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Hands-on Gear Review
Stephenson’s Warmlite 2R Review
Cons: Questionable thin diameter pole durability, three stakes need to be bomber
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
Analysis and Hands-on Test Findings
Check out the chart below to see where the Warmlite 2R ranked amongst the competition.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
$499 2R Tent - R=Reflective liner for reduced condensation (Highly recommended)
$460 2X Tent - X=Without the reflective liner, ie single wall tent.
$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.
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.
This 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.
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.
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
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