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Gear Review: Backpacking Tents for Two

The mainstay of the backpacking tent market, a two-person model is the ideal combination of living space and weight for the backpacker that wants one tent for use (almost) all year round. As a plus-six-footer most one-person tents are too small for me, even if they have a long enough living area my feet invariably end up touching a sloping wall. A two-person tent may not be much longer, but the extra width allows me to sleep diagonally, or even share with a close (and smaller) friend. Of course, if carrying a two-person tent alone it can’t be too heavy, and I find 2.5kg an absolute maximum, and even then I’ll be grumbling. Of course, if there are two of you sharing the load this weight is fine.

Fully-geodesic tents are the most stable, but the large number of poles increases weight, leading to semi-geodesics, which are a good compromise. Lighter still are single-pole tents, generally configured as a hoop over the centre of the tent. An expansion on this is the tunnel tent, constructed from a series of hooped poles. These are a particularly quick to pitch, reminiscent of unfolding an accordion, but require a fair amount of guying for stability. Double skin tents – with a lightweight breathable inner and waterproof outer fly – can be pitched either inner-first or outer-first. One disadvantage of an inner-first construction becomes obvious in the rain, where the inner can quickly become soaked before the flysheet is thrown over the top. However, these designs are often very stable, as the inner and outer are tensioned together and there are no external pole sleeves to catch the wind. Outer-first tents can also generally be pitched as one – with the inner clipped to the outer and the poles inserted into external pole sleeves. This protects the inner from rain and can produce a dry haven very quickly.

A note on weights – many manufacturers list ‘trail weight’ or ‘minimum weight’ – I offer a measured weight which consists of everything supplied – all stuff sacks, pegs and guylines. It’s easy to cut this by using lighter pegs, thinner guylines or by leaving repair kits and stuffsacks behind.

Coleman Cobra 2RRP £100

Compared to many tents featured here, the Cobra 2 price tag is certainly attractive. The materials used are clearly heavier gauge and some of the hardware is a bit ‘rustic’, but in use it’s actually a very stable and practical tent. The two-person label is a bit misleading as accommodating two adults would require a certain amount of intimacy, but the two porches (one accessed from the inner) make kit storage a bit easier. It’s a shame that there aren’t two doors, but that’d add extra weight and complexity. Headroom is also limited, which helps shed wind, but makes sharing even more tricky. The tent can be pitched all-in-one, with the inner remaining attached to the outer, but the inner does require some individual pegging to achieve an acceptable pitch. Even so, it takes a bit of fiddling and I never managed a totally taut pitch. The two poles insert into external pole sleeves to form a tapered tunnel, but with a side-entry door that can be opened at the top to offer ventilation in conjunction with mesh panels in the inner fabric. Flaps cover mesh panels alongside each pole, and contribute to a good through-flow of air and resistance to condensation.

Pitches: Fly first/as one Weight: listed: 2.05kg, measured: 2.26kg

MSR Hubba Hubba HPRRP £420

The Hubba Hubba HP displays the characteristics that make semi-geodesic tents attractive – it’s free-standing so can be pitched on ground where secure pegging is difficult, and the pole arrangement means there is exceptional headroom and living space. As supplied it’s essentially an inner-first pitch, with the solid (non-mesh) inner pegged out and the spider-like pole structure inserted before the fly is thrown over. This process can take a couple of minutes so in torrential rain there will be a certain amount of frenzied activity trying the protect the inner. It can be pitched outer-first (or even fly-only) with a bit of manipulation, made easier by using the optional footprint (£36) and you can even create a single-skin (and about 1.2kg) tent. There are two good-sized vestibules for harmonious sharing, and enough internal space for two people to sit up and move around. In the wind the structure resists well – though it’s wise to use all the guying points, and whilst described as three-season I suspect that the Hubba Hubba HP could be used in all but the most extreme conditions. The supplied pegs are good, and all fixtures and fittings typically good quality. The weight, space and flexibility make this the ideal do-it-all tent, but this comes at a high price.

Pitches: Inner first (outer first with a bit of jiggery-pokery or optional footprint) Weight: listed: 1.9kg, measured: 1.9kg

Hilleberg Anjan 2RRP £485

I’m a huge tunnel tent fan – in strong winds being able to anchor the windward end, insert poles and watch it almost erect itself is a joy – and Swedish tentmaker Hilleberg have a strong pedigree in this area. From the one-man, single hoop Akto to the huge Keron 4 GT, these are serious tents built for four-season use in harsh Scandinavian environments. The Anjan series are described as three-season tents, for use in the “snow-free” months of the year, and based on the renowned Nallo tents which Hilleberg seem to consider overkill for the majority of the year. The Anjan uses lighter fabric and finishes the flysheet some distance from the ground – this saves about 20% of weight over the Nallo and increases ventilation. Unusually, both ends of the flysheet can be rolled up to expose the inner and offer pretty extreme venting! The quality of construction is exceptional, with perfect stitching, smooth-running  metal buckles and high-end Dyneema guys and Linelocs. Pitching is intuitive and fast, with four pegs needed to get the tent upright (though more are needed for the side guys, which really should be used). The high flysheet is a bit disappointing – I’d prefer the option to have a down-to-the-ground pitch or a high and airy pitch – not be forced into one or the other. As it is, in strong wind and/or horizontal rain there is the very real possibility of getting wet and/or windswept. As such, the 2.3kg Nallo may be a better option for UK conditions.

