I have a workhorse of a tent, an Alpine Meadows, (described in this answer) that I really like. We bought it 30 years ago, and at first we just had way more stuff than we should, and eventually we had two small children (and their stuff) in the tent with us. There were times when I read stories to five children at a time in that tent. But now, it has more space than we need. And it's 30 years old, and tent technology has really changed. So we're thinking of replacing it with a tent that weighs less and takes up less room in the pack. (We canoe camp primarily, and create extra bedrooms at a cottage every few years.) I understand I will have to give up something I really like about the Alpine Meadows: I can stand up in it, which makes dressing much easier. I accept that modern 2 and 3 person tents are all generally shorter inside, and I'll take that in exchange for the weight and the pack room.
Step 1: go to a 2 or 3 person tent instead of a 4. No problem. Step 2: enjoy the lighter materials even ordinary tents come in (example). No problem. Step 3: what about an ultralight (example)? Wow, one-third the weight of a regular tent! That's amazing. I'm ready to buy one but hang on, why do they still make regular tents? What's the downside here?
I'm comparing floor area, peak height, and so on and don't see significant differences. I have several hypotheses:
- a tiny difference is huge. You can endure 1.2m peak height but not 1.12.
- fabric thickness and material affects durability and I need to pay attention to the numbers and whatnot in that area
- ultralights can't be 4 season (don't care: I never winter camp.)
- there is some other important difference that isn't included in specs that keeps many people away from ultralights
- the only difference is the price
I'm really hoping it's that last one. At 30 years per tent, $600 doesn't seem like a big deal. But I worry that it's actually something else and I just don't know about it.
Here is what a tent is for on my trips:
- keep the rain off us while we sleep and provide a rain free refuge where it's possible to move around a little while reading, or to play cards etc
- if it is cold (for a summer definition of cold) keep us warm. We have sleeping bags and clothes of course, and the very coldest we've ever camped was a morning we woke up to -1C. That is nowhere near the norm. The norm is 18C nights.
- keep the bugs off us while we sleep, and provide a bug free refuge once in a while
- guaranteed shade when I want it (I sunburn incredibly easily)
- keep our stuff from blowing away when we are away from camp
- provide a little privacy when traveling with others, whether to change clothes, or just to be alone for a while
I would never consider a tarp-only or tarp-and-hammock setup. A tent to me is a place to put stuff and a place to hang out if the weather is bad, not just a place to sleep or a way to keep rain off me. There will be two adults in this tent. Also, we camp during high bug season - blackflies, mosquitos, horseflies, you name it. We never cook in the vestibule - we set up a kitchen tarp across the campsite. We keep lifejackets, empty packs, shoes, and coats in there. It's also a place to put your shoes on while you're exiting the tent, and to take them off while you're entering.
We're quite capable of carrying our current tent, but I won't deny looking forward to carrying 8 pounds less on every portage.