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A Lightweight Tent and the Guy Who Helped Dream It Up

I know a little something about Big Agnes tents. I spent a night in one, the Fly Creek UL3, next to the guy who co-owns the company—the always entertaining Bill Gamber.

Preparing to bunk down with Bill Gamber, leftI've seen Bill's tents, such as the Big Agnes Seedhouse SL series (light), the Copper Spur UL group (really light) and the impressive Fly Creek UL series (way, way light), become trophy-winning regulars when magazines dish out their annual best-of awards. It's encouraging to see innovative thinking rewarded—and like his products, Bill's a little different.

For example: A wind turbine rises to the sky in the front yard of his Steamboat Springs (Colo.) home, meaning he's self-sustaining on the energy front. Big Agnes headquarters, where Bill also oversees the Honey Stinger energy food line (which he co-owns), is actually a home in Steamboat that staffers call "the little red house." The house gets its energy from solar panels, and when they collect more electricity than the crew needs, Bill sells the excess to the local electric company. "Capitalism at its eco-finest," Bill hoots.

TD Wood and Bill Gamber camp outLife is good when you're off the grid, both literally and in your world view. Bill likes to ski, ride his bike, hike, drink an occasional beer and clown around. He's a pretty easy business owner/president/CEO/corporate titan/outdoor dude to like.

So it was no surprise when Bill agreed to a goofy idea of mine last summer when we were both attending a big outdoor trade show: Let's camp in a tent inside the convention center, just to prove that our hearts are in the outdoors even if this whole industry hootenanny was going on inside some huge indoor space. It was a fun night; check out the details in this past post from The REI Blog.

This year Bill's crew at Big Agnes is rolling out a new line of low-weight backpacking tents in BA's "superlight" category called the Jack Rabbit. Backpacker magazine (April Gear Guide, p. 95) crowned the Big Agnes Jack Rabbit SL2 the "best all-around" 2-person tent for 2011.

Big Agnes tent designer Bob Swanson, left, and Bill Gamber plot mischiefI'm a little partial to the Fly Creek UL series, the lightest tent group in the Big Agnes family. The materials used are some of the lightest found in mainstream backpacking shelters. "Secret!" Gamber responded when I asked about the fabrics.  OK, fine. They feel like nylon and they're mighty thin but not whispy. It's my impression that if treated judiciously (these are ultralight fabrics, after all), tents in the Fly Creek can serve conscientious backpackers very well. But if you don't ordinarily use a footprint, you might want to consider adding one for Fly Creek models.

Big Agnes Fly Creek UL3Capacity ratings for backpacking tents are notoriously suspect, and in this department Big Agnes is no different from other tentmakers. Overall, I'm impressed by the freestanding Fly Creek UL3 (3 lbs. 3 oz. without the stakes, according to BA's specs; the model I tested weighed in at 3 lbs. 6 oz.). But 3 big, lumpy guys my size (6-foot, 200 pounds) might not feel too chummy after a night crammed together inside its interior—66 inches wide at the tent's head, 60 inches wide at the foot end. Two diminutive adults and a small child, or a dog? That I could see. During our convention center campout last summer, Bill and I had ample room to rumble around for the evening.

Security personnel (wisely) bar Bill Gamber and Bob Swanson from entering the Salt Lake City Convention CenterSo as a 2-person choice for 2 big guys, the Fly Creek UL3 would be an excellent selection. Length is not an obstacle for a 6-footer. Ample mesh provides good ventilation. Be aware, though, that the UL3 offers just 1 door in an effort to save weight. I plan to give the Fly Creek UL2 (2 lbs. 2 oz.) a tryout this summer as a solo shelter.

I asked Bill to sum up what distinguishes the various Big Agnes tent series. Here's his take:

Fly Creek UL (ultralight): For the minimalist. Single door on each one. No whistles and bells. It's what I take when I’m on the go for a quick outing and weight is of utmost importance.
Copper Spur UL: Ultralight convenience. This is the cream of the creamery, the Jewel of the Nile. Two doors. Lots of pockets. Good space and good storage.
Seedhouse SL (superlight): Good value in a simple, very light yet solid backpack tent… Jack Rabbit is the value Copper. 

Jack Rabbit SL: It's the value version of the Copper Spur. A really good tent at a really good price.
Lynx Pass: A tent that's built to last at a good price. Not the lightest in our line, but an outstanding value.

If a new tent is in your future, Big Agnes tents are worth a look. Maybe some day you'll camp next to Bill Gamber in one.

Photos (top to bottom):
1. REI blogger T.D. Wood (in tent) prepares to bunk down with Big Agnes owner Bill Gamber, far left; tent designer Bob Swanson looks on.
2. Wood, left, and Gamber camp out in a Big Agnes Fly Creek UL3 tent inside the Salt Lake City Convention Center during a 2010 trade show.
3. Big Agnes Fly Creek UL3 tent.
4. Swanson and Gamber plot mischief outside the convention center.
5. Convention center security personnel (wisely) bars Gamber, middle, and Swanson from entering the facility, but eventually give way to Gamber's charm.

Click thumbnails below for a larger view of each image.

Posted on at 3:59 PM

Tagged: Big Agnes and Big Agnes Fly Creek UL3

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Great Tents. Thanks for making traveling in the great outdoors better. I have two of your tents and very pleased with both.

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Buying the UL3 for John Muir Trail this summer.


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