 89cm max
  • Floor area: 2.75m2
  • Fly fabric: Nylon Ripstop 30D; 3000 mm PU/Si
  • Inner fabric: 20D Poly No-See-Um; Panels: 20D Nylon Ripstop
  • Groundsheet: Nylon Ripstop 30D; 3000 mm PU/Si
  • Poles: TH72M-6 Aluminium
  • 3 Year Alpine Bond
  • Semi-geodesic 3 pole lightweight freestanding backpacking tent
  • Freestanding setup; pitches with 6 pegs, supplied with 10
  • 2 entrances give a more comfortable living space
  • 2 spacious porch vestibules for storing boots and rucksacks
  • Mesh and polyester panelling on inner for ventilation, warmth and privacy
  • Stash pockets for organising your gear
  • Two internal hang loops for torch or gloves
  • Factory-taped seams using waterproof, solvent-free polyurethane tape (PVC & VOC free)
  • Bathtub construction keeps moisture out
  • Reflective guy points for stability and visibility
  • Colour-coded webbing makes pitching straight-forward
  • Pole system with press fit connectors, lightweight hubs and eco-friendly anodizing

For more info see alpkit.com

Macpac Minaret - £450

A classic hooped tunnel tent of great vintage, the Minaret has undergone a gradual evolution in materials and design over the years, but the basic principle remains the same. Made for wet-and-windy New Zealand (thus ideal for the UK too), this popular model may be beginning to look on the heavy side, but in compensation for this it boasts great durability and weather performance. As an added bonus, no tent in this review is easier or quicker to erect; and if you're setting up in the rain the Minaret beats the inner-pitch-first models hands down. Its living space is not generous, but for two smaller users (or one big, one small) it's still bearable for short trips. Our reviewer has owned and loved a Minaret for more than 15 years, during which time it's seen a lot of service year-round, from the Alps to Scottish winter.

40mph winds were forecast, but the Minaret was fine, 201 kb
40mph winds were forecast, but the Minaret was fine
© Dan Bailey

Weight and build quality

At 2300g the Minaret is among the heavier models in this review, a consequence of its thicker fabrics and generally chunky straps, guys, buckles etc. But this will be a disadvantage chiefly to the most committed gram counters, while for the average hillwalking/mountaineering user its weight is still perfectly viable, particularly split between two people. The compensation for its weight is durability; with among the toughest fabrics in this review, and excellent build quality, the Minaret promises years of service. It can withstand a lot rougher treatment than lightweight rivals.

Fabric and poles

For durability Macpac have used a 30 denier double ripstop fabric for the fly - something called UV30™ SI, a nylon 66 fabric with a high thread count. Both sides of the fly have been given several coats of a silicone elastomer, which makes it highly water resistant and provides a lot of protection from UV damage. The hydrostatic head of 3000mm far exceeds many fly sheets, testament to the Minaret's NZ origins no doubt. In our experience there's absolutely no danger of leakage, but it's worth mentioning that the large area of unsupported fabric on the roof can sag a lot when soaked. The inner, meanwhile, is a 40 denier ripstop nylon; this is arguably more than strictly needed for the part of the tent that sees the least wear, and must contribute to the Minaret's weight.

Underneath is made of 'Torrentwear XP', a densely woven nylon that has been given multiple PU coatings to boost both durability and water resistance. This stuff feels very thick and mega-tough; even after 15 years our old Minaret is yet to be holed. Its hydrostatic head of 10,000mm is a huge figure. Is this marketing-oriented overkill? Well all we can say for sure is that despite many nights pitched in bogs and/or downpours, we've yet to suffer any trace of water coming up from below.

Structure is provided by two DAC Featherlite NSL poles. Top spec aluminium models of a broad 9.6mm in diameter, these are both robust and flexible, and have been anodised in a less environmentally unfriendly way.

As a tunnel it has to be pegged out to stand up at all, 168 kb
As a tunnel it has to be pegged out to stand up at all
© Dan Bailey

Pitching

Being a classic tunnel tent, pitching is utter child's play: just peg out one end of the tent, slip the two poles into their sleeves in the fly (they are identical size, so no danger of mis-assembly), then pull the whole thing upright before pegging the opposite end. It takes one person a couple of minutes, tops. The disadvantage of this system is that the Minaret absolutely requires secure pegging in order to remain standing at all. On stony or frozen ground that's going to require some head scratching on your part.

This is an outer-pitch-first design, where the pole sleeves are in the fly and the inner simply hangs on the inside. As such it's among limited company in this review, where more models have an interior structure and a fly that stretches over the top. With the Minaret a couple of pitching configurations are possible: in theory you could, for instance, just have the fly up and leave out the (detachable) inner altogether. When dismantling the tent in wet weather it can be an advantage to take down the inner first before tackling the canopy. Alternatively it's possible to leave the inner permanently attached to the fly, so that the whole thing is erected at the same time. Very much our preferred option, this reduces faff to the absolute minimum and makes the Minaret by far the quickest pitch of any on test. Another obvious advantage is pitching in the rain, when the inner stays bone dry.

With eight guy points and several vents you've lots of options, 171 kb
With eight guy points and several vents you've lots of options
© Dan Bailey

Interior space

Its tight interior is our biggest criticism of the Minaret, a floor area of just 2.35m2 being cosy for two plus kit. The inner is an unusual tapered shape, a full 240cm long on one side but only 180cm on the other. This gives you an offset inner door that increases the usable area of the porch; and indeed the inner can be pulled back further if you want a really massive porch when cooking dinner in the rain. Unfortunately, while 240cm sounds enormously long, the shallow slope of the end wall means that your effective usable length is rather less. If one of you is tall and the other short (or both are small), then the Minaret's quirky irregular length may be perfectly fine; but two tall adults will have to draw straws - and even if well under 6 feet your sleeping bag may be up against the ends on the short side. The width is similarly close, about 115cm in the middle but tapering to just 88cm at the far end. This is barely enough for two mats side by side; at the foot end they may well have to overlap. Since there's a door at only one end of the tent, while the far end is very pinched, there's no scope for lying head-to-toe to mitigate the narrowness. Headroom is consistent down the length of the middle, but at a maximum height of just 87cm, only shorter people will be able to sit fully upright inside. While our bigger-than-average reviewer loves his old Minaret, for anything more than a night or two we think it stretches the definition of 2-person - depending, of course, on which two people we're talking about.

The doorway is quite low, and for larger people there's no a ton of headroom inside, 170 kb
The doorway is quite low, and for larger people there's no a ton of headroom inside
© Dan Bailey

Mirroring the inner, the irregular-shaped porch varies from a massive 100cm deep at one side to just 40cm or so on the other. This gives you limited room to both store packs and enter/exit the tent, so you will probably end up climbing over gear if you get out for a pee in the night. The doorway is very wide, but thanks to a low cowl on the outer it's not especially high - only about 75cm - so bigger people have to crouch right down to get in. When raining it's possible to cook in the porch, but the shallow inward slope of the outer door is something to bear in mind (you don't want to set the fly on fire!).

