Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Spacious, lots of pockets, pole design is stable in moderately high winds, excellent value.
Cons: Heavy for backpacking, rain can hit inner tent when vestibule door is open, low quality stakes.
Best Uses: Mostly car camping and occasional backpacking.
This is a well designed two-door tent that only costs $189. The Half Dome doesn't use the lastest and greatest ultralight materials, and it teases us with low quality stakes and guyline, but though it may fall short in some areas, it emerges as a clear winner among all of the sub $200 tents we've tested. The Half Dome is reasonably spacious, highly weather resistant, and more pleasant to pitch and to spend time in than the other budget tents we've tested. Whether you're looking for your first tent to get started with camping and backpacking, or you're a seasoned outdoor veteran looking for a good value, the Half Dome 2 is our highest rated tent that costs less than $200. More importantly, it outperforms some tents that cost twice as much. For even more bang for your buck, check out our Best Buy Award winner the Half Dome 2 Plus which offers a higher space-to weight ratio.
Check out our complete Best Backpacking Tent Review to see how the Half Dome compares to all 23 tents we've tested.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Half Dome 2 is a well-designed, comfortable, strong, and affordable tent. It's an excellent shelter for people that mostly car camp and backpack occasionally, and its price tag does half the damage of similar or lower quality tents.
The tent's pole design is simple and strong. Three multi-width DAC Featherlite NSL poles connect with two burly plastic hubs. The 2010 model has steeper walls and a more tensioned body than all previous models. The 32 sq. ft. floor measures 84" x 52"; there's plenty of space for two people and their gear. The nylon and mesh body is sufficiently tensioned so that you can easily open each zipper with one hand. There's also a medium sized vestibule and two vents above each door.
The inside is very comfortable. An abundance of pockets make it too easy to bring your life into the tent at night. Two of them are designed to stuff the door inside of (which is easier and faster than rolling and fastening), and also provide an upright and secure place to store a 12oz. glass bottle, if you happen to be tent bound and in need of a beverage.
We are happy to report that the 2013 version of the Half Dome 2 makes several improvements over the 2010 version. The inner tent doors now open with one smooth D shaped zipper instead of the awkward two straight zippers that we fumbled with on the previous version. Each side of the tent now has an additional vent, which helps to combat condensation- another excellent improvement. The tent is now available in a green color that's stealthy and adheres to Leave No Trace Principles.
Our testers prefer dark green and grey tents for use in the backcountry because people and animals are less likely to see them. Being stealthy is particularly valuable when camping on the outskirts of urban areas, close to roads, or any place where you safety could be jeopardized if your tent were to be seen and someone were to investigate you and/or your expensive belongings. Thus, adding a green color option to the tent is a huge benefit and we highly recommend purchasing that color. Overall, we're very impressed with REI's commitment to addressing the Half Dome's weaknesses.
At 5 lb. 3 oz., the Half Dome 2 is one of the heaviest tents tested in our backpacking tent review. We believe it is best for people that primarily car camping and overnight backpack occasionally. If lightweight backpacking is a high priority and you can afford to spend slightly more we recommend considering the Tarptent Double Rainbow, which weighs half as much as the Half Dome 2 and has the comfort of two doors and two vestibules. However, for many people, where comfort is more important than low weight, the Half Dome 2's 5lb package won't be prohibitively heavy.
The Half Dome is a budget tent and, as is the case with all budget things, quality is sacrificed for cost savings. Although the design of the Half Dome is remarkably good for its price, the tent would benefit from higher quality fabrics, stakes, and guyline. The rain fly fabric is a low quality polyurethane coated polyester. Polyester is an ultra budget fly material that's generally heavier, not as strong, and not as durable as nylon. Similarly, polyurethane coatings are heavier and not as durable as silicone coatings. Our tests show that the materials similar to those found in the 2013 Half Dome 2 are highly susceptible to hydrolysis, the chemical breakdown of the waterproof coating, and to UV degradation. The real world implications for us campers is that it's important to store the tent dry and to avoid leaving it pitched in direct sunlight. (The same is true with all tents, but more so with the Half Dome.) The reduced durability of the Half Dome prevents us from recommending it for trips of long duration where repairs or replacement are difficult, such as on a long thru-hike, bike tour, or kayak trip in a remote area. It's also important that we frame this drawback within the broader context of REI and the company's policies; the Half Dome is backed by REI's unconditional lifetime guarantee. If the fabric or anything else fails you can return it. Therefore, for most people, we do not believe the tent's reduced durability (when compared to $300+ tents) will be a significant drawback.
The Half Dome includes very poor quality stakes that have low holding power, are relatively heavy, and hard to use (there's no hole for a loop of cord that makes removing them easier). They are just downright terrible. In fact they are so weak that one of our testers bent one with his bare hands and two of them bent when we pitched the 2013 version for the first time! We highly recommend purchasing better stakes. Consider the 6" Easton Nano Nail stakes, a good value, or for the ultimate lightweight get the Easton Full Metal Jacket stakes. See the photo below.
REI also fails to include enough guy line for every tieout point and the line they do include is very low quality. We suggest purchasing additional line so that you can pitch the tent properly. Bluewater 3mm Niteline is a good value.
Note that most budget tents, including the Kelty Salida and Marmot Limelight also come with low quality stakes and an insufficient amount of guyline. REI is not alone in this practice, but it would be nice if they took leadership and acknowledged one's desire to pitch a tent properly with the materials included at the time of purchase.
Mostly car camping and occasional backpacking.
At $189 retail this tent is an exceptionally good value. Truly one of the best deals ever. We plot tent scores and prices in a Price versus Value Chart that illustrates how much bang each tent delivers per dollar. If you want to save some weight, which would be better for backpacking, consider the Tarptent Double Rainbow, which weighs half as much as the Half Dome and costs around $275.
Other Versions and Accessories
The Half Dome 2 Plus offers an extended floor plan. It's 10 inches longer, 4 inches wider, and $10 more. It's 10 inches longer, 4 inches wider, and $30 more. We think this version provides even more value because its space-to-weight ratio is slightly higher. There's also a $25 Footprint and a fast-pitch option.
— Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: August 25, 2014
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