Home / Gear Reviews / Sierra Designs Lightning 2 FL Tent Review

Sierra Designs Lightning 2 FL Tent Review

manufactured by:
Philip Werner
Version:
1
Price:
379.95

Reviewed by:
Rating:
4
On August 9, 2016
Last modified:August 26, 2016

Summary:

The Lightning FL 2 is a great 2 person tent that's spacious for two people, light weight, and very simple to set up. Featuring side vestibules, what Sierra Designs calls gear closets, each tent occupant can store their gear in covered storage alongside the sleeping area while being able to access it easily. This increases the amount of space in the tent and internal livability quite significantly. But poor airflow, doubly important because the tent is essentially single-walled, causes significant internal condensation buildup and I'd recommend using this tent only in very dry and arid climates.

The Sierra Designs Ligtning 2 FL is a spacious 2 person tent with two large screened side vestibules for covered gear storage
The Sierra Designs Lightning 2 FL is a spacious 2 person tent with two large screened side vestibules for covered gear storage

The Sierra Designs Lightning FL 2 person tent is a spacious, lightweight tent that’s exceptionally easy to pitch. It features two side vestibules at the head end of the tent that can be used to store gear, and free up interior space, so occupants have a lot more room to spread out.  The Lightning FL 2 also has awnings over the front door and rear window that block wind-blown rain from entering the tent, while maintaining better external visibility.

The Lightning FL 2 is a single walled tent, meaning that it goes up all as one unit without to need to set up a separate inner tent. This is advantageous in rain because it means you can set up the tent without getting the inside wet. It also makes the tent lighter weight because there’s not a separate inner tent and rain fly.

Large side vestibles provide covered storage for gear and increase internal livability
Large side vestibules provide covered storage for gear and increase internal livability

Weighing 2 pounds 14.8 ounces (including stuff sacks and without tent stakes) the Lightning FL 2 is a light enough to be carried on backpacking trips when the weight is split between two people, but it also excels as a comfortable car camping tent since it is so easy to set up.

The Sierra Lightning FL 2 is easy to pitch. Simply expand the pole and suspend the tent body from it, before staking out the vestibules and corners
The Sierra Lightning FL 2 is easy to pitch. Simply expand the pole and suspend the tent body from it, before staking out the vestibules and corners

Pitching the Tent

The Lightning FL 2 is a cinch to pitch. Lay out the tent on the ground and open the multi-segment pole which has three interconnected poles and two hubs. Connect the hooks on the tent body to the poles, stake out the side vestibules, followed by the tent corners. Tighten the guy lines and you’re good to go.

Contrary to Sierra Design's Claim, the Lightning FL 2 is not freestanding and the vestibules must be staked out. JPGContrary to Sierra Design's Claim, the Lightning FL 2 is not freestanding and the vestibules must be staked out. JPG
Contrary to Sierra Design’s Claim, the Lightning FL 2 is not freestanding and the vestibules must be staked out

Contrary to Sierra Design’s claim, the Lightning FL 2 is not a freestanding tent. It requires a minimum of 2 tent stakes to hold open the side vestibules, although an additional 4 corner stakes greatly improve the tightness of the pitch and to prevent the tent from blowing away in the wind.  My recommendation would be to carry a minimum of 6 stakes. More if you expect high winds, for added stability.

Gear places in the side vestibules can be accessed from within through a zippered portals.
Gear placed in the side vestibules can be accessed from within through a zippered portals.

The Side Vestibules

The Lightning FL 2’s side vestibules significantly expand the useful space inside the tent and occupant comfort. Backpacks and other gear can be accessed from inside the tent though zippered portals that let you keep wet gear out of the living compartment. While small items can be placed inside the vestibule from within the tent (for example, shoes), you must go outside the tent, and lift up the vestibule (un-staking it), to place larger items under cover.

Still the advantage of side vestibule on a two person tent can not be understated. In addition to increasing interior space, they make it possible for each occupant to reach their gear without crawling over or waking the other up at night. They also free up the front door so it’s easier to enter and exit the tent. This design is a huge improvement over the use of a front vestibule blocking a front door, which is common with tents from many other manufacturers.

The side vestibules, what Sierra designs calls gear closets,provide a place for you to store gear outside of the sleeping space, greatly improving livability when used by two persons
The side vestibules, what Sierra designs calls gear closets,provide a place for you to store gear outside of the sleeping space, greatly improving livability when used by two persons

Interior Dimensions

The floor of the Lightning FL 2 is slightly tapered from the head end to the foot end. The same holds for the tent ceiling which is at full height above occupants heads and torsos (presuming that they sleep with their head behind the front door), tapering down to the rear, or foot end of the tent. The ceiling begins to drop just beyond the foot end of the side vestibules.

