My in-depth review of MSR’s Freelite 2 Ultralight Backpacking tent.
I purchased the Freelite 2 last Spring when it was on-sale at REI and I still had some left over dividend bucks to play with. At the time, I’d been camping with my now 8-year-old REI Quarterdome 2 tent. That tent has been around the world with me, from camping at music festivals in California to hiking through the Huayhuash region in Peru. I loved that tent. But it was time for an upgrade.
For my new tent, I wanted something that could offer the same spacious interior of the Quarterdome but without all the weight. My ideal tent would be a two person tent weighing less than 3 pounds. After weeks and months of exhaustive research, I came across the MSR Freelite 2 on the REI Garage Sale website. I wasn’t going to find a better deal, and I bought it.
If you’re wondering if you should buy the MSR Freelite 2, read on.
MSR Freelite 2 Features:
Ultralight: this tent weights in at 2.75 pounds
Spacious: Room for 2 sleeping pads with a 36” peak height.
Floor area: 29 sq ft
Vestibule area: 17.5 sq ft
Doors: Two side doors that unzip completely.
Ventilation: micromesh canopy for maximum ventilation and moisture control
Packs up small 18 x 6 x 6
Where the Tent Was Tested
I used this tent for 5 months across the Summer and Fall of 2018 primarily in the White Mountain National Forest of New Hampshire in environments that were wet, had fairly extreme temperature fluctuations, high wind, rain, and lots of bugs. The MSR Freelite 2 held up beautifully for its first season and I have close to no regrets about my purchase. We’ll get to my issues about this tent, but first: the things I like.
A Truly Ultralite 2 Person Tent
Having carried around a heavy 4 pound tent on solo backpacking trips for many years, I was happy to find that the MSR Freelite is genuinely a 2 person tent below 3 pounds. Personally, I like to carry 2 person tents even on my shorter solo trips because I like the comfort of having my pack and all my gear inside the tent with me with room to move around. We all have our quirks. I see you, people who hike fresh vegetables into the mountains.
Most ultralight tents cut a lot of corners to reduce weight. They decrease interior space, choose flimsy material, or the tent doesn’t have a separate rainfly. The Freelite doesn’t cut these corners. The nylon is thin, yes, but it held up beautiful against the ferocious rain storms that swept in on me one night in mid-July.
More Interior Space
The Freelite cuts down on interior space, but they did it in a really smart way. The peak height is 38” and is located not at the center of the tent but slightly more towards the head area. The roof lowers down towards the feet. So, unlike a dome tent, you’re limited in which way you can sleep. But at least the interior space is large enough that I could sit up straight while getting organized in the morning.
The Freelite 2 is Sturdy (once staked)
MSR claims that the Freelite 2 is freestanding. And it is… technically. It will stand up without being staked down. But you don’t really want to sleep in it like that.
In truth, this tent needs to be staked or tied down to be completely standing. Once staked firmly into the ground, this tent is capable of withstanding quite high winds. I never had any issues with leaks or moisture collecting inside the tent. A tent that can keep a hiker completely dry throughout the entire humid summer season of New England is basically a miracle.
Easy Camp Set Up and Breakdown
I found the Freelite an easy tent to set up and take down on my own, even in high winds. The single pole construction snaps together effortlessly and the external clips make it fairly simple to erect the tent.
The only tricky part is figuring out which end of the tent is the foot when you are laying it out. It’s just a matter of finding the clips for the poles really, but does take a second of finagling.
The rain fly goes on easy, with my only small complaint being that the interior snaps on the rainfly have to be stretched quite significantly to get them onto the short pole that supports the roof of the tent. I did worry I was going to split a seam on the rainfly a few times.
Positive Overall Tent Construction
The overall construction of the Freelite 2 works for me. Like I mentioned before, the peak height allows me to sit up straight, I don’t mind having the area around my feet a bit more constrained.
Once set up and staked down, the poles are fairly strong and able to withstand the force of strong winds or even my hand pressing down on them. Though perhaps not the most structurally sound tent that has ever been created, it’s good enough for me.
