A few years ago, armed with an REI gift card and some curiosity, I entered the world of hammock camping. I’d heard a few evangelists talk up the benefits – comfort, weight, flexibility – so I decided it give it a go. I bought a hammock, complete with a zip-up bug net and rainfly, and spent the entire summer hanging in the trees. I loved every minute of it! It was liberating to be able to setup anywhere, no more need for a flat spot of ground, and it was the best night’s sleep that I’d ever had outside!
However, hammocking wasn’t all puppies and ice cream. A typical terra firma tent gives you a space to have a friend join you, and a little room to spread out and play a game of cards while you escape the mosquitos for a minute.
So when Tentsile approached Modern Hiker for a review of the FLITE, their new 2-person, 7.4lb backpacking “tree tent,” I was more than intrigued – I was giddy! It seemed like a wonderful evolution of the hammock that I love. It promised to be all of the things I loved about my hammock, with the added benefits of a tent. The FLITE is suspended between three trees, with two hammock-like spots inside. So I snatched up the review unit and headed off to the Cascades, where I could reliably find trees poking out of the snow in February.
Unrolling the tent, it’s a well-constructed piece of gear, and from the outset I felt confident that it’d keep us safely above the ground. However, that was about the high point for this tent. Setup wasn’t necessarily the easiest. Tentsile’s larger Stingray uses a ratchet strap on each corner for easy setup and adjustment, whereas the FLITE requires that you tie out two corners and only has a ratchet on the last one to save weight. I expect I’d get better over time, but the first time setting this up was a lot of trial and error getting the right length and height on those tied-out corners over uneven ground.
And once it was setup, things got worse. The most awkward part of this tent is the rainfly. I thoroughly read through the instructions before I left, and watched Tentsile’s setup videos, and the proper way to attach the rainfly to the tent is by braiding an elastic strap over the support strap at each corner. Not only did it take a long time, it was an insecure attachment in even moderate wind, and felt very tacked-on. Additionally, there are no openings in the fly in order to climb in or out of the tent, and so you have to just wriggle under the fly to access it. There are a multitude of ways that the fly could have worked more gracefully and been more functional, and it was almost as if they forgot to even think about it until they’d already gone into production on the tent itself. But I digress…
Climbing into the tent (save for the awkward fly-wriggling) wasn’t a problem, but laying in it was. This tent is SHORT. Both my review partner and I are 5’10” and about 140lbs, and with our feet uncomfortably crammed into the foot box area of the tent, our heads pushed against the other wall. It also didn’t give the same lay as a hammock does, and I expect it’d be uncomfortable for both back- and side-sleepers. My hopes that this might be the 2-person hammock to solve my lonely evenings were dashed – we couldn’t wait to get out of it.
In addition to not having enough room for two average humans, there’s very little room in general – you might be able to rig up some small stuff in there, but the majority of your gear is going to live outside when you’re camping in the FLITE. I approached Tentsile for comment on the space inside and said that they sacrificed for weight savings, which is valid. However, at 7.4lbs it isn’t going to be the choice for an ultralight backpacker anyhow, and I think they’d have hit their mark better by adding enough weight to make it livable.
Finally, a well-known problem for outdoor sleepers is insulation. Sleeping bags only work when the loft is uncompressed, and you’ll lose heat from below because your bodyweight is compressing the bag. Ground-dwellers can get cold from sleeping on the ground, so many use insulated pads. Tree-dwellers, such as those in a hammock or the FLITE, have it worse. Convective heat loss from the open air beneath you is shiver-inducing at temps anywhere below about 70F, and not many mountain nights stay above that here in the PNW.
Hammockers have gotten creative – a very popular method basically splits the sleeping bag in 2 pieces, with the lower piece slung below the hammock (so as to not compress with your body weight) called an “underquilt,” and the upper piece laid over you like a blanket called the “top quilt.” It’s very effective, and even saves some weight usually. Additionally, there’s no need to use a pad, which is good because they’re awkward to position in a hammock.
The FLITE doesn’t have a good solution for that yet, although the company said that they’re working on it. Tentsile does have the $250 Trillium accessory for its larger Stingray and Vista tree tents that you can sling below and fill with insulation (clothes, for example), and a new product (coming soon) called the T-mini will be comparable for the FLITE. However, carrying an entire extra bottom for the tent isn’t very weight-friendly for backpacking. Additionally, because of its unique triangular shape, it doesn’t work with regular underquilts. The only solution that currently works for insulating your underside in the FLITE is bringing your sleeping pad into the tent, but traditional sleeping pads won’t fit well. The company is going to be releasing a product called the Skypad soon, which promises to be an insulation solution for the FLITE, but they haven’t provided me with any more details yet.
Overall, I can’t recommend the FLITE as a backpacking tent. It’s heavier than most 3-season tents (and even many 4-season tents), the setup is awkward, it majorly misses on some very obvious details, there’s no good insulation for it yet, and the company is light on details or release dates for their own insulation options. We had to revert to our backup shelter option when we took it out, there was just no way that we could sleep in the FLITE on our trip. It may make for a nice portable treehouse for some short kids on a warm day, but at $350, it seems a bit pricey for a toy.
- An earlier version of this review misspelled the name of the product as “Flight.” That has now been corrected to “FLITE.”
- Tentsile contacted Modern Hiker to say that the T-Mini launched this week, after the review had been submitted but before it was published. Check out the details on their website at the link above.