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Stephenson’s Warmlite 2R Review


Four Season Tent

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Top Pick Award
Price:   $500 List
Pros:  Super light weight, very spacious interior, made in the USA, bomber wind protection, only requires 3 stakes, custom features and colors, pretty sweet price
Cons:  Questionable thin diameter pole durability, three stakes need to be bomber
Editors' Rating:     
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Manufacturer:   Stephenson's Warmlite

Overview

The Stephenson's Warmlite 2R is a strong, spacious, and exceptionally light non-freestanding tunnel tent that is still made in the USA in Gilford, NH. The tent uses high quality materials (though very thin diameter poles) and provides lots of space for a mere 3 lb. 4 oz. The 2R can handle fierce winds as long as its pitched solidly. This is where the Warmlite is a little unique, featuring only three tie-down points and no guy-out points (guy-out points are an optional addition) and therefore requires an extremely solid stake, such as a ski or buried ice axe, in order to achieve the very high lengthwise tension that's necessary to make the sidewalls drum tight if you expect to be in 50+ mph winds.

Nonetheless, due to its very fast setup, low weight and good performance in high wind, we recommend this tent for select fast and light winter applications, such as multi-day backpacking, ski touring, or adventure races. Our testers love the Warmlite 2R for multi-day backcountry ski tours and it won our Top Pick Award for such applications because of its low weight and impressive packed size. Despite its small size, it still provided a comfortable amount of interior space for the loftier sleeping bag and additional clothes often taken on such tours. While ski touring, we most commonly camped on snow and we rarely found it hard to tautly stake out the 2R using our skis or poles.

Stephenson Tents are only sold direct from Stephenson via their website warmlite.com. If the tent is not in stock, production may take 6-8 weeks in Warmlite's Gilford, New Hampshire shop. If you're in need of a four season tent now and do not have the time to wait, check out the Best Four Season Tent Review. If you're going light and fast, consider a floorless tent — our testers' favorite type of shelter for 99 percent of fast and light trips — found in our Ultralight Tent Review.

RELATED: Our complete review of four season tents

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Analysis and Hands-on Test Findings

Review by:
Ian Nicholson
Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Thursday
June 30, 2016
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The Warmlite 2R.

Performance Comparison


Ease of Setup


The Stephenson's Warmlite 2R uses a bomber non-freestanding tunnel design that pitches with two custom made per-curved poles that insert into full-length sleeves with a unique system of holding the poles in place. Unlike most tents, there is no mechanism or grommet to cinch the poles down once you insert them. Rather, you must push hard and slip the end of the pole into a pocket reinforced by webbing at the end of the sleeve. We found this design bomber, but did require a little bit of a learning curve, and remained slightly more challenging than most models. The poles in the 2R are pitched with only three stakes, (because there aren't any guylines, these three stakes must be bomber); we found this easy on snow when using skis or an ice axe, but found it occasionally challenging on firmer or rockier tent sites.

Weather Resistance


With very high tension applied to the tent lengthwise, it is possible to achieve a very taut pitch despite the fact that the tent only has three tie-out points. That's right, there are only three tie-out points! And all of them are at ground level. Therefore, it's imperative that each be BOMBER. Think multiple stakes in ground or skis and ice axes in snow. Then the tent is capable of handling very high winds; in fact, we know several people whose 2R tents have handled 50mph winds like a champion. We especially like that the poles go underneath the outer tent because it gives a very sheer, smooth look and might help the tent slice through wind even better. The full-length pole sleeves support the poles very well once inserted. With its' fairly low peak height, it is quite bomber when well-anchored; again, we found this was very easy in the snow.

However, if it's windy out, you must plan ahead or take the appropriate time to pile rocks in order to keep this tent bomber. It's worth noting that for $15, Stephenson will mid-point 'Wind Stabilizers', which would certainly make the Warmlite 2R even more bomber, but we aren't sure how many more $15 gets you.

