Tents

Big Agnes Emerald Mountain SL 2

Big Agnes Emerald Mountain SL 2     Photo: Photo by Mark Wiens

New Building Code
Only 50 percent of the tents we tested made the final cut this year. And that's a good thing. It's a transition time for backcountry shelter, and the models that made the grade benefit from significant innovations that have changed the game. Half of the tents reviewed here have precurved, variable-diameter poles (a technology developed two years ago by Sierra Designs), which radically improve a tent's interior space. Most also have integrated—or hubbed—pole sections, which make for a sturdier pitch and faster setup—with less weight. Not familiar with either concept? Perhaps it's time for a new tent.

Big Agnes Emerald Mountain SL 2 (4.2 lbs) $349 bigagnes.com
1. Loads of space for little weight: Thanks to a three-pole, cantilevered design, the Emerald Mountain is packed with features—two doors, a massive vestibule, a six-pocket gear loft, and a respectable 29 square feet of interior space—but still weighs just a few stakes over four pounds.

2. What really sets this tent apart is an optional vestibule that provides more shelter—for cooking, dogs, excess gear, or an extra buddy or three. Simply zip off the standard vestibule (already generous) and zip on the pole-supported version ($129, 14 ounces). At 27 square feet, it's nearly as big as the tent itself.

3. Setup is a snap. Shake out the one main, double-hubbed pole and you're halfway there. Attaching the body is just as easy, thanks to the remarkably user-friendly pole clips. Not only are these clips lighter than standard, but their ergonomic design beats all others in the easy-on, easy-off department.

4. Anodizing aluminum tent poles (to make them stronger) is an inherently toxic process. But Korean pole maker DAC has figured out a way to do it that uses just a fraction of the polluting chemical products, and the Emerald Mountain is one of a handful of tents on the market that use the new poles.

5. Thanks to its 100 percent mesh canopy, two doors, and two overhead vents, we never experienced any condensation. And it's plenty stable for a three-season shelter; it had no problem weathering high winds and a few inches of snow in New Mexico's Pecos Wilderness. Bonus: It comes in a three-person version too.

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