Camping means entirely different things to different people. Case in point: the first time my wife and I decided to go camping together and were comparing gear to see what we needed to bring. When it came time to talk tents we both ended up laughing hysterically at one another and our tent choices. I owned the smallest and lightest 2 person tent I could find, with just enough room for the two of us to be shoulder to shoulder, and no room for anything else in there with us. She had an 8 person tent, complete with its own doggie door, you know, just in case we decided to buy a dog and invite 6 friends along.
Over the next few years as we alternated between backpacking and car camping, we had to figure out each time which tent worked better. These friendly discussions came to be known as “Pitch My Tent” where we would each argue the merits of our own tent. But, as our family outgrew the 2 person tent and we tired of carrying around the Taj Mahal with all the valuable trunk space it required, we realized it was time for a compromise, although we had serious doubts we could both be pleased.
All our doubts disappeared when we found the Lightning XT-4 tent from Sierra Designs. Here was a tent that weighed within ounces of my old 2 person tent, yet was spacious enough for 4 full size adults and all the gear that comes along with them. I was relieved knowing we could fit the whole family in one tent while adding virtually no weight to what I was used to carrying. The wife loved that we had room for the family to grow, or for a guest or two in the meantime. In a record breaking moment, we both agreed simultaneously that this was the tent for us.
What makes the Lightning XT-4 so cool comes from what Sierra Designs calls their Tunnel Dome Architecture, which refers to the way the poles are configured and really maximizes the interior space of the tent while keeping the weight down. They utilize smart design features such as quick pitch swivel hubs, ball cap and Jake's foot connectors that combine to make setting up as easy as possible with poles that snap and click solidly into place. Plus there are no sleeves to feed those poles through, only a few more fast and simple clips to attach and you are ready to camp. Once set up, the shape of the tent reminds me of the end of a French bread roll, with one side where you cut it off being pretty much straight and flat, the other sides continue out from there and then taper off to the end. The curves are actually very subtle which makes the side walls almost vertical, giving it a very open feel and makes it easy to seat the maximum number of adults without having to cram everyone in the middle of the tent at the peak.
On our first outing with the Sierra Designs Lightning XT 4 tent, a swarm of relentless super bugs had the entire party holed up in tents most of the trip. Specifically ours, which quickly became the party tent. We easily fit two sleeping children and four adults while we played all sorts of made up card games and munched on salmon jerky till all hours of the night as we enjoyed the crisp, clean mountain air without all the bugs.
Contributing to the open feeling as much as the vertical walls, is the fact that almost the entire tent body is made of mesh. The only parts that aren’t are the floor and then a few inches up the side wall to make sure water doesn’t sneak in. At first I was worried about how strong the mesh would be, but on our very first outing it was put to the test. Our littlest camper ended up poking the mesh in various places with a plastic dinosaur’s tail, leaving a trail of little holes across the tent. Thankfully the fabric was plenty tough enough to withstand a plastic dinosaur attack and the fabric of the tent didn’t actually tear. Instead, the mesh had just spread a little making it appear to have been damaged and all that was needed to repair it was a couple seconds of rubbing the strands back in place and all was well again.
When covered with the rain cover, the tent is extra rugged and durable and easily withstood our unpredictable Washington weather. During the summer, we were very pleased with the way the mesh underneath allows it to breathe well during the day without becoming unbearably hot. If there ever was a 0% chance of rain or dew, you could leave the rain cover off and spend the night literally under the stars.
The Sierra Designs Lightning XT-4 seems to be in a category all by itself as a 3 season, 4 person ultra light backpacking tent that is also big enough for car camping and all the luxuries that come with it. When we were searching for tents, it quickly became clear that most companies don’t make a 4 person tent, and those that do assume that you are only carrying it a few feet before you pitch it and “ultra-light” never even crosses their minds.
Specs from the Sierra Designs website:
Trail Weight 6 lbs 13 oz
Packed Weight 7 lbs 6 oz
Packed Size 21" x 6"
Number of Doors 2
Interior Area 57.5 sq ft.
Vestibule Area 17.5 + 10 sq ft.
Peak Height 49"
Floor Material 0D Nylon, 3000mm
Body Material 20D Nylon
Fly Material 40D HT Nylon, 1500mm
Number of Poles 4 Hubbed
Poles DAC Featherlite NSL, 9.0/9.6mm
Features from the Sierra Designs website:
• Combines benefits of catenary and bathtub floors.
• Raised, taped, perimeter seam provides guaranteed waterproofness.
• Maintains a tighter pitch with a better wind line to prevent flapping.
• Another Sierra Designs first - the Tunnel Dome™ tent.
• Innovative architecture combines the strengths of both dome and tunnel tents in one unified design.
• Freestanding ease of setup and large doors from dome tents meets steep walls, covered doors, and spacious interiors of tunnel tents.
• Quick and easy setup in any weather condition.
• A small and super light pole connector that replace heavier and bulkier pole buckets.
• Allows brow poles to connect to the main poles instead.
MSRP: $449.00, which is cheaper, cleaner and much more memorable than a three night hotel stay and can be used for decades of family vacations.
Looks: Like a tent. A tent both the wife and I can agree on.
Overall: A roomy, rugged and ultra lightweight solution for all types of campers.
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