Price: $599 ($724 w/ Freestanding Flex Kit)
Weight: 1 lb. 3.4 oz. (tent with guylines and stuff sack); 1 lb. 5 oz. (with stakes and using trekking poles for support); 1 lb. 14.6 oz. (Freestanding Flex Kit with stakes)
Floor: 1.0 oz./sqyd (Dyneema)
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P
What we like: Incredibly light while still offering solid durability and wet-weather protection.
What we don't: Expensive and drafty in heavy winds.
See the Zpacks Duplex
Purpose-built for thru-hikers and other ounce-counting backpackers, the Zpacks Duplex is one of the lightest and most well-built tents on the market. To test its limits, we took the Duplex Flex—a fully freestanding upgrade to the base model—backpacking in early winter conditions in Vancouver’s North Shore Mountains and nearby Manning Park. It faced cold temperatures and heavy winds, and although fairly drafty, the tent confidently withstood harsh weather and rough handling with ease. Below we break down the Duplex’s overall performance. To see how it stacks up to the competition, see our articles on the best backpacking tents and best ultralight tents.
Table of Contents
- Weight and Packed Size
- Weather Protection
- Livability and Interior Space
- Set up and Take Down
- What We Like/What We Don't
- Comparison Table
- The Competition
Given Zpacks’ focus on minimalism, it’s no surprise that the Duplex tent is extremely light and packable. At 1 pound 5 ounces (with stakes and using two trekking poles for support) and 1 pound 14.6 ounces with stakes and the Freestanding Flex Kit (the version we tested here), it's one of the few two-person tents on the market to come in under 2 pounds. The Duplex Flex easily undercuts other ultralight, pole-supported models like the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 (minimum weight of 2 lbs. 3 oz.) and Tarptent Double Rainbow (2 lbs. 9.8 oz.) while comparing favorably in usable space. The Hyperlite Echo 2 weighs 1 pound 13 ounces (using trekking poles for support), while some of Big Agnes’ carbon options come in lighter, including the Fly Creek HV 2 Carbon (1 lb. 2 oz.) and Tiger Wall 2 Carbon (1 lb. 6 oz.). That said, both Big Agnes tents feature much thinner fabrics on the floor and rainfly, which greatly increases their fragility.
Packed size often correlates with weight, and the Duplex Flex packs down to about the size of a small sleeping bag (there was room to spare in its included 7 x 13-inch stuff sack). Even with the addition of tent poles, the entire set-up was easily stowed away: the tent body rolled neatly into its sack, and the carbon poles folded down to about 17 inches upright, which stuffed nicely inside my pack. All told, it was one of the easiest tents to carry that we've ever used.
Despite its thin fabric and hybrid single-wall construction, the Zpacks Duplex is remarkably weatherproof. On our first night using the tent, we faced early winter conditions with moderate winds and temperatures dropping well below freezing. We were forced to pitch the tent in about 5 inches of snow, but were impressed to find that it was still quite comfortable and handled the weather with ease. The tent didn’t noticeably rustle in the wind, the vestibules and corners didn’t flap around, and the tarp—which hangs about 4 to 5 inches over the bathtub floor—did an admirable job of protecting us from precipitation. I even purposefully left the stuff sack out overnight in the light rainfall (it’s made of the same Dyneema Composite Fabric as the tent itself) and everything inside the sack remained completely dry.
The Duplex did demonstrate some minor weaknesses, however, which were to be expected in these conditions. Namely, due to the thin materials and liberal amount of mesh along the base, it was quite breezy inside the tent throughout the night. We also experienced a bit of condensation build-up on the ceiling of the tent, but that wasn’t surprising given the below-zero (Celsius) temperatures. All things considered, we’d be comfortable using the Duplex for most trips in the spring, summer, and into fall, and we now consider it our top ultralight pick for fast-and-light 3-season backpacking missions. However, we wouldn’t want to use this tent in heavy winds, heavy precipitation, or cold Pacific Northwest winters, and we wouldn’t forego the stakes or Flex upgrade in non-ideal conditions (more on the tent's set-up below).
The Duplex's Dyneema Composite Fabric—commonly used in boat sails and praised for its legendary strength-to-weight ratio—is the real deal. The best way to convey Dyneema's strength is by highlighting the tent's performance on the first night of our trip, when we were forced to pitch it on a few inches of snow. I awoke the following morning to something sharp jabbing my hip and looked down to find that some of the snow had melted during the night, exposing a large, pointed stump underneath my sleeping pad. Surprisingly, the stump hadn’t penetrated the floor's thin fabric despite the fact that I had been lying on top of it and turning over for several hours. After many more limit-pushing outings, we’re happy to report that the tent and all of its pieces—including the ultra-tiny, thin metal rings that hold the tent poles at each corner—show no evidence of wear (bonus: the Duplex comes with spare seam tape, if needed).
