Monday, July 7, 2014

Gear Review: Big Agnes Scout Plus UL2 Ultralight Backpacking Tent

Ultralight Big Agnes backpacking tent review

The first thing you’ll notice about the Big Agnes Scout series is that these tents somehow manage to look both funkily retro and sleekly modern simultaneously. This is thanks to the 21st century update of the classic two-pole boy scout pup tent design. This single-wall shelter is extremely lightweight (under 2 lbs. trail weight), very roomy, has a large vestibule, and is well-designed to withstand high winds and heavy rains if need be. The Scout Plus UL2 is not without its compromises, but they are compromises I’m more than happy to make given the excellent weight-to-roominess ratio. Let’s get into the details, starting with the main specs: (Note: I have no affiliation with Big Agnes or any retailers mentioned here. This tent was purchased as regular consumer.)

  • Packaged Weight: 2 lb., 5 oz.
  • Trail Weight: 1 lb., 14 oz.
  • Packed Size: 6.5” x 13”
  • Floor Area: 29 sq. ft.
  • Vestibule Area: 14 sq. ft.
  • Head Height: 45”
  • Foot Height: 33”
  • Doors: 1
  • Material: Silnylon (single wall design)
  • Poles: Uses trekking poles (not included)

As you can see, this tent is VERY light and packs VERY small for a two-person shelter. At 29 square feet, it is a tad on the small side for what is listed as a two-person shelter. However, for one person and a 60 lb. dog (my experience), it is practically a palace considering how lightweight it is.

Glowing Big Agnes Scout tent nighttime
Photo taken along Caney Fork River from my overnighter at Scott's Gulf, TN.
I’ve had the Scout Plus out for two separate overnight trips in the misty-mountain Cumberland Plateau region of Tennessee. The following is based on those trips where I found the Scout Plus to be a very solid performer and comfortable shelter.

stick support for tent
Supports can be placed outside of tent.
A stick can be used in lieu of trekking pole if need be.
This tent is very easy to pitch, even though it requires 13 stakes (you can get away with 12 by using the same stake for the front vestibule and the front peak guyline.) On my last trip, I sat up camp early in the day and planned to head out for some more day hiking. I wanted to take one of my poles with me, so I just found a stick and broke it off to the proper size to support the back end. I really like this idea – if you have a pole failure, you can use sticks to replace. To my mind, this is much easier than trying to repair a traditional tent pole. Big Agnes markets the tent saying you can use your trekking poles either inside or outside the tent at the front peak. It is also easy to do this in the back of the tent, too, so that you don’t have to use your poles inside the tent at all. All of the areas inside and out of the tent where the trekking poles are designed to make contact are well reinforced with a durable plastic material.

backpacking tent, Big Agnes Scout Plus UL2
Note that this tent is slightly tapered from a bird’s eye view. The head area of the tent by the door is 54” wide while the foot is 42” This, and the fact that the front/head area is higher than the back/foot area (45” in the front and 33” in the back) mean that two people sleeping head-to-toe would prove very uncomfortable. You’re going to have to go shoulder to shoulder in this one. That said, for a 2 lb. shelter this thing is very roomy. Also, this is a single door tent so bathroom breaks in the middle of the night with two people can prove bothersome. Pocket “shelves” are located at both corners of the tent’s head area and are a good size for most uses – more than enough room for a headlamp, eyeglasses, and electronic gadgets. A “storage loft” is also available as a separately sold accessory. The shelter has a nylon tab allowing a lantern or headlamp to be hung. Because the Scout Plus is a single wall design, visibility to see outside is limited. Star-gazing in this shelter is not an option, and even peeking outside to make sure those crunching twigs aren’t the result of bear paws can be a bit difficult. That said, the door has a mesh top and the entire perimeter of the tent is lined with a band of mesh which brings me to the next topic, ventilation.

Because this tent provides a band of mesh along the entire perimeter, the ventilation is pretty good. It also offers a vent in the vestibule, the top of the front door, and in the peak of the foot area. That said, this tent is a bit stuffy in the high heat of a Tennessee summer. This is the price one pays for a lightweight single wall shelter. Big Agnes was wise to design the rain fly a light, creamy beige color to reflect light (and heat) rather than absorb it.

The vestibule is very roomy and is the reason this tent was chosen rather than the basic Scout model. I was easily able to store my full pack and boots under the vestibule with room to spare. The half pyramid vestibule can be rolled up and tucked away either completely (to mimic the standard Scout model) or with just one plane pulled down.

I have not had the opportunity to test this tent in either high winds or heavy rain. Other reviews seem to praise its ability to withstand both, and I have no reason to doubt that. With a good, taut pith, the Scout Plus appears very, very stable thanks to nine guyline points. The silnylon is thin but appears very durable. I would definitely use a footprint of some sort, as with any lightweight tent. I did not spring for the $70 silnylon version offered by BA. Instead, I made a DIY footprint from Tyvek - click here for a tutorial on that project. While I'm sure the official BA footprint is more durable and packs smaller, I'm happy with my Tyvek for now.

  • Exceptionally good weight-to-roominess ratio – only 2 lbs
  • Very small packed size
  • Versatile trekking pole design (can use sticks in a pinch)
  • Large vestibule
  • Very stable/sturdy
  • Not free standing – requires 12-13 stakes.
  • Difficult to pitch on hard, rocky surfaces
  • Single wall design limits ventilation and negates star gazing
  • Single door

Takeaway: I love this tent. For one-person use, if you use trekking poles, this one is hard to beat given the huge roominess and low weight. It also appears to be very sturdy and able to withstand difficult weather. For two people, like any ultalight shelter, it might be a bit snug but only a tad. If you’re going to be spending a lot of time in rocky areas, a tent requiring 12 to 13 stakes may not be a great option.

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