Skip to main content

Gear Review: 120+ Nights in a Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2

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.

5057099765_268f4c5679_bThe 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.

44805_151271874889529_140137676002949_472546_6028919_nInterior 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.

IMG_3392My 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.


Unknown said…
this is really helpful! thanks!

Popular posts from this blog

Patagonia Beckons

Today I begin what may become one of the most difficult tests of long term mental and physical endurance and strength I have ever undertaken: for most of its remaining 2500km through Patagonia, Ruta 40 is considered one of the most desolate highways in the world. Over half of the remaining road is gravel, sand, and dirt. The number of towns listed on a map once I pass Perito Moreno can be counted on one hand, and there are many stretches of hundreds of miles without provisions, fuel, or places to stay.

Gear Review: Sea to Summit Big River Dry Sacks

In the past couple months on the road I think I’ve spent more time riding my scooter through rain than I have in the dry – this is clearly reflected in the fact that as time has gone by I’ve invested more and more money in things to keep my stuff dry, since wet gear sucks. One of my favorite purchases for this trip is the pair of Sea to Summit Big River Dry Sacks I picked up just before leaving, in 13L and 20L sizes. They cost me around $20 each and are one of the best pieces of gear I’ve purchased in years – extremely durable, effective, and simple to use.

5 Things that Suck about Traveling Solo

I find it telling that it seems a majority of the interesting travel blogs I run across are written by solo travelers, most often women. I think there’s a reason why we write more than people who travel with friends or in groups and that it’s pretty self evident: it’s an outlet for our loneliness. In the last year and a half, the vast majority of my time has been spent away from home, alone. As I write this, it’s been over a month since I’ve conversed with anyone in my native language, and I can remember every single conversation in English for the month before that. The truth is, I don’t think I could have done this without the internet – without a blog to share my thoughts, without Facebook to see what my friends are up to, without the occasional e-mail to provide a façade of normalcy… without these things I’d likely have driven myself insane with my internal dialogue. Now, I grant, there’s a reason I travel alone and I do love it, but lately it seems all I run across in the blogosp