Gossamer Gear The DCF Two Ultralight Tent Review
The Two is Gossamer Gear’s classic two-person ultralight shelter. Since being introduced in 2017, the solid design and minor tweaks have helped it grow in popularity in many corners of the backpacking community. Gossamer Gear has traditionally relied on their custom weave SilNylon for their shelters, mostly steering clear of Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF).
But this formerly obscure material has become the darling of ultralighters everywhere and is now ubiquitous across the American wilderness. It was only a matter of time before Gossamer Gear got in the DCF game by expanding their DCF offerings (beyond accessories) to include shelters.
As the company explains in a blog post, they have thought long and hard about these designs, working through six iterations before finally releasing it into the wild. DCF is a unique fabric to work with, and it sounds like Gossamer Gear used the right approach to make sure that they got it right.
The original Two got a lot of things right. Let’s see if the DCF version is even better.
Gossamer Gear The DCF Two At-a-Glance
Shelter Type: Non-freestanding, single wall
Shelter Weight: 20.8 ounces
Total Weight (my measurement): 25.2 ounces
Packed Size: 5” x 19” (variable depending on skill and preference)
Capacity: Two people + gear
Number of Doors: Two
Vestibule Area: 10 square feet
Floor Size: 48” head, 42” foot, 84” length (24.5 square feet)
Peak Height: 43” (with trekking poles at 125cm)
Bug Protection: Yes
Gossamer Gear has its roots in minimalist backpacking. Their company slogan is, “take less. do more.” The original Two was designed with this in mind, and the DCF version takes it a step further.
This shelter is for backpackers who prioritize cutting their base weight and don’t mind making a few compromises to do it. The non-freestanding, trekking pole setup makes this tent a great option for experienced backpackers or those who don’t mind a bit of a learning curve.
While the DCF Two is spacious enough for an on-trail zero day, it is designed to spend most of its time in a backpack, where the small packed-size and lightweight materials won’t be unnecessarily burdensome during long days between camps. This tent has a thru-hiking pedigree yet caters to most three-season adventures.
Circumstances of Review
In the brief period of time that I’ve known the DCF Two, I’ve seen the sun just a handful of times. At least that’s how it feels. As the season progresses here in the Pacific Northwest, gloom has become the prevailing forecast. Recent snows will probably cover the Pacific Crest until next year’s thaw.
I’ve found that this shelter offers reliable protection on rainy nights, whether it’s in the backyard or nestled in the folds around Mount Hood. It fits well in my backpack folded up, and it fits two people, a dog, and their gear when pitched.
While the DCF Two is built to handle a thru-hike, it’ll be 2021 by the time I put it to the test.
Gossamer Gear The DCF Two Features
DCF Canopy: This version of The Two uses 0.51oz/yd2 DCF material on the main tent body. For comparison, the non-DCF version uses 10D SilNylon. DCF is an awesome option for tents because it is fully waterproof and does not become saturated when wet, so it dries quickly and does not sag. It is also incredibly strong for its weight and is super easy to repair with DCF tape.
7D SilNylon floor: With this tent, Gossamer Gear introduces another new fabric, an ultra-thin and ultralight 7D SilNylon. It’s used for the bathtub floor. If you’re like me, you’re wondering, “why did they put a super thin nylon floor on a DCF shelter?” Well, perhaps in anticipation of this very question, Gossamer Gear addresses this decision in that same blog post. It is more packable and cheaper than DCF and compares favorably in strength to the thicker 10D and 15D options.
Waterproof zippers: Yep, the outer vestibule zippers are waterproof and feel sturdier than most ultralight zippers.
Stakes included: Strangely, this isn’t a given when purchasing ultralight shelters, which are often expensive to begin with. The DCF Two comes with eight stakes. It can be set up using a minimum of six, and the extra two help in windier conditions by tensioning the two wall tie-outs at the head and foot of the tent.
Mesh wall tie-outs: These allow for the inner bug mesh near each door to be attached to the structural trekking poles. It’s a small thing, but it maximizes the livable space and keeps the floppy mesh from blowing in the breeze.
