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Review: Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 & UL3 || A “couples trip” tent

The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL is the lightest and roomiest two-door/two-vestibule semi-freestanding tent available for $400 or less.

The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL is new for spring 2018. REI has been the exclusive distributor so far, but more retailers will have it starting next month. It’s available in two sizes:

With its semi-freestanding pitch, crossover roof pole, and two-door/two-vestibule configuration, the Tiger Wall UL sits functionally between BA’s popular Fly Creek and Copper Spur models, and competes most directly with the MSR FreeLite, Nemo Blaze, Nemo Hornet, and Sierra Designs Sweet Suite.

I wrote a preview of the Tiger Wall UL as part of my Outdoor Retailer coverage in January, and used a production version in Utah’s Grand Gulch in April on a trip with my wife Amanda.

Review: Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 and UL3

The Tiger Wall UL was not designed to break records. Instead, it tries to do more while keeping in check its weight and price, and remaining very easy to use. I don’t believe there is a 2- or 3-person semi-freestanding double-wall tent that weighs 2.5 or 3.0 pounds (or less), that retails for $400 or $450 (or less), and that matches or surpasses the Tiger Wall’s interior verticality, two side-entry doors, and two vestibules.

But the Tiger Wall UL is not without compromise. To achieve its low weight, Big Agnes used thin fabrics and light-duty #3 zippers, provided the bare minimum of interior floor space, and was stingy on guyline tensioners and door openings.

I found the Tiger Wall UL to be an ideal “couples trip” tent — it’s the first shelter that Amanda has genuinely liked. She thought it was comfortable and secure, appreciated having her own door and interior pockets, and was able to pitch it without knowing any knots or reading the instructions. Meanwhile, it was acceptably lightweight for me.

Targeted users

You might consider the Tiger Wall UL2 or UL3 if you want a 2- or 3-person shelter that:

  • Weighs less than 2.5 or 3.0 pounds for fly, inner, poles, stakes, and stuff sacks;
  • Features two side-entry doors and two vestibules;
  • Costs $400 or $450, or less if you can wait for a major holiday sale;
  • Has a double-wall construction, with the ability to use the fly, inner, and footprint independently or together as a system;
  • Includes a dedicated pole set, perhaps because you don’t use trekking poles;
  • Has an intuitive, foolproof pitch;
  • Can be inspected first-hand prior to purchase, and returned painlessly if you change your mind; and/or
  • Comes with a reasonable warranty.

I would not recommend the Tiger Wall UL for regular use in snowstorms, high winds, or sandy environments. For very extensive use, I would at least plan on buying the accessory footprint, and I probably would look for something less delicate. For ounce-counters, you may be willing to spend more, endure more fuss, and/or be less comfortable to get something lighter.

Key product specs

How much does the Tiger Wall UL weigh?

My Tiger Wall UL3 was about 1 oz (2.7 percent) heavier than its spec weight, which is within a reasonable margin of error.

The “Packed Weight” is closest to what the UL2 and UL3 will weigh on an actual trip when pitched in its default configuration (fly + inner, stock pole set, no footprint). At best, 2.3 oz can be shed: take four stakes (-1.4 oz) for just the vestibules and rear corners, and leave behind the two largest stuff sacks (-0.9 oz).

In marketing material, the Tiger Wall’s “Trail weight” will often be referenced. But this is not a practical weight, since since its performance is greatly diminished if the rear corners and vestibules are not tensioned.

Pitch

As you would expect of a semi-freestanding tent, the Tiger Wall UL has a nearly foolproof pitch that is convenient and fast. However, it’s almost too easy — unlike a perfectly pitched tarp or mid, it provides no sense of satisfaction.

It is easiest to pitch the inner first, and then the fly. If you have the accessory footprint, it’d be possible (but awkward) to pitch the fly first, like in the event it were raining.

The single-pole is clumsily long, but that seems preferable to a more manageable multi-piece pole set that must be assembled on-site and that is at greater risk of losing pieces.

The rear corners and vestibules must be tensioned to maximize interior volume, vestibule volume, and weather-resistance. I strongly recommend attaching adjustable guylines to these tie-outs, in the event that a rock or root is in the way. No tension system is included, which helps to keep spec weight low but which compromises its functionality.

The rear corners of the inner and fly must be staked out in order to maximize interior space and weather-resistance. The stock system offers no tension adjustment or adaptability (if, say, a rock or root prevents stake placement). I strongly recommend replacing it with a better system.

