After my recent bike packing trip, I decided that I wanted to invest in a light weight backpacking tent. The one I used for bike packing was 5.2lbs, and I knew I could do better. It’s fortuitous that right before the trip I received an email from REI about their big Labor Day sale. Never wanting to pass up giving money to outdoor equipment stores, I did a bunch of research and decided to take the plunge on the REI Quarter Dome SL2. Thanks to the sale I managed to pay $244+tax, plus another $38 for the footprint.
It didn’t take a completely straight path though, as I first decided to try out the SL1 (1-person) version. However, when I got it home and set it up in the living room, I realized that it was far smaller than I was comfortable with, so I brought it back and got the SL2.
It’s worth noting that the SL series is different than the Quarter Dome series from a couple of years ago. Many of the YouTube videos I watched were reviewing the older model of tent, which is significantly different than the SL line. The older model was a free-standing tent, whereas the current SL is a semi-freestanding shelter. Additionally, the non-SL models were slightly bigger than the current editions, but also heavier. I’ll mention these changes as we move through the review, but the suffice it to say, make sure you’re reading the correct reviews for the tent you’re looking for.
Once I had procured the SL2 version of the tent I set it up and gave it a quick test on the living room floor. It seemed to be what I was looking for, so I told my wife, “Hey, let’s find a campsite for a night and try it out.” So on a Sunday evening before Labor Day my wife, myself, and our friend Mike, all gathered at a campsite at Afton State Park for a night under the stars.
We all brought our own tents, in order for me to properly test out the Quarter Dome SL2 as a solo use tent. I wanted to see how it felt with just one person, plus their gear. It was a little weird, and funny, to have my wife bringing her backpacking tent as well, but honestly, it was kinda nice that both of us were able to spread out a bit more. We’ve both slept in her Big Agnes Blacktail 2 tent before, and it’s fine, but even though it’s heavier, the floor space is pretty similar.
The REI Quarter Dome SL2 uses a set of poles that are all connected through a central spoke. You simply unfold all of the sticks and you’re ready to go. When assembled, the pole setup resembles a triangle with two supports for the head of the tent, and one at the foot. Everything is color coded, so figuring out which pole goes where is simple.
Because there are only three pole connection points, this tent is considered semi-freestanding. What that means is that the foot of the tent only has one pole supporting it. You then extend the corners on to the stakes for the full width at the foot of the tent. Although having four supported corners would have been nice, I understand why REI changed this design from the previous version, as it required another spoke and more pole, which increased the weight.
You have a choice of setting up two ways; either as a tent with (or without) the fly, or as a fly/footprint tarp setup. No matter which way you choose, the setup of the poles is the same, as they provide the primary support and structure to both the tent and the fly. There is a link to a gallery of photos of all the different setups at the end of this post.
Once you’ve constructed the poles, you insert the ends into the grommets, and simply hook the tent to the poles with the attached hooks. It’s dead simple, and within seconds, the tent takes shape. Once the tent is secured to the poles, staking out the foot of the tent completes the overall shape and structure. There are then multiple stake points that you can use to secure everything firmly to the ground. The stake bag also contains multiple guy lines for setting up the tent in windy conditions.
Attaching the fly involves putting it over the poles, securing with velcro, and then connecting the bottom to the appropriate buckles. These snap-in buckles also can be loosened or tightened to make sure your fly is secured appropriately. The fly needs to be staked out on the sides to complete the dual vestibules. Having two vestibules is another advantage of the SL2 vs. the SL1.
One thing to note, the footprint is sold separately, but I was happy I got it. Having the connection points already placed where they should be, made everything easier when staking the tent down. The footprint has cords for all the relevant staking points, so you can ensure that it doesn’t get bunched up under the tent.
Once the tent is set up, you’re ready to tuck in and start using it. Since this is a backpacking tent, weight is at a premium. That means that you’re not going to find a lot of bells and whistles on the interior. Despite this, there are quite a few nice touches provided.
There are four pockets in the mesh, two on the top of the tent, and two on each side at the head of the bathtub. The ones near the head of the bathtub are really big, and I was able to fit my phone and charger in them with no issue. It’s also a great place to store a headlamp for easy access at night.
There are also a couple of loops on the top of the mesh that you can use to hang things, such as a small light. However, this is a very lightweight tent, and the material is not meant to withstand a heavy load. I felt OK using my inflatable solar light, but I wouldn’t do anything much heavier than a few ounces.
