When I just started out backpacking, I thought my cheap little 4 lbs. one-person tent was as light as it got. Ultralight, they said it was. And then I dove headfirst into the wonderful world of ultralight backpacking, and discovered that there are so many more choices.
Dyneema (also known as DCF or cuben fiber) was and still is the magic word, although lots of experimenting with other materials is going on as we speak. In my preparations for the PCT, I was eager to reduce the weight of my main items as much as possible. Start with your so-called ‘big four’ (or ‘big three’) and you can quickly and easily save a lot of weight without significantly sacrificing on comfort. Drawback? Most ultralight gear is a lot more expensive than traditional gear, and also not as durable. What does an ultralight tent like this cost? Obviously, there are many different choices, but for the ones I bought: around $700 in America. If you want to have it sent to you elsewhere, there will be import costs (VAT, import duties, etc.) and depending on how high these are in your country, these costs will add up fast.
Of course, those costs alone might be a good reason for many people to look elsewhere, but if you are serious about undertaking a long-distance hike such as the PCT, I think it’s worth investing in your gear. You will be dragging around every additional gram for months, and your feet will carry them over thousands of miles. If you divide the cost of your tent by the number of nights you will be sleeping in it, the cost per night might seem a bit more reasonable. Or sell your house and move into your tent on a more permanent basis. 😉
Start with the basics
By replacing these big four (backpack, tent, sleeping bag and sleeping pad) by lighter versions, I reduced the weight of those four items from 12.1 lbs. on my first trek, to 5 lbs. on my next trip.
It didn’t take me long to figure out that America is the best place to shop for ultralight gear. By comparison, the gear that’s available in Europe is fairly limited. European brands such as Bonfus, the Dutch Herder Gear, Atom Packs, and many others are slowly gaining traction over here, but the assortment has yet to catch up.
My first ultralight tent
In no time, a Zpacks Duplex tent was therefore at the top of my wish list. With its 525 grams (according to the manufacturer), this two-person tent weighs less than half of what my one-person tent weighed. Of course, this comparison isn’t entirely fair: that weight does not include stakes and the tent must be set up with your hiking poles, so it doesn’t include that weight either. But I need far fewer stakes (6) for this tent, and the hiking poles are not carried on your back, but in your hands.
The other potential drawback is that it is a single-wall tent, which means that in humid circumstances, condensation will form on the inside and in extreme cases might drip down on you.
Is a single-wall tent always a good idea?
But I was planning to hike with poles anyway, so that didn’t add weight to my pack. And the single-wall design worked out just fine for me so far. For trips to areas like Scandinavia or Scotland, I would still bring a sturdier double-wall tent though, because the Duplex is not known for its storm worthiness. I have certainly cursed the lack of zippers* at times in strong winds.
But as long as you take into account the conditions of the area in which you’ll be hiking, none of this should present much of a problem. For my purpose at that time (hiking the PCT), this was an almost ideal tent. I rarely experienced condensation in the tent, the wind caused some difficulties on a few nights, but overall, it was just fine and the tent is almost impossibly light.
Why then did I say almost ideal? Simple: I found a tent that I liked just a bit better: the Durston X-Mid Pro 2. I used this tent from Washington onwards, and I liked it even better than the Duplex.
So I will write a separate review for this tent soon.
But, your next question will likely be: What about me? Should I get one? I made a list below of all the pros and cons of single-wall ultralight tents for you:
- Simple designs, usually easy to set up.
- Fewer stakes required.
- Lots of space inside (you can easily bring a two-person tent).
- Dyneema is an extremely strong and abrasion-resistant material.
- No separate, additional tent poles required.
- The tent fits into the outside pocket of my backpack due to its small packing volume. Pack your stuff, get your backpack ready, and then take down the tent. Perfect for rainy days.
- Dyneema dries very quickly and does not absorb water.
- Dyneema does not stretch, if your tent is pitched tight, it will stay tight as long as the pegs are anchored.
- Holes and tears in the material are easy to repair.
- Price – these tents are very expensive because the material is expensive and import and taxes are often added if you import them from America.
- Durability – tents might not last you as long as the older, sturdier models do.
- Availability – they are often sold out at the time of writing (early 2023).
- Dyneema is not very resistant to sharp objects. It is very sturdy, but can be easily pierced by sharp branches, cactus needles, etc.
- Dyneema does not hold up to UV-rays very well and can deteriorate when exposed to a lot of sun (but the same is true of all other tent materials).
- The single layer of material can promote condensation.
- Typically not very storm-proof (although I found the X-Mid to perform much better than the Duplex in this regard, but have not yet been able to test it in extreme weather).
- Transparency – Single-wall Dyneema tents are typically a bit transparent. If you turn on a light inside, you will be visible from the outside. I thought this would bother me, but it really didn’t.
Want to know more about ultralight packing? Read this article on whether you should switch to ultralight and how.
Want to know what I take with me on trips? Check out my packing lists here.
And remember that 100 grams on your feet is the same as 500 grams on your back, so take a look at your shoes, too. More on that here.
*Good news: Z-packs recently brought out a model WITH zippers, hooray!