Sierra Designs Lightning UL2 Tent Review

The Sierra Designs Lightning UL2 tent has decided to rethink the basics of tent design. Does a good design really need fixing?

About the tent:

Sierra Designs has decided to make some bold moves with this tent. Gone are door vestibule s, and in are hybrid single/double walls. They also decided to connect the poles to the outside of the tent, and fuse the tent body and the rain fly. This allows you to pitch the tent in the rain, while keeping the innards of the tent completely rain free. Access to the tent is through the front door, with un-zip-able rain door. Gear storage has been moved to the sides of the tent, with zippered access from the inside.

Sierra Designs Lightning UL2

The tent comes in two varieties. The ultra light model weighs in at 3 lbs. 7 oz, while the slightly heftier model adds an additional 7 oz. to your pack, at 3 lbs 14 oz.

All this is  interesting, but does it work? I was worried about the hybrid walls with the intense condensation of Tennessee, and the smallish looking storage spaces on the sides. I decided to find out.

I decided to test this guy out lake side, in the rain (condensation city), in march,  while packing in as much gear as I could. All the comfort items made the trip. Hammocks, skillets, camp shoes, butt pads, it was all here. How did the tent come out?

What I liked:

The tent does indeed stay dry inside when pitching, and taking it down while in the rain. In Tennessee, this is priceless. Having the awning above the door means you can leave the front of the tent completely open, and enjoy the rain, instead of hiding from it. If it gets rough, you can still close the door and unzip the doors protective water proof cover, revealing a nice wide mesh window, protected from rain via the same awning. This provides for excellent viewing, and extra ventilation. This awning also created a nice dry place to put my boots on and take them off while it was raining. Livability overall is quite nice, with plenty of room inside for a couple people to move around and co-exist. Two users can both sit up completely vertical and do whatever they need with little intervention from the other. There was plenty of room on both sides of two sleepers for clothing and such without feeling cramped. Getting in and out of the tent was an absolute pleasure. Not having to reach three feet for a far away vestibule zipper was great, and not having to climb over your equipment on the way really makes moving in and out of the tent convenient, and easy. Ventilation was also quite nice, with plenty of mesh and vents all around, minimizing condensation. 

Sierra Designs Lightning UL2

Accessing the inside of the tent is easy, and fast. Having your equipment stashed on the sides means you’ll no longer be climbing over your backpack to get in and out. This is very nice.

At first, I thought the gear storage wouldn’t be large enough. Looks are deceiving. I had plenty of room for my pack, boots, cooking equipment, hammock, and pretty much everything I over-packed in. Accessing the gear was incredibly convenient. My entire backpack would slide through the access door. You an also access you gear from the outside by lifting up the “gear closets” off the stakes.

Sierra Designs Lightning UL2

Build quality was excellent. The poles were DAC. The floor material was tough feeling enough that I didn’t feel the need to use a footprint (essentially cutting the tents pack weight by several ounces). The tent pitched taut and rigid. The included tent stakes were DAC aluminum, my particular favorite. Brownie points.

The tent kept us bone dry, shedding the rain with no wetting out. The tent didn’t so much as wiggle in the wind.

The tent is pretty light. It’s not exactly what I call “ultra light”, but you’re not going to throw your back out carrying it around either. The tent packs small, and it is compact enough to carry on the outside or the inside of your backpack.

Setup is quick, and easy. Simply throw the tent out, stake it down, clip in the poles, lift the tent up to the poles and clip it on. Stake out the gear closets and you’re good to go. There is no pitching the body, then the rain cover. They are one, and completely fused.

Sierra Designs Lightning UL2

What I didn’t like:

The tent uses double and single wall sections to cut weight, and create the dry pitching design that’s so nice. The only downfall here, is if you live in super humid conditions, like myself, you’ll gain some condensation on any tent, and these single wall sections leave you exposed to this. Luckily, they though it through and the double wall sections are the areas that you would normally be brushing up against. You have mesh about hips up, and in the foot box. However, you have double walls around the shin area. I did lap up some moisture from condensation on one side of my sleeping bag in about a one foot section, but it wasn’t enough to cause any issues.

Sierra Designs Lightning UL2


I quite like the Sierra Designs Lightning 2. Having the awning on the front for visibility and ventilation removes the feeling of claustrophobia that many get from hanging out in a tent in the rain. Storing the gear on the sides is genius, and really enhances the usability of the tent. Storage space is good, with plenty of room to store anything you might have with you on a typical backpacking trip. The tent is light, durable, and keeps you bone dry. Despite the minor issue of a damp corner of my sleeping bag, I still very much like the tent, and will happily overlook the tiny quibble.

Highly recommend


Watching the rain from the safety of the Sierra Designs Lightning UL2.
Watching the rain from the safety of the Sierra Designs Lightning UL2.

13 thoughts on “Sierra Designs Lightning UL2 Tent Review

    1. ha ha. You are absolutely correct. I was playing with the Flash when I posted this review. I guess I got them a bit mixed up 🙂
      Thank you for correcting me! That’s a pretty major mistake.

  1. So the front door has another cover you can zip up to cover the mesh window if you are in wind driven rain or just want more privacy? I think that is what you were implying but I can’t find a picture with this zipped up. Is this made out of waterproof fabric or a breathable fabric? Is the quoted 86 inch length accurate?

    1. You are exactly correct. It can be zipped up to shelter you further from rain and wind. I’ll try to get a photo up to show that. I’ll double check on the length and have that up today. I am about 5 foot 8 and have plenty of room on all sides. Thanks for checking out my post.

    2. I measured in my living room and I was getting 84 inches. Probably pretty close to 85 inches when pitched and taut. The door material is a waterproof layer just like the tent body. When fully zipped there is still a vent in the top to let some air in and out. I hope this helps.

  2. Enjoyed your reviews of SD’s new products, both the Lightning and Backcountry Bed. I also tested these and was very pleased, especially with the bed. I tested the 3 season version and am going to buy the 2-season to add to the collection. I just love the comfort! Sounds like we both get to contend with lots of humidity and condensation here on the east coast. We also both had pretty much the same comments.. my reviews are on if interested. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks for checking me out! The East Coast certainly brings it’s own challenges with all the moisture in the air, especially in the spring. I’m glad you’re enjoying the equipment as much as I am. I’ll check you out. Thanks.

  3. I’m sure you have already discovered this, but… They are called “Gear Closets”… not vestibules. Vestibules go in front of a door, just like on a house. Vestibules on tents came from mountaineering, and made their way to every other kind of tent. I hate them. There is nothing worse than reaching out 3 feet to zip/unzip, and having to duck down and step over gear at the same time just to enter/exit the tent. The gear closets are brilliant, and it’s about time someone made this change! I’ve just been a little concerned about the size of them, and whether gear would actually fit under them. Thanks to your review, I am a little less concerned- thanks!

    1. Ah yes, “gear closet” hadn’t really settled in at the time of writing the review. Seems a common term now.
      The new FL series has a much bigger gear closet if space is your concern. They’re lighter too!
      I’m hoping to get one for review soon.
      Glad I could help!

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