The Black Diamond Firstlight is a freestanding tent that, with aftermarket Fibraplex carbon fiber poles, weighs just a shade over 2 pounds. That’s about 1 pound per person! It uses a single wall of breathable/highly water resistant Epic fabric for a surprisingly stable and storm worthy shelter.
Built of silnylon, the Six Moon Designs Europa 2 is one of our favorite single wall shelters. Shown here in Olympic National Park, this single wall shelter boasts excellent ventilation, a huge space to weight ratio, and an optional vestibule.
For lightweight backpackers, shelters fall into one of five categories:
- Floorless shelters (tarps, shaped tarps/tarptents, and pyramid/teepee tents)
- Suspended shelters (hammocks)
- Bivy shelters (bivy bags, tube tents)
- Double wall tents (separate rainfly and tent body)
- Single wall tents (rainfly and tent body are one and the same)
This series of Single Wall Tent reviews, along with our Floorless Shelter Review, will help you understand the design and performance characteristics of a number of the best shelters available to ultralight backpackers. You should easily find a shelter that meets your needs as well as your budget.
There are a variety of freestanding and trekking-pole supported single wall shelters on the market, depending on your pitching preferences. Single wall shelters offer many advantages. First, while some are not as light as floorless and lightweight suspended shelters (although the lightest single wall shelters compete favorably with many of the floorless shelters in the weight arena), the lightest single wall tents are significantly lighter than their double-walled brothers. Second, single wall shelters tend to provide greater bug and storm protection than a floorless shelter. Third, single wall tents have more room to move around in than a bivy or suspended shelter. Finally, single wall shelters in general are more stable and easier to pitch than floorless shelters.
Single wall shelters are not without their drawbacks. They are heavier than many tarps, bivies, and floorless shelters. They also tend to have more condensation than double walled tents and tarps. Tarps (and tarptents), with their open design, deal with the condensation better with superior airflow and ventilation. Double wall tents have the advantage of an inner wall that allows moisture to pass through, keeping the camper separated from moisture that condenses on the outer wall (rainfly) of the tent. Single wall tent manufacturers attempt to reduce condensation by: 1) designing ventilation features into the tent to improve airflow, or 2) using a very breathable but hopefully waterproof tent wall, or 3) a combination of 1 and 2.
Ventilation: Many of the tents we reviewed use mesh doors, ceiling vents, or covered side mesh panels to encourage air circulation through the shelter so that moist air is transported out of the tent. The best of this design is the Six Moon Designs Europa 2. With a large mesh door, rear panel, and huge side panels, nearly 75% of the interior tent is covered with mesh, essentially making the Europa 2 a hybrid single/double wall. The MSR Missing Link utilizes a huge mesh front door. With an awning that protects it from rain, you can leave the door open to vent (only partially open if rain is being blown in the front of the shelter). A more protected air inlet is provided by a full-length covered vent at the bottom rear of the tent. The disadvantage of mesh panels is that they can be weak points during storms, especially if they can’t be completely closed up (i.e. a zippered double door). Uncovered, non-sealing mesh panels are unlikely on tents used in high alpine mountaineering.
Breathable canopy fabric: By using a breathable fabric, manufacturers are able to increase condensation resistance without decreasing a tent’s storm-worthiness. Often, tents with breathable fabrics maximize ventilation and condensation resistance by also having vents or mesh doors. Breathable tent fabrics include commercial fabrics such as Gore-Tex (Outdoor Designs, Terra Nova), Nextec Epic (Black Diamond), and eVENT (Integral Designs). Also included in this category are several proprietary fabrics such as ToddTex (a Bibler PTFE fabric similar to Gore-Tex), Reflex (MacPac), Assault MemBrain (Marmot), and Tegraltex (an Integral Designs PTFE fabric similar to Gore-Tex). Many single wall tents constructed of breathable fabrics are designed for high alpine mountaineering assaults with high wind stability, condensation resistance, and light weight (compared to many double wall mountaineering shelters). Some are exceptionally light.
When selecting a shelter, take a careful look at your requirements. If you need a floor, full insect protection, and are willing to trade an inner wall for a substantial decrease in weight, one of the many single wall shelters may be what you’re looking for.
