For my 2013 solo thru-hike of the AT I needed a lightweight, durable, easy to set up tent that would both keep me and my pack dry. Even though I was going solo, I’d long since discovered tents typically comfortably fit one person fewer than they claim (unless there is a blizzard, people are cozy, and they are desperately huddling together for warmth), so I was primarily looking at two person tents. I also wanted a free standing tent, getting a tent (free-standing or not) perfectly tensioned and staked out is not my strong suit, and given that constraint free-standing tents tend to keep me dryer. After looking into my options, I decided to go with the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 Tent:
- Trail weight: 1lb, 15 oz. Packed Weight: 2lb, 5 oz
- Packed Size: 4″x18.5″
- Head Height: 38″, Foot Height: 24″
- Vestibule Area: 7 sq. ft, Floor Area: 28 sq. ft
- MSR Price: $389.95
With a trail weight of just 1lb 13oz I was tempted to get the platinum version, but with an MSR price of $499.95 and a couple of reviews questioning its durability, it didn’t seem like it was worth $100 to save 2 oz. I also didn’t bother to get the 5oz, $60 UL2 footprint (ground cloth).
The Fly Creek UL2 ended up being my home throughout my 2000+ mile AT journey.
- Weight (5/5)– I stripped off the extra guy lines, used my own ultralight waterproof stuff sack for it, and I replaced it’s stakes with nine aftermarket titanium stakes, and it still weighed in at under 2 lbs. The only time I ever complained about the weight of the tent was after spending a night out in the rain with it. A wet tent is a heavy tent.
- Durability (5/5)– Even without the footprint, I didn’t have any trouble with the durability of the tent. The only time I felt guilty and concerned about what I was doing to my poor tent was when I put it up in scrubby areas where the ground seemed more like it had been cleared with a bushwhacker than a lawnmower. Things poked up into the tent, but despite my concerns, never poked through it.
- Ease of set up (4/5)– As long as you could stake the tent into the ground, it was quick and easy to set up. My only complaint was that even though it was advertised as freestanding, the foot of the tent really wasn’t, and needed to be staked out. Adding insult to injury, the fly relied on the same stakes and was hard to tension correctly on rocky terrain. Luckily, at least on the AT, I only ran into that challenge a few times. If you are planning on pitching it on tent platforms, bring some extra guy lines.
- Weather Protection (4/5)– There was a lot of rain in the 2013 hiking season and this tent kept me dry. Apart from the occasional issue with getting the foot staked out the way I wanted, the tent did a great job of keeping the rain out. The area under the vestibule, however, was likely to get wet when exiting or entering the tent, but even in driving rains, the area in the tent itself (and my sleeping bag) remained dry. Camping in grassy fields, moisture seemed to penetrate the floor of the tent overnight and make everything a bit damp (my sleeping pad and a partial groundcloth that I acquired along the way and placed inside the tent prevented that small amount of moisture from bothering me). In really soggy weather it is sometimes nice to have a tarp or vestibule that you can cook under and although I saw some people using their jetboils in the vestibules of their Fly Creek UL2s it looked comical at best and seemed like a really bad idea. The tent withstood high winds and freezing temperatures, and was correctly characterized as a three-season tent.
- Size and Comfort (5/5) – My pack, my zero degree sleeping bag, and I all fit easily in the UL2. It had enough space for me to sit and read in it, get changed in it, and get in and out of it in torrential downpours without getting my sleeping bag wet. It was very comfortable as a one person tent. A couple of nights when there was howling winds, freezing rain, and below freezing temperatures, I tested out my UL2 as a 2-person tent. As advertised, it is possible to squeeze two sleeping pads, two sleeping bags, and two adults into the tent, but I wouldn’t call it comfortable. With a second person it became much more challenging just to get in and out of the tent without jostling the other person, and in wet, windy conditions it was hard to get into and out of the tent without getting everything wet.
Overall I was extremely satisfied with the Fly Creek UL2 tent as a one person tent for thru-hiking the AT. Based on my observations, the Fly Creek UL2 was the most popular freestanding tent amongst solo thru-hikers. By the end, most thru-hikers that had opted for the UL1 had wished that they’d gotten the UL2. Other common sheltering options I saw and heard good things about from my fellow thru-hikers were: Hennessy Hammock’s and Tarptents (The Notch and the Contrail). For my 2014 Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike attempt I plan to bring the UL2 as my primary shelter and a piece of tyvek as my groundcloth.