MSR Freelite 2 lightweight tent

MSR Freelite 2 lightweight tent

Compact tent ideal for backpacking.

MSR (Mountain Safety Research) has been around since the sixties, when it was just a simple newsletter promoting safety in the hills. Today the company creates innovative, good quality mountaineering and climbing gear.

MSR claim this is their lightest freestanding tent, and at 1.3kg, they’re probably not wrong. You could even shave some grammes off by leaving some tent pegs at home. The beauty of this tent – if you are confident that the weather will hold, is that you can even leave the fly behind, as the ingenious one piece aluminium pole works like an exoskeleton, holding up the (mainly mesh) inner. That mesh helps cut down on the weight too, and gives you a great view of the stars.

Freelite 2 specification

  • Weight: 1.3kg
  • One aluminium pole
  • 1200mm hydrostatic head
  • Two persons

MSR Freelite 2 tent no fly

Freelite 2 on test

On first inspection, the tent fabric all feels very flimsy – but it’s like this for a reason – to keep the weight down. Obsessive backpackers looking to save weight are happy to have a lightweight fly – if they take it at all. Pegging out the inner tent is straightforward using the robust standard MSR Needle stakes. They are a distinctive red anodised aluminium, so easy to spot when your striking camp, and tough enough to keep hold in most ground. They’re not indestructible though, and I did bend one when it hit an underground rock.

The one piece pole is also red and is all joined together by elastics so it almost constructs itself. The pole attaches to ground level grommets at either end of the inner, and arcs over the outside central line of the tent inner, suspending it via clips. Now, if the weather suited you, you could stop here. You have erected your tent in a matter of minutes. But as 80 per cent of the inner is made from bug-proof mesh – it’s all a bit transparent, and not that weatherproof. There are two teardrop shaped doors either side, and a toggle to stow them open. The flysheet is gossamer thin, and once you’ve figured out which way it goes on to the tent structure, it’s reasonably easy to attach. There are Velcro loops that secure it to the pole, and guy ropes at the sides and ends to secure it further. A small porch is created on either side as you peg out the rest of the fly, and these porches have a central two-way zip to allow access. There is only a toggle though for one side of the porch to be rolled and folded away. Not sure why, as it would have been easy to add one, and not contributed hardly anything to the weight.

MSR Freelite 2 tent with fly

The space inside seems perfect for one person and gear. It would have been a squeeze with two people and gear I feel. But I think most solo campers buy two person tents to use on their own. It was great for me, as I travel with the dog too, so the extra space was welcome. You could stash some gear in a porch but there isn’t a huge amount of space – certainly not for a large rucksack. I kept my cooking utensils in the porch, so I could find them easily. The porches unzip from the top and the bottom, so if you just wanted ventilation or to poke your head out to see what the weather was like, this was useful.

I laid my mat and sleeping bag out for the night and was grateful for the soft grass I had camped on. The groundsheet is thin and wouldn’t stand being pitched on stony ground. In fact, I was worried my dog might tear it with her claws, but it was fine. MSR sell a footprint (a sturdier separate groundsheet) to protect the tent sheet, but this would obviously add weight and bulk.

There is a mesh pocket at one end only, which I thought was mean. If you are using the tent for two, then you would often sleep top to toe, meaning you’d both want access to a pocket for your essentials like glasses, torch etc.

I am 5’10” and I was able to sit cross legged in the centre of the tent (where the highest point is), and my head just touched the inner. But in terms of the length of the tent, it is certainly long enough for someone taller than me. There was plenty of room, and I didn’t feel I was cramped.

One thing I struggled with a bit, were the doors. The zips stalled sometimes when opening/closing on a curve, and this was just a bit annoying, especially when getting up in the middle of the night when nature calls. The porch zips too, weren’t the easiest to negotiate, and one night after a heavy fall of rain, the porch had sagged, and held pockets of water, so my exit/entrance was a bit soggier than it should have been.

There is certainly no issue with condensation, as the inner tent is so well ventilated. The downside of this is that it can make for a cold night, especially if you are camping in autumn as I did. I wouldn’t recommend this tent for anything other than warm weather camping really. I was okay, as I had a decent mat and sleeping bag with me, but I could see Ruby was shivering a bit even with her mat and fleecy coat on.

One great feature is that the stuff sac has plenty of space – there is nothing worse than having to pack a tent up so tight in order to fit it into the sac. There are compression straps that ensure the sac squishes down to a manageable size.

If you are a solo hiker, but want a spacious lightweight tent to use in the spring and summer months, then I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Freelite 2. There’s also one person and three person options.

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