Zpacks Plex Solo Ultralight Tent Review
I’ll get right to it. The Plex Solo is a brand new trekking pole tent released by the storied DCFmongers at Zpacks. The name gives little away besides a suggestion that it is intended for solo hikers. And that’s all I knew about it before I pulled it from the box. A bitter winter wind whipped outside my window, and I dreamed of warmer days ahead. Would the Plex Solo be there too?
After spending some time with this tent, most of my questions have been answered. The picture has become clear. From a pile of “plex’s” and “hexa’s” rises the Plex Solo, which as far as I can tell is a shorter version of the Zpacks Altaplex, a tent for tall people, and pays homage to previous and current one-person shelters from the brand.
If you also find this brand-specific jargon dizzying, then you are not alone. Fear not: in essence, the Plex Solo is a classic single-wall, Dyneema Composite Fabric, non-freestanding shelter. Like others in the category, it looks like something from Alpha Centauri, yet is really just a tool to help you get, and stay, outside. Please join me as I figure out what the heck this new tent is all about.
Zpacks Plex Solo At-a-Glance
Shelter Type: Non-freestanding, trekking pole shelter
Weight*: 13.95 ounces (my measurement)
Stakes Required: Yes, 6-10 depending on conditions
Materials: Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF)
Capacity: 1 person + gear
Number of Doors: One
Floor Size: 7.5 feet long x 28-38 inches wide
Peak Height: 52 inches
Packed Size: 6 x 12 inches
Bug Protection: Oh yeah
Country of Origin: USA
*Not including stakes: Ultralight titanium stakes from Zpacks (0.2 ounces, $2.25 each)
Despite the way it looks, the Plex Solo is not designed to take you to space. Nope, this tent is intended for more earthly pursuits, such as walking from here to there, day after day. Just about any backpacker will appreciate the minuscule weight as it frees them from the soul-crushing burden of an inflated base weight. That said, this shelter shines during fast and light excursions where tent time is a fleeting distraction between days on the trail. And as the name implies, the Plex Solo is a single-person tent. One hiker, one tent, many miles.
Circumstance of Review
My time with the Plex Solo has been short and cold. While I want nothing more than to leave this brutal Pacific Northwest winter behind and start hiking, it’ll be a couple of months until I get to use this tent as its creators intended, as I lope with lazy grace across this great country, unconcerned with time and hygiene. However, plenty of backyard fiddling and shakedown nights combined with extensive experience with other tents in the Zpacks lineup has provided me with a decent idea of what the Plex Solo is all about.
Zpacks Plex Solo Features
DCF: In true Zpacks fashion, aside from the bug mesh, the Plex Solo is all about that sweet sweet DCF. The canopy is constructed using .55oz/sq yd DCF. The floor is a more rugged 1.0oz/sq yd version that should last an entire looooong thru-hike sans groundsheet. Although these specifics are nothing new, this DCF ain’t your classic, made-from-oil polyethylene of years gone by. Zpacks is now using a bio-based Dyneema fiber. Same performance, less environmental cost. Welcome to 2022.
Bathtub floor: The borders of the fully waterproof (at least when new) DCF floor turn skyward, blocking splashes before they can dampen your down. These edges are held aloft by a rim of bug netting that connects to the main DCF canopy. It’ll take some serious flow to breach these walls.
Single-pole setup: The Plex Solo pitches with a single trekking pole only, set to ~52 inches. Not only does it save weight by eliminating dedicated tent poles entirely, but ease of setup is also drastically improved versus two-pole shelters, especially for those flying solo.
Asymmetric shape: The shape of this tent is a nightmare straight from your high school geometry class. It is actually symmetric head to foot, but ignoring that, the footprint is a complex conglomeration of obtuse angles. However, it works. The off-center pole marks the border between the single vestibule and the floor.
Guy line tensioners: As with all Zpacks tents, this one comes rigged up with bright neon guy lines. The attached quick-adjust tensioners put my knots to shame. Extremely easy to use, impossible to forget (I’m looking at you, Taughtline Hitch).