|Mfr / Model||Weight / Sizing||Usable Space||Usable Vestibule||Wind Stability||Trekking poles required?||Storm Protection||Ventilation / Condensation||Full Insect Protection||Durability||Value||Overall|
|GoLite Trig 2||3.0||1.5||3.0||3.5||yes-2||3.0||3.0||yes||4.5||2.0||2.9|
|Six Moon Designs Europa 2||5.0||4.5||0.0||3.0||yes-1||4.0||3.5||yes||3.0||5.0||4.2|
|MSR Missing Link||3.5||3.5||3.5||2.5||yes-2||4.5||3.5||yes||4.0||3.5||3.8|
|Black Diamond Firstlight||4.0||4.5||0.0||4.0||no||3.5||4.5||yes||3.0||4.0||4.0|
|Dancing Light Gear Ultralight Brawny Tarptent||5.0||2.0||1.5||2.0||yes-1 or 2||2.0||2.0||yes||3.0||3.0||3.0|
|Kelty Flight 2||2.0||4.0||3.5||3.5||no||4.0||3.0||yes||3.5||4.0||3.5|
|Eureka Zeus 2EXO||2.0||3.5||3.0||3.0||no||3.5||2.5||yes||3.5||3.5||3.2|
|Golite Den 2||3.5||4.0||1.5||2.0||no||4.0||2.5||yes||4.5||4.0||3.6|
|Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo||4.5||3.5||2.5||2.5||yes- 1||3.0||3.0||yes||3.5||3.5||3.6|
|Integral Designs eVENT MK1Lite||3.0||4.5||0.0||4.5||no||5.0||4.5||yes||5.0||4.0||4.2|
|Mandatory Gear Puppy Pile Tent||5.0||1.5||0.0||2.5||no||1.5||1.0||yes||3.0||1.0||2.4|
Ratings are on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best and are relative to other single wall tents reviewed by Backpacking Light. A score of 0 indicates not present.
This table summarizes the ratings from the various single wall shelters we have reviewed to date. The overall score is an average of the scores for each tent but with changes in weights of scores in three areas: Weight / Sizing and Usable Space (both weighted 2x) and Usable Vestibule (weighted 0.5x). The two double weights were done to favor lighter tents that have a high proportion of usable space (of course heavier tents might be more durable and have more features). The half weight for the Usable Vestibule minimizes the effects of a score of 0 for not having a vestibule (a trait in four of our tents).
A caution: do not let the overall ratings be your only guide. Choose the lightest tent that meets your performance and budget needs.
|Manufacturer / Model||Manufacturer Minimum Weight‡|
lb, oz (kg)
|Backpacking Light Minimum Weight‡|
lb, oz (kg)
|Area to Weight ratio‡, **|
|GoLite Trig 2||3, 0.7 (1.38)||2, 14.2 (1.31)||33.0 (3.1)||0.71||13.0 (1.2)||incl.||199|
|Six Moon Designs Europa 2||2, 0.2 (0.91)||2, 0.0 (0.91)||41.8 (3.9)||1.31||8.0 (0.7)||3.6 (102) opt.||250|
|MSR Missing Link||3, 1.3 (1.40)||2, 15.7 (1.35)||37.0 (3.4)||0.78||14.0 (1.3)||incl.||230|
|Black Diamond Firstlight||2, 12.6 (1.26)||2, 11.6 (1.24)†||27.3 (2.5)||0.63†||13.0 (1.2)||18.4 (522) opt.||299|
|Dancing Light Gear Ultralight Brawny Tarptent||1, 6.2 (0.63)||1, 6.2 (0.63)||35.0 (3.3)||1.59||3.0 (0.3)||incl.||165|
|Kelty Flight 2||4, 0.7 (1.83)||3, 15.8 (1.81)||28.1 (2.6)||0.44||11.5 (1.1)||incl.||129|
|Eureka Zeus 2EXO||4, 3.6 (1.92)||4, 0.8 (1.84)||29.5 (2.7)||0.46||6.9 (0.6)||incl.||140|
|Golite Den 2||3, 6.8 (1.5)||3, 2.7 (1.44)||30.0 (2.8)||0.59||3.3 (0.3)||incl.||199|
|Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo||1, 8.0 (0.68)||1, 9.0 (0.71)||25.0 (2.3)||1.00||10.0 (0.9)||incl.||225|
|Integral Designs eVENT MK1Lite||3, 4.9(1.50)||3, 3.9 (1.47)††||26.2 (2.4)||0.50††||0.0||n/a||530|
|Mandatory Gear Puppy Pile Tent||1, 10.9 (0.76)||1, 10.9 (0.76)||33.8 (3.1)||1.26||0.0||n/a||499|
‡Manufacturer and Backpacking Light Minimum Weights do not include the weight of trekking poles or additional shelter supports not provided by the manufacturer that may be necessary to pitch some tents. This should be considered before directly comparing the weights and area to weight ratios of different tents.
*Shelter Area – Area indicated is per manufacturer’s specification except when Backpacking Light measurements differed dramatically from manufacturer’s specifications and Backpacking Light measurements were used.
