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Reviews > Shelters > Tents > Stephenson Warmlite 2R tent > Owner Review by Richard Lyon

Stephenson's Warmlite 2R Tent
Owner Review by Richard Lyon
July 14, 2008

Personal Details and Backpacking Background

Male, 62 years old
Height: 6' 4" (1.93 m)
Weight: 200 lb (91 kg)
Email address: rlyon AT gibsondunn DOT com
Home: Dallas, Texas USA

I'm in my fifth decade of backpacking, and travel regularly to the Rockies for outdoor activities.  I do a week long trip every summer, and often take three-day trips.  I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 13000 ft (1500-4000 m).  I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp, but I do my share of forced marches too.  Recently I've actively sought ways to reduce my pack load, but often still choose a bit more weight over foregoing camp conveniences I've come to expect.

Product Details

Stephenson's Warmlite 2RSThe Warmlite 2R is a double-walled, four-season, tunnel-style two-person mountaineering tent with a single door.  Its manufacturer isn't exactly modest about its Warmlite tents, calling them "the lightest most storm resistant tents you can find in the world. Featuring an aerodynamic design to reduce wind load stress to the tent. Easy to setup and take down." 

Manufacturer: Stephenson's Warmlite, Gilford, New Hampshire USA

Website: www.warmlite.com. All quotations in this review come from this website.  Tent diagram below is used with the kind permission of Stephenson's.
Year of manufacture: 2003 or 2004
Year of Purchase: 2006 (I bought it used.)
MSRP: $499 US for base tent, see table below for options.
DiagramLength, listed: 134 in (3.4 m); measured: main tent section 67 in (170 cm); front cone section 39 in (99 cm); rear cone section 20 in (74 cm); tip-to-tail 126 in (3.2 m). Each of these was measured down the center of the tent. 
Width, listed and measured:
60 in (152 cm) at front pole point, 48 in (122 cm) at rear pole point
Height, listed
41 in (104 cm) at front pole point, 26 in/66 cm at rear pole point; measured 39 in (99 cm) at the front, 26 in (66 cm) at the rear
Packed size, listed and measured: 5 x 17 in (13 x 43 cm)
Weight:
listed 3 lb 1 oz (1.38 kg) (2 lb 12 oz/1.24 kg for tent + 5 oz/142 g for windows); measured 3 lb 2 oz (1.42 kg).  Measured weight includes poles and stuff sack but not stakes.
Includes: Tent, two shock-corded aluminum poles, extra fabric, stuff sack, rock sacks with guy lines, instructions for pitching and care, and a tube of seam sealant. 
Materials: Tent, "Ultra high tenacity 30d. ripstop Nylon with a very durable silicone waterproof finish." Nylon thread. 7187-T6 aluminum poles. Vents and windows, "the finest 'Noseeum' netting available."  YKK zippers.

Related Products: Size 2 is the smallest Warmlite tent.  The larger two sizes, 3 and 5, have a door at each end, giving a symmetrical silhouette and adding a sleeve for an optional third pole, but otherwise employ the same design as size 2.  Each size tent is available in three versions: regular double-walled (R), climber's double-walled (C – two feet/62 centimeters shorter than R), or single-walled (X – the lightest weight version).

Ordering and options:  Stephenson's is a family-owned outdoor supplier and "strictly a mail order business;" products cannot be purchased through the website and the company has no distributors.  Stephenson's (which also makes and sells down sleeping bags, down sleeping pads, vapor barrier clothing and non-breathable rain gear), normally has a few tents on hand but standard procedure is to make up a tent only after the customer places an order.  I was quoted an eight-week lead time on a 5R.

Ordering from Stephenson's is a game of alphabet soup.  The customer specifies the desired model by adding letters after first specifying size and version (e.g., 2R).  Optional features or accessories, each carrying an extra charge, are shown in the table below.  Commentary on the website, confirmed by my experience reported below, indicates that Stephenson's will accommodate (for a fee) other customization requests.

Listed Feature

Price

($ US)

Listed Weight

(oz/g)

Description (Stephenson's comments in quotes)

Side windows (S)

44

5/142

"For cooling on warm nights, or views or stargazing."  I have the S option and discuss it below.

Large door (LD)

15

2/57

A zipper on each side of the door.  "For loading gear and stargazing."

Wind stabilizer (W)

15

2.5/71

Inside supports for the poles; standard on C tents. "They get in the way a bit in use . . . and no one really needs them."

End liner (E)

85

7/198

Double-walled end sections. "Not worth the bother."

