If you’re the type of backpacker who shaves down their toothbrush to save ounces on the trail, the new MSR FreeLite tent is for you. MSR reduced weight — and cost — with this revamped ultralight tent.
When it comes to backpacking long distances, every ounce matters. If a pack feels heavy at the trailhead, it’s going to feel even heavier by mile 10. That’s why ultralight backpacking gear is a lifesaver for everyone from thru-hikers on the AT to weight-averse weekend warriors.
And if you live on the trail for weeks or months at a time, cutting weight and gear down to just the essentials is a matter of survival. A tent is your home away from home. MSR, best known for its stoves, nails it with the FreeLite tent series, a historically high-performance ultralight tent.
In short: For spring 2022, the reimagined FreeLite series offers a variety of upgrades. But the headline here is the weight and price reduction — MSR shaved 9 ounces and $100 off the new tent.
This piqued my interest, which is why I took the tent out for a spin on a 20-mile backpacking trip through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
First Impressions: 2022 FreeLite Out of the Bag
Before setting out on the trail, I took a moment to assemble the new tent in my living room to ensure everything was in working order. It was — the tent felt very light, clocking in at 2 pounds for the two-person model. This is a semi-freestanding tent, meaning you will need the poles and stakes to fully pitch the tent.
New features that stand out on the 2022 FreeLite version are the easy-open, no-curve door zippers, cable ports in all storage pockets for electronics, and rain gutters on the fly to guide condensation away from the tent when opening the doors.
MSR promises greater livability for less weight with the updated version. And it seemed to deliver this when I compressed the tent down into its small stuff sack.
The tent, especially for a two-person, is very compact. It took up noticeably less space in my pack and was one of the lighter items I carried. If you split this tent between two people on the trail, you’re looking at less than a pound of weight each, which is the dream for ultralight backpackers.
MSR FreeLite Tent Review: Trail Test
When I set out on my trip in late November to test out the tent, the weather (which had been amazing in Colorado) looked a bit ominous. While the dark clouds moved in and graupel started to hit my head, I was buoyed by how light the tent felt in my pack. At camp, the sleeting hail turned to fat snowflakes, so I quickly erected the tent — assembled in about 5 minutes on my own.
This tent is a similar design to the previous FreeLite and others. The durable DAC aluminum poles create a fishbone that the tent clips onto. I staked out the corners to give the tent its body and roomy interior before putting the rainfly on over it. The rainfly stakes out too, providing two spacious vestibules on either side.
While the tent included guy lines, it did not include additional stakes for the guy lines, so make sure to throw in some extra stakes if you anticipate needing them. (I learned this the hard way.) Considering the FreeLite is a three-season tent and I was bumping up against winter-like conditions, I could have benefited from staking out the guy lines.
I crawled into the spacious tent to warm up, then hunkered down in the tent for the majority of the afternoon. At 6’2”, I fit in the tent just fine on my own. With a tentmate, it would have been tight, but doable. I was able to keep my pack dry in one vestibule and cook dinner in the other.
2022 MSR FreeLite vs. Weather, Snow, Wind
The snow piled up on the tent, and I could see the rain gutters collecting water and diverting it away from the tent door. This aspect worked great, and I was able to stay relatively dry. The no-curve zippers are also fantastic and made it really easy to open and close the tent with one hand.
With a peak height of just over 3 feet (99 cm), I was able to sit upright when cooking and eating dinner. I basically lived in the tent for 12 hours comfortably, which speaks to the livability factor MSR touts.
The only drawback was that around 3 a.m., the wind really picked up with gusts up to 30 mph. The tent wall by my head, where the rainfly doesn’t cover, would pop loudly as the wind slammed into it. Any tent will make some noise in strong wind conditions, and in hindsight, staking out the guy lines likely would have helped me.
The headwall of the tent is waterproof, and MSR saved some weight with the rainfly by not completely covering that section of the tent. But for me, it’d be nice to have extra space between my head and the elements.
And the tent also has low vents to provide great ventilation. However, when the wind picks up, it can whip through and make some noise.
MSR FreeLite Specs
- FreeLite 1: 1 lb. (6 oz. lighter than previous model)
- FreeLite 2: 2 lbs. (8 oz. lighter than previous model)
- FreeLite 3: 2 lbs. 6 oz. (9 oz. lighter than previous model)
- FreeLite 1: 20/8 sq. ft.
- FreeLite 2: 29/15 sq. ft.
- FreeLite 3: 38.5/14 sq. ft.
Interior Peak Height
- FreeLite 1: 39″ (99 cm)
- FreeLite 2: 39″ (99 cm)
- FreeLite 3: 43″ (109 cm)
- FreeLite 1: 18″ x 4″/46 x 10 cm
- FreeLite 2: 18″ x 4.5″/46 x 11.5 cm
- FreeLite 3: 19″ x 5″/48 x 12.7 cm
- FreeLite 1: $370
- FreeLite 2: $410 ($100 price reduction)
- FreeLite 3: $480
FreeLite Tent Performance, Takeaways
Between the rain, sleet, snow, and wind, I really put the updated MSR FreeLite to the test. Bottom line: It held up, and I stayed dry and warm during an early-season snowstorm that blew through the Rockies.
The canopy and floor are 15-denier ripstop. And while the tent made some noise in the wind, it withstood the elements. Considering how the tent performed in some more extreme conditions, it should be extra ideal for milder summer days too.
The biggest benefit of the 2022 FreeLite comes down to the price tag and ounces. For the cost and the weight, this is a great option for thru-hikers and those ounce-counting adventures. Get the new FreeLite online starting on Jan. 1, 2022.