Ultralight. The word doesn’t necessarily invoke comfort or luxury, does it.
When shopping around for an ultralight two-person tent, I typically find myself sacrificing comfort to save ounces, losing valuable square-footage until I’m essentially left with a very expensive tarp for one. Not really the investment you want to make. But Sierra Designs challenges the conventional ultralight tent with a unique design that saves weight without sacrificing room and comfort.
The term “unconventional” doesn’t even begin to describe the Flashlight 2 FL. The tent stands 46X50 inches at the head and 24X46 inches at the foot. Spanning 90 inches, the Flashlight 2 may look small but offers a staggering 30 square feet of interior space. The two-doored tent features two small gear “closets” by each door, which range from 3.3 to 4.9 square feet depending on where the closet is clipped. To save weight, the tent also features 8-inch awnings above each door, rather than conventional vestibules.
Let’s get technical. The Flashlight 2 FL is a single-walled tent, featuring a 20D Polyester Ripstop, Silicone/1200mm PE fly. The floor and zip-up interior walls are made from a 30D Nylon Ripstop, WR/3000mm PE material, while the rest of the tent’s body is 15D Nylon No-See-Um mesh. The three DANC NSL Pressfit poles weigh in at less than 12 ounces. What does this name-dropping have to do with anything? Well, it means the Flashlight 2 FL is made from the best of the best ultralight materials on the market. You’re getting quality.
As with most ultralight tents, the Flashlight 2 FL is not freestanding. The basic structure is derived from three poles – two for the head of the tent, and one curved to lift the footbed. To save 6 oz of weight, the head poles can easily be swapped for trekking poles. The tent relies on tension from 8 stakes to hold it upright, and comes with three guylines for additional security during wind. String locks on each of the stake points offer quick tension adjustment.
The set up.
In my experience, freestanding ultralight tents can be a pain to put up. With help from the exquisitely detailed instructions, I was able to set up the tent in less than 5 minutes. After a week of practice, setup was down to three minutes and tear-down was around three. Why? Besides the fact that single-walled tents are always significantly easier to manage, the design is just intuitive and user-friendly.
My SO and I stayed in the Flashlight 2 FL for about a week total, as we rode our road bikes up Eastern Washington. I chose to submit this non-freestanding tent to everything from high winds to dew and rain. Frankly, I was a bit skeptical about the wind. While brilliantly designed, the tent doesn’t look wind-tolerable at first sight. However, the tent’s intelligent design and multiple staking points allowed it to survive gusts up to 20 mph with no wear and tear.
Durability. Because Sierra Designs doesn’t offer a footprint for the Flashlight 2 FL, the product was tested without one. The 30D Nylon Ripstop withstood the test, although the tent was always pitched on grass or soil. Even in dewy and rainy mornings, the Nylon base held up to the water.
Weight. Coming in at 2 pounds 14 ounces, this is one tent you won’t notice in your pack. I’ve carried the Flashlight 2 on multiple backpacking trips as an emergency shelter.
Comfort. Although the tent looks like a squeeze from the outside, it feels remarkably large inside; considerably larger than most ultralight tents. There was ample space for two sleeping pads, and the extra length allowed for some interior gear storage. We managed a week without feeling claustrophobic.
Outside storage. The gear “closets” are large enough for a 65-liter bag or stuff sack, but won’t fit a 65-liter backpack. Unfortunately, the lack of exterior gear storage would make me think twice about bringing this tent on a wet weather trip.
Usability. Similar to all Sierra Designs products I’ve tested, the manufacturer sneaks in an innumerable amount of bells and whistles for such a small package. Two snaps to allow for different vestibule coverage/gear storage sizes. The doors allow easy access to gear in the vestibule, while the awning provides some shelter from rain and morning dew. Quickly add insulation or shelter from the elements by zipping up the nylon interior walls over the mesh.
Ventilation. While the tent is waterproof, its biggest adversary is condensation. The single-walled build inhibits necessary ventilation, especially when the nylon doors are zipped up over the mesh. This means dramatic condensation build up by morning. While I didn’t have any condensation issues in the drier regions of Eastern Washington, I saw significant moisture buildup as we traded desert for the wetter regions of the Palouse and the North Cascades.
Ultralight and ultra compact. The Flashlight 2 weighs in at 2 pounds 14 ounces and the tent storage bag is a mere 8X3.5 inches, meaning I barely noticed it in my backpack. The tent is actually designed to easily accommodate trekking poles with clever pocket design.
Roomy. You can’t argue with 30 square feet of space for a two-person tent. The 46-inch max height adds a “lofted ceiling” feeling of luxury.
Ease of set up. A quick set up and tear down means more time enjoying nature. Who can argue with that?
Condensation. Unfortunately, this is a typical battle with single-walled tents. Because the roof is shared with the tent, on cold or dewy days your gear is wet by morning.
Small vestibules. In the Pacific Northwest, vestibules can be the difference between a good second (or third) day and a bad one. The vestibules were slightly too small to completely shield a 65-liter backpack, making me wary of taking this tent out in inclement weather.
Final thoughts. The Flashlight 2 FL is labeled a 3-season tent, but in the Pacific Northwest I might limit it to two seasons. Due to the limited vestibule space and condensation issues, I do not recommend the Flashlight 2 FL for wet trips. That being said, with its compactness, durability and low weight, the Flashlight 2 FL is an exceptional tent to have on hand for fair weather trips and minimalist bike camping trips. Slightly larger than my 32-OZ water bottle, and weighing less than my sleeping bag, the Flashlight 2 FL is a perfect choice for desert trips and Eastern Washington adventures.