MSR’s new FreeLite tent has design similarities with one of our favorite backpacking models, the Hubba Hubba NX, but with significant weight savings. At 2 pounds 11 ounces on our scale including poles, stakes, and guylines, the FreeLite 2 is a serious contender in the category of ultralight 2-person tents. We recently took this tent on several fastpacking trips into the Canadian Rockies backcountry where rugged terrain and variable weather can put any gear to the test. Below we break down the FreeLite's weather protection, ventilation, interior space, durability, and more. To see how it stacks up to the competition, check out our comparison table and article on the best backpacking tents.
You expect compromises with a tent as lightweight as the MSR FreeLite 2—namely durability and weather resistance. In addressing the latter, we spent many nights in conditions that included heavy rain, hail, gusting winds, and night temperatures that dipped well below freezing. In all instances, the FreeLite surprised us with its toughness. We slept in summer sleeping bags the entire time and remained warm and comfortable. Every time either of us awoke, we would do a quick survey to ensure that our gear was still dry (it always was).
This impressive performance can be attributed to a complete and thoughtful design. While some tents at this weight trim away sections of the rainfly or utilize a single-wall construction, the FreeLite has a full coverage rainfly that reaches the ground along all sides. The fabrics for both the rainfly and tent floor are quite thin, but they are seam sealed and we can attest to their waterproofness. With the added footprint, we were comfortable pitching the tent in damp, mildly boggy conditions on a trip near Mount Assiniboine without worrying about water soaking through. The bathtub style flooring also helps prevent any moisture from trickling in over the sides.
The upper portion of the tent body is mostly mesh, which makes ventilation excellent in both warm and humid conditions. And when properly pegged (not too tight), the fly won’t touch the tent, reducing the chances of a wet sleeping bag or other gear that might lean against the sidewall. This is a notable improvement over the Big Agnes Fly Creek, which suffers from condensation in wet conditions due to a rainfly that sags into the tent body. To further increase airflow on mild weather nights, we recommend leaving the rainfly unzipped and just using the Velcro strips to hold it in place.
The FreeLite 2 has 29 square feet of floor space and feels roomy for a 2-person tent. Two things explain this: it is rectangular and not tapered at one end like some other ultralight models, and the center ridgepole pulls the walls out so that they are nearly vertical. At 7 feet long, you comfortably can fit one large sleeping pad with some room to spare for storage. The peak height is a little short at 36 inches (MSR’s Hubba Hubba NX is a roomier 39 inches), but sitting up and reading a map or going through the day’s photos is no issue. The two vestibules, each offering roughly 9 square feet, provide extra room for gear.
Two backpacking pads fit side by side easily in the tent, and two adults can sleep in reasonable comfort (particularly if they know each other well). Two large people would likely find the FreeLite 2—and probably most 2-person lightweight tents—tight for space. After a few nights, we decided that we could increase comfort by sleeping with our heads at opposite ends, enabled by the rectangular floor. The focus on interior comfort does mean the FreeLite weighs more than its ultralight competition—both the Big Agnes Fly Creek and Nemo Hornet are lighter at 2 pounds 5 ounces—but we like the balance of weight and space here.
One of the tent’s best features is the two large D-shaped doors that make it easy to enter and exit from either side. Crawling over a friend or partner in the middle of the night to leave the tent is never fun, but with the FreeLite 2 each person has their own door and gear storage. For comparison, all three versions of the Big Agnes Fly Creek have only one door. And two small pockets at each end of the FreeLite allow for quick and easy storage of items we prefer to have readily available, such as headlamps and bear spray.
In the tent world, lower weight usually means less durability. The MSR FreeLite 2 uses some very lightweight fabrics: the tent body is composed almost entirely of 10-denier mesh, and the floor and rainfly utilize a slightly thicker 15-denier polyurethane-coated nylon. For reference, the heavier MSR Hubba Hubba NX uses a 30-denier floor, which feels far more robust. As with most ultralight gear, it is necessary to treat this tent with care. We have not had issues with durability, although we have been fairly careful in selecting campsites and always use the optional 68-denier polyester footprint. The extra 7 ounces for the footprint (or other ground sheet of your choice) is worth it in the long run to protect the thin floor.
Set up and Take Down
Although marketed as freestanding, the MSR FreeLite 2 tent is more accurately described as “semi-freestanding” as it requires stakes at the corners of one end. It cannot, for example, be moved without unstaking and restaking. We consider this a worthwhile compromise in reducing weight and think that most weight-saving backpackers will agree—we just wish the tent wasn’t described as freestanding for the sake of clarity.
