REI’s flagship backpacking tent gets a flashy update for 2019. But how does it stack up in the field?
Like most people, I often set up new tents for the first time without the instructions, tossing everything out of the bag and slapping it all together. It’s more fun this way, and it’s far from careless.
This is an intentional test to see how intuitive the tent is to assemble. Early impressions can tell you a lot about how thoughtful the design is, just like long-term use will illustrate how rigorous the engineering was. This is especially true for smaller-capacity tents, which — as far as I’m concerned — should be easy to set up with just one person. And that’s doubly true of all backpacking tents, which often need to be assembled quickly in bad weather.
So, upon receiving REI’s new Quarter Dome SL 1 tent, I did just that. I set it up in my yard without instructions or help. And it checked both boxes pretty easily. The Quarter Dome SL was simple and fast to erect thanks to color coding and a single-pole design. But after a week’s testing in Arizona, I found that’s not what makes it truly stand out.
REI 2019 Quarter Dome SL 1 Tent Review
While most competitive tents focus on the extremes, what I sarcastically call “brittle ultralight” and “gratuitously overly engineered,” REI set out to strike a healthy balance between the two — and absolutely nailed it. The QD SL 1 is comfortably lightweight to carry in your pack while still comfortable to sleep in.
With a good first impression in my backyard, I took my SL tent on a recent backpacking trip to Arizona to see how well it would perform in the actual backcountry. My biggest lesson was that this tent is an entirely new beast.
Quarter Dome SL 1 Tent Specs
REI Quarter Dome SL 1 Tent
- Fabric: Nylon
- Rainfly: Full
- Packed size: 19” x 6”
- Packed weight: 2 lbs. 6 oz.
- Design: Freestanding
- Poles: 1
- Seasons: 3
- Floor dimensions: 88” x 35”/27”
- Peak height: 38”
- Doors: 1
- Stakes: 7
- MSRP: $249
Quarter Dome SL 1: Space, Comfort
The QD SL 1 is surprisingly roomy. I found it easy to sit up and change clothes inside without rubbing against the walls or ceiling. (For reference, I’m 6 feet tall.) While the tent was ostensibly designed for fast-and-light backpacking, it clearly had the everyman in mind. REI positions the tent as great for both thru-hiking and weekend warriors, and after using it on my recent backpacking trip, I’m inclined to agree.
The single vestibule offers ample space for a large pack, wet boots, poles, and a few other miscellaneous items. Meanwhile, a freestanding design helps when you need to move the tent or shake out dirt. Still, new changes to this model mean that the foot corners need to be staked out for a complete pitch.
The floorplan is larger near your head down to the waist, which I thought was a smart touch. Vents near the top of the tent help airflow and can be closed to trap more heat. And the tent and vestibule doors are thoughtfully designed so that they naturally stay out of the way. Small pockets inside provide just enough storage to organize gear. Overall, it’s a solid tent that’s polished down to the smallest detail.
QD SL 1 in the Elements
Although this tent impressed me with its comfort, my biggest concern when I first saw the Quarter Dome SL 1 tent was extreme wind. And while this line of tents has a longstanding legacy of high build quality and durable materials, I didn’t see many guy-out locations at first glance. So I was concerned the two flat sides would make the QD SL 1 vulnerable to big gusts.
We experienced rain on our trip to Arizona, and the Quarter Dome stayed completely dry. But we didn’t see a real storm. For that, more testing was needed.
I’ve since put this worry to bed as I’ve used the tent more. The SL is REI’s lightest tent, and when compared to products in that same weight class, it’s held up better to inclement elements than most. But to get the most out of the SL, proper orientation, setup (specifically the Velcro wraps), and guy-out use is very important.
On top of that, your campsite selection also becomes an important factor. In short, the user will play a big role in how well this tent performs in the backcountry.
REI Quarter Dome SL 1 Tent: Final Thoughts
There will always be a trade-off when using an ultra-lightweight tent. You just can’t have it all.
All things considered, this tent is one of the best on the market. It’s simple, intuitive, and functional. And the SL 1 is light enough that long-distance backpackers should at least consider it. And for anyone looking for a quality all-around tent that competes in the weight category, this might be your best bet.