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Sierra Designs Lightning 2 FL tent is a featherweight in its class: Gear review

Sierra Designs Lightning 2 FL tent

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The Sierra Designs Lightning 2 FL three-season tent is a marvel of light weight and functionality, combining the benefits of a hybrid fly-less design with maximum ventilation and a roomy interior for two people. Not wanting to leave gear out in the cold, Sierra Designs provides convenient closets on each side that are easily accessible from inside and efficiently integrated with the tent. The tent goes up in a flash and stays dry even when setting it up in a rainstorm.

The freestandingSierra Designs Lightning 2 FL tent gets a shake-out
Inga Aksamit
Sierra Designs Lightning 2 FL tent
Steve Mullen

Sierra Designs Backpacking Tents

More and more backpackers are moving in the direction of light (base weight under 20 lbs) or ultralight (base weight under 10 lbs) and manufacturers have taken notice, redesigning gear to provide the lightest weight alternatives. Sierra Designs, which has been providing high quality outdoors gear since 1965, has been keeping up with the movement, shaving weight here and there while creating innovative designs to provide comfort, durability, protection from the elements and the lightest weight possible.

The Sierra Design line of tents is divided into light, lighter and lightest styles to provide choices depending on price and features desired. The Flash series offer two- and three-person tents with lots of headroom and interior space, weighing between 4 lbs 3 oz and 4 lbs 12 oz for the two-person tents. The Lightning series offers 2-person tents that are lighter than the Flash tents at 3 lbs 7 oz and 3 lbs 14 oz. Flash and Lightning tents are freestanding tents that are a cinch to set up. The one- and two-person Flashlight tents are not free-standing and require the use of a trekking pole, but offer the lightest weight of all at 3 lbs 2 oz and 3 lbs 6 oz for the two-person tents. Generally speaking, as the weight goes down the price goes up. Sierra Designs also makes tents for the car camping and mountaineering sets.

Field Test on the John Muir Trail

I had the opportunity to test the 2015 Lightning 2 UL tent this summer. I tested it first on a short trip in the Desolation Wilderness, then for a prolonged test on a 23 day trip on the John Muir Trail in the High Sierra. The tent arrived hours before the Desolation trip was to start so I dug the trusty 10 year old Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight out of the pack. My husband, Steve, and I did a trial set-up of the new tent in the backyard and found that it was so easy to set up that we didn’t even need to glance at the instructions. On the short trip the tent performed well and surprised us with how spacious it was compared to our old tent. It even got exposed to a gentle rain in the first hour that we had it up, but kept everything safely dry. There was a light breeze that night and we did not experience any condensation.

The first day on the John Muir Trail we hiked 10.5 miles, several miles beyond our planned stop, so we were a bit tired when we searched for a campsite. Just as we found one the sprinkles started. We laid out our ground cloth, spread out the tent and got the poles ready to pop and clip into place. We placed the long gold pole down the middle and positioned the longer of the end poles toward the front and the shorter one toward the back to create hoops. We quickly realized there’s one thing, and pretty much the only thing, you have to pay attention to, and that’s to make sure the swivel hub holding the poles together faces down so the button can receive the H-clip from the body of the tent. We popped the end poles through the four grommets, clipped the two H-clips in place, snapped the center pole into the two ball cap connectors at either end, attached the ultralight clips and, voila, it was set up in less than two minutes.

We staked out the two gear closet wings and dove in, placing our poles and packs in the gear closet, technically outside of the tent, but well protected from the rain by the wings. We immediately saw the benefit of setting up the Lightning 2 FL in the rain compared to a tent with a fly in that nothing on the interior gets wet with a fly-less tent. With a regular tent you have to set up the tent, then throw the fly over it, which usually results in the top of the tent getting wet and, consequently, the fly gets wet too. We usually didn’t need to use the four extra stakes to secure the tent, but a few times on the trip high winds did encourage us to stake and reinforce with large rocks. Other times, when we found a better campsite after setting up the tent it was handy to have a freestanding tent that we could pick up easily and carry to a new location.

Once inside we found plenty of room for both of us to sit up and move around. The curved zippers in the mesh allowed easy access to our packs from inside, and because they were stored on the side of the tent rather than the front, there was clear access in and out of the tent without having to clamber over stuff. We usually kept our boots inside the tent along the side wall because there was room for both of our sleeping pads and our boots, but if they were particularly dirty we’d store them in the gear closet too.

The front half of the tent essentially has a built in fly, with a large expanse of No-See-Um-ultralight mesh that offers plenty of ventilation, while the back half of the tent is fly-less with one layer of ripstop nylon. The large front door and foot vent offered good ventilation and condensation was not a problem when there was a light breeze or if we camped in dry environments. A couple of times we were near meadows and lakes and, due to the increased moisture levels, we experienced light condensation on the back half of the tent only. When we noticed condensation we wiped down the back of the tent with our camp towel and a few minutes in the sun dried it out quickly. The Velcro fasteners on my gloves caught the mesh a couple of times and distorted it, but it appears to be pretty sturdy and did not tear.

The front door offers a wide viewing window, and in hail storms we could sit up and watch the bouncing white balls, which was endlessly entertaining. The awning that jutted out over the front door offered plenty of protection while allowing a wide-angle view of the outdoors. The interior zipper closes an opaque yellow curtain which was helpful when we were camped in a crowd and I needed some privacy to get dressed, but mostly we left it down for maximum ventilation.

At 3lbs (weighed by author, with storage sacks) this tent is 1.5 lbs lighter than our ten-year-old Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight (which looks nothing like the current Flashlight tents as they have been completely redesigned) and has a lot more room. When you’re pinned in your tent with another person in bad weather space to more around becomes ever more important, and the Lightning 2 FL tent excels. We used a 9 oz Tyvek ground cloth under the tent.

Pros

The Lightning 2 FL tent is one of the lightest weight 2 person tents available. It’s very fast to set up, stays dry even when setting up in rain, offers protection from bugs and is very spacious. The gear closets provide ample storage for packs and shoes without adding weight. The mesh design for the front half of the tent provides good ventilation, especially if there is a light breeze.

Cons:

In moist environments some condensation can build up on the back half of the tent. Velcro on gear can catch on the mesh and distort it.

Overall, the Lightning 2 FL tent is an excellent choice for a lightweight, two-person, three-season backpacking tent, providing protection from the elements, enough space to move around and convenient gear closets.

Product Information

Sierra Designs Lightning 2 FL tent will be available in 2015.

Compare to the Lightning 2 UL, available now, which looks very similar in design. The FL has shaved 10 ounces from the UL model with to the use of lighter materials for the fabric, mesh and poles. In addition, the gear closets have been expanded for the FL model.

MSRP: $369.95

Lightning 2 FL Specs:

  • 3 season tent
  • Minimum weight (tent, poles) per manufacturer: 2 lbs 13 oz
  • Packed weight (tent, poles, storage sacks, stakes) per manufacturer: 3 lbs 4 oz
  • Trail weight (weighed on digital kitchen scale with 6 stakes and 3 storage bags) per author weight: 3 lbs
  • Interior area: 30.5 square feet
  • Gear closet area: 5.4 square feet x 2
  • Internal peak height: 42.5 inches
  • Length: 86 inches
  • Width: 56 inches
  • 1 front door and 2 side closets

Disclaimer:I received a sample tent from Sierra Design in consideration for an unbiased review.