Reviews by Conor Mihell
In case you haven't noticed, tents have become seriously light in recent years. These days, it's easy to find two-person backpacking tents that weigh less than four pounds. Innovation in fabrics and design has brought on the change, and paddlers might have the most to benefit. That's because we (mostly) rely on canoes and kayaks to carry our gear, so we can justify an extra pound or two of a larger tent. It's never been easier to upsize to more luxurious accommodations.
We tested a trio of three-person tents on spring sea kayak and canoe trips. Here's how our samples fared.
Big Agnes Happy Hooligan UL3, $449.95
Big Agnes was one of the manufacturers that kicked off the ultralight tent revolution. Its shelters are often favored by backpackers, but there's plenty for paddlers to like in the four-pound Happy Hooligan UL3. This tent pitches quick with a single, dual-hub pole creating a frame and a small spreader pole adding headspace across the ridge. The entire inner canopy is mesh, making it cool and breezy--an obvious asset in warm weather. This is a big tent, with 43 square feet of floor space and dual vestibules, which are large enough for footwear and a few stuff sacks.
The Happy Hooligan performed well on a soggy Memorial Day trip. It was a dry sanctuary in an all-day rain, with vents in the rainfly adding to the ventilation. Generally we liked the design, though the doors on the fly and the inner tent were somewhat frustrating. Both need to be opened all the way to allow entry and exit, which allows plenty of time for bugs to get in. Maybe this issue could be alleviated with practice. Overall, the Happy Hooligan UL3 is a lightweight, reliable option for warm-weather paddling trips.
Hilleberg Anjan 3, $675
With high-tech, gossamer fabrics and old-fashioned attention to detail, Hilleberg makes spectacular tents. The Anjan is one of Hilleberg's lightest, tipping the scales at barely four pounds and compressing to the size of a small loaf of bread. The manufacturer calls it a three-season tent because copious mesh in the inner canopy and less coverage in the rainfly (both serve to increase ventilation), but the Anjan is still built to withstand harsh conditions.
The Anjan is a tunnel-style tent. Two poles run on the outside of the tent, creating a culvert-like shelter. Like a suspension bridge, this tent relies on guy lines and secure staking for stability in strong winds. It's a compact 36 square feet inside--that's ample room for two adults but virtually impractical for three. However, the vestibule is large (and seriously massive on the GT model) and the side entry keeps its contents dry.
The knock on Hilleberg tents has always been the price, but if you're passionate about backcountry travel the Anjan is a great investment.
Sierra Designs Flash 3, $299.95
Sierra Designs is a disruptor in the tent world, creating unique shelters with practical features. The Flash is no exception. Like the Hilleberg, it relies on an external frame, meaning that the rainfly and inner tent go up together, saving time. Notably, Sierra Designs scrapped traditional entry vestibules on the Flash, replacing them with two large doors and enclosed gear closets on either side of the tent (accessed from inside the tent). This makes the Flash is easy to enter and exit with remarkable cross ventilation.
The Flash feels much bigger than its 41 square-foot floor suggests. It's tall and has near-vertical walls, making for plenty of headroom. There's easily enough space for three adult campers in this tent. The Flash has a modular rainfly that can be rolled up for stargazing on clear nights. At 6.5 pounds, the Flash isn't superlight but it is in well within the realm of most paddlers. Overall, it's a well-built, cleverly designed shelter with an attractive sub $300 price tag--perfect for those looking for a spacious tent on a budget.
-- Editor-at-Large Conor Mihell tests gear for C&K in the boreal north from his Ontario paddling grounds. Read about his take on the hammock-camping trend in paddling, and see what happens to several drybags tested in a boreal spin cycle.
-- Also check out his recent interview with Canadian modern-day voyageur Mike Ranta and photographer David Jackson.