After all these criticisms it's nice to finish this section off on a high: With two huge mesh pockets on each side, and a fifth at the far end, you can keep everything small and fiddly well organised and easily to hand. When it comes to internal storage, Macpac score top marks in the review.

Macpac inner, 157 kb

Weather performance

Now we're back on some really positive ground. After many years of use in all weathers and seasons, we're happy to describe the Minaret as a 3-4 season model. Pitch it end into the wind and it has some of the best foul weather performance of the models in this review, only matched by the MSR Access 2, Lightwave t20 trail and Salewa Sierra Leone II. It can take a lot of buffeting; its steep walls shed snow pretty well; and torrential rain is no issue. Tunnel tents can be more robust in wild weather than you might first imagine, since they're designed to bend in the wind rather than trying to solidly resist it. I can attest to that, having experienced several stormy nights in my old Minaret when the walls came bowing in close to my nose in particularly violent gusts. The poles and fabrics are well up to wild conditions. In addition, multiple guying points allow you to really batten down the hatches if necessary.

Designed for NZ, so it's more than up to Scotland in spring, 132 kb
Designed for NZ, so it's more than up to Scotland in spring
© Dan Bailey

To help keep the wind out it's possible to pull down the fly close to the ground in some places, though along the sides it can be hard to get this gap less than about 8cm. Luckily the bathtub groundsheet comes up high inside, so there's no danger from driving rain, while the largely fabric inner helps keep unwanted draught to a minimum. In winter weather the Minaret is about as warm as you could hope from a tent. But what about summer? While it's never going to be as breezy as an all-mesh inner, there is a mesh panel at the end foot end, and a two-part inner door that can be unzipped to leave just mesh. Open the vents at both ends of the fly and you do get quite a reasonable through-draught.

In a high wind the fabric used on the current Minaret can flap and snap noisily, and even vibrate like a drum - something to do with the way the fabric stretches over the two hoops.

Packing

Disassembling this tent is as quick as pitching it. The stuff sack is a very functional design, that's good and wide for easy packing but also compressible via two webbing straps. When packed away the Minaret makes a short, fat bundle that takes up a little bit more rucksack room than some.

Compression straps help reduce the bulk a lot, 224 kb
Compression straps help reduce the bulk a lot
© Dan Bailey

Macpac say:

Built with a two-pole tunnel design, the Minaret tent is made for aerodynamic stability in high winds and strength under load. The Minaret's two-pole design cuts down on weigh significantly. We chose to make the fly out of UV30™ SI, a silicone-coated fabric known for its strength, water resistance and UV protection. The floor is built with our legendary Torrentwear™ XP tub, designed for maximum waterproofness and durability. We've incorporated the Multi-Pitch™ system, allowing you to pitch the fly independent of the inner so that the inner stays dry when packing up in wet conditions. Designed for the tramper or climber, the single vestibule provides space for cooking and gear storage, and can be expanded using the retractable floor. Warm enough for a cold night on a high mountain pass, we've also included a large double door that can provide airflow when it gets hot during the summer. A unique four-vent system encourages airflow, managing condensation without compromising insulation. The three-season Minaret tent is designed to support two trampers or climbers above and below the snowline.

Minaret prod shot, 35 kb

  • Weight: 2300g
  • Interior dimensions: L 240/180cm (tapers), W 110/88cm (tapers), H 87cm max
  • Floor area: 2.35m2
  • Fly fabric: UV30™ SI
  • Inner fabric: 40d Ripstop Nylon
  • Groundsheet: Torrentwear™ XP
  • Poles: DAC Featherlite NSL / 9.6mm
  • Two-pole tunnel system creates aerodynamic stability and strength under load
  • Single vestibule provides sheltered entry
  • Retractable floor gives cooking and gear storage options
  • Internal double-door system provides for both insulation and air flow options
  • Numerous internal mesh pockets for organised living

For more info see macpac.co.nz

MSR Access 2 - £560

This is our second look at the Access 2. Our original review of this tent was pretty positive; so how does it stack up against other, in all cases more affordable, alternatives? Well coming in at under 2kg it definitely scores in the lightness stakes, while living space and headroom are both respectable for the weight. However it's the weather performance that really defines this brilliant tent, and for windy/cold conditions it is arguably the most solid choice of any on test. This is a 4-season tent at a 3-season weight, and its high price reflects the quality and weather performance.

It's not huge for two, but it is a superb mountain tent for year round use, 206 kb
It's not huge for two, but it is a superb mountain tent for year round use
© Dan Bailey

Weight and build quality

Weighing just 1875g, the Access 2 is a good choice for all but the most weight-critical user, at one extreme, or the most ferocious winter weather at the other. Specialist ultralight backpacking models might be lighter still, but they inevitably have drawbacks; on the other hand, if you need something sturdier than the Access 2 then you will definitely pay a weight penalty. The balance of weight/space/weather performance struck here makes this a great all-season all-rounder, which would be equally good whether you're trekking in big overseas mountains or out in a Scottish winter. The quality of materials and construction is top notch too.

Fabric and poles

First thing to note is the poles. Instead of the customary aluminium, MSR have opted for Easton Sylcone Poles. These are made from a composite material that is said to be more flexible and durable than the aluminium or carbon equivalent, and they weigh no more. "Wound from multiple directions into a tube" say MSR, they can "flex under force and return to shape". In use they certainly feel very tough and flexible, and seem a great choice for a tent that's built to cope with high wind and the weight of snow.

The fly is a 20D ripstop nylon, which is probably the minimum we'd want, while for the groundsheet it's 30D. For general year-round mountain use this seems a sensible balance of lightness versus toughness, though it might pay in the long run to protect the groundsheet with some sort of under-sheet if you're regularly camping on sharp stony terrain (an added weight we've not factored in here!). It has to be said that the heavier groundsheets in this review feel more durable. The hydrostatic head figures do not, on the face of it, look that inspiring: just 1200mm for the fly and 3000mm underneath. However, with its Durashield waterproof finish the real world performance has been fine to date. We've used the Access 2 in persistent heavy rain, and subjected it to a hosepipe test for good measure; no complaints from us whatsoever. Perhaps it's possibe to get too hung up on the headline figures?

Despite the low hydrostatic head it's up to Welsh rain, 227 kb
Despite the low hydrostatic head it's up to Welsh rain
© Richard Prideaux

A couple of MSR tents have been reviewed previously on UKH/UKC, and since the hydrostatic head question came up then, it's worth repeating what they told us:

'[In] every other market except Europe, the rating is around 1000-1500mm for rainflies and 3000mm for floors' they said.

'While our tent designers recognize that the perception is that a higher number equals being more waterproof, their extensive quality testing does not support that theory. A thicker coating may increase the mm rating, but at the expense of fabric tear strength. As fabrics become increasingly light to meet demand, tear strength becomes even more important to the durability of a tent. MSR's goal is to balance waterproofness, weight, and strength in every tent they make.'

'Our extensive in-the-field testing takes place in a very wet climate similar to Britain's (Seattle, Washington); we do not get wet in our tents, and stand behind their durability.'

