Nemo has come on very strong in the tent market with a number of quality offerings for backpackers. We took the 2-person version of their high-end Dagger for a series of summer trips into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington State and the famed West Coast Trail of British Columbia, and were very pleased with the well-balanced design. The Dagger’s combination of roominess, ease of use, and weight puts it squarely among our favorite tents. Below we break down the Dagger’s interior space and comfort, weight and packed size, durability, weather protection, and more. To see how it stacks up, see our article on the best backpacking tents.
To us, the Nemo Dagger 2P hits the sweet spot for interior space in a lightweight backpacking tent. All too often, one or both of our sleeping pads make their way up the sidewalls of a so-called two-person model, but not here. Two regular width mats fit side-by-side with room to spare, the symmetrical floor is expansive enough to accommodate a long sleeping bag, and the sidewalls are stretched to be nearly vertical. And while the tent peaks at 42 inches tall right in the center, the dual hubs at each end of the tent create an openness that makes it easy to sit upright almost anywhere without hitting the ceiling. The net result is a truly comfortable place for two backpackers to sleep for the night.
For comparison, we’ve also tested Nemo’s ultralight Hornet, which weighs considerably less but has a heavily tapered design. The walls of that tent have more of an inward slope, and without dual hubs, the Hornet tapers significantly toward the foot end of the tent. This type of design is fine for solo use or for two people in a pinch who really want one of the lightest set-ups available, but it’s almost bivy sack-like in nature. In most circumstances, we prefer the Dagger.
Part of what makes the comfortable interior of the Dagger so impressive is that Nemo kept it competitively lightweight. With a trail weight of 3 pounds 5 ounces, the tent isn’t a burden to carry. Among top backpacking models, MSR’s Hubba Hubba NX (3 pounds 7 ounces) and REI’s Quarter Dome (3 pounds 5 ounces) are a near match, while the more expensive and less durable Copper Spur HV undercuts the Dagger at 2 pounds 12 ounces. You can save quite a bit more weight with the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV (1 pound 15 ounces) and Nemo’s Hornet (2 pounds even), but the Dagger is much roomier for two backpackers and we think those models are best for solo trips.
The packed size of the Nemo Dagger is equally impressive—at 5 x 19 inches, it lands a little above average for the price and features. On our trip into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, the Dagger was bulkier than our superlight Big Agnes Fly Creek (4 x 19 inches), but we had no issues fitting it in a backpacking pack even without separating the poles from the main storage sack. Thick fabrics and bulky hub systems can increase packed size—REI’s 7 x 18.5-inch Quarter Dome 2 is one example—but Nemo has done a great job keeping things light and compact. If you do remove the tent poles, Nemo’s creative stuff sack can be compressed to two-thirds its normal length and secured via a drawcord closure.
In addition to interior space, durability often is compromised as tent manufacturers look to trim ounces. Thankfully, Nemo didn’t go overboard with the Dagger, hitting a nice mix of moderately thin denier fabrics that are resistant to tears and abrasion. The floor is high quality 30D nylon with a polyurethane coating, which is equal to the popular MSR Hubba Hubba NX and noticeably more substantial than the 20D floor on the new Big Agnes Copper Spur HV. Nemo opted for lighter weight 15D fabric on the mesh portions of the tent body and rainfly, which doesn’t raise any red flags as those areas are less prone to damage.
The Alpine Lakes Wilderness is known for its rocky, alpine terrain, and we set up camp directly on granite. Even without using a footprint on the sharp rock, the Dagger came away without any scuffs or rips (adding a footprint is smart idea, however, to extend the tent’s life). On a subsequent trip on the West Coast Trail, a mouse managed to eat its way through the tent wall looking for leftovers, but that’s hardly a knock against the fabric’s durability.
The Nemo Dagger’s sturdy structure, quality waterproof coating and seam sealing, and tall bathtub floor add up to a formidable 3-season tent. Two areas we were worried about were the raised ends of the rainfly, which arc upwards between the corners and leave only a section of single-wall fabric to fend off driving rain. But these concerns were unfounded—the tent easily survived the notoriously wet West Coast Trail, and the single-wall panels truly are waterproof. For reference, Nemo’s ultralight Hornet tent has a more aggressive design that exposes even more of the tent body at the head end, and we’ve experienced full evenings, nights, and mornings of steady rain and no ill effects. Finally, there are attachment loops for adding guylines for further protection in a serious storm.
