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A quick look at tents under $250.

These tents were provided by the manufacturer for review, some were returned as requested, others not. I didn't know which ones would be heading back, so that allowed the reviews to remain unbiased. Real world weight is how the tent will be used out there in the real world, with stakes for the rain fly ect. When staked out, I expect a modern free standing tent to be taut enough to open the door with one hand. I'm 5'6" so head height is rarely an issue for me.

Name Cost Minimum Weight Real World Weight Floor Area Head Height
MSR Elixir 2 $250 4lb 10oz 5lb 13oz 29 Square Feet 40"
Big Agnes Lone Spring 2 $230 4lb 7oz 4lb 15oz 34 Square Feet 42"
Mountain Hardware Optic 2.5 $240 5lb 13oz 6lb 3oz 37 Square Feet 48"
Kelty TN2 $250 4lbs 4lbs 9oz 27.5 Square Feet 42"
Sierra Designs Lightning 2 $260 3lbs 14oz 4lbs 5oz 29.9 Square Feet 42.5"

The MSR Elixir 2 sans rain fly.

Out of the package the MSR Elixir 2 comes with a footprint. These are great to have and increase the lifespan of the tent, and are often an expensive addition. The rain fly uses quick release clips, which in combination with its color coding make it easy to attach. Setting up this tent is straightforward, no need to look at the instructions. While the mosquito netting is high quality and not prone to snagging or running, there isn't very much of it. This is not the tent for views of the stars or hot nights. The size is ok, although the roof is rather low it is suitable for two people in real world use, and the two doors add to that. The Elixir 2 is not rigid enough to open and close the door zippers with one hand, a second is needed to support the tent. While it's nice that a footprint was included, I just don't understand why two critical guy lines were not. The rain fly does not vent without these two guy lines that are not included. On the whole the Elixir 2 looks and feels a bit dated, these days we expect more mosquito netting for better visibility and ventilation.

Big Agnes Lone Spring 2

The Lone Spring 2 is the cheapest tent in the review at $230. Setup is easy with symmetrical poles needing to alignment, and the tent is structurally sound enough to open the door with one hand. Unfortunately there is only one door, which is bad news if you're sleeping by the door and your partner needs the restroom in the middle of the night. The rain fly vents well, with nice little built in poles to keep the vents open, a nice touch. Guy lines are included, a nice touch for bad weather. One unusual feature is that the rain fly has mosquito netting over the vents, making it possible to go light (3lb 5oz), leaving the tent body behind yet still having some bug protection provided you own the footprint for the tent too. The Lone Spring 2 looks better on paper than I found it in real life. The single door is a big hindrance, and while it has more views and breath ability than the Elixir 2, it's still behind others in this regard - you're not seeing a whole lot while lying down. It also feels smaller than its size specifications would indicate.

Mountain Hardware Optic 2.5

It's great to see that tent design is still evolving. The Optic 2.5 is a unique design, large enough for two people and a dog or lots of gear storage, thanks to extra long length. Instead of a door on each side, a large side door is adjoined by another at the head of the tent. Both are large and make access a breeze, especially for car camping pads that don't like to fold through smaller doors. Setup is easy with symmetrical poles, no color coding needed. Generous amounts of mosquito netting make it a joy for fair weather camping, allowing for great views. The doors can be opened with one hand, and of the traditional style designs this one is the best to get in and out of during the rain, because the fly is tall enough to avoid brushing against. The rain fly is easy to secure and comes with extra guy lines, making this tent worry free in nasty weather. The fly also rolls back and secures, cover the top of the tent be allowing ventilation and viewing out the doors, ready for quick deployment when bad weather rolls in. An extra gear pouch sits high in the tent, allowing for illumination of the tent with a headlamp. While only slightly larger in floorspace, this tent has the best headroom by far - two people can function during a storm with no comfort issues, while the same can't be said for all "two person" tents. Overall one of the most well thought out designs in this price category, the Optic 2.5 is also the heaviest by a significant margin, pushing it over my limit for a backpacking tent.

Kelty TN2

In most regards Kelty's TN2 swings above its budget price segment. It uses Jake's Feet for pole anchors and real clips instead of those annoying little circle and stick dongle things for holding doors open. Setup is typically straightforward, although it is asymmetrical and color coded, it's still possible to get things backwards and slow down pitching the tent. It may be the slowest to setup if a mistake is made, yet it's also the lightest tent tested, with decent headroom, illustrating the compromises designers make. The fly is well designed, color coded for attachment and with small viewing windows to see what's happening in bad weather. Venting is aided by two vents over the doors, held open with wire built into the fly, which can be closed if wind picks up.  Like the Optic 2.5 the fly can roll up half way and be secured for quick access if it starts to rain. Over use this is a feature that became a favorite on both tents. The quantity of mosquito netting is superb, making it a fantastic tent for clear nights of sky gazing. Quantity may be great, but the quality of the netting is sub-par, an issue this tent shares with Sierra Designs Lightning 2. With the TN2 the issue is emphasized by the rectangular, velcro sealed pouch provided as a tent bag. While it's nice that this pouch fits well into a backpack, the low quality netting is prone to snagging on the velcro and creating runs and tears. As a final plus, the TN2 comes with guy lines and again unusual at this price point, a decent set of stakes. Overall this is my favorite tent, although it's a bit too snug for two and a dog.

Sierra Designs Lightning 2

Just a touch over our price cap and the most unique design in this test, the Lightning 2 utalizes a double and single wall hybrid design that is easy to get in and out of during rain. Initially the setup can be a little confusing, but after a few times it is the fastest tent to setup and have the rain fly on, because the rain fly is permanently attached to the tent. There is only one door, but both users have access to it without climbing over each other. It's easy to open and close with one hand. Through extensive it's shown to have an interesting mix of trade-offs. In typical rainy conditions it's a fantastic tent, yet it can struggle when that rain is combined with high humidity (Norway). On hot nights it doesn't vent as well as others, although I never backpack anywhere hot enough for that to be an issue. Stargazing is impossible due to the permanent fly. It's the lightest tent in this pack, and is best suited for missions on the go; quick setup and take down are the highlights of this design. Sierra Designs provides high quality stakes, which is a nice touch, yet like the TN2 the quality of the mosquito netting leaves something to be desired, it runs and tears in normal use.