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REVIEW: ZPACKS DUPLEX TENT

We put this legendary ultralight tent through wintry conditions in the North Shore Mountains. Purpose-built for thru-hikers and serious ounce-counting backpackers, the Zpacks Duplex is one of the lightest and most well-built tents on the market. To test its limits, we took the Duplex Flex—a fully freestanding upgrade to the base model—backpacking in early winter conditions in Vancouver’s North Shore Mountains and nearby Manning Park. It faced cold temperatures and heavy winds, and although fairly drafty, the tent confidently withstood harsh weather and rough handling with ease. Below we break down the Duplex’s weight and packed size, weather protection, durability, livability and interior space, storage, and more. To see how it stacks up to the competition, check out our article on the best backpacking tents.

Zpacks Duplex
Weight: 1 lb. 3.4 oz. (tent with guy lines and stuff sack); 1 lb. 5 oz. (with stakes and using trekking poles for support); 1 lb. 14.6 oz. (Freestanding Flex Kit with stakes)
Floor: 1.0 oz./sqyd (Dyneema)
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P
What we like: Incredibly light while still offering solid durability and wet-weather protection.
What we don't: Expensive and drafty in heavy winds.
Rating: (4.7/5)

Performance
Weight and Packed Size
Given Zpacks’ focus on minimalism, it’s no surprise that the Duplex tent is extremely light and packable. At 1 pound 5 ounces (with stakes and using two trekking poles for support) and 1 pound 14.6 ounces with stakes and the Freestanding Flex Kit (the version we tested here), it's one of the few two-person tents on the market to come in under 2 pounds. The Duplex Flex easily undercuts other ultralight, pole-supported models like the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 (2 lbs. 3 oz.) and Tarptent Double Rainbow (2 lbs. 7.8 oz.), while comparing favorably in usable interior space. The new Hyperlite Dirigo 2 weighs 1 pound 12 ounces total, while some of the latest Big Agnes carbon options come in lighter, including the Fly Creek HV Carbon (1 lb. 2 oz.) and Tiger Wall Carbon (1 lb. 6 oz.). That said, both Big Agnes tents feature much thinner fabrics on the floor and rainfly, which greatly increases their fragility.
Zpacks Duplex Flex (inside outside)

Packed size often correlates with weight, and the Duplex Flex packs down to about the size of a small sleeping bag (there was room to spare in its included 7 x 13-inch stuff sack). Even with the addition of tent poles, the entire set-up was easily stowed away: the tent body rolled neatly into its sack, and the carbon poles folded down to about 17 inches upright, which stuffed nicely inside my pack. All told, it was one of the easiest tents to carry that we've ever used.
Zpacks Duplex Flex (setup 3)


Weather Protection
Despite its thin fabric and hybrid single-wall construction, the Zpacks Duplex is remarkably weatherproof. On our first night using the tent, we faced early winter conditions with moderate winds and temperatures dropping well below freezing. We were forced to pitch the tent in about 5 inches of snow, but were impressed to find that it was still quite comfortable and handled the weather with ease. The tent didn’t noticeably rustle in the wind, the vestibules and corners didn’t flap around, and the tarp—which hangs about 4 to 5 inches over the bathtub floor—did an admirable job of protecting us from precipitation. I even purposefully left the stuff sack out overnight in the light rainfall (it’s made of the same Dyneema Composite Fabric as the tent itself) and everything inside the sack remained completely dry.
Zpacks Duplex Flex (on ground)

The Duplex did demonstrate some minor weaknesses, however, which were to be expected in these conditions. Namely, due to the thin materials and liberal amount of mesh along the base, it was quite breezy inside the tent throughout the night. We also experienced a bit of condensation build-up on the ceiling of the tent, but that wasn’t surprising given the below-zero (Celsius) temperatures. All things considered, we’d be comfortable using the Duplex for most trips in the spring, summer, and into fall, and we now consider it our top ultralight pick for fast-and-light 3-season backpacking missions. However, we wouldn’t want to use this tent in heavy winds, heavy precipitation, or cold Pacific Northwest winters, and we wouldn’t forego the stakes or Flex upgrade in non-ideal conditions (more on the tent's set-up below).


