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REI Dash 2 Ultralight Tent Review

The REI Dash 2 ultralight tent - a radical departure from the signature REI dome tent design.
The REI Dash 2 ultralight tent – a radical departure from the signature REI dome tent design.

The REI Dash 2 is the lightest weight 2 person tent that REI has ever sold. Weighing just 2 pounds 7 ounces (not including stakes or stuff sacks), it is a double walled tent with a conventional hubbed poleset, two doors, and two vestibules. But the design of this tent with its aerodynamic fly, high cut vestibule doors, and 15 denier ripstop nylon construction represents an interesting change in direction for a company that has long focused on making more conventional dome-style two person tents.

When evaluating the Dash 2, it’s important to examine this new tent in the proper context. Its intended use is for backpackers, couples or individuals, who prefer a double-walled tent architecture, but want the lightest weight one available. Keeping those priorities in mind, the Dash 2 has distinct advantages over similar tents intended for the same audience.

But switching to an ultralight-style shelter like the Dash 2 can take a bit of getting used to if you’re used to more comfortable camping style tent. Understanding the comfort and performance tradeoffs made by lightweight tent designers is one of the reasons why choosing lightweight or ultralight tents can be difficult and why it’s important to understand your priorities before making a purchase decision.

Pitch the four corners of the inner tent to the ground
Stake the four corners of the inner tent to the ground

Overview

The REI Dash 2 is a double walled tent, meaning that it has an inner tent that is pitched first, followed by an outer rain fly. This can be a problem in pouring rain because the inside of the inner tent can get wet before you can cover it with a rain fly. However, double-walled tents can also be advantageous because most of the internal condensation that forms at night in your tent will evaporate through the mesh walls of the inner tent and be trapped underneath the inside of the rain fly, away from you, so you and your gear will stay drier.

Hub and spoke style exoskeleton
Hub and spoke style exoskeleton

One of the unusual things about the Dash 2 is that the rain fly doesn’t cover the entire inner tent (see top photo.) The top and sides of the inner tent at the end where your feet go, are fully exposed to the weather. These panels are waterproof so it doesn’t matter if they get rained on, but I feel that this design decision could be better explained by REI in the documentation and marketing literature about this tent than is currently available. Customers want to understand why the products they buy function the way they do and this is something that I think REI would benefit from as they bring more lightweight products to market.

REI Dash 2 Tent Pitching Instructions

Like most double-walled tents, you pitch the Dash 2’s inner tent first by staking the four corners to the ground. You’ll need eleven stakes to pitch the Dash 2, five for the inner tent and six for the rain fly (using my instructions below, which are better and more complete than the ones REI provides).

While the Dash 2 comes with REI’s standard aluminum tent stakes, I prefer using Easton 6″ and 8″ tube-style stakes for New England ground conditions because they hold well in campgrounds and forest locations. Whichever stakes you choose, you will want ones that have some sort or cap or a shepards hook on top to hold down the cord and webbing on the inner tent and fly guyouts.

Short crosspiece pole at foot end of inner tent
Short crosspiece pole at foot end of inner tent

Next expand the tent pole, which has a hub and spoke design, including a center ridge pole that runs the length of the tent, two diagonal arms that insert into grommets at the head of the tent and a short crosspole at the foot end. When pitching, it’s best to start by attaching the crosspole at the foot of the tent and then inserting the arm poles into the corner grommets at the head end.

Next, drape the rain fly loosely over the center ridgeline pole so that the arrow-shaped end of the fly is at the foot end of the inner tent. Starting at the foot end, secure the rain fly to the short crosspiece pole using grommets sewn on the inside of the rain fly. Stake the point of the arrow to the ground but don’t make it too tight yet, because we’ll have to re-tension all of the tent’s guylines after the entire fly is set up.

(Note: In the pouring rain, it’s possible to quickly cover the inner tent with the loose fly once the hubbed poleset is in place to minimize internal wetness. Securing the fly can then take place at a more leisurely pace. Practice doing this at home first, though)

Stake the point of the arrow to the ground
Stake the point of the arrow to the ground

Next, attach the three velcro tabs on the inside of the fly to the center ridgeline bar and the two arms. These help secure the rain fly to the poles.

Stake out the side vestibule at the bottom of the dark stripe.
Stake out the side vestibule at the bottom of the dark stripe.

Next, stake out the side vestibules using the guyline loops at the bottom of the door zipper, at the base of the dark green stripe.

