An Ultralight 4-Person Tent?

Sounds like an oxymoron right?

The Marl family are going on a car camping trip soon. What's a guy to do with a two year old and a nine-month (notice my lack of blog posts lately?) old, the wife and a two-man tarptent?

Clearly a bigger shelter is in order

There are a bunch of option out there for mega-tents. REI has somewhat cheap (couple of nights in a hotel), beastly large tents line the Hobitat 4 or Hobitat 6.

The Hobitat is a monster-tent alright, with plenty of head-room for standing, which at first blush given out situation this seems useful. The little guy is still an infant – and too young to roll about on a matt on the floor, so he'll need to sleep in a pack-and-play or something, having a little space to walk around to rock him to sleep sounds tempting.

Then I look at the specs – a jaw-dropping 17 pounds for this tent. At this point I just can't bring myself to do it. Something in my core is so against buying a tent dedicated to car camping I'm not sure I do it enough to justify the extra clutter in our house – even packed up – it's huge: 10 x 10 x 27!

Some point in my future, I'm having fantasies that the boys will be old enough we can start backpacking again as a family and sure as chips I'm not going to lug a 17 pounder up any trail.

After some discussion Theresa and I decide a family backpacking tent is the right option – sure we'll be a little cramped when car-camping, and little baby Jack will be sleeping in a cardboard box, but hey – that just makes it more fun right?


After poking around a little, I stumbled on the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL4. On sale at for $400.

It arrived yesterday and I set it up in the garden. I'm really impressed I haven't been that tuned in to Big Agnes as a brand, but they have a very solid product.

  • It's unbelievably light at just over 4 lbs.
  • It's a double-wall traditional tent!!! With little kids, I'm willing to take the (marginal) weight hit for this benefit not having to worry about them whacking the sides and getting wet or causing condensation to fall on everyone. I love my tarp tent, but it takes a gentle touch  
  • The tent-pole system is awesome, they all snap-together.
  • Comes with very light high-quality titanium pegs.
  • Build-quality and fabric seems very high.
  • Size-wise it's pretty darn tight for four. You have to sleep tops-and-tails and there's no room for gear other than in the vestibule, but at this weight it's at solid trade-off. Bring a black trash bag and store your stuff outside.

I'll report back after a little trail (or car camp) testing

19 thoughts on “An Ultralight 4-Person Tent?

  1. Laural

    I guess if you don’t do much car camping that’s a great tent for family backpacking. But when the kids get bigger the tight squeeze could get annoying. Although in five years hopefully cuben fiber tents will be under $400!

    My boyfriend and I got the hobitat 4 ’09 version on closeout sale and have been really happy with it. We could fit our Queen bed in it if we wanted, and with a gear loft it could probably sleep 6 and their gear. Our smallest storage closet keeps it and all our gear just fine. (I started as solely a car camper, but the crowds and noises turned me into a dispersed camper and a backpacker, although I’m in terrible shape. My boyfriend hadn’t in years, but in high school he climbed Glacier Peak and others with the Mountaineers, and got his pic in one of their brochures at the time. He also did the Wonderland at 13! But 17 years later he too is out of shape.)

  2. Family Guy

    Brett – curious to know why you didn’t consider (or did) the Tarptent Hogback? Thanks,

  3. brettm Post author

    hey david,

    you know – i didn’t even think to look at TT. i love my cloud-burst, but i guess i thought henry wouldn’t have 4-man shelters… the hogback looks pretty cool. although a considerable amount of the savings looks like from poles using guys and tension to form the shell and after watching my 2-yr old go to town kicking the walls of the tent at night, i’m not sure if the TT would hold up as well to ‘abuse’ as the BA.

    nice pointer – though, thanks.

  4. Family Guy

    Thanks Brett.