Interior space

The Tiger Wall UL2 and UL3 provide the bare minimum floor space for a 2- and 3-person tent. The UL2 is 52 inches wide at the head, 42 inches at the foot; the UL3, 66 inches at the head, 60 inches at the foot.

With two 20-inch pads inside the UL2, there is just 1 to 6 inches of leftover space on each side. With three 20-inch pads inside the UL3, there is even less leftover space — 0 to 3 inches on each side. If an occupant has a wider 25-inch pad, the Tiger Wall will only fit one or two people.

Amanda and I found the UL3 amply comfortable. But we agreed that we would not want to share it with another adult, especially in inclement weather, and especially for a weight penalty of only 4 oz. A child or small dog would be okay, although I’d have to protect the floor from sharp paws.

The Tiger Wall UL3 is comfortable for two, but I question its practicality for three (especially 3 adults in crappy weather). The floor is 66 inches wide at the head and 60 inches at the foot, so three 20-inch pads would cover nearly the entire floor.

The crossover roof pole helps to maximize the interior volume potential of the footprint. The side walls are near vertical, which allows all occupants to sit up comfortably without needing to lean towards the center as required in fin-style geometries like the Fly Creek and Nemo Hornet.

The 42-inch peak height provided ample head space, especially with the crossover roof pole — it makes the side walls more vertical and creates more interior room.

Double doors

The two side-entry doors and two vestibules offer multiple advantages over a single front-entry door. Entry and exit is physically easier, requiring less contorting. Each user gets their own vestibule, so there is no battle over space, access, or organization. And it allows for cross-ventilation, which helps to minimize condensation in humid conditions and to improve comfort in warm temperatures.

The user-friendliness of the double doors is partially compromised by the door size on the Tiger Wall’s fly. Another 12 inches of zipper (at the cost of about 2 oz) would help here. Big Agnes describes this as a feature (“Low Vent”), explaining that it keeps the vestibule protected while still allowing for air flow.

I admire BA’s vigilance in stripping every extraneous ounce from the Tiger Wall, but question some of the results. The fly door, for example, is unnecessarily small and low, because a more generous opening would have required a longer zipper (for an extra 1 to 2 oz total).

The cost of ultralight

While inspecting the Tiger Wall closely and using it for several days in the field, I began to admire BA’s vigilance in reducing its weight. I don’t necessarily agree with all their decisions and I detest the rationale (to win the “spec war,” which sadly is a big driver for the sales of tents and other outdoor gear), but I can at least admire the effort. My specific concerns:

The weight of a tent is largely a function of its fabrics. And one way that BA achieves very low weights is by using very lightweight fabrics. In the Tiger Wall, BA used 15d coated nylon for the fly and 20d coated nylon for the floor, both rated to 1200 mm hydrostatic head. BA uses the same fabrics in their Fly Creek, and they are serviceable for multiple seasons or a long thru-hike. But they’re not as reliably waterproof or as tear- and puncture-resistant as the 30d nylons or Dyneema Composite Fabric (Cuben) used by cottage companies, which would add weight and cost, respectively.

The #3 zippers on the fly and inner are lighter but less reliable than #5. Treat them with care: keep them clean and don’t tug hard on them. If you camp frequently in southern Utah or other environments with extremely fine sand, I’d probably look for a different shelter.

The #3 zippers on the fly and inner are lighter but less reliable than #5.

The stingy tie-outs and small entryway also fall into this topic, but they’ve been mentioned elsewhere.

Room for improvement

How could Big Agnes improve the Tiger Wall UL, without fundamentally changing it (e.g. using heavier fabrics and #5 zippers, increasing its dimensions, etc)?

1. Adjustable tie-outs. The pole set creates acceptable tension at three points: the two front corners, and the rear center. Stakes are helpful in these locations, but not critical. Four other locations need to be tied down, however: the two rear corners, and the two vestibules. And I think it’s unreasonable to assume a tent can always be staked out in the field like it can be in a showroom floor — rocks and roots have a tendency to get in the way.

2. Pole set length. The compressed length of the pole set is 19 inches, which is longer than the width of nearly all backpacks. So the Tiger Wall (or at least its poleset) must be carried vertically. A shorter pole set that could be oriented horizontally would be preferred, if the weight trade-off was not significant.

3. Burrito-style stuff sack. The stock stuff sack for the Tiger Wall is a conventional tube. I have found top-loading stuff sacks like the MSR Tent Compression Sack to be much more user-friendly. Sierra Designs switched to this style last year, too.