Guy points are plentiful and robust, 112 kb
Guy points are plentiful and robust
© Dan Bailey

Tension adjustments at the corners, 239 kb
Tension adjustments at the corners
© Dan Bailey

The fly comes low to the ground to keep wind out, 263 kb
The fly comes low to the ground to keep wind out
© Dan Bailey

Pitching

The inner pitch first design might be strong and stable once erected, but it's an obvious disadvantage if the rain is pouring when you set up. However for a tent of this sort the Access 2 is quick and easy to erect - you don't even need the diagram instructions they've included on the bag. First peg out the inner, then pop up the poles before hooking the canopy onto them. The main pole section is all hinged into one big piece, and the fact that this is symmetrical makes the process as easy as possible - a clear benefit if it's dark or stormy when you arrive at the camp. The addition of a second cross-piece that anchors to the bottom of the tent on both sides (rather than floating up in the roof like many designs) adds both headroom and structural stability. The fly is then chucked over the top, and simply hooked on at each corner; there's no faff with attaching the outer to the poles, since it fits so well in the first place; you can then fine-tune the tension using adjusters at the corners of the fly. Peg out the vestibule at each end and you're done.

It pitches inner-first, but it's quick and easy, 204 kb
It pitches inner-first, but it's quick and easy
© Pegs Bailey

A minimum of six pegs are required to pitch the Access 2, but with four guylines and an additional fly-pegging point at each end of the tent you could use 12. Eight were supplied with our review model - perhaps MSR wanted to reduce the headline weight figure, but for a tent of this price the insufficient number of pegs does seem stingy. They are a very sturdy aluminium peg that's hard to bend by mistake, but very sharp-topped (murder to place with bare hands). Four guys were also provided; these are thin but strong, and made of reflective cord which makes tripping over them at night less of a risk. For wilder weather, the Access 2 sports several additional guying points.

The broad cross-piece offers more headroom, and helps make a strong and rigid structure, 177 kb
The broad cross-piece offers more headroom, and helps make a strong and rigid structure
© Dan Bailey

Interior space

You'll find models that are both more spacious and lighter than the Access 2, but none that strike the same balance of weight, room and sturdiness. Its floor area of 2.52m2 may be slightly on the tight side for two larger adults plus gear, but that seems fair enough in a mountain tent. At 210cm long and 120cm wide, the rectangular floor just has enough room for two mats side by side, and because it's symmetrical you can mitigate the narrowness by sleeping head-to-toe, without one of the team being more squashed than the other. Floor area may be limited, but at about 106cm at the apex the Access 2 is one of the tallest tents in this review, and this makes for a more liveable and usable interior space. Thanks to the headroom afforded by that cross-piece design, all but the tallest user will be able to sit up in comfort in the middle of the tent.

MSR inner, 175 kb

With a door at each side, a team of two can have one side of the tent each. At about 80cm deep the porches are large enough for gear storage or cooking; and while the doorways are fairly narrow their height helps make up for this, so getting in and out isn't too much of a squeeze. To keep all the essential bits and bobs to hand you get a large mesh pocket at each end of the inner.

Weather performance

There can't be many tents of this size and weight that perform as well in rough weather. It's billed as a tent for ski tourers, but the attributes cross over very well from this specialist niche to more general backpacking and mountain use. The flysheet comes down low to the ground, about 5cm max, which is all the better for keeping out wind and driven precipitation. Inside, the bathtub-style groundsheet comes nice and high, while the proportion of mesh on the inner tent is minimal compared to the amount of solid fabric. All this makes the Access 2 a warm and windproof shelter for cold stormy conditions, and it's one of the reasons we think this is among the best of the tents for 4 season use. Of course everything has a downside, and in this case the lack of any vents on the fly and the minimal mesh on the inner mean limited airflow, making the Access 2 stuffier and more prone to condensation buildup than airier models. Rather like our reviewer, it loves cold and wind, but really hot or humid conditions would not suit this tent so well.

On a very blustery night the Access 2 stands firm..., 129 kb
On a very blustery night the Access 2 stands firm...
© Dan Bailey

The Access 2's sturdy structure, streamlined shape and multiple guy points make it a reassuringly weather-proof shelter. The steep walls shed rain (and snow) very effectively, and even after prolonged rain the tight underlying structure means that the fly won't end up saggy. Falling somewhere between a lightweight backpacking model and a full-blown mountain tent, it's well up to all but the most extreme use. We'd have no hesitation pitching it in a snowy Scottish corrie, for instance, though a winter storm on the Cairngorm plateau would be outside its remit.

Packing

Striking camp is quick and easy. The rope bag-style wide-opening stuff sack has been a big hit with our reviewers, as it's super easy to cram everything in when you're packing up. Thin compression straps then let you scrunch it all down into a tight roll. Compared to some others it's a long bundle when packed away.

MSR bag, 146 kb

MSR say:

Light, warm and strong—the ultimate two-person tent for winter backcountry touring. Our new MSR Access tents let you spend comfortable days in the winter backcountry without hauling around heavy mountaineering tents. Warm, light and strong, these tents provide skiers, split-boarders and other touring users with a robust home base for their mountain pursuits.

MSR Access 2 prod shot, 50 kb

  • Weight: 1875g
  • Interior dimensions: L 210cm, W 120cm, H 106cm max
  • Floor area: 2.52m2
  • Fly fabric: 20D ripstop nylon 1200mm DuraShield™ polyurethane & silicone
  • Inner fabric: 20D ripstop nylon / 10D polyester micromesh
  • Groundsheet: 30D ripstop nylon 3000mm DuraShield™ polyurethane & DWR
  • Poles: Easton® Syclone™ poles resist breaking
  • Unique central support frame optimizes interior space, resists snow loading
  • Lighter than our mountaineering tents, warmer than our backpacking tents
  • Frame is easy to set up in cold conditions
  • Two doors and easy access for two people

For more info see msrgear.com

Salewa Sierra Leone II - £295

The Sierra Leone II is an 'all-in-one' pitching, double wall dome tent which nudges into 4-season suitability thanks to its robust structure, a design clearly inspired by expedition tents. Easy to put up and take down, it's comfortable to sleep in, solid in high wind and cool in hot weather. Its rectangular shape is spacious, and whilst it has a few well-designed extras it generally favours simplicity over bells and whistles. For the quality of tent on offer here the price is excellent; the only drawback for backpacking or mountaineering use is its high weight.

The Sierra Leone II on Mingulay, 217 kb
The Sierra Leone II on Mingulay
© Theo Moore

Weight and build quality

The Sierra Leone II (what's with the name?!) weighs 3103g which is quite a bit heavier than all the other tents in this review. But it does still seem reasonably spacious for its weight, and to our thinking it is a genuine two-person size (rather than a two very close friends just getting by sort of size). The whole thing feels well built and sturdy too, partly due to its rectangular shape and four-pole structure, and partly the sheer thickness of fabrics used, and after 20 nights in it this summer in a variety of upland and island locations across the UK we haven't yet seen any signs of wear and tear to the fabric.

