Freestanding ultralight tents are my favorite. So when I found out MSR redesigned the Freelite 2 to be eight ounces lighter—coming in closer to two pounds—well, I had to check it out.
And I realized, this tent feels a whole lot like another two-pound tent I’ve used for years: the Nemo Hornet elite. Plus, MSR claims their new Freelite is …
“More Spacious Than the Nemo Hornet”
Which was just begging for a comparison.
First of all, let’s talk about all the similarities.
These are both semi-freestanding tents. They both have two vestibules, two doors, and are for two people. They both weigh close to two pounds. They both have a cutout at the head to increase ventilation. All in all, these are very similar designs.
But how do they compare?
Since MSR claims it is roomier than the Hornet, let’s start there.
The Freelite is slightly larger than the Hornet. If you are into specs, the Freelite has a 29-square-foot floorspace compared to the Hornet’s 27.3. This is most noticeable in the the true rectangle shape of the Freelite. The Freelite is 50 inches across at the head and the feet where the Hornet goes from 50 to 42 inches at the feet.
Now, theoretically this means you should be able to fit two 25-inch pads in the Freelite. I don’t have two 25-inch pads, but I did try to get a huge 30-inch pad in there with a 20-inch pad, and the two just didn’t quite fit. Maybe that is a pitch problem. I’m not sure.
I think the place you really notice the need for space in a two-person tent is in the headroom. The MSR is two inches taller and has a slightly longer crossbar, giving just a few more inches of space on either side. But even with the extra inches, the walls still feel like they are drooping in on you.
The Nemo has two little clips that allow you to take the inner mesh, pull the walls out a bit and attach them to the fly, giving you just a bit more extra space. This is a feature I think all tents should adopt because it really does help with interior space.
I have to say, the Nemo actually still feels more constrictive in the headroom. The netting is just so close to your head, and that’s just with one person in it. That extra-long crossbar really does help in the Freelite, making a much bigger difference than I realized.
The MSR also has slightly larger vestibules. So on paper, the Freelite is slightly larger. But when you are on the trail, it’s going to be real hard to notice that extra space.
The real thing that makes the Freelite a contender is the new weight savings. MSR managed to shave eight ounces of this thing, and they are advertising it at two pounds even. But that is trail weight, which is basically just the body, fly and poles. No steaks. But as these are only simi-freestanding tents, you are going to need those steaks.
The total weight is actually 2 lbs. 4 oz. on my home scale, three ounces heavier than the Hornet. And if you know, me every ounce counts so this one goes to the Hornet.
But you are going to pay for those three ounces, because the Nemo Hornet is a fairly expensive tent at $500 US. The Freelite is almost $100 cheaper at $409. So the question is, are three ounces worth a hundred bucks?
Now the thing I really love about the MSR—and honestly, it’s so simple, I don’t know why more tents haven’t started doing this—and that is the placement of the vestibule zipper.
You’ve got to watch this part of my video. Here, it starts right where I talk about zippers, but be sure to go back and check out the beginning.
To recap, in most tents including the Hornet, the fly zipper is so far away from your head that you literally have to fold yourself in half just to reach it. But in the Freelite, it is much easier to reach.
Not only that, but the Freelite has double-zipper doors that are so much easier to open with one hand compared to the Hornet’s rainbow doors that require two hands to open.
But, there’s the problem with the fly design. Even with the rain gutters, if it’s raining, the inside of the Freelite will definitely get wet.
Crossbar vs. Fly Bar
The thing I hate about the Freelite is that the crossbar is separate from the main poles, and is frankly easy to lose. Every time I’ve set this up, if I don’t specifically make note of where I put this pole, I spend one or two minutes looking for it. I wish they could have found a way to keep it connected to the main poles.
Nemo took a different route and created this fly bar which is attached to the tent so you won’t lose it … but makes it harder to pack the tent up. I’m always afraid I’m going to break it while trying to shove it in the stuff sack.
I don’t really like either setup.
On the inside, the Freelite has more pockets. It has two on either side and two in the ceiling, and they have small openings at the bottom to run charging cords.
Honestly, I wonder why this is even needed. Odds are you are going to be charging with a battery bank, and it seems like it would be just as convenient—or actually even more convenient—to just put that in the pocket with your phone.
And if you put anything small in this pocket, is it just going to fall out the bottom?
On the other hand, the Hornet has two pockets on either side, but they are on the opposite side of the door. No charging port, and only one pocket in the ceiling, but it has a light diffuser for your headlamp.
A few other things …
Two things the Freelite has that the Hornet doesn’t: The first is these little rain gutters that (ideally) run water down and away from the door. And the second is that the foot has these stiff corners to keep the bathtub floor up.
But the Hornet has a solid one-piece floor, where the Freelite has a taped seem that to me just begs for standing water to leak through at some point.
The Nemo also has a pole-repair sleeve. The Freelite doesn’t have a pole-repair sleeve, but it does have two extra steaks that I didn’t need when I pitched it.
The Freelite also has double-ended zippers on the fly so that you can unzip the top to get a little better ventilation. The Nemo doesn’t have these.
One more thing: the Freelite has a 15-denier floor and fly, where the Hornet has a 7-denier fly and a 10-denier floor that is probably how they saved those extra ounces.
So there you have it. The MSR Freelite 2p tent new for 2022 verses the Nemo Hornet Elite 2p tent. They’re actually updating the Nemo Hornet Elite this year, but I haven’t managed to get my hands on one yet. The best I can tell, the updates are a new fabric that the Nemo is introducing, and they’re changing the color a little bit to be gray, which I don’t know if I like that or not. But as far as I can tell, everything else on the new Nemo is going to be exactly like the tent we talked about in this post.
So which one is the better tent? For the price, the extra space and the way the fly opens, I really want to like the Freelite. But the way the water drips in when it rains, even with the rain gutters, that’s a deal-breaker for me. For now, the Nemo is going to remain my favorite.
But I want to know, which one of these is the tent you would take into the backcountry? Leave me a comment, and let me know.