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Three ultra compact, sub four pound tents embrace the high alpine sunshine. From left to right: Brooks Range Invasion, Stephenson's Warmlite 2R, and Mountain Hardwear Direkt2.

Livability


Like the Mountain Hardwear EV 2, the Warmlite 2R has an integrated vestibule (with a connected floor) in the front of the tent. The inside is extremely spacious considering how light the tent it. The floor area is a massive 42 sq. ft, but unfortunately, not all of that is floor space you can sit up in. The tent tapers a fair bit both in peak height and in width towards where most peoples' feet will be. So while there is plenty of room for your gear and the tent feels spacious, it's hard for two people to sit up and face each other. On the higher front end, one person should be able to sit straight up as long as they're not too tall.

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Overall, the Warmlite feels like it has less usable interior volume than the MSR Dragontail but far more than the comparable-in-weight Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2 or Black Diamond Firstlight, at least when lying down. The middle portion of the tent uses two walls, while each end is single wall; the middle portion helps reduce condensation and increase warmth. The standard door is a little small and in wintery conditions, partly due to its design, slightly more challenging than other models. For $15, Stephenson offers a larger door; we'd recommend it, unless you're out to save every ounce possible.

Durability


Overall, we think the 2R is a very long-lasting tent. One thing to note is the custom poles have very thin walls (.3mm), perhaps 30-40 percent thinner than the average pole used in the winter tents tested here (mostly .45mm-.55mm); they are susceptible to damage and require some care when handling and packing. Once inserted into their sleeves (which support the poles extremely well), they are pretty strong, but again you'll want to be careful when inserting and tensioning the poles while pitching the tent. The 30D silicon-coated ripstop nylon Stephenson's uses is above average for UV resistant and will hold its water-resistance for a long time.

At OutdoorGearLab, we often appreciate the advantages when buying products either made in the USA or another first world country rather than products sourced to a random factory in China. We typically find that the biggest difference is often in the build quality, overall craftsmanship, or other smaller, possibly less noticeable features. This is where we were slightly let down by the Warmlite 2R and thought the construction quality was sub-par compared to what we had expected. We were overall unimpressed with the attention to detail in the cutting of fabrics and their stitching; not what we were expecting from a made-in-USA tent. A handful of the seams weren't straight, several of what we would consider crucial seams were only single stitched, and there were places were we were surprised there was no hemming at all. See the photo below.

On the website, you can also choose from a host of custom features that increase strength and/or comfort.

Adaptability and Versatility


The Warmlite 2R has certain advantages (primarily being that it's light and packs down small) but it is not very versatile. It doesn't come with a bug mesh door, but does offer decent ventilation. It isn't that great when set up in rocky campsites or other places were it might be difficult to securely stake its' three anchor points out. We do think it you sprung for some of the extra features, like the larger door and side windows, the 2R would increase in versatility.
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Options
$499 2R Tent - R=Reflective liner for reduced condensation (Highly recommended)
$460 2X Tent - X=Without the reflective liner, ie single wall tent.

Options:
$44: Side Windows. Good for viewing and cooling in a nice summer breeze
$15: Large Door. Easier entry into tent. Tent comes with one door.
$85: Endliner, which is rarely needed, except for in extreme conditions.
$15: Wind Stabilizers. Helpful if the wind is higher than 60mph.
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Sloppy cutting and stitching.


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The poles are very delicate. As you can see here the walls can be bent very easily and, now, the two sections do not line up well.

Weight/Packed Size


The body and poles weigh a mere 3 lb 4 oz, making this one of the lightest tents we tested. Its minimal weight couldn't get down quite as low as the Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2 or Black Diamond Firstlight (which featured a minimum weight of 2 lbs 13 oz), but its packed weight was very comparable and offered a lot more interior space than either of these tents. It is also one of the most packable tents; it could not compact down quite as small as the Direkt 2 or the Brooks Range Invasion, but it also offered more than 25% more floor space.

