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The updated REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+ Tent is more than a pound lighter than its previous version. Better yet, you still get the roomy “2+” floor plan that can fit two adults comfortably.
To get us a closer look, REI sent Man Makes Fire a review unit. This is what we learned:
REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+ Tent Review
The REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+ Tent is one of a half-dozen REI-branded backpacking tents available today. To me, the REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+ Tent is REI’s best overall backpacking tent. However, it’s also not REI’s lightest backpacking tent, nor is it REI’s best backpacking tent deal (which I’ll get to below). So why is the REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+ Tent such a winner?
That’s easy: It’s roomy size.
The Half Dome SL 2+ Tent is bigger than REI’s other two-person backpacking tents. It’s just 2 inches longer, 2 inches wider, and it has a 2-to-4 inch higher peak height . . . but that’s enough to make the interior space quite a bit more livable for two backpackers.
Of course, I’m a relatively big guy. I’m about 6’3″ and I weigh in at 225 pounds these days. The REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+ Tent is 90 inches long. That keeps the end of my sleeping bag from pushing on the end of interior mesh and potentially getting wet from condensation from the exterior rain fly. And it keeps my head from pushing against the tent at the other end. I like the extra room.
For some backpackers, you might also appreciate the extra room if you have a backpacking dog.
Very Usable Dimensions
The size advantage has even more going for it. The REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+ Tent floor is a 90″ x 54″ rectangle.
Some two-person backpacking tents taper in at the feet — like the 88″ x 52″/42″ REI Co-op Quarter Dome SL 2. This results in a tighter trapezoid shape, which is often OK because people’s shoulders usually require a bit more room than their feet. Most backpacking air mattresses taper in at the foot these days, but if you like a long and wide air mattress, you’ll have more room in a rectangular tent.
While I can get by with a smaller tent, I very much prefer as much room as I’m willing to carry. The Half Dome SL 2+ Tent helps deliver that room without necessitating a bump up to a heavier or more expensive three-person tent.
The REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+ Tent has two doors and two vestibules. The vestibules give you 22.5 square feet of covered space, which is also more usable space than the 19 square feet you get with REI’s Passage 2 and Trail Hut 2 tents. Even REI’s high-end ultralight Quarter Dome SL 2 Tent has less vestibule space of 21.5 square feet each.
So why are the Half Dome vestibules bigger? The key reason is due to the two-stake design that helps protect the door from rain during entry and exit. The two stakes help pull the vestibule farther out in more of a trapezoid shape rather than a traditional triangle shape. This gives you a bit more room for stowing your boots or pack.
However, there is a drawback to the vestibule design: You need two stakes to use the vestibule properly.
Large Vents, Lots of Mesh
For ventilation, REI includes two large air vents at the top of the rainfly, which you can prop open for extra air flow. The main interior body of the tent is about 2/3 mesh and 1/3 nylon. For the best overall airflow, I usually prefer a shorter bathtub design with more mesh, but both designs have benefits and drawbacks.
In windy conditions, shorter interior sidewalls can let dust blow into the tent through the mesh. Higher interior sidewalls help prevent that — as well as help protect newbies who sometimes leave their rain fly too loose. Ultimately, the higher bathtub sidewalls in the Half Dome SL 2+ result in can’t-go-wrong usability.
Overall, the REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+ Tent is not an ultra-light, high-end tent with a high-end price point. The Half Dome SL 2+ is a do-it-all backpacking tent sold at a competitive midrange price point. At the same time, REI’s component choices and quality control result in an excellent price-to-value ratio.
For the poles, REI gives you a single hubbed poleset that’s made from DAC Featherlite NFL aluminum. There are lighter polesets, but the poles are high quality and work very well.
The canopy fabric is a 40-denier ripstop nylon with a 20-denier nylon mesh. The floor fabric is a 40-denier taffeta nylon. The rainfly is a 30-denier nylon. Basically, the fabrics are thicker and more durable than what you’ll find in the lightest ultralight backpacking tents.
