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MSR FreeLite 2 Tent Review

The MSR FreeLite 2 is a two-person, double-wall tent that has a trail weight of 41 ounces. Considered a semi-freestanding tent, it has a single-pole system that is quick and easy to assemble. There are two doors with vestibules and the interior of the tent is surprisingly large with 48″ x 84″ of floor space. When packed, all of the components fit neatly in an innovative stuff sack that fits well inside or outside of a pack.

Specs at a Glance

  • People: 2
  • Doors: 2
  • Trail weight: 41 oz (not including stakes)
    • Pole – 11.5 oz
    • Rain Fly – 15 oz
    • Tent body – 14.5 oz
  • Total packaged weight: 48 oz
  • Minimum number of stakes required:  4 (10 MSR Needle stakes, included at 0.2 oz each)
  • Actual floor dimensions – 48″ x 84″
  • Peak height: 41″
  • Vestibules – 24″ at their widest
  • Pockets: 1 (large, at the end)
  • Waterproofing – factory seam-sealed, 1200mm X-Treme Shield coating on rainfly and floor
  • Materials – Easton Syclone Poles (aerospace composite materials), rainfly and floor – 15D nylon ripstop, Micromesh canopy

Key Features

The MSR FreeLite 2 is amply sized for a two-person backpacking tent and a good tent for backpacking with a partner. Along those lines, it has all of the features that my wife and I, for example, look for in a shared backpacking tent.

  • Easy setup, especially the rainfly
  • Two side entries covered by vestibules
  • Room for two air mattresses to lay side by side
  • Durable but lightweight
  • Easy to break into two equal parts to split the carrying weight
The MSR FreeLite 2 has a weather-resistant dome shape

FreeLite 2 Setup

The MSR FreeLite 2 is an easy tent to set up.  It has a single pole system and that is inserted into five receiver grommets. The poles slide into the grommets easily and they have a beveled edge that holds them in place. However, the pole ends do have a tendency to slip out of the grommets when the tent is set up by one person, which can be annoying.  I have found that the best way to avoid this is to insert the pole into the single foot end grommet first, then move to the head end, and insert the two “Y” ends of the pole into those grommets. But set up by two people is a breeze.

A top cross-pole helps to create near-vertical sidewalls in the inner tent

With the pole inserted into all five grommets, six plastic clips on the tent body attach to the pole to create a “semi-freestanding” tent body structure.  The meaning of “semi-freestanding” is immediately clear as the tent has enough structure to pick it up and move it around, but the foot end and sides are quite floppy and need to be manually arranged and then staked out to establish the true footprint. The rainfly on this tent is quite simple to put on and the guy out points slip over the pole ends used to erect the inner tent.

The FreeLite 2 tent requires a minimum of 4 stakes to set up, with 6 additional guy-out points for extra stability in high wind situations.  The tents MSR needle stakes (included) which have a top hook that’s good for holding down cord or webbing straps and a square stake body. While staking the tent and the rainfly together on the same stake works well, you can also use a separate stake on the rainfly to get more venting. When staking the vestibule, pay attention to the zippered side that corresponds to the roll-up loop on the outside of the tent. You can easily stake each side of the vestibule, but if you stake the wrong side, you will not be able to roll it up.

Side doors and vestibules

The FreeLite 2 has two large D-shaped mesh doors, that make it easy to get in and out of the tent. However, two hands are required to unzip the doors however because the middle of the tent side isn’t secured to the ground and is somewhat floppy.

You can roll back half of each vestibule for ventilation but still store gear under cover in the other half.

The side vestibules are large enough to store backpacks or muddy boots under without blocking door access. Rolling back one half of the vestibule makes it possible to have a nice covered storage area while still encouraging airflow. The vestibule doors have center zips with protective rain flaps to prevent leaking and velcro tabs so you can unzip the vestibule, but still keep the doors shut to encourage some airflow when it is raining.

