“Wow, that thing is the tent?” That’s what my bike packing partner told me as I was about to cinch it onto the bike. I tossed it to them and they shook there head when they felt it; I knew what they meant, the MSR Carbon Reflex 3 is unbelievably light. It was a natural choice for a bike touring circumnavigation of the Olympic Peninsula this past June, where we wanted to go light but still have full protection from the Peninsula’s legendary precipitation.
MSR Carbon Reflex 3 Ultralight Tent Features:
- Easton®* carbon fiber poles
- Micromesh canopy
- DuraShield™ waterproof-coated rainfly; Xtreme Shield™ waterproof-coated floor
- Simple, non-freestanding design
- Weight-saving, zipper-free vestibule
- Fast & Light setup with optional footprint
- Large doors provide easy entry and exit
- Waterproof rainfly and bathtub-style floor
- Reinforced stress points for durability
- Internal mesh storage pockets
- Packed weight: 2 lb. 10 oz.
- MSRP: $650.00
Bring the comfort, not the weight
This tent is crazy light. The packed weight for this bad boy is 2lb 10oz. I am not totally sure, but I think this is the lightest 3-person tent that money can buy. A competitor is the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL3 which is heftier at 3lbs 14oz packed weight. There is one option from boutique brand Zpacks that clocks in at 1lb 6.5oz. That doesn’t include the minimum 8 stakes that it takes to pitch, or poles, and will set you back $750. So I’m staking my money on the MSR Carbon Reflex 3 as the lightest 3-person tent for an all-inclusive package.
The foundation of the tent is a ridiculously light 15D nylon floor, with a 10D micromesh canopy. Interestingly, MSR doesn’t have these fabric specs published on their webpage, so I’m using this REI page as a reference instead. I don’t think I have ever used a tent with fabric this light, so for me it was logical to get the universal 3-person footprint that MSR sells. The ‘D’ in 15D represents denier, which is basically how dense the fabric weave is. Higher denier means stronger fabric. At just 15D, the floor of this tent is less durable than many down jackets. It is very easy to put a hole in this fabric. So a footprint is common sense.
MSR built the tent with a bathtub-style floor, and the body fabric comes with a DWR from the factory. The seams do not come taped, but they included a liquid tape for you to use if you choose. The 7D fly fabric does a great job fending off moisture, and we’ll come back to that a little later.
Pitching the tent is dead simple, but it is not free-standing so be advised that it needs to be staked out first. This can be tough in rocky areas where the soil is hard, so keep that in mind. This is a great forest tent: soft ground cover and soil helps it thrive. There’s a main ridge pole which stretches the length of the tent, and then a single cross pole which slips into tabs in the tent body and fly. These poles are all Easton carbon fiber, which is kind of nuts. I never thought I’d have carbon fiber (not fiberglass or aluminum) tent poles, but here they are.
Let’s explore how this holds up to inclement weather. The tent just does so-so in the wind. It really needs to be pitched so that the short end faces into the wind, since there’s no structure on the long walls for guy-out points to attach to. That said, it would still take significant gusts in the 30’s to really cause you any trouble; users who stay in the forests and below ridge lines will have no trouble.
The fly design comes up here because it’s really pretty interesting. Instead of having a conventional zipper, it has two clips and some velcro strips to secure the fly shut. In some ways it’s brilliant, because who ever said we needed a zipper on our fly? The system does the work of keeping 90% of moisture out of the vestibule and off of your gear, and most of the time that’ll be more than adequate. With that said, I found it a little less convenient than a normal zipper. The bottom clasp sometimes carried a lot of tension, and the clasps themselves are small so you will enjoy many episodes of fumbling and swearing in the dark. In many regards, this is the biggest sacrifice that this ultralight tent makes.
My last talking point is its ‘livability factor.’ Basically, how pleasant is it to spend time in this shelter? Overall, the Carbon Reflex 3 gets good marks for comfort and spaciousness. It’s not an exceptionally roomy 3-person tent and cramming two Therm-a-Rest NeoAir’s and a Z-pad felt like about as much as it could handle. I wouldn’t recommend it for three full-grown linebacker friends. But for myself and two female partners, it worked great. It would also be a good option for a couple who wanted gear storage inside of the tent.
There are two sewn mesh pockets which were adequate for storing nighttime essentials. The 40″ peak height was good for sitting up and reading, and showed off the benefits of the unconventional pole design. The two main teardrop doors are enormous and are easy to come in and out of, but take care with the narrow-gauge zipper. It pulls easily, but should never be forced and ought to be kept clean for longevity.
This tent did experience a quality control issue where, when it arrived, some of the stitching in a mesh panel was loose. So the tent basically came with a whole in the mesh walls. I am pursuing this with MSR’s quality control people, and have never had an issue with them before so I will report if anything goes awry with fixing it.
- Probably the lightest fully-featured tent that you can find
- Reasonably roomy and comfortable
- Easy to set up, with the caveat that it is not free standing
- Easton carbon fiber self-locating poles are very high quality
- Bathtub-style floor is much appreciated in the PNW
- Came with a small hole in some of the mesh stitching
- Plan on spending more money on a footprint to protect this floor
- May suffer in windy climates
- Ultralight fabrics shave ounces but sacrifice durability
The Bottom Line: MSR Carbon Reflex 3
I suspect that people who know that the MSR Carbon Reflex 3 is the right tent for them won’t need much convincing. If you need the lightest 3-person tent that comes ready to go out of the box, this is for you. It does come with some sacrifices that are made in the name of shaving ounces, but I have no doubt that many users will be thrilled with the exceptionally light, trim profile of this remarkable little tent.
Buy Now: Available from Moosejaw