The author enjoyed a week with the Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 on the Continental Divide Trail in Colorado’s South San Juan Wilderness.
At 3.3 pounds (1.5 kg), the Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 is among the lightest freestanding double wall tents currently available. It has full mesh inner walls and an innovative Y-pole design that provide exceptional head room without excess weight. It is spacious for one person but has a small vestibule. The full mesh inner walls are good…and bad.
|2004 Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1|
|Double wall with floor|
|Fly and tent floor are 30d, 1.94 oz/yd2 (66 g/m2) high-tenacity nylon rip-stop that is polyurethane coated and silicone impregnated. Netting is 20d, 1.6 oz/yd2 (54 g/m2) woven nylon mesh.|
|DAC Featherlite Aluminum – 8.84 mm|
Weight Full Package
Weight Minimum Package
Floor/ Vestibule Area
Floor Area/Backpacking Light Minimum Weight Ratio
|Tent $229, footprint $45|
Ease of Set up
Shown without the fly, the Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 sets up with a single Y-shaped pole. Although freestanding, it requires several stakes to achieve the full floor area. Here the floor near the foot end is not staked and very narrow because the side folds in.
The Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 sets up easily with a single Y-shaped pole. The longest pole section slips into several pole sleeves along the ridgeline of the body and finally into the grommet at the foot of the tent. The two shorter legs of the Y fit into grommets at either side of the entry. Quick clips complete the connections between body and poles creating the freestanding setup (though, like most freestanding tents, the Seedhouse requires several stakes to achieve maximum floor space and extend the vestibule). The fly attaches to a grommet tab at each corner, with a side release buckle to provide tension adjustment. Although the Seedhouse is freestanding, it is essential to stake the tent down to reap the full benefit of interior space and the vestibule. Refer to "Flexibility of Pitching" to learn ways to reduce the number of necessary stakes.
Usable Features / Options
The Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 has a small interior pocket above the door for stashing a flashlight or other essentials needed during the night. The Seedhouse uses a water resistant YKK #5 double tab zipper on the outer fly door. Because water resistant zippers are just that, water resistant, a short storm flap covers the upper portion of the zipper to prevent water from dripping on the occupant. The remainder of the water-resistant zipper is exposed; but follows such a steep angle that water entry is not a problem. The interior zipper (YKK #5 double tab coil) seals the inner bug door. As an optional accessory, a footprint is available ($45) to convert this tent into a freestanding, non-bug resistant shelter. The footprint weighs 5.5 ounces, according to Big Agnes, and with fly, six titanium stakes, and pole set, the entire package would weigh approximately 33.4 ounces. This option was not tested.
Weight / Sizing
Simply put, this is the one of the lightest, one-person, freestanding, double walled tents currently on the market, period! What makes the Seedhouse SL1 standout is the achievement of such a light weight without it feeling like a bivy sack on the inside; it’s not too small and has excellent ventilation.
The Y-shaped pole system used in the Big Agnes Seedhouse series provides ample room where it is needed most; at the entryway. Note that the interior tapers toward the foot end, saving weight where space is less important.
The Y-pole design offers a good compromise between weight and usable space. The center ridge section of the pole creates a narrow space with very poor headroom in the back of the tent. Thankfully, that’s not where your head goes. There is ample headroom at the entryway where the pole hub has split the tips of the Y to provide steep sidewalls and a wider profile. This is an excellent design for a minimalist freestanding tent.
Usable Vestibule / Porch
The Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 has an appropriately sized vestibule (5 square feet) for a lightweight solo tent. The space is sufficient to hold a few items of gear, although an unloaded pack and unused gear quickly fills this space making entry and exit more difficult. In addition, the vestibule does not protect gear from rain when open. Thankfully, there is enough room on the inside to cram gear and leave the entryway open.
Flexibility of Pitching
There is generally not much flexibility in pitching a freestanding tent, although the Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 has one exception. As mentioned previously, one can set up the tent fly without the body using the optional footprint ($45, 5.5 ounces) in place for the floor. The vestibule is easily propped open, and when not staked, can be opened to completely expose the entryway. One can also leave off the fly entirely in good weather to greatly increase airflow while still thwarting insects.
Big Agnes supplies 13 stakes with the Seedhouse to match the 13 attachment points on the body and fly (actually there are 15 attachment points if one includes the two upper tieouts on either side of the entryway). I found that thirteen stakes are far more than necessary. A minimalist setup requires only four stakes, two at the vestibule corners, and two at the foot end corners. This will support the vestibule and spread the foot section of the tent providing maximum interior space. However, six stakes are ideal, adding increased ventilation by pulling the sides of the fly outward. This also stabilizes the fly, reducing wind noise. In order to accomplish proper setup with only six stakes, I had to apply a little ingenuity.
