Sierra Designs Flashlight UL 1 Tent Preview

Single Wall Sierra Designs Flashlight UL 1 Tent

Sierra Designs Flashlight UL 1 Tent w/ side porch

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.

Large Side Vestibule

Large Side Vestibule

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.

Pole Required at the Foot End

Pole Required at the Foot End (note foot vestibule for ventilation)

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.

Trekking Pole and Side Mesh Wall are visible when The Side Vestibule is Raised

Trekking Pole and Side Mesh Wall are visible when the Side Vestibule is Raised

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.

Flashlight UL 1 Tent - Interior

Flashlight UL 1 Tent – Interior

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.

Wind Stability

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.

Lateral Apex Guyline

Lateral Apex Guy Line (left)

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.

Weights (Pre-production)

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.

 Likes

  • 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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29 Responses to Sierra Designs Flashlight UL 1 Tent Preview

  1. TinCanFury (@TinCanFury) October 2, 2013 at 9:50 am #

    nice to see SD entering this market! One of the things I find annoying about big company tents is the use of oversized and heavy tie out cords instead of the use of zing-it or a spectra based cord. It’s hard to tell from the photos but it looks like SD is using a lighter weight (and yellow! thank you! head lamp visibility!). Can you confirm this?

    The weights look good, should be a popular tent!

    • Philip Werner October 2, 2013 at 10:12 am #

      Thin cord and they even have line locs at the ends. How cool is that?

      The bigger/thicker guy lines you see are one’s I added to improve stability on the poles. Kelty triptease.

  2. Hilltackler October 2, 2013 at 10:12 am #

    Thanks Phillip. Not sure if you already know this but big Agnes came out with the scout which uses trekking poles too. I suspect more and more of the big companies will offer these types of tents to stay competitive in the market

    • Philip Werner October 2, 2013 at 2:05 pm #

      Very familiar with it. Not quite a tent – more like a tarp with a nest (different feeling), but also a good shelter for 2 people. Exciting to see all of these offerings.

  3. FamilyGuy October 2, 2013 at 11:01 am #

    Nemo Equipment has also had trekking pole designs over the past 3 years or so.

    • Philip Werner October 2, 2013 at 2:06 pm #

      But for tarps, right? I’m unaware of them having the ability to use trekking poles for any of their shelters that has a floor.

      • FamilyGuy October 2, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

        Hi Philip, no actually the Meta 2P and Meta 1P have been around for a couple of years (they are also coming out with two more for 2014) and are linked here: http://www.nemoequipment.com/product/?p=Meta+1P+Tent

        They are bug proof and have floors and vestibules and set up with trekking poles.

        Cheers,

        • Philip Werner October 2, 2013 at 5:23 pm #

          Right – I consider this a shaped tarp with a nest, not really a tent although granted the difference is a slippery slope. Not much difference between this and a Duomid, for instance…

  4. Jim Klazek October 2, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    Phiiiip; If you already haven’t, check out the Flashlight 2 video on ‘zenbivy.com’.Why not the identical tent only narrower like the Flashlight 1. The zipper on the 2’nd door could be axed. The 2 gear closets also act as tie-out points for more stability in high wind. Just sayin’

    • Philip Werner October 2, 2013 at 5:23 pm #

      Couldn’t find it.

    • Michael Glavin October 2, 2013 at 8:16 pm #

      Jim:

      Letting the cat out of the bag, that is essentially the plan. But to keep the weight down, the non-door side will simply have an awning with a large convertible vent underneath that can be kept wide open in the rain, and closed up like the drop door in wind+rain to maximize ventilation. Note: the design is NOT tested, and may change again (but I am pretty sure we got it nailed….)

  5. Michael Glavin October 2, 2013 at 5:53 pm #

    Phillip:

    Mike Glavin here. I am the VP and brand manager for Sierra Designs.

    Note that, since you received this sample, this design has undergone MAJOR revision due to condensation concerns unearthed in field and lab testing. The new design shares the same interior shape and body, but both sides have been completely re-imagined. The revisions are being prototyped and tested as we speak, but will dramatically improve cross ventilation required for condensation management of the single wall sections. We also think it will make the tent even lighter. Stay tuned.