    Although he / she who dies with the most lightweight gear wins. Don’t forget that. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. David Noll

    I was going to suggest the Hogback after reading your blog. Nice to see you back. As an unrelated question my wife and I are doing the West Coast Trail Aug 4-10. I am thinking of using a Six Moon Designs haven tarp with either a polycro ground cloth or a Bearpaw floor. Any thoughts? Also do we need to bring long johns?

  6. brettm Post author

    Hey David – how exciting! wish i were going… if you’re used to a tarp, i’m sure it will be fine. we used our clourdburst during some heavy rains, and camps were sheltered enough from wind it was fine; with the exception of one ‘off-trail’ beach camp. i seem to recall we wore long thermal pants at night when it was cooler. i would imagine in early aug you’ll be fine, but always better to be prepared ๐Ÿ™‚

    oh – and try and time it to get a meal a nitnat narrows… his baked potato and grilled salmon smelled amazing when we went through – but we stupidly passed it up for a freeze-dried meal at camp later.

    have fun, love to hear how it goes.

  7. CP

    I have two little ones, a 4 year old and a 2 year old and have been looking at this tent too.

    How has it worked out?

    I know it might be a little tight, but for hiking it seems like there is really no better ultralight options.

    Would love to get an update on the 2 person/2 little person performance of this tent.


  8. brettm Post author

    lets just say – i was a little over optimistic at backpacking with the kids ๐Ÿ™‚ we did manage to squeeze in quite a few day hikes with them – and our 3 yr old could walk a couple of miles or so up steep grade until he wanted to be carried, but it was slow going carrying the 1 1/2 yr old. we did car camp in it – and i loved it – it was bomber but very tight quarters. theresa hated it – mostly as the kids move around a ton – esp the little guy – who kept going sideways – and being a mum – she was awake most of the night worried about his comfort / safety.

    i haven’t seen a better tent on paper – and i’m confident of it’s construction quality that it would last a while. size-wise – you’d have to try it to see if you could handle sleeping like sardines ๐Ÿ™‚

    maybe this summer – when the little guys are a bit older… ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. AlisaG

    Hey Brett – I’m not sure how I landed on your site whether it was looking for Wonderland Trail info or lightweight gear (both apply to my universe today) but now I’ve looked around enough to say HEY! and give a shout to the madness of not stopping the adventures when the kids come along. We have an 8 and a 3 year old and just yesterday got our permit for the Wonderland which means we actually have to start seriously thinking about this!

    We’ve been looking at tents too, though when we went through the phase you’re going through now, we didn’t give a crap how much the car camping/rafting tents weighed. ๐Ÿ™‚ Anyway, now that we’ve returned to our backpacking roots, we’re having to re-buy a lot of the stuff that is now 15 years old in the garage. I too stumbled upon the Montbell down jackets (yummy), found Eddie Bauer’s 8oz first ascent waterproof jacket (a beast compared to what you carry I see), a couple of new Feathered Friends bags (yummy x 2) and a Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 2. i set up that tent and said ‘holy shit – is this thing going to survive one night with a kid anywhere near it?’ it’s so dainty and ethereal. we shall see – its maiden voyage will be soon. Iรขโ‚ฌโ„ขm looking for the second tent now too – the Golite Shangri-la 3 looks like a nice space but also checking out a couple of the tarp tent family. We’re not ultralite (can one be with kids?) but are shaving off pounds with lots of cash being thrown at the problem – I will be interested to see what final pack weights will be with the two kids in tow. They eat SO MUCH FOOD. ๐Ÿ™‚ and want their stuffed animals! ha!

