By RYAN DIONNE
“If light weight and savvy features like lightning-fast set up and a no-hassle design appeal to you, then the REI Ace SW backpacking tent is worth a look.” — That’s the line from REI.com on its new Ace SW 2 tent, a single-wall shelter that uses breathable and coated fabrics, two vestibules, and big, circular doors to create a unique three-season shelter.
In my test this summer, the Ace SW 2 tent lived up to most of its promises. While it’s rare to see a single-wall tent that balances adequate ventilation with light weight and ample room inside, REI has mostly pulled it off with this tent.
The appeal of a single-wall tent versus a double-wall tent is it doesn’t have a rain fly. That generally means less weight and less bulk, so you can stow it in a smaller pack and cut weight from your trip.
The Ace SW 2, which weighs about 4.5 pounds packed up, has a door and vestibules on both sides. The double-door design is ideal when you and your camping partner are scrambling to get out of the rain, and the vestibules — both 6.6-square-feet — allow you to take off shoes or organize gear while staying out of the elements.
The tent, new this past spring, doesn’t have any zip-down windows. Instead, the vestibule is the only layer protecting you from the elements on the sides. The tent’s inside layer is mesh.
I found the mesh-window interior to be a great feature. Like all single-wall tents I’ve tested, massive amounts of condensation build up from body heat and breathing on the inside walls of the tent. Sleeping bags and gear can get drenched inside.
With the Ace SW 2, much of the condensation floats through the mesh and forms on the inner wall of the vestibule instead, keeping you and your gear drier. That being said, the head and foot ends of the tent accumulate condensation. I bring a pack towel to wipe down the insides in the morning.
Because of the three-pole construction — two diagonal poles that cross at the middle and another short pole that attaches perpendicularly to create an overhang for the vestibule — venting the two-person tent is easy even if it’s raining: The small third pole lets you open the top of the vestibule to vent while remaining dry in all but the worst conditions.
However, with the vestibules closed, the tent has minimal ventilation.
With floor dimensions of 88 inches by 54 inches and a peak height of 39 inches, the tent is plenty big for two average-size adults. And when rolled, the tent fit vertically or horizontally in my Arc’teryx Bora 80 pack as well as my wife’s Gregory Electra.
While it’s possible to find lighter two-person single-wall tents on the market, it’s hard to find a quality tent that balances weight, features and cost like the Ace SW 2 does. Most other tents of comparable weight and size retail for $50 to $100 more than the REI single-wall.
For $299 — plus another $27 if you want the footprint — the lightweight three-season tent is well worth the money.
- Pros: Double doors/vestibules for ample room; Packs up small; Relatively light (~4.5 pounds); Good value; Stuff sack has compression straps.
- Cons: Minimal ventilation when fly is fully closed; More finicky to set up than other single-wall tents; Being a single wall, condensation may form on interior of tent near feet and head.
- Bottom Line: Though it has some flaws, the REI Ace SW2 is a good value. Its design balances single-wall cons with attributes that make it solid for backpacking trips where you want to save weight without sacrificing in-tent space to spread out and organize your gear.
- MSRP: $299
- Contact: www.rei.com
—Contributor Ryan Dionne is based in Boulder, Colo. He writes a blog on the outdoors and gear at http://explore-it.blog.com