Double storm doors: Two flappy doors bisect the single entryway. Each can be separately rolled and secured as conditions allow for extra venting. A tensionable hook and D-rings lock them tight when the weather gets wild.
Vestibule overhang: The storm doors do not extend all the way to the peak of the Plex Solo. This means that a protective overhand helps deflect drips from splooshing through the bug mesh even when both doors are furled.
The Benefits of Flying Solo: 1P vs. 2P tents
As someone who has exclusively used two-person shelters in the past, I approached this one-person abode with a certain amount of prejudice and skepticism. Often, it seems like just 4-8 ounces separate the one- and two-person versions of the same shelter. With this minor benefit, the lost versatility when downsizing never seemed worth it to me.
However, after a little time with the Plex Solo I am savvier about the benefits of a solo shelter. My favorite by far is the easier setup. Requiring just a single trekking pole, the Plex Solo is drastically easier to pitch alone than the Duplex. There’s only one pole to worry about keeping upright and the final guy line tensioning is more straightforward.
I also appreciate the abundant space that I somehow have all to myself. At least with the Plex Solo, this one-person tent houses me plus more gear than I’ll ever carry. The non-rectangular bathtub floor easily fits my full-sized sleeping pad with space on the side for the rest of my gear. The vestibule almost seems unnecessary. My nasty shoes can have it all to themselves.
On the flip side, I miss having two doors to catch the sunset and sunrise from the same spot. And while it is spacious for one, the limited capacity will put the kibosh on spontaneous trips with unequipped friends. For this reason alone, I’m not sure I’d grab a 1-person tent as my only backpacking shelter, but rather add one to the quiver for a very specific purpose. Thru-hiking a long trail? That’s a specific enough use case to warrant bending that rule. As always, being realistic and overthinking every gear choice is essential to having fun on the trail. It might actually be more fun than hiking.
Ease of Use
As I mentioned above, the Plex Solo is about as easy to use as trekking pole shelters come, which is to say that it still takes practice to get right. Upon receipt, I managed to pitch it in just over five minutes with zero primer. The asymmetric shape confused me at first, but once I accepted the sixth wall, I was destined for success. Though easier to set up than a Duplex, I still circled the Plex Solo a few times making minor tweaks. The sewn-in Lineloc tensioners make this a breeze.
Once the thing is up, using it is straightforward. The vestibule flaps roll out of the way and the rainbow door allows entry to the left or right of the central pole. That pole does always seem to be in the way with trekking pole shelters, and you’d better believe that I’ll be griping about it until I die. However, if the pole doesn’t stop you, butt in, shoes off, lie down. Easy peasy.
How many stakes is too many?
Non-freestanding shelters are fickle beasts and hungry for stakes. Six is the minimum with the Plex Solo, but it will gladly take up to 10 in exchange for livability improvements. Headroom, toe room, elbow room, and thigh room can all be boosted, not to mention increased resistance to wind. 10 stakes are a lot to carry and time-consuming to deploy. How many do you need? That depends on the trip. Soft ground like sand requires more stakes. Blustery winds or snow in the forecast might make carrying all 10 essential. Which brings me to the next point…
With solid stake placement (that is on you, my friend), the Plex Solo will no doubt survive horrendous weather. DCF is exceptionally strong and waterproof. The living space and vestibule are completely shielded floor to peak. The gap between ground and canopy at the tent perimeter is adjustable based on pole length and how tension in the guy lines is balanced pole to stakes. If the rain is blowing sideways, hug the ground. On calmer nights, raise it up to promote condensation-fighting airflow.
Zpacks Plex Solo Pros
Single-pole setup: As I learned, when one is by themselves, it is significantly easier to pitch a non-freestanding shelter that uses a single-pole rather than two. With two poles, one usually falls over and a practice-honed finesse is required to balance the tension in so many peaks, crests, and ridges. Requiring one pole only, I can nail the Plex Solo pitch every time, and my brain doesn’t overheat while doing it.
Lightweight: Not even 14 ounces. Yes, that’s less than a pound. Even factoring in the additional weight of stakes (required, recommended), it’s clear that this is near the limit of what is possible for a fully enclosed shelter.
