Sierra Designs recently sent me a prototype version of their new Sierra Designs Flashlight UL 1 Tent and asked me for my design feedback. I was happy to give it to them because I am bullish on Sierra Designs and I like their vision for a new generation of lightweight backpacking products. They’ve assembled an impressive array of new sleeping bags (first to market DriDown) and the new hybrid 1.5 wall Flash Series tents over the past two years. adopting a lightweight focus at breakneck speed in an industry where most big manufacturers move quite slowly.
Trekking Pole Setup
When their latest prototype Flashlight UL 1 Tent arrived at my door, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that the weight was close to 2 pounds, which sounded very promising by itself. There were no instructions on how to pitch it, no spec sheet, and no pictures of it anywhere online, so I didn’t even know what the tent would look like when set up.
You can imagine my surprise when I realized that the new Flashlight UL 1 can be pitched with trekking poles! I was stunned. I never thought I’d see the day when a big company would make a tent that can be pitched with trekking poles to save gear weight. This could be interesting.
I was so excited that I asked Sierra Designs to let me write about this latest prototype of the Flashlight UL 1. They agreed, as long as I made it clear that what you see here is in the process of going through another design iteration before it is manufactured and goes on sale in April 2014. Hopefully they’ll include a few of my suggestions.
Dual Apex Wedge
The Flashlight UL 1 has a dual apex wedge design which means that it pitches with two side poles (two peaks) with a wedge-like internal sleeping area. The wedge shape is very high at the head end which means that a camper can sit up fully inside the tent and get dressed/undressed without extreme contortions.The poles are set at a height of 46″ high and attach to grommets on the outside of the tent so that the camper doesn’t have to share any internal space with their tent poles/trekking poles.
There are three collapsible poles included with the tent for pitching the tent: two on the sides, which can be replaced with trekking poles (including Pacerpoles, as shown), and one which prevents the foot area at the bottom of the wedge from collapsing on the campers feet. It tensions at the sides of the tent using grommets. While this third, foot-end pole helps increase the interior space at the end of the wedge, I wish it wasn’t necessary. There are other ways to get the same kind of “lift” by sewing thin fiberglass poles into the foot box area to prop it up.
Hybrid Single-Double Wall Tent
Some of the surfaces on Flashlight UL 1 are single wall, including the roof and back wall, meaning that there is a single layer of fabric separating the occupant from the outdoors. This is done to save weight without compromising waterproofing. The side surfaces are covered in mesh to promote ventilation and help reduce internal condensation, but one side is covered with a porch-like awning and the other a full vestibule. My guess is that Sierra Designs will market this as a hybrid single-double wall design or some other marketing mumbo jumbo, but the design of this tent feels much closer to being single wall tent than a hybrid to me.
Internal condensation is still an issue with the Flashlight UL 1 despite all of the mesh you see below, and good campsite selection away from streams, ponds, or low points is important to keep tents like this dry inside at night. I’ve spent one night in this design prototype so far and while I did experience some internal condensation in it, I need a few more data points before I’d want to draw any firm conclusions about it. Internal condensation is a common issue in all single wall UL shelters but it can be managed with a little foresight.
Internal Space and Livability
The inside of the Flashlight UL is luxuriously spacious for one person. I use a 20 inch sleeping pad and there is plenty of space on the side of the pad to spread out maps and other gear. I don’t have exact measurements for you, but the length of the tent is about 6′ 6″ making it long enough for most people.
The interior has a high bathtub floor and taped seams. The material used throughout the tent feels like a lightweight (low denier) PU coated polyester and should be usable without a footprint unless you camp on a high friction surface like sand, a lot.
The interior colors are bright and the roof transmits a lot of exterior light keeping the shelter light inside while the sun is out. The exterior colors are muted and natural-occurring so the tent blends in well with its surroundings.
The side of the tent with half-vestibule style awning has solid fabric backing that can be zipped over the mesh to prevent cold wind or dust from blowing in or to improve camping privacy. I’m on the fence about the half porch awning and would probably prefer a full vestibule instead to increase tent stability in bad conditions.
I haven’t tested the Flashlight UL 1 in moderate to high winds but I doubt that the shelter will perform optimally in those conditions unless you really know what you’re doing. This is a known issue with Dual Apex tents but by no means a show stopper and one that most campers will never experience.
For instance, you’ll really want to pitch the side with the vestibule into the wind and run extra guy lines from the tops of the two side poles for additional stability as shown above left. There are already guy out loops at the top of the tent for this purpose. I expect that pitching any of the other sides into 20-30+ mph winds will result in internal deformation of the sleeping area or “lift off” like a box kite.
This being a pre-production prototype, the components weights of the Flashlight UL 1 are still subject to change, but I thought you’d be interested to see them broken out.
- Foot-end pole: 3.5 ounces
- Side poles: 2.9 ounces x 2 = 5.8 ounces (can be replaced with trekking poles)
- Tent stakes: 0.4 ounces x 8 = 3.4 ounces (replaceable)
- Tent and stake bag: 0.6 ounces
- Tent bag: 0.8
- Tent body: 2.0 pounds (32 ounces) including all guy lines
That brings the total weight of the Flashlight UL 1 Tent to 46.1 ounces with all of its packaged components.
If you replace the side poles with trekking poles and replace with the stakes with Easton 6″ aluminum stakes weighing 0.2 ounces each, the Flashlight UL 1′s weight drops to 37.1 ounces or 2 pounds 5.1 ounces which is getting pretty respectable for a lightweight tent. I’ll be curious whether Sierra Designs can get the effective trail weight down to 2 pounds (32 ounces) in this final design revision, which I consider the maximum ideal weight for a lightweight class, single person tent.
- Light weight
- Can be pitched using trekking poles
- Ability to sit up completely
- Tent (or trekking poles) are outside of living space
- Plenty of interior space for sleeping pad and gear
- Vertical walls maximize interior room and livability
- Light colored roof fabric lets in exterior light
- Color scheme is neutral and blends in well with landscape
- High bathtub floor protects against flooding
- Taped seams
- Hybrid rain fly and mesh design
- Additional solid fabric weather protection on front mesh door to block wind/dust
- Tie-outs on top of the apex peaks for lateral tie-outs and added wind stability
- Large size vestibule to store gear in rain
Suggestions for modification
I sent Sierra designs a much more detailed list of modification suggestions but these are the highlights.
- Remove need for third foot end pole
- Replace porch awning with full vestibule with center closure so it can be rolled up in good weather.
Even without these changes, the Sierra Designs Flashlight UL 1 is looking like a pretty livable lightweight shelter for backpacking and camping. I can’t wait to see what the final version looks like and how it performs in New England conditions.
Disclaimer: Sierra Designs provided Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) with a pre-production prototype of the Flashlight UL 1 tent for design feedback and review. This is a pre-production model and further design changes may occur before this tent is commercially available in spring 2014.
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