Home / Gear Reviews / MSR Freelite 2 Backpacking Tent Review

MSR Freelite 2 Backpacking Tent Review

manufactured by:
Philip Werner
Version:
1
Price:
439.95

Reviewed by:
Rating:
4
On May 20, 2016
Last modified:September 18, 2016

Summary:

The MSR FreeLite 2 Tent is lightweight enough that you can use it as a spacious one person tent, although it is actually large enough compared to other "two-person tents" for two adults to use. Having two doors and two vestibules is a must-have and real convenience that makes the FreeLite 2 quite livable if you have company. The rectangular floor, vertical side walls, and interior heights also make the FreeLite2 one of the more luxurious sub-three pound lightweight, double-walled tents available today.

The MSR Freelite 2 Tent hangs from an external exoskeleton frame with a crossbar that helps keep the side walls nearly vertical.
The MSR FreeLite 2 Inner Tent hangs from an hubbed pole with a crossbar that helps keep the side walls nearly vertical.

The MSR Freelite 2 Backpacking Tent is a lightweight, two-person, double walled tent that weighs 2 pounds 11 ounces (minus stuff sacks and tent stakes on the SectionHiker scale) While that is 4 ounces more than the MSR’s published specs for this tent, the FreeLite 2 is still a viable sub-three pound tent, that puts more a bit more emphasis on interior space and livability than other lightweight double-walled tents in its class. Easy to set up, the FreeLite 2 is a nice option if you want a lightweight backpacking tent that can serve double duty as a spacious one person tent when you hike alone, or a two person tent when you backpack with a partner.

Design

The MSR FreeLite 2 Tent is a semi-freestanding tent with an inner tent that hangs from a 3 armed, hubbed pole made with lightweight 7000 series aluminum, with a horizontal cross piece to keep the side walls vertical and provide more interior room. The pole arms slot into metal clips along the base of the tent. MSR has cleverly engineered the rain fly so that it can be attached to the poles holding up the inner tent or share the same stake out points. But like all semi-freestanding tents, the rain fly vestibules need to be staked out separately.

However, the Freelite 2 is not truely freestanding in that it needs to be staked out before it is completely pitched.
However, the FreeLite 2 is not truly freestanding in that the ‘front’ corners need to be staked out before it is completely pitched.

MSR markets the FreeLite 2 as a freestanding tent, but it’s not freestanding because you still need to stake out the inner tent and the outer rain fly to pitch it. MSR should revise this language because it’s very misleading and implies value where it is not present.

For example, there’s no way you can pick the FreeLite 2 up and move it from one place to another without un-staking it and re-staking it to the ground, which is the usual definition of a freestanding tent.  If MSR had used “Y” poles at both ends of the FreeLite 2, like the heavier MSR Hubba Hubba NX, the inner tent wouldn’t have to be staked out. But the FreeLite 2’s inner tent is unusable without tent stakes, so make sure you pack them.

While not exactly stealthy, the muted color of the rain fly helps offset the deep red of the inner tent.
While not exactly stealthy, the muted color of the rain fly helps offset the deep red of the inner tent.

Pitching the Tent

Pitching the FreeLite 2 is very straightforward. There’s just one multi-section aluminum pole pole, so expand that first. Next spread out the inner (red) tent and find the “front” that matches the Y end of the pole. Slip the ends of the poles into slots on the corner hardware, before attaching the pole to the rear of the inner fly and the cross pole on the roof.

Stake out the four corners and attach the top of the inner tent to the pole using the gray clips provided. Finally, attach the rain fly over the top of the inner tent, securing the corners, before staking out the vestibule doors.

The Freelite 2 rain fly hooks into the head of MSR needle stakes providing a secure anchor while using just one stake.
The FreeLite 2 rain fly can hook into the head of the MSR needle stakes (included) providing a secure anchor while using just one stake. Here’s a closeup of the stake head from a slightly different angle.

When staking out the fly, I like the way that MSR has engineered the rain fly and tent stakes for the FreeLite 2 using MSR Needle Stakes (included). These are 9.6 gram aluminum stakes (0.34 oz), which a hooked head, so they can be shared by the inner tent guy and a metal fitting from the rain fly that fits perfectly over the stake head. I like these stakes so much I’ve started using them with my most of my other tents and tarps..

Ventilation in the tent is good, with an abundant quantity of mesh in the inner tent and good separation between the rain fly and inner tent to promote air flow. If you use the tent with two adults, I’d still recommend that you keep at least one vestibule open in fair weather to help vent any moisture buildup.

The Freelite 2 has a spacious interior including a large internal gear pocket and numerous hang loops
The FreeLite 2 has a spacious interior including a large internal gear pocket and numerous hang loops.

Livability

The most important feature in any two person tent is having two doors so you can get out of the tent at night without waking up your partner. MSR does that one better by providing large door openings, enabled by a high inner tent height, that make it easier to get in and out of the tent.

The interior dimensions of the FreeLite 2 inner tent (measured by SectionHiker) are:

  • 84″ long
  • 48″ at the head and foot ends of the tent
  • 36″ interior peak height below the center hub
  • 35″ of headroom above the doors and where your head will be placed when lying back in the tent

It should be noted that the combination of vertical side walls and a rectangular floor, where the widths of the head end of the tent and the foot end are the same, provides excellent livability. Many two person tents have a tapered floor where the head end is wider than the foot end to reduce tent weight, but not the FreeLite 2.

In addition to space, there are numerous hang points in the ceiling and large shared pocket at the head end, but unfortunately no personal gear storage pockets are provided.

