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What's the perfect tent for hiking the AT?

What reasonably priced, lightweight two-person tent would you recommend for backpacking on the AT? We usually hike during the off-peak months and rely heavily on the shelters, but this year we will be hiking during the peak season. Chris Anderson, Indiana

A: Many good choices out there, Chris. Tent-makers have really put their thinking caps on in recent years, coming up with tent designs that are light, sturdy, and affordable.

Quarter Dome UL

A case in point: REI's Quarter Dome UL ($219; It's a two-person tent that weighs just under four pounds—and it's still a freestanding design. At 28 square feet it's not a huge tent, but it's adequately roomy and has two doors and two vestibules, which eases access and gives each occupant room for storing boots and other wet, dirty stuff. It's very well-ventilated, too, so an excellent choice for those warmer "peak season" months.

Another worthy candidate: the Sierra Designs Lightning ($250;, new in the line as of last year. Just a few ounces heavier than the Quarter Dome, but also a little larger (31 square feet). It's also a freestanding design, and SD tents are invariably sturdy under assaults from wind and rain. It also is made of fabric impregnated with fungicide, reducing the risk of a mildew attack. On the downside, the big side door and vestibule are adequate, but one camper still has to climb over another if answering the call of nature at 2 a.m.

And if you really want to save weight, Black Diamond's Firstlight ($299; does just that. It packs out at around three pounds (not a typo—and that's for two people). How does Black Diamond manage this feat? By making the Firstlight with a single layer of Epic fabric, a material with threads that have been soaked in silicon before being made into fabric. That helps keep breathability up, while keeping you dry in all but steady, hard, long-term rain. I'll be honest, I've never been a fan of Epic in clothing, but it makes perfect sense in tents where the need for really fast breathability isn't as great. This is really a wonderful tent. BUT—no vestibule at all, so you'll need to carry plastic bags if wet boots are to come inside.

Read more tent reviews in Outside's 2004 Buyer's Guide .

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Filed To: Tents
Lead Photo: courtesy, REI