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Review: Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2, 3 Season Backpacking Tent

After our 2004 Northville-Placid thruhike, I decided it was time to upgrade our backpacking tent. My trusty Walrus ArchRival, the first real backpacking tent I ever owned, was really showing its age. The new generation of 3 season shelters had come a long way – they were sturdier, more weather proof, easier to setup, and (very important to me) lighter… and so, after a bit of research, I decided to give the Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 a try.

Big Agnes Seed House SL2

 

SL Stands for Super Light

Ultralight… super light… call it what you want, but with a trail weight of 2 lbs 14 oz there is no denying that this thing is just awesomely lightweight. And it pulls this off without sacrificing the elements or features we’ve come to expect in modern tents… as opposed to some of the other minimalist options I was looking into, such as tarps, tarp tents, hammocks, or the like.

One of the ways the Seedhouse pulls this feat off is by using generous amounts of nylon woven mesh. In the past, this material was reserved for a ‘window’, or a door, or a few patches across the top of a tent – but the Seedhouse goes the distance. Its walls are entirely constructed from mesh. It almost gives the tent the appearance of a screen house, and, as you can imagine, it means it has outstanding ventilation… no stuffy nights in this shelter. This construction also makes the tent an absolute joy on clear summer nights. One of the first trips we took with our Seedhouse was into the White Mountains of NH to watch the Perseid Meteor showers. Laying in this tent with the open night above us and meteors raining across the sky made for a memorable night.

Rugged?

If there is one concern about the material this tent uses, it has to be durability. When I first saw the Seedhouse in a store, I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would take me to begin ripping and poking holes in all of that mesh. Well, as it turns out, the material is surprising rugged. We are careful with it, but not overly so, and have only experienced 1 problem in 4 years… and that came at the nose of an overzealous (and off leash) dog who poked a hole through the mesh in our door. This happened on our very first camping trip with the Seedhouse, and I repaired it on the spot with two pieces of duct tape – one on the outside facing in, one on the inside facing out, to form a “patch”. That repair has held up over 4 years and countless other backpacking trips.

Seedhouse duct tape repair

Duct tape repair

We have experienced no problems or noticed any unusual signs of wear and tear on any other parts of the tent. The poles, zippers, seals, hooks all appear to still be going strong.

Easy Setup, Sturdy Frame

I know it is hard to think of something this lightweight (and made mostly from mesh) as being sturdy, but that is the impression you get once the Seedhouse is up. The single hub and spoke pole stretches the tent’s fabric taught, producing a solid free standing frame, which is still very easy to move around. This allows you to place the tent wherever you want it. This is demonstrated in the video below, where I show you how I setup our Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2.

You can see that I prefer to layout the tent and attach its hooks to the pole before ‘popping up’ the structure by inserting the pole ends. But I have seen others do it differently, choosing to erect the pole by putting in the ends first, and then hooking the tent around it. I’m not sure there is a benefit one way or another, and both ways are very easy to do – even in the dark.

UPDATE: I’ve been in contact with a Big Agnes representative and he cautioned me against setting up the tent the way I do in the video. Big Agnes recommends erecting the poles first, and then clipping in the tent. NOT clipping the tent in first and then “popping” it up by inserting the poles, like you see me do it above. The reason for this is that if one of the clips snags or gets stuck on a pole joint as you erect the tent, it could potentially pull the clip out of the body. While I have never had problems doing it this way (dozens of times over several years), it does make sense. Here is a video of someone setting up the tent the recommended way:


I imagine this recommendation was included with instructions when I bought the tent, and I failed to RTFM.

We usually stake down the corners once we have it where we want it. This is more of a “just in case” precaution on our part, especially if we will be leaving it there while we go hike. However, once you get some sleeping gear in there you will see that the tent begins to anchor itself in place. With a camper or two inside it is pretty clear the tent is stable as can be.

The “Living Quarters,” Dry and a Little Snug

Again, it’s hard to imagine with so much of the tent being made from mesh fabric, but the Seedhouse has kept us extremely dry in what I would consider moderate to heavy rainfall. We have yet to take it out in monsoon type weather, where trees are falling and it is raining sideways, but reports and reviews from others who have seem to indicate it holds its own under those conditions as well. This is partly thanks to the tent’s generous seam sealing and “bathtub” construction, where the one piece nylon floor wraps around and comes up the sides of the tent, but is also a testament to its well fitted rain fly. When attached and staked out, the fly cradles the tent frame, shedding water off and away from the inside. If there is one complaint about the fly, it is that on muggy, rainy nights it fits the tent almost too well and can significantly reduce the natural ventilation of the shelter. Aggressively staking and guy-lining the fly helps with this.

The rain fly quickly and easily attaches to the corners of the tent via buckles, and on nights when the forecast is iffy, or unknown, we will attach only one side of it and leave it laying on the ground. If we wake up to raindrops, it takes only a few seconds to throw the fly over the tent and snap in the other side.

Seedhouse SL2 with Rain Fly

Seedhouse SL2 with Rain Fly

The Seedhouse SL2 offers 7 feet of sleeping length, which is more than enough for most people to stretch out and still have room for a pile of gear or clothes at your feet. But there is no denying that it can be a bit of a snug fit width and height wise. It is only three and a half feet wide at its narrowest point, and a little over 4 feet at its widest. You and your partner will really be side by side, so I hope you get along. One way to increase your side to side wiggle room is to stake out the middle of the tent as far as possible. When it comes to head height, the tent offers a clearance of a little over 3 feet, which means most people can sit up in the tent… but don’t expect to be able to kneel without crouching and bending.

Interior space and weight are, of course, tied to one another. So it is about striking a balance, which I think Big Agnes has done with the Seedhouse. Taken on their own, these dimensions are a little tight. But when considering how much this tent weights, they almost seem downright roomy.

The Perfect 3 Season Backpacking Tent

Seedhouse SL2 in action along the Northville Placid Trail

Seedhouse SL2 in action along the Northville Placid Trail

It is sturdy, dry, durable, and a breeze to setup. It strikes a perfect balance between weight and features, making it, without a doubt, the best 3 season backpacking tent I have ever used.

But the emphasis here is on “backpacking.” While I would not hesitate to recommend this tent for just about any 3 season activity, if I were only going to be using my tent for car camping or more casual purposes, I might look toward a bigger, heavier tent with more comfort features. For example, we love tents with 2 doors and 2 vestibules (one for each of us) so we still break out our old discontinued Kelty Vortex 2 when we’re not backpacking. Something like the Kelty Gunnison 2.1 would be a nice option today.


Summary:

A sturdy, durable, easy to use, awesomely lightweight tent that keeps you dry… seriously, what’s not to like? While I might look elsewhere for more casual activities, the Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 is simply the best backpacking tent I have used.

Pros:

Super lightweight. Sturdy, free standing design. Has kept us dry in every rain storm we’ve been in, and has proven to be very durable. Mesh walls provide great ventilation and views of the nightsky.

Cons:

Not the roomiest of tents. The mesh material, while fairly rugged, is prone to snags, rips and tears and requires some care to avoid them.


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