Lighthouse (courtesy, Black Diamond)

Do I need a freestanding tent for camping above timberline?

Do I need to buy a freestanding tent for above-timberline and desert conditions? I currently own a solo MSR Zoid and a Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight, which pitch well in nice forest soil. I have had some problems pitching these on rocky, soggy, or sandy terrain. These tents also get crowded if I pack for colder weather or if I bring my girlfriend (which is more often nowadays). What additional tent would make life complete for me and my significant other? Harry El Paso, Texas


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Two-part answer here. First up: You really can make your Zoid or Clip Flashlight work on soft or sandy soil. The trick is to carry a couple of small stuff sacks and a small trowel. Use the trowel to shovel sand or soil into the stuff sacks, and to dig a small hole in about the same place that you’d normally insert a stake. Then, just bury the stuff sack! Instant tie-down. That trick works in snow, too. Small snow flukes—such as those made by SMC ($28 for the small;—also work very well, but of course can be a bit pricey and add weight.

Lighthouse Lighthouse

That said, a freestanding tent certainly would help simplify things, although you want to remember that even freestanders need basic anchors to hold them in place and to support the vestibule. One tent that I don’t mention often but that deserves much more attention is Black Diamond’s Lighthouse ($369;, a roomy, two-person tent that makes extremely innovative use of Epic by Nextec, a silicon-treated fabric that is extremely water-repellent yet somewhat breathable. It works great in a single-wall tent—you’d have to be in a torrential downpour before you’d see much moisture come through, and even that would be minimal (do seal the seams, however). The big payoff is in weight; the Lighthouse is a positively helium-like three pounds, three ounces. The downside is that the single-wall design will be a bit chillier in cool weather, and a bit warmer in the sun. That’s because the more common double-wall designs put a layer of air between the tent canopy and fly, adding some insulation in low-wind conditions.

Such a double-wall creature would be MSR’s Hubba Hubba ($290;, which weighs just over four pounds, so by no means a heavyweight. It’s also very breathable, with lots of mesh in the canopy—nearly all mesh, in fact. So best for mild to warm conditions, where you want a lot of air circulation. Mountain Hardwear’s Hammerhead 2 ($245; adds more ripstop nylon for a little more utility in cool weather, but that also boosts the weight to just over six pounds. Or, Big Agnes’ Mad House 2 ($299; gives you lots of ventilation options, so it can go from warm weather to near-winter conditions. It’s about seven pounds. In good weather you can take just the fly and save some weight.

For a look at more of the best tents, check out Outside Online’s all-new Tents Buying Guide.

From Outside Magazine, April/May 2021
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Lead Photo: courtesy, Black Diamond

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