The four stakes used in the minimal setup for the foot section and sides of the fly, are actually taking the place of eight as designed by the manufacturer. This is because the body and fly require separate tension (four for the body and four for the fly). Thus, each stake must independently adjust tension for two separate tie outs. To eliminate half of these stakes (and to have each stake do twice the work), first attach a 3-foot length of cord to each foot corner and a 9-foot length to each side attachment of the body. These should have a small loop, suitable to attach to a tent stake, tied to the end. Run these around the stake and back through the corresponding tab on the fly. Then, back down to attach to the head of the stake. Pulling the guy tight before inserting the stake into the ground will tighten both the body and fly tie outs simultaneously (see photo below).
Here is the best method to reduce the number of stakes needed while still affording a taught pitch: 1) Attach the cord to the tent body (as seen on the right). 2) Thread the cord around the stake and through the corresponding loop on the fly. 3) Attach the end of the cord to the stake with a small loop. Pulling the guyline tight will tighten both the body and fly at the same time.
Whether pitched with the six-stake method described above or with the manufacturer’s suggested 13 stakes, the Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 pitches tautly and remains relatively stable in high winds. That is, as long as it is pitched lengthwise, parallel to wind direction, preferably with the foot end into the wind. Pitched in this manner, the Seedhouse smoothly deflects wind like a formula one racecar. Pitched perpendicular to the wind, however, the Seedhouse center ridgeline and steep wall profile responds more like a kite under the influence of high winds. During my testing of the Seedhouse, I often suffered from Acute Tent Collapse Anxiety (ATCA) when I pitched it above tree line in high wind conditions. Moreover, Ryan Jordan experienced durability problems with his Seedhouse resulting in damage from 35 to 40 mph gusts (discussed under Durability Field Observations).
The Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 excels in storm resistance. The silicone impregnated and polyurethane coated nylon ripstop fly arrives fully factory seam sealed, and is highly effective at shedding water, enhanced by the steep sidewalls. The bathtub floor completes the protection.
With a full mesh tent body, the Big Agnes is a very well ventilated tent. Opening the entry in good weather increases ventilation further (though not an option in stormy weather). Good ventilation equates to good condensation control, a performance highpoint of the Seedhouse SL1.
Usable insect protection in warm or humid climates must consist of sealable bug protection and ventilation; the Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 has both. During bad bug conditions, the Big Agnes comes to the rescue with 360 degrees of mesh for an excellent view. Even in sweltering temperatures with the phrase "Oops, I forgot to bring repellent," still fresh off my tongue, I was comfortably able to read in the sanctuary of the Seedhouse and enjoy my surroundings.
Through our testing, we discovered some serious durability issues with the Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1, specifically with the bug netting. Ryan Jordan, Publisher of Backpacking Light, experienced a total fabric failure when camped on an exposed ridge in 35 to 40 mph wind gusts. Wind direction hit his tent broadside, which accentuated wind stress. The bug netting failed along the seam adjacent to two of the ridgepole sleeves.
Another concern with the bug netting is the ease at which it snags. Velcro is the worse culprit. Fortunately, most snags are cosmetic and will have no effect on the bug netting’s integrity. Other than the bug netting, there are really no other durability issues with the Seedhouse SL1. The 1.94 oz/yd2 (66 g/m2) high-tenacity nylon rip-stop used in the fly and floor is thin and light, but not overly so. It held up well to a week on the Continental Divide Trail in the South San Juan Wilderness, pitched on rough ground without a ground sheet.
The perceived value of the Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 will greatly depend on the user’s expectations of its performance. On the one side, the SL1 is an exceptionally well-designed, full-featured tent. It is very well ventilated and roomy on the inside, thanks to the innovative Y-shaped pole design. On the other, the lightweight bug netting, prone to snags and potentially fabric failure, may be too fragile for many users’ comfort. Overall, I rate this tent slightly better than average and would increase this assessment for users who are more cautious when selecting a site to pitch their shelter.
Recommendations for Improvement
The Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 is an exceptional solo freestanding shelter. The one crucial design flaw is the durability issue noted in the tent body bug netting. The bug netting used is certainly lightweight, but suffers from low tear strength and snags easily. At the very least, Big Agnes should consider reinforcing the bug netting along the ridgeline pole sleeves. This might be accomplished by adding a 4 to 6 inch wide strip of fly material down the ridgeline to better distribute load forces along this critical seam.
The bug netting snags easily. While it is a compromise to use a lighter fabric, if Big Agnes could source a material with greater resistance to snags at a minimal increase in weight, it should be considered.