The Holy Grail. For backpackers, it’s that precise mix of light, compact in-the-pack design and comfortable function at the campsite. Most backpacking shelters provide one, but not the other. Bivouac sacks and tarps are ultra lightweight, but they aren’t the most comfortable to sleep in and are outright insufficient for some backpackers. Tents offer roomy, breathable accommodation with full protection from the elements, but they’re much bulkier and heavier to carry. Instead of the Holy Grail, it’s all about compromise.
That compromise may be giving way to something resembling a Holy Grail, however. Several companies now offer breathable, free-standing one- and two-person tents that approach the low weight of bivy sacks and shelters. One of those companies is also one of the newest tent manufacturers on the market. Sea to Summit used to be known solely for small accessories, but in the summer of 2011, it announced the Specialist line of tents. The company’s Specialist Duo is one of the lightest two-person tents on the market and offers some unique benefits.

The Sea to Summit Duo uses several design advantages to deliver a thoughtful mix of light pack weight and comfortable sleeping quarters. Its hybrid single/double-wall construction combines the lightness of a single-wall design with the breezy breathability of a double-wall tent. The mix of Pertex Endurance 20-denier waterproof-breathable nylon and 15-denier waterproof nylon construction keeps water outside, while the two mesh doors keep air flowing in and out. An integrated vestibule fly covers the doors in the event of bad weather.

The Specialist Duo weighs well under 2 lbs. (1 lb. 13 oz.) with all included components. To cut another 5 oz. out, you can leave the poles at home and pitch the tent with a pair of hiking poles. Assuming you trek with poles, a little multi-function makes an already ultra-lightweight tent that much lighter.

The Specialist Duo delivers a fully enclosed two-person tent that protects from all forms of weather and insects and manages to weigh as little as a pound and a half. The two separate doors not only add air circulation, but they make it easier for each occupant to come and go as he pleases. Duo owners get some of the comforts of a base camp tent with weight that undercuts some bivy sacks.

Outside of its smart, weight-savings elements, the Specialist Duo is just a solidly engineered piece of kit. Double stitching holds up to wear and tear, and fully taped seams prevent water from seeping in. Reflective guy lines and a half-dozen alloy stakes round out the standard package, and a ground sheet can be purchased separately for added durability.

  • Single-wall construction features Pertex Endurance shell fabric and delivers 1K-rated water protection as well as an impressive breathability rating
  • Two entrances so that you don’t have to climb over anyone
  • Two vestibules deliver ample gear storage so your sleeping area stays clean, dry, and organized
  • Fabric is double stitched and bar tacked at all stress points for added strength
  • Fully taped seams prevent water penetration
  • The 7075 alloy poles lend structure, but the shelter can be pitched with a pair of trekking poles and natural anchors for extra weight savings

The Specialist Duo hit the market earlier this year. It retails for $499. Those that prefer the joys of sleeping alone should look into the Specialist Solo, which weighs under a pound when pitched with trekking poles and retails for $429.

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Chris Weiss has been snowboarding, mountain biking and otherwise tempting death for nearly 20 years. After a few stints in go-nowhere mountain bum jobs, he asked himself, "Why not eek out a living doing something I love?" Since sports sponsors tend to ignore applications from late-20s dudes with mediocre skills and beer flab, Weiss jumped on the other side of the media fence to cover industry happenings. He now writes about sports innovations, technology, travel and automobiles for a number of leading Web properties.

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