Sierra Designs Lightning 2 Tent Review
Active Gear Review is supported by its audience. If you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.
The three-season, two-person Lightning 2 tent from Sierra Designs is a refreshing and welcome reimagining of what a tent – and what camping – can be. The engineering and design elements comprising the tent deserve special commendation. The product should be given full consideration by those in the market for camping gear.
I found the Lightning 2 thoughtfully put together from top to bottom, awning to stow closets. My favorite feature of the Lightning 2 is its answer to the unusual contradiction that occurs when your camping trip turns rainy. No longer must you either risk flooding a tent’s interior or else close up shop entirely. With the Sierra Designs awning, open-air vistas can still be taken during a rainshower.
Sierra Designs Lightning 2 Tent Design & Materials
In its pack, the tent and poles measure about 20 inches long by around eight inches across. It’s easy to carry because of its flyweight status at around four pounds.
The svelte packed dimensions can be misleading, however: this is a good-sized tent when propped into place. The interior area is a touch over 30 square feet, plus two innovative gear closets that measure around 4 square feet each. Inside maximum height is 42.5 inches.
Altogether, the tent is spacious enough that moving about isn’t a hassle. And sleeping arrangements for two are accommodated. My two sleeping bags fit snugly side by side.
Nevertheless, the tent is not overly large or bulky. Nor does it suffer the pains felt from some tents with illogical interior space arrangements. The Lightning 2 tent’s philosophical underpinning clearly is to give what is needed, neither more nor less.
Floor paneling is provided by 70D nylon taffeta with a water resistant polyurethane coating. The “D” is shorthand for “denier,” a measure of the linear mass density of fibers. The grading system is sort of arcane, but a higher “D” means a thicker fabric. For tent flooring, 70D nylon is a good standard weave found in quality products.
The taffeta moniker means the weave is comprised of uniformly thick strands of yarn, as opposed to a ripstop construction with its box stitch of two yarn weights. The polyurethane coating is good for up to 3000mm of water column height before leaking. Which is to say the flooring is essentially waterproof and coated with a thick enough polyurethane treatment that it will stay that way for a long time.
The body material is a 20D nylon no-see-um mesh. The mesh is essentially transparent, allowing good views and protecting from airborne nuisances. And the fly material is 75D polyester taffeta with a polyurethane coating rated at 1500mm water column height. It’s also waterproof for all intents. (Apologies for the pun.)
Paneling of the tent provides good protection from outside elements but also offers enough airflow to keep things fresh. Venting placement and design, perhaps because of those dual open-air gear lockers, assist with natural air circulation.
The major structural design story of the Lightning 2 has a pair of components. The first is the awning. Rather than a vestibule setup, Sierra Designs opted for open-mindedness about open-air entryways. The result is a fresh and easy ingress/egress experience. I guess it hadn’t occurred to me how unusual my little crabwalk/limbo dance into and out of tents was until using the Lightning 2 for a bit. What great dignity would be preserved on campgrounds if everyone owned the awning? Say goodbye to kicking your backpack over on your way out of the tent. Or, as I’ve done, say goodbye to inadvertently kicking your significant other’s backpack into mud on your way out of the tent.
The second part of the design story is the pair of gear lockers flanking the main cabin. Each locker can store boots, clothes and other equipment in their own tucked-away zone. No more crushing toothpaste tubes when you’re trying to get things arranged inside the tent. Why haven’t tents always had these? They’re very useful – more so than I’d anticipated – and really do confer some organizational discipline in the tent.
My only critical observation of the lockers derives from when I returned to base after traversing muddy terrain. My caked boots were not welcome inside my tent. On the other hand, they’re nice kicks: I didn’t really want to leave them outside the tent by their lonesome all night. A front-door vestibule helps in these situations. But the awning did keep my boots’ insides dry in rain, and I was able to later put them in a locker overnight without getting mud into the tent. So it was all good in the end.
Sierra Designs Lightning 2 Tent Setup
Setup is quick and intuitive and not too taxing. It’s perfect for when, at the end of a day’s hike or drive, the last thing you want to do is wrestle with a tent. Camping along the Franco-Spanish border in the Pyrenees a few years ago I nearly spent an icy spring night unprotected because a difficult tent didn’t want to cooperate in blustery winds as the sun set. This tent would have been a most welcome stand-in for that old piece.
I was able to put up and take down the tent by myself without strain. Part of the ease of setup is due to the tent’s “one-piece pitching” construction. Not only does this enable easier builds, but it also keeps the interior dry from precipitation.
Sierra Designs Lightning 2 Tent In Action
The waterproofing works, as evidenced by rains that soaked the ground but not my sleeping bags or gear stowed in the lockers.
Ventilation and, by extension, resistance to wind buffeting is very good. There was virtually none of the dank foot smell that seems to rise up from the insides of tents. And breezes passing through didn’t upset the tent’s composure.
The 70D nylon taffeta flooring is confident underfoot, comfortable on the hands and knees and elbows, and it was unaffected by sharp pine needles and grasses on the ground. No punctures occurred. Its interior remained dry in my use. And I never felt like the material would give way. It was up to its task with ease.
The walls, too, stood up to the elements, with no adverse outcomes to report. The functional pieces worked as they should. The awning provided excellent mid-day shade.
But the best part, really, is the view and oneness with nature afforded by the awning design and mesh. Your tent becomes a natural enclosure, both outdoors and not, like the hollow of a tree trunk. It’s pretty cool. On all sides of you are either views or touch to what’s outside.
Sierra Designs Lightning 2 Tent Other Comments
Though not a significant consideration for most serious adventurers, the color combination of the Lightning 2 is pleasing. Its aqua front door and floor are encased by tan walls, a cheerful and clean pairing of hues that looks modern and fresh. The poles, too, are color-coordinated. Even grizzled outdoorsmen can find joy in thoughtful aesthetics.
Who Sierra Designs Lightning 2 Tent Is For
The Lightning 2 makes a good deal of sense for couples camping. There’s not a ton of excess space in the cabin, even though the gear lockers offer great utility and organization. It’s cozy. For two friends camping, things could feel a bit too intimate.
The tent offers easy setup and take down, so it’s a good fit for those seeking to avoid fits pitching their domes. And its quality of construction and materials recommends it for discerning backpackers who don’t want to settle for shoddy workmanship or questionable durability.
Most of all, however, the tent is for those, like me, who find great peace sitting inside the tent and watching the day ease to night. It offers a place for shaded respite that isn’t closed off. For this same reason, the Lightning 2 is great in the rain.
No doubt in large part because of its quality and innovative features, the Lightning 2 is priced higher than those tents of lesser workmanship and design. At $269.95, it’s an investment of sorts. For the very casual camper who goes out once a year, it may not pay sufficient dividends. But for all others, the payback is well within view.
For more information, visit sierradesigns.com.