Fabric and poles

The Sierra Leone II has four 8.5mm 7001 T6 aluminium poles; two long ones which cross over the length of the tent and two shorter poles which erect the front and back. The poles are light and easy to put together. Unfortunately we have managed to snap one of the shorter poles while bending it to erect the tent. With the pole sleeve over the damaged section this doesn't really affect its use, but it is a little disappointing in an otherwise durable tent. It's possible that the poles are a little on the thin side; most models in this review do use thicker poles. Perhaps it is also worth noting that these poles are not branded; the other tents use premium poles from one of the high-end manufacturers.

The Sierra Leone II below Scafell Pike, 188 kb
The Sierra Leone II below Scafell Pike
© Theo Moore

The outer of the tent is made from PU coated polyester; at a whopping 50 denier this is highly durable, and a bit less prone to sagging when wet than the nylon flys used in most models on review. Its 3000mm water column looks good on paper, though some others boast an even higher figure here; in practise we've no complaints in terms of water resistance. As you'd expect, the figure for the groundsheet is better, at 5000mm. Here Salewa have gone for a 70 denier nylon, again with a PU coating for waterproofing. Given nylon's greater tear strength over polyester this was a sensible choice of fabric for the floor, which is bound to see the most wear and tear; it's interesting to see both fabrics used in the same tent. The inner is a 20 denier nylon ripstop, nice and light to save weight where strength is least needed. Overall, the thickness of the fabrics used in the Sierra Leone II makes for a reassuringly robust feel, but must to a large extent account for its relatively high weight. You pays your money and takes your choice...

Deconstructing the Sierra Leone II, 206 kb

Deconstructing the Sierra Leone II, 218 kb

Pitching

Technically the Sierra Leone II is an outer-first pitching tent as you could, if you wanted to, remove the inner from the outer and pitch the outer first, then attach the inner. In reality, you pitch the whole thing in one go which makes the Sierra Leone II easy and quick to put up and take down, even for one person. This is a massive advantage if it's raining, while the fact that you don't have to fit the fly over the rest makes it less fiddly and frustrating than some too. The four poles each slide in easily and the whole thing feels nice and stable once you've put the poles through the eyelets and clipped the outer to the poles. Tents that pitch in a one-er are traditionally supposed to be less strong and stable than those with the poles inside the fly, but thanks to the Sierra Leone's solidly structured design we can't say this is an issue at all with this tent.

Interior space

With a floor area of over 2.5 sq m and with decent headroom, the Sierra Leone II is just spacious enough for two people to spend a long time in without killing each other (perhaps this sounds obvious but we wouldn't want to sleep next to someone else for prolonged periods in many "2-man" tents!). Due to its double door and consistent height it offers more living room than its single-door rivals from Macpac and Lightwave. It's also a good length - our 6' reviewer can comfortably lie down, although if you were much taller your feet may be touching the door. With an interior length of 210cm it's pretty generous - and crucially all of that length is usable since the end walls are steep rather than sloping into the living space. The 120cm width is on a par with other models in this review such as the MSR and Exped: this is just sufficient for two adults lying side by side. Since the interior of the Sierra Leone II is rectangular you could lie head-to-toe so that you each get a bit of elbow room.

photo
Ample room for one person and just enough for two.
© Mike Hutton

photo
Enough porch space for your gear but not enough to sit up fully.
© Mike Hutton

Because the Sierra Leone II is broad-roofed and steep-walled, it has a nice amount of head room. At 106cm in height at the apex this is easily enough to sit up in the middle of the tent. This is great because it makes otherwise simple tasks like getting dressed in the morning easy whereas this can be a bit of a nightmare if your tent is too small to move around properly! There are a couple of pockets inside to put small valuables but apart from that there aren't many storage areas; for one person that's not an issue but if there are two of you trying to keep loads of bits and bobs neatly organised it would be nice to have a bit more pocket space.

This may be a two-door tent, but one is very much the front porch, while the other is rather less spacious. Even the main porch isn't huge - about 70cm deep but the width of two rucksacks at most. When sleeping solo there's plenty of space here for gear or cooking; but with two people you may need to be a bit careful with your packing to ensure all of your kit fits in the porch on a rainy night. Being quite a lot smaller, the 'rear' porch is OK for smaller items like shoes or food, but you probably won't be doing any cooking in it.

Ventilation Zips on the Sierra Leone II, 146 kb
Ventilation Zips on the Sierra Leone II
© Theo Moore

Weather performance

Due to its sturdy rectangular shape, its four crossed poles and its ample guy lines (four are provided) this tent feels reassuringly solid in stormy conditions. Indeed, Salewa say it's been tested in a wind tunnel at over 100km/hour, which is windier than any forecast we'd head out to go camping in. The bottom of the fly is almost flush with the ground, which helps deflect wind-driven rain and of course keeps draughts inside to a minimum. The steep side walls, meanwhile, will readily shed rain or snow. For iffy weather or winter use in the mountains, this is one of the most rigid and sturdy tents on review.

At the other extreme the Sierra Leone II has been excellent in this summer's hot weather: being white is obviously an advantage, and the large external ventilation zips on each side of the roof encourage good air flow across the tent too. These can be held open with a little velcro prop, and having enjoyed a particularly hot trip to the Outer Hebrides, where the sun hardly set and it was roasting from about 4am, these have become our favourite feature! With a door at each end of the tent too, it's possible to get a decent bit of breeze wafting through the Sierra Leone II. Whilst the white colour of the tent is great for hot weather it does make it rather obvious when pitched. This means it's not great for camping under the radar, although perhaps that's a good thing if you've lost your tent.

photo
Optional guylines gives extra stability, though we've rarely found them necessary
© Theo Moore

Packing

The Sierra Leone II packs down easily in to its stuff sack. This is partly due to the excellent design of the sack which features both a drawcord and straps to reduce the size of the packed down tent. As a result, you can fold (or scrunch) the tent up, shove it in to the sack, and then use the closing system to reduce its size rather than having to fold it up the size of a postage stamp and then stuff in it to a tiny sack!

The Sierra Leone II packed up with a small paperback as comparison, 235 kb
The Sierra Leone II packed up with a small paperback as comparison
© Theo Moore

Salewa say:

Our best-selling tent for over 25 years – the Sierra Leone II is a 2-person, 3-season, double wall dome tent for hiking and trekking trips. The robust and reliable modified dome design meets the requirements of long trekking tours by offering large amounts of internal space (including extended length for taller users) and ensuring good weather protection, wind stability and ventilation at a low weight. It has a ripstop polyamide flysheet with a 5,000 mm water column. The ventilation system has side vents to allow you to regulate the fresh air supply. The Sierra Leone II has a generous vestibule for cooking or gear storage and dual entrances to improve interior comfort. Further features include: lightweight and solid, rapid set-up 7001 T6 aluminium poles; high-quality zippers and guy lines; gearloft; rainproof entrance.

