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 comfortably 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 headroom 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 waterproofing (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.
The Zpacks Duplex set up in the sand on the banks of the Dolores River in Southwest Colorado. Whether camping in the desert or the mountains, this makes for a fantastic lightweight backpacking shelter. For river trips, we recommend purchasing the optional two tent poles so you don't need to bring trekking poles with you.
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 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 it 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 boundaries 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 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 heavy storms.
The twin vestibules do not have zippers and are instead made of overlapping fabric that fastens in the middle with a simple button and loop enclosure. Dual vestibules offer great four sided weather protection.
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 excellent ventilation and views, as well as comfortable in and out access. As long as your stake out points are substantial, 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 a 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 ultralight tents we tested for weather protection, giving it 8 out of 10 points.
The hooks that hold the bottom of the two vestibule flaps in place are easy to open and close. The tautness of hte vestibule is also easily adjusted with the line lock shown here.
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.
Interior 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 is not true 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.
Tom laying on one side of the tent while the authors sleeping bag is on the other. Obvious is how much side-by-side space there is in this tent, as well as how airy and open feeling it can be if not enclosed. Also check out the amount of head room he has, ensuring he is not crammed into the tent material at either head or foot.
Tom (5'11") shown sitting up in the center of the tent. The adjustable poles are set to 122cm, the recommended height from the maker, and he easily has a foot of clearance above him. One doesn't feel crammed into this spacious tent at all.
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 security, 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 comes with the Duplex.
We also loved how the design of the overhanging eaves with a 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 merely running onto the floor. The combination of ventilating mesh on all sides almost makes it feel like a double wall tent.
In this photo we can see the grey DCF bathtub floor, as well as the mesh bug netting under the overhanging eave of the blue DCF tarp material. Personal storage pockets are sewn in place on each side of the tent, and this clip on cord helps keep the floor optimally adjusted.
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 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!
Double doors allows for easy access and exit by each person, and helps one appreciate the views that one came for, like these of the sandstone cliffs and Dolores River near the Paradox Valley of Colorado. All four flaps of the vestibules easily roll up and tuck away as shown.
Our Duplex weighed in at 1 lb. 5.2 oz., or 21.2 ounces. This figure 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 lighter tarps 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.
This tent is very light for all the included components. It also packs down into roughly the size of a football.
Adaptability is the one metric where the Duplex suffers compared to the competition and receives 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 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 challenges, most of which are precluded by using large rocks (if present), or by burying deadmen, instead of stabbing stakes into the ground. Additionally, this tarp can only set up one way, and so is not as adaptable as a standard tarp like the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp, which can pitch in a myriad of different patterns.
This tent is not freestanding, meaning it is dependent on the stakes and guy lines to stand up properly. Sand can present a problem if the tension or wind rips the stakes out, although adding rocks over the stakes can help.
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 quickly assemble alone. The crux comes in correctly 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 to ensure tautness all around. In short, setting up this tent takes a bit of practice, and one should read the instructions provided by Zpacks and conduct a few trial runs at home before staring down an impending thunderstorm out in the wild.
Setting this tent up alone takes a bit of practice as the stake locations are not intuitive. With practice it can easily be done alone quite quickly. We find that we often need to fiddle with stake locations or tensions after setup to dial it in each night.
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 suits 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.
With its variety of options for ventilation and weather protection, this tent makes a great choice for hot desert camping or when the weather turns nasty.
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 ultralight 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. This tent, which uses adjustable trekking poles for support, 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.
Testing our Editors' Choice Award winning Zpacks Duplex in the lower reaches of the Dark Canyon in the newly created Bears Ears National Monument, Utah.
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.