Backpacking

MSR Carbon Reflex Featherweight Tent Review: Ultimate Weight Savings

by Sarah Lamagna
Updated December 17, 2021

MSR Carbon Reflex Featherweight Tent Review
Photo: Sarah Lamagna

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The MSR Carbon ReflexTM 3 Featherweight tent lives up to its lightweight name and then some.

If the thought of strapping everything you’ll need for a week in the wilderness on your back doesn’t thrill you, you aren’t alone. It’s alright, backpacking isn’t for everybody. The bane of a backpacker’s existence is the weight on their back, so they’re always looking for ways to shed the pounds. Dehydrated backpacking meals? Check. Only one change of clothes? Check. A lightweight (and, albeit, uncomfortable) foam sleeping pad? Check. But finding an ultralight backpacking tent for multiple people sub three pounds? Unheard of.

Luckily, the MSR Carbon ReflexTM 3 Featherweight tent clocks in at 2 lbs. 10 oz — one of the lightest 3-person backpacking tents on the market. It holds up for several overnights in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and withstands the elements of a rare autumn Nor’easter.

Whether you’re about to embark on a 20-mile jaunt away from civilization or a simple backyard camp out with your kids, this MSR tent should be on your list of contenders.

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The Good

  • BY FAR one of the lightest backpacking tents on the market.
  • Several sizes including one, two, and three-person options.
  • Includes some of the most-advanced technology into its construction and is built to last a lifetime.
  • It’s one of the easiest tents to set up even if you forget the instructions.

Enough good things could not be said about this tent. MSR is no stranger to high-quality, built-to-last gear but this tent even exceeds their usual. You can pick from a variety of sizes, but the largest size (the three-person) still only has a total packed weight of under three pounds. That’s near impossible for a three-person tent.

reason why it’s so light is the ripstop nylon, polyester mesh, and Easton Carbon poles that make up its construction. It’s one of the most durable fabrics out there on the market.

The Not-Quite-As-Good

  • Cramped to be considered a three-person tent.
  • It’s a non-freestanding tent so it has to be staked — which can prove torturous to near impossible on hard, rock surfaces.
  • On the higher end of prices for backpacking tents.

Even gods have their faults, right? This MSR backpacking tent is no different. Sure, it’s got a lot going for it but there are a few drawbacks. The first one being it is on the pricier end of the ultralight backpacking tent category. The MSRP of $649.95 is a small fortune. The good news is that it’ll last you many years on the trail and MSR’s warranty/repair services are stellar.

Lastly, although this tent is categorized as a three-person tent, it would have to be three smaller sized people. Camping out with my four-year old child and dog, I felt nice and snug. But there is no way my husband could’ve fit comfortably with us in there.

Field Testing

msr carbon reflex field test
Photos: Sarah Lamagna

The Lightest of the Lightweight

As a mama to an adventurous four-year old and a wife to a husband who hates getting outdoors, I spend a lot of time solo parenting in the backcountry. This also means I carry the bulk of the weight on our overnight adventures. Finding a tent that is sub three pounds that can fit me, my kid, and my 65-lb dog is truly an insurmountable feat. But the MSR Carbon ReflexTM 3 Featherweight tent fits the bill.

msr carbon reflex featherweight field test
Photo: Sarah Lamagna

Even in ultralight terms, this tent far exceeds expectations. There are very few other three-person tents that are that light. So if you’re needing a tent large enough to fit a few adventure friends but don’t want to split the weight between backpacks, look no further. Bonus – because it’s so light, it can easily be used as a one- or two-person tent as well.

Bring the Kids and the Dog

msr carbon reflex kid and dog
Photo: Sarah Lamagna

This might not be the roomiest of three-person tents but it’s more than enough room for you and the kids and even your four-legged adventure bud. For testing, both my son and blue heeler joined me for the overnight adventures. My dog is notorious for constantly getting up and shifting his position all night long. This usually means his tentmates are pushed or stepped on frequently. Luckily, the Carbon ReflexTM 3 Featherweight had more than enough room for my dog to shift at ease throughout the entirety of the night.

Holds Up in Rare Autumn Nor’easter

If you’re looking for an ultralight but durable tent, the MSR Carbon ReflexTM 3 Featherweight is it. Testing included overnights in White Mountain National Forest which is home to Mount Washington. For those that might not know, Mount Washington is infamously known as having the world’s worst weather — seriously, look it up. Also during testing of this tent, there was a rare autumn Nor’easter.

In layman’s terms that basically means there were several inches of rain in the course of a few hours. The inside of this non-freestanding tent wasn’t only dry the entire night, it stayed upright in 40+ mph wind gusts.

Incredible Ventilation

There is nothing worse than waking up in your warm, toasty sleeping bag with a layer of condensation inside your tent. The culprit: poor ventilation. The MSR Carbon ReflexTM 3 Featherweight tent has not one, but two doors AND two vestibules. This leaves plenty of space for air to circulate in and out of your tent without leaving you in need of an umbrella inside your backcountry shelter.

msr carbon reflex interior
Photo: Sarah Lamagna

Key Takeaways

Advanced technology to withstand the elements: If this tent can hold up during a Nor’easter, it can likely hold up under most things that Mother Nature throws at it.

It weighs less than a bottle of wine: A bottle of wine weighs about 2.65 pounds and the tent weighs 2.625 pounds. This doesn’t mean you should forgo the bottle of wine, though, on your overnight adventure.

You won’t disturb your tentmates during your midnight pee: Not many ultralight backpacking tents include two doors — zippers are heavy. But you won’t have to worry about crawling over your sleeping buddies if you have to grab a midnight snack or relieve yourself.

A four year old could put this tent up: Seriously, a four year old actually did set up this tent. There’s only two poles and it’s super obvious where they go without instructions.

If Something Rips or Breaks

All MSR gear includes a 3-year Limited Warranty which is provided by Cascade Designs, Inc. The only requirements is that you must be the original purchaser (sorry for all of you who bought something off Facebook Marketplace) and use the gear as it was originally intended. So if you’ve been using your stove to roast hotdogs or marshmallows, you’re out of luck. If you meet the requirements, then MSR will replace or repair the items free of charge.

msr featherlight
Photo: Sarah Lamagna

With that said, even after the warranty ends, MSR will be able to repair small holes in the fabric or mesh and the sliders on the zippers (but not the zippers themselves). All tent poles that MSR produces are replaced for free thanks to their lifetime warranty. If your tent is newer than 1998, MSR technicians should be able to replace the poles that are associated with it. Include any relevant details here about warranties/returns/exchanges. Link to online policy if you can find it.

If you need a repair or a replacement, you can start an inquiry here