I tested Zpacks’ new Free Duo tent for 16 days over a two-month period, in Montana nonetheless, where it was asked to perform in snow, hail, rain, and even under clear skies.
Used both solo and with my partner, the free-standing tent exceeded expectations.
The learning curve was steep, but after a couple of pitches, I quickly grasped the most successful way to ward off inclement weather and cut down on interior condensation. Here is what I found through the rigorous testing of the shelter.
The Free Duo is a two-person freestanding tent — one that can be further secured with four stakes to spread the bathtub floor most efficiently. Eight stakes can be used in very windy weather to offer the most secure pitch.
It is NOT a trekking pole shelter, and is constructed with two sets of “H” shape poles that spread both the corners and the ceiling symmetrically. In order to tautly close the storm doors, two stakes (one on either side) are required.
The single-wall shelter is constructed with Dyneema® Composite Fabric and is perfectly designed to provide taut roof and walls, which limits fabric snapping in high winds. An overhang of the roof helps keep snow and rain out of the interior.
Total Shelter Weight: 30.1 oz
Peak height: 42" (107 cm)
Ridgeline width: 45" (114 cm) with vestibules 75" (190 cm)
Length: 92" (234 cm)
Floor width: 42" (107 cm)
Floor length: 7.5 feet (2.29 meters)
Zipper entry height: 36" (91 cm)
Tent body: 7" diameter by 13" tall (18 cm x 33 cm) / 520 cubic inches (8.5L)
Poles: 2.5" x 20" (6 cm x 51 cm)
While the tent is free standing, it took me a few tries to get it comfortably pitched with the bathtub floor staked out to my liking. The simple process of attaching the “H” shaped poles got the tent 90% there, but it took a few circles and some restaking of the guylines to get it across the finish.
It was an especially important task to find the right construction when I pitched it in a snowstorm at 9,000 feet. I needed the storm doors to be tautly closed and the roof to be correctly hanging over the floor to eliminate any snow blowing into the tent. It was a simpler process than a shelter constructed with trekking poles, and it performed very well in the winter storm, but it took trial and error to cinch down the guylines to equal tautness on all four sides.
The Free Duo combines the benefits of lightweight Dyneema® Composite Fabric with the freestanding versatility sought after in rugged terrain.
The poles are extremely lightweight compared to similar tents because of their Easton Carbon 6.3 material. According to Zpacks’ website, the Free Duo poles are stronger than the poles used in the Duplex Shelter.
The bathtub floor of the tent is 6 inches high, which aided me in the snowy weather. The height was substantial enough to block any snow from blowing in through either of the doors.
With entrances on both sides of the tent, it allows easy access for both partners (when used to its full two-person rating).
In the true nature of the single-wall shelter, the tent is very packable. The body offered no noticeable difference when stuffed inside my 35 liter pack. The only difference was the 20-inch long folded segments of poles, which I simply stowed on the outside of my pack.
Two Person Use
When I used the tent alone, there was ample room even without staking out the bathtub bottom. I could stow my gear next to me and comfortably sleep in the middle of the tent.
But, when I used the tent with my partner, it took a few different iterations and angles of staking to allow us to fit our inflatable sleeping pads inside. Even with a taut construction, it was a little tight. The condensed floor space noted, the head room on this tent for two people is unmatched.
Downfalls of the Free Duo
The footprint of the Free Duo is just big enough to fit two people in it. My partner and I could only fit our two inflatable sleeping pads inside after staking out the bathtub floor. We were both able to sleep comfortably in the tighter space, but it is a good thing we like each other.
The second downfall of the tent is the semi-flat roof. In a Montana blizzard I tested the tent in, by morning there were a good 6 inches of snow piled on top. It was a simple fix — flicking the roof — but it did obscure any signs of daylight alerting me it was time to trudge through the snow once again.
Benefits of the Free Duo
The Free Duo is a very light freestanding tent. Beyond that, the aspects that truly amazed me were ...
The ease in finding a good spot to pitch the tent - The flip side of the small floor space is the ease in finding a spot for the tent. Compared to trekking pole tents, and others that require countless guylines, the Free Duo can be pitched simply on the footprint it takes up. We could not create enough space for two of us with this style of pitch, but when I used it by myself, there was ample room, no tent stakes required. The footprint and finding a place to pitch this two-person tent is much smaller than comparable shelters.
The limited number of stakes required - Another big bonus is the tent worked well when by myself and when together with my partner — requiring only 4 stakes. Even in inclement weather the limited stakes proved to be all that was needed for a comfortable night’s sleep for the two of us.
The large amount of headspace - The last thing is that this tent has unrivaled headspace. So if I am practicing my photography skills while sitting up, my partner can be sleeping next to me. In the blizzard I tested it in, it was a huge plus to be able to fully dress before leaving my shelter.
The Free Duo is a great design, developed over years, with unique poles to both spread the floor and create ample head space. It is a great tent for a couple, although I would probably find something with larger floor space if I were to use it with a friend.
It is my new single-walled shelter I use when hiking as a couple, and the space and security it offers makes it just as valuable for a single person in inclement weather. I was continually impressed by both the simplicity and construction of the Free Duo.