Hands-on Gear Review

REI Half Dome 2 Review

Half Dome 2
Price:  $199 List | $139.29 at REI
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.
Editors' Rating:   
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Style:  Two Door
Measured Weight oz:  83
Measured Weight lb:  5 lb 3 oz
Manufacturer:   REI

Our Verdict

This is a well designed two-door tent that only costs $199. The Half Dome doesn't use the latest 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.


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Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Chris McNamara and Max Neale

Last Updated:
Monday
August 25, 2014

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Hands-On Review


Likes


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.

The 2013 Half Dome 2 pitched near Bishop  California. Note the single curved door zipper  one of several improvements on the 2010 version.
The 2013 Half Dome 2 pitched near Bishop, California. Note the single curved door zipper, one of several improvements on the 2010 version.

2013 Redesign


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.

5 people can fit inside the Half Dome 2... party tent! (the iPhone panorama feature is responsible for distorted faces)
5 people can fit inside the Half Dome 2... party tent! (the iPhone panorama feature is responsible for distorted faces)

Dislikes


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. 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.

The Half Dome 2 included terribly low quality stakes and guyline. We recommend purchasing different stakes and more line.
The Half Dome 2 included terribly low quality stakes and guyline. We recommend purchasing different stakes and more line.
Tent stakes : MSR Cyclone (35g) Toughstake (33g)  MSR Snowstake (22g)  DAC Y (14g)  Easton Nano Nail (9g)  DAC V (11g)  MSR Mini Groundhog (9g)  Hilleberg Tri-peg (8g)  Vargo 6.5" Titanium (8g)  MSR Carbon Core (5.5g)  Easton Full Metal Jacket (5.5g).
Tent stakes,: MSR Cyclone (35g),Toughstake (33g), MSR Snowstake (22g), DAC Y (14g), Easton Nano Nail (9g), DAC V (11g), MSR Mini Groundhog (9g), Hilleberg Tri-peg (8g), Vargo 6.5" Titanium (8g), MSR Carbon Core (5.5g), Easton Full Metal Jacket (5.5g).

Best Application


Mostly car camping and occasional backpacking.

Value


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.

Poor site selection combined with a rare high desert storm created a large puddle perfect for testing the Half Dome 2's waterproof floor. Near Smith Rock State Park  Oregon.
Poor site selection combined with a rare high desert storm created a large puddle perfect for testing the Half Dome 2's waterproof floor. Near Smith Rock State Park, Oregon.
Chris McNamara and Max Neale

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: August 25, 2014
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
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 (4.0)
Average Customer Rating:  
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 (4.5)

100% of 6 reviewers recommend it
 
Rating Distribution
7 Total Ratings
5 star: 43%  (3)
4 star: 57%  (4)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 0%  (0)

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   Aug 22, 2014 - 12:11pm
Skippy
I have used this tent several times; Crow Pass Trail in Alaska as well back country at Mammoth Cave. The tent is easy to setup and sturdy in wind. It will keep you dry and does a great job of ventilating air flow. I bought this tent for two reasons; comfort and protection from the elements. The only downside to this tent is the weight which I offset by going with a lighter sleeping pad and a lighter sleeping bag. For the money it cannot be beat. REI stands behind their products and their customer service is top notch.

In addition if you purchase the footprint you can go with the minimalist approach and shave off weight by only using the footprint, rainfly, poles, and pegs - no tent shell required.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
Person Icon

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   Aug 18, 2014 - 10:03pm
Porl · Mountain Biker · Cape Town . South Africa
Great piece of kit for the price.

Bought this tent for bicycle touring. Have used it in Malawi in the rainy season for 3 weeks. During some massive storms it was fine.

The pole design is great. Gives a nice square head space. The poles and connectors are all very well made. The top cross design is brilliant.

The design of the top pockets is great too. Accessible in both directions. You can put a headlamp in the pockets to provide a top light. It works!

Big enough for comfortable solo touring in wet weather.

There are lighter tents on the market but not for the price.

I don't have any problem with the pegs. They're very light and strong.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
Person Icon

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   Mar 20, 2014 - 12:30am
Camper · Camper · LA
really nice tent breathes very well , nice ventilation , used in yosemite CA strong winds thunder storm does excellent , nice vestibule , also used in Lake arrow head also strong thunder almost mud outside with haile storm does extremely good , very light , compact , yes I would recommend this tent , really nice

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
Summit of Mescalito  Red Rock  NV

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   Jun 10, 2012 - 10:54pm
Alex Rogers · Climber · Sydney, Australia
I've only had the tent for a couple of months, but I'm very pleased with it. Wanted a lightweight tent I could take on my motorcycle for camping / climbing trips, and this is one of the smallest 4-season (Australian seasons…) tents you can buy for anything like the money. The first night I used it in the Blue Mountains we had storm-force winds (100kmph+) and I returned to the camp a little apprehensive, as I hadn't guyed the tent at all, simply staking it with the 4 flimsy pegs provided. It was still there, bowed over in the horrendous wind, but still standing. I staked it out with some extra pegs and retired for the night with some trepidation - you could hear the gusts coming over the mountain like a freight train - and the tent would bend and bow, sometimes almost touching my face - and then spring back into shape. It held up well all night - and I'm now very confident in its abilities.

I'm 193cm (6'4") so I got the Long version, and fit very well - its a really comfortable tent for one large person, all camping & climbing gear inside, and space in the vestibules for wet gear, boots etc. Would be a bit snug for 2 men, but I could happily bring a kid or my wife in comfort. For its price it is an amazing bit of kit and I recommend it to those looking for reasonably light weight, small packed size and high performance on a budget.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
Climber

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   Feb 25, 2011 - 09:12pm
giegs · Climber · Tardistan
One of the best car camping tents I've used. I've seen several dozen of these tents go through a volunteer program and they all stand up to serious abuse exceptionally well. If you take care of it and don't use it every day there's no reason it shouldn't last for years. The fabric is some of the most durable on the mid-range market and the overall construction is solid. I'm partial to the older models without the spreader bar but despite the design change they're still comparable.

The most common issues are sun-weakened fabric and broken zippers. Easily avoided. The only real downsides are that they're heavy as all getout and the tub floor isn't as high as I like.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
Climber

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
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   Feb 25, 2011 - 03:46pm
caughtinside · Climber · Davis, CA
I've had this tent since 2004. It is a good tent. I like having doors on both sides so that each sleeper has their own door, no crawling over anyone. It is cramped for two, big pimpin for one.

During a big wind at Josh a few years ago, we returned to camp to find my tent totally flattened. It was well staked, but the poles got crushed, totally bent. But, this is a REI product, so I returned it for a replacement.

Easy and fast for one person to set up.

EDIT: thanks to 72 up there, my tent is indeed the previous iteration (I think. It's a half dome something. I got the original in 2004 and the replacement in 2006 and they were the same tent. Very similar to the one shown here. Top pocket looks different, and my version does not have the 3rd pole crossing at the top.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.


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