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  • Photo: Inga Hendrickson

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    The good news: tents keep getting lighter. The better news: that lightness no longer comes at the expense of comfort.

    —Ryan Stuart

  • Photo: Inga Hendrickson

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    MSR Hubba Hubba NX

    GEAR OF THE YEAR

    How did MSR improve on its most popular tent ($390)? By trimming half a pound while increasing elbow room. (It’s now both wider and shorter.) The result is the best mix of weight and livability in any two-person tent available. The tech that made it possible: lighter zippers, which also allowed bigger doors, and thinner (but just as tough) fabrics. A range of testers found the new size just right. “It fits well in small places,” said one, “but there’s still lots of room inside for two, plus gear.” And durability? The Hubba Hubba tolerated three weeks of abuse without a scratch. As one tester summed it up, “It’s the perfect backpacking tent.” 3.4 lbs

     
    LIVABILITY: 4 
    STURDINESS: 4

  • Photo: Inga Hendrickson

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    L.L. Bean Mountain Light 3

    BEST FOR: Backpackers on a budget. 

    THE TEST: Testers’ first response to the Mountain Light ($250) was upbeat if staid. “It’s a nice little tent,” was the typical appraisal. Then they found out the price. “Wow!” said one. “It’s easily worth $100 more.” At two pounds per camper, the Mountain Light also impressed testers with how small it packs. Setup was fast and easy with a single pole and a symmetrical tent and fly. The triangular vestibules hold lots of stuff and open wide. The classic, modified dome shape makes the tent feel smaller than its 45 square feet of floor space, but there’s still enough height in the middle for everyone to sit up. 

    THE VERDICT: A great deal if you don’t need bells and whistles. 5.6 lbs

    LIVABILITY: 3 
    STURDINESS: 3.5 

  • Photo: Inga Hendrickson

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    Sierra Designs Flash 3UL

    BEST FOR: Backpacking any time rain is in the forecast.

    THE TEST: At first it might seem crazy that the Flash ($499) doesn’t have vestibules over its two waterproof doors. But testers quickly realized that this apparent weakness is actually the three-person tent’s most ingenious feature. The external-pole design goes up dry and fast to create a 15-inch awning over each door. A tester was able to cook dinner in the rain with one of the doors wide open, and not a drop got inside. Best of all, getting in and out involves only a single zipper. In lieu of vestibules, two eight-foot-square “lockers” provide ample space for storing gear.

    THE VERDICT: An impressive amount of space for only 1.5 pounds per person. 5.3 lbs

    LIVABILITY: 4 
    STURDINESS: 3.5 

  • Photo: Inga Hendrickson

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    REI Quarter Dome 2

    BEST FOR: Summer backpacking.

    THE TEST: Like the MSR Hubba Hubba, the new Quarter Dome ($300) finds that happy place between light weight and comfort. The single-pole, double-hub design looks complicated but is easy to set up, and it eliminates unnecessary pole segments. Resembling a stick insect complete with antenna, the four-legged pole pitches the walls more than vertical, creating abundant elbow room, enough for two to sit up simultaneously. The “antenna” pokes through a vent in the fly to create a weatherproof window that helped cut condensation on a damp trip. In misty weather, two hikers appreciated the 29-square-foot interior and ample vestibules, which had room for packs and boots.

    THE VERDICT: Nearly won Gear of the Year. An impressive overhaul of what was already a great tent. 3 lbs

    LIVABILITY: 4 
    STURDINESS: 4 

  • Photo: Inga Hendrickson

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    Kelty TN2

    BEST FOR: A one-tent quiver.

    THE TEST: While testers unanimously loved the TN2 ($250), their favorite features varied widely. The one who took it on a monthlong Baja sea-kayak trip noted the small pack size and its ability to fend off (and silence) wind: “I purposefully set it up in the windiest spot during a storm, and it wasn’t noisy at all.” After a rainy car-camping trip on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, another tester praised the roomy interior—28 square feet of floor space and two large vestibules and doors. And a backpacker who scored dry and clear weather on the prairie cheered the roll-back fly that exposed the all-mesh body for cooler sleeping and bug-free stargazing.

    THE VERDICT: The most versatile tent here. 4.3 lbs  

    LIVABILITY: 4
    STURDINESS: 3.5

  • Photo: Inga Hendrickson

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    Big Agnes Angel Springs UL2

    BEST FOR: Fast-and-light missions.

    THE TEST: The Angel Springs ($380) keeps it light and simple with one vestibule, one door, a hybrid single- and double-wall design that allows for a smaller rain fly, and just enough shoulder room for two (skinny) guys to lie side by side. But for a tent weighing in at just over a pound per person, it’s hardly spartan. There are three pockets in the ceiling, the door is large and has a handy storage sleeve, and the roomy vestibule splits down the middle, peeling back to make the entry feel even wider. Setup is fast and simple with color-coded poles and straps, and the narrow footprint fits into tight camping spots. 

    THE VERDICT: The minimalist running shoe of tents, with just enough comfort. 2.6 lbs

    LIVABILITY: 2.5
    STURDINESS: 3

  • Photo: Inga Hendrickson

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    Eureka Taron Basecamp 4

    BEST FOR: Family camping, car camping.

    THE TEST: The Taron’s ($320) heavyweight fly and bathtub-style floor shrugged off a two-inch deluge at a surf camp on the west coast of Vancouver Island, sheltering three kids and their dad. During three days of 60-degree temperatures, venting from just about every angle kept humidity to a minimum. What we liked most, though, was the spacious, well-appointed interior. There are pockets everywhere, and the two expansive vestibules 
fit piles of gear. With five feet of headroom, kids can stand to dress. A bit more vestibule overhang would help protect against dewdrops, though we found that not opening 
the vestibules all the way helped.

    THE VERDICT: A versatile and trustworthy base camp. 11 lbs

    LIVABILITY: 5
    STURDINESS: 3