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Zpacks Free Duo Tent Review


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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable Zpacks Free Duo Tent Review

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  • #3747258
    Ben Kilbourne
    BPL Member

    @benkilbourne

    Locale: Utah

    Companion forum thread to: Zpacks Free Duo Tent Review

    In this Zpacks Free Duo Tent review, we dive into its pros (freestanding, Dyneema Composite Fabric) and its cons (low livability, poor storm performance).

    #3747317
    Adam G
    BPL Member

    @adamg

    You didn’t mention the freestanding flex kit for the Duplex. A Duplex will run you $700 plus a $150 flex kit costs the same as the Free Duo. I actually saw a guy snow camping using a flex kit. It snowed at least 2 feet overnight and it held up. I was impressed.

    #3747393
    Philip Werner
    BPL Member

    @earlylite

    Locale: White Mountain National Forest

    Would this tent be a lot better if it was made with a fabric that had some stretch in it like silnylon or silpoly? I understand that Zpacks only uses DCF currently on their shelters, but it seems like some of the pathological issues you describe are the result of using a material that doesn’t have any stretch in it.

    #3747422
    Ben Kilbourne
    BPL Member

    @benkilbourne

    Locale: Utah

    Hi Philip! That’s a great question. I kind of don’t think silnylon or silpoly would completely solve the doors not closing issue, but I do think it would help. As it is, only the netting is allowed to stretch, so if the floor could stretch too.. yeah it might help. The floor should really be a bit wider regardless of the material.

    As for the price issue, yeah another material would drop the price of this thing by a lot. Of course then the weight goes up.

    Some of the other issues are just things being too short, like the vestibules.

    Are there other ways that you think silnylon or silpoly could help?

    #3747433
    Philip Werner
    BPL Member

    @earlylite

    Locale: White Mountain National Forest

    Based on my knowledge of Zpacks tents and your description, I got the impression that the use of DCF was fighting the tent’s structural elements and geometry. It strikes me that the problem with designing a tent with the exclusive goal of hitting a weight can lead to all kinds of unfortunate compromises which render the tent virtually unusable, as in this case. For example, what is the downside of adding more DCF to the tent so that the vestibules are larger and reach the ground? Only that it would weigh more than 2 lbs. Big deal.

    #3747521
    Eric Blumensaadt
    BPL Member

    @danepacker

    Locale: Mojave Desert

    No Tarptent comparison??

    As an official Tarptent fanboy I’d take a Double Rainbow Li over this Z-Packs tent. I do like a double wall tent in any season. That’s why I have a TT Notch Li 1 person tent.

    #3747523
    Jon Fong
    BPL Member

    @jonfong

    Locale: FLAT CAT GEAR

    It might also consume more bulk material. Part of the trick is probably optimizing the raw material usage.  Just a thought.

    #3747544
    Ben Kilbourne
    BPL Member

    @benkilbourne

    Locale: Utah

    Philip – Yeah that’s how I feel. If the tent was 2.5lbs and more usable I’d be happy.

    Eric – We tried to focus only on similar tents that were freestanding or close to it. I could write a bunch about why I’d choose an xmid for example over the Free Duo, but we felt that would distract from the focus of the review.

    #3747549
    Marc Clark
    BPL Member

    @mclarkmd

    Locale: NW North Carolina

    I have a Free Duo that I use as a solo shelter for bikepacking. As a solo shelter it is just quite wonderful. Since you are not expanding the floor to it’s maximal width it seems to bring the door flaps down closer to the ground. Never had a problem with splash in this situation. Never had to worry about the screen door not zipping shut. The vestibules are small but if you are not shoving a large pack in there I find them adequate for my shoes since I have plenty of room to put things inside the tent as it is voluminous without a partner sleeping next to you.

    Yes, I have had some condensation but I think I have always had this problem with a single wall tent in the right environments. As we know, ventilation is the best prevention for condensation. With two LARGE screen doors on each side of this tent I cannot imagine much better ventilation and you can adjust the flaps (and tent orientation as it is freestanding) to maximal effect. I have had to close the flap doors to block the wind on occasion. As always, I have a small absorbent microfiber towel that I can use to soak up the condensation prior to packing or at night if I notice a problem but rarely need it.

    As far as the corners go, I purchased the Zpacks ground sheet that you can purchase separately “just in case”. You do not really need this as the floor is strong but it is a DCF groundsheet and folds to the size of an enchilada. I was setting up on some sketchy ground and decided to use it. It was windy so I had to stake out my ground sheet with 4 Shepard’s Hook titanium stakes. Attach the tent corners to the groundsheet and it expands the tent to the perfect size and keeps the poles stable. I can then either remove or keep the Ti stakes in (for additional stability). The tent no longer wants to fold inward and I have the additional security of staked corners (if I want) and more protection from the ground. I like the idea of attaching the small guy lines to the corners if you need them … seems to be a simple fix.

    The continued advantages of being 5’7” in the hiking community regarding gear choices gives me great pride after a lifetime of having to stare up to you taller dudes. Smaller and lighter I am with room to spare in enclosed environments (and I can walk under low lying limbs with ease).

    Finally, the external poles without an overlying fly are absolutely perfect for hanging my towel, socks, shirt etc. I used some of my wife’s small quilting clips and they fit perfectly to clip stuff to the poles. You can also just clip the door flaps to the pole with one of these and it is much easier  then rolling them up and using the little toggle to secure.

