Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The "Best" Lightweight 4-Season Tent

As I sit here typing this blog, I’m looking at 24” of snow which was dumped in central Virginia in addition to the rest of the eastern states. My back is aching from shoveling and my car will go absolutely no where until a snow plow visits my small and rural residential community. Unlike even a single other person on my street, I got the bright idea to set up my tent the night before the storm so I could gain some additional experience camping in snow and cold conditions. My wife and the closest neighbor within view apparently exchanged several phone calls throughout the evening which generally went something like this: (Neighbor) “Is your idiot husband still outside?” (Wife) “Yes, my idiot husband is still outside?” (Neighbor and Wife while slapping forehead) “What an idiot!”.

After getting rid of my GoLite Shangri-La 2 floorless tent following an evening in another storm in which I accidentally kicked out my supportive trekking pole resulting in the whole structure falling down on me, I’ve been using an older tent I have while contemplating my options for its replacement. The older tent is an 8 pound North Face which I will not be carrying anywhere for any great distance. It’s a good tent, but entirely too heavy and the Shangri-La was supposed to be my solution. Unfortunately, at 6’6”, the Shangri-La simply wasn’t long enough which is a running theme in my life regarding gear.

I’m not a huge snow camper for lots of reasons. First, Virginia isn’t known for season long accumulations of snow and therefore I don’t get a lot of experience as I don't frequently make it out of Virginia. The ski resorts Virginia has actually makes most of its own snow. Second, snow camping is still something I find pretty difficult - meaning I don’t like being unable to travel as much as I’d like and I have personal issues with so little sun during the day as I feel like the day is over just as I get started. Nonetheless, I study the heck out of gear just as personal interest. In this case, it will help me decide what 4-season tent is the best option for me. I wanted to pass along my personal choice for an excellent 4-season tent in the event that some of you may be in the same boat and need a lightweight and functional option.

First and foremost, I’ll go ahead and directly mention the extremely popular manufacturer Tarp Tent and Henry Shire’s various solutions for 4-season shelters. I love Henry’s stuff, but, for example, his extremely popular "Moment" just isn’t strong enough to really handle legitimate snow load. It will handle the generic snow storm many of us would likely experience and it is priced very competatively, so perhaps I'm being overly critical. Oware, Black Diamond, and others have pyramid floorless options which are pretty popular too, but again the surface area lengthwise usually isn't enough and I also don’t like the rigging required on the center pole to achieve its full height.

So what is my choice? The Stephenson’s Warmlite tent ( WARNING….as I mentioned on an earlier blog, the Stephenson’s are/were nudists, so plan on seeing some colorful pictures in addition to their lengthy and difficult to follow narratives. Regardless of their unusual approach to business, if you have the money, I just haven’t found a better engineered and lightweight solution which offers such a great space to weight ratio. Quite honestly, they are a solid option for year round backpacking too. These tents are elliptical shaped which helps a great deal in wind and offers unsurpassed strength and space. It also comes with lots of options in addition to overall size, colors, wind stabilizers, windows, larger entry points, vestibules, vents, etc.

So how light is it? Well, for the model I like, the two-person 2R, it comes in at an astoundingly low 2.75 pounds…and that’s for a double-wall genuine 4-season tent. When compared to Tarp Tent's Moment, the 2R is taller by an inch, wider by 20"-40", longer by 5", comes with a larger vestibule, is capable of handling greater snow loads, is arguably better ventilated, and fits two people instead of one. is also nearly $300 more expensive than the Moment and comes in at around a pound heavier. Stephenson also offers a similar single-wall two-person tent which comes in at a mere 2.33 ounces! One of the reasons I like the double wall is because Stephenson lines it with a reflective barrier which helps keep wind out while preserving interior warmth (it also acts as a well need vapor barrier). It blocks out some light, but that’s one of the reasons why the user can pick their own color as it affords them the ability to lighten the interior color (and exterior) as they see fit. Personally, I’m a big fan of light green on the outside and yellow on the inside as it hides better in the woods and offers decent interior light. Stephenson's offers tents for 2, 3, and 5 people, all at very reasonable weights. If you've got the money to spend, want the extra room, and need something that will truly stand up to the elements, consider the Stephenson's Warmlite tent.


Chris Wallace said...

I was looking at these the other day. With the pricing being the only issue it would have to withstand true 4 season use (including hot and humid summers in the SE) which seems very possible with the added windows feature. My only concern would be the single-wall ends. Have you been in one?

Jolly Green Giant said...

Hey Chris,

I have been in one. The thing that stood out most to me was the fact that I was sitting in a circle and not a triangle as common with most lightweight tents nowadays. The difference was tremendous and really opened up the space to the point that it was quite comfortable. It reminded me of tunnel toy that leads into a tent I have in my basement for my kids. Essentially, it's just engineered correctly and I don't think the single-wall ends would be a problem, especially considering the vestibule and other features. Unlike nearly every other 4-season tent I know of, and as you mentioned, it could easily be used year round. I believe the window option, which puts two huge windows on either side, is an additional 2 ounces which is quite modest for the gain.

Matt Lutz said...

I can't agree more. I have an MK1 XL and love it for its bombproofness, but the weight is the killer. Space is also a fun issue [sarcasm flag].

The folks doing Denali light used a Stephenson's (with no guy lines!) and an ID 8x10 tarp for a porch for their 2007 and 2009 attempts.

Jolly Green Giant said...

Thanks for your two cents Matt. Obviously you're a highly educated and near perfect human if you agree with me :)

amm said...

I've had a 2R for a few years, using it in driving New Mexico monsoon rains, 40-50 mph wind storms, and during the winter--in addition to some lovely weather, too! Great all-around tent. People were jealous of the integral fly in those rains, other tents were blown over or blown around in that wind: no problems with the Warmlite.

It's important to learn how to use this tent, though: there are tricks to setting it up and to getting it venting properly. I called the company and got some good pointers. Yes, Stephensons are a bit set in their ways.

(BTW, I have the side windows: they add 5 ozs. I'd skip them, since I almost never use them.)


I looked at these quite a bit when I was trying to decide on a family shelter. There aren't very many light-weight shelters that will house 5 people. The biggest issue that I had was the fact that there really isn't any sort of vestibule for putting dirty footwear, cooking, or anything like that. I eventually settled on a Golite Shangri-la, but it is heavier than the warmlite.

Jolly Green Giant said...

@AdventuresinProgess - Thanks for stopping by.

You're definitly right about finding a shelter for five. My first thought is to get a hotel. My second thought is to get two tents. I have two young children myself, so their size at this point hasn't pressed me to think long term for suitable shelters just yet. But initially I'm looking at the Tarp Tent Rainshadow 2 ( At 40oz and room for 3, it's a nice roomy option. Although it isn't 4-season, it should do the trick for now. When the need arises, perhaps a second would be a good option.

You could always look at Brawny's teepee style and make something similar ( For 2 pounds 10 oz, it holds 6.


I seriously considered the 2 tent option and the tepee option when I did my search. Ultimately, we decided that we preferred to be together, and my wife wasn't comfortable with the idea of floorless just yet (I don't want to do anything to deter her from wanting to come!). We finally settled on this solution. If we want to go floorless in the future, we still can.