Chris Townsend puts eight of the latest lightweight tents suitable for two people (on paper, at least!) to the test…
A comfortable two-person tent should have enough room to lay out two full-length sleeping mats plus a big enough porch to store packs and footwear and have space to cook safely. Some two-person tents are really only big enough for two actual people if you’re both small, or for one-night trips where you’re prepared to sacrifice comfort for weight. Tapered tents where mats overlap at one end can be okay if one of you isn’t very tall. Two porches are ideal because then each person has their own doorway and gear can be stored in one whilst cooking takes place in the other. If there’s only one porch it needs to be roomy.
The length of a tent, the angle of the walls and the headroom all matter. If your sleeping bag pushes against the walls it may get damp from condensation. Walls that angle in sharply restrict living space, and being unable to sit up is uncomfortable. Note that inflatable mats can be thick and reduce headroom. For the most comfort the highest parts of the inner should extend enough that both occupants can sit up.
Pitching should be easy and quick. Tents may pitch as units or inner-first – few now pitch flysheet-first. The advantage of pitching as a unit is that it’s fast and the inner can’t get wet in rain. With inner- first-pitching tents you need to be able to erect it really fast in rain to minimise how wet the walls and floor get. An advantage of inner-first-pitching tents is that you can just use the inner on dry nights, which means no condensation, and it keeps bugs out. If the inner has a mesh roof you can see the stars too!
To keep the weight down, some tents come with a thin groundsheet with a low ‘hydrostatic head’ (the height of a column of water it can support before it starts to come through). Often, makers advise the use of a footprint but only supply one as an extra, which means more cost and weight. The weights of the tents reviewed range from 1.18kg to 2.86kg. The weight is not necessarily an indicator of size, though – the two lightest tents are also two of the roomiest – but it’s often a sign of ultralight materials.
In my view tents suitable for use in the British hills should prioritise weather resistance. I like down-to-the-ground flysheets and groundsheets with a high hydrostatic head. I prefer tents that pitch as a unit too.
1. Flysheet materials
Silicone-coated fabrics are very light and durable. PU-coated ones are heavier for the same strength and don’t last as long but cost less. Polyester stretches less when wet than nylon but isn’t as strong. Silicone on both sides of a fabric reduces how much moisture it absorbs and how long it takes to dry as well as increasing its life. Some fabrics have silicone outside so rain runs off and PU inside so the seams can be taped.
2. Inner materials
Breathable nylon or polyester resists drips from condensation and keeps out breezes. It can be a bit hot in warm weather so optional mesh doors are useful. Mesh inners are cooler, but breezes can blow through; and if condensation drips they don’t keep it out as well as solid fabric.
Groundsheets need to be made from heavier fabrics than flysheets and have a higher hydrostatic head (see left). Some makers advise using a footprint under a thin groundsheet.
4. Inner dimensions
The inner should be long enough that your sleeping bag doesn’t push against the end. Ideally there should be room for two full-size sleeping mats side by side. Headroom should allow both occupants to sit up comfortably.
Poles should be easy and quick to attach, and colour-coded so it’s clear where each one goes.
A good set of pegs mixes thin ones for hard ground and wider ones for soft ground. The ones for key pegging points and guylines should be at least 15cm long. Packing extra pegs is advisable.
Guylines are the key to stability in strong winds. Extra guylines are useful in a big storm. Many tents have attachment points for these.
The porch should be big enough for safe cooking and for storing wet gear and packs. Two porches mean each person has their own storage space and their own entrance.
Flysheet doors that can be opened in a number of ways are the most versatile. In good weather you can open them fully for easy access and views. In storms there should be a side away from the weather that can be opened if cooking. Two doors allow each person their own exit.
Protected vents or upper door zips that can be left open in all but the worst weather can reduce condensation. Only close vents if you really must.
Two-person tents reviewed
Best buy: Sea to Summit Alto TR2 Plus (RRP: £450)
Likes: roomy, good headroom, two porches, multi- pitch options
Dislikes: floor hydrostatic head on low side
Weight: 1.405kg | Pitching: multi-option | Flysheet: 15D sil/PU nylon ripstop, 1200mm hydrostatic head | Inner: 20D nylon |
Groundsheet: 20D sil/PU nylon ripstop, 2500mm hydrostatic head | Poles: DAC Featherlite | Pegs: 8 x 15cm V | Porches: 2 | Inner dimensions: 215×134/97cm, peak 105cm
Sea to Summit has a reputation for innovative designs. They’ve done it with sleeping mats and sleeping bags and now with tents too. The key feature is called Tension Ridge Architecture. What that means is that the ridge pole that goes over the hub pole is curved upwards instead of downwards to create excellent headroom, steep walls and big porches.
Read more: Sea to Summit Alto TR2 Plus review
RECOMMENDED: Sierra Designs Meteor 3000 2P (RRP: £250)
Likes: roomy, good headroom, large porches, price
Dislikes: inner-first pitching
Weight: 2.24kg | Pitching: inner-first | Flysheet: 68D poly taffeta, 3000mm hydrostatic head | Inner: 70% 68D poly taffeta uncoated/30% noseeum mesh | Groundsheet: 68D poly taffeta, 3000mm hydrostatic head | Poles: DAC Pressfit aluminium | Pegs: 10 x 16cm V | Porches: 2 | Inner dimensions: 213x130cm, peak height 104cm
Sierra Designs is an American company, but the Meteor range of tents is specifically designed for the European market and features green flysheets (research showed that’s what us Europeans want) plus a higher hydrostatic head on the flysheet and ground sheet along with solid inner walls to increase resistance to wind and rain.