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Three of the smaller packed size options in our review pictured here in included stuff sacks, left to right: Mountain Hardwear Direkt2, Brooks Range Invasion, Stephenson's Warmlite 2R. Note the crampons for size comparison.

Features


Some of this tent's features are ingenious because they are so simple and effective. The rear vent pulls open and closed with a small cord, though the front door design leave considerable room for improvement.

Best Application


The Warmlite 2R is our favorite tent for backcountry ski touring or backpacking because of its above average amount of interior space and its tunnel design that's easy to make bomber when anchored with skis, shovels or poles (in snow). That said, we do think that overall, the Warmlite 2R is best for winter adventure races, ski touring, or summer alpine climbing. While it is indeed lightweight, it does not have any bug netting and there could be more ventilation, making it a poor option for low-elevation potentially humid thru-hiking or lightweight backpacking. If you're looking for a tent that does it all and you do not mind throwing down some money, check out the Editors' Choice award winning tent, the Hilleberg Jannu.

Value and the Bottom Line


At $500, this made-in-USA tent, that is quite customizable, is a fantastic deal. We do think most folks should spring a little extra cash for a bigger door and mid-point 'Wind Stabilizers". If you want a tent for more than just ski touring and mountaineering, you should consider adding on the side door. Even if you're dropping close to $600, the Warmlite 2R remains a respectable price compared to its competition. The only things we are down on are its minimal versatility and its potentially fragile poles, that we felt like we truly had to be careful with.

Warmlite has been around since the 1950s and is famous for its nudist images used in marketing material. We highly recommend requesting a free printed or PDF copy of their catalog. Laughter is guaranteed to occur while browsing its fine images and amusing text.
Ian Nicholson, Chris McNamara

OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: August 23, 2016
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
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 (4.0)
Average Customer Rating:   
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 (3.8)

75% of 4 reviewers recommend it
Rating Distribution
6 Total Ratings
5 star: 33%  (2)
4 star: 33%  (2)
3 star: 17%  (1)
2 star: 17%  (1)
1 star: 0%  (0)
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   Aug 23, 2016 - 01:45pm
Bryan Pressnall · Skier · Pinecrest
I have owned a couple of Warmlite tents 2R and 3R

This tent is light weight, but quite roomy. Claimed tent weight does not include stakes, which you must purchase separately. Winds broke the pole and ripped the tent on the 2R. The company blamed me for not setting it up properly, said it wasn't tightened down enough They would not accept credit card payment for a replacement pole, so I had to mail them a check and wait for it to clear before they sent me a replacement. This was a number of years ago, so hopefully that has changed. On the 3R tent, again, winds broke the pole in half (at midnight at 11000'). I made sure lines were tightened as tight as possible, and I used skis and poles for bomber tent stakes, but the gusty winds just kept pounding it and I had to sit up and hold the walls. Eventually even that didn't work and one of the poles snapped in half. Again, Stephenson blamed me for the failure. The tent is not a freestanding tent, which makes it somewhat difficult to dry out, as you can't move the tent around in the sun or turn it over to get it all dried out. It is double wall, so it would get condensation between the two walls, which was hard to dry out. Stephenson insisted that couldn't happen…uh OK. They are so arrogant that nothing could possibly be wrong with their tent- it's always the users fault. Perhaps I breath and sweat too much and I probably shouldn't use it when it's raining! All that being said, I did get some good use out of the tents, but probably wouldn't buy another one.
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   Mar 10, 2016 - 12:02am
FortMental · Climber · Albuquerque, NM
Why would you bury a perfectly useful ice axe as an anchor point? Fill a couple of stuff sacks with snow, and bury them deep…

…or is that "obsolete technology"?

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Mar 9, 2016 - 04:25pm
karl wilcox · Climber · Greely Hill, California
In my view, Outdoor Gear Lab got it wrong with this tent: frankly, after some 30 years of use, I have yet to find a better tent. First off, this is the perfect tent for long-distance ski tours in Norway or the Sierra; it is light, very warm, and able to withstand El Nino snow loads and strong winds with aplomb. It is also ideal for mountaineering trips as long as you do not need to pitch it on small platforms. We use ours for summer backpacking, as well-- no condensation ever and it is so light for the amount of space it offers.