**Area to Weight – This ratio was found by dividing the Shelter Area by the Backpacking Light Minimum Weight
†BD Firstlight: 2 lb 5.8 oz (1.07 kg) and 0.72 ft2/oz with Fibraplex carbon fiber poles
††ID eVENT MK1Lite: 2 lb 14.7 oz (1.30 kg) and 0.57 ft2/oz with Fibraplex carbon fiber poles
2004 BackpackingLight.com Single Wall Tent Reviews – Explanation of Review Criteria
Though most of the specifications are self-explanatory, the following need quantifying:
Weight: Manufacturer Minimum Package
This is the weight of the minimum necessary items needed to erect the tent including tent body, poles, minimum guy line, and minimum number of stakes. Pole weight is only included if poles are included with the tent. In the case of tents requiring trekking poles, it is important to consider the added weight of the trekking poles or aftermarket tent poles that you will also be carrying.
Weight: Backpacking Light Minimum Package
This weight is identical to the Manufacturer Minimum but with 0.25 ounce titanium stakes and 0.004 oz/ft Aircore 1 Spectra guy lines replacing the minimum number of stakes and stock guy line. The purpose of this weight is to eliminate the variable of stake and guy line weights as well as show the lightest weight possible required to erect the shelter. (Of course, swapping out stock poles for lighter ones is another weight-saving possibility.)
Floor Area/Backpacking Light Minimum Weight Ratio
This value is derived by dividing the shelter floor area by the Backpacking Light Minimum weight and is expressed in units of ft2/oz. This number provides a basis for comparison of different sized tents and suggests how efficiently a manufacturer used materials to reduce overall tent weight. Do not equate this value with performance, as there are ways to reduce shelter weight that will negatively affect one’s desire to use the tent. In other words, better (higher) values do not necessarily suggest a better tent, as many factors go into performance such as ventilation, freestanding (or not), wind stability, durability, etc. However, a highly rated tent with a high area to weight ratio suggests the manufacturer was able to maintain high levels of performance while minimizing weight.
Ratings are on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best, and are relative to other single wall tents reviewed by Backpacking Light.
Ease of Setup
Describes how easily the tent is erected, how poles are attached, etc. Whether a tent is freestanding or not is described in this area
Usable Features / Options
Describes the usable features of the shelter including vestibule, vents, pockets, zippers, bug netting, and other features. Other items included with the tent are mentioned here including stakes, stuff sacks, seam sealer, etc. Optional items such as footprint or vestibule are also mentioned.
Weight / Sizing
Describes the weight and size of the tent. Scores are based on the Area to Weight ratio from the Comparison Chart, but with very low scores of Usable Space taken into account.
Flexibility of Pitching
Describes the different pitching options for the shelter. This may include setup options, ways to use the vestibule, etc.
Describes the usable space that the shelter provides. Slanted walls and tight corners may reduce usable space while vertical walls dramatically increase the amount of usable floor space. Scores are based on approximate total area that is usable for accomodation and storage.
Usable Vestibule / Porch
Describes the vestibule, beak, or awning that is included with the tent, if any. Includes an analysis of the usable space of the vestibule as well as its suitability for gear storage, getting into and out of the tent without getting things wet, and how well it might serve for cooking in inclement conditions. Scores are based on vestibule usability and size. Tents with no or optional vestibules received a score of 0.
Ratings are on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best, and are relative to other single wall tents reviewed by Backpacking Light.
Describes tent performance in high wind conditions as well as guy out possibilities and effectiveness. Scores are based on tautness of the pitch and deflection experienced in wind conditions.
Describes tent performance in pouring rain conditions. In this area things such as protected zippers, sealed seams, and covered entryways may be included. Scores indicate how well the tent protects in pouring rain as well as how comfortable it is to wait inside for the rain to pass.
Ventilation / Condensation Resistance
Describes the ventilation options of the tent as well as their effectiveness in promoting airflow and resisting condensation. Fabric breathability, if applicable, is also discussed in this area. Scores indicate effectiveness of vents and fabric breathability in resisting condensation inside the tent.
Describes how well the shelter protects from bugs as well as how enjoyable it is to "hide out" inside the tent when the mosquitoes get thick.
Describes how well the tent held up to hard use as well as features that aid durability. Scores are based on the overall durability of the tent including fabric durability, floor wear, seam strength, pole strength and flexibility, reinforcement of guy outs, zipper durability, etc.
This is our most subjective rating. It takes into account all of the above criteria, along with the price of the tent. Some adjustment is made for the type of tent. For example, a super light silnylon tent is not compared directly to a waterproof/breathable single wall mountaineering tent. Scores are based on overall reviewers’ assessments and are backed-up in this section of the tent review.
2004 BackpackingLight.com Single Wall Tent Reviews – Index of Reviews
Manufacturer / Model
Outdoor Designs Summit Extreme (being tested over the winter)