Setting up the FreeLite 2 is extremely simple, even by a single person, which is nice when tasks are shared (we typically have one person making dinner while the other sets up camp). The pole design is made up of two poles that connect in the middle: one long 3-armed hubbed pole that runs the spine of the tent and forms a “Y” with the split at one end, and a cross pole that is inserted into grommets above each of the doors. This ridgepole keeps the tent’s ceiling taut and the walls vertical. The fly goes on quite easily, and shares the same poles and stake out points. The entire set up takes only a few minutes, which is great if weather is moving in. Take down is just as easy, and the tent stores into the included stuff bag.
What We Like
- Rectangular floor, roomy interior, and full coverage rainfly at under 3 pounds.
- 2 doors and 2 vestibules for easy access and plenty of storage.
- Great ventilation, particularly if the vestibule is left partially open.
What We Don’t
- Not truly freestanding.
- As with all UL gear, durability is compromised to obtain the weight.
- We prefer a stuff sack with compression straps to reduce the size when packing.
- Despite the $440 price tag, the tent isn’t as light as some of the competition.
|MSR FreeLite 2||$440||2 lbs. 7 oz.||18 x 6 in.||36 in.||29 sq. ft.||2|
|Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2||$450||2 lbs. 12 oz.||17.5 x 5.5 in.||40 in.||29 sq. ft.||2|
|Nemo Hornet 2P||$370||2 lbs. 0 oz.||19 x 5 in.||40 in.||28 sq. ft.||2|
|Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2||$390||1 lb. 15 oz.||19 x 4 in.||39 in.||28 sq. ft.||1|
|MSR Hubba Hubba NX||$400||3 lbs. 7 oz.||18 x 6 in.||39 in.||29 sq. ft.||2|
For the sake of comparison, we will use the FreeLite’s full packaged weight of 3 pounds, which includes everything that comes from the manufacturer. And stacked up against the packaged weight of others in its class and price range, the MSR is at the heavy end (see our complete tent weight comparison chart). The 2 pound 5 ounce Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 is significantly lighter, but we don’t like the single door and vestibule, and find the interior space less agreeable. The $370 Nemo Hornet 2 (see the in-depth review) is cheaper and does have 2 doors, but remains compromised inside. And neither can stack up to the FreeLite’s quality of materials and construction.
Instead, we think the $450 Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 is the most formidable competitor. The FreeLite and Copper Spur both aim to balance interior space and a 2-door design with premium, superlight materials. And it’s this kind of competitor that exposes a weakness in the FreeLite. For only 5 more ounces, the Copper Spur is freestanding, has nearly vertical walls, and 4 inches more interior height. As an all-around tent, we prefer the Copper Spur, but the low-slung design of the FreeLite does redeem itself as the more formidable option in windy and harsh conditions.
Within its own brand, the FreeLite is sandwiched in-between two other intriguing options: the MSR Hubba Hubba NX ($400) and Carbon Reflex 2 ($500). Stacked up against the popular Hubba Hubba NX, the FreeLite is significantly lighter by 13 ounces but has a far less durable floor fabric. As with the Copper Spur above, we prefer the convenience of the freestanding Hubba Hubba NX (see our in-depth review) but the extra pound may be sacrilege to weight-focused backpackers.
The 2-pound 3-ounce weight is an eye-catcher on the MSR Carbon Reflex 2, but it comes with notable sacrifices. For one, the tent is completely non-freestanding, so all corners need to be staked out. Also, the carbon fiber poles aren’t our favorite—they’re lighter but require extra care to keep from breaking. We think only true gram counters should spend up for the Carbon Reflex. In the end, the FreeLite accomplishes much of what it’s supposed to do: bridge the gap between the hardcore Carbon Reflex and roomy Hubba Hubba NX. If MSR is somehow able to bring its weight closer to 2.5 pounds, we think it’d be even more of a standout.
If you’re thinking about buying gear that we’ve reviewed on Switchback Travel, you can help support us in the process. Just click on any of the seller links above, and if you make a purchase, we receive a small percentage of the transaction. The cost of the product is the same to you but this helps us continue to test and write about outdoor gear. Thanks and we appreciate your support!
Depending on the seller, most products ship free in the United States on orders of $50 or more. International shipping availability and rates vary by seller. The pricing information on this page is updated hourly but we are not responsible for inaccuracies.