When I first saw that Zpacks came out with a new ultralight freestanding tent, I really wanted to test one out and put together this Zpacks Free Duo review. It looked like it had the possibility of being the best ultralight freestanding tent based on the specs, but field testing is where you really find out the pros and cons of any piece of gear.
The Zpacks Free Duo Tent is built with tall folks in mind with a nice 42 inch peak height and 7.5 foot interior length. Even if you aren’t tall (like myself at 5’11”), I loved having the extra length to spread out. At just 30.1 oz and because of its size, durability, weight, ease of setup and how compact it rolls up, it quickly earned its way into my favorites when a freestanding tent is what I’m looking to take with me.
Looking for something similar to this Zpacks Free Due Tent, but for one person? You’ll want to check out the Zpacks Altaplex Tent. We’ve been using the Altaplex for years now and it’s a favorite of mine. Check out our Zpacks Altaplex review here!
First Impressions – Zpacks Free Duo Review
You might assume that to get a freestanding, 2 person tent with a full bathtub floor, two doors, two vestibules and a weight under 2 lbs, you’d have to compromise in a big way somewhere. During testing for this Zpacks Free Duo review I found that not only is this an incredibly lightweight tent, but it’s also durable, roomy, and super easy to set up. It’s so light you hardly notice it in your pack, sets up up in a flash, and amazingly features two doors and two vestibules. Now, let’s dive into the details and how it performed during testing.
If you are looking for one of the lightest two person tent options on the market, the Zpacks Free Duo Tent is definitely one to consider. This is one of the best ultralight tents I’ve tested for the ultralight ounce counter. Given its weight it would be normal to question its durability, but the Dyneema fabric used by Zpacks makes this much more indestructible than you’d think. What you end up with is a very durable tent with a TON of space, especially given its incredibly low weight.
Our Zpacks Free Duo Tent Rankings
The Testing: Zpacks Free Duo Review
As we always do here at Backwoods Pursuit for our reviews, we put the Zpacks Free Duo tent through a season of field testing to see if the Free Duo was one of the best backpack hunting tent options on the market for two people. It’s great to read the specs and love what you see, but specs mean nothing if that doesn’t translate to good usable space, a tent that keeps you dry, and something you don’t have to fight with to get set up. There’s simply no better place to test out gear than in the backcountry.
the Specs: Zpacks Free Duo Review
The Zpacks Free Duo Tent has impressive specs, with a few small drawbacks (more on those below). Here are the detailed specs on the Zpacks Free Duo Tent:
Freestanding – Single Wall: Zpacks Free Duo Review
The Zpacks Free Duo Tent is Zpacks’ first true, free-standing tent. Zpacks is known for their trekking pole style tents, but broke into the freestanding market with this new innovative design of the Free Duo. It is a single wall tent that uses two H-frame carbon poles to raise it up and can be set up with as little as two stakes.
Being a single wall tent, condensation is always a concern, but I had zero issues with this when I was by myself while testing for this Zpacks Free Duo review. I did, however, notice that there was a bit of condensation when using this tent as a two person tent. The extra body in the tent seemed to be enough to give it a nice layer of condensation each morning, however, it wasn’t enough to be an issue, just something to be aware of so you don’t touch the side of the tent and get your clothes wet.
The Free Duo pitches with the sides not coming all the way to the ground and leaves enough space to offer good ventilation to keep condensation at bay, even without opening the doors.
I definitely noticed less ventilation than the Zpacks Altaplex that I tested last year, which is particularly nice to keep unwanted drafts out. The non-zippered doors actually help allow a draft in to keep the condensation to a minimum. You can also sleep with one, two, three or all four doors rolled back in the open position to allow good ventilation (assuming weather permits) if condensation is an issue, but I had no problem with condensation even when it got down to below freezing.
Materials Used: Zpacks Free Duo Tent Review
Zpacks uses two different high-quality Dyneema fabrics. The canopy and walls are made of either their .55 oz/square yard or their 0.75 oz/square yard Dyneema. The colors Spruce, Burnt Orange, and Dirt are offered in the 0.75 oz/square yard material, while the other three colors are offered in the lighter weight Dyneema.
So what’s the difference between the two? Well, the 0.55 oz/square yard Dyneema has a hydrostatic head rating of 15,000 mm, while the 0.75 oz/square yard Dyneema has a 20,000 mm rating and is a bit more durable. Both are extremely tough, but if you want that little bit of extra durability and water proof rating, you have the option to go with a heavier weight material. Best of all, it only adds 2 ounces to the total weigh.
