The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

Sea to Summit Specialist Duo Review

We can’t recommend this tent over any of the others in this review.
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Price:  $499 List | $349.26 at Backcountry
Pros:  Comes with poles and stakes included, relatively easy to setup
Cons:  Small and cramped, poor seam sewing, expensive, doesn’t adjust easily, tiny vestibules.
Manufacturer:   Sea to Summit
By Andy Wellman ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  May 31, 2018
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45
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#13 of 14
  • Livability - 30% 3
  • Weight - 25% 7
  • Weather Resistance - 25% 2
  • Adaptability - 10% 5
  • Ease of Set-Up - 10% 8

The Skinny

The Sea to Summit Specialist Duo is a single wall tent that follows the A-frame tarp tent-style design, although with an offset peak located more toward the head than the feet. It comes in one or two person sizes, although the Duo that we tested was a very tight squeeze for two people, uncomfortably small enough that we wouldn't enjoy it for two people very often. We were a bit surprised that despite using a tried and true design similar to those found on the Editors' Choice Zpacks Duplex, or our Top Pick for Solo Hikers Gossamer Gear's The One, it performed very poorly, due in large part to a plethora of design flaws. Combine all these issues with a relatively high price, and it is not a tent we would recommend investing your money in.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Sea to Summit Specialist Duo enticed us to test it with a very nice presentation and marketing language on its website, but unfortunately did not deliver in performance. There are some aspects of this tent that we liked, such as the fact that it included all the stakes and poles needed for set up, a rarity in the ultralight tent world. It also contains a small shammy for wiping off the condensation in the morning (cute), and set up instructions conveniently printed onto the outside of the stuff sack (practical and appreciated).

However, there are so many aspects of this tent that left us pondering, "what were they thinking?" that compared to pretty much every model we have ever tested (with the notable exception of the MSR Flylite), we can't possibly recommend this tent to anyone. The real kick in the pants is the price tag — $500?!?! We will detail some of the flaws below, but unless you are really intrigued by the idea of purchasing this tent, we suggest you click the back button on your browser now and save your time for researching higher quality tents.

What is Included, and What Isn't?
Purchase this tent, and you will receive the tent body, two custom length poles, six lightweight and reasonably sturdy stakes, a shammy for mopping up condensation before you move in the morning, and a stuff sack with setup instructions printed on the outside. There is no need to acquire anything else to use this tent.

Performance Comparison


Testing the Specialist Duo in the deserts of southwest Colorado  on a thankfully warm and pleasant evening.
Testing the Specialist Duo in the deserts of southwest Colorado, on a thankfully warm and pleasant evening.

Livability


For a two-person tent, this one sure is small. Not only is it really short, meaning tall people will have no room to spare or not enough room period, but it tapers oddly at both ends. When sleeping in it with two people, there was not enough room for our sleeping mats, which ended up layered one on top of the other, and even at the shoulders, we were bulging out of this closed up tent.

Both of these inflatable mattresses are of regular  20" width  but had to be stacked on top of each other to have any chance of fitting into the very narrow  tapered footbox of this tent.
Both of these inflatable mattresses are of regular, 20" width, but had to be stacked on top of each other to have any chance of fitting into the very narrow, tapered footbox of this tent.

The vestibules are super tiny, to the point of not being large enough for an overnight backpack and shoes. This tent could work if you are short and alone, but the exorbitant price tag would still be in the way of making this a solid purchase. Check out the most livable tents we have tested — the Zpacks Duplex or TarpTent MoTrail.

Waking up in the morning  you can see that our head is right up against the end of the shelter  and our feet are literally bulging through the extremely low clearance tarp at the bottom. Also note the vestibule size.
Waking up in the morning, you can see that our head is right up against the end of the shelter, and our feet are literally bulging through the extremely low clearance tarp at the bottom. Also note the vestibule size.

Weight


This tent weighs in at 1 lb. 12.4 ounces with everything included in the package. A functional trail weight (minus the sack and shammy) would be 1 lb. 11.6 oz., but you could also remove 4.8 oz. of weight if you use trekking poles to set it up instead of the included set. This is a pretty solid weight for two people, far less than our 1 lb. per person ultralight designation when considering shelter. The problem is, the tent has so many issues that the low weight isn't so important.