Aluminum top (A)

90

Not listed

A fabric not a feature, for protection against deterioration from exposure to sunlight.  The center section inner wall is made of this fabric; using it for an outer wall brings the extra charge.

The customer tacks on to the model designator the letters for desired features shown above in parentheses.  Next comes color: one or more ("be creative") from among Light Yellow, Green, Lime Green, Olive Drab, Medium Blue, Light Blue, Dark Blue, Purple (blackberry), ORange, PInk, Fuchsia, BLack, Grey, with the capitalized letters added at the end of the string.  My tent's only option is side windows and has only one color, so it is a 2RSLY.  A 2R with all options in pink and orange would be a real mouthful, 2RSLDWEAPIOR (and, I expect, a sight to behold).  

Warranty: "You may return UNUSED and UNDAMAGED STANDARD items for exchange or refund within 30 days, but call about it first. We’ll fix problems as best as we can at any time." 

Preliminary Comment

The Warmlite is the first non-freestanding tent that I have owned for as long as I can remember.  I've used tunnel tents and tarp or tipi-style shelters when camping with others, and I have examined a few when considering a shelter purchase, but until I bought the Warmlite I have been firmly in the dome tent camp.  This background colors some of my comments on use and performance of the Warmlite.

Product Description

As the photos show the 2R is highest at the front pole point and tapers down to the head and foot.  The regular (R) Warmlite is not fully a double-wall tent but rather a hybrid.  The center portion of the tent, between the poles, has two fabric layers sewn together to make a true double wall, with no removable fly.  Unless an end liner (the E option) is added, the cone sections at each end of the tent have only a single fabric layer. 

The Warmlite has no vestibule. Well, at least not according to my definition of a vestibule, as there is no covered area outside the sleeping chamber.  Stephenson's calls the front single-walled section a vestibule, albeit in quotation marks: “'Vestibules' for gear and cooking are standard, (not an expensive extra weight option), and are floored to keep gear clean and DRY, for a stable, easily cleaned cooking space. Model 2 tents have vestibule at front, others at each end." 

Small vents at the bottom of the front and rear and an eyebrow-shaped vent at the top of the front can each be adjusted from inside the tent.  The eyebrow vent is large enough to allow a good look around outside if necessary, and has an awning-like overhang to protect the interior from rain.  The door when fully closed covers the lower vent at the front.  The standard door has two zippers, each of which runs down the right side (when facing the tent), to allow closing up the tent from inside or outside.  The inside zipper runs across the side and the bottom; the outside zipper along the side only.  Only one of these needs to be zipped up for a fully closed door, but that one must be the inner zipper to shut the insects out completely.  The bottom of the door lies flat against the front of the tent when the door is zipped shut.

Window staked with tent pegsThe S-option lets me make both sides of the double-walled section of the tent no-see-um windows by unzipping both inner and outer walls.  Each side has a single rectangular window 50 by 29 inches (127 by 74 cm), most of the side of the center tent section.  (The photos showing windows on Stephenson's website are of size 3 or 5 tents; the windows on my 2RS have no center divider.)  A double zipper runs along the sides and the top of each window inside the tent, so I can roll up the fabric at the base.  On the outside a zipper on each side of each window zips open from bottom to top.  Like the door the outside bottoms of the windows are not affixed to the tent body but lie flat against it when the zippers are closed.  S-option tents include four "rock sacks," small fabric pockets attached to cord.  By tying the cords to the small loops at each window corner, encasing a small rock (or, according to Stephenson's, dirt or sand) in each sack, and then flipping the sacks across the top of the tent the windows stay open.  I've never seen anything like these on a tent, but they work just fine, though a heavy weight is needed when it's really windy.  The outer A gold-colored poleflaps can also be pitched as awnings using sticks and guy lines (the rock sack cords work as guy lines), or, at a more acute angle from the tent, with spare tent pegs as shown in the photo.  The standard fabric loops at the window corners are much smaller than the handles, even the points, of my trekking poles, preventing their use for this purpose.  Opening the window zippers part way is another means of regulating ventilation.

Several other things about this tent differ markedly from what I'm used to.  The front pole is 5/8 inch (16 mm) in diameter, noticeably larger than standard Easton or DAC poles.  The rear pole is 3/8 inch (9.5 mm), slightly larger than "normal" poles.  Both poles are factory-curved for greater strength and gold-colored, with plastic caps on each end.  Rather than staking loops or guy lines the tent has adjustable (with a slider) pieces of webbing at the rear and each front corner to allow for variations in terrain when staking the tent. 