FreeLite 2 interior

The FreeLite 2 floor is not tapered but 48″ wide at both the head and foot ends of the tent, providing enough space for two 20″ inflatable sleeping pads with room to spare. There is still room along the sides and at the ends to store shoes and other personal effects you want with you in the tent. When used solo, the tent feels really large, and I find that I have to “chase” my pillow or quilt if they slip off my sleeping pad when I roll around at night.

The head and foot end of the FreeLite 2 are the same width

Durability

The MSR FreeLite 2 is constructed of 15D ripstop nylon with 10D micromesh screening.  To the touch, the tent material feels very lightweight and the material is thin. I’d recommend using a footprint with this tent to protect the bottom if you camp on abrasive surfaces like sand-and-earth tent pads or rocky surfaces.

The FreeLite 2 comes with Easton Syclone tent poles, which are lightweight carbon fiber composite poles designed to resist breaking. MSR introduced them across their tent line last year after several years of testing in their mountaineering tents. Switching from aluminum to composite tent poles was a pretty big gamble for the company and only time will tell if it was successful or not. The poles held up fine for me while testing the tent and I am hopeful they will last as long as aluminum or longer.

Large mesh doors make it easy to get in and out of the tent

Weight and Packability

At 41 oz, the FreeLite 2 tent is not the lightest double-wall two-person tent on the market, but it is quite spacious and comfortable. It is, however, more difficult to evenly split the weight between two people than other lightweight tents, like the Nemo Hornet 2P, as an example. This will also depend if you carry a footprint with the tent.

The tent is easy to carry in or attached to the outside of a backpack

I really like how the FreeLite 2 packs up into the main stuff sack.  The sack is a large open bag and you can fold the tent up quickly any way you want and then stuff it inside with no fuss.  The tent pole and stakes easily fit inside the main stuff sack as well, and the bag is sealed up with a fold-over internal flap and a cinch line that pulls it taut.  Finally, two webbed straps clip together and lock the bag tight and neat.  The bagged up tent can easily go on the inside or the outside of a pack. Of course, you can save a few ounces by ditching the stuff sacks, but I really like how this system works and I chose to use them on the trail.

Comparable Double-Wall Two Person Tents

Make / ModelWeightDoors/VestibulesPrice
NEMO Hornet 2P Elite 27 oz2$500
Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL 235 oz2$400
Big Agnes Fly Creek HV Platinum26 oz1$550
MSR Carbon Reflex 229 oz2$549
MSR FreeLite 241 oz2$490
Gossamer Gear The Two 31.4 oz2$389
Tarptent Motrail36 oz1$265
Tarptent Stratospire Li (2)27.7 oz2$689
NEMO Rocket 222 oz2$450
Zpacks Duplex Tent19 oz2$599

Recommendation

The MSR FreeLite 2 is a two-person, double-wall tent that is roomy, easy to set up, and packs up small.  The tent is “semi-freestanding” which makes it easier to set up, but it still requires staking out to secure.  The rainfly integrates nicely with the body of the tent, and with dual side entrances, there is enough room under each side vestibule for two people to store their gear for the night.  With an interior big enough for two regular-sized sleeping pads, an internal storage pocket, and internal gear loops, the MSR FreeLite 2 is a dome style tent that can comfortably accommodate two people.  While it’s on the expensive side, the MSR Freelite 2 is well made and strong enough to withstand the elements, although it is best used by two people, being on the large side for solo use.

About the author

Erik Birkeland is an avid hiker with a backpacking problem, that is, he just can’t seem to get enough. Living in Duluth, Minnesota with the Superior Hiking Trail just outside his backdoor, daily hikes and weekend treks fill his free time while he contemplates the next big adventure. He has completed numerous backpacking trips into such diverse landscapes as Escalante, the Wind River Range, the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, the BWCA, Isle Royale National Park, and even Iceland. While he hasn’t gone the farthest, fastest, nor the ultra-lightest; he does aspire to establish as many trekking BKTs (best known times) as possible - meeting the wilderness as it is, by simply getting out there.

Disclosure: MSR provided a tent for this review.

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