Sierra Leone II prod shot, 30 kb

  • Weight: 3103g
  • Interior dimensions:
  • Floor area: 2.52m2
  • Fly fabric: 50D polyester ripstop, PU coated, 3000mm water column
  • Inner fabric: 20D nylon ripstop
  • Groundsheet: 70D nylon, PU coated, 5000mm water column
  • Poles: 4 x 8.5mm aluminium
  • Self supporting construction
  • Vestibule extension solution
  • Extended guy line webbing
  • Cord locks
  • Nylon hooks for fixing the fly even in cold conditions
  • Zipper with anti-catch flap
  • Rain guidance at entrance
  • Different door opening options
  • Door Storage Pockets
  • Repair set
  • Footprint available

For more info see salewa.com

Exped Mira 2 HL - £525

The lightest model on review, the Mira 2 is aimed at the specialist user for whom every gram counts. For ultralight backpacking, exotic warm weather expeditions or minimalist bikepacking this would be an awesome tent. Whether shared between two or carried as a luxurious one-person shelter, the fact that Exped have managed to get the weight down to around 1.5kg without sacrificing living space is impressive. However something had to give, and the Mira 2 lacks the toughness of heavier models. Draughty in cold weather and flimsy-feeling in high wind, it is best considered a two-season tent (ie. summer, and the gentler ends of spring and autumn). If we'd been judging on weight alone then the Mira 2 would have scored best in test, but for most users other factors such as its durability and weather performance let it down.

It's light and spacious, but needs to be handled with a bit of love, 239 kb
It's light and spacious, but needs to be handled with a bit of love
© Dan Bailey

Weight and build quality

Weighing just 1563g all-in, the Mira 2 is an example of taking ultralight principles to the n-th level. The result is not a tent for general abuse so much as a specialised bit of kit to save for 'best'. If you're intent on cutting every last gram, but still need something big enough to sleep two, then this must be one of the best mainstream tents currently available. However, as mentioned, it comes at a cost - and we don't just mean the price. Yes this tent is very well made, but Exped's use of extremely lightweight fabrics has inevitable durability implications.

Better for valley camping and fine weather than full-on mountain use, 217 kb
Better for valley camping and fine weather than full-on mountain use
© Dan Bailey

Fabric and poles

For the fly, Exped have used a 20 denier ripstop nylon; interestingly, they've also gone for the same weight of nylon on the groundsheet. This is clearly a weight-saving decision, but to us it looks close to the bone. At 20 denier the fly is already one of the thinnest/lightest on test, but no other brand has gone below 30 denier for the floor - and with good reason. The groundsheet of the Mira 2 is so thin that damaging it on rough ground is a big concern, and we'd recommend routinely protecting it with an under-sheet. A footprint is available separately; however it's only fair to point out that the added weight (185g) and bulk of this would go a long way towards cancelling out the point of having made the groundsheet so thin in the first place. A 1500mm water column for the fly is about as low as we'd want to see, and has so far proved sufficient in Scottish rain. But this is all you get on the floor too. Bearing in mind the repeated pressure of kneeling on wet ground, is this enough water resistance for a tent floor? Long term, the jury is still out. The outer does sag a little after prolonged rain, though the underlying pole structure helps keep this to a minimum.

The inner tent, meanwhile, is a tissue-thin 15 denier ripstop nylon; this is ultra-minimalist, but given the lesser strain on the inner it is more defensible than that flimsy groundsheet. However, looking at the pole sleeves we're back to questioning the lightness of the fabric. If they'd been a thicker material they might be better suited to the inevitable rough treatment that any tent gets when pitching; as it is, we managed to tear a small hole in one of the sleeves with the tip of a pole on the first occasion we pitched this tent - it's easily done.

The poles themselves are 9mm and 8.5mm lengths of DAC Featherlite NFL Green, one of the market leading models for lightness and strength, which are anodised in a less environmentally damaging way.

There's one guy point at each end of the tent, 255 kb
There's one guy point at each end of the tent
© Dan Bailey

Adjustment points on the pegs and the corners of the fly, 208 kb
Adjustment points on the pegs and the corners of the fly
© Dan Bailey

Pitching

This is an inner-first pitching design, with a long central pole running down the spine of the tent and two shorter cross pieces to create volume and provide some bracing (though significantly less than the similar-looking MSR Access 2). As with all such models, it can be a mad dash to get it pitched in the rain before the inner gets wet; it's also a bit of a wrestle for one person to fit the fly in windy weather.

Instead of hinging the poles together with bulky hubs, Exped have gone for the simpler, more packable option of separate lengths of pole. Since all three are different lengths, pitching is made more straightforward with colour coded sleeves. The flysheet clips onto the corners of the inner - a quick and simple procedure - and the corners of the fly are also colour coded for convenience.

Pitching inner-first can be a pain in windy conditions, 241 kb
Pitching inner-first can be a pain in windy conditions
© Dan Bailey

Tensioners at all four corners then help you fine-tune the fit of the fly; in addition the four corner pegging points can be adjusted for length, a nice touch that allows you to hunt around for soft ground if you're on a stony plot. Oddly, the upper cross-piece does not secure at both ends to the inner tent, so this rather important part of the tent's structure relies on an anchor point on the fly. Another quirk is that the only way to stop the poles shifting in position relative to one another (and the tent then sagging to one side) is to tie them off at key cross-over points. Tassels are sewn into the inside of the fly for this role, but we find them a real fiddle to get to, and curiously reminiscent of old fashioned tents of yesteryear.

As a basically free-standing design the Mira 2 needs only a minimum of six pegs to get up. Eleven were provided with our review sample, a light-but-strong angled aluminium peg which has a rounded head for use with bare hands. Three guylines were also supplied. Coming in their own mesh bags for tangle-free storage, these are a quirky but fiddly design which is supposed to make them easy to remove; you might prefer to tie on some simpler guys of your own.

Lots of mesh on the inner - chilly in the wind but good for hot weather, 168 kb
Lots of mesh on the inner - chilly in the wind but good for hot weather
© Dan Bailey

The doorways are wide, the awnings spacious, and there's good interior headroom, 200 kb
The doorways are wide, the awnings spacious, and there's good interior headroom
© Dan Bailey

Interior space

In this review, the Mira 2's space:weight ratio is unrivalled. It may be only around 1.5kg, but this is a liveable two-person tent all the same. At around 2.6m2, the floor area offers a decent amount of space for two adults. Its interior length is a generous 215cm, while the width of around 125cm is enough for two mats side by side. Being oblong rather than tapered, the footprint allows for sleeping head-to-toe to maximise elbow room. Headroom is excellent too, with a maximum height of around 106cm. Thanks to the breadth of the roof, the height extends across a good part of the interior, and it's certainly tall enough for most adults to sit comfortably upright in the middle.

With a door at each side you can each have your own entrance, and these doors are large enough for easy entry. Glow-in-the-dark zip pulls are a nice touch - how often have you fumbled in the dark trying to get out for a pee? The size of the vestibules - around 70cm deep and quite wide too - means there's plenty of covered space for gear storage and cooking. Unfortunately you get only two small mesh pockets inside for bits and bobs, which is less than we'd like, plus three hanging loops for lanterns etc.

