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5 high-tech tents that light up, blow up, and even transform

It seems like every camper spent large parts of his or her childhood wide awake and shivering through the night, trapped in a tent that managed to be drafty, musty, leaky, heavy, and claustrophobic all at the same time. Tent design has gone from mammoth skin to A-frame to pole and dome, but the basic concept has remained the same — stretch some material over your head and hope for the best.

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A new generation of outside-the-box thinkers are hoping to change all that, however, by incorporating lighter materials and taking specialized camping needs into account. Moreover, they’re dramatically re-imagining the way we think a tent should look. Below are just a few examples from, both well-established brands and darling start-ups.

The multitasker – Cotopaxi Inti 2 ($350)

Best high tech tents

Here’s the problem. Solo backpacking requires a different tent than hiking with a partner, which, in turn, requires a different tent than hiking with a group or family. Three tents is a pretty big blow, both to your bank account and to the limited storage area in your garage.

That’s why Cotopaxi, a Utah-based gear company, invented the Inti 2. Think of it as the Swiss army knife of tents.

It starts with a basic two-man, two-door, two-pole dome design, one complete with a rain fly, bathtub bottom, gear loft, and four mesh storage pouches.

At just under 5 pounds, it isn’t the lightest two-man tent out there, but you could do worse. Here’s where things get interesting. Let’s say your kids are old enough to tag along on a multi-day trip through Shenandoah National Forest. The Inti 2 comes with an alcove that seamlessly integrates with the rain fly, effectively doubling the size of the tent. Lots of tents have a vestibule, sure, but the Inti 2’s alcove has a built in floor — this isn’t just a place to to keep your gear dry. It’s a way to transform a two-man tent into a four-man tent.

Now let’s say you’ve managed to snag some time off for a speed hike along the Continental Divide. Leave the bulk of the Inti 2 at home and simply toss the alcove itself into your pack, along with just one of the poles. The alcove sets up as a minimalist two-person shelter — or a solo shelter with room for gear — with the help of your trekking poles or a handy tree. This configuration weighs in at just under 3 pounds. Another option? Use the two-man configuration as a base camp and take the alcove along for quick overnights or summit bids.

Is the Inti 2 the best at what it does in every category? Probably not. You could find a better two-man tent, a better four-man tent, and a better minimalist shelter. But good luck trying to find all three for the Inti 2’s price tag. The tent premiered at this year’s Outdoor Retailer but is still being prepared for widespread production. You can jump in early at IndieGoGo and get one shipped to you in spring of 2017.

Buy one now from:

Indiegogo

The crossover – Tentsile Flite Tree Tent ($350)

Best high tech tents

What’s that? In the woods! It’s a hammock! It’s a tent! No, it’s… well, a little bit of both, actually.

It was probably only a matter of time until somebody did this. After all, hammock camping has exploded in popularity over the last 20 years. Hammocks are light, easy to set up, and your kidneys will love not being poked by roots all night long. But as anybody who’s spent the evening suspended between two trees can tell you, hammock camping is a solitary, cramped affair. Tentsile recently went back to the drawing board and combined the best qualities of tents and hammocks. Essentially a tent suspended between three trees with webbing and a ratchet, the Flite can sleep two people and has enough head room to sit up and change clothes. The triple suspension gives the floor of the Flite much more stability than a standard hammock, and the fly can be pegged outward to the ground so your gear stays safe from rain and dew all night long. Hammock camping can be drafty, though, so a sleeping pad pad is still required to protect against a nighttime breeze that might otherwise chill your hind quarters. As of now, there is no way to affix an under quilt to the Flite’s triangular shape.

Tensile has a range of products, but the Flite is featured here because it is the lightest and most trail-friendly of the company’s offerings. That being said, the tent still weighs a hefty 7 pounds (remember that ratchet?).  If you are willing to haul the weight, however, the Flite could be the perfect solution to all of your tent complaints.