Durability
The Duplex's Dyneema Composite Fabric—commonly used in boat sails and praised for its legendary strength-to-weight ratio—is the real deal. The best way to convey Dyneema's strength is by highlighting the tent's performance on the first night of our trip, when we were forced to pitch it on a few inches of snow. I awoke the following morning to something sharp jabbing my hip and looked down to find that some of the snow had melted during the night, exposing a large, pointed stump underneath my sleeping pad. Surprisingly, the stump hadn’t penetrated the floor's thin fabric despite the fact that I had been lying on top of it and turning over for several hours. After many more limit-pushing outings, we’re happy to report that the tent and all of its pieces—including the ultra-tiny, thin metal rings that hold the tent poles at each corner—show no evidence of wear (bonus: the Duplex comes with spare seam tape, if needed).
Zpacks Duplex Flex (corners)


Ventilation
The Duplex has no shortage of ventilation thanks to the liberal use of mesh throughout. Both of the doored sidewalls are made entirely of mesh, and there is a 6-inch ribbon of mesh across the top of the tubbed floor at each end. On humid or hot days, you can stretch the tarp away from the doors, allowing airflow through the entire tent, or you can guy it out for additional protection from the elements. All that said, despite the storm doors, the Duplex was noticeably drafty in the cooler, windy conditions we faced. While it’s a great option for summer trekking or thru-hikes, it’s definitely not meant to withstand extreme wind.
Zpacks Duplex Flex (sitting)


Livability and Interior Space
For an ultralight backpacking tent, the Duplex felt roomy. The 28 square feet of floor space is less than the Hyperlite Dirigo 2 and its 32.5 square feet, but the Zpacks fit two winter sleeping pads side-by-side with room to spare. Importantly, we were able to sit upright without feeling cramped thanks to the tent’s generous 48-inch peak height. Given the impressive headroom and resulting interior volume, it was very comfortable to spend time inside the tent without getting claustrophobic. And just to be clear, this is no small feat for an ultralight tent. Compared to other models like the Tarptent Double Rainbow (42-inch head height), Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 (40-inch) and Nemo Hornet 2P (39-inch), the Duplex felt considerably more spacious. For those looking for even more room to move around, Zpacks makes a three-person version called the Triplex, although that tent only is offered in a trekking pole-supported design.
Zpacks Duplex Flex (inside)

As mentioned above, we opted for the Duplex's Freestanding Flex Kit upgrade (an additional $125), which adds four carbon ion tent poles that make the system freestanding. These poles also lift the sidewalls outward, creating more interior space. Without the upgrade, the standard Duplex relies on trekking poles—you have to stake out all the corners and create an A-frame set-up with your poles. However, the tent was much more comfortable for two people with the Flex option, and we feel it’s definitely worth the weight and cost for the added headroom and structural stability.
Zpacks Duplex Flex (night 3)


Storage
For an ultralight tent, the Duplex offers a considerable amount of interior and exterior storage. To start, we really appreciated that the tent has two doors and vestibules, which eliminate the issue of awkwardly crawling over each other in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. While not exceptionally large by any means, the vestibules were totally adequate (20.75 inches in depth each) for accommodating two backpacking packs and our hiking boots. Inside the tent, there are two small (8 x 8-inch) drop-in mesh pockets at each end for smaller items like headlamps, maps, cell phones, or GPS devices.
Zpacks Duplex Flex (poles 2)


Set up and Take Down
The Duplex can be pitched as a freestanding tent with the Flex Kit or supported with two trekking poles and up to eight stakes. We opted to do it all by using the guylines to stake out the tent corners and vestibules, while also utilizing the Flex upgrade's poles and adding trekking poles (adjusted to 48 inches for optimal fit) in the center of each door, which added a significant amount of structural stiffness. Keep in mind that you can angle these higher or lower depending on how much headroom you prefer.
Zpacks Duplex Flex (setup 2)