    Anyway, cheers, looking forward to blogging (wrastlin’ with WordPress today) all summer about the joys (?) of making two kids death-march through the San Juan mountains in training for their ‘big hike’. Thanks for your great blog. ๐Ÿ™‚ Alisa

  10. brettm Post author

    Alisa – best of luck on your WT hike – i’m blown away you’re going to do this with a 3yr old… you’re my new hero – I’m adding you blog to my reader and expect to see great things ๐Ÿ˜‰ if you need any pointers – feel free to email me (address on the about page).

    i hope your permit is late august or September – the snowpack is significant this year, so the WT might not be open early.

    i bet you can make stuffed animals from cuban fiber ๐Ÿ˜‰

  11. Aim21les

    We took the kids on canoe trips when they were little. Thr 4 & 5 year old shared the middle seat. Two squirt guns tied to the gun whale provided hours of entertainment. Mom and dad got to cover miles with only relatively small pain from carrying 4 person worth of gear and toys. Longest portage was a mile, but solitude in bwca or algonquin was wonderful. Kids saw giant, to them, snapping turtles, moose.

    That being said, I’m starting to fantasize about hiking trips when they’re 10 & 11. At a minimum they’ll be carrying some gear on portages:).

  12. Mireya

    Hi~ Backpacking is my favorite thing to do in the entire world. And having two kids has slowed me down but not stopped me. They love it out there, and parenting is so easy in the wilderness. I had to laugh coming across this blog because of a break-down I had at the gear shop when pregnant with my second. My husband and I had managed just fine for 12 years with our beautiful 2-3 person, 4-season tent, and our 6 year old fit just fine. But I had to face the cruel reality that adding a fourth person to that tent was just not an option. I was distraught. The tears came as we began looking at our options. I literally lay on the floor of the seventh tent we set up in the demo room and cried, cursing the big-name brands for not considering the needs of families who backpack in all weather. I was horrified to find out that there was not a four season, four person backpacking tent on the market for under 12 pounds (footprint included). We finally settled on one that’s been durable and roomy, but it’s heavier than we wanted. That was a few years ago, and I suppose it’s time to have another look. One of these days the kids will want their own tent, and we will go back to the ultralight 2-person tents. ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Christian

    Hi, great reading all these comments about getting out and about with kids. I am not much of a hiker myself, but I love going on cycling tours. This year, we want to take both kids (4 and 1) for our first tour as a 4-person family, and as everyone else, we are trying to find a light-weight, but roomy tent.
    I noticed that no one mentioned the tents by Hilleberg. Great tents, quite light-weight, but a bit on the expensive side … I am curious if anyone has used their 4 person tents?

  14. Lowell

    Brett. I’m sure you’ll love the fly creek 4!!
    I just don’t understand why big A discontinued it??!
    We first purchased fly creek two and a platinum .
    Thought the same thing that it won’t hold up, but 450 miles later, with two dogs and a 7 yr old daughter for 70 plus miles of the Colorado trail. The tent did great

  15. Erin

    So happy to have stumbled on your site here! Any updates on the lightest 4 person tent now (I see this was posted 7 years ago!)? Mom, dad, 3 and 5 year old boys. The research I’ve been doing is overwhelming! The best I can seem to find is Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 4 Tent but at $650 USD I was hoping to spend a little less. Any input is appreciated, and I plan to spend more time reading your posts ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks!

  16. brettm Post author

    Hey Erin,

    Thanks for the note – 7 years on and amazingly that tent is still going strong! Our boys are 7 & 9 now – and we’ve done a fair amount of backpacking, trailhead camping and boat camping in that tent. It’s a tight squeeze for four thermarests side-by-side but the compromise of weight is fine with us and we make it work. I didn’t think the tent would last more than a few years thinking the boys would be rough with it, but they are really gentle and respectful of it – as they know it’s fragile and they love to be outdoors. It’s got quite a few rain-fly patches but at-least another season left in it.

    I haven’t done any research recently on lightweight family shelters. I’m really enthusiastic about some of the new zpacks shelters – but they don’t have a 4-person. I’d google around on price – MooseJaw seems to have a 25% discount on the BA Copper Spur HV UL4 for $487.

    Good luck on your adventure – and kudos for getting out there with the littles!

  17. Erin

    Thanks Brett, that BA on Moosejaw is the best deal I’ve seen! We are just getting started with the kids but have big long term plans ๐Ÿ™‚

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