Clothesline: It’s another small thing, but a clothesline is a handy addition for hanging stinky socks or a headlamp.
Wide ridgeline: The DCF Two is designed so that the poles tilt outward, away from the living space. This arrangement creates an extra-wide ridgeline that adds roughly 20 inches width at the tent’s highest point (64 inches). That means plenty of shoulder room for two occupants before and after horizontal time and helps The Two feel palatial.
SilNylon vs DCF
SilNylon versus DCF is the crux of this biscuit. The former is the industry standard and is well-stocked in gear shops across the globe. It is used to make just about anything that needs to be waterproof, from tents to stuff sacks.
DCF has, for the most part, remained the domain of the burgeoning cottage gear industry, where features and excess comforts are sacrificed religiously in the name of going ultralight. Undoubtedly, DCF also has that ‘cool factor’ that we hikers are always striving for, but other improvements help justify the added downsides, most notably cost. Dyneema performs like unicorn hair, and it is priced to match.
The Two has been available for years in its non-DCF form. What does DCF bring to the party besides a higher sticker price?
Strength: The top-notch strength-to-weight ratio of Dyneema allows manufacturers to use less ’stuff’ without sacrificing strength performance. Generally speaking, that means that a lighter DCF will handle the same forces as a heavier SilNylon. The benefits are obvious. DCF shelters can be lighter while still standing up to tent-tearing gusts of wind.
Easy to repair: “Durability” is difficult to define, especially when it comes to shelter fabrics. DCF is durable in many ways, such as repeated flexing or ultraviolet light exposure, but it is unremarkable in others, like puncture and abrasion resistance.
Fortunately, if DCF does develop a hole, it is easy to repair in the field. All it takes is a patch of DCF tape (included with The Two). Trim it to size, slap it on, and it will last the lifetime of the tent. Other tapes may work, at least temporarily, and DCF tape is available online.
100% waterproof: DCF does not require any coatings to achieve a waterproof rating. SilNylon is also waterproof, but it absorbs moisture and stretches slightly when saturated, whether from rain, morning dew, or breath condensation. A SilNylon shelter, pitched tight in the evening, will look loose and saggy in the morning in damp conditions.
A DCF shelter, on the other hand, will remain tight overnight. This benefits livability because interior space is maintained, and the tight fabric is less prone to flapping noisily with the wind. It also means that DCF dries more quickly after a wet night, which keeps extra water weight off your back.
DCF also has its drawbacks. It’s worth noting that Gossamer Gear attempted to limit their impacts by pairing the DCF canopy with a SilNylon floor. This decision reduced price and increased packability:
Price: This is the big one. DCF is expensive. It’s also more difficult to work with, which increases production costs. Final retail price is probably the biggest factor preventing DCF from going mainstream. You can spend $1000+ on a DCF shelter. The DCF Two is $214 more than the non-DCF version ($589 vs. $375), a significant increase.
Gear budgets are highly variable, and splurging on DCF is a wonderful privilege. For your money, you’ll save 2.7 ounces and gain the additional benefits of DCF. Whether or not that’s worth it is up to you.
Packability: DCF is super lightweight, but it just doesn’t pack up that small. I’ve never understood this, but it is a fact of life. However, unless your backpack is near maximum capacity, this probably won’t be an issue. And when comparing packability with classic, double-walled shelters, the DCF Two still has the advantage of subtracting the bulk of dedicated poles and rainfly.
The DCF Two is a Palace
Trekking pole shelters, while lightweight, can suffer when it comes to livability. Freestanding and semi-freestanding style tents benefit from a complex pole structure that balloons the tent body into a dome-like shape, creating more interior space, particularly near the head and foot.
That keeps a flapping or soggy tent off of your face or from dampening the footbox of your sleeping bag. On the other hand, trekking pole shelters generally look a lot like the A-frame shelters of yesteryear. The body often follows a straight line down from the ridgeline to a staked-out corner. Even if the footprint is expansive, the limited airspace can feel claustrophobic.
