User Review: Terra Nova Duolite
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $169 (on sale)
I wholeheartedly recommend this tent for 3-4 season backpacking use, particularly in foul or unpredictable weather. This tent is bombproof — excellent wind and rain resistance, and well ventilated to prevent condensation. Not an ultralight tent by any means, but an acceptable weight for backpacking when you take into consideration the stregths of this tent for rough weather camping.
- Excellent rain and wind protection
- Reasonable weight for backpacking
- Large vestibule for gear
- Flexible entryway configuration
- Well ventilated to prevent condensation
- Fits two comfortably
- All-in-one or fly-first pitching
- Semi-geodesic, 4-season durability
- Not the lightest tent
- Low headroom
When my old LL Bean dome tent bit the dust (more due to being stored in a damp basement, than from overuse, unfortunately), I started looking for the perfect replacement. I like to do most of my backpacking and camping during the shoulder seasons and wintertime, so my focus was on tents that could meet 4-season duty, and put up with cold, foul weather.
The majority of my trips are either solo or with one of my kids, so that set the size at a 2-person. Since all of my camping is while backpacking, weight needed to be a consideration, too; but I also didn't want to break the bank. Your tent is a primary piece of backpacking equipment, so it is best not to try to go too inexpensive; but, I like to find deals and/or use brands that may not be as well known (you definitely pay for the name).
So, my top three priorities, in order, were: i) ruggedness, ii) cost, and iii) weight. For my intended use primarily in late fall through spring (in the wind, rain and snow), I had a further list of features that I was looking for. My criteria included:
- 3+ season tent
- Good rain and wind resistance
- Semi-geodesic design
- Fly-first, or all-in-one pitching
- Factory seam sealed
- Aluminum poles
- Generous vestibule for gear
- Easy entry for two without climbing over tent-mate
- Good ventilation to prevent condensation
- Bug screen/mesh for warmer weather
- Less than 5 pounds
After a lot of searching, review reading, Youtube videos, and first-hand inspections, I was able to find what has turned out to be a fantastic tent — that met all my criteria except for weight. I knew that weight might need to be a bit of a trade-off, though, because I wanted a rugged 3-4 season tent and didn't want to have to sell a child into slavery to afford it. I ended up with a tent that was just over 5 pounds (5 lbs, 5 oz packed weight); but, for the extra weight it is bomb-proof.
That tent is the Duolite from the Wild Country range by Terra Nova Equipment. Terra Nova is a UK company known for their high quality, rugged, outdoor gear. In my search, I was looking at quite a few UK branded tents (including those from Vango, Galert, and the Coleman Expedition range of tents that we don't see in the US), as they are generally more heavily constructed in order to deal with the blustery UK weather than most US sold tents that are marketed for more sheltered use and lightweight materials. So, on to the tent...
The Duolite is a 4-season, 2-person tent. It is a semi-geodesic, tunnel design, that I will call semi-freestanding; and it can be pitched either all-in-one (fly and inner together), or fly-first. I wanted a fly-first design, so that I could pitch the tent in wet/rainy weather, without the inner tent getting soaked. As it turned out, the all-in-one pitching makes setting the Duolite easy, and if I wanted to separate the inner, I could — I guess that I could also use it as a fly only (single skin); but where I camp, if it were warm enough for fly-only, then you would also have to worry about bugs.
The tent is pitched with 2 DAC aluminum poles. One pole is a multi-hubbed design that forms a 'Y'; and then a shorter pole is used to connect the two arms of the 'Y'. The tent can be pitched in about 5 minutes; and I have been able to do it easily, single-handed in fairly high winds.
Once the tent body is laid out, the three tips of the 'Y' shaped pole are set into grommeted tabs on the tent, and the cross pole is added. Then the tent body is quickly clipped to the aluminum pole eco-skeleton, to provide a strong frame. At this point, the tent is mostly free-standing - it can be easily moved around, or picked up and shaken out (to remove sand or debris from the interior). However, this tent really needs to be guyed out to open the entryway, and fill out the interior.
The Duolite came with 14 aluminum v-angle stakes, which hold very well. Four stakes peg down the back and sides of the tent, two stakes peg down the front of the inner tent, and two or three stakes are used on the front door-flaps depending on which of the multiple doorway configurations that you want to use. The final five stakes can then be used with the provided guy lines — two at the rear quarters, two at the front quarters, and one in the very front. If all guy lines are pegged out, then this tent is super taut, and will hardly move or flap even in gale-force winds (I've tried it).
