A while back, the team at Eureka Camping Tents was kind enough to ask me if I wanted to review a tent for them.
For about 3 years, I’d been dutifully using the same REI Half Dome 2 tent. REI claims it’s their most popular backpacking tent – and for good reason. It’s durable, it’s an easy-to-set-up freestanding model, and it’s very spacious. When I went back to the REI web site to investigate, it looks like they’ve made some improvements to the model since I bought mine – mainly in the ventilation and aluminum poles, but it’s still very heavy – especially if you’re going to be the only person sleeping in it. With the rainfly and ground cover packed, the whole thing weighs about 5 pounds, 8 ounces — yikes.
So, looking through the lightweight backpacking tents selection at Eureka, I wanted to try something completely different from what I’d been camping in. I wanted a one-person tent. I wanted a lighter model. And I wanted to try a non-freestanding tent … just because I like a challenge sometime. They sent me the Spitfire 1.
When I got the package, the first thing I noticed was the weight. Even in the shipping box, it was noticeably lighter than anything I’d carried before. The average packed weight, including the rainfly and poles, is only 2 pounds, 12 ounces on this guy. Once you’re over the shock of realizing this weight does actually include everything you need in your tent, you’ll then be surprised by the size of the packed trail-home:
The loosely-packed stuff sack measures about 25 inches long and 5 inches in diameter and has no compression cords. But, if you’re like me, you end up just rolling up your tent and stuffing it into your backpack, so that size doesn’t matter as much — the length of the two main poles, once collapsed, is about 21 and a half inches. The poles and anchors come in their own small nylon bags, so nothing gets lost.
Before I go on any trip with a new piece of gear, I like to test it out in my apartment – that way, you’re not stuck trying to read the instruction sheet by lamplight in the middle of the evening, when all you want to do is crawl inside a sleeping bag. Since this is not a free-standing tent, however, I was only able to get the tent body vaguely standing up on my hardwood floors – but I did get enough of the idea to figure out what to do in the field.
On my most recent backpacking trip, it was very easy to set the Spitfire up – even single-handedly. It’s really just a matter of clipping the two aluminum poles onto the tent body, then anchoring metal stakes through the front and rear of the tent. It’s not all that more difficult than setting up a freestanding tent, and it didn’t take very long, but I could see this being difficult in windy conditions.
Getting the fly attached was also pretty simple – just velcro-ing to the tent poles, then clipping into buckles on the tent itself and tightening up until the fabric was taut. In many ways, I actually found this easier than my Half Dome, which can require some minor feats of strength to keep everything in place. Once the fly is clipped in, you just have to anchor the two flaps on the side, one of which is your door. Here’s what mine looked like fully set up, with the door open on the right:
There’s only one small vent on the top, which made me a bit worried … but with the side flaps pulled properly away from the tent, the interior actually gets surprisingly good air-flow. In the Half Dome, which has much more prominent venting, I almost always wake up with a layer of condensation on the interior of the tent. In the Spitifire, I was bone dry, even with overnight lows hovering in the mid-40’s.
The interior of the tent is, as one would imagine, pretty small, but it is roomy enough for a sleeping bag and a few other essential items – even for this toss-and-turn side-sleeper. There’s one small interior gear pocket and – shockingly – enough headroom to sit up inside the tent – very important if you like reading a bit before bedtime. You won’t be able to take your pack into the tent with you, but you can squeeze it under one of the side flaps and feel slightly more secure.
The Spitfire was also extremely easy to take down in the morning, and very easy to repack into my backpack. Overall, I’d say this is an excellent light-weight tent for solo backpackers – and at $119, a highly-affordable option for anyone who’s even thinking of downsizing or going solo for the first time.
– Three season
– Non-freestanding design
– Weight: 2 pounds, 12 ounces
– Floor Size: 9′ x 3’6″
– Center Height: 3’4″
– 1 Door
– 1 Vent
– 1 Storage pocket
– Full panel mesh windows
– Manufacturer’s suggested retail price: $119
More information at Eureka.