In the last two and a half years I’ve only used one tent, a fantastic 3lb compact two-person tent from Big Agnes called the Seedhouse SL2. It’s a little frightening to realize that during this time I’ve spent over 120 nights sleeping outdoors in it, and I’ve set it up and torn it down over a hundred times. I’m not a professional gear reviewer who spends a couple nights in different tents throughout the year, so I can’t compare it from personal experience to other tents – but I can say, from immense personal experience, that this tent will not let you down. Ever.
The Seedhouse SL2 is a very simple design with a single aluminum hub pole held together by some sort of magical kevlar or nylon. Toss it on the ground and maybe kick it once or twice and it self assembles rapidly with strong mechanical clicks, reminiscent of a Transformer – I’m not sure exactly why, but this action is always a pleasure to experience and makes the first few moments of setting up camp enjoyable.
With the hub pole out, it’s a matter of around three minutes to plug it into the footprint and floor then throw the fly over. The fly is voluminous enough and the floor clips have simple enough access that in intense rain you can set up the footprint, throw the fly over, and clip in the main floor without exposing the interior to the elements. Also nifty, there are all sorts of little reflective bits from the tie-downs to the corners of the tent, making it really easy to find your tent at night with a flashlight – when it’s pitch black outside it would be impossible otherwise.
One of my favorite things about a double-wall tent is that you have a ton of options for setup. If it’s warm, dry, and dark out you can leave off the fly entirely and sleep under the stars (although the mesh severely reflects any light from the inside, making it nearly impossible to shine a headlamp outside the tent to see bears before they eat you). If it’s warm but you want privacy (the fly is thick enough that with strategically placed lights there is minimal shadow play from the outside), staking down the fly wide gives you plenty of airflow and comfortable shade from the sun.
These tents are technically considered three-season, but I think that’s silly. Unless you are dealing with absolutely extreme sub-zero temperatures or sickening mountain blizzards, this tent will keep you warm well below freezing (I have been below zero and many times below freezing in it with proper insulation). If there is snow, you can stake down the fly such that the snow insulates and prevents wind from coming over. If it’s not windy, you can even go with the ultimate option of tying the fly down directly to the hub system and not staking out the vestibule, creating a closed system inside the tent that maintains maximum warmth (this can also be necessary if you are camping somewhere with intense blowing sand, else you will wake up with a dune inside your tent). I’ve measured over twenty degrees F of temperature difference in the morning between inside and outside with the tent set up like this – sometimes I’ve even dressed based on the temperature inside the tent and ended up freezing outside.
Tear-down is incredibly fast and simple as well – most importantly, the material dries out extremely fast in direct sunlight or low humidity warmth when exposed to air (drape over a tree or picnic table while packing the rest of your gear). Then again, perhaps more importantly, it’s tough and treated such that you can pack it away wet repeatedly without worrying about mildew and other nastiness as long as you eventually get it some air. On my trip up the Alaska Highway and back I had week long stretches of wet camps, a quick swipe of the inside with a towel after setup and a few minutes to dry and I was set every time. It never smells bad either.
It’s very light when fully set up, making it easy to clean out. Every morning after tear-down, I remove all my gear and the fly, then simply pick up the fully assembled floor with the main flap unzipped and just shake it out. Sand, dirt, leaves, bugs, etc. all shake out quite easily. On the other hand, this lightness can be a problem in windy conditions - this year I made the mistake of clipping in the floor before reaching around to grab stakes in intensely windy weather… within seconds my tent was picked up over ten feet in the air and flung well past thirty feet towards the ocean, faster than I could sprint after it. For a sickening moment I though it was going to keep going out to sea and I was quite lucky that one corner caught on a picnic table long enough for me to grab it.
Thankfully it has numerous tie-down points and once it’s staked down properly it will hold steady in high winds with minimal flapping. It has enough internal strength that you can get by without fully staking it down in high winds if you throw a bunch of gear in the four corners as well – I’ve been known to do this when setting up in thunderstorms just to avoid the additional two minutes of exposure that staking requires. Sometimes in this situation the tent will shift a bit, with the windy side folding inward a few inches, but it’s not a big deal.
Interior room is sick for a tent that packs this small and light. There is more room than you could possibly fill for one person and all the gear you’d ever need, giving you the excellent (and preferable, IMO) option of storing your gear inside the tent with you. No worries about bugs, dew, rain, squirrels, skunks, or random creepy camp thieves – and nothing beats packing all your gear and putting on all your clothes and boots inside a dry tent before venturing out into inclement weather.
Being a typically solo adventurer, I don’t have much experience with a second person in my tent, but as long as you don’t mind cuddling there’s still plenty of room for two with all their gear – if you want a little less physical intimacy, you’ll be sleeping up against the wall of the tent and wake up with condensation all over your bag if it’s cool out.
My biggest problem with the tent for the first two years I had it was the bulkiness of the stuff sack that you fit everything in, mostly because the hub system was too big for it. Sadly, the simple solution of storing the hub poles separately outside a compression sack for the main tent did not occur to me for this entire time, perhaps exposing minor idiocy that may make you question this review. Regardless, once this solution was found I’ve been ecstatic about the simplicity of packing the main tent pieces in a compression or dry sack (for wet weather) then strapping the hub pole outside my pack – win, win.
After 120+ days of fairly intense wear and tear, it’s quite impressive how good the condition is on the tent. There are a few runs in the mesh from catching velcro and the like, but no actual rips. There is not a single tear or hole in the footprint or floor, none of the clips have bent or broke, and the hub system is only slightly less alacritous when tensioning than new. Just recently I’ve started to have problems with the zippers not running smooth, but inspection after getting home revealed this to be due to small grains of sand that have built up in the zipper – a simple enough thing to fix.
So, let’s review. It’s comfortable, warm or cold as needed, roomy enough to change easily and store tons of gear, simple to set up and take down, easy to get in and out of, doesn’t look like a flashy $300+ tent, handles anything but the most extreme condition, doesn’t fall apart or rip easily, and packs down really small and light – plus the price is really fantastic for a tent at this level. What’s to think about?
Well, there is that new Flycreek UL1 tent… If it’s anywhere near as good quality-wise I’d pick that one up in a heartbeat for the reduced weight and size, and I sorta wish my SL2 would fall apart so I could justify buying it. Ah well, until it does I’ll stick with my awesome Seedhouse SL2 – and you should consider either.