REI recently launched the newQuarter Dome SL 2 Tent, which is almost a pound lighter than their popular Quarter Dome 2 model. The SL is a good fit for ultralight backpackers on a budget, as it’s among the most affordable options in the double-wall, ultralight tent world. With a minimum trail weight of 2 lbs. 8 oz., the SL 2 is extremely lightweight, especially for the amount of interior space it provides. That weight-savings does come with a catch though, as the SL is only semi-freestanding. That means it needs to be fully staked down to be functional. We normally stake down our tents anyway for a taut pitch, but semi-freestanding tent designs do tend to fare worse in the wind and wet, nasty weather.
MIN TRAIL WEIGHT: 2 lb. 8 oz.
DIMENSIONS (L x W x H): 88 x 52/42 x 38 in. (wider at head, narrower at foot)
PACKED SIZE: 7 x 20 in.
WHAT WE LIKE
ULTRALIGHT – At 2 lb. 8 oz., the SL 2 is one of the lightest double-wall backpacking tents on the market. It has all the benefits of a double-wall tent but comes closer to the weight of a single-wall tent. One of the ways the SL saves weight is by using a 5-spoked pole to create a rigid frame for the front half of the tent with a single pole that runs end-to-end, while leaving the footbox area to be staked out for stability.
COMPACT – We love how easy it is to get the SL back into its large stuff sack. It packs down small enough to be slipped into an outer pocket on our backpacks on rainy days when we want to pack it up last. The tent, fly, poles, and stakes are easy to split between two people for packing as well.
2 DOORS – We almost always prefer tents that have more than one door when traveling as a pair. It’s much nicer (and time-saving) for each person to have easy access to a door where their gear and shoes can be stored in the vestibules, especially in inclement weather. Each side has its own wide door, with zippers that function well and open easily under tension. The double doors also make this small tent feel more spacious and allow hikers to catch cross-breezes and views from both sides.
COLOR CODING TO SIMPLIFY SETUP – The SL uses orange and black color-coding to make it easy to line each component up and get your tent pitched in minutes. Orange-tabbed grommets receive orange poles, which are then connected to orange clips. The color-coding makes the very first setup a no-brainer and helps you get the poles and fly turned the right direction quickly every time. The reflective orange stake loops and guylines also help minimize nighttime trip hazards and make the stakes easier to keep track of in your campsite too.
GREAT VENTILATION – The SL’s inner mesh acts as a protective barrier that prevents people inside from brushing up against a wet rainfly. Space all around the inner mesh tent allows for evaporation and air circulation even with the fly battened down. The large vent at the head of the SL improves airflow and helps control condensation inside the tent while keeping rain out. We also love having the option to pin the rainfly doors back halfway or all the way for expansive views and more breathability.
SMART POCKET ARRANGEMENT –There are 4 strategically-placed mesh pockets that will help you keep your tent interior organized. Small items are easy to locate in the pockets on each side near the doors (especially key in the dark), and the 2 pockets on the ceiling make it easy to use headlamps for overhead tent lighting.
MINIMALIST OPTION –During mosquito-free seasons, the SL can be stripped down and used without the interior mesh tent as a minimalist, single-wall shelter. In this setup, the tent fly, poles, and a footprint (sold separately) are used to create an ultralight shelter.
WHAT WE DON’T LIKE
DRIPPY ENTRY – During our testing we found the rainfly overhang above the doors to be inadequate to protect the inner tent from water dripping off the fly when the doors were unzipped. We wish the rainfly roof extended out a couple more inches on each side so we didn’t have to worry about our sleeping bags getting wet in the dripline during or after rainfall. Shaking the tent and draining any small pools on the roof before unzipping the doors is an easy solution to this issue, though it’s a minor inconvenience. The SL is still a great tent, but we do think this design flaw limits its function in wet weather.
MINIMAL HEADROOM – The SL provides a good amount of usable interior space for how lightweight and compact it is, but we found the headroom to be slightly less than average with a peak height of 38 inches. That being said, 1 and 2-person ultralight tents are expected to be somewhat tight on space since they’re trying to keep weight to a minimum. We recommend the SL for hikers around 6 feet tall or less, and we think it’s more comfortable as a solo shelter, though it can certainly accommodate two hikers if need be.
SEMI-FREESTANDING DESIGN – One of the ways that the SL keeps weight to a minimum is with a semi-freestanding design. That means that the foot of the tent only has one pole connection point and the corners need to be staked down for the tent to be functional. In general, this is a great design for saving weight and we always stake down our tent corners anyway, but semi-freestanding tents do tend to fare worse in windy/nasty weather and are also more difficult to keep a taut pitch.
2-STAKE VESTIBULES – We do love that the SL’s rainfly can be opened halfway or completely, but we found ourselves needing to replant tent stakes and make frequent adjustments to keep the fly taut with the 2-stake vestibules. It’s not a deal-breaker, but we generally prefer the simplicity of backpacking tents that only require one stake per vestibule.
Even with these downsides, we think the Quarter Dome SL 2 has a lot to offer and could be a great fit if you’re in the market for a new ultralight tent.
All things considered, the REI Co-op Quarter Dome SL 2 is one of the most affordable double-wall ultralight backpacking tents on the market. It’s exceptionally light for a double-wall tent, packs down small, and has a ton of useful features. It’s light enough to be carried by solo hikers who want more space than the smaller Quarter Dome SL 1 model offers, but large enough to accommodate two hikers, as long as you’re okay with tight quarters. Two wide doors make this tent very appealing, though its rainfly dripline issue (explained above) makes this tent a bit less desirable in wet conditions. Ultimately, we think the REI Co-op Quarter Dome SL 2 is a very good option for budget-conscious ultralight backpacking adventurers.
Check out our Best Backpacking Tents List to see how the Quarter Dome SL 2 stacks up against the competition. If you enjoyed this review, you’ll probably like the CleverHiker Gear Guide as well. Here are some popular resources to check out.
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