Larger tent manufacturers are just starting to catch up to some of the cottage companies when it comes to stripping tents down to their ultralight essence. While folks like Big Agnes are sticking to established design parameters and using new materials to drop tents into the sub-two-pound range, Sierra Designs decided to toss the traditional arched pole out the mesh window. This design upheaval resulted in their Tensegrity tents a couple of years back and, more recently, their collaboration with Andrew Skurka on the High Route 1 FL. Perhaps trying to bring this new, tension-based design into the mainstream, this year brought the Sierra Designs Divine Light in one- and two-person versions. Question is, did SD hit the mark with these tents?
Divine Light Tent Design
The Divine Light tents offer a combination of the Tensegrity straight pole tension design and the more traditional, arched pole of the Sierra Designs Flashlight tents. At the head end, the Divine Lights use two, vertical poles to provide head room and strength. You can sub trekking poles, if you use them, to save weight. At the foot, there is an arched pole that clips to the tent body, keeping it off your feet.
Sierra Designs uses a hybrid, single-wall/double-wall design with 360° ventilation to keep the weather at bay without needing to batten down the hatches. Both long sides have awnings that extend ten inches over the side of the tent, so you can open the windows even in driving rain. A vent at the foot is always open. The one-person version has a door on the right side of the tent while the two-person has doors on both sides. Both versions have another door at the head of the tent, into the vestibule, for easy gear access and storage. The secondary door is also a huge vent and can be propped up as an awning/porch.
Materials are light, but not too light. The tent fly/body is 20d nylon with a 1500mm-rated waterproof coating. Tent floor is 30d nylon rated to 3000mm. Both are sufficiently waterproof to keep rain out. No-see-um netting is 15d and makes up the windows and vents. Sierra Designs utilizes DAC NSL poles at the foot, which allows for pole diameter to change across the pole body for strength and light weight where needed. The straight poles at the head are DAC Pressfit. Vertical poles weigh 6 oz.
Sierra Designs uses some very thin, reflective cordage and cord locks to save weight on the guy lines and stake loops. You get a total of eleven DAC J-stakes, though you only need nine to set up. A stuff sack and a secondary sack that holds both the poles and stakes are included with the tent (and completely unnecessary).
Dimensions are 88″ (224cm) by 30″ (76cm) at the head and 26″ (66cm) at the foot. Head room is 45.5″ (116cm), which is about 3″ more than your average tent. Packed weight – including all the extraneous stuff sacks and accessories – comes in right at the listed 3 lbs, 5 oz.
Setting Up the Divine Light 1 FL
Set up is relatively easy, though we still recommend a few practice runs before taking any tent out into the woods. You set up the Divine Light by first staking out the foot of the tent, making sure the stake loops are loose. Then, stake out the two loops at the head of the tent body and, after that, the vestibule loops. You can then install the foot pole by locking the pole ends into their grommets and attaching the three clips to the pole.
The straight poles are where things get a little tricky. It’s easy to insert the poles in the sewn-in sleeves at the top of the tent and the grommets at the bottom. When staking out the vertical poles, though, it’s important to make sure that there is even tension on both sides of the awning. If one side is loose, it will flap in the wind and reduce weather coverage.
Once all of the poles are installed and the tent is staked out, head back around the tent and tighten the stake loops. The result is a solid, well-tensioned tent that will hold up to some pretty severe weather.
Review: Sierra Designs Divine Light Tent
The Divine Light 1FL was the tent I took on my last bikepacking trip. I chose it because it was relatively minimal in design and could pack down. I also like tents that come in a single piece so I don’t have to carry and set up a tent and fly. Carrying the tent body and poles separately allowed me to squeeze the tent body into my seatbag and strap the poles onto my handlebars. I also ditched the provided DAC stakes for my own, titanium stakes. That probably saved an ounce or two.
When I arrived at camp on the first night, it had been raining for hours. I tracked down a relatively dry spot under a tree and was able to set the tent up easily. Its compact footprint made site selection a snap – I didn’t have to find a huge pad. I did, however, take the time to remove sticks, pine cones, and rocks from the site to make sure I didn’t end up sleeping on them and to avoid damage to the tent.
Inside, there was plenty of room for my Klymit pad. I pulled out my Montbell Down Hugger bag and slid inside to take a pre-dinner nap. No hints of the bag touching the sides or the top of the tent anywhere, even at the foot. There was enough room in the vestibule to stash my seatbag, shoes, and hydration pack so they wouldn’t, themselves, get hydrated. I emptied my framebag inside the tent and stashed things around my head – food, dry clothes, etc.
At no time did I feel cramped in the Divine Light, even with gear stashed everywhere. It is important to note, though, that because the vertical poles are even with your head, you have to slide your butt up to take advantage of the full headroom in the tent.
360° ventilation did the trick and even though it was a very damp evening, I experienced no condensation on the tent walls. Tent break-down and packing is as easy as set up and happens just as quickly.
All in all, I really like the Divine Light 1 FL. It’s designed well and has plenty of thoughtful room and features for a single backpacker.
I do not, however, like how much it weighs. There’s absolutely no excuse for a non-freestanding, one-person tent to weigh more than three pounds from the factory. And, honestly, I’m not sure how Sierra Designs made the tent so heavy. They used decent materials – though without knowing the weight per square meter of the fabric, it’s hard to tell whether they can improve there. They used light poles. The design is relatively minimal. There appears to be a lot of sewing on the tent. Maybe the amount of seams added weight? Maybe they could use lighter zippers? It’s tough to tell.
It’s not a direct comparison, but for reference, take a look at the Tarptent Notch. 30d fabric all around in a full double-wall design. Slightly smaller floor area at 15.2 sq ft, but much more vestibule space. And, it weighs in a 27 oz – under 2 lbs. Same with the Lightheart Gear Solo tent, which moves more of the available space into the tent body (less vestibule space) for 30 sq ft of living area, again at 27 oz. Lightheart lists the weight of their fabric at 1.1 oz/sq yd. Add 6 oz of poles to either of those tents, assuming you don’t use trekking poles, and you’re at 2 lbs, 1 oz. That’s a pound less than the Divine Light.
Should You Buy a Divine Light 1 FL?
I’m glad that Sierra Designs is thinking outside the box when it comes to tent designs. I’m glad they’re pushing the idea that backpacking tents need not be freestanding to provide really good shelter. The Divine Light is a solid attempt to lighten things up and introduce the idea of tension-supported tents to the average backpacker. I trust the Divine Light 100% as a shelter and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to someone who wants to dip their toe into the tension tent waters.
Unfortunately, Sierra Designs didn’t go far enough when it comes to reducing weight on the Divine Light. There are too many freestanding tents out there in this weight class to justify a Divine Light purchase at full price. REI’s Quarter Dome 1 has more space and weighs in at 2 lbs, 14 oz, packed weight. It’s freestanding and costs $120 less. Big Agnes makes ten(!) tent flavors that weigh under 3 lbs; the lightest – their Fly Creek HV Platinum – is 1 lb, 13 oz packed weight! (It’s also $500…)
If you’re keen on the idea of a non-freestanding tent, definitely check out Sierra Designs’ High Route tent. It checks all the boxes, weighs 2 lbs, 5 oz if you use your trekking poles, and is less expensive, plus, it has more space inside. Or, look into some of the smaller companies I linked above.
Point is, as much as I like the Divine Light 1 FL trust it as a shelter, I simple can’t justify telling you to spend $320 on a 1-person tent that weighs over 3 lbs. On sale? Sure, if it checks all your boxes, go for it.