New Tent: Initial look at the Big Agnes Fly Creek

For those joining in progress, I am preparing for a 2014 thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. That’s 14 states, almost 2,200 miles, and six months of hiking and living out of a backpack. When I return to civilization (unless my workplace allows me 6 months off, which they won’t) I plan to travel the world, teaching English and writing to pay the bills. I also expect to be very poor with a rich life.

Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1, 2I’m still refining the gear I will be using on the trail. My biggest concern is a tent. I’d tried the Contrail single wall from TarpTent.com and cannot tell you how horrible it was. It’s rated at 1.5 pounds, but by the time you add seam sealant (does not come factory sealed) and the 4-6 additional stakes and guylines it needs to be stable, it weighs 2 pounds. It’s too small to sit up in to change your shirt and it leaks like a sieve in the rain even if you are able to stay on the tiny floor without rolling off onto the side netting (which is what’s letting in rain). Better off with a tarp and ground cloth. In short: POS. AND Henry Shires and Tarptent don’t stand behind their product! They would not take the tent back OR fix the stake that broke. And they returned it without the center pole I paid extra for. I’m out $200. I recommend you stay away from then. Nothing would get me to use one of their products in the future.

Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1, 5So, I’m testing the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1, at about 2.6 pounds. More weight than I’d like to carry, but I expect to sleep in it most nights since I hate the mice in the shelters. And the snoring. From now on, I will try to stick with items sold at REI because they DO stand behind their stuff. I might pay a tiny bit more, but it is worth it.

I selected this tent partially based on the overwhelming positive reviews. But almost all of them remark how small the UL1 (Ultralight, 1 person) is. There is a UL2 and even a UL3. I managed to get it 25% off at REI, $239.93, regularly $319.95.

Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1, 1
Tight squeeze for my Big Agnes pad and sleeping bag.

Here are my initial thoughts with a simple set up in the back yard.

  • First, my home scale agrees with the published weights. That’s not been true with last 2 tents and even other equipment.
  • Easy to set up, at least initially. It uses a “hub” frame that is external to the tent. Seems stable, but it is not entirely free standing. You still need a couple of stakes to pull out the foot.
  • The size is just adequate, NO extra room. I can sit up and change a shirt, but barely. Big guys should get the UL2, and I may still trade up.
  • No interior pockets, which I miss, but there are two loops near the front zipper door to attach a hanging pocket, which I already have (More weight; more gadgets. I know!). One of the loops is placed, right at front entrance, so only one loop will work for this purpose, though it can probably hold two hanging pockets.
  • I bought the additional footprint (ground cloth) at $50, Pricy for a piece of plastic. At the time I thought I might return it if it wasn’t perfect. Well, it is perfect. It’s attached to the tent in a way that will keep it stable and still not poke out beyond the rainfly to gather water. Probably worth extra money.
  • The rainfly snaps to the tent and the footprint has a tab and grommet that the metal frame goes through in 3 spots. Very stable and assures it is set up right.
    The rainfly snaps to the tent and the footprint has a tab and grommet that the metal frame goes through in 3 spots. Very stable and assures it is set up right.

    Rainfly snaps to tent so it should stay in place in the wind. The rainfly lays over the frame securely. That should keep it separate, so while there may (OK, will) be condensation inside the fly, it probably won’t get inside the tent. The vestibule of rainfly will just cover a pack, but then it will completely block the entrance. This is another reason to consider the UL2. That will allow for a wider opening, wider vestibule and more interior space for about 6 more ounces.

  • Comes with 11 very lightweight stakes, guy lines attached. Too many of the tents I’ve looked at lately didn’t have all this included. It allows them to fib about the actual weight. To completely stake it down, I needed all 11 stakes, but could get by with 3-5 if the weather was good and I was feeling lazy.

The only way to really test out a tent is overnight, in the rain. So I’ll have a trip coming up as soon as possible.

To see the other gear I’m carrying, check out my Appalachian Trail Hike tab. I am still open to change, but for those who are geeks and want to see weights and details, check of the spreadsheet on this page that I update with every major change.

UPDATE: I’ve traded this one in for the UL2–6oz heavier and more room. My November shake down trip tells me I made the right decision–I stayed warm and dry. Plus it allowed me to ditch the bivy sack I carried, so it’s only a net gain of 2 ounces. The larger tent gives me enough room in the vestibule for the backpack and my shoes while still letting me see out. And there’s plenty of room to change clothes, plus this one has interior pockets and a small overhead pocket perfect for my headlamp. The real bonus: On rainy mornings, I can bring the entire backpack into the tent to pack up everything, keeping my clothing and bag dry.

This is a detachable pocket I will use inside the tent. Good for glasses, headlamp and things you need in the middle of the night.
This is a detachable pocket I would have used inside the smaller, UL1 tent. Good for glasses, headlamp and things you need in the middle of the night. But the UL2 has mesh side pockets and a small mesh overhead pocket.