MSR Freelite 2 Ultralight Tent Review

Have you ever tried to set up a trekking pole tent where there’s no stake-able ground in sight? It’s probably one of my least favorite things to do after a long day of hiking. Though trekking pole, or non-freestanding, tents are extremely lightweight and convenient there are times when a tent with a bit of body comes in handy. If you’re backpacking in the winter or high alpine environments where you’re likely to encounter rocky or frozen ground, it may be worth considering a tent that can stand on its own.

The Freelite 2 is the lightest and most packable semi-freestanding and double-walled tent MSR offers. Its semi-freestanding design means that it can stand on its own, though stakes are needed to use the full available area of the tent and vestibules. For just two and a half pounds, it offers weight-conscious backpackers a viable option where a trekking pole tent won’t cut it.

MSR Freelite 2 At A Glance

msr freelite 2

  • MSRP: $409.95
  • Weight: 2 lbs 8 oz (minimum)
  • Tent volume: 30 cu feet
  • Floor dimensions: 84 x 50 in
  • Peak height: 36 in

Circumstances of Review

I took this tent on a handful of backpacking and car camping adventures throughout the fall. First, I went down to the desert on a car camping trip to test space and comfort with two people inside. Then, I spent a few nights in the backcountry alone with the Freelite. Unfortunately, my final trip planned for the winter had to be canceled due to illness.

Notable Features

msr freelite 2

The vestibules are huge and also provide great ventilation.

  • Excellent ventilation. The super-fine mesh on the body of this tent has great ventilation. Additionally, the two large vestibules have fasteners on both sides to be able to roll out the doors for more airflow and views. When the tent is staked and set up properly, the rainfly doesn’t touch the mesh body. This means that any condensation collected on the rainfly will not seep through the mesh.
  • Weather protection. Of comparable tents in its category, the Freelite 2 performs very well in high winds and rain. The two taut vestibules help keep it stiff even in stormy conditions. Though the low peak height is a drag for taller hikers, the tent’s lower profile is part of what makes it so weather-resistant.
  • Two large vestibules. Some comparable semi-freestanding tents only have one door and vestibule. This makes a HUGE difference when backpacking with someone else. Crawling over your partner to go to the bathroom or grab another layer in the middle of the night is not fun, and personal vestibule space is a huge perk.
  • One-pole design. This is the first tent I’ve used that has just one large pole holding up the majority of the tent body. It makes it extremely easy to set up. You just lay the tent body down, lay the pole down on top of it, clip in, and start staking. There’s also one small pole that goes across the very top for extra interior space. Of all the shelters I’ve used over the years, this one is the easiest to set up by myself.

Where I’ll Choose the Freelite 2

This ground was rock solid (see stakes sticking up)… it was pretty easy to use large rocks to keep it taut instead

This tent is my new go-to for solo trips where I don’t care too much about weight and shoulder season / high alpine trips. I absolutely despise the process of tensioning all the strings on my non-freestanding tent until it’s right where I like it, so I love having a slightly heavier yet much simpler option.

Also, I like to go backpacking in places where there’s only rocks to camp on, frozen ground, or very high winds. The low profile of the tent does an excellent job of blocking winds, so it’s great for stormy trips. Though it doesn’t fully stand on its own without staking, it’s much easier to use large rocks for a tent like this.

READ NEXT – The Best Tents for Thru-Hiking

Pros

msr freelite 2

The setup is SO quick and easy even when flying solo

  • Easy to set up alone. The one pole system makes the Freelite super easy to set up and take down, even when backpacking alone. I’ve had some frustrating nights trying to get my trekking pole tent just right when I’m backpacking alone. It’s really nice to have a semi-freestanding tent that takes the finesse out of it.
  • Ability to use in a wider range of terrain. One night I camped on completely solid rock ground and was able to pretty successfully stretch out the area of the tent and vestibules with large rocks in lieu of staking. This is much much harder with a non-freestanding tent.
  • Ability to use in a wider range of climates. MSR tents are notoriously tough against high winds and bad weather. The rainfly and tent floor are coated with Xtreme Shield waterproofing, and the Syclone poles are extremely tough against high winds. Also, the double-walled design is easier to vent in colder temperatures than a single-walled tent.
  • Easy to split the weight between two. With my two-person trekking pole tent, there’s no option to distribute weight evenly. However, with the Freelite 2, by splitting up the rainfly, tent body, poles, and stakes it could easily work out for each person to carry a little over a pound each. That’s pretty darn good for a solid shelter.
  • Lots of useful interior features. I. Love. Pockets. I can’t stand when there’s nowhere to put my nighttime essentials, and the inside of this tent has pockets on both sides and up top.

Cons

Two large-ish sleeping pads is a bit of a squeeze.

  • A bit cramped. The interior space of this tent is a bit small for two larger people. We were barely able to squeeze one regular and one wide sleeping pad in together and had to take turns sitting up straight. However, this is plenty of vestibule space available for gear for each person.
  • Not quite ultralight. On trips where weight is my #1 priority, I’ll probably still opt for my non-freestanding tent. Its full packaged weight is pretty close to three pounds, which is a significant portion of my base weight if I’m going light and fast.
  • Pricey. You can get cheaper tents that are also lighter. It’s still pretty comparable in price to similar products (listed below), but if weight and price are your two main priorities this isn’t the best option.

MSR Freelite 2 Overall Impressions

The overall lower profile of the tent really helps on stormy nights (like this was).

Overall, I think the Freelite 2 is a solid tent for backpackers who are conscious about weight but want a shelter that will work in a variety of conditions. Also, it’s significantly easier to set up than a trekking pole tent which is a major perk. It’s also a good place to start if you’re looking to lighten your load but like to backpack through high alpine conditions and/or stormy seasons. Additionally, if you have the money, it’s a great addition as a heavier-duty but still lightweight tent that can handle more serious conditions.

The two major downsides I see are the lack of space inside and the price. It’s cozy for two people, and my non-freestanding tent has significantly more room inside. Additionally, for $500 it’s quite an investment for a tent that’s neither the lightest nor most spacious. However, the Freelite 2 is overall a very versatile tent that performs well in many conditions, is easy to set up, and weighs in at just over a pound per person.

Shop the MSR Freelite 2 Tent

Comparable Tents

Nemo Hornet Elite 2 Tent 

  • MSRP: $499.95
  • Weight: 1 lb 11 oz
  • Floor dimensions: 85 x 50 in
  • Peak height: 37 in

Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 mtnGLO Solution-Dyed Tent

  • MSRP: $449.95
  • Weight: 2 lb 5 oz
  • Floor dimensions: 86 x 52 in
  • Peak height: 39 in

Sea to Summit Alto TR2 Tent 

  • MSRP: $449.00
  • Weight: 2 lb 9 oz
  • Floor dimensions: 84.5 x 53 in
  • Peak height: 42.5 in

The MSR Freelite 2 was donated for purpose of review.

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Comments 1

  • Kerry Lumpkin : Dec 31st

    I’d highly recommend checking out the Slingfin Portal. It’s in a similar weight range, freestanding, and functions extremely well even in snowy conditions.

    Reply

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