    I aslo wanted to comment on the “foot pole”. Yes, we could have used the vertical poles some other similar styles utilize, but there are major advantages to the pole as supplied to you:

    1. Set up: Since this is a trekking pole tent, designed to introduce the superiority of trekking pole shelters to more customers, a huge priority of this shelter is easy set up. The legendary flashlight has always been easier to set up than most freestanding tents, and this was an area we would not compromise. The foot pole allows you to simply stake out the 4 corners of the tent, then pop in the foot pole, then pop in the trekking poles/vertical poles, and stake out the sides. Because fixed vertical poles require a tension member of some sort to keep them vertical, the corners are no longer fixed by the floor, and re-staking is required for efficient tension. Either this OR the vertical poles need to be inside the tent, making it hard to assemble and taking up room. The foot pole used for almost 40 years in this legendary style eliminates all of these hassles and tradeoffs, at minimal if any weight increase.

    2. The width of the foot pole is 8″ wider than the width of the tent, and creates the awning over the door WITHOUT ADDITIONAL STAKES or set up hassles. This is really a smart design element because we are using the outward tension of the foot pole to create a non rectangular shape, but without additional stakes, and without any additional set up hassle. Removing this would add lots of complexity and weight to provide the same benefits.

    Finally, I loved your comment about the marketing mumbo jumbo and us calling it a “hybrid single/double wall”. That is exactly what we are doing. And to think we thought we were getting rid of the mumbo-jumbo by ditching our previous term: ExoFusion…..

    Note: Dual apex tents and trekking pole shelters in general are among the strongest designs in the wind. Awnings, too, dramatically improve wind resistance, though I realize both of these are counter-intutuive. Based on these exact questions on another site, I recently put together a video that demonstrates these concepts on my personal webpage; zenbivy.com Click on the Sierra Designs page to find the video.

    Note 2: Under two pounds minimum weight (no stakes) is the goal. I doubt we will get there with the 7 required stakes included, but we sure will try….

    Note 3: The tent fly is a 30d nylon sil/pu, and the floor is 40d nylon sol/pu.

    I do appreciate your comments, and am excited about our new more open approach to sharing designs with a wider audience prior to production. Our belief is that more eyes are better, even though the marketer and product guy in me is a bit mortified about the patterning on the sample that we sent you, which is FAR from what we would ever produce in mass. You did not mention it, but I see it in the photos and it rubs me raw……

    Thanks again!

    • Philip Werner October 2, 2013 at 7:28 pm #

      Mike – nice to meet you and thanks for the additional detail.

      I’m glad to hear that your testing caught the internal condensation issue and motivated design changes. I’ll be intrigued to see what direction you went.

      While I can see how the extra pole makes it possible to add the awning, it really is a hassle for a backpacker to carry, especially if they’re using trekking poles, because it has to be carried on the outside of the pack. I’m not big on carrying the extra pole/stake sack that comes with the tent, so the extra pole gets stuffed in a side pocket and lashed down with webbing, but it still slips out/flips open and is a bit of an inconvenience and easy to lose since I constantly use my side pockets for water bottles.

      I can’t help but wonder if something like the Hilleberg Atko foot vent with its sewn-in fiberglass rods wouldn’t give you even better airflow and obviate the need for a third external rod. Granted their guyline rigging is a mess, but I think there are many opportunities for improvement on that basic design (mesh with an overhang that is a continuation of the roof.)

      If you still want the awning, why not make it a zipper or velro flap in a full side vestibule. again something like the Akto’s side rainfly window.

      2 pounds – that would be awesome – and entirely within reach, too.

      Keep me posted – I definitely want to try out the new Flashlight Ul 1 when you have another version that’s ready for external feedback.