Pitching and Striking the Warmlite

Like much of the commentary on its website, the instructions Stephenson's includes with its tents are chatty, entertaining, and highly opinionated.  Unlike the website the instructions on set-up, which are not specific to any particular size tent, are tough to follow and not terribly helpful.  But even this mechanically challenged camper now endorses Stephenson's claim of easy pitching, at least under most conditions.  First I connect the pole sections.  The poles are then easily threaded into sleeves at the ends of the main tent section, each with an open slit on the lower end at the right (facing the door).  It's marginally easier to pull the fabric up around the pole rather than pushing the poles through the sleeves.  I've yet to have a pole section come apart using either procedure.

After setting the poles I stake the tent out with five or six stakes – two at the front, two at the front pole ends, and one or two in the rear.  If it's windy I'll add stakes at the rear pole points.  This tent is not freestanding and requires tension at the front and rear to keep its full tunnel shape, and I've not been able to do this reliably with only the three pegs said by Stephenson's to be the minimum.  It's important to keep the front pole canted toward the door to maintain this tension or the roof begins to sag. 

Staking the tent takes some practice to prevent the lower vent at the front from curling down and becoming a mesh portion of the floor.  Uneven ground can mean more substantial problems.  With no guys all the tension comes from the stakes and it can be difficult to keep things taut when the tent is pitched with the head uphill (a necessity if I hope to get any sleep).  Rocky or frozen ground has also been a challenge.  When I used the Warmlite in the snow I had to tamp down the snow with my boots and a shovel to be sure the stakes were not susceptible of being pulled up inadvertently through the feathery Rocky Mountain powder. 

The integrated double-wall design means that the Warmlite pitches similarly to a single-wall tent and can easily be set up in the rain without getting the inside wet.

The easiest way to strike the Warmlite is first to remove the poles, then the stakes, then fold the tent over so that the floor is on the outside.  From this point I keep folding the tent in half until it's small enough to fit in the stuff sack.  Even without following the same folding pattern each time, as Stephenson's recommends, the folded tent, poles, and stakes easily fit into the standard-issue stuff sack. 

The Warmlite in the Field

Since purchasing the Warmlite I have used it as a one- and two-person shelter in the Rockies and the Southwest.  My evaluation period has been interrupted twice, first for a four-month test of another lightweight shelter and then, as discussed below, to check out Stephenson's repair service on a window zipper that came apart. 

September 2007: Broken Bow, Oklahoma.  Clear weather with temperatures of 60-95 F (16-34 C) at an altitude of about 1000 ft (300 m).  I slept alone in the tent for two nights.

September 2007: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming and Idaho.  Our group took a leisurely eight-day, seven-night hike from the Old Faithful area to the ranger station in the Park's northwest corner, a thirty-mile (48 km) backpack along the spectacular Bechler River and Boundary Creek trails.  Elevation about 7500 to 6500 feet (2300 to 2000 m).  After a chilly first day and night (12 F/-11 C, a record low for that day) with some snow and sleet, the weather turned to near-perfect September conditions, afternoon highs of 70 F (21 C) and nighttime temperatures of 25-30 F (-4 to -1 C).  One afternoon thundershower (which came on just after pitching the tent) was the only other precipitation.  Following Park regulations we camped in established campsites along the trail, with tents pitched usually on forest duff but twice on harder ground in open fields.  I was the Warmlite's only occupant on this trip.

December 2007: Solo use on an overnighter in Yellowstone Park in Wyoming.  Nighttime low recorded in a nearby town, about 1500 ft (460 m) lower in elevation, was 3 F (-16 C), and it was very windy.  The Warmlite was pitched on about three feet (1 m) of snow, using seven snow anchor-type stakes.

April 2008: Wasatch State Park, Utah.  This was a two-day, three-night car camping trip on which the Warmlite served as a two-person tent.  Elevation about 6000 feet (1700 m), with temperatures ranging from daytime highs of 65 F (19 C) to nighttime lows of 28 F (-3 C), with no precipitation.  Wind was the noteworthy meteorological condition, with many gusty periods on both days.  Weather reports indicated that the winds in the region exceeded 40 mph (65 km/hr) at times.  Because of the wind I staked the rear pole points, therefore using seven pegs rather than my usual five.  I had two tent problems on this trip.  An outside zipper on one window came apart when I zipped it up for the evening.  This didn't affect use much as most of the time the high winds required staking this corner anyway.  Also, when striking the tent I found it difficult to remove one of the poles from its sleeve.  When in place the pole ends sit just below the openings on the sleeves, which means I need to press a pole upward a half-inch or so (~1 cm) to slide it out.  This proved difficult with the front pole on this trip, though I was finally able to extract it.  Perhaps the fabric contracted slightly from the constant winds and Utah's dry climate.  Stephenson's instructions do suggest cutting one of the pole sections slightly if this problem recurs.

