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Hands-on Gear Review
Zpacks Duplex 2 Review
Cons: Expensive, not freestanding, requires trekking poles unless additional poles are purchased, doesn’t include necessary stakes
Bottom line: The best combination of weather and bug protection, ample space for two people, and light weight makes it our Editors’ Choice winner.
This award winner is a tarp tent style shelter that includes sewn in bug protection and a waterproof bathtub floor at the lowest possible weight for a fully enclosed tent, only 21 ounces! The Duplex Ultralight 2 is our Editors' Choice Award winner because it combines the best attributes of an ultra light tent — low weight, great weather (and bug) protection, and ample space for two — better than any other tent we tested. Typical set up using two adjustable trekking poles, it is the ultimate backpacking or thru-hiking shelter. It is also possible to purchase straight tent poles, allowing one the versatility of not needing trekking poles or even upgrade it to a freestanding shelter. Its single wall and bathtub floor are made of Dyneema Composite Fiber (DCF), which is light weight, tear resistant and easily patched, naturally waterproof, and doesn't absorb water. Although you will need to pay a lot for this made-to-order shelter, we believe that compared to the competition, it easily shines as the best.
The Duplex Ultra Light is a revised and upgraded edition of the award-winning Zpacks Hexamid Twin tent that we have previously reviewed and loved. With its inclusive bug mesh and bathtub floor, this tent weighs a few ounces more than the super light Hexamid Twin, but we feel that the upgrades are worth the weight and that this is indeed a superior version. There are a few noticeable changes: the Duplex is taller, now has doors on each side, has taller doors, and has sewn in bug mesh and a waterproof DCF floor with eight-inch vertical sides.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Ultralight Tent Shelters of 2017
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Zpacks Duplex tent is a tarp style single wall tent that sets up as an A-frame with two adjustable trekking poles serving as support at each end. What sets it apart from other tarps is that it includes sewn in mesh bug netting as well as a highly durable DCF bathtub style floor, features that are expensive, weighty, and bulky add-ons for every other tarp we tested. Covering the door at each end of the open A-frame is a zippered mesh door and vestibule fly, so that not only can this tent be accessed from each side, but it also has four-sided wind and rain protection, something not available on your standard tarp. What also sets it apart from virtually every two-person tent we tested is the spaciousness of its interior.
It is easily wide enough for two people and their sleeping pads (something that sadly cannot be assumed in a two-person tent). It also has plenty of head room while sitting and at 90 inches long is comfortable for taller individuals. This tent is made of Dyneema Composite Fiber, affording many advantages over SilNylon tents, such as natural water proofing (no DWR coatings needed), it doesn't stretch or absorb water, and is highly durable and easily fixable with repair tape in the field should a rip occur. Compared to other high scoring products in our review, like the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV2 Platinum or the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp, this tent offers more space and more comprehensive weather protection.
Seeing how the Duplex (shown in blue below) stacks up against the competition, it is evident as to why this product won our Editors' Choice award.
You can see its overall score relative to competing products above, and in the following sections, we detail why it scored as well as it did, by describing its performance point by point in the key performance metrics we tested.
Ordering the Duplex is not super convenient; it is not available from major retailers and only directly from the small manufacturer in Florida. Often made to order, expect a week or two for delivery at the quickest, or four to six weeks during busy seasons. If you can get past the idea of waiting, you won't be disappointed with this Editors' Choice winning ultralight shelter. If you're in search of an ultralight tent immediately, consider the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV2 Platinum or the Nemo Hornet 2P.
Weather Resistance is a strong point of the Duplex, which protects better than most of the products in this review.