4. Stakes. J stakes from DAC are strong and light, but I don’t care for them. They must be oriented such that the point of the “V” is directed squarely at the shelter; the cord notches are also shallow. I would much prefer Y-shaped stakes like this one:

My preferred setup: conventional 2- or 3-mm reflective cord with a .5-oz aluminum Y-stake

Traditional comparisons

Lets quickly compare the Tiger Wall UL to tents from BA and other wholesale manufacturers.

Tiger Wall vs. Fly Creek

The Fly Creek HV UL2 is 3 oz lighter and $50 less, but has only one front-entry door and a fin-shaped architecture that is less roomy.

The Fly Creek HV UL3 is heavier by 6 oz, but still has only one door. And it’s only $30 less.

Without question, I would prefer the two-door/two-vestibule configuration of the Tiger Wall.

Tiger Wall vs Copper Spur

The Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 and Copper Spur HV UL3 match the Tiger Wall’s dimensions and duel side-entry doors. However, they are 9 to 15 oz heavier and $50 more, which seems like big penalty for one marginal benefit, the Copper Spur’s free-standing design.

The Copper Spur Platinum series is more weight-competitive with the Tiger Wall, but has a $200 or $250 premium. For those prices, I’d be looking at shelters made of DCF.

Tiger Wall vs MSR Freelite

The MSR Freelite 2 and Freelite 3 share a similar architecture as the Tiger Wall UL2 and UL3 — both are semi-freestanding with three points, have duel side-entry doors and the crossover roof pole. Their dimensions are a wash: MSR is a bit wider, BA is a bit taller.

The biggest difference is in weight and cost. The Freelites are about half-pound heavier (despite using thinner 10d and 15d fabrics), and retail for $40 or $50 more. In addition, availability is currently limited.

Tiger Wall vs. Nemo Hornet

The Nemo Hornet 2P is 3 oz lighter than the Tiger Wall UL2 and $30 less expensive. But it uses even thinner (and less durable) fabrics, and it has a fin-style architecture (no crossover roof pole) that creates less interior volume. A 3-person version of the Hornet is not available.

TW for the win, again.


Tiger Wall vs Nemo Blaze

The Nemo Blaze 2P is 1 oz lighter than the Tiger Wall UL2. Its interior volume is comparable. But it uses more delicate fabrics (10d fly and floor), and it’s pitch is non-freestanding and less storm-resistant.

Tiger Wall vs Sierra Designs Sweet Suite

The Sierra Designs Sweet Suite 2 and Sweet Suite 3 are also new for spring 2018. They are roomier (in peak height, and width at the floor and shoulders) and use heavier-duty fabrics (20d and 30d for the fly and floor, respectively), but notably heavier, by about a pound. The SS2 is $30 less than the TWUL2, but the SS3 is $10 more than the TWUL3.

More competitive comparisions

To find something better (i.e. lighter, less expensive, or higher performance) than the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL3, you need to look at the cottage industry and to move away from semi-freestanding double-wall tents. It’s more difficult to claim that one shelter is “best” here, because they cater to different types of users.

Tiger Wall vs Zpacks Duplex and Triplex

The Zpacks Duplex and Triplex are substantially lighter and stronger, because they are made with DCF/Cuben. But it’ll cost you: the 22-oz Duplex sells for $200 more than the Tiger Wall UL2; the Triplex, $250 more than the UL3. In addition, the ZPacks shelters are single-wall, not modular; so the fly and inner cannot be used independently.

Tiger Wall vs Mountain Laurel Designs DuoMid

The Mountain Laurel Designs DuoMid + InnerNet is lighter (28 oz equivalent trail weight), stronger (30d sil-nylon), and more storm-resistant. But it’s not as easy to use; you can’t inspect it before you buy it; it’s marginally more expensive, and never on sale; and it’s sloping walls feel less roomy.

Tiger Wall vs Tarptent

Tarptent has a few models that are competitive with the Tiger Wall, notably the Bowfin, Double Rainbow, and Saddle 2. In general, the Tiger Wall will be easier to use and lighter, while the Tarptents will be more durable and less expensive.