April 2008: An overnight backpack near Dallas, on which two of us shared the Warmlite.  Elevation about 300 feet (90 m) and temperatures 72 F (22 C) during the day, down to about 50 F (10 C) at night.  Heavy rain during the night. 

Observations and Comments

Design and ease of use.  The standard door is large enough to allow relatively easy ingress and egress by campers, even this large adult, although if two are using the tent both must enter or leave from the zippered right side, complicating nighttime exits somewhat.  I've never had a problem getting any gear in or out of the tent.  I can't prop the door open for a view or increased ventilation, however, and should I purchase a 3R or 5R (see Likes and Dislikes below) I'll get the large door option on one end at least. 

The windows are wonderful, especially on warm days and nights.  They need not be zipped up completely when it rains; with the outer flaps pitched as awnings I've been dry in a thunderstorm.  One significant drawback, however, is that opening or closing the windows requires unzipping both walls, and it's no fun going outside in a downpour, as I had to do on my Yellowstone trip, to close the outside flaps. 

The light yellow fabric end sections give a pleasant glow inside during the daytime when the windows are closed.  Stephenson's recommends selecting a light color for the single-wall sections for this reason.

I'm used to no-vestibule tents and I often hang my pack even if a vestibule is available.  And the Warmlite has plenty of storage room inside, more in fact than available in many tents that include outside vestibules. The inside area at the head of the tent (what Stephenson's calls its vestibule) does add as much storage space as the floorless vestibules on many other tents, and includes a small mesh pocket on each side wall for small items.  The tent's long length leaves ample space at the foot for packs or other gear without getting in the way of spread-out sleeping bags.  Placing gear next to the floor vents hasn't seemed to impede cross-ventilation.  There's one built-in inefficiency though: campers must sleep with heads at the front because of the tent's width and ceiling height, and the best place to store gear is at the foot, where a low bridge doesn't matter.  This has necessitated some interesting crawling in the dark.  I had room left over after stashing my expedition pack, boots, parka, and food inside in the winter, but not enough, in my opinion, to fit in another camper with a comparable winter kit.  I almost never cook inside any tent and thus don't lose a kitchen when my tent lacks a vestibule.  I would never use the front section of the Warmlite for cooking because of the fire risk.

I'm mildly claustrophobic and have been spoiled by often using two-man tents on solo trips, so it was pleasantly surprising to find that the Warmlite 2R sleeps two large adults in real comfort. (On its website Stephenson's states "We are often told that 3 people fit easily in a 2R." I don't see how that could happen for me if even one of the other two is an adult.) Thirty inches (76 cm) apiece at the shoulders is ample room to avoid unwanted contact, and with my head near the tunnel's highest ceiling point I didn't feel confined even with the windows closed.  That's been true even when the inner tent wall sagged a bit when condensation caused the fabric to expand. 

In my opinion the tunnel design does make two campers waiting out a storm have to take turns in the prone position.  I disagree with Stephenson's claim that "Two people can sit side by side in front half of Model 2," at least when they are this large guy and an adult friend.  Alone I can avoid scraping the ceiling, and then just barely, only when seated at the center under the front pole.  Move just a bit off center and I can't do it, and with another person in the tent limited lateral space makes for uncomfortably tight quarters too.

Wind and Rain.  The Warmlite's design also, as Stephenson's claims, provides a very secure shelter in high winds.  If the tent is carefully staked the only problem I've had is a very occasional push on the large pole when the door is on the windward side, not enough to cause a collapse and so far always manageable with minor manipulation of the pole from inside the tent.  The tent's low profile helps keep it stable when winds hit the tent broadside.  In the Wasatch there was some flapping of the main section in high winds but less than many other double-wall tents I have used. 

Stephenson's silnylon, which is used for sails, hot air balloons, and parachutes (hence the great color choices), is rather slippery to the touch.  I have found it to be completely waterproof.  My tent's previous owners had seam-sealed my tent or paid Stephenson's to do it ($50 US - "$20 Plus $30 Punative [sic] Charge"), and I've had no leaks. 