The tent is wide enough for two people, if you’re close. We’ll get into this a bit more in the negative section of the review. The double doors are great, everyone likes a tent with two exits (looking at you, Big Agnes…). The doors unzip completely which is controversial feature but I’ll say that I like them.
The vestibule area under the rainfly is spacious enough for a bag and some shoes. My only issue is with the doors on the rainfly. They have two zippers, which means you can unzip from the bottom and from the top. I really don’t understand the utility of this, and often in the middle of the night when trying to re-close the rainfly door after a quick, cold midnight pee I’d accidentally pull down both zippers, so that the door would still be open, but pinched closed at the bottom. It is a weird feature and I don’t love it.
This seems like as good a time as ever to transition into…
What I don’t love about the MSR Freelite 2
Before we get into the negatives, let me preface with saying that I like this tent a lot and am not unhappy with my purchase. It provided a safe home for me all the way until just before winter hit and I appreciate that. But there are some gripes and some small things I would change about this tent.
Interior Space Not Fully Optimized
This could be a bit picky, but I feel that the interior features of the tent aren’t fully optimized. Namely, that there is only one mesh pocket in the interior, near your head. I wish there would be a second pocket down by the feet, sometimes I don’t want all my stuff hanging just over my face while I sleep, you know?
Not Quite A 2 Person Tent
The MSR Freelite 2 claims to be a 2 person tent, and it is… technically. My boyfriend Erich and I used this tent in mid-October for a single night trip into the Pemigewasset and it was perfectly comfortable for the two of us, but again, he is my boyfriend.
If two fully grown men were to lay on their backs in this tent, I think it would be a tight squeeze. So while, yes, it is a 2 person tent, it is a very cozy two person tent. If you and your regular camping partner are both big humans, this tent might not be the right fit.
If you’re small like me, I’m 5’3 and 150lbs, boyfriend is 5’7 and has a fairly thin/smaller frame, it’s a great tent.
This is my biggest caution to those considering the MSR Freelite 2. It is not truly freestanding.
Camping in the White Mountains, you have the choice between backcountry camping or camping at designated AMC campsites. The Freelite 2 is a perfect tent for backcountry stealth camping in the Whites. The soil is usually soft yet rocky, so with a little fiddling, the stakes will slip right into the earth and the tent is secured.
The challenge comes when you choose to sleep at an AMC campsite. Here, tents are often placed onto flat wooden platforms. It’s nice to know you’ll be sleeping on a completely level surface, but it is not so easy to set up a tent that needs to be staked down. I managed to mostly make it work by tying the tent down using some creative string work, but the hardest part is getting the rainfly set up. Thankfully it never rained on me in that situation.
So, if you often camp on wooden platforms or on terrain where it is not possible to stake down a tent, you may want to bypass the MSR Freelite.
TL;DR Pro’s and Cons
Below 3 pounds (allows for a 2 person tent on a 1 person trip)
Ultralight tents often cut down on materials to cut down on weight, they made smart decisions with this design so while yes, the interior is smaller than a typical dome tent, it’s still roomy above your head
Can set it up in the rain by putting the rain fly on first (but it’s awkward)
Have camped in this tent in the rain and very high winds and never had a problem
When staked down, really roomy and wonderful, when I had to set it up on a platform, not so much.
2 Doors for easy access and great views.
Easy to compress down, doesn’t take up too much space in my bag
Not enough pockets inside the tent
Hard to get the rainfly on completely properly
VERY cozy for 2 people – it works for my boyfriend and I but if you were with someone you didn’t know super well, it could be weird
Hard to set up on the platforms featured in campsites on the white mountains, or hard to set up on rocks – great as long as you can stake it down properly
Should You Buy the MSR Freelite 2?
At the end of the day, this is a great ultralight tent for solo hikers and duos who are comfortable with each other. It’s easy to set up, can withstand the elements better than a lot of other three season tents, and doesn’t weigh down your pack.
I like my MSR Freelite 2 a lot and would recommend it to friends who understand the compromises that are inherent in purchasing an ultralight tent.
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