Last winter I finally came to terms with the fact that I needed to relegate my beloved two pound Lightheart Gear Solo to the status of backup tent if I wanted to get my shoulder season base weight below 8 pounds. That started my quest for the perfect ultralight tent, which led me to the Tarptent Aeon Lithium. After owning this tent for a year and using it on many adventures, I can say that this tent is a strong contender for the best lightweight solo tent available. The Aeon is not the perfect tent, there is no such thing as perfect when it comes to ultralight backpacking gear, but Tarptent comes pretty damn close with this one.
So why did I choose the Tarptent Aeon Lithium?
I love a good tarp set up, but for extended trips I prefer to have the full coverage of a tent with doors and a floor. There was one spring day I had to wait out a 24 hour snow storm on the Kokopelli trail with only a tarp and a bivy to protect me, since then I prefer to bring a tent, especially during shoulder season. A tent just provides more protection than a tarp does.
I also wanted a shelter that sets up with just one trekking pole because I don’t always carry 2 poles. One pole structures are also great for bikepacking because you only have to find a place to pack one tent pole in those tiny little bags strapped to your bike. And now that I have purchased a single trekking pole tent, I can’t imagine bringing two poles on a backpacking trip unless I’m trying to set an FKT.
Lastly, I wanted to try Dyneema Composite Fiber with this tent. My previous two backpacking tents have been silnylon, which is plenty light, but not as strong nor quite as waterproof. To say that silnylon is less waterproof is a little misleading, though. Silnylon will keep the rain off you all night long, but it does absorb water as it keeps you dry. This results in little drops eventually forming on the inside of your rainfly, which is the only thing between you and the rain in a single wall tent. Therefore, if you have a single wall silnylon tent and it is raining heavily, there will be water dripping down the walls of your tent that you have to avoid touching all night. All single wall tents have issues with condensation, the other reason for water on the inside of your tent, so the Aeon is not immune to don’t touch the tent walls syndrome. But after a long night of rain in chilly conditions, I will say that DCF performed better than any silnylon tent I’ve used, even double wall tents.
Why didn’t I choose the Zpacks Plexamid?
The Aeon is a little roomier than the Plexamid. The floor measures 88×30 inches. Zpacks lists their floor length at 90 inches and the width tapers from center to the ends, 38 to 28 inches. However, the Aeon uses carbon fiber struts to make the bottom edge of the tent walls vertical, making all of that floor space actually usable. The Plexamid’s walls meet the ground at a sharp angle, so the last few inches of that floor space on the three sides the inside shares with the rainfly/outside can’t really be used unless you like snuggling up against dyneema. In heavy condensation situations my footbox stays dry in the Aeon because it doesn’t touch the rainfly. I’m 5’9,” so not that tall, but I appreciate the extra space provided by those carbon fiber struts when dealing with condensation.
The Aeon Lithium also gets better airflow. Tarptent not only uses those carbon fiber struts to create more usable interior space, but they also built two triangular noseeum mesh windows into the outside corners of the tent with them. I leave these little mesh windows open unless it’s really storming, and they help with ventilation a lot more than just the mesh along the underside of the rainfly does. I closed the storm flaps over the corner windows one night to see how much they did, and within minutes the air felt warmer. Then I reopened the storm doors flaps and felt the air circulation increase. The storm flaps really work. With the rainfly rolled up and the storm flaps open I rarely get condensation in my Aeon Lithium, and only when I camp in a predictably high humidity location. You will never wake up without some condensation if you camp in a valley next to a stream on a chilly night, but with the Aeon Lithium you’d have less than you would with a lot of other single wall tents.
Finally, The Aeon Lithium uses less stakes to set up than the Plexamid. Okay, you can set up the Plexamid with 6 stakes, but to get maximum head and foot room while lying down you should stake out the four other guylines, putting your stake count at 10. With the Aeon, I use 6 stakes to pitch it every time, and never need more than that. There isn’t even a possibility of more stakes to set up the Aeon.
I do not use the included Easton stakes for the four corners of the tent, but do use them for the rainfly and center back wall where the tension isn’t quite as high. The ground in Colorado is just too dry. The only stakes I’ve had success with holding on to that dry, rocky dirt are Y-stakes. It’s nice that the tent comes with stakes at all, though, and extremely light stakes at that (6 Easton nanos, 1.8 oz in stakebag), but they are probably not adequate for holding out the corners of the Aeon Lithium in many places most will find themselves pitching it.
The Aeon Lithium stands up to windy conditions better than I thought it would. I am honestly a little surprised at how well this tent functions after seeing several DCF tents collapse during storms on the Pacific Crest Trail. Dyneema is sailcloth material, remember, so it’s good at catching the wind. However, I pitched this tent on a ridge, with the wind whipping in all directions all night, and it didn’t collapse. I endured a night of rain that turned to snow, again with high winds, and I stayed dry. You wouldn’t want to pitch this tent with the rainfly open facing the wind, but I would hope that’s obvious.
After a year with this tent my only qualm is with its packability. It only packs down to 14 inches long, so I have to put it vertically in my pack. This took some getting used to, as every other tent I’ve had fit in my pack horizontally, but it’s okay once you’re used to it. Since I use a frameless pack, and this tent provides a piece of vertical rigidity in my bag, it’s almost a good thing that it is so long, almost.
If you want a fully enclosed tent with a bathtub floor, the Tarptent Aeon Lithium is a great option if you can afford DCF. As I said before, this is my first Dyneema tent, and I’m quite impressed. I Imagine I’ll continue using the Tarptent Aeon Lithium for a long time to come.