  6. Laurence October 2, 2013 at 7:26 pm #

    A vestibule beats an awning in blowing rain. With an awning, the fabric that eventually wets through is the door or wall, which your bedding can touch, especially in a one person tent. But with a vestibule, the soaked fabric is out away from your bed, and the wall you touch is relatively dry.

    Sierra Designs says an awning has superior wind resistance, and I cannot argue with their research one way or the other. However, I personally encounter blowing, swirling rain that would get past an awning far more often than I experience winds that would threaten a well pitched tent. I would be far more likely to buy this tent with a vestibule than with an awning, and I strongly suspect that most of Sierra Designs’ potential customers would agree.

    • Michael Glavin October 2, 2013 at 8:12 pm #

      Hi Laurence:

      I hear you, and we sure knew we would be swimming upstream when we committed to awnings over doors. We believe that awnings with drop doors fundamentally redefine the camping experience, and that vestibules are flawed. I appreciate your disagreement, but here is my pitch nonetheless: Tents with vestibules require you to open and close 2 doors to get in and out, plus crawl over your gear, plus they crush ventilation. Vestibules, IMO, are just about the worst thing you can do to a 3S tent. The first vestibule was done by TNF when they converted the venerable VE24 to the VE25. They were used to eliminate snow tunnels, so that a person could get into a vestibule, then shut the inner tent before opening the next door. Sort of a storm chamber that eliminated shimming through a storm tunnel in bad weather. Then people figured out you could cook and store there, and most tents have been ruined following this model ever since. Gear stored in the door is a hassle. Two doors to get in and out a 3S tent is a hassle. Killing ventilation on 3S tents, especially single wall tents, is the kiss of death. Not having a safe cooking option, ore being able to see out when the weather is bad is a real bummer. Vestibules do all these things, which is why you won’t find any on SD tents anymore. None. Every 3S tent with a vestibule is dropped from the line in 2014. So if your ascertain above is correct, I better polish up my resume….

      If you go to the SD page on my personal site (zenbivy.com), you can download the SD workbook that talks about the benefits of awnings, and take a tour of the Flashlight 2, and you can check out wind tunnel tests that show the superiority of awnings in the wind. Once you check it out, let me know if I moved your needle at all.

      Note: the PLAN (not tested) for the Flashlight 1 is to have a door/gear awning identical to the Flashlight 2 on one side, and an awning with convertible vent on the other.

      You can look at my bivy photos page on the site and see that I have used single wall tents with awnings in some places where most people would not. Specifically, this is my mountaineering tent. High winds, rain, swirling rain, swirling windy rain…yes to all. Never did I wish I had a vestibule blocking the view and trapping the moisture.

      I really do believe that once folks really experience accessible storage that is not in the door, and being able to ventilate and view outside even in the worst weather, and are able to cook safely in that weather, many will feel the transformation that I experienced, and that has convinced even the most skeptical of field testers.

      • Laurence October 2, 2013 at 8:57 pm #

        Mike, thanks for the explanation, and I defer to your experience with awnings. However, you’re right about facing a marketing challenge, because many customers will worry about wet walls against the bedding. For what it’s worth, I’d be more likely to buy if the walls had extra coating, at least on the bottom foot or so, where the bedding is.

      • Philip Werner October 2, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

        Here’s Michael’s video – definitely worth watching and it has some provocative ideas about awnings vs vestibules.

        http://vimeo.com/75735829

        I am not sure how the wind tunnel videos demonstrate the superiority of awnings over vestibules though.

        http://vimeo.com/75940544

        I am very comfortable and practiced at sleeping under single skin pyramid tarps in bad Scottish weather, so I know what blowing cold rain is like, the merit’s of a pyramid shape in blowing wind, and how to cook under one in really shitty weather. I am having trouble imaginging how to do those things in a tent with awnings and unprotected pockets like awning overhands that can catch wind, but I don’t mind being a guinea pig and trying it out. Less fabric means less weight and there may be other benefits I can’t comprehend. You have to think out of the box to do anything new.