That’s about it for the features inside the tent. Once you move to the outside there are dual doors and vestibules for gear/shoe storage. One complaint I have is how high the vestibule is off the ground. The gap at the bottom feels like it could let in a lot of water splash if it was raining hard. Of all the weight saving design choices, I wish this one had gone in favor of just a bit lower extension on the vestibule material. I haven’t had to use this in the rain, so it might not be a big deal, but it’s something to be aware of.
The overall size of the tent is perfect for one person. At 88 x 52/42 (head/foot) I had tons of space to spread out, and since I’m only 5’8” there was plenty of room for all my gear at the foot of the tent. Two people can fit as well, but at that point you’re dependent on the vestibule for gear storage. There is not really an option for storage inside, in addition to two people. However, a furry friend might work just fine, depending on their size.
One final feature to mention is a roof vent on the fly. Even just one vent helps to bring in more airflow to the interior. In the previous version of the tent, there was a zipper to allow access to open/close the vent from inside. However, that feature was removed in the SL change.
I’m not a tent expert, so take my opinions on quality as just my opinions. However, when comparing this tent to our other, heavier, backpacking tent (Big Agnes Blacktail 2), this tent feels like it compares favorably. The seams appear to be sealed nicely, and the overall feel of the material appears to be strong. When I first stretched out the fly, I needed to put some oomph into it to get it where I wanted it. However, it didn’t feel like I was ever in danger of ripping or tearing any part of it. Once I had it set up for an hour the fabric stretched a little bit and everything felt good.
The zippers are fine. Nothing notable about them; they seem to work as intended. I didn’t get any snags when getting in or out of the tent, however, you do need to use a little bit of caution at the top end of the door zipper. The zipper on the door angles downward slightly right when you get to the end of it on the top. When trying to unzip, you need to go slowly for a moment, and pull upwards to get over this curve. It’s hard to explain, but when you feel it, you’ll understand what I’m getting at. Not huge issue, just a little odd.
The stakes provided are really nice v-stakes, and have cords attached to them for easy removal. They all come with reflective material sown into the cords (all the cords on the entire tent actually), which makes them easy to see in a headlamp. A really nice little touch.
Finally, the poles are actually really nice. I appreciate the fact that the longest of the poles has a double cord running through it for added strength. Although light weight, I never felt like these poles were fragile, and in fact they felt stronger than most of the cheap car camping tent poles I’ve used in the past. In this area, REI did a great job.
Let’s start with what I like about this tent.
- The weight is awesome at just under 3lbs with the footprint.
- The material feels light, but durable (ripstop nylon).
- Setup is simple, despite needing stakes to fully stand it up.
- Just enough pockets to be useful.
- Dual doors and vestibules.
- Good poles and stakes.
Now, let’s take a look at my disappointments list.
- Vestibule is high off the ground.
- Not fully freestanding
- Door zipper is a little odd.
Buying this tent on sale for $244 makes it a no-brainer as a good deal. Even needing to purchase the footprint separately isn’t that bad (it was also on sale) when you consider that most backpacking tents in this class start over $400. However, let’s put price aside and ask if this tent is a good tent?
Based on setting it up a couple times, and using it for a trip, I would say yes, this is a good backpacking tent. The weight is nice, the material feels solid, and the setup and design isn’t overly complex. The fact that it isn’t fully freestanding doesn’t bother me, as I’m always going to be staking my tent down anyway. The staking pattern makes sense, and two small stakes to get the full shape isn’t really a big deal.
There are a couple small design choices that I don’t like, such as the door zipper shape and the vestibule height, but I can live with those. Although I wanted to set price aside, it’s really hard to not consider it. The competition for this tent are things like the Big Agnes Copper Spur ($450) and Nemo Dagger ($430). Even at full price for the Quarter Dome SL 2 ($350), it still packs a tremendous value.
Obviously, time will tell how this tent holds up. I’m hoping to come back in a year or so and see if this tent is still meeting all my expectations. From everything I’ve seen and experienced so far, I’m happy with this tent, and I think most casual backpackers will be too. It does what it’s advertised to do, and was a comfortable shelter for sleeping outside. Although the sale is done now, it’s worth adding this to your list of tents for consideration.
Now, it’s time for me to start thinking about more adventures to really put this tent through its paces.