Gear Institute Expert Test Menu
by Frederick Reimers - published February 2012




  • Incredible price for a tent this good.
  • Very sturdy for the weight.
  • Two doors and vestibules means better live-ability.
  • Cheerful colors elevate morale when tent-bound by bad weather.
  • Nearly vertical walls mean entire floor plan is useable space.
  • Lots of pockets.


  • Rain sometimes falls into the tent when the door is opened.
  • First time set-up can be confusing.


The best balance between cost, weight, strength, and amenities of any tent I’ve tested. An innovative tensioned architecture lends surprising strength for the relatively few poles and REI uses those weight savings to keep the fabrics durable.


The key to the revised Half Dome 2 is engineering I’m amazed no one else has adopted. Instead of crossing in the traditional X, the twin main poles run parallel, saving a few segments (read: weight) and making the walls more vertical. Upon set-up, you twist those two poles down and inward, holding them under tension with a third cross-pole threaded through plastic joiners at the peak. Most other tents duplicating this form fail to put the poles under tension and therefore miss an opportunity to build tautness into the design. It’s not an obvious first-time set-up, but remarkable for its strength and simplicity each time thereafter.

The walls are impressively vertical—we were able to squeeze four people in a circle inside the tent (the card game test). Two doors and vestibules = happy cohabitation and better ventilation. The yellow color makes for better morale when tent-bound in crappy weather. Ever spent 30 hours in a blue-hued tent? Your partner is cast in a zombie-like hue and you’ll feel like one.

There are lighter tents out there—four pounds is sort of the four-minute mile of two-door backpacking tents and this one is a pound over that, but those weight savings usually come from ultralight, and expensive fabrics. The Half Dome 2 uses durable, moderately priced fabrics throughout and has plenty of pockets to stash glasses overnight or as a place to air out your smelly socks. I really like the ceiling pockets for tucking in a headlamp for overhead lighting.

REI made the zipper position of the body door and the fly door parallel, which makes for quick egress and ingress, but means that rain can fall right into the tent when the fly door is open. Otherwise it kept us perfectly dry in fat, wet snowflakes in the North Cascades and the pop-up vents and largely mesh body did a solid job of ventilating moisture so little condensation accumulated on the underside of the fly. Essentially, fly zipper placement is the only flaw of this tent as long as you aren’t looking for a beefier model for winter expeditions.

How We Tested It

Tested in summer and fall conditions on river trips on Oregon’s Rogue and Deschutes rivers as well as a fall backpacking trip to Washington’s Alpine Lakes.

The products featured in this test have been loaned to the Gear Institute. For more on our policies regarding editorial objectivity and sample returns, see here.


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