I love sleeping out under the stars. Although I've fallen out of practice during my adult life (something I'm hoping to soon remedy), I spent many girlhood summer night in tents at various sleep-away camps. Thus, testing the new Sierra Designs Lightning XT 3-person, 3-season tent was a delightful prospect.



By Su Reid-St. John
I love sleeping out under the stars. Although I’ve fallen out of practice during my adult life (something I'm hoping to remedy soon), I spent many girlhood summer nights in tents at various sleepaway camps. My husband, Eric, is no stranger to backpacking and camping, and we want our daughter Zoe to share our love for the Great Outdoors. Thus, testing the new Sierra Designs Lightning XT three-person, three-season tent was a delightful prospect.

When I first picked up the tent, packed into a bag about the size of my rolled-up sleeping bag, I was amazed at how light it was. Just around 6 pounds for a tent and fly for three people? Impressive, and something I could easily imagine carrying in a backpack without complaint.

Zoe, at 3 years old, isn’t quite up to backpacking yet, though, so we made due by setting it up in the backyard. Although it’s been ages since I last pitched a tent, Eric is relatively adept at it. Working together, it took us about 20 minutes to unpack and set up the tent and rain fly for the first time—and now that we know what we're doing, it should be even quicker next time. Despite the somewhat sparse instructions (beware, tent-pitching newbies), the whole process was smooth and speedy.

The tent itself, sans fly, is all mesh, with two entrances and plenty of room for three sleeping bags. The idea of using it in the summertime, with the breeze blowing through, is simply delicious. There’s a rain fly for inclement weather; this closes things off a bit, of course, but the height of the tent leaves it feeling airy, and the fly provides a little vestibule in the front for taking off wet shoes and jackets—a nice touch.

With the exception of the spotty instructions, the only glitch with this tent came when we tried to secure the rain fly; no matter what we did, we couldn’t get the clips to secure tightly. When I asked Sierra about it, my contact there suggested using a slight twisting motion. That helped a little, but not enough that I would trust the clips to keep the fly on in a high wind. Eric and I secured it by tying the cords that came with the tent into a few knots.

I also question the wisdom of using this as a “three-season" tent. Certainly, the fly works well to keep wind and rain out, but it still gets pretty cold in there. It’s not the tent I would choose for early spring or late fall. So perhaps it’s more of a season-plus-two-half-seasons tent.

I took the tent down after a few days (it took about 10 minutes doing it solo), much to Zoe’s dismay. “Don’t worry,” I consoled her. “We’ll use it again in the spring.” And in the summer. Oh, yes, in the summer. I can’t wait!

Product: Sierra Designs Lightning XT 3 tent

Category: Gear

Pros: It's super light and goes up quickly and easily, with plenty of room for three. The mesh tent alone is the perfect choice for a clear summer evening, and the fly provides ample rain and wind protection, along with a handy vestibule area.

Cons: The instructions assume you’re a seasoned tent-pitcher, and the rain fly clips are difficult to secure.

Cost: $389 at SierraDesigns.com

Extra tip: Pitch the tent once at home before taking it out on the trail, so you’ll have an easier time when setting it up in unfamiliar territory.