The tent’s actual interior dimensions measured by SectionHiker are listed below. I’ve included SD’s published dimensions, in parentheses for comparison

  • Head end width: 56″ (56″)
  • Foot end width: 46″ (46″)
  • Head height: 40″ (42.5″)
  • Foot height: 20″ (NA)
  • Length: 84″  (86″)

Awnings

Sierra Designs has made a big deal in recent years of its use of awnings instead of vestibules, claiming that they provide sufficient moisture protection for doors in driving rain while lightening up tent weight because less material is required to make them.

The front of the Lightning FL 2 has a pronounced awning over the front door, which is half mesh and half solid. The door also has a solid panel behind the mesh which helps provide rain and wind protection as well as added privacy.
The front of the Lightning FL 2 has a pronounced awning over the front door, which is 2/3 mesh and 1/3 solid. The door also has a solid panel behind the mesh which helps provide rain and wind protection as well as added privacy.

While the Lightning FL 2 does have a front awning, the front mesh door (actually half a door – the bottom half is solid fabric) is backed by a solid panel that can be left open for better airflow and exterior visibility or zippered closed for privacy and added wind or rain protection.

When entering and exiting the tent during rain or when the vestibule was wet from morning due, the back of my shirt was consistently soaked from rubbing against the awning. The only way to avoid this is to crawl on your hands and knees out the front door of the tent, but your knees will get wet doing this if the ground in front of the door is wet. In all fairness, your back and knees will also get wet in tents with a front vestibule instead of an awning.

Airflow and Internal Condensation

Despite the mesh-backed vestibules and awnings, the Lightning FL 2 has challenges with internal condensation when it rains or there is a heavy morning dew. The problem is that the moisture on the wet walls is easily transferred to the foot end of your sleeping bag where it rubs against the side wall.

Most single wall tent manufacturers mitigate this internal condensation issue by adding lots of mesh openings or beaks to their tents to facilitate airflow, vent moisture, and dry wet walls quickly.

While the Lightning 2 has quite a lot of internal mesh, airflow through the Lightning FL 2 is surprisingly poor because all of the mesh, with the exception of the front door, is backed by solid fabrics panels that block air flow. There’s so little cross-ventilation in the tent that moisture will not even dry when the tent is exposed to direct sunlight with the mesh front door vented open. The moisture is trapped by the dome of the tent ceiling without anyplace to exit.

Great attention to detail - all of the guy out points have lic locs for easy tensioning and the tent stakes comes with pre-tied utility cord
Great attention to detail – all of the guy out points have lic-locs for easy tensioning and the tent stakes comes with pre-tied cord pulls.

Assessment

The Sierra Designs Lightning FL 2 is a great 2 person tent that’s spacious for two people, light weight (2 pounds 14.8 oz), and very simple to set up. Featuring side vestibules, what Sierra Designs calls gear closets, each tent occupant can store their gear in covered storage along the sleeping area while being able to access it easily. This increases the amount of space in the tent and internal livability quite significantly.  But poor airflow, doubly important because the tent is essentially single-walled, causes significant internal condensation buildup and I’d recommend using this tent only in very dry and arid climates.

I do hope that Sierra Designs can tweak the design of the Lightning FL 2 a bit to help vent internal moisture buildup in this tent, perhaps by adding hooded beaks to the tops of the side vestibules or by raising the awning so it’s slightly higher than the tent ceiling to direct more air into the interior of the tent. Except for that, the Sierra Designs Lightning FL 2 is an excellent backpacking and couples car camping tent for drier climates.