    The setup is the easiest I have ever experienced. Enough said. Best $900 I ever spent.

    #3747551
    Ben Kilbourne
    BPL Member

    @benkilbourne

    Locale: Utah

    Marc – This is the perfect use case for the free duo. One person bikepacking. I can absolutely recommend it for that.

    #3747552
    Marc Clark
    BPL Member

    @mclarkmd

    Locale: NW North Carolina

    Also, if I was sleeping 2 people in this tent I would get the trio version. Then you have the wider floor you desire.

    #3747559
    Marc Clark
    BPL Member

    @mclarkmd

    Locale: NW North Carolina

    <span style=”-webkit-tap-highlight-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0);”>Attached is a photo of a quilting clip for those who have no idea what that is (most of us I am sure). Light, versatile and strong. I carry a few on my bike or in my pocket/pack to attach things (snot rags, socks to dry, use your imagination) but clip to the Free duo poles perfectly. My towels can be blowing parallel to the ground and they hold. Can buy them on Amazon by the bag.</span>

    As for staking, don’t leave home without at least 4 stakes compatible with your anticipated soil conditions. I mean, what freestanding tent doesn’t advise a little staking to avoid the free-flying tent. I use 4 Vargo nail pegs for my side panels and door flaps and they have served me well but I go with something more appropriate if there is soft ground. I also take the 4 Vargo Shepherd hook stakes for my 4 corners if I need it. The ground sheet attaches to the corner webbing so it actually makes the side tie outs less needed but I use them anyway to pull out the side panel for a little more room inside.

    Finally, and I will be done, I kind of like the flatter “roof” of the tent. It gives a much more spacious feel inside the tent. The pitch is so taut that you don’t get much accumulation on the roof but Ben is correct that it does not really drain smaller amounts of water (such as condensation) quickly.  If the DCF started to sag, I could anticipate a bigger problem, but so far so good. I would expect that you would need a steeper slope if made from silnylon (which does sag). DCF lets you get away with some things that silnylon doesn’t. I’m done. Hope my comments are useful re: the Free Duo. By the way, customer service at Zpacks is outstanding and I have absolutely no affiliation with them.

    #3747564
    Luke Stollings
    BPL Member

    @lstollin

    You might wish to edit the article; there are at least 4 places where the “lighter” of the two DCM fabrics is described as being 55 oz/sq. yd!

    #3747565
    Ben Kilbourne
    BPL Member

    @benkilbourne

    Locale: Utah

    Thanks, Luke, we’ll get that sorted out!

    #3747577
    Isaac R
    BPL Member

    @iradner

    I agree with Eric that Tarptent’s Rainbow/Double Rainbow Li seem like good comparisons to this tent. Both are freestanding with trekking poles, a few ounces lighter, have larger vestibules, may outrank the Free Duo in terms of storm-worthiness, and are over $100 cheaper.

    #3747578
    Ben Kilbourne
    BPL Member

    @benkilbourne

    Locale: Utah

    Isaaac, yeah I’d probably choose the Double Rainbow over the Free Duo

    #3754704
    Lord Gadget
    BPL Member

    @robo7_sydney

    Locale: Terrey Hills

    This review by Ben is on the money – and Marc Clark’s additional comments add value to Ben’s excellent review. I have bought two Free Duo’s – my own and a second Free Duo that I bought for my eldest son for his 18th birthday present – both of our Free Duos have the thicker Dyneema option. The Free Duo is perfect for a single occupant (my son and I are both 6’) – I love the physical act of pitching a freestanding tent – clipping the poles together and watching the tent take form – hence, my interest in this tent. Tent is very stable in strong wind. For a single occupant, splashback under the relatively high doors has not created any issues for us. Again, for a single occupant, the tent has enough internal area to store a pack, so the small vestibules have not been a disadvantage for us. However, on a recent hike that my wife joined us on we experienced a couple of the weaknesses that Ben highlighted above – I use a ‘Wide’ pad and my wife uses a ‘Regular’ width pad (both Thermarest UberLite) – the combined width of these pads put pressure on the rainbow doors and made them extremely difficult to open & close – say, for midnight pee runs – also, the rain splashback became more difficult for us to manage as we were both pressed up so close to the edges of the tent. Frankly, my wife was unimpressed with my ‘expensive’ tent. I have since purchased a Tarptent Double Rainbow Li for couples hiking. That said, I will continue to use the Free Duo when I am a single occupant. There is lots to love about this tent, and it does more right than wrong. Lastly, am a new subscriber to backpackinglight.com and am extremely impressed by the honest and thoughtful review by Ben above – chapeau. It is so refreshing to read a review that is not simply an product advertisement.

    #3754707
    jscott
    BPL Member

    @book

    Locale: Northern California

    So, the Free Duo is really more of an expensive solo…

    #3755503
    Marc Clark
    BPL Member

    @mclarkmd

    Locale: NW North Carolina

    Even a “Free Solo”, if it existed, would be expensive due to the Dyneema. In general, I have always found solo tents to have very little extra space and have always preferred the duo versions for touring. If I was to purchase this tent for two, I would just get the Free Trio. Anyway, the Free Duo is just a great solo tent.

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