While sleeping, reading, hanging out, and comfortably sitting up inside the Tarptent Aeon Li, our testers couldn't help but wonder why they would ever go backpacking with a bivy sack again. At a scant .98 pounds, the Aeon weighs less than your average waterproof, bugproof bivy sack and gives you plenty of headroom, as well as a a generously sized vestibule for your stuff. While bivys still have their place in the alpine, why would a backpacker want to be stuffed inside a burrito when they could enjoy a single-person sanctuary like the Aeon? Tarptents hits it out of the park (again); top dollar, yes, but every little detail, from the micromagnetic closure tabs to height boosting carbon fiber struts add to your waterproof, bug-free camping experience - without weighing you down.
Tarptent Aeon Li Review
Cons: Expensive, single pole set-up takes a little practice
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Our Analysis and Test Results
In terms of weight savings alone, the Aeon Li blows the competition for solo tents away. When correctly set up and guyed out, it can take plenty of punches in a storm; this tent isn't freestanding and requires more a little bit more practice to set up. It's our favorite solo backpacking option, making it one of our Top Picks.
Two tripod struts on either end plus an additional strut on the non-vestibule side of the tent effectively increase the height - without increasing the size of the footprint. This feature allows you to comfortably sit up while you change clothes or rummage around in the vestibule.
The floor space is a very cozy 18.3 square feet, but the vestibule is large enough to keep your pack and shoes out of the weather. In short, this is strictly a one-person tent, and limited space puts a ceiling on the livability factor. If you're quickly covering a lot of miles and need full bug or weather protection, this is the lightest, most comfortable option for those flying solo. On warm nights, you can take out the stake that holds the vestibule down and roll back both sides for a wide-open (but still bug-free) view of your surroundings. This arrangement makes the tent feel less stable, so save this configuration for windless nights.
At just under a pound, it is a super light and functional shelter. It's also much lighter than any of the other solo tent options discussed and tested for this purpose in this review.
The key elements are the pitch lock foldable corners that increase the tent's stability while also increasing its height - all while not requiring a larger footprint and additional material. The lightweight and durable Dyneema rain fly and carbon fiber struts also keep the weight to a minimum (though not the price). Most impressive is the fact that the light, flimsy thing you pull out of the box will set up into an incredibly sturdy weatherproof shelter.
Weather resistance is why you buy a tent in the first place; looking at the low sided, bathtub style floor, we were a little skeptical if we'd stay dry in a real torrent. There is a small internal clip on the non-vestibuled side of the tent that allows you to raise the side a little. Turns out, that's all it takes to keep the floor dry.
That said, you need to be careful with site selection (as you would with any tent) and avoid camping in low lying areas like arroyos and old stream beds. An inch of standing water, combined with some unconscious tossing and turning, could lead to a wet awakening. The Dyneema fly is entirely waterproof. Unlike Silnylon, it doesn't stretch and sag when it gets wet, so you won't have to get up and tighten guy lines and readjust your tent.
The main adaptability piece is the ability to adjust the height and angle of the trekking pole support.
You can set the tent up at a lower, wider pitch for stability in windy conditions. This model isn't a free-standing tent, so your spot selection is limited to where you can get stakes in the ground, or find appropriately sized rocks.
Ease of Set Up
Initially, it took our testers about 10 minutes of finagling, adjusting, and re-adjusting to get this tent livable. Had we watched Tarptent's excellent instructional video on their website, our first attempt would have gone much smoother. Like other tarp style tents, the strategy is to stake out the corners, pop in the trekking poles support, and tension the guy lines (an easy task with the Aeon since there is a pitchloc adjuster on each line).
The one trekking pole set-up, in this tent, is not as easy to stabilize as the dual-pole design. We had to re-adjust our stake placements and re-tension guy lines many times before the tent felt satisfyingly bombproof. We didn't encounter any rough weather during our testing period, but we suspect poor rigging would result in tent collapse, and this tent is less forgiving than its dual-poled cousin. You don't need a master's in tarpology to set-up this tent well, but practice makes perfect, and we'd recommend setting it up a few times if your first adventure out calls for grim weather.
This price hurts the wallet for the average backpacker. A night or two out each year means you'll be sleeping outside for the price of a decent hotel room. Following the logic of the ultralight backpackers, a lighter kit means easier going, less weight in your pack, less pain on your back, thus more days of happy ambling out in the backcountry. If you can swallow the initial investment, you will be happy with it. It's a perfect option for pack rafting, bike routing, and just about any solo mission you can think of that requires you to go as light as possible.
"Boutique" comes to mind whenever we test these expensive high-end ultralight shelters. While magnetic closures and carbon fiber struts may make a few eyes roll amongst the crusties, our testers have found that the innovative design features (how the tent stays up) and problem-solving (how do we make it taller, but not wider) that go into a tent like the Aeon are exciting and fun to see. Also, most importantly, they lighten our loads. This is a solid investment for solo adventurers and our favorite ultralight shelter for one.
— Matt Bento