This Thing Rules

I finally bought an ‘ultralight’ tent and it was worth every penny

At some point you need to graduate from that four-person monster.

This summer I decided I was done schlepping an 8 lb tent up a mountain. Those tents are great for car camping, but if you’re going backpacking you need something lighter. So during REI’s labor day sale I decided to go in on what many might consider a rather expensive tent: REI’s Quarter Dome SL 1.

I should clarify that this tent isn’t exactly a candidate in the “ultralight” category, but it’s pretty close for an average plebe like me. Real ultralight tents like the Zpacks Duplex ($599) cost quite a bit more. Like a lot of things (ahem, cameras), backpacking equipment looks heinously expensive to the uninitiated, but the SL 1 is actually very competitively priced for something in this weight range. It competes with tents in the $~350 range like the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL1 or the Nemo Dragonfly 1. Considering I got my SL 1 for a little more than $200 after tax, I was feeling pretty good when I was evaluating my loadout.

Input may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article. We only include products that have been independently selected by Input’s editorial team.

The REI Quarter Dome SL 1 weighs in at just over two pounds with all of its odds and ends. The footprint — a piece of plastic that goes under the tent to prevent debris from poking holes in the bottom, or “tub” — is sold separately and adds 4.6 ounces, but we’re still under three pounds. I’m telling you, when I put it and my sleeping bag into my hiking pack, I nearly cried. For once I wasn’t worried about dissociating on the last third of the trail from shoulder pain (now foot paint is my best friend!)

So light you can pick it up with one hand in your cluttered "office" / storage room.

Of course, in order to get down to this weight you have to forgo some niceties, like space. Those unfamiliar with true backpacking tents will look at the Quarter Dome SL 1 and think: That’s a coffin. And it is. But it’s a coffin that keeps bugs and critters away from you and the rain from soaking all your junk. In that capacity I am happy to report that it achieves extremely high marks. In fact, on my first trip with this tent it absolutely poured, and there were no other designated camp spots other than the mud pit you see below. I was dry in the morning, but the tent was almost comically dirty with mud splatters.

Blue: Where my partner slept. Green: Where I slept. We had no choice.

The instructions that are printed on a tag inside the bag are pretty general and leave a couple of things up to your instincts. The rain fly — yet another piece of plastic that goes over the top to block the rain — fits very snugly and has two eyelets that you must attach that I was unaware of. Long story short, I ended up pulling on the rain fly pretty hard against the frame, which I would describe as quite pokey, and it didn’t puncture or deform.

This durability extends to the rest of the tent as well. Why am I fixating on the durability? Well, if you get one of these tents you’ll realize immediately that the fabric is unbelievably thin, which it has to be to achieve this weight. So even though these tents feel as fragile as tissue paper, they’re actually not. You need to treat them with care (and ideally watch a YouTube video of someone putting one together) but they won’t fall apart.

Other than the momentary confusion with the rain fly, erecting the Quarter Dome SL 1 is extremely easy and super fast, especially if you have REI’s specially made footprint that snaps to the bottom of the tent. There are only three main legs to set, and the hooks on the tent are color coded so that you know just where to put them. Couldn’t be easier.

That said, I did find a couple of defects in the mesh of the tent. There are a couple of spots in the mesh that are jumbled up like the picture below illustrates, but I don’t think it impacts the performance of the tent, so I’m personally not going to sweat it. Would it be perfect in an ideal world? Yes. But there are like 10 other things I would worry about before this, so it’s fine.

This defect is about 1 cm in diameter.

I also picked up REI’s (apparently now discontinued?) Half Dome 1 Plus earlier this summer. It was a little cheaper than the Quarter Dome SL 1 and a little heavier, but it has so much more room. I couldn’t fit it and a bear can into my Osprey Kestrel 38, so I’m glad I have the SL 1, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous of all the shoulder and leg room my partner was enjoying while we were out.

So what’s my verdict on the Quarter Dome SL 1? Even though it is mighty small, its tiny size and weight allowed me to fit all the essentials into a 35L bag, and that, my friends, was a transformative experience. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I had a real emotional experience when I picked up my fully-packed bag, now several pounds lighter. Now I just have to find a way to make my 10 degree sleeping bag fit as well and then we’ll really be cooking with gas.