I used to be a bit of a snob over wanting the most ultralight fabrics in backpacking tents, but I’ve since stepped off my soapbox. A 20-denier tent floor fabric is great until your backpacking dog’s nails shred it. And an ultralight fly is fantastic until a harsh wind blows it around when you’re trying to set up your tent and it catches on a dead tree branch and tears.
Easy rainfly attachment.
Poles and mesh!
Things happen in the wilderness, and I’m now more appreciative of balance when it comes to weight and tent materials. If you’re a recreational backpacker just out having fun for a week or on long weekends, a midrange tent will do the job nicely. If you’re heading out on an epic trip covering many miles, saving a pound might be worth the cost and risk. Then again, erroring on the side of durability might fit your personality better.
I’ve used and reviewed a lot of REI tents over the years, and I’m always impressed by the company’s overall quality and price-to-value ratios. I think REI takes its branded tents particularly seriously because tents are core to many good outdoor experiences.
The REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+ Tent fit and finish is excellent.
I really appreciate it when tent manufacturers include footprints with their tents. For most great tents, you can buy a footprint separately, but this adds extra expense and I usually skip it. When the footprint is included, however, I can choose to use it if I need to — or ditch it to save weight.
Typically, I ditch footprints for any backpacking trips over a few miles . . . but I really like footprints at campgrounds and trailheads where I’m throwing my tent up in the dark on the night before starting out in the morning.
Competition & Alternative Options
There are many great two-person backpacking tents to choose from these days. They are available at all price points and levels of quality and design. However, there aren’t many tents that match REI’s 90″ length. Most competitive two-person tents are only 84″ in length, which can be a drawback for taller backpackers. In some ways, the closest REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+ Tent competitive options are REI’s own backpacking tents. If you like the REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+ Tent, here a few alternative 2-person tents to consider:
REI Co-op Passage 2 Tent — The REI Co-op Passage 2 Tent is REI’s most affordable REI-branded backpacking tent — and REI’s best backpacking tent value. At 88″ x 52″ it’s nearly as roomy as the Half-Dome SL 2+ but it’s $120 less! Its minimum trail weight is a reasonable 4 lbs 2 ounces, which is only 3 ounces more than the Half-Dome SL 2+. The main drawback is that it’s not quite as roomy, but the price-to-value ratio will make up for it if you’re an average-sized backpacker on a budget.
REI Co-op Trail Hut 2 Tent — This tent is very similar to the Passage 2, but it has a ridge pole that supports the vestibules better than the vestibule support in the Passage 2 Tent. The pole system also gives you a slight increase in interior space.
REI Co-op Quarter Dome 2 Tent — REI’s premier REI-branded ultralight backpacking tent delivers a very competitive price-to-value ratio against higher-priced ultralight tents. The minimum trail weight is a respectable 2 lbs 8 oz, which means its a whopping 23 oz lighter than the Half-Dome SL 2+. The primary drawback is that it’s a bit smaller than the Half Dome SL 2+. The rainfly, floor, and body are also made of thinner fabrics that are less durable.
Marmot Limelight 2P Tent — The Marmot Limelight 2P Tent offers an overall design and price point that’s very similar to the REI Half-Dome SL 2+. The interior livability is particularly similar. Even though it is technically 2″ shorter in length, the Limelight features nearly vertical sidewalls that help maximize the space. Plus, the doors are huge, which makes entry and exit easier for big backpackers. The biggest drawback is that its minimum trail weight is a full pound heavier than the Half Dome SL 2+.
All-in-all, the REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+ Tent delivers excellent livability in a durable-but-lightweight package. In fact, REI delivers a fantastic blend of design with high-quality component choices that are strong enough to survive user error and multiple seasons. Add in the extra length and width, and you get a true 2-person tent that’s actually comfortable for 2 people. Very highly recommended.
* If you become an REI member, REI shares a portion of the company’s profits every year through member dividends, which are typically around 10% of your REI purchases during the previous year. FYI is all — learn how here.
REI Half Dome SL 2+ Tent
Design is roomier than nearly all of the 2-person tent competition
Surprisingly good blend of weight-to-strength of components
Midrange price point is competitive
If you're not worried about maximizing interior length and width, you can save money with other REI tents -- or bump up to the Quarter Dome to save 23 oz of trail weight