Small Tweaks, Big Impact
The DCF Two is not immune from this issue, but minor design tweaks effectively minimize uncomfortable distractions and help it feel exceptionally huge. The bathtub floor dimensions are nothing special, but The Two has plenty of shoulder room for two platonic hikers and adequate length for the tall folk.
Where this tent really beats the system is with the angled trekking pole setup. Placing the pole tips in grommets on the floor ensures it stays taught at full width, and tie-outs keep the mesh walls attached to the poles and out of your face. Best of all, angling the poles outward creates a bonkers amount of headroom at 64 inches.
The two vestibules are also huge, offering 10 square feet of functional space each for cooking or storing gear. Put it all together, and The Two feels more spacious than the specs indicate. Darn near palatial for a trekking pole shelter.
The Big Question: Why a SilNylon floor?
Gossamer Gear’s decision to pair DCF with SilNylon is unprecedented. Intuitively, it makes sense some ways, yet confounds the mind in others. Are we on the verge of a shelter fabric revolution or will the status quo prevail? Taking a proactive approach to the inevitable questions, Gossamer Gear addressed the decision to use 7D SilNylon in a blog post (that’s the third time I’ve linked it. If you haven’t read it by now, I give up).
A Balancing Act
Choosing shelter fabrics involves balancing cost, weight, and durability. Where SilNylon has an advantage specifically is in lower cost and superior compressibility compared to DCF. In Gossamer Gear’s own words, “we believe the comparative abrasion and puncture resistance makes our 7D sil/pu nylon floor an excellent choice given its additional packability and cost benefits. Additionally, we wanted to take a chance on innovating with a unique combo of fabrics.”
It is true that SilNylon generally demonstrates better puncture resistance than DCF, which is an important characteristic for a shelter floor. And even though their new 7D fabric feels suspiciously thin, the company “expects the 7D material to last a full long distance thru-hike, if not multiple thru-hikes, given quality care and campsite selection.” Baked into that prediction is the expectation that users “have a quality base of knowledge for campsite selection and gear care.”
Additionally, Gossamer Gear recommends pairing the DCF Two with a groundsheet in certain situations. “For high alpine granite we would definitely recommend some sort of groundsheet. For softer pine forest campsites, a groundsheet wouldn’t be necessary as long as you do a quick sweep of your chosen site for abrasive pokey/spikey things before setting up.”
The Scrutiny of Innovation
The DCF Two is undoubtedly an ultralight shelter, and, therefore, you should not expect it to withstand careless abuse. That is true for most ultralight gear. I sincerely wish I had more time to test the long-term durability of the 7D floor myself. For now, I, and the rest of the ultralight community, will need to take Gossamer Gear at their word. I respect the transparency they exhibit by explaining their design choices.
It is obvious that their development team put a lot of thought into the non-traditional design and cares tremendously about offering the best product possible. With Gossamer Gear’s proven track record, I think they deserve the benefit of the doubt for now. If the 7D SilNylon holds up, the cost and packability benefits might be worth the scrutiny to which innovation is inevitably linked.
Ease of Use
I agree with everything Katie said in her review of the non-DCF Two. Trekking pole shelters demand a high level of familiarity to safely and comfortably protect users in rough conditions. It’s worth putting in the time at home to learn how to pitch The Two correctly.
I will say that even after living out of a similar shelter for the entire CDT, getting a taught pitch requires me to get lucky with a certain amount of mysterious voodoo. It’s never guaranteed. Something fundamental changes when the vestibule doors are furled, which can release tension in the ridgeline.
Fortunately, readjustments are made dead easy by the guy line tensioners, and the two sidewall tie-outs take up the slack when all hope is lost.
Campsite selection is also important to consider. Solid stake placement is required to pitch this tent, which can get tricky in overly soft ground as well as rocky terrain, though the included stakes are extremely versatile. The Two also has a massive footprint, a side effect of luxurious dimensions. That can make it difficult to tuck into compact spots without getting creative.