Likes:

  • Roomy interior
  • Ample side storage gets gear out of living space
  • Bright interior
  • Easy to set up
  • Excellent guyline tensioners

Dislikes:

  • Internal condensation
  • Not freestanding as claimed by manufacturer

Component Weights (measured on the SectionHiker Digital Scale)

  • Poles: 14.0 oz
  • Pole/Stake Stuff sack: 0.8 oz
  • Minimum # of stakes 6: 2.4 oz
  • Tent body: 31.2 oz
  • Tent stuff sack: 0.8 oz
  • Total weight (minus stakes as is custom in the industry):
A Hare that liked to visit us in the evening at one of the camp sites where we used the Lightning FL 2 tent (off Cherry Mountain Rd)
A hare that liked to visit us in the evenings at one of the primitive campsites where we used the Lightning FL 2 tent (Old Cherry Mountain Rd, White Mountain National Forest)

Manufacturer Specs:

  • Number of Poles:3 Poles Joined Together by 2 Swivel Hubs to Create a Single Frame
  • Pole Type: DAC NFL
  • Pole Diameter: 9.3 mm
  • Pole Set Weight: 14 oz. / 0.40 kg
  • Fly Fabric: 20D Polyester Ripstop, Silicone/1200mm PE, FR
  • Floor Fabric: 30D Nylon Ripstop, WR/3000mm PE, FR
  • Body Fabric: 15D Nylon No-See-Um Ultralight Mesh

Visit Sierra Designs for complete product information.

Disclosure: Sierra Designs provided the author with a sample of the Lightning 2 FL tent for review. This post contains affiliate links which help to fund this website. 

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11 comments

  1. Hey Phillip,
    Thank you once again for an honest and thorough review. Looks like it could be a great tent for Sierra or Teton areas.

    • Exactly. My working theory is that tents made by companies based in Colorado (and out west) usually don’t work well for the muggy, damp East Coast and Appalachia. They just don’t get it and they certainly don’t test it.

  2. Just got back from a week on the Rae Lakes loop with our Lightninng 2FL. I really like this tent. I do wish that there was a zipper pull on the outside of the gear closet zipper, so you could open it from the outside.

  3. Thanks for the honest review Philip (although I would not have expected any less from you). I’ve been intrigued by these SD tents but wondered about their condensation issues and the utility of the awning so I’m glad you address those points. I’m also curious how you think the tent will do in the wind. I imagine if you point the foot end into the prevailing wind you’d be fine, but if the wind direction changed and came at the awning, I’m worried it would basically turn the tent into a sail.

  4. Thanks for the Review I really like this tent. The weight is just right and the open sides for venting will do well here in the South.. I’ll just use my trusty Sportsman Blanket to make a Vestibule to sit under in the Rain or a Silnylon tarp.. Two things keep me from buying it… the Color is just to horrible for me to deal with, as is the trend of the Trade for the past few years.. and of course the Price, at Campmor of over $300.00. No Thank You…a fool an his money are soon parted and I am no fool… I’d buy it for say $120.00 but no more than that…

  5. How might this handle cascade mountain/olympic mountains western washington…rain rain

  6. Thanks for the review Philip! I have this tent, and have been using it for over a year in New England (bought it last Spring). I really vastly prefer this design over the standard design of most other backpacking tents. The open front door with gear closets on the sides makes it a great tent for two people, and a great tent to hang out in. And set-up is amazingly easy. I’ve set this tent up in just a few minutes in freezing rain and sleet with no trouble, and with a dry interior.

    You’re right about the tendency towards condensation issues, though. I would like SD to re-design the gear closets so that they can be easily retracted to improve air flow (but, I think SD may be starting to move in this direction with its “Nightwatch” series).

    However, in really humid and wet areas, that may not be enough either. The lower 3rd of the tent (where the single wall rubs against our sleeping bags) would still be prone to condensation problems. This could be alleviated if the tent were larger, like the Flash 3 FL, or you’re using the Lightning 2 FL as a single person tent (so that your sleeping bag does not touch the sides at all).

    But, all in all, I am very happy with my purchase. The pros outweigh the cons for me. I wouldn’t bring this tent to the Pacific Northwest and expect to be too thrilled with it, though. For now, I’m going to keep my eye on SD’s new designs, and maybe upgrade in a few years if/when they figure out how to beat the condensation issues. But overall, I love SD’s designs, and this tent works for us in New England.

  7. I took this tent on the JMT and absolutely loved it. Held up great in a drier climate with occasional storms. Fast easy set up with a spacious interior, what’s not to love. I took it on the AT last year with a March start and was quickly overwhelmed with condensation issues and miserable. It structurally held up fabulously in an intense storm with around 30-40 mph winds that shifted during the night. I was very glad I brought the extra stakes and staked out all of the guy lines, that was the key to it staying rock solid, as I heard surrounding thru-hikers dealing with collapsed tents and tarps in the middle of the night. Wrong choice of tent for a March start, should have gone with a double walled one or a hammock on the AT. It is still my tent of choice for the JMT, PCT and other Sierra trails.

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