Stake the front of the vestibule well in front of the front corner stake of the inner tent. This provides a much more wind resistent vestibule and helps reduce wind noise.
Stake the front of the vestibule well in front of the front corner stake of the inner tent. This provides a much more wind resistant vestibule and helps reduce wind noise.

Next, instead of securing the webbing strap at the head end of the vestibule to corner of the inner tent, use a separate tent stake and stake it out in front of the head end of the tent as shown above. This gives the vestibule a much tighter pitch and eliminates any slack in the vestibule which will flap in the wind. Repeat this for the vestibule on the other side of the tent.

While my method for staking the head-end of the vestibules is possibly unorthodox, REI doesn’t provide any instructions for securing the guylines at the head of the vestibules with the tent. If you simply assume that they secure them to the corners of the inner tent, you’ll end up with a very loose vestibule with little internal volume.

Stake out the front fly guyline
Stake out the front fly guyline

Finally, stake out the center guy line at the front of the tent and then walk around the tent and tighten all the guylines, as needed.

Wind and Rain Performance

The Dash 2 is a semi-freestanding tent, which means that you can un-stake the fly and inner tent and move them around without having to take the whole tent apart, if you want to moves its location or orientation (also handy if you have a picnic pavillion to set it up under in the pouring rain before moving it to your campsite and staking it down.) 

When pitching the Dash 2, you can regulate the amount of air that flows under the tent vestibules and through the inner tent by setting it up in different locations and orientations based on wind direction. In high humidity or very hot weather, air flow through the tent will help reduce internal condensation along the walls and foot end of the tent while making you feel cooler. This can be uncomfortable in shoulder season weather however, because it can make the inner tent feel very drafty and cold…a common design trade-off in lightweight tents.

Base of inner tent extends out past top of vestibule which can lead to drips into tent when the fly is wet
Base of inner tent extends out past top of vestibule which can lead to drips into tent when the fly is wet

The high cut of the vestibules also means that wind can blow rain under them in stormy weather. Your best protection against this is to pitch the arrow end of the tent into the wind and to store your gear near the head end of the vestibules. This is only required for extremely windy conditions in highly exposed tent sites, however. In practice, you’d be better off camping in a more protected location like a forest.

The Dash 2 is actually quite good in heavy rain, and will keep you and your gear dry. While lower than in some tents, the solid edge of the bathtub floors and taped seams ensure that the floor of the tent remains dry even if you camp on a dished out tent site where water can pool underneath you.

The only issue I’ve experienced with rain in the Dash 2 is dripping from the fly into the inner tent when the vestibule is opened. This occurs because the side of the inner tent extends a bit past the vestibule drip line (see photo above). The only way to mitigate this is to only unzip the vestibule door part way when the fly is wet and you want to get out of the tent.

Internal Space and Livability

The Dash 2 is a tight fit for two people, but that’s not a revelation. Many two person, ultralight-style tents are also snug fitting and possibly better suited for one person who wants more living space inside their tent. The real value-add with this tent are the two side doors and vestibules, which are far more convenient for couples than a competitive product like the Big Agnes Fly Creek 2, which only has one door in the front vestibule, and is a hassle to enter and exist when sharing with another person.

The Dash 2 is a tight fit for two people with 20 inch sleeping pads. There is simply no room floor space left, width-wise.
The Dash 2 is a tight fit for two people with 20 inch sleeping pads. There is simply no floor space left, width-wise. You will also need to downsize your sleeping pads if you own wider ones.

I’ve used the Dash 2 on trips as a 2-person and a 1-person tent, and while my wife and I can both fit into this tent at night if we bring narrow 20 inch sleeping pads, almost everything else we bring has to be stored in the vestibules. Even then, our sleeping bags run up against the side walls of the tent and down in the foot box resulting in some internal condensation transfer. Again, this is the norm in many 2-person, lightweight tents today, and one of those tradeoffs that gets made in the name of weight savings.

While we can both sit up in the tent, which has plenty of head room. there’s isn’t any room on the floor between us or along the tent sides. There is some spare space at the head end of the tent above our pillows for smaller items however, a small mesh gear loft overhead, and two mesh pockets, one in each corner pocket.

The Dash 2 provides ample room for solo backpackers who want more space.
The Dash 2 provides ample room for solo backpackers who want more space.