The Duolite is made of some hefty fabric as well — the floor and fly are entirely rip-stop, PU polyester; and the floor has a 6000 mm hydrostatic water rating, while the fly has a 4000 mm hydrostatic rating. These waterproof ratings are what really set UK-spec tents apart from the US market's kite-like materials. These heavy materials and the sturdy construction are what make up the weight of this tent. All seams are factory sealed on the tub floor and fly. All seams are well sewn; and everything is top notch.
The inner tent is a breathable nylon/polyester blend, with close-able mesh vents at the rear/foot and in the top of the front door. The entire inner is suspended from the fly using toggles on elastic bands, which keeps it very secure, although it appears a bit baggy from the inside. The interior also has two pockets, on either side of the front 'D' door, to hold valuables and one of the pockets allows the door to be tucked into it when open.
The interior of the inner tent is about 4 foot wide at the head/entry, then tapers back to about 3 foot wide at the foot (31 sq.ft. total). It is cozy for two, but not claustrophobic. There is plenty of room for me (5' 9.5", 190 lbs) and my son (5', 10", 140 lbs), both with full-size mats. For a solo camper, there is a ton of room - enough to bring all your gear in with you if you wanted.
Headroom is a little limited - about 40" at the front, in the doorway; but then it slopes down to the back/foot. One person can sit up in the doorway comfortably; but, if two people were stuck inside during a storm, they would be shoulder to shoulder and a little hunched over.
Entry and exit from the tent is comfortable, and being that entry/exit is through the end, campers do not need to climb over one another to get in/out. The Duolite has a great and very flexible entry-way/vestibule. There is a relatively large (9.57 sq.ft.) vestibule at the front entry of the tent. The vestibule is enclosed by a front flap that slopes out from the front door, as well as two side flaps that can also serve as doors.
So, depending on how you set up the stakes, you can have: i) a front doorway, ii) either side doorway, iii) both side doorways, or, iv) the front and one side opened. This allows different setups depending on wind and weather conditions. Due to the location of the front guy line bisecting the front flap, I find it most useful to use one or both of the side door-flaps for entry - this also provides for best use of the vestibule for storage. The vestibule can easily accommodate two packs - at least my small 30-35 L ones.
The two zippers on the front flaps are two-way — allowing them to be opened from the bottom (as a door) or from the top (for ventilation). The front flap has a vent attached to the guy line, and the flap can be opened behind it to provide protected ventilation in foul weather. The front flap can also be rolled part way up at the bottom for ventilation, and there are mini-buckles provided to hold it open. Both side door flaps also have mini-buckles to keep them rolled open when desired.
All of these options for ventilation, along with the suspended inner tent, with its own front and rear mesh vents, keeps condensation at bay. I have had this tent out in both humid September weather and in sub-freezing October-November weather (with both solo and dual campers) without any sign of condensation on the inside of the fly. The only time I experienced some light condensation was when I had the fly pegged down close to the ground on all sides and didn't open any vents at the front - stupid of me.
I also found on a few occasions when the temperatures were below freezing, that I would wake to find a light frost covering the outside of the fly — but there's not much that can be done about that...the good thing is that the fly is taught enough that the frost can be quickly brushed off before packing.
I really can't say enough great things about this tent. It has been bone dry inside during some pretty heavy rains, and most recently it performed flawlessly in gale-force winds. I was camped on the ridge top behind Stone Memorial shelter in Harriman State Park (NY) not long ago, when a cold front blew in with some incredible winds. Sustained winds were around 25 mph; but there were wind gusts like waves that would hit at 45+ mph; and the wind stayed like that for hours. At that shelter it is tough to find a good wind-break and there is little soil above rock to set stakes in.
Anyway, I initially set the tent up with the shoulder into the wind, pegged all the stakes at a steep angle to get a good bite, and tensioned all the guy lines — then she was as stiff as could be. The wind just slid over the tent - no flapping or vibration, just some shudders of the entire tent as the wind tried to pick it up (but she wasn't going anywhere). At some point during the night, the wind changed direction and was coming at the tent head on - even then, there was not much flapping except when the strongest gusts hit the one vented door flap. I was astonished that night at how this tent performed - I knew it was strong, but this thing is a tank.
And, even with the wind directed right at the door and front vent, any wind entering the fly just skirted by the tent inner and I didn't feel any gusts or chill...I stayed warm and secure, and I enjoyed seeing the gentle waves of the inner tent fabric as the breeze flowed around my little cocoon.
I love this tent...it's not too heavy for backpacking, and the strength and warmth in cold weather makes a fine compromise.