The main protective overhead sheet of fiber is made of a lightweight Dyneema Composite Fiber (DCF) that does an excellent job of sheltering one from a downpour. The DCF fiber is naturally waterproof, so unlike DWR coatings or laminates, the waterproofness cannot wear off. It also does not absorb any water so doesn't stretch and sag when it gets wet like nylon tent flies. The shape of the tarp is a cat cut, so the tips of the poles on each end of the eaves are higher than the middle. This design makes it easier to tension the tarp so that it is tight on all sides, thereby keeping it from flapping in the wind. The edges of the tent extend six inches out beyond the edges of the interior bathtub floor, giving an excellent protective eave on all sides that do well in a hard or driving downpour. We loved how the bathtub floor, also made of a stronger DCF material, is included with this tarp. The sides of this floor rise up eight inches above the ground — ideal height for protecting against splashback — and also offering peace of mind as a protective layer against water or mud in really heavy storms.
Like all A-frame pitched tarps, this one has openings on either side. However, unlike the Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Tarp Duo or Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp, the Duplex has vestibules on each side which protect from rain and wind, as well as offering added privacy. These vestibules are made of overlapping flaps of DCF that close using a unique hooking system, and don't have the added weight of a zipper, or the inherent ability to wear out and get stuck. When it is nice out, these flaps easily roll back affording great ventilation and views, as well as easy in and out access. As long as your stake out points are solid, this tent is stable in high winds, although in our experience it is still a bit drafty inside, much like a single wall pyramid tent where the fly doesn't reach the ground, such as the Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2. It also has two extra guy out points, with cord attached, in the middle of each side of the tarp for nights with heavy weather. Overall, we found this to be one of the best ultra light tents we tested for weather protection, giving it 8 out of 10 points.
Livability represents how comfortable a tent is to hang out in, and compared to the competition, we feel that the Duplex is the most livable tent in this review. Livability is a large reason why we chose this tent as our Editors' Choice winner.
Internal space in this tent is one of the things we immediately noticed, especially after spending nights in much smaller tents. It comfortably fits two people, something that cannot be said about some of the two-person tents we tested, like the Nemo Hornet 2P. It is also tall enough inside to sit up comfortably, without having a center pole that prevents one from effectively utilizing the area with the best headroom, as happens with the Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2.
The bug protection is a huge bonus, eliminating the need to purchase and add on some other sort of system, such as a detachable net or bivy sack. When many of the tents in this review advertise super low weight, minimal bulk, or low price, they are neglecting this critical feature. Anyone who backpacks in the summer knows how critical bug protection is, almost no matter where you are traveling. Add on this level of protection, and you will often find that your ultralight shelter is now bulkier, heavier, and potentially more expensive than you initially bargained for, pointing us back to how awesome it is that all this is included with the Duplex.
We also loved how the design of the overhanging eaves with horizontal bug net underneath allows proper ventilation and an optimal method for managing condensation. As the vapor builds up along the walls, it can run down and drip through the bug mesh to the outside of the tent, rather than simply running onto the floor. The combination of ventilating mesh on all sides almost makes it feel like a double wall tent.
Lastly, who can argue with double doors? The rainbow zipper on each door allows the whole wall to be opened up, so one doesn't need to crawl through a tiny opening to get in or out. With two people, each has their own door, making nighttime exits drama free, while also allowing for easier gear management within each vestibule. We also found that double doors mean double views, which is why most people are backpacking into the wilderness anyway!
Our Duplex weighed in at 1 lb. 5.2 oz., or 21.2 ounces. This includes the weight of the tent as well as the bug netting and bathtub floor, which are attached and cannot be detached, as well as the stuff sack. This weight also includes the eight guy out lines which come pre-cut and in place with line locks (one on each corner, one for each of the poles at the eaves of the tent, and two as extra guy outs in the middle for bad weather). What it does not include is the six stakes that are needed to set it up on a soft surface (minimum), or eight if you also use the two extra guy out points, as well as the weight of trekking poles or optional tent poles if you choose to purchase them.
As you can see from the above chart, this places it as the fourth lightest shelter in this review. However, the three tarps that are lighter have neither a floor nor bug protection. By comparison, the Half Moon Designs Haven Tarp weighs in at 19.4 ounces, but you will add an extra 15 ounces for a floor and bug netting. Likewise, the Black Diamond Beta LIght is a little bit heavier, but even still does not include the floor or bug netting. With these comparisons in mind, it is evident that the Duplex is extremely light considering that amount of built in protection.