The Duplex has no shortage of ventilation thanks to the liberal use of mesh throughout. Both of the doored sidewalls are made entirely of mesh, and there is a 6-inch ribbon of mesh across the top of the tubbed floor at each end. On humid or hot days, you can stretch the tarp away from the doors, allowing airflow through the entire tent, or you can guy it out for additional protection from the elements. All that said, despite the storm doors, the Duplex was noticeably drafty in the cooler, windy conditions we faced. While it’s a great option for summer trekking or thru-hikes, it’s definitely not meant to withstand extreme wind.
For an ultralight backpacking tent, the Duplex felt roomy. With 28 square feet of floor space (the floor dimensions are 90 x 45 in.), the Zpacks fit two winter sleeping pads side-by-side with room to spare. Importantly, we were able to sit upright without feeling cramped thanks to the tent’s generous 48-inch peak height. Given the impressive headroom and resulting interior volume, it was very comfortable to spend time inside the tent without getting claustrophobic. To be clear, this is no small feat for an ultralight tent. Compared to other models like the Tarptent Double Rainbow (40-in. head height), Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 (42 in.) and Nemo Hornet 2P (39 in.), the Duplex felt considerably more spacious. For those looking for even more room to move around, Zpacks makes a three-person version called the Triplex, although that tent only is offered in a trekking pole-supported design.
As mentioned above, we opted for the Duplex's Freestanding Flex Kit upgrade (an additional $125), which adds four carbon ion tent poles that make the system freestanding. These poles also lift the sidewalls outward, creating more interior space. Without the upgrade, the standard Duplex relies on trekking poles—you have to stake out all the corners and create an A-frame set-up with your poles. However, the tent was much more comfortable for two people with the Flex option, and we feel it’s definitely worth the weight and cost for the added headroom and structural stability.
For an ultralight tent, the Duplex offers a considerable amount of interior and exterior storage. To start, we really appreciated that the tent has two doors and vestibules, which eliminate the issue of awkwardly crawling over each other in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. While not exceptionally large by any means, the vestibules were totally adequate (20.75 inches in depth each) for accommodating two backpacking packs and our hiking boots. Inside the tent, there are two small (8 x 8-inch) drop-in mesh pockets at each end for smaller items like headlamps, maps, cell phones, or GPS devices.
The Duplex can be pitched as a freestanding tent with the Flex Kit or supported with two trekking poles and up to eight stakes. We opted to do it all by using the guylines to stake out the tent corners and vestibules, while also utilizing the Flex upgrade's poles and adding trekking poles (adjusted to 48 inches for optimal fit) in the center of each door, which added a significant amount of structural stiffness. Keep in mind that you can angle these higher or lower depending on how much headroom you prefer.
As with all tents, it’s always smart to practice setting up the Duplex before attempting it in the field (viewing the step-by-step video beforehand made things much easier on our first attempt). We found that securing each vestibule door to the guyline was the trickiest part, especially with one hand when entering or exiting the tent. Each vestibule door has a small ring at the bottom, and each guyline’s double-sided hook needs to be placed through this very intricately. But once we had the tent’s idiosyncrasies figured out, the Duplex became easy to pitch and take down, especially since there was no fussing with a footprint or separate rainfly.
Additional Capacities: Zpacks Plexamid, Altaplex, and Triplex
We tested the two-person Duplex, but Zpacks also makes one-person (Plexamid and Altaplex) and three-person (Triplex) versions. Unfortunately, the Flex upgrade only is available for the two-person model, and we prefer this freestanding set-up for its versatility over a stake-dependent tent. Otherwise, the tents all are strikingly similar. None of them come cheap—the Plexamid is priced at $549, the Altaplex (designed for a single larger/taller adult) is $585, and the Triplex is $699—but all models sport two doors and the signature Dyneema construction that make them so durable.
- At less than 2 pounds with the Flex Kit upgrade, the Zpacks Duplex is one of the lightest freestanding tents on the market.
- Despite its ultralight focus, the Dyneema fabric is extremely durable and offers solid weather protection.
- The tent has a surprisingly tall peak height compared to others in its weight class, providing a healthy amount of headroom.
What We Don’t
- Dyneema tents are expensive, and the Duplex is $599 on its own or $724 with the Flex Kit.