As with all tents, it’s always smart to practice setting up the Duplex before attempting it in the field (viewing the step-by-step video beforehand made things much easier on our first attempt). We found that securing each vestibule door to the guyline was the trickiest part, especially with one hand when entering or exiting the tent. Each vestibule door has a small ring at the bottom, and each guyline’s double-sided hook needs to be placed through this very intricately. But once we had the tent’s idiosyncrasies figured out, the Duplex became easy to pitch and take down, especially since there was no fussing with a footprint or separate rainfly.
Zpacks Duplex Flex (poles)


Additional Capacities: Zpacks Plexamid and Triplex
We tested the two-person Duplex, but Zpacks also makes one-person (Plexamid) and three-person (Triplex) versions. Unfortunately, the Flex upgrade only is available for the two-person model, and we prefer this freestanding set-up for its versatility over a stake-dependent tent. Otherwise, the tents all are strikingly similar. None of them come cheap—the Plexamid is priced at $549 and the Triplex is $699—but all models sport two doors and the signature Dyneema construction that make them so durable.
Zpacks Duplex Flex (setup)


What We Like
At less than 2 pounds with the Flex Kit upgrade, the Zpacks Duplex is one of the lightest freestanding tents on the market.
Despite its ultralight focus, the Dyneema fabric is extremely durable and offers solid weather protection.
The tent has a surprisingly tall peak height compared to others in its weight class, providing a healthy amount of headroom.

What We Don’t
Dyneema tents are expensive, and the Duplex is $599 on its own or $724 with the Flex Kit.
Noticeably drafty in heavy winds due to the liberal use of mesh.
Set up can be challenging at first, especially compared to other freestanding options.
Zpacks Duplex Flex (connection)

The Competition
In terms of competitors, one of the big new releases for 2019 was the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2. Both tents share a similar Dyneema build, hybrid single-wall design, and trekking pole set-up, but the Hyperlite weighs significantly more at 1 pound 12 ounces—8.6 ounces more than the Zpacks. Plus, the Flex Kit upgrade makes the Zpacks freestanding for a total weight of 1 pound 14.6 ounces, and the price still is $71 less than Dirigo. On the flip side, the Hyperlite is more spacious in terms of floor area (it does have a lower peak height), has a slightly thicker floor, and is easier to set up. It’s a close call and both are industry-leading Dyneema ultralight tents, but we give the slight nod to the Zpacks.

Big Agnes has been a leader in ultralight tents for years, and for 2019 released two very interesting Dyneema models: the Fly Creek Carbon and Tiger Wall Carbon. Both are incredibly light at 1 pound 2 ounces and 1 pound 6 ounces respectively, but the Fly Creek has the more compromised design with only one door and a heavily tapered interior. The Tiger Wall has two doors, which makes it a more livable option for two backpackers, but both Big Agnes tents use an ultra-thin 0.51 oz/sqyd Dyneema material for the tent floors, leaving us with big concerns about durability. Given that the Fly Creek Carbon and Tiger Wall Carbon are more expensive than the Zpacks, we’ll take the added durability and lower cost of the Duplex—not to mention its longstanding reputation.
Zpacks Duplex Flex (night)

Last but not least, Tarptent’s Double Rainbow does a really nice job of bridging performance and affordability. It’s decently roomy with a 30.5-square-foot interior and 42-inch peak height, reasonably lightweight at 2 pounds 7.8 ounces, freestanding with hiking poles, and surprisingly durable and weatherproof. Perhaps most importantly, the Double Rainbow costs only $299, making it a much better value than anything made with Dyneema. We understand the draw to Dyneema, and it's tough to top the Zpacks in terms of strength-to-weight ratio, but the Tarptent is nice option for hundreds of dollars less.

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