Pitches: Outer first/as one Weight: listed: 1.7kg, measured: 1.75kg

Eureka! Zephyr 2 SULRRP £460

Another American tent, the Eureka! Zephyr 2 shares similarities with the MSR Hubba Hubba HP, consisting of a free-standing semi-geodesic pole design which allows the tent to be pitched on the compacted earth or wooden platforms of many American forest campsites, or rocky pitches where reliable pegging isn’t straightforward. Two short cross-poles in the semi-geodesic pole layout give good headroom and allow for two rectangular doors into the two vestibules – double zips allow these to be raised and supported by trekking poles to form a canopy. The triangular vents alongside the door zips can be held open with collapsible poles, and the mesh which runs around the the otherwise solid inner help with ventilation. The flysheet material is a thin but durable 20 denier and can be pitched close to the ground to offer good weather protection. It may be an American tent, but it appears more than capable of coping with most UK conditions, though the 33 denier floor is a little thin and I’d recommend the use of a footprint.

Pitches: Inner first Weight: listed: 2.25kg, measured: 2kg

Snugpak Scorpion 2RRP £200

If you’re over six-foot forget this tent – it’s certainly snug – but two shorter backpackers that don’t mind spooning will get along fine, with packs needing to be stacked in the porch. With a background supplying the military the Scorpion 2 is rugged and well-made, with an olive-drab outer and black inner. This can make for a gloomy camping experience, though I suppose it resists the dirt well and prevents daylight from waking you. The inner and outer are supplied separately with the poles sliding into external pole sleeves in the outer and the inner clipping inside via a profusion of toggles and rings. There’s nothing to stop the inner remaining attached to the outer for subsequent pitches though. The three poles form a stable sloping structure that offers decent headroom, and is free-standing for easy relocation. I was quickly annoyed at the pre-attached external guylines which required re-tying and the ends re-knotting before use.  Inside the inner an array of pockets offer easy organisation, and small mesh vents at the foot and either side of the door encourage air flow. Annoyingly the zips on the outer door are one-way, so the top can’t be opened to vent. There are better tents for the price.

Pitches: Outer first/as one Weight: listed: 2.65kg,  measured: 2.64kg

Vango Banshee 200RRP £120

This is an extremely popular tent and is part of Vango’s Duke of Edinburgh Award Recommended range. Despite the two-person designation, it’s really a one adult tent, or perhaps an adult and child tent, particularly if one is over six-foot where a diagonal sleeping position will be required. With a similar design to the Coleman Cobra 2, two poles create a sloping tunnel shape with the lower pole helping to create foot room at the end of the tent as well as sheltering a protected vent. Inside the non-mesh inner offers protection whilst a couple of mesh panels aid ventilation. Capable of being pitched outer first or as one, the poles slide into external sleeves and are stabilised by well-positioned side guys – the pole is threaded through a loop in the upper guyline so the stress isn’t transmitted directly to a seam. It’s a good design. Internally Vango’s Tension Band System braces the hooped pole for stability in the wind but can be unbuckled and stashed in little pockets when not required. The headroom is lower than the semi-geodesic models and the fabric is heavier and less refined – but this is a very capable and practical tent for the price.

Pitches: Outer first/as one Weight: listed: 2.1kg, measured: 2.1kg

Vaude Terratrio 2PRRP £175

An updated version of the Vaude Taurus, but with a larger porch and more durable fabric, the Terratrio is designed specifically for the UK market. Pitching outer first, the two poles slide into external pole sleeves – but must be inserted the right way round – with the far end of the pole held captive meaning there is no need to run around the tent to insert pole tips into grommets. Once both poles are tensioned the tent is free-standing, with two pre-installed poles at the foot of the tent just requiring a quick tighten via the external buckles. After inserting a few pegs around the outside plus into the optional guylines, the fly can be secured tightly to the ground. The supplied pegs are a rugged X-section design which would benefit from a bit of cord being tied through the hole to aid removal (not an onerous task). The large porch – easily accommodating two backpacks – can be entered via either side thanks to four zip-pulls, which can also be configured to offer a vent at the top. The headroom is great, I can just about sit up in the entrance to the inner and do…things…in the porch, and there is just enough room for me to lay out in the inner without my feet touching the walls, even when on a thick inflatable mat with a puffy sleeping bag. When guyed out there is little movement in the wind, and the yellow non-mesh inner makes it a pleasant place to be during long nights.

Pitches: Outer first/as one Weight: listed: 2.45kg, measured: 2.49kg

Wild Country Zephyros 2RRP £150

A proven design based on the Laser series from sister company Terra Nova, the Zephyros 2 uses slightly cheaper and heavier fabric and hardware in order to reduce the RRP to a very impressive £150. As a pitch-as-one design the tent can be erected very quickly – the single pole threads through an external pole sleeve and secures in grommets in the webbing loops at the base. Two pre-attached carbon struts in the either end produce head and foot room, but make the packed size rather long. The pegging loops around the base of the tent are simple bungee cord, and the external guys are a rather chunky cord with big plastic tensioners. These could be easily replaced with higher-quality and lighter versions. The white inner is light and airy (though reminiscent of a funeral shroud or something) with a mesh-topped door that opens almost all the way round and stuffs into an internal pocket. At each end of the inner a Velcro-secured flap covers a large vent, and I didn’t have any issues with condensation. The headroom is a little low, and the porch too small to easily accommodate two backpacking packs, so I’d suggest this is more appropriate for a solo inhabitant.

Pitches: Outer first/as one Weight: listed: 1.79kg, measured: 1.71kg

Agree with Phil? Let us know what you think on our forum.

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