The contents of the Specialist Duo: Tent  shammy for mopping up the roof in the morning  six stakes  two poles  and a stuff sack with setup instructions printed on the outside.
The contents of the Specialist Duo: Tent, shammy for mopping up the roof in the morning, six stakes, two poles, and a stuff sack with setup instructions printed on the outside.

Weather Resistance


Let us begin by saying you better hope you aren't caught in a heavy rainstorm in this tent. It is a single walled tent that is made of Pertex Quantum fabric on the roof, whereas the vestibules and floor are made of SilNylon. We aren't sure what went into the decision to use Pertex, but we found that it stretches and sags considerably when wet. A bigger issue is there are no overhanging eaves to this tent, so water runs down off the top onto the sides and then under the floor. Combined with its really tiny interior size and tiny vestibules, and there is virtually no chance your stuff won't get wet if it rains heavily.

This tent was setup taut before the rain and snow began  and immediately sagged to a very loose fit. As you can see it diminishes in size and effectiveness when wet.
This tent was setup taut before the rain and snow began, and immediately sagged to a very loose fit. As you can see it diminishes in size and effectiveness when wet.

Every stake out point has two wires going to it, but line locks are only present on the upper wire (see photo). In practice, this meant it was quite hard if not impossible to adequately tension the tent when wet. To add insult to injury, while we were trying to do so one time we accidentally tripped over a stakeout wire, and the entire corner seam of the tent ripped apart, calling into question not only its weather resistance but the quality of construction as well. If you want a lightweight shelter that is highly weather resistant (and after all, isn't that why we need tents to begin with?) then check out the Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2 or the Black Diamond Beta Light.

Attempting to tighten the guy wires on this soaked tent we tripped over one and the whole corner seam of the tent ripped apart  makes one question what they are getting for the money.
Attempting to tighten the guy wires on this soaked tent we tripped over one and the whole corner seam of the tent ripped apart, makes one question what they are getting for the money.

Adaptability


Like most tarp-tent style designs, this one is not free standing and so requires soft enough ground, or enough in situ anchors, for six solid stakeouts. Since it is fully enclosed, it can be used to protect from bugs on any adventure, but we would only consider using it if there was no chance of rain. In general, we find tarps to be the single most adaptable form of shelter, and the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp is our recommendation if adaptability is your main concern.

Ease of Setup


This tent is relatively simple to set up, aided by the fact that instructions are provided on the outside of the stuff sack. Stake out the four corners first, then insert the two poles. Unlike most tarp tents which have the poles on the outside of the interior tent, this one has them on the inside, making it a bit more awkward than most to setup, but not much slower.

Setting up the Speacilist Duo is actually pretty easy once you have it figured out. But on the first attempt  its nice to have the help of some friends!
Setting up the Speacilist Duo is actually pretty easy once you have it figured out. But on the first attempt, its nice to have the help of some friends!

Finally, stake out the two peak tensioners at the edges of the vestibules, and use the provided line locks to tension where needed. Quite honestly this is the single best feature of this tent, and only the BD Beta Light was easier to set up in a hurry.

The included poles slot into these rubber keepers so they stay in place  but curiously are inserted on the inside of the inner tent rather than the outside  making things slightly more difficult during setup.
The included poles slot into these rubber keepers so they stay in place, but curiously are inserted on the inside of the inner tent rather than the outside, making things slightly more difficult during setup.

Best Applications


If we weren't clear enough already, we don't recommend this tent. However, if you are going to use it, it will work best as a solo shelter for someone who isn't too tall, in an environment like the desert where there is no chance of rain, and privacy or protection from bugs is desired.

As you can sorta tell from this photo  one person fills this tent  and there is not much room inside regardless. Best uses are for one person in pleasant weather.
As you can sorta tell from this photo, one person fills this tent, and there is not much room inside regardless. Best uses are for one person in pleasant weather.

Value


This tent retails for an eye-opening $500. In our opinion and experience, and certainly compared to the very high-quality competition we have also reviewed here, this price is unjustifiable.

The Speacialist Duo is a very small two person tent  but serves as an adequate shelter on nights when privacy or bug protection is needed and the weather is nice.
The Speacialist Duo is a very small two person tent, but serves as an adequate shelter on nights when privacy or bug protection is needed and the weather is nice.

Conclusion


The Sea to Summit Specialist Duo is a very poorly performing tent that we can't recommend for purchase. While it seems to address all of the ultralight shelter bullet points, the fact is it disappoints in many areas, and should not be considered adequate weather protection for anything but the driest and mildest of climates.


Andy Wellman