Zpacks Duplex Review
The Zpacks Duplex is one of the most popular two person thru-hiker tents in production. It was the most used shelter in The Trek’s 2022 thru-hiker survey. The Duplex is a common sight on all three Triple Crown trails. At just 18.5 ounces, the Duplex is one of the lightest shelter options out there. However, you may have to sell a kidney to afford it. Is it worth parting with your hard earned cash for one of the best tents available?
Zpacks Duplex At-a-Glance
- MSRP: $669
- Weight: 18.5 oz / 525 g
- Number of Doors: Two
- Type of tent: Trekking pole tent
- Materials: Dyneema Composite Fabric
Circumstances of Review
I tested the Duplex throughout the spring while backpacking in Ontario and on a road trip through the Canadian Maritimes.
This tent is a thru-hiker’s dream, thriving on all but the most extreme trails in the US. It’s so light that you won’t regret having it in your pack if you cowboy camp on desert trails. Bug mesh will keep out viscous Sierra mosquitos or Maine blackflies. And it’s stormproof enough to handle Washington rain or Colorado thunderstorms without any issues.
Trekking Pole tent: The Duplex is a trekking pole tent, which means it uses your hiking poles instead of normal trekking poles to stay up. This is great if you hike with poles, since it allows you to save a good chunk of weight. However, it can be a bummer if you don’t like to hike with poles or if you break one during a hike.
DCF: The Duplex is made of Dyneema Composite Fabric, or DCF. Wikipedia calls DCF “a high-performance non-woven composite material used in high-strength, low-weight applications. It is constructed from a thin sheet of ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE, “Dyneema”) laminated between two sheets of polyester.” If you’re not great with fabric jargon either, it basically means it’s super strong, lightweight, and waterproof.
Storm doors: The Duplex features four storm doors, which can be clipped together or tied back independently to manage ventilation and precipitation.
Bug netting: The shelter features generous amounts of bug netting, which ensures great ventilation while keeping out creepy crawlies.
Bathtub floor: The tent has an eight inch bathtub floor, so even if it pours overnight, you and your gear will stay dry.
Zpacks Duplex Pros
Weight: It weighs 18.5 ounces. 18.5 ounces! You’re not getting a shelter much lighter than that unless you switch to a tarp. This shelter is a whopping 25 ounces lighter than my normal two person shelter (a Big Agnes Copper Spur). It is so light that I’d take it on solo trips without a second thought. Did I mention just how light it is?
Take a look at the comparable tents at the end of this article if you want to see just how much lighter this tent is than the competition. Just keep in mind that Zpacks does not include the weight of stakes or poles, which many other tent options do.
Easy to set up: I was really worried about setup with this tent. Trekking pole tents frequently have a high learning curve and require lots of faffing around to set up correctly. Despite my fears, the Duplex went up quickly on the first try, and the guylines are easy to adjust should you not get it quite right.
The shelter does suffer from the same issue as all trekking pole tents: you do need to be able to get your pegs into the ground for it stay up. If you’re pitching frequently on snow, sand, or wooden tent platforms, you may need to pack some snow stakes or deadman anchors, or choose a different shelter option. Zpacks also sells a freestanding kit if you need a little help on soft or hard surfaces.
Ventilation: My first night in this tent was at 21˚F/-6˚C, pitched by half-melted snow banks in an open front country campground. So basically the worst possible setup for condensation. I fully expected to wake up in a soggy sleeping bag with condensation frozen on the tent walls all around me.
Instead, the tent remained bone dry. All the bug mesh helps keep air moving throughout the tent, which in turn helps reduce condensation. This is a huge plus in a single wall tent, a design that’s notorious for its condensation issues. On subsequent rainy nights at around 40˚F, there was a slight amount of condensation on the DCF but never enough for it to drip or run down the tent.
Surprisingly roomy: I’m only 5 feet, 2 inches, but my husband is 6 feet, 2 inches. The Duplex fit both of us and our adventure dog without any issues, even while using bulky winter gear. The Duplex floor is 45 x 75 inches (or 1.14 x 2.3 m for our metric friends), which gives a square footage of 28.1 (or 2.6 square meters).
The footprint is rectangular and not tapered at the head or foot. This gives you more space for gear and makes the shelter feel very spacious. I was slightly concerned about usable space since Zpacks specifically makes a version of this shelter for taller hikers, but the regular Duplex was more than enough space for us. There’s also plenty of room under the storm doors for shoes and packs.
Wind protection: The Duplex sheds wind like a pro. I completely missed the memo on how to angle the tent to shed wind properly on my first night (Zpacks recommends pointing the storm doors into the wind). Despite my incompetence and the fact that the ground was mostly frozen, I experienced minimal flapping and no issues with stakes pulling out of the ground, despite sustained wind and some pretty big gusts. Whoever designed this tent clearly did a great job.
