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.
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.
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 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.
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 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″)
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.
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.
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.
- Roomy interior
- Ample side storage gets gear out of living space
- Bright interior
- Easy to set up
- Excellent guyline tensioners
- 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):
- 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
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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