The North Face Mica FL 2
Livable, freestanding three-season tents don’t get much lighter than this. To hit the sub-three-pound mark, North Face cut what it could, opting for ultralight fly material (20 and 50 denier), svelte zippers, and a mesh tent body. But the designers maintained weather protection and livability with reinforced tension points, a full-length fly, interior pockets, two roomy vestibules, and near vertical sidewalls so you can sit up straight. We were especially fond of the triangular entryways. “The easiest doors to climb in and out of that I’ve ever used,” said one tester. Ventilation is excellent, and setup is a snap, thanks to the hubbed pole design. Just don’t try to extend the season too much: the Mica buckled under a heavy snow load during testing. 2.9 lbs
Easton Mountain Products Torrent 2P Tent
BEST FOR: A roomy four-season abode.
THE TEST: The most resilient tent here, the Torrent was unfazed by a full gale on Vancouver Island’s west coast one night and six wet, heavy inches of coastal slop on another. Inside, a spacious floor plan and steep walls mean there’s plenty of room for two big dudes and lots of gear or a dog or two, while two voluminous vestibules take care of overflow. The one caveat: the full nylon walls kept gusts from sneaking in, but even with both vents open and the doors unzipped to expose the mesh, condensation was still a problem on humid nights.
THE VERDICT: If you’re heading high into the (snowy, windy) mountains, the weight penalty is worth it. 7.5 lbs
Mountain Hardwear Skyledge 2 DP Tent
BEST FOR: Ultralight missions, couples, very good friends.
THE TEST: When other three-season shelters collapsed in a freak snowstorm, the Skyledge stood tall. Thank the DAC Featherlight poles and a robust construction of sewn and taped seams throughout. But the cost of durability and lower weight is elbow room. Yes, there are two doors, two vestibules, and enough headroom to sit up, but one tester gave this frank warning: “There’s only enough space for two adults if you’re willing to be intimate.” Not expecting bugs or storms, or just going fast and light? Leave the body in the garage and just take the stand-alone fly.
THE VERDICT: Light, versatile, and surprisingly sturdy. 3.8 lbs
REI Half Dome 2 Tent
BEST FOR: Budget-minded versatility.
THE TEST: In 2011, we gave the redesigned Half Dome our Gear of the Year award. Several tweaks for 2013 make this three-season workhorse even better. The airflow, which was already good, is improved by a roomier fly and two additional vents. It was enough to keep us dry on muggy nights that soaked other tents in our test. Our only complaint is the integrated three-pole design, which is tricky to figure out. “It took me half an hour the first time,” said one tester. “It gets easier.” Still, the Half Dome 2 sheds weather and offers impressive living space, with near vertical walls.
THE VERDICT: There are lighter, more intuitive tents out there, but the Half Dome 2 still offers the best combination of low cost and high quality. 5.1 lbs
Hilleberg Anjan 3 GT Tent
BEST FOR: Nasty weather.
THE TEST: Hilleberg took its trademark expedition-worthy four-season tunnel tent and turned it into a killer three-season shelter. “Lightweight, compact, easy to set up, and totally bomber,” raved one tester. Nice details like a monstrous vestibule that’s almost as big as the tent; a proven wind-, snow-, and water-sloughing (though not freestanding) design; and an integrated clothesline made life on a soggy weekend in the Cascades pleasurable. Our only gripe: open the fly door in the rain and water drips in.
THE VERDICT: Setup is fast and easy, and the vestibule rolls back for effective venting. If not for the hefty price tag, it would have scored Gear of the Year. 4.6 lbs
Sierra Designs Flash 3 tent
BEST FOR: Backpacking.
THE TEST: With poles that attach to the outside of the integrated fly and tent body, the hybrid single-double-wall Flash goes up in a… well, let’s just say it’s quick. Sierra Designs gets around the condensation problem inherent in single-wall tents by incorporating huge mesh windows and airy vestibules. Testers praised those features on warm nights, but on cold ones there’s no way to shut out the breeze. It also catches the wind. “During a windy night, the fly flopped like a fish,” said one tester. Still, the design increases living space while cutting weight.
THE VERDICT: Spacious and easy to set up, but best for drier climes. 4.8 lbs
Kelty Mach 4 Tent
BEST FOR: Car camping.
THE TEST: The first time we inflated the Mach 4’s two “poles”—a couple of minutes of pumping for each—we not only watched the pile of fabric at our feet lift into a tent, but we saw a future that did not include wrestling 20-foot poles and parachute-size rain flies. Open the large door and you find a vestibule big enough to accommodate a dogsled team and tall enough for six-footers to stand up straight. Clipped to the ceiling is a removable, meshed-in sleep room that easily housed one tester’s family of four, all their gear, and the family bowser. Though not quite freestanding, with a bit of staking the Mach 4 shrugged off torrential rain and, when it was time to pack up, collapsed in seconds and easily fit back into its carry bag.
THE VERDICT: Easiest setup of any car-camping tent we’ve ever tested. 20.1 lbs