On Denali it did very well, indeed. The 3r version holds 3 persons with room to spare, and while you can't cook in a Warmlite, you have room to move around in it and no worries in terms of breaking poles, interior ice, or a 15 pound wad of nylon to pack in the morning.

It is very easy to set up in all weathers… sure, you only have 3 anchor points, but that is a testimony to the design-- no more web of lines, tangles, and 15 snow stakes (skis, screws, deaden, shovels, etc.).

As for the poles: in 30 years I yet to break one. I do have a dent in a single oole section, but that was due to a falling chunk of ice! The poles are simply very good and they do not bend in use from wind or snow loads.

If you get the reflective interior walls this tent will get as warm as a snow cave! The tent actually dries out clothes at a rate of about 5x faster than any other tent I have used.

You can also purchase a 3rd pole for the 3 man, but we have never needed it. In my view, the 2 man Warmlite tent is perfect for 2 but no more than that; it is very nice for a solo tent, as well,

The 3r easily holds 3 adults.

Finally, this is the only tent I have ever owned that does not end up with sticky PU coatings or dry-flaking of the coatings… after 30 years, it still smells good and is completely waterproof.

As for the quality of the construction; the new ones I have seen are just fine. I could care less about how straight the seam might be, as long as it does not come apart. My Warmlite tent has never suffered any construction flaws. To be sure, I treat it carefully, but I certainly do not baby the thing.

Buy one.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Nov 12, 2015 - 01:16am
Cougar43 · Backpacker · Lexington NC
Well I have this tent and bought it way back 12 years ago before ultra light became the big thing. I bought it for an appalachian trail threw hike in which my wife and I had planned on using it unless it got to hot. back then it was only a pound and a half per person so the weight for protection was not bad at all for the two of us. Not long after I bought this tent my father died and I had to cancel my trip to take care of my mother. My wife and I however were able to use this tent many times threw fall and winter in North Carolina before he died. We even tryed it out in the snow. We had planned on setting out for the trail the first of march.
I will have to say though we loved this tent and still do. We have started back up now backpacking agian. I agree that the poles are a bit flimsy but so far I havent had truble with them yet. The best part about this tent is we love the room it gives for a tent of this weight. Most other tents this light just dont have enough room for 2 people. We also have plenty of room in the vestibule for our packs I love this as I dont like leaving my pack outside. If the condensation gets to be heavy well we just open the vents so we havent had much truble with that. You do need some really good tent stakes though I agree. you have to plant a good stake in the back then swing the tent around untilll you get a good hold with the front stakes. I agree a couple of guy lines from the sides would help but I havent really needed them so far.
Bottom line is if you are looking for a really good ultralight 4 seasons tent with lots of room at 3 lbs I would still recommend this tent. May be I have missed it but I still havent found a 3 lb or less 4 seasons tent out there with this much room and for us more room with less weight means a lot. My wife and I both hate being cramed up on top of each other with our sleeping bags rubbing the sides of the tent getting wet from condensation. We also hate lugging around 2 or 3 extra pounds for a 4 season tent when we dont have to. I will say though the big agnes Slater UL2 + looks good for this, however Im not sure if its a 4 season tent kinda dought it with the single pole over the top and down the back but that is proably what we will replace this tent with once it wears out.Its a tad bit lighter and much cheeper. I will also have to say winters in North Carolina are really not that bad. No blizzards here lol

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Sep 29, 2015 - 09:08pm
After using a 5R, I"m going to extrapolate a bit here about the 2R. For the money you'll spend, you can do better. The aluminum poles used in these tent systems were definitely the wrong material for the job back in the 1960's, and why they still keep using it is beyond me. They are brittle and if you do not handle them with extreme care, you're going to be in trouble. And as the temperature falls, watch out.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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