By Zach White
MSRP $380($360 for the 1-person version)
Available January 2019
Big Agnes is now offering updated versions of their Fly Creek UL2, including a new Bike Pack model. The biggest new feature that justifies the name designation is that the tent’s poles break down to 12-inches in length, which was primarily designed to fit more cleanly on handlebars, but also now allows other stash options of the poles. For example, they fit in Oveja Negra’s relatively compact Bootlegger fork bags, along with either the tent or the fly – but not both. That said, while one wasn’t available to check, it’s a good guess that the Fly Creek UV2 would fit in something like Salsa’s Anything cage, too. Other cycling-specific features include a helmet stash on top of the tent that’s covered by the fly, a new stash pocket on the ceiling of the tent, webbing on the fly for drying out gear, and larger interior side pockets for even more places to spread your gear out.
The Fly Creek UV2 comes with DAC’s new Green Poles, which are anodized without the use of nitric or phosphoric acid, and the process also uses less water than typical anodizing. The tent’s fly and floor are silicone treated nylon rip-stop, with a 1200mm waterproof polyurethane coating. All seams are taped with waterproof, solvent-free poly tape, and the pole clips are an “ultralight” plastic.
I took the new tent out for a couple of nights on the Colorado Trail to get a feel for how well this design works. First off, the compact new tent bag does as intended by way of fitting nicely on handlebars without sprawling over brake levers. I opted to skip a typical front-end loader, and instead mounted the tent bag directly to the bars with a single bungee cord, which worked very well on this trip. The compression stuff sack isn’t completely waterproof, but is definitely more stout than a typical tent bag, and Big Agnes says that while it’s not up to a submersible dry-bag standards, it’s able to “withstand all the rigors of trail travel”. I didn’t get a chance to see how it fares against any kind of precipitation, but it did hold up nicely to a couple of minutes under the kitchen sink.
On the first night, the tent was set up essentially in the dark without an issue, although I did stop halfway through and grab a headlamp. With the lamp set to red-light/ninja mode, it was pleasantly discovered that both the stake loops and guy lines have reflective material. Throughout the evening while shuffling gear and cookware around, the reflective material saved many a potential trip-n-fall, including those wee-hour jaunts. Obviously, the reflective material doesn’t do a thing without a light source, but short of having glow-in-the-dark material illuminating your way, and magically turning off when not needed, the reflective tabs and lines are about as good as it gets.
A single T-shaped pole easily connects to several plastic clips and metal grommets, and technically makes the tent freestanding within what seemed like a minute. That said, the two corners at the foot of the tent don’t hold any sort of form until they’re staked in or stuffed with gear, so it’s pretty much necessary to use the stakes. The fly connects to the tent with three buckles, but also requires being staked in at the vestibule to hold any sort of shape, as well. Short story, the Fly Creek UL2 needs to be set up where you can either stake it in or where there’s enough rocks, trees, etc. to tie it off to.
Once inside, Big Agnes’ lightest 2-person tent template feels more like it’s a 1.5-person tent, at least to my 6’3”, 200lbs stature. I’ve shared the old version (same dimensions) with my petite 5’7” girlfriend and even that was a bit snug. Namely, having two 20” air mattresses in the tent all but absolutely abuts them length-wise – especially at the 42-inch(claimed) wide foot span – which means that anytime one person moves, the other one feels it. So, while it’s possible to sleep two people inside, think of it as more of a 2-person bivy with a ton of headroom than a 2-person car-camping tent with ample personal space. In regards to length, a 78” sleeping pad took up most of it, leaving just enough room for a rolled up t-shirt between the pad’s end and tent wall. The new vertical door is a big improvement over the previous version, as it offers plenty of headroom, but the shallow angle of the tent above the feet makes it basically impossible for someone my height to lay on their back without their feet hitting the tent’s ceiling. Sleeping diagonally helped remedy this, as well as sleeping on my side, and ultimately, this is the price of ultralight and packable gear for someone my size or larger.
The vestibule offers plenty of room for a couple of big hydration packs, shoes, and enough space to get in and out without feeling like running a gauntlet. The single helmet stash is great, though maybe make sure the helmet isn’t soaked with sweat as it’ll drip down through the mesh and right onto where your head lays. Two spacious new side compartments have room for socks, shorts and a shirt, if not a phone and/or headlamp, too. The ceiling pocket offers even more room, but does seem to sag down a little bit when loaded with more than a shell jacket. Still, for the size and weight of the tent, these stash options are fantastic.
Packing up the tent a couple of times suggested that all three compression straps need to be as loose as possible as the tent bag’s stout material doesn’t offer a millimeter of give. I tried a couple of times with the poles going into their separate-yet-attached sack first, and a couple of times with the poles going in last, and both techniques had their pros and cons. I wouldn’t be surprised if Big Agnes eventually swaps out the compression strap’s ladder locks with buckles, as it’d allow the separate pole bag to be detached while stuffing the tent back into its home. Buckles would also allow the poles to more easily be stored in their separate sack in other places on the bike, too, and allow a more compressed tent for packing as well. And, it’d allow a direct-mount option to the handlebars.
All said, Big Agnes’s new Bike Pack version of the Fly Creek UL2 is one of the best options for riders looking for an extremely lightweight and packable tent. It flirts with size and weight of some bivies, yet is technically big enough for a couple to share. My gripes are specific to my stature, and at the end of the day, I’d still opt for the Fly Creek UL2’s svelteness and compact package for solo trips, but am looking for another option for excursions with a partner. The old Fly Creek UL2 was already a popular option for cyclists, and now that the new Bike Pack model is soon to be available with much better packability on a bike, and a few handy new interior features as well, this will be a tough tent to top.
Check out the photo gallery below to take a virtual tour of this light, packable shelter.