The floor is made with their 1.0 oz per square yard Dyneema which also has a hydrostatic rating of 20,000 mm. Zpacks wisely constructs the floor with a thicker floor material to aid in durability and an increased waterproof rating.
For more on Hydrostatic test ratings, check out our “Basics of Choosing a Backpacking Tent” article.
One thing I love about the Dyneema fabric is that it is naturally waterproof, so you don’t have to worry about the waterproof silicone or polyurethane wearing off.
Ease of Setup: Zpacks Free Duo Review
I found the Zpacks Free Duo Tent to be one of the easiest tents to setup that I’ve tested. The grommets used to hold the poles in place are a little bit different than all of the other tents I’ve used, but they work extremely well. It takes a practice run in the back yard to make sure you are getting the poles set up correctly (in the shape of an H) and that you make sure to get the poles in the correct grommets at the apex of the tent (as shown above), but it’s pretty self explanatory.
Pictured above is how the “H” frame of the tent should look when it is properly set up. The first time I pitched this tent, I realized I had mistakenly arranged the poles that are supposed to be horizontal, vertically. It still worked, but I could tell it wasn’t right.
Another unique feature to the setup of the Zpacks Free Duo tent is the guy out points at the head and foot of the tent. It serves a dual purpose in that it not only secures the tent on the upper section, but also acts as a guy out point at the bottom of the tent to make sure you have proper ventilation and that any rain/moisture is shed away from the bathtub floor. Pretty cool design!
See How to Set up the Zpacks Free Duo Tent Here
No Zipper Design: Zpacks Free Duo Review
One of the things that makes the Zpacks Free Duo tent one of the best ultralight freestanding tent options is the ingenious, no-zipper design. I’ve tested a number of Zpacks’ tents over the years and each of them features this awesome design. The Zpacks toggle clips securely hold the doors in place, and you have the added option of securing the mid-section of the door with an elastic tie down.
Being a single wall shelter, this no-zipper design really makes a TON of sense. While one of the issues that single wall tents face is condensation, this design allows the tent to breath very well, even when it’s fully closed off, which in turn minimizes the potential for condensation. Of course if you leave one or more of the vestibule doors open, you shouldn’t experience any condensation problems at all.
While I have yet to experience any problems with the no zipper design from Zpacks, if the wind really gets whipping, you’ll want to be aware of which way the flap lays over so you can set the tent up so the wind doesn’t catch the flap and cause some extra draft and/or noise. If you tighten down the vestibule enough, you shouldn’t have any issue at all. This tent is fantastic in the wind and is Zpacks’ best tent for windy conditions, as well as in rocky terrain where driving a stake in the ground in next to impossible.
Huge Doors: Zpacks Free Duo Review
The Zpacks Free Duo Tent gives you two huge doors that are 36 inches in height and zips/unzips the entire mesh side of the shelter. Combined with the bathtub floor, it’s incredible that this shelter comes in at only 30.1 ounces, gives you two doors, two vestibules and features a full bathtub floor. Getting in and out of this tent is a breeze, and the two full-size zippers also give you easy access to the vestibules on both sides of the tent.
Mesh Screen: Zpacks Free Duo Review
During this Zpacks Free Duo Tent review I noted that the .67 oz/square yard Ultralight Nano-Noseeum Insect Netting that Zpacks uses did a fantastic job of keep all unwanted visitors out of the tent. It also has proven to be very durable over the last several years of use. I’ve never had an issue with it ripping or tearing, and the zippers used are smooth and easy to operate.
There are just so many things that make the Zpacks Free Duo Tent one of the best backpack hunting tents for me, and generally one of the best ultralight, freestanding two person tent options out there.
interior Space: Zpacks Free Duo Review
The amount of space inside the Zpacks Free Duo Tent is one of the first things you’ll notice that is very impressive. Like most Zpacks’ tents, you get a fantastic 7.5 foot length, which is great for even the tallest folks out there. Not only that, but you can see in the picture above that the side walls are at a 90 degree angle on each side of the tent, and at the head and foot of the tent, they are almost at a 90 degree angle. This makes the interior space feel massive and you don’t get that issue of touching the wall of the tent with your head or foot because of the pitch angle.
Now, one downside to this tent is the width. At just 42 inches, you can only fit two regular size pads in this tent. If you are someone who is taller, often times those pads are 25 inches wide, which turns this into a solo tent. Most of us would use this as a solo tent anyway, but it’s simply not wide enough for two individuals if one of you has a wide pad. As you can see in the photo, it’s even snug for two regular size pads and bags, however, that’s nothing abnormal in the 2P backpacking tent world.