The Dagger’s double-wall build and plenty of mesh makes it reasonably comfortable even on warm summer nights. That being said, the rainfly ventilation system isn’t our favorite. Unlike typical designs that have a deployable vent at the roof, the Dagger has vents at the very top of the zippered portion of each vestibule door. The upside is you can manage the system without leaving the tent (REI’s Quarter Dome also accomplishes this by adding a zippered access to the roof vent along the interior of the tent). But by deploying the vent, you trim away the upper few inches of the door, making it a little more difficult to get in and out. All things considered, it’s a small nitpick—and the system is completely functional—but the design does fall a little short in this regard.
As with Nemo’s ultralight Hornet tent, the Dagger has two doors and two vestibules. For a couple of backpackers, this is far more convenient than a single door and vestibule—no crawling over your tent mate in the middle of the night to go the bathroom. But unlike the Hornet, the Dagger’s vestibules are massive. You can easily lay a backpacking pack inside the fully protected space without it leaning up against either the rainfly or the tent body. The 23-square-foot space handily beats the Hubba Hubba NX (17.5 sq. ft.), Copper Spur HV (18 sq. ft.), and even the spacious vestibules on the updated REI Quarter Dome (21.5 sq. ft.). On the inside, pockets are a little sparse, but there are enough options along the roof and sides for storing small items like headlamps, phones, and maps.
Set up and Take Down
The Dagger’s fully freestanding build and symmetrical shape is a cinch to set up. It’s just a matter of staking out the corners, attaching the main poles to create the structure, adding the ridgepole, and connecting the rainfly. From start to finish, it’s a few short minutes for one person to accomplish, which is comparable to most mainstream backpacking models. The freestanding design also makes it really easy to get a taut pitch even on a granite slab—significantly easier than the non-freestanding Big Agnes Fly Creek HV that we also had along and tried at the same campsite. Taking down the Dagger is a matter of reversing the process and is just as simple.
What We Like
- The kind of backpacking tent we love: light, spacious, and easy to set up and take down.
- Interior comfort is fantastic—there’s sufficient room side-to-side and length-wise for two people to comfortably sleep.
- Large and functional vestibules.
What We Don’t
- Not our favorite ventilation design (but it still does the job).
- We would prefer that the rainfly completely covers the tent body at the ends, but it doesn’t appear to have much of a negative impact on weather protection.
- Backpackers focused solely on weight may be happier with Nemo’s Hornet instead.
|Nemo Dagger 2P||$400||3 lbs. 5 oz.||30D||2||31 sq. ft.||42 in.||19 x 5 in.|
|MSR Hubba Hubba NX||$400||3 lbs. 7 oz.||30D||2||29 sq. ft.||39 in.||18 x 6 in.|
|Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2||$450||2 lbs. 12 oz.||20D||2||29 sq. ft.||40 in.||19.5 x 4 in.|
|Nemo Hornet 2P||$370||2 lbs. 0 oz.||15D||2||28 sq. ft.||40 in.||19 x 5 in.|
|Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2||$390||1 lb. 15 oz.||20D||1||28 sq. ft.||39 in.||19 x 4 in.|
The Dagger’s premium construction and $400 price pits it against some of the best sellers in the backpacking tent market. The Big Agnes Fly Creek and Nemo’s own Hornet tent are a couple of popular 2-person designs that undercut the Dagger by over a pound and save you $10 to $30. But these tents compromise significantly in durability as well as interior and vestibule space, and in the case of the Fly Creek, only offer a single door. Thru-hikers, solo backpackers, or those that love a brag-worthy tent weight will be very happy with the Fly Creek and Hornet—or even a superlight option like the Zpacks Duplex Flex—but the Dagger offers far fewer compromises for only a little extra weight.
One of our current favorite backpacking tents is the MSR Hubba Hubba NX. This tent has been around for a few years and shares a similar blueprint as the Dagger: lightweight but reasonably tough fabrics, a high level of comfort, and a user-friendly freestanding design. The Dagger gets the edge in interior space with a longer footprint that’s better for tall backpackers—although we consider both pretty comfortable for their weight—and it has larger vestibules. But the Hubba Hubba’s rainfly has better coverage at the head and foot end of the tent and its rainfly vents are less obtrusive. In the end, they’re both great all-around tents that we highly recommend.
A final challenger to the Dagger is the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2. This tent was updated for 2017, and we found the new high-volume pole design delivers on its promises of improved livability with an open interior and nearly vertical walls. The two door and two vestibule build is similar to the Dagger, although again, the Nemo offers better overall interior space and vestibule square footage. The Dagger also has a slightly tougher floor fabric (30D vs. 20D), but weighs 9 more ounces. A decision between the two likely will come back to the tradeoff of weight and space, but both are excellent two-person options.