The Dash 2 is comfortable and spacious when used as a single person tent however, a useful consideration if you want to use the same lightweight tent for solo and couples trips. When used as a solo tent, internal condensation transfer from the foot end and side walls of the tent to your sleeping bag becomes a non-issue because there is plenty of room to keep your gear in the middle of the tent. Having two vestibules for a single person tent is also not without precedent in the ultralight tent category and is a real convenience because you can keep your gear covered in one vestibule and get in and out of other more easily.

Stealthy coloring is hard to detect
Stealthy coloring is hard to detect from a distance

Recommendation

REI’s Dash 2 ultralight-style tent a perfectly livable two-person double-walled tent for backpackers that want a very lightweight tent and are willing to cope with its snug interior dimensions. At 2 pounds 7 ounces, not including stakes (which will add 4-5 more ounces), the Dash 2 isn’t the lightest 2 person backpacking tent you can own, but having two doors and two vestibules is a very nice feature to have in a tent that will be shared by two people or for one person who wants a little bit more room at night. From my perspective, I think REI can do a better job at explaining some of the Dash 2’s design nuances by providing more complete pitching instructions and videos of the tent’s performance in a wind tunnel.  Customers that buy lighter weight tents need to understand the comfort and performance tradeoffs that designers must make to deliver lightweight backpacking gear and educating them more will be a big step toward reducing future product returns.

Likes

  • Two doors and two vestibules
  • Excellent cross ventilation
  • Light colored fabric provides plenty of interior light in sun and moonlight
  • Stealthy color scheme
  • Built-in gear loft and corner pockets
  • Seam taped with bathtub floors provides protection against rain and wet ground
  • Bi-directional vestibule door zippers

Dislikes

  • Vestibule dripline falls inside inner tent wall
  • Vestibule are a bit on the small side
  • Drafty in cooler weather
  • Poorly documented pitching instructions
  • Lack of reflective accents makes tent difficult to find at night

Specification and Dimensions

  • Weight, minus stakes, stuff sacks, and footprint: 2 lbs. 7 oz.
  • Packed size: 6 x 20 inches
  • Floor dimensions: 90 x 54 tapering to 42 inch width at foot end
  • Floor area: 29 square feet
  • Vestibule area: 5.3 + 5.3 square feet
  • Peak height: 40 inches
  • Doors: 2
  • Poles: 1 hubbed poleset
  • Pole material DAC aluminum
  • Canopy fabric: 15-denier ripstop nylon/20-denier mesh
  • Floor fabric: 15-denier ripstop nylon

Disclosure: REI provided Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) with a sample Dash 2 tent for this review. 

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13 comments

  1. Philip, Thank you so much for this review! You must have been reading my mind :-)

    Thank goodness for places like REI, where you can go & set up tents inside the store & get in them. The evening we corresponded, my GF & I went to REI and got into the Fly Creek 2. With the fly closed, it got hot & stuffy very quickly and we could hardly breathe. That problem went away when we opened the fly door. We would suffer inside that tent in a rainstorm. We also found ourselves right up against the walls, and the single vestibule would have difficulty covering both our packs (not to mention that our packs would then block the door).

    We saw the Dash 2 set up on our way out (it was past closing time), and noted that while it had a similar profile to the Fly Creek, it had much more mesh and two doors, which would increase air flow. Plus, it’s much cheaper than the Fly Creek. After reading your review, though, I realize there is no need to return and look at/get inside that tent.

    It sure is difficult trying to drop weight while keeping some desired features — and not blowing the bank acct.! It will require a lot more research before I drop some cash.

    I’d like to see the new Big Agnes Slater UL 2+. It seems roomy, but I’m concerned about air flow, as there is no mesh, except for the door of the inner tent. Unfortunately, REI does not carry it.

    Also, the MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 seems to have fair width, but it’s a bit short on length. It’s also the heaviest of the tents I’m looking at, but it seems to have more vertical walls, and I like that the fly has a vent.

    Finally (for now), I’m intrigued by the Nemo Veda 2. While it’s almost a pound heavier than the fly Creek, it’s very roomy, has good vestibule area (2 doors), and it packs small. However, it requires 4 trekking poles for setup, so it wouldn’t work as a solo tent. It seems like a difficult and awkward setup — especially in the rain, but the tradeoff in livability could be worth it. I’d like to take a look next time I make it into the store.

    Again, thanks for helping me eliminate items on my list of tents to research.and saving me some time.