Durability

With a 15D ripstop nylon rain fly and floor and 10D micromesh netting, the FreeLite 2 trades off some durability for weight, something to consider if you are a bit rough on your gear or consistently camp on abrasive ground.

You also need to be a bit careful with the zippers on the FreeLite’s rain fly, which has a tendency to catch on the thin fly fabric if you open or close the zippers without using two hands. Velcro patches along the zippers’ path provide a fast and easy way to seal the doors shut without using the zips, a nice feature if you want to keep the vestibule doors closed, but not fully zipped to increase ventilation or avoid waking your partner up after you take a midnight stroll.

The Freelite 2 is very easy to repackage and compress into a small package if you're short on pack space or want to shave a few more ounces off the included stuff sacks.
The FreeLite 2 is very easy to repackage and compress into a small package if you’re short on pack space or want to shave a few more ounces off the included stuff sacks.

The FreeLite 2 comes with three silnylon stuff sacks, although you can discard them if you want to shave down a few ounces on weight. I like stuffing the inner tent and rain fly in a stuff sack because they pack up very small, which is a real consideration.

Assessment

The MSR FreeLite 2 Tent is lightweight enough that you can use it as a spacious one person tent, although it is actually large enough compared to other “two-person tents” for two adults to use. Having two doors and two vestibules is a must-have and real convenience that makes the FreeLite 2 quite livable if you have company. The rectangular floor, vertical side walls, and interior heights also make the Freelite 2 one of the more luxurious sub-three pound lightweight, double-walled tents available today.

But if gear weight is one of your chief priorities, the FreeLite 2 is definitely on the heavy end of the spectrum, weighing 2 pounds 11 ounces, and 4 ounces more than the minimum weight (minus stuff sacks and stakes) claimed by the manufacturer. While it’s a nicely appointed tent, it’s also pretty expensive, with an MSRP of $439.95.

I think the FreeLite 2 would be a lot more appealing if MSR had pushed the envelope more and designed a tent that was closer to 2 pounds in weight. While the FreeLite 2 is comfortable, it’s not really that exceptional and I’d encourage to take a hard look at the other lightweight double-walled tents that are available today before you decide to buy it.

Likes

  • Vertical side walls provide excellent livability
  • Two doors and vestibules so your partner can easily enter and exit tent
  • Rain flaps over vestibule zippers and excellent hardware, including line loc tensions on vestibule doors
  • Good separation between inner tent and rain fly
  • Stealthy rain fly helps mute red inner tent color

Dislikes

  • Not truly freestanding, despite claims to the contrary
  • Actual product weight is heavier than documented by product specs
  • Tent can be difficult to find in the dark. More reflective tabs on fly would be nice.
  • Very expensive ($439.95)

For complete specs, see the Freelite 2 product pages at CascadeDesigns.com.

Disclosure: MSR provided Philip Werner with a Freelite 2 tent for this review. This post contains affiliate links.

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11 comments

  1. I looked at this tent as a lighter option compared to the hubba hubba NX, but couldn’t see any advantage over the ridiculously light but much bigger internal space of the new Carbon reflex 3 – which weighs exactly 43 ounces with all stuff sacks and supplied pegs. Both need to be staked out, it seems odd that the freelite has the three way pole and not four to enable you to pick it up and move like the NX. The reflex 3 makes me shake my head in disbelief each time I pick it up, it’s just so incredibly light for a double wall, three person shelter. i guess the freelite is likely to be a bit more durable as the main advantage (as well as a zippered fly compared to the slightly odd Velcro and metal hooks of the reflex).

    • Yeah – can’t fathom why they didn’t make the Freelite freestanding and add two Y poles. The first time I pitched this tent, (I hadn’t practiced beforehand, which I usually do) I frantically tried to get the tent set up before a giant rain storm hit only to discover that it wasn’t freestanding even though it’s claimed to be. Had one of those “You’ve got to be sh*tting me moments.” :-) It left a lasting impression.

  2. Just the price tag alone is enough to turn one away from the tent.. It looks very similar to one I bought some 15 years ago which was billed as a solo and tent and was so claustraphobic that it sits in the attic collecting dust because I bought it on Sale and it was not returnable, I guess the place that sold it to me knew that….When it gets down to about $75. I might consider looking at it…. Thank you for a great review and especailly again we find companies weights and our own scales weights varying. Old Mr. Rodale founder of Rodale Press and Backpacker Magazine use to really “irk” the Industry Marketing Maggots when he tore apart their advertising comparing actual weights to what they claimed and other items in their propaganda and they would threaten not to advertise in his magazine any more and he would tell them goodbye.. Since his death…well it appears someone worried about that…. keep up the good work…

  3. Just bought the MSR Hubba Hubba NX tent which while slightly heavier is still very light, 100% freestanding, roomy for two, and still light enough for an occasional solo trip. There’s a reason it competes successfully against its main counterpart, the Big Agnes Copper Spur 2…

  4. Looks small on the outside but kind of roomy on the inside…

  5. I also use MSR Needle Stakes for most of my gear. They are light and pretty much indestructible.

  6. Looks like a great tent to me. But if weight & space are the goals, then for that price I’ll save a bit extra and get the Zpacks Duplex.

  7. Meant to say “save UP” a bit extra $$

  8. The way the fly hooks on to the head of the needle stake is clever, but I’ve camped in plenty of places where shallow soil or a lot of rocks prevent the stakes from going all the way into the ground, and in that case the fly tugging on the stake head is going to lever it right out.

  9. I liked the design until I saw the stake out system – it just doesn’t make sense to me to make the tent that way. For the weight, non-free-standing ability, and price there are other options on the market.

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