Material: The Duplex is made of DCF. There’s a whole list of pros and cons to this fabric, but it is my personal favorite shelter fabric choice. It sheds water easily and doesn’t become waterlogged the way silnylon can. It also doesn’t sag when wet, which means your pitch will stay taut all night. DCF’s lighter weight is a bonus too, of course, but the way it handles water is the main selling point for me.
So many options: Zpacks doesn’t officially do custom orders, but the company offers so many different Duplex options that you can completely personalize your shelter. There are six color options for your standard Duplex. You can order the clasp door closure system or get it with zippers. You can make your tent freestanding with a flex kit. If you want more headroom, order a DupleXL, made for taller hikers. And that’s before we even get into the Plex Solo or Triplex tents.
Customer Service: This is my first Zpacks shelter, but I’ve gone through two Zpacks Arc Hauls and two sleeping bags over ten thousand miles of hiking, all of which I purchased with my own money.
Zpacks customer service has always been top notch for me. They’ve shipped me replacement parts when I’ve broken belt buckles and backpack stays, including internationally, and done so on short notice days before I started a thru-hike. Customer service replies can sometimes be slow, but once you get to talk to someone, they’ll work hard to resolve your issues quickly.
Zpacks Duplex Cons
Price: The Duplex is more or less in line with other ultralight DCF tent options, but $669 is still a massive chunk of change. Again, that’s what almost every company charges for a shelter of this caliber, but it’s still as much as you can spend on trail in an entire month.
Durability: Zpacks states that “the expected life span of this shelter is at least one full 2500-plus-mile thru-hike, or many years of casual use with some care” on their website. I did not test this shelter to destruction, but based on accounts of friends who have thru-hiked with this tent, I’d say that estimate is pretty accurate.
The DCF fabric is thin, and will abrade over time just by packing and setting up the tent. It is also prone to pinholes, especially if you set it up near anything sharp. The zippers on the bug mesh are small and stick a little even when new. This isn’t the kind of shelter that’s going to last you the rest of your life.
Door design: The storm doors fasten by a series of clips and toggles rather than a zipper. This is good in many ways: zippers are prone to failure, and the clips should last much longer. The clips are easy to figure out and do up from the outside. However, I found them difficult to work from inside the tent, especially in the dark. As someone who gets up to pee almost every night, that’s a pretty big con. However, Zpacks just came out with a zipper version of this tent: it’s $699 and 20.4 oz.
Privacy: DCF is so thin it’s almost see-through. That’s great for inside the tent, where the extra light gives the illusion of more space during the day. If you want to change inside your tent during daylight hours, you’re going to have to do so inside your sleeping bag if you want complete privacy.
Extras not included: The Duplex doesn’t come with the six to eight tent stakes required for setup, so you will have to purchase those separately. The Duplex also requires two trekking poles for setup. Don’t use trekking poles or want to take your tent bikepacking, canoe camping, or on another trip where you won’t use poles? You’ll need to buy either a Freestanding Flex Kit for $149 and 10.2oz/290g or two 48-inch Carbon Fiber Tent Poles for $29.95 and 2.6oz/74g each.
The Duplex does come with a nice DCF stuff sack though, if that’s important to you.
You’ll need to make good campsite choices: This feels a bit unfair, since it’s a con for all trekking pole tents, not just the Duplex, but you will need to take some care in selecting where to camp.
You’ll need to be able to get at least six tent stakes into the ground far enough to hold considerable tension. This can be a challenge in snow, sand, or on hard ground or wooden tent platforms. You should choose a pine needle covered site to minimize splashback from rain.
If you’re considering spending this much money on a tent, you’re probably already an experienced enough backpacker to know all of this. However, the price for poor campsite choice in a non-freestanding tent can be pretty high.
Do you need a $669, 18.5-ounce DCF tent like the Zpacks Duplex to successfully complete a thru-hike? No, of course not. People complete trails with much cheaper and heavier tents, and have a great time doing so. But if you have the money, why wouldn’t you lighten your load with one of the best tents on the market?
The Duplex is light, roomy and easy to set up, especially for a trekking pole tent. Sure, it’s expensive and unlikely to last more than a single Triple Crown trail. But there’s a reason it’s one of the most popular shelters on any long distance hike.
- MSRP: $679
- Weight: 19.6oz
- Fabric: DCF
- MSRP: $699
- Weight: 24oz
- Fabric: DCF
- MSRP: $799
- Weight: 28.7oz
- Fabric: DCF
The Zpacks Duplex tent was donated for the purpose of review.
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