Ventilation and Condensation.  This fabric is also non-breathable.  Stephenson's claims that the Warmlite's vents create a chimney effect, letting cold air in at the tent base and warm air exit through the top vents, allowing ventilation even in a dead calm.  I agree completely with that assessment during warm weather, even without assistance from open windows.  My experience at night has been less than perfect but entirely satisfactory.  Sleeping with heads at the tent's tallest point mitigates condensation build-up on the inside.  Alone in the winter I awoke to some ice on the single-wall sections.  After a humid night on the Texas trip with two people inside, these sections had moderate condensation when we awakened. (But then we hadn't followed Stephenson's suggested protocol of sleeping naked in vapor barrier sleeping bags.)  Condensation was manageable as the only gear inside that got damp was the foot end of my size long sleeping bag, and that only lightly.  After an hour in the morning sun the condensation was gone.  Two of us had only a tiny bit of condensation in the windy Wasatch despite temperatures below freezing and frost on the outside of the tent. 

Durability.  Impressive.  The prior owners had taped a simple plastic sheet to the tent corner loops as a built-in ground cloth.  After that wore through I have occasionally used a ground sheet from another tent that I place under the front two-thirds of the Warmlite, but that isn't really necessary.  I bought the tent used and have put some mileage on it myself, and there are no rips, tears, or pinholes in the tent body or floor (and no scars of such from the prior owners' use), and no loose stitching around the vents or windows.  I'm not going to blame the zipper problem on Stephenson's as it was just as likely caused by an impatient owner's trying to force matters. 

Customer Service.  The broken zipper gave me a chance to evaluate Stephenson's customer service.  I called the company, explained the Window staked with trekking polesproblem, and sent the tent off for an estimate.  I also asked for larger loops on the windows to allow use of trekking poles to set the awnings (no problem) and inquired if the tent could be retrofitted with a large door (alas, no).  A telephone quote, remarkably low, indicated that Stephenson's labor charges would be less and its turnaround time much shorter than my usual repair source.  The 2RS came back less than ten days later, zipper nicely repaired or replaced and with pole-compatible window loops (and an invoice – Stephenson's didn't require prepayment, though its website and catalog suggest that it may if the repairs are substantial).  The website lists hourly charges ("$49; you watch $59; you help $79") except for particular tasks such as seam-sealing, noted above, that have a fixed price set intentionally high enough to discourage a customer from availing himself of the service. 

What I Like

Light weight.  This is the reason I bought the Warmlite and I haven't been disappointed.  A stormproof floored tent for two at just over three pounds (1.3 kg), almost a pound (0.4 kg) less than the next-lighter shelter I own and a welcome weight saving on a tough hike.  In my gear closet this qualifies as a lightweight solo tent.  A gram fanatic could shave a bit more weight by ordering a windowless 2C.

Spacious interior for sleeping, not cramped for two adults, subject to the reservations about headroom noted above.

Full-side windows. 

Durable and weather-worthy.

Customer service.  The folks at Stephenson's did good, prompt repair work and are very friendly and helpful on the phone. 

What I Don't

Large footprint.  This isn't all bad.  It exacerbates the problem of finding level ground for a stable pitch, but gives large storage space inside.

Can't use trekking poles for pitching the window awnings.  Now fixed.  I'd make the larger loops standard (and have suggested that to Stephenson's) as they add negligible weight.

Low height at the foot.  Definitely a shortcoming when two are stuck inside other than for sleeping.  This comment is surely influenced by my long-time use of dome tents, and my preference for base camp trips plays a role here too.  I like a shelter that can serve as the occasional social center as well as a bedroom.  The 2R is too small for that – but of course it's not intended for that.  A 3R would be great but . . .

It's expensive.  Price has deterred my buying a 3R or 5R.  With the minimum extras I'd like (side windows, large door, and maybe a center pole) a 3R would cost over $700 US and a 5R over $1000 US.  Because of Stephenson's limited production, its tents' durability, and, if the testimonials on the website be typical, a very loyal customer base, I haven't found very many Warmlites of any size available on the aftermarket. 

Summary

Can a dedicated dome devotee find happiness in a tunnel tent? I haven't been totally converted, but with the Warmlite my answer is mostly yes. The tent's best attributes, light weight and an easy pitch, have been greatly appreciated. I'm not prepared to go quite as far with praise as its manufacturer, but I do consider the Warmlite 2RS a durable and very lightweight shelter for any season. 

 



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