Gear Review: MSR FreeLite 3 Backpacking Tent
Testing the sleek, ultralight design in variable conditions deep in the Pacific Northwest
We were headed to the Enchantments section of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area in Washington and needed a backpacking tent. The two major requirements were that it needed to fit three people for four nights and to be light enough to carried easily along the strenuous 19 mile trek. We decided to test the FreeLite 3, MSR’s ultra light backpacking tent.
Weighing just 3 lbs 7 oz—though it can be whittled down to under three if need be—the FreeLite 3 is MSR’s lightest three person tent. That’s just over a pound per person, and when split up amongst our three packs, the weight add was more than manageable. The tent is so light in fact that before setting it up, there was some doubt to whether it would be able to sustain itself against what would presumably be some pretty gnarly weather. Lucky for us, this tent exceeded all expectations.
Overall, the FreeLite is just a remarkably well-designed tent. It’s subtle color way is aesthetically pleasing and blends into the alpine landscape beautifully. There’s a tent body, a single Y-shaped pole, and a rainfly—that’s it. Though it’s not the most intuitive tent to set up, by night three we had it down pretty well.
We ended up getting hit with a heavy wind storm of consistent 35 MPH gusts that lasted the majority of our second night, so we tied down with guylines and found the tent to be impressively sturdy. This tent looks like a rock, and feels like one too. We slept easily through the storm without worrying about anything coming loose—a true luxury in the backcountry.
Typically when an ultra light tent says it fits three people, it really fits two people who want a little extra space. The FreeLite 3, however, actually fits three people relatively comfortably. And with two vestibules, it fit all our gear too. The floor fits three sleeping pads perfectly with maybe an inch to spare. The walls do slant slightly in to form the dome, so if you are traveling with three, try your best to snag the middle sleeping spot.
If there’s one thing to rave about this tent, it’s the ventilation. With three people breathing through very cold nights, we could have run into some real discomfort with poor ventilation and heavy condensation. This tent has the perfect distance between the mesh canopy and the rainfly, so it wasn’t an issue. While we didn’t encounter any rain on this trip, we did encounter some light snow, and were able to just brush it off the rainfly.
MSR makes a footprint for the FreeLite 3 that isn’t included in the tent, but given the seemingly fragile nature of the fabric, I wouldn’t use this tent without it. Though the fabric is strong—it is Ripstop Nylon after all—it just feels very thin and light. Not that the tent couldn’t take a bit of a beating, but we found ourselves consistently treating the tent extra cautiously to avoid any snags or tears, even with the footprint in place.
The FreeLite 3 over delivered and in just one trip has now become my go-to tent for backpacking. I’m already looking forward to hitting the trail again and using this tent for many more trips to come.