Minimalist tents -- Nemo, Mandatory Gear, Big Sky Intl.

Newtonian physics and fussy things like the inherent mass of matter may one day stymie the progress of lightweight tent design. But until then, a handful of companies will pursue the Holy Grail of creating a shelter so feathery and ephemeral as to be perfectly unnoticeable in a backpack.

Mandatory Gear (www.mandatorygear.com), a small outfit based in Minneapolis, is a leader in the field of lightweight tent design. Indeed, the company touts its Puppy Pile tent — yes, that is the real name — as the lightest freestanding, four-season, four-person model on the market.

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Weighing just 1 pound 9 ounces (including poles!), the Puppy Pile is extraordinarily feathery. But the tent, which was designed for the sport of adventure racing where a shelter is used only in emergencies, is cramped and virtually featureless.

At $499, the Puppy Pile is made of a single ply of silicone-impregnated nylon. It incorporates a simple and straightforward design with a pair of crisscrossed carbon poles threaded through rooftop fabric loops to provide structure. Its cozy dimensions — 88 × 60 inches with a 33-inch-high ceiling — will fit four grown humans, though not without some requisite spooning and cuddling.

The Puppy Pile, an undeniably cool creation, is best reserved for emergency trail use, not workaday camping. It will keep the weather out, but it does not breathe like a regular tent, and in-tent real estate, as noted, is a precious commodity.

Like the Puppy Pile, the 2-pound, 11-ounce Hypno PQ from Nemo Equipment Inc. (www.nemoequipment.com) was originally made for the sport of adventure racing, though fast-and-light backpackers and mountaineers will appreciate its minimalist design as well. The tent is free-standing but does not require poles. Instead, the company’s Airbeam technology — essentially an inflatable tube that arches over the tent body — provides support and rigidity.

Made of silicone-impregnated nylon, and measuring 84 × 53 inches with a 36-inch-high ceiling, the $395 tent provides tight quarters for four people or an adequately comfortable space for two.

Nemo includes an integrated pump to inflate the Airbeam and erect the tent in just a minute or two, making it the quickest and easiest of all models to set up. The Hypno PQ is a bare-bones shelter, with a single ply of exterior fabric and one door. Like the Puppy Pile, the Hypno PQ has only mediocre ventilation and few creature comforts.

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Big Sky International’s Evolution 2P was the most comfortable of the featherweights I tested this summer. It has a 42-inch-high ceiling, two large vestibules, pockets for gear inside, and a design that incorporates a mesh body with a silicone-impregnated nylon rainfly to maximize ventilation.

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All this and the tent, which has an 84 × 56-inch floor plan, still manages to hover around 3 pounds.

The downside to the Evolution 2P is its cumbersome setup. It took me more than five minutes to erect the tent after taking it out of the bag for the first time. It’s also a few ounces heavier than the competition.

Pricing for the Big Sky International (www.bigskyinternational.com) tent with aluminum poles starts at $260, making it a bargain compared to Mandatory Gear or Nemo. The carbon poles, which keep the Evolution 2P’s weight down to a specified 3 pounds, 2 ounces, cost an extra $85 but will be worth it to obsessive ounce counters like me.

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