DCF: It is easy to argue that DCF is currently the best material for ultralight shelters. While a blanket endorsement of this caliber is bound to be wrong occasionally, the benefits co-opted when enlisting DCF are undeniable. Lightweight, strong, easy to repair, and zero water absorption (read: no sag).
Groundsheet not required: Who wants to pack an extra layer of material to protect the floor of a tent. That’s like wearing socks over shoes to protect the tread. Kids these days. I am anti-groundsheet in nearly all situations regardless of tent floor material, yet I’ve always loved that Zpacks is committed to making theirs durable for the long haul. “A separate groundsheet is NOT required for this shelter.”
Tall: The Plex Solo has a taller peak height than any other shelter I’ve used. Granted, the final few inches at the peak are unusable, but that extra height trickles down to more head and shoulder room when other tents are just getting started. For reference, the Plex Solo instructions recommend a pole height of 52” whereas the ever-popular Duplex asks for 48” poles. Still not tall enough? Check out the Altaplex for a nearly identical, though taller, shelter.
Spacious for one: The Plex Solo is a far cry from the coffin-like one-person shelters of my imagination. It is seriously spacious. I’ve heard of solo hikers carrying a two-person shelter for the extra space and have been one myself. I’m not saying that’s not still a good idea. I’ve also shared a double with my partner during a few thru-hikes. What is now abundantly clear is that two people in a two-person shelter is as cramped as it gets. When I’m using the Plex Solo, I’m riding in luxury. It’s so big that we’ve even considered cramming both of us inside.
Sustainability: Detailed on their sustainability page, Zpacks is making real efforts to reduce its impact on the environment. The bio-based DCF is the sexiest talking point, but smart packaging and domestic production also do their part to reduce the damage wrought by each transaction.
Zpacks Plex Solo Cons
Stake requirement: The complex geometry of the Plex Solo requires an inordinate number of stakes to completely tension. In line with the standard for trekking pole shelters, six stakes will get it standing. However, you’ll find a place to use up to 10, if you even own that many. Use all those stakes and the tent will be bomb-proof, but that’s a lot of fiddling. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Lacks shoulder room: The single peak design inevitably limits useable space up high. Sitting in the middle, fabric encroaches from every direction. Sacrificing livability is no surprise when existing at the gossamer limits of the ultralight plane, but partiers should spring for a Duplex.
Condensation: Collecting interior condensation is a classic issue for nearly all shelters. Single-wall tents are more acutely impacted because it is nearly impossible to avoid brushing against the damp interior. When the weather permits, sleeping with the vestibule doors open will minimize condensation collection. Campsite selection can make a big difference too. Here are Zpacks’ tips for reducing condensation.
Price: At $599, I don’t think the Plex Solo is overpriced, just that it is a lot of money. Budget-conscious hikers can find a tent that is much cheaper, albeit heavier and less awesome. DCF always commands a premium.
Although the Plex Solo is technically a freshman entry into the Zpacks shelter lineup, there are more similarities than differences with the tried and true favorites dotting trailside campsites around the globe. In that regard, it does not represent the coming revolution, but rather a refining variant to a winning formula. It is as Omicron to Delta (too soon?). Mash together the Altaplex and Plexamid, the Plex Solo is what you get, which looks suspiciously like the OG Hexamid. It might not be the most exciting thing since sliced bread, but I see that as a positive with such a strong pedigree.
For my part, the easy-to-pitch, single-pole setup has won me over. As someone who has never mastered the art of pitching the Duplex by myself, saving a few ounces is a tertiary benefit when compared to time saved and frustration reduced. And perhaps there is no greater endorsement than my plan to carry the Plex Solo for my upcoming thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail this spring. I’m excited to spend some more time with this oddly-shaped tent and expect it to go the distance.
Weight: 15.4 ounces
Weight: 15.3 ounces
Weight: 15.3 ounces
Material: DCF and SilNylon
Weight: 17 ounces
Disclaimer: The Zpacks Plex Solo was donated for purpose of review.
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