Gear Review: Big Agnes Fly Creek UL3

Fly Creek

Fly Creek UL2 (left) and Fly Creek UL3 (right) at Catalina Island

We used a two person tent with our dog Dakota for a few trips before we realized that the tent was too small for the three of us.  Dakota would have a hard time finding a place to sleep, so much so that she would usually sleep on my head (don’t ask).  We knew we needed a larger tent and we knew we wanted an ultra-light tent that was not much heavier than our Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 (FC UL2).  We decided to pick up the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL3 (FC UL3) in place of our FC UL2 for most of our trips.  At 3 lbs 3 oz trail weight, it was about a pound heavier than the FC UL2, but offered more space and was a true free standing tent (unlike the UL2 model).  To date, we have approximately 20 nights  in the tent in varying conditions (summer, winter, spring).

Quick and Dirty
Gear Type: Tent
Material: Rip Stop Nylon
Trail weight: 51 oz tent + 7 oz foot print
Price: $449.95 tent, $70 foot print (street price is around $350)
Link:  Big Agnes Fly Creek UL3
Pros: Light, tub expansion, excellent air circulation when guyed out, wide roof, true free standing, fast fly option, seam sealed.
Cons: Price, Sloping door design, extremely thin fabrics, flexing in windy conditions, inner tent pitch before fly.

Fly Creek UL3

Fly creek comes in four stuff sacks: tent body and fly, tent poles, foot print, and stakes.

Setup

Setting up the FC UL3 is very easy.  The straight through pole design makes set up and take down quick and fast.  Pitching and stretching the guy lines long ways will make a more taut pitch.  Only problem we encountered is that the inner tent body must be pitched before the fly is attached, which may cause problems in rainy conditions.

Fly Creek UL3

Simple pole through hub design, fly clips into the tent or footprint.

Space

Big Agnes rates the tent as a 3 person tent.  Like our GoLite Imogene UL3 we looked at, it offers 60 inches of space at the narrowest end and 66 inches at it’s widest, just enough for three 20 inch pads.  The tent body is 90 inches long with a 36 inch vestibule, offering room for gear and space for the tall.  The vestibule is large and easily fit four backpacks and 3 pairs of boots under the vestibule.

Fly Creek UL3

Vestibule is large and can store boots and packs.

DSC_0370

Fly Creek UL3

Gear pockets make a world of a difference for storing small items.

Head Room

Head room is adequate and Big Agnes adds expansion bars to the ceiling to box the top of the roof, making the head room more usable and walls steeper.  Fitting three people while sitting up is not a problem in this tent.

Fly Creek UL3

Upper expansion bars box out the top of the ceiling.

Rain Fly

The rainfly is a extremely thin and somewhat transparent rip stop nylon.  It has extra guy points for very windy conditions.  The rainfly protects against water very well, but like all rip stop nylon fabrics, they are prone to stretch in rainy conditions.  It stretches so much that heavy rain forces the fly to stick to the mesh – making ventilation impossible.

Even with these shortfalls, Big Agnes did a really good job designing the rain fly.  One thing I really like about the fly is the expansion points for the tub.  When the fly is fully guyed out, clips can be attached to the tub of the inner tent to fully expand the inner tent.  Why would this be handy?  I actually don’t like my sleeping bags touching the walls of the tent – reason being is that if heavy condensation does occur your sleeping bag stays dry.  Another great feature is the “fast-fly” option.  The FC UL3 rainfly can be pitched with the foot print to make an extremely lightweight freestanding shelter.  While lacking bug protection in this set up, you shave almost a full pound and a half of weight.

DSC_0378

Doors

The FC UL3 uses one single front entry door, which is standard on all ultralight tents.  We have not had any issues getting in and out of tents with front entry doors. The door design is well thought out making entry and exit easy. There is one thing we dislike about the door.  The tent is about three inches longer than the Golite Imogene UL3.  It is great for the tall, but once the rain fly is open, the tub also expands past the ceiling, exposing the tub to potential rain.  While in dry conditions the extra space is fine, it can become a problem during rainy trips.

Fly Creek UL3

Slight curve on the door allows water in when the fly is completely open.

Tub

The FC UL3 tub is high, adequate for light flooding and rainstorms.  The High wall helps prevent misting or water from getting into the tent.  However, the tent floor is extremely thin.  We are always careful with objects inside the tent and try to keep Dakota isolated on her Ruffwear Sleeping pad.

DSC_0365

Ventilation

Air circulation is not a problem.  In our older tents, we have had issues with condensation. The FC UL3 breathes exceptionally well, when fully guyed out, air flow and circulation is excellent, while still retaining the warmth that double wall tents are known for.

Overall Strength

Structurally, the tent is fine in light winds – I emphasize light winds.  Stronger winds, most ultra light tents experience flex and this case is true for the FC UL3.  Guying all points down is necessary in very windy conditions.  We only experienced one night with moderate winds, and while the tent flexed, it wasn’t enough to be concerned.

Fly Creek UL3

Reinforced mounting points for the tent body. The reinforcement is not found on the FC UL2.

Final Thoughts

I would treat this tent as a 2+ person tent, unless you are comfortable snuggling up with your two other buddies.  For our purposes, the FC UL3 is great.  It has adequate room for gear, while still able to accommodate two persons and a dog.  The FC UL3 will drastically lower your pack weight, and when distributed among three others, everyone can essentially carry a one pound piece.  The FC UL3 does have some down sides including the sloping door, flexing, and fragile fabrics.  The cost is another large factor.  At $370+, the tent is already priced out of reach for many and creeping close to the costs of high end tents like Hillebergs.  With that in mind, if you have the dinero, I do recommend the FC UL3.  It feels more spacious than the GoLite Imogene UL3 with a small weight penalty, it will fit three people just fine, and is exceptionally light.  We will be keeping the FC UL3 in our rotation, primarily for trips where we need to carry larger loads and need additional space to store gear.

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