- Noticeably drafty in heavy winds due to the liberal use of mesh.
- Set up can be challenging at first, especially compared to other freestanding options.
|Zpacks Duplex||$599||1 lb. 3.4 oz.||1.0 oz./sqyd||28.1 sq. ft.||48 in.||2||1P, 2P, 3P|
|Hyperlite Echo 2||$695||1 lb. 13 oz.||1.3 oz/sqyd||24 sq. ft.||41 in.||2||2P|
|REI Co-op Flash Air 2||$299||2 lbs. 8 oz.||15D||28.7 sq. ft.||42 in.||2||1P, 2P|
|Big Agnes Fly Creek Carbon||$850||1 lb. 2 oz.||0.51 oz./sqyd||28 sq. ft.||40 in.||1||1P, 2P|
|Big Agnes Tiger Wall Carbon||$1,000||1 lb. 6 oz.||0.51 oz./sqyd||27 sq. ft.||39 in.||2||2P, 3P|
|Zpacks Free Duo||$699||1 lb. 14.1 oz.||1.0 oz./sqyd||26.3 sq. ft.||42 in.||2||2P|
In terms of competitors, Hyperlite Mountain Gear is another ultralight specialist, and their Echo 2 competes with the Duplex in a serious way. Both tents share a similar Dyneema build and trekking pole set-up, but the Hyperlite weighs significantly more at 1 pound 13 ounces. Plus, the Flex Kit upgrade makes the Zpacks freestanding for a total weight of 1 pound 14.6 ounces, and the price still is $96 less than Echo. On the flipside, the Hyperlite has a double-wall construction that offers more versatility and ventilation and has a slightly thicker floor. It’s a close call between two industry-leading Dyneema tents, but we give the slight nod to the Zpacks.
You might not think of REI as a leader in the ultralight category, but their trekking pole-supported Flash Air 2 is an impressive addition to the market. For a considerable $300 less than the Zpacks, the Flash Air boasts 28.7 square feet of floor area and a 42-inch peak height, weighs 1 pound 15 ounces using trekking poles for support (2 lbs. 8 oz. all in), and has a similar hybrid single-wall build that helps keep weight low while still providing good ventilation (you also get two roof vents to help with airflow). It also wins out in convenience with an easy setup process that doesn’t require much practice. In the end, the Zpacks is the more proven design for ULers, but the newer Flash Air is a strong alternative for much less money.
Big Agnes has been a leader in ultralight tents for years, and they recently released two very interesting Dyneema models: the Fly Creek HV Carbon and Tiger Wall Carbon. Starting with the Fly Creek, it’s impressively light at 1 pound 2 ounces but has a more compromised design with only one door and heavily tapered interior. It also uses an ultra-thin 0.51 oz./sqyd Dyneema material for the floor, leaving us with big concerns about long-term durability. And the real clincher for us is price: at $850, the Fly Creek is around $250 more than the Duplex (around $125 more if you include the Zpacks’ Flex Kit). Given these considerations, we think the Zpacks is the better overall value.
Next up is the aforementioned Tiger Wall Carbon. Unlike the Fly Creek, the Tiger Wall has two doors, which makes it a more livable option for two backpackers (weight increases to 1 lb. 6 oz.). However, the Tiger Wall also uses the same 0.51 oz./sqyd Dyneema floor material, which is noticeably thinner than the Duplex’s 1.0 oz./sqyd. The Zpacks is also roomier than the Big Agnes both in terms of floor area and peak height. And at $1,000, the Tiger Wall is one of the priciest tents on the market, even when stacked up against other leading UL Dyneema models. In the end, we’ll take the added durability and lower cost of the Duplex—not to mention its longstanding reputation among thru-hikers.
Zpacks’ own Free Duo is a final competitor to consider. Unlike the standard Duplex (without the Flex upgrade), the Free Duo is fully freestanding but remains competitively lightweight at 1 pound 14.1 ounces (without stakes). Both use the same Dyneema fabrics throughout, but the Free Duo’s H-Pole frame design is noticeably sturdier in high winds. However, the Duplex is roomier, taller, and costs only $25 more once you add in the freestanding upgrade that we did. A final decision will likely come down to how you prioritize interior space and ease of use, but we think the added work required to pitch the Duplex is worth the boost in livability.
Editor’s note: We usually provide a live price comparison table below our outdoor gear reviews, but the Duplex is sold exclusively by Zpacks. You can see the Duplex page here and purchase the optional Freestanding Flex Kit separately.