Weather performance

With only two main guying points and a couple of additional loops on the doors, the Mira 2 is not the best performing tent in very windy weather. The side walls include some large expanses of unsupported fabric which can buckle in strong gusts, and combined with the lightness of the materials and the only moderate structure provided by the poles, this tent just doesn't feel that reassuring in stormy conditions. It is hard to pull the fly down close to the ground all around the tent - it can be as high as 8-9cm at the ends, so wind and driven rain can creep in a little. In addition the inner includes huge areas of mesh, making it very draughty-feeling in cold weather; for all-year use there's a lot more mesh than ideal. All considered, if you have mountain use in mind then the Mira 2 would be best saved for a fine forecast.

Of course, the upside of this mesh is the air flow on offer in hot weather. As a summer tent the Mira 2 is about as cool as you could hope for. There are no inbuilt vents in the fly, but with double zippers on the outer doors and with a little strut that velcros into place to hold the gap open, it's possible to have the doors largely closed yet still open enough to let the breeze through on a hot night.

Packing

Oddly, the pole sleeve and tent bag are sewn together into a single long floppy thing. Perhaps this is meant to make it easier to divide the tent between two backpacks without risking losing the pegs? Opening wide along its side, like a rope bag, the stuff sack itself is designed to be easy to cram; it's only partially successful, since the fabrics are all so shiny that everything wants to slide back out of the bag before you've had a chance to close it. Once stuffed, the load can then be squeezed down with a single drawcord that cleverly doubles as a compression strap. As two-person tents go it's certainly a small and packable bundle; however it would have been a tighter roll still with two compression straps instead of a single central one. Stuff sacks get a lot of wear and tear, and the fabric here is so thin that we're not sure how well it will last.

It's a bit of a struggle to get in the bag, but small once packeed, 212 kb
It's a bit of a struggle to get in the bag, but small once packeed
© Dan Bailey

Exped say:

The Mira II HL offers a balanced combination of space and light weight comfort for two. It has a free-standing design and its ridge pole increases interior space for comfortable sitting. The canopy design combines large fine mesh panels with solid fabric walls. Two vestibules, one for each door. We recommend the use of a footprint as ground protection to extend the life of the floor.

Mira 2 prod shot, 40 kb

  • Weight: 1563g
  • Interior dimensions: L 217cm, W 120cm, H 105cm max
  • Floor area: 2.6m2
  • Fly fabric: 20D ripstop nylon; silicone-/PU coated; factory seam taped; 1500mm water column; free from flame retardants; Oeko-Tex 100 certified
  • Inner fabric: 15D ripstop nylon; 15D No-See-Um mosquito mesh nylon, 1500 mesh/square inch; free from flame retardants; Oeko-Tex 100 certified
  • Groundsheet: 20D ripstop nylon; laminated; factory seam taped; 1500mm water column; Oeko-Tex 100 certified
  • Poles: DAC Featherlite NFL 9mm TH72M Aluminium; DAC Featherlite NFL 8.5mm TH72M Aluminium; green anodizing
  • Construction: Endoskeleton
  • Warranty: 2 years

For more info see exped.com

Lightwave t20 Trail - £349

The Lightwave t20 trail (the name isn't capitalised) features the exact same design as the brand's flagship t20 hyper, with the only difference being fabric… and £200. Both of these differences are relevant, as price always has a part to play in purchasing a tent - not least because good ones are never cheap! When it comes to fabric, performance is key, because what is a tent if it isn't a whole lot of fabric? Back on topic the t20 trail is best described as a traditional and robust tunnel tent, geared towards all-year use, not least because of its low cut fly and its whopping 5000mm hydrostatic head. It's definitely something of an all-rounder, since its weight and price represent a balance between the extremes.

The t20 trail is officially the most waterproof tent on test, with a 5000mm hydrostatic head on the fly, 175 kb
The t20 trail is officially the most waterproof tent on test, with a 5000mm hydrostatic head on the fly
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Weight and build quality

At 2.5kg this tent is not the lightest in the review, but neither is it the heaviest. While this will justifiably put off the most weight conscious backpackers and mountaineers, for the all-round user that's what makes the t20 trail so attractive - it's got a good balance to it. The fabric is robust enough to take a beating, but light enough not to make it too unappealing to carry. The design is for maximum weatherproofing, which - lest we forget - is frequently what you're after whilst camping in the UK. Add into the mix a bombproof groundsheet and you've got yourself a tent that should last a long time.

Fabric and poles

The t20 trail features a 40 denier nylon outer, which errs slightly more towards durability than lightness. It is silicone coated on both sides in an effort to increase not just the waterproofing, but the longevity of that waterproofing. As proof of this, the fly comes in with a huge 5000mm hydrostatic head, which makes officially it the most waterproof fly in the review - quite an accolade! The groundsheet is built (and that's not too strong a word) from a bombproof 210 denier taffeta nylon, with robust tape protecting each of the seams - again, prioritising mega-toughness over ultra-lightness. Much like the fly, it features a 5000mm hydrostatic head, which is still towards the upper end in this review. But it's the fly that steals the show.

When it comes to poles the t20 trail comes with two DAC 9mm Pressfit poles, which have become something of an industry standard in backpacking tents. The poles are unsurprisingly sturdy and come in two very subtly different lengths, so be sure to get them in the correct sleeves.

Lightning Peg, 222 kb
Lightning Peg
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Wavelight Peg, 177 kb
Wavelight Peg
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Pitching

Whilst the t20 trail can be pitched in three different ways (integral - i.e. all together; inner first; or outer first) the chances are that you'll be pitching it together 99% of the time. Only the Macpac Minaret and Salewa Sierra Leone have a similar offering, and for pitching in the rain it's a big advantage. Time-wise it can be up in a matter of minutes in this way, with two colour coded pole goings through a sleeve in the fly (front and back) and four pegs (two front, two back) being enough to secure it in place, whereupon you can begin guying it out and tweaking the pitch.

Laying out the tent, 173 kb
Laying out the tent
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Putting in the poles, 169 kb
Putting in the poles
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Spreading out the front and back, 171 kb
Spreading out the front and back
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

As with all tunnel tents, the quality of the pitch is essential, as a peg out of line or a loose guy can easily lead to a saggy outer (see our pitching pics), which inevitably leads to either a whole lot of flapping (at best) or a whole lot of leakage (at worst). With this in mind, you definitely have to pick your spot and take a bit more time than you might otherwise to refine your pitch once it's up. As such, whilst the t20 trail may be quick to pitch to a standard of sorts, we would argue it takes a little bit longer to get it up to a standard you might desire; it somehow seems to need more tweaking than the very similar Minaret.

In terms of how you achieve this, there are several things worth noting, the first of which is the straps on the front and back of the tent, which can either add or release tension into the system. Beyond that there's five guy lines, three for the back, two for the front. We have tended to use four and find that perfectly adequate for a good pitch, although the fifth could easily be employed in bad weather. These guys have a variety of attachment points on the front and we infinitely prefer the upper ones, as they seem to provide a more seamless tension (the lower ones tend to create a big crease in the fly). They also pull down more than out, which means better resilience in windy conditions

Placing the first pegs (note the sag), 184 kb
Placing the first pegs (note the sag)
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Guying it out (note the lack of it!), 184 kb
Guying it out (note the lack of it!)
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Interior space

We make the floor area to be around 2.5m2, which is on a par with the MSR and Salewa tents, slightly more than the otherwise very similar Macpac, but less than others. Coming in at 225cm the inner is a respectable length, but loses a bit of usable space due to the sloping nature of the sidewall; however, it cannot be overstated how much of a difference a good pitch makes to the sense of space on the inside of the tent, because even the slightest bit of slack can result in the greatest amount of sag (and all the dampness that comes with it). With that in mind, the tent can go from feeling reasonably roomy to feeling cramped if you don't put the time into the pitch.