One of the big benefits of the DCF canopy is that it will resist sagging throughout the night when one does achieve a solid pitch. Temperature changes and moisture will not cause the DCF to stretch, meaning that living space in the DCF Two won’t diminish in the rain or on nights with particularly heavy condensation. Less droopiness, more smiles.
Lightweight: Including all the extras (stuff sack, eight stakes, stake bag, guy lines, repair patch), my scale read 25.2 ounces, which is in line with the official specs from Gossamer Gear. That’s a low number considering the roominess of The Two. It’s also 2.7 ounces lighter than the non-DCF Two.
Packable: The included stuff sack is long and skinny, making it perfect for carrying vertically in a side pocket or the back mesh. There is plenty of wiggle room to pack it shorter if desired, and however you do it, the DCF Two is one of the most compact, fully-enclosed shelters out there.
DCF: I am a huge fan of DCF. It is expensive, but the benefits are real. Strong, lightweight, easy to fix, long-lasting, no sag.
Spacious: The interior footprint is an average size compared with many two-person backpacking tents, but the two vestibules are huge, and the angled poles make this shelter feel huge. Plenty of room for two people and gear.
Livability: Small touches like the two interior mesh pockets, a clothesline, the mesh wall tie-outs, and a wide ridgeline are thoughtful additions that accrue an insignificant weight penalty. I also really appreciate the grommets on the floor that allow the poles to hold it at full width.
Learning curve: Even after two thru-hikes using trekking pole shelters, it is a relief when the weather permits me to cowboy camp. For all their benefits, ultralight shelters like the DCF Two require patience and practice to pitch correctly. It’s still better than nothing if sloppily done.
However, you should really commit to learning how to pitch properly if you want to maximize the benefits of a trekking pole shelter. Otherwise, there are tons of quality semi-freestanding tents that get lighter every year.
Large footprint: All that great living space comes with a flip-side. A shelter this large can be hard to nestle into smaller camp spots, a fact that is exacerbated by the need to put at least six stakes in the ground.
It’s possible to pitch this tent in tight spots by bringing the vestibule stakes closer to the tent body, but the vestibule doors will be floppy. It’ll do in a pinch, but isn’t recommended in windy conditions.
Condensation: The DCF Two is a single-walled shelter, which are notorious for collecting interior condensation in certain conditions. Weather permitting, furling one or all of the vestibule doors will go a long way to keeping the contents of your shelter dry. This article by Gossamer Gear gives some tips on how to reduce condensation.
Price: $589 is a big number no matter how you try to justify it. However, it’s on the low-end for DCF shelters, which still demand a premium price because DCF is still a premium product. If that number is too high, the non-DCF Two will save you a couple of Benjamins at $375. Either way, it’s cheaper than rent, although there’s no bathroom and you might have a roommate.
Untested durability: This is Gossamer Gear’s first shot at DCF shelters. On top of that, there’s the question of how the 7D SilNylon floor will hold up. The Two is a proven design with a long track record of success, but there is uncertainty surrounding this new DCF version. Time will tell if Gossamer Gear is rewarded for their bold effort.
Gossamer Gear gets a lot of things right with the new DCF Two. It is an exciting addition to a quality line of shelters that have proven to be popular and capable choices for backpackers looking to lighten their load. The DCF Two is a premium product and thus comes with a hefty, albeit justifiable, price tag. And like most trekking pole shelters, it can be difficult to perfect the art of the pitch compared to semi-freestanding options.
Still, for experienced backpackers with solid skills or those willing to learn, this shelter is an awesome option. Thoughtful design touches go a long way to making the DCF Two feel like a much roomier tent than the specs indicate. It swallows two hikers plus gear, no problemo.
DCF is an incredible material, no doubt about it. Gossamer Gear uses it to make a great tent even better, and I applaud their team for thinking outside the box and combining the strengths of both DCF and SilNylon. While I’ll keep a close eye on the 7D floor, I look forward to using the DCF Two for many adventures to come.
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