The L.L.Bean Microlight is a tent that’s lived on the L.L.Bean line for a long time now, and for good reason. Year after year they’ve made subtle revisions to a long standing favorite, only improving the design as they go. The 2016 Microlight UL2 revision takes everything I loved about the old design, and makes it even lighter without sacrificing durability or living space. This is my review.
The tent is built with a fairly minimalistic design utilizing a free standing Yunan aluminum pole system with a brow pole used to extend the walls outward and a kink at the top for extra head room. The head of the tent is wider and taller than the slimming foot, emphasizing additional volume where it’s needed and cutting weight where it isn’t. The body of the tent almost entirely mesh for maximum air flow and the rain fly is constructed of 15 denier rip-stop nylon, coated with polyurethane and silicone for tear strength and flame resistance. It has two doors, two vestibules for storage, two small interior pockets, and includes 10 stakes and stake out points including the guy lines. Total weight comes in at 3 lbs 2 oz with a peak height of 36″. The two person version retails for $349 with a solo variation also being available.
What I liked
The Microlight UL2 is a steadfast ultra light weight shelter. Thanks to the wind cutting low profile design, a rugged frame and generous stake out and guy out points, the shelter barely moves even in intense 20 mph winds. When fully staked out with the 4 guy out lines it allows wind to flow over the top instead of taking blunt force against the wall of the shelter. Even the vestibules sit low, which is typically a weak point on most shelters with a brow pole, with improves side stability as well. With a proper pitch it becomes a tiny fortress, even on exposed peaks with the wind crashing in at every direction. The stakes are three side aluminum that provide excellent grip in even poor soil, and generously long guy lines ensure you can always reach a good stake out point. It’s certainly one of the most stable shelters in it’s weight class, and one of the most stable tents I’ve tested period.
Speaking of weight, the Microlight only 3 lbs 2 oz and is an impressively pack-able shelter. Using it’s minimalist design, the aluminum poles pack into a neat thin bundle that easily slips into a water bottle pocket or out of the way in the corner of a pack, and the tent body and fly can easily be shoved into the depths of a backpack, minimizing volume. It’s light enough to be carried solo, or can be split into two smaller loads of only about a pound and a half each. If weight is a priority, it’s hard to complain with the specs, especially for a two person shelter.
Livability is also pretty good, with enough interior space for two campers to comfortably sleep and move about without too much trouble. The vestibules are just large enough to stash all of my gear, including my backpack and boots, without having to crawl over it if I stack it just right. The interior is tall enough to sit up in, but if both campers are sitting up at once it will get a little tight in the shoulders at times. With a long 7’6″ of length, even the tallest of campers will have extra foot room and shorter campers score additional interior storage space.
Ventilation is good but not exceptional. Using the full mesh body ensures that a generous amount of fresh air flows through. In most conditions the ventilation is good enough to avoid condensation, especially if you crack a door. More humid areas can see some build up, however. The low cut walls are especially appreciated in warmer months as it allows for good temperature regulation and avoids building up too much heat as air can move through fairly easily.
Using and setting the Microlight is fairly simple. The poles snap together effortlessly and simply slide into grommets on the tent body. Lifting the clips of the mesh inner and snapping them to the aluminium frame finishes the setup of the interior of the tent, and the rain fly attaches by sliding 4 more grommets under the tips of the tent frame. The guy lines slide easily up and down the thick cordage, and is very easy to add tension when needed. This simple setup is great when dealing with strong wind or rain as it goes up with minimal effort in very little time.
Build quality all around is wonderful here. The careful choice of light weight but reliable fabrics, a sturdy Yunan aluminum frame and quality clips, zippers and tent stakes makes for a sturdy package. The sewing is top notch and consistent, and the mesh used is some of the most consistent I’ve seen. Even camping on coarse, hard gravel hasn’t had an impact on the flooring. The rain fly itself is generously coated to protect from UV damage and abrasion, and the use of rip-stop adds tear strength. No footprint needed here.
At $349, the Microlight UL2 is an exceptional value. Packing a minuscule pack weight, surprising durability and enough room for two people at a price that most companies can’t touch, it’s a good deal.
What I didn’t like
The minimalist design does come with a few sacrifices. My largest complaint is the lack of a top vent or dual zippers on the vestibules. This means that the tent relies entirely on it’s mesh body for ventilation, which admittedly works pretty well, but lacks flexibility. I’d like to opportunity to open up a vent, or at least unzip a door from the top partially to allow for additional air flow on hot or humid nights. Some condensation can build up in very humid environments like all tents, but thankfully the mesh body does a great job of protecting the campers from getting wet.
There is no color coding to be found here. While the tent pitches easily, it does take a moment to study the poles and the tent body to line up the longer poles with the head of the tent. The same goes for the rain fly, which is a bit more problematic as it’s harder to discern which side is the head when the fabric is flapping about. I’ve found that a quick dab of Whiteout on one corner of the tent (tent floor grommet, pole tip and rain fly grommet) to be a quick fix that’s also removable. However, I’d like to see this included out of the factory.
Given the smaller interior and footprint, users will want to be cozy with each other. It’s large enough for a couple of friends to use, but there will be some elbow rubbing at times. Two users can sit up and get stuff done, but doing so might require some coordination. As a couple, I was quite happy inside with my partner.
The L.L.Bean Microlight UL2 has a lot going for it. It’s light weight at just over 3 lbs, one of the most stable ultra light tents I’ve tested, and it’s easy to set up. Combined with the minimal pack volume, quality construction, and low costs it’s easy to attest for it’s long running success. I’ve enjoyed the ability to use the shelter is the poorest of conditions without worrying about it failing thanks to having ample guy lines, a rugged frame and a wind shearing body. The full mesh body does a good job of managing condensation and is pure joy for star gazing on the top of a mountain. It’s a little tight inside for two, but it’s lavish when used solo. Aside from a somewhat limited interior space and a few missing bells and whistles, it’s a solid option for those who want to minimize weight, maximize protection and still manage to save a few bucks.
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I wanted to send a special thanks out to L.L.Bean for their continued support and for providing this excellent piece of equipment to review. We couldn’t do this without their help. Thank you so much! Our full disclosure can be found on the about me/contact page.