Adaptability is the one metric where the Duplex suffers compared to the competition and received a low score, as evidenced by the table below:
The design is non-freestanding, meaning it needs to be staked and guyed out in at least six different directions in order to stay standing and weatherproof. Terrain choice for setup becomes a critical component of how well this tent performs, a drawback not found with the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV2 Platinum and other freestanding models that come with included poles. Ground surfaces like sand, snow, hard rock, or very shallow soil each present their own challenges, most of which can be overcome by using large rocks (if present), or by burying deadmen, in lieu of stabbing stakes into the ground. Additionally, this tarp can only be set up one way, and so is not as adaptable as a standard tarp like the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp, which can be implemented in a myriad of different patterns.
Another component of this tent is that it requires two adjustable trekking poles for setup. For most backpackers and thru-hikers this will not be a problem, but it limits the usage for activities like bike packing, car camping, or for river or lake trips. To combat this limitation Zpacks sells tent poles that perfectly fit the Duplex, at an additional cost of $58 and an addition of 5 ounces combined. One can also buy their Flex Tent Upgrade for $125, which includes the components and poles to make this tent completely free standing, with the weight cost of 10 more ounces.
Ease of Set-up
Setting up the Duplex is not as intuitive or as easily managed by one person as a freestanding tent that includes poles like the Nemo Hornet 2P or Big Agnes Fly Creek HV2 Platinum.
However, with a little practice, and given that there isn't a howling wind, this tent can be quickly assembled alone. The crux comes in perfectly locating the stake placements, which takes a few setups to get the hang of. It can also be frustrating to keep one trekking pole standing upright in place without letting it fall over as you run around and stake out the corners on the opposite side. We found that we often needed to adjust a stake or two after the tent was standing in order to ensure tautness all around. In short, setting up this tent takes a bit of practice, and one should actually read the instructions provided by Zpacks and conduct a few trial runs at home before staring down an impending thunderstorm out in the wild.
The Zpacks Duplex Ultra Light 2-person truly shines as a lightweight backpacking or thru-hiking shelter for all conditions. The need for trekking poles limits its use to these types of excursions unless one springs for the optional tent poles. It is ideal for climates and seasons that are buggy and rainy. Although it is designed for three-season use, we feel that this tent would suffice in a pinch during snowy seasons (but have not tested it in the snow). Unlike many two-person tents, this one is spacious enough for two people for long-term use without engendering space battles or resentments and is very spacious as a one-person palace.
The Duplex will cost you $599, making it one of the more expensive shelters in this review. Add in the cost of stakes, which are not included but are necessary, as well as the cost of the optional tent poles if you don't have adjustable trekking poles, and you have a pretty pricey purchase. For those looking to save money and weight, Zpacks sells the Duplex Tarp (without bug netting or a floor) for only $375. Despite the high cost, as our favorite ultralight tent that we tested and reviewed, we think it is worth the investment.
The Zpacks Duplex is our Editors' Choice Award winner because compared to the competition it includes all of the things we are looking for in an ultra light shelter: low weight, great weather protection, a comfortable living space, and included bug protection. While it is expensive, we feel that the quality of materials used and the made-to-order craftsmanship are worth the expense. Using your adjustable trekking poles for support, this tent is a fantastic option for long thru hikes or short overnight backpacking trips, and can be customized for other uses or to be completely freestanding. With lots of major advantages and only minimal drawbacks, this tent quickly endeared itself to all who used it.
How To Get It
All Zpacks equipment must be ordered directly from the manufacturer, where it is made to order. Allow a few weeks minimum for your product to arrive, and consider contacting Zpacks ahead of time for advice on waiting times. Order your tent and other Zpacks products at Zpacks.com.
— Andy Wellman
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