Width-wise it's 120cm at the door, which is enough for two mats to be placed side by side, but tapers to just 90cm at the back. You're likely to be sleeping with both heads up at the porch end - and if you're two broad chested individuals (or just one who has no spatial awareness) then it doesn't feel large. When it comes to headroom you've got 106cm at the door, but this drops off steeply to just 80cm at the far end. Anyone of above average height is going to be sitting hunched inside.

The mesh strip at the back of the tent, 91 kb
The mesh strip at the back of the tent
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

The mesh on the door of the tent, 103 kb
The mesh on the door of the tent
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

As for storage, on each side you'll find one very long pocket that's divided into three sections. Whilst this does provide a lot of space for organising stuff, it's worth avoiding putting heavier items in as it tends to create a bit of sag around the edges. The tent's porch provides the obvious place for larger and heavier items, with enough space to stick a pack down either side and still leave room to enter and exit the tent. Following on from that, it is probably (by now) quite obvious that the t20 trail only has one door! The door is of a reasonable size, but because the zip doesn't go all the way to the top of the tent it can be a little bit of a squeeze - particularly in wet weather when you really don't want to touch the sides!

Weather performance

Obviously the key to a tunnel tent's performance in wet and windy weather is in its placement. If you get this right, you're in for a good night; but get it wrong and a grim time will be had. Thankfully the abundance of guys helps provide a high degree of stability, even in the windiest of conditions, but as per comments in the pitching section, time has to be spent on refining the pitch if you want to get it right. The inclusion of two types of pegs - one for hard ground, one for earthy ground - mean that you've got a couple of options up your sleeve. Both are robust, but the latter do prove a cut above in terms of anchoring.

When it comes to keeping the rain and draught out, a combination a low fly and a high bathtub groundsheet mean that the t20 trail is an impressively weatherproof tent. That said, this obviously has a knock on effect to the airflow, which can mean added condensation. This is mitigated by the airflow created by the mesh strip running throughout the back of the tent, plus another on the door, and three vents in the fly (which we keep open even in the wettest of weathers). When pitched, the back of the tent also rises a little, creating a channel that drives air through the tent. On balance, the t20 trail provides a more weatherproof tent than it does a breezy tent, but clearly when it's dry and bright you're far less bothered about leaving a door open here, or a gap open there.

Overall we'd agree with Lightwave's description of this tent as a four-season model; in terms of being a haven in foul weather it's up there with the best in this review, and should be well up to all but the most mountainous winter conditions.

photo
Further adjustment courtesy of the peg adjustment/fasteners
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

photo
A clip at the base of the door, in the event of really bad weather
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

photo
One of three air vents, designed to keep condensation to a minimum
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Packing

The t20 trail comes with a basic nylon stuff sack, with a separate compartment on the outside for pegs and another smaller sack for the poles. It's easily large enough to stuff everything in, but being quite basic there are no compression straps for reducing the pack size, which is larger than some.

The absence of compression straps does mean it's a little larger than it might be otherwise, 160 kb
The absence of compression straps does mean it's a little larger than it might be otherwise
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Lightwave say:

Lightwave's new trail tunnel tents combine the design qualities of the top-of-the-range hyper models with the fabric and pole specifications of our established and highly regarded trek range. The result is outstanding all-round performance at a reasonable price.

The trail tents offer the same multi-pitch options as the hyper range. This means they can be erected flysheet-first, inner-tent first, or integrally. The fabrics used in the trail tents strike an excellent balance of strength and weight, with a slight bias towards strength in order to cope with robust handling and to maintain long-term durability. The poles are not the lightest available but possess tremendous resilience when it comes to absorbing stress. Each trail tent comes with two types of peg to cover different ground conditions – from hard-packed earth to loose sandy soil.

t20 trail prod shot, 36 kb

  • Weight: 2.53 kg
  • Interior dimensions: L 225cm W 130cm H 88cm
  • Floor area: c.2.5m2
  • Fly fabric: 60 g/m2, 40d nylon ripstop, silicone-coated both sides, 5000 mm hydrostatic head
  • Inner fabric: 43 g/m2, 40d nylon ripstop, DWR treated
  • Groundsheet: 43 g/m2, 40d nylon ripstop, DWR treated / 5000 mm hydrostatic head, factory-taped seams
  • Poles: 2 x 9mm DAC Pressfit
  • 5 x 3 m x 3.0 mm nylon with Linelok adjusters
  • Pegs12 x Lightning pegs, 7001-T6 square-section, 12 g each
  • 4 x Wavelight pegs, 7001-T6 screw-design, 12 g each

For more information visit lightwave.uk.com

Marmot Limelight 2P - £300

The chief advantage of the Limelight 2P is its liveability, with a generous floor area, plenty of headroom, wide doors and spacious vestibules. However the tradeoff is a weight at the upper end of the scale in this review, and while it's still portable between two people this does pose a big disadvantage for anyone seeking to go as light as possible. For wilder mountain conditions, other tents are more sturdy. The air flow in this tent makes it perfect for summer weather, but if it's windy then it does feel cold and draughty. All things considered, the Limelight is more suited to car camping and fair weather hills, and would not be high on our list for lightweight backpacking, winter/bridge season in the UK, or serious mountain use.

The broad roof and steep walls maximise internal headroom, 218 kb
The broad roof and steep walls maximise internal headroom
© Dan Bailey

Weight and build quality

At 2688g this is not a particularly light tent, putting it at a big disadvantage when it comes to weight-conscious uses. But while other models undercut it by as much as 1kg, the Limelight's hefty materials and generally good build quality should make it a safe bet for years of fun camping. Unlike some featherlights, this isn't a tent you need to handle with particular care. That said, by the nature of the design the front zip can be under a lot of tension, and we've managed to bend a couple of zip teeth after only a few days' moderate use (it does still work, but it may be worth paying attention here).

It's a generous size for two, but a bit heavy and arguably best for fairer weather, 229 kb
It's a generous size for two, but a bit heavy and arguably best for fairer weather
© Dan Bailey

Fabric and poles

On first acquaintance the fabric feels heavy and plasticy, and it is both, but Marmot have chosen it for its toughness. The fly is a 68 denier polyester, which is pretty thick stuff for a backpacking tent (way more, even, than some groundsheets!), and offers the benefits of polyester, namely good UV resistance and minimal sag when wet. On paper its figure for waterproofness - just 1500mm - does not look impressive; however having tested it in heavy rain, and then with a hose for good measure, we've no complaints in practise. The groundsheet - also 68 denier polyester - feels thick and very durable. For a floor its 2000mm hydrostatic head looks on the low side, but again we've had no reason to quibble it so far.