Buy one now from:

Amazon Tentsile

The illuminator – Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL1 mtnGLO ($400)

Best high tech tents

Using a headlamp in a tent causes all sorts of problems. First, any battery life used in camp is battery life you won’t have for night hiking or early starts. Second, the intense beam of a headlamp will often wash out the pages of the paperback you are trying to read, even when using a dim setting. Finally, nobody likes to scramble through a tangled jumble of equipment looking for a headlamp when the suspiciously bear-like snuffling from outside is getting closer and closer. Thankfully, the mtnGLO line from Big Agnes addresses all this by running a thin cord of LEDs through the seams of the tent, thus creating a cool, diffused glow that is more than sufficient for reading and gear organization.

Controlled by a single push button and powered by three AAA batteries, the mtnGLO system can be dimmed to 50-percent intensity if needed.

Underneath all the tech is a well-designed, lightweight, single-person tent with Big Agnes’ proven pedigree behind it. The Fly Creek HV UL1 mtnGLO packs a lot of features into a 2-pound package, too, including a single door with vestibule, a three-pole design, gear loops, mesh pockets, and a special media pocket with cable routing to stash your iPod or smartphone. The steep, high shape of the Fly Creek line also provides plenty of space for the weight, while still managing to be one of the sturdier tents on the market. In fact, we once stumbled across an abandoned Fly Creek buried beneath 2 feet of snow and were surprised to discover it still assembled and functioning.

Buy one now from:

Big Agnes

The blowhard – Heimplanet Fistral ($556)

Best high tech tents

Those flimsy sectional tent poles with interior elastic are a great invention that’s been around forever, but once the elastic snaps — which it will if you have kids, cause those things are also great for sword fights — there really isn’t much you can do. U.K.-based company Heimplanet engineered it’s way around that one by combining two seemingly unrelated concepts: bike tires and space-age design. The “airbeams” of this futuristic tent inflate with an interior bladder and support a stable, wind-resistant geodesic design. Simply unroll the Fistral and inflate it with a pump of your choice. Heimplanet will sell you one if you want, but you can use any standard pump.

An inflatable tent might sound like a disaster waiting to happen, and we wouldn’t recommend pitching it near any prickly pears, but Heimplanet has engineered several little details that might make it worth your while. The airbeams are constructed with a multi chamber safety system that allows you to pump the entire tent up at once, then divide off sections in case anything gets punctured. In addition to providing stability in case of a catastrophic cactus situation, this nifty design element allows you to easily replace and repair parts without having to take the whole tent out of commission. Other details include double-layered construction for extra toughness, and a rapid deflation valve system.

At 5 and a half pounds, the Fistral is one of the heavier two-man tents on the market, so don’t expect to move fast and light with this baby. However, we could see it being nice for long-distance paddling trips or any expedition where wind conditions are a factor.

Buy one now from:

Amazon Moosejaw Heimplanet

The Gateway – Tepui Tents White Lightning Hard Shell ($3,250)

Best high tech tents

A rooftop tent certainly doesn’t make for an immersive wilderness experience, but if you are looking for a base camp option to suite your vagabond lifestyle and get you within striking distance of gnarly single track or wicked breaks, the White Lightning is the tent for you. Consider the advantages. The pop-up tent sits on top of your vehicle and provides you with a plush foam mattress and protection from the wind, rain, and roots. The innovative fiberglass composite construction accordions out into a roomy tent, but measures a mere 8 inches when fully collapsed. It can also convert into a waterproof storage compartment for extra cargo, and is sturdy enough to carry your surfboard, SUP, kayak, or bike on top.

You can even open and sleep in the White Lightning with your toys directly overhead, thanks to the tent’s interchangeable gas struts.

Designed, engineered, and produced in the United States, the White Lightning is a travel-tailored beast that benefits from flexibility, ingenuity, and intelligent engineering. Use it as a jumping off point to further your adventures, and you won’t be sorry.

Buy one now from:

Tepui Tents