Read more: Sierra Designs Meteor 3000 2P review
Snugpak Journey Duo (RRP: £190)
Likes: very stable, price
Dislikes: inner-first pitching, single door
Weight: 2.86kg | Pitching: inner-first | Flysheet: 75D polyester, 4000mm hydrostatic head | Inner: nylon with polyester | Groundsheet: polyester, 5000mm hydrostatic head | Poles: alloy | Pegs: 18 x 18cm Y | Porches: 1 | Inner dimensions: 220×135/100cm, peak height 98cm
The Journey Duo is a semi-geodesic tent, which makes it very wind-resistant when pitched with the rear into the wind. The fabrics are tough, with high hydrostatic heads. A footprint is provided. This adds another 335 grams to the already quite high weight but isn’t really needed in my opinion. There are much more expensive tents with thin groundsheets with much lower hydrostatic heads where a footprint has to be bought separately.
Read more: Snugpak Journey Duo review
RECOMMENDED: Alpkit Ordos 2 (RRP £200)
Likes: lightweight, price
Dislikes: inner-first pitching, single door
Weight: 1.59kg | Pitching: inner-first | Flysheet: 15D PU nylon ripstop | Inner: 20D polyester mesh/15D nylon ripstop | Groundsheet: 20D PU/Sil nylon ripstop, 3000mm hydrostatic head | Poles: 7001-T6 | Pegs: 13 x 16cm DAC J | Porches: 1 | Inner dimensions: 210×134/100cm, peak height 95cm
The Ordos 2 is a solidly made tent at a low weight. It’s a tapered wedge shape with the door at the high end. The inner clips onto a hub-connected three-part pole and can be pitched very quickly. The floor tapers to the rear but is wide enough for two mats. Headroom in the centre is reasonable but the walls slope in and there’s only room for one occupant to sit up comfortably.
Read more: Alpkit Ordos 2 review
RECOMMENDED: Hilleberg Helags 2 review (RRP £960)
Likes: roomy, good headrooms, large porches
Weight: 2.38kg | Pitching: unit | Flysheet: Kerlon 1000 20D silicone- coated ripstop nylon, 5000mm hydrostatic head | Inner: 10D ripstop nylon /mesh | Groundsheet: 70D PU nylon, 15000mm hydrostatic head | Poles: 9mm | Pegs: 16 x 15vm Y | Porches: 2 | Inner dimensions: 220×120/140cm, inner height 86-100cm
Hilleberg’s new Helags tents are designed for three- season use and are made from lighter materials than Hilleberg’s four-season models. Even so, the Helags 2 is a tough tent with a higher hydrostatic head for the flysheet than most of those tested plus a far higher groundsheet hydrostatic head than any of them. It’s very easy to pitch as a unit and is one of the roomiest tents tested with good headroom the whole length and two big porches.
Read more: Hilleberg Helags 2 review
Robens Challenger 2 (RRP £200)
Likes: unit pitching, price
Dislikes: small porch, side door
Weight: 2.47kg | Pitching: unit | Flysheet: 75D polyester ripstop, 5000mm hydrostatic head | Inner: 68D polyester | Groundsheet: 75D polyester, 10000mm hydrostatic head | Poles: 8.5mm Yunan Alloy 7001, T6 | Pegs: 13 x 17cm V | Porches: 1 | Inner dimensions: 215×120/105cm, peak 95cm
The Challenger 2 is a tapered two-pole tunnel tent with the door along one side rather than at the high end. This long, wide door is great for easy access, ventilation and views – but it does mean that one occupant has to move the other or clamber over them to get in or out. It also means the door has to be closed more often than with a front opening tent to keep the weather out as far more of the inner is exposed.
Read more: Robens Challenger 2 review
Terra Nova Laser Compact All Season 2 (RRP £500)
Likes: tough fabrics, two doors, unit pitching
Dislikes: small for two
Weight: 1.83kg | Pitching: unit | Flysheet: 30D Watershed ripstop nylon, 5000mm hydrostatic head | Inner: ripstop nylon | Groundsheet: Waterbloc nylon, 10000mm hydrostatic head | Poles: 8.7mm DAC NFL | Pegs: 14 x 16.5cm | Porches: 1 | Inner dimensions: 230×105/90cm, peak 95cm
The Laser Compact All Season 2 is a tough tent that pitches as a unit and is designed for use year-round. Terra Nova has combined the single hoop design of the Laser with the fabrics of the Quasar, which is why this tent looks like a standard Laser but is a fair bit heavier. The hydrostatic head of the flysheet fabric is the equal highest of the tents tested, and the hydrostatic head of the groundsheet is the second highest.
Read more: Terra Nova Laser Compact All Season 2 review
Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 MTN GLO (RRP £450)
Likes: roomy, two porches, low weight, environmentally friendly
Dislikes: inner-first pitching, low floor hydrostatic head
Weight: 1.18kg | Pitching: inner-first | Flysheet: solution-dyed silicone/PU nylon, 1200mm hydrostatic head | Inner: solution-dyed nylon ripstop | Groundsheet: solution-dyed silicone/PU nylon, 1200mm hydrostatic head | Poles: DAC Featherlite NSL | Pegs: 9 x 15cm V | Porches: 2 | Inner dimensions: 218×132/107cm, peak 99cm
The lightest of the tents reviewed, the Tiger Wall still has ample space for two. Indeed, it’s roomier than most of the heavier tents. To achieve this weight the fabrics are very thin – indeed, the flysheet is almost translucent. It’s still waterproof though and has withstood some heavy downpours.
Read more: Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 MTN GLO review