Hinged together into one big jointed piece, the main pole sections are DAC Pressfit, a sturdy aluminium model with a pre-bent section on each corner. This kink is good for headroom, but does make for a bulkier load when the poles are disassembled. Information is hard to come by, but we think these are 9mm poles.

Pitching

An inner-pitch-first design, the Limelight is a bit slower and more fiddly to erect than some others, and hence slightly less well suited to wet and windy British weather (the inner may get wet before you've had a chance to fit the fly). Once you've managed to wrestle all four pole ends into their holes (one or another always seems to want to ping out) it forms a self-supporting dome-style structure. A shorter separate cross piece then adds a bit of headroom.

Fitting the cross-piece, which increases internal headroom, 200 kb
Fitting the cross-piece, which increases internal headroom
© Dan Bailey

Fitting the fly is a bit of a fiddle - especially the velcro tabs, 209 kb
Fitting the fly is a bit of a fiddle - especially the velcro tabs
© Dan Bailey

The inner tent clips to the poles - thus far it's quick and easy. The fly is then pulled over the top, which can be a bit of a wrestle for one person if it's windy. Colour coded tags help you get it aligned the right way round, but these could have been a more noticeable colour than red on orange (so says our slightly colour blind reviewer). The fly clips into a buckle at each corner, and these can be adjusted for tension. It is also necessary to attach the fly to the poles via a number of internal velcro tabs, a fiddly and annoying procedure (especially since the velcro tabs do seem to come undone overnight). Peg out the vestibule at each side and you're left with a pretty sturdy structure, which requires only six pegs as a minimum. For added stability there's a guy point at each corner, and though four guylines were supplied with our review model the pegs to go with them weren't included (you're only given six).

Ladder lock adjustment at each corner of the fly is a nice touch, 230 kb
Ladder lock adjustment at each corner of the fly is a nice touch
© Dan Bailey

An additional under-sheet is provided, which serves to protect the groundsheet. This clips in at the corners, but we've found it a bit of a faff to use, and since it also adds to the already-considerable weight and bulk we've tended not to bother with it. The groundsheet feels tough enough in itself.

Two big doorways for easy access, and loads of through-draught, 234 kb
Two big doorways for easy access, and loads of through-draught
© Dan Bailey

Interior space

By the standards of a compact 2-person tent, space inside the Limelight 2P is very generous; you get about 3 square metres of floor to play with. At a whopping 135cm throughout, the rectangular floor is wide enough for two larger adults to sleep abreast comfortably, and since the inner is symmetrical neither occupant will be left with the short straw in terms of room. The floor is longer than most too - a full 222cm by our measure - so you can stash kit at the head or foot end without limiting lying space. A broad roofline and steep side walls, courtesy of the Limelight's distinctive kinked poles, make for plenty of internal height - 105cm at its maximum. Since the roof doesn't taper off immediately like a normal tent, an average user will be able to sit upright inside much of the Limelight, rather than just under the apex.

Marmot inner, 167 kb

Getting in and out doesn't require any hunched-up contortions. With an incredibly wide main inner door and a very spacious front porch that's around 80cm deep, the primary entrance is massive, and the vestibule includes plenty of space for kit and cooking. Though smaller, the 'back door' is still more spacious than most. The porch on this side is narrower too - why didn't Marmot just make them identical? All that space for storage and entry makes the Limelight very convenient for two people. Each occupant can have their own entrance and gear area.

Disappointingly, the inner has only two very small pockets, which really limits the scope for keeping loose bits and bobs organised. You do, however, get a small sleeve at each end of the roof for holding a headtorch (the opaque fabric gives you a nice diffuse light) and there's also a central hook in the ceiling from which to hang a lantern.

Weather performance

The Limelight may have the weight and something of the feel of a tent that's more for car camping and less demanding hill use, but its weather resistance is better than you might first think, and the heavyweight fabric is reassuring when the wind gets up.

There are several robust guy points, 232 kb
There are several robust guy points
© Dan Bailey

Plenty of ventilation - an advantage in hot weather but a drawback at other times, 199 kb
Plenty of ventilation - an advantage in hot weather but a drawback at other times
© Dan Bailey

Its basic cross-pole dome tent structure is quite solid, standing up well to the wind, and there are no big baggy unsupported areas of fabric to bend and bow. Add at least four guylines (which come provided) and you've got quite a robust shelter. The option to have even more guys would have been good though. When the weather turns really wild those big flat end walls are not exactly streamlined, and the fly at each end of the tent is hard to peg down in any meaningful way, so this model would not be our first choice in really challenging mountain conditions. In addition the fly rides off the ground by a good 9cm, and though the deep bathtub style groundsheet provides a second line of defence against low-blown rain, the wind is still free to get in. To help mitigate this the bottom half of the inner tent is fabric, while only the top half is mesh. However there's still a lot of through-draught, which is clearly going to be sub-optimal in wilder hill weather.

Ventilation is always a balance, and on the positive side the very light and airy mesh inner, and the addition of some effective vents in the fly, mean that the Limelight is well suited to hotter conditions. In fact, if you want maximise airflow then the outer vestibules can be rolled right back to leave the tent almost totally open-sided. When it comes to keeping cool versus staying warm, this tent has clearly been made with the American or Continental markets more in mind than the British. Recently, of course, that has been a positive advantage even at home.

Packing

The Limelight's stuff sack is huge - and it needs to be. As well as being heavy this tent is very bulky when packed away, and there are no compression straps on the stuff sack to help reduce the size. Between the weight and the overall size, it's a big burden.

It's pretty massive when packed..., 223 kb
It's pretty massive when packed...
© Dan Bailey

Marmot say:

The Limelight follows the "keep it simple" principle for quick set-up and weight-minimization while still camping in style. A roomy zone construction increases livable space, while a super-sized double door and rear D-shaped door lead to two side vestibules to store and keep all your gear dry in wet weather.

Limelight 2P prod shot, 44 kb

  • Weight: 2688g
  • Dimensions: L 222cm, W 135cm, H 105cm max
  • Floor area: 3m2
  • Fly fabric: 68d 100% Polyester Taffeta 1500mm
  • Inner fabric: 40d 100% Polyester No-See-Um Mesh / 68d 100% Polyester Taffeta
  • Groundsheet: 68d Polyester Taffeta 190T 2000mm
  • Poles: DAC Press-Fit Poles Main Poles/Velocity Aluminum 7000 Ridge Pole
  • Zone Pre-Bend Construction Creates Vertical Walls, More Roomy Sleeping Area and Greater Head Room
  • One Super-Sized Double Door and Rear D Shaped Door with Two Vestibules
  • Lamp Shade Pocket Securely Holds Your Headlamp to Provide Ambient Light
  • Footprint Included
  • Strategic Clip Placement Provides Larger Interior Volume
  • Seam Taped Full Coverage Fly with Vents
  • Seam Taped Catenary Cut Floor
  • Color Coded "Easy Pitch" Clips and Poles
  • Interior Pockets for Small Gear Organization
  • Jingle-Free Nylon Zipper Pulls

For more info see marmot.com

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