      • Laurence October 3, 2013 at 10:40 pm #

        Mike, you’re right about the advantages of an awning versus a vestibule. The chance of wet walls with an awning does not contradict those advantages; it’s just a competing disadvantage. Each camper has to weigh which factors are more important to him or her, and optimizing the odds of staying dry is the deciding factor for me, so I’d go with the vestibule. However, most campers will camp most nights in decent weather, when the advantages of an awning really shine, and the wet-wall disadvantage is a nonfactor. So your concept may deliver the best experience for the most customers most of the time. Good luck.

  7. Stephen Outten October 2, 2013 at 7:43 pm #

    Maybe i’m missing it but i’d like to see vents near the apexs where the poles hook into the tent much like the TarpTent Contrail or SIx Moons Lunar Series. In my experiences that vent keeps airflow going in the “dead zone” near the inner apex. Certainly helps when the humidity is up

  8. Jim Klazek October 2, 2013 at 11:41 pm #

    I like it. Will keep my eye on this site for a sample and Philips test reactions.. I have been using tents for over 40 years and agree with your take on vestibules. Different strokes for different folks or whatever works.

  9. Kevin January 30, 2014 at 9:29 am #

    Very entertaining watching someone “discover” the wheel all over again. It has been SD and the other biggies foot dragging that have left them 5-10 years behind in product design these days.

    • Michael Glavin January 31, 2014 at 12:32 am #

      Thanks Kevin! Wait til you see what is coming next…….!

  10. Jason February 11, 2014 at 4:55 pm #

    Doesn’t this tent look a lot like the Sea-to-Summit Specialist?

    http://www.seatosummit.com/products/display/161

    • Michael Glavin February 12, 2014 at 1:30 am #

      Yes, but they are very different. The Flashlights are both MUCH bigger and are hybrid single/double wall, and are much more intuitive to set up due to the structured footprint which does not require re-staking. Most significantly, the Flashlights do not have vestibules blocking the doorway and have awnings that allow both sides to be completely opened and vented, even in the rain. They do look similar, but the experience is completely different, and in our opinion, way better.

      Our new site will launch with the whole story in a couple of weeks, but in the meantime you can get the scoop by looking at these videos:

    • Michael Glavin February 12, 2014 at 1:32 am #

      whoops, those links joined together…..trying again:

      http://www.zenbivy.com/ZenBivy/Sierra_Designs.html

      • Mike Spalding February 25, 2014 at 9:21 am #

        Michael, thanks for participating in the conversation here and providing so much information about this new line of flashlight tents. I’m particularly interested, because I’m shopping now for a versatile 2lb solo tent to use this coming summer, and I have been a satisfied owner/user of a Clip Flashlight for many years. Philip’s review highlighted a number of areas for improvement, and you indicated that the final design would be substantially different from the prototype that he tested. Can you give us a summary of these differences? Please give as much detail on condensation as you can. Thanks again!!

        • Michael Glavin February 25, 2014 at 12:51 pm #

          Mike:

          The new Sierra Designs website launched last night, and you can view the latest there. Here is the overview: The door side of the tent now has an identical triangular gear storage area as the Flashlight 2. This is detailed well in the video on the site. The non-door side has an awning over the entire side of the tent, and a zip down panel that exposes a wall of mesh. The awning is very similar to the one on the door side of the prototype above (intact it is identical). This allows both sides to be completely open, even in rain! The only time the panels need to be closed (they can be incrementally trimmed upwards) is in a blowing rain. The harder the wind is blowing, the more you will need to trim up the side that is getting blown (the other side could obviously be left open). This new design added 2 ounces (now 2 pounds 4 ounces) but dramatically increased ventilation. I have only tested this tent once myself, but it seems clear it ventilated even a little better than the Flashlight 2. The new design is SD approved, and I am confident it vents better than anything in its class on the market. If you choose to get one, please come back and leave your comments on this thread or on our site. I am so excited that the new product is finally available for everyone to try and enjoy. We really do think that our bags and tents will fundamentally re-define your experience. I can think of no other tent in this weight class that allows full venting, safe cooking, and most importantly OUTSIDE VIEWING even in the rain. I hope you enjoy!

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