    • Take a look at the REI quarter dome 2. http://www.rei.com/item/862423/rei-quarter-dome-2-tent

      It’s not as light, but it has an excellent top vent that might do the job for you.

      This is a tough category..2person, lightweight..to buy a tent in if you stick to the mainstream brands sold at REI, although I completely understand why people would want to do that. Rock solid guarantee and better return policy.

      • Yes, the Quarter Dome 2 was on my list, but not near the top of the list. While it gets consistently great reviews (and I didn’t know about the vent — thank you), the weight is one issue, and the size of the vestibules seems a bit small. Perhaps the biggest issue, for my needs, is how narrow it gets at the foot end. My new — heavy :-( — Synmat 9 LW is 26″ wide (I toss & turn, so I like the width). Combined with my GF’s 20″ Synmat, we are wider than the 44″ wide foot end by 2″. The overlap MIGHT not be that big of a deal — I don’t know, but that’s why I’m looking at wider tents first — especially if the weights are comparable.

        If I remember correctly (from a few days ago), some of the boutique tents were not much lighter, if at all, than the mainstream light tents (in fact, when I was still hot on the Fly Creek, they seemed downright heavy :-) ), the vestibules seemed small, and they were also narrow at the foot end.

        I guess I’m just hard to please, and I might be a little unrealistic in my expectations. However, I still have three or four tents (that I know about) to look at, so I’m still hopeful. While I’d love to have something lighter by the time I get back to Shenandoah on Columbus Day weekend, it’s not a tragedy if I don’t have it by then.

        Thanks for your feedback Philip. If I seem argumentative at all about your suggestions, I don’t mean to be — I see it as a discussion, and I do really appreciate and value your insights.

      • Not at all Yonah. I understand the process you’re going through. You should be very picky. NEMO has some new lightweight 2 person tents coming out next year that might be worth waiting for. You might want to call them to see if they have more details for you.

    • I have a Big Agnes Slater UL2+ and it is much roomier than the traditional “exactly two people” backpacking tent. I use my old Sierra Designs Flashlight as the reference for a tight tent.

      We’re taking it out for the first time next weekend, so I’ll know more after that. From setting it up in the back yard, it is a nice taut pitch and roomy when you use all the pullouts.

      We have generally have dry, cool nights here, so I’m more concerned about chilly breezes through the tent than condensation.

  2. Intriguing. Many of the features appear similar to the TarpTent Double Rainbow. How does it compare in your opinion?

  3. Great Review and I like this tent! When I am in the market or my Snugpak Ionosphere reaches the end of it’s life I will take a look at this one with seriousness. Being I live in a Rain and Thunderstorm prone area of the Country now instead of my old Southern California Chapparell and Desert Weather haunts of 30 years, I look long and hard at rain protection and how well a tent will stand up to the normal 40 mph wind gusts that accompany the Thunderstorms around here. In one of my current tents from a well known national manufacturer I currently have a problem with Gusts of wind blowing or billowing out the Rain Fly allowing the rain to come in via the side walls above the Bathtub floor and via the net Canopy, so I had to retire this tent…Looking at your pictures and REI’s own pictures on-line raises that question in the back of my mind…How well will it stand up to an average Thunderstorm down here where I live. The two bathtub sidewalls worry me the most. I think I’d like to see the fly come down to near ground level like my Ionosphere does…REI is a good company, a bit pricey I think at $350 for this tent, but they do carry equipment that people actually use in the field more than a few times, not just “haute fashion” as some brands have become.. So we shall see if this tent stands the test of time…Thank you for your review.

  4. The vestibules are cut like that to save weight. They work, but 40 mph winds and exposed pitches are challenging for many lightweight tents with similarly cut vestibules.

  5. This actually seems like a really nice tent for those who are just getting into ultralight backpacking. Not quite the single-walled tent setup with hiking poles, but much lighter than a traditional design. Looks like a good compromise between weight and a few added features that might add some comfort.

    I don’t take hiking poles with me, so this might be a great setup for me if I want a 2 person tent. I’ll have to add this to my wishlist :) I think I’d probably end up using it more in the summer time when the bugs are terrible. Late fall and late Spring are the times I prefer to use just a tarp and groundcloth, as there aren’t any bugs to worry about usually. Thanks for the recommendation and review! This must be a fairly new product for them, as I haven’t seen it yet.

  6. Exactly. It’s pretty new. I think it first came out in Spring this year. Very comfortable for one person.

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