Questions about the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL3? Leave a comment


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7 Responses to Review: Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 & UL3 || A “couples trip” tent

  1. Byron May 14, 2018 at 9:52 pm #

    My wife and I strongly considered the Tiger Wall 3 but after seeing the TW2 set up for display at our local REI a few months ago, it was crossed off our list. We both got in, checked it out and immeaditely didn’t like some of its features, some of which you also mentioned in your write up. The mesh body seemed too thin for us, having to unzip two zippers to get out seemed a bad design and thought the foot area pole dropped too quickly, losing what could of been usable head area with a simple notch. Plus, the wife didn’t like the pee yellow color.

    We ended up buying a SD Sweet Suite 2. It’s heavier than the TW but the mesh body seems much more durable and the pole design gives a roomier feel. The TIger Wall will meet the needs for many couples, it just wasn’t for us.

  2. folecr May 16, 2018 at 12:14 pm #

    Would you have opinions and a list of competitors based on simplicity rather than light weight? It would be a great to find a family shelter that works for big dayhikes and for backpacking trips. A mid design seems nice on the face of it but lacks niceties like a gear porch that are really useful with kids.

    I find freestanding tents fiddly to pitch in wind/rain. I’ve liked the Sierra Designs Divine Light series so far but they are equally fiddly to get right.

  3. David W May 16, 2018 at 2:19 pm #

    How did you end up liking those BA AXL pads?

    My wife and I picked up two of the insulated version (“rated” down to 15deg) but I had to return them after experiencing a very, very cold and uncomfortable night in the upper 30s.

    • Andrew Skurka May 16, 2018 at 3:15 pm #

      I’ve been hearing complaints about their warmth. My wife and I both really liked ours, and didn’t have an issue with temps in mid-40’s, including one night when we were camped on slickrock, which is more thermally dense than most other surfaces.

      • David W May 16, 2018 at 3:18 pm #

        I wonder if there are discrepancies in the production, but we also enjoyed the pads on the Trans-Catalina Trail in the mid40s as well. Very comfortable.

        It wasn’t until we hit the 30s on San Jacinto that the cold became a problem. My body was cold everywhere it was in contact with the sleeping pad.

  4. Richard May 18, 2018 at 2:03 pm #

    Andrew, thanks for another in-depth product review. It’s possible the ZPacks or ML tents could be viable options for me. Things for me to consider:
    I have never camped with a single wall tent and have heard reservations from people that condensation can become a problem in single wall tents.
    I’m not likely to spend more that 20 days/nites a year in a tent.
    Realistic number of uses for Tiger Wall: 100? more/less?
    Reducing pack weight is important for me. Not getting any younger.
    Will be able to demo Tiger Wall in June…but REI sale is on now!

    • Andrew Skurka May 18, 2018 at 2:28 pm #

      Condensation is more a function of campsite selection and fly design than pure single-wall/double-wall. If you pick a wet campsite on a cold night and if your shelter doesn’t allow for airflow when it’s raining, you’re going to end up with condensation inside your shelter regardless of its construction.

      I’ve been thinking a lot about the Tiger Wall since I wrote the review, and pondering the question, “Why would anyone actually buy this thing?” As I said in the review, I’d buy it because it’s a perfect “couples trip” tent — plenty of room for two (in the 3P version), and simple as heck to set up. If I were always doing casual couples trips, spending $400/$450 could be justified.

      But if I were looking for a shelter that’s appropriate for a thru-hike or that offers hardcore performance, I’d keep looking. MLD mids+inners are lighter, more storm-worthy, and more durable; and Tarptent shelters are lighter, more durable, and less expensive. Shelters from both brands are more fussy, and you can’t return them or check them out in a store. But those seem like small inconveniences to me, in light of what you get and given the long history of use of these shelters, i.e. if Tarptent or MLD shelters were always failing, we’d have heard it by now.

      BA struggles to compete with the cottage brands on performance-to-weight because it’s choosing to design tents with dedicated pole sets. The poles on the TW UL3 weigh 15 oz. That is a LOT of weight that could be invested elsewhere, like in more durable fabric and in larger panels that negate the inherent geometric inefficiency of trekking pole-supported shelters (e.g. low- and moderate-angle walls, non-cathedral ceilings). The dedicated poles make BA tents more user-friendly, but end up being a big handicap. BA has tried to do more trekking pole-supported shelters (e.g. the Scout) but I’m willing to bet that they get little traction and so BA continues to double-down on Fly Creek and Copper Spur-style tents, which they sell by the pallet. I could easily be convinced to incur some fuss or learn some knots in exchange for carrying a half- or full-pound less of shelter, but a lot of other backpackers apparently don’t feel that way.

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