Another downside to this tent is how the top center part of the ceiling dips down into the tent, effectively lessening the usable height and head space of the tent. The picture angle above is looking up at the peak of the tent from the inside. You can see the center dip down, whereas the two sides are higher.
This was a drawback as it makes it tough to sit all the way up in the tent without your head touching the top. I thought that would bother me more than it did, but when field testing, I realized that I didn’t even notice it. Even so, it would be nice if the center didn’t dip because the 42 inch peak height is a nice height for plenty of usable space.
Build Quality: Zpacks Free Duo Review
I’ve owned a number of different Zpacks tents over the last several years and have yet to have any issue whatsoever with the quality of the construction. In fact, I haven’t had a single issue in any way, shape or form with any of their tents. Zpacks uses top-notch materials and builds a great tent. I’m sure mistakes happen, but so far I’ve been nothing but pleased with my Zpacks tents.
Compact Size: Zpacks Free Duo Tent Review
As with most free standing tents, the Free Duo is a little more bulky because of the carbon poles. That being said, the Free Duo tent packs up nice and takes up a very small amount of space in your pack. The poles come in a separate Dyneema stuff sack. While silnylon arguably is a little more compact, I like the weight savings Dyneema offers if you can swing the price tag.
Privacy Concern: Zpacks Free Duo Review
If you like your privacy in a shelter, something else I noted in doing this Zpacks Free Duo Tent review is that it is somewhat see-through. You can make out a silhouette due to the super thin material. While this didn’t bother me at all, I suppose it may be an issue for some. Fabric transparency is one of the things that you get with some of the Dyneema material colors. As you can see, this “Dirt” color isn’t bad at all, but colors like the Olive Drab or White are significantly more see through.
Price Tag: Zpacks Free Duo Tent Review
One of the biggest downsides to the Zpacks Free Duo Tent is the price tag. Coming in at $749 – $799, depending on the color (which affects the Dyneema thickness) for just the tent, the price could be a deterring factor for some. As we all know, you are going to pay extra for the combination of ultralight, durable, functional, and super high quality. This shelter encompasses all of those things amazingly well. They use top tier Dyneema fabric and best of all, Zpacks’ tents are MADE IN THE USA!!
What I liked: Zpacks Free Duo Tent Review
There was so much that I grew to love about this tent while field testing it. While the list is very long, several of the things mentioned above stood out the most to me:
- Interior length
- Crazy low weight
- Ease of setup
- Zpacks no-zipper doors
- Large door with rainbow zipper
- Windy condition performance
- MADE IN USA!!
What I didn’t Like: Zpacks Free Duo Review:
There are just a couple of things about the Free Duo that I thought could be a bit better. The dip in the apex height of the tent was instantly noticeable to me, and the width is a downside, particularly if you want to use it as a 2 person tent and one person has a wide pad. It simply isn’t wide enough in that situation.
- Dip in apex height
- 42 in width
- Price tag
Accessories: Zpacks Free Duo Tent Review
As I mentioned above, Zpacks offers you a number of accessories to pair with your tent. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the most important ones I would consider adding:
Zpacks Tent stakes
Zpacks also offers a number of different stake options to go with your tent purchase. In testing this one I used the Zpacks Sonic stakes, and they have been fantastic! I purchased a bunch of them to use for all my Zpacks shelters, and have some extras just in case.
Zpacks Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles
Zpacks makes some super lightweight Zpacks carbon fiber trekking poles. While you don’t need them for the Free Duo, they pair great with this Altaplex Tent, Duplex Tent, DupleXL, or any of the Zpacks shelters that use a trekking pole to set up. Again, I haven’t had a chance to test these out, but I do love the weight!
Zpacks Free Duo Tent Review: Conclusion
The Zpacks Free Duo tent earned its way onto my list of favorite ultralight, two person, freestanding shelters when every ounce matters. It’s loaded with features like the no-zipper design, spacious interior, Dyneema fabric, and super compact size. While the price point is on the steep side, you get a super durable, lightest of the light kind of tent that you hardly feel in your backpack. For me, the Zpacks Free Duo tent is one of the best ultralight freestanding tent options out there that I’ve tested so far. See how it stacks up against some of the others I tested in my full Backpacking Tent Review!
Check out Backcountry Camp Part 1: Basics of Selecting a Tent to help you select the right tent. Make sure to check out all of our other tent reviews as well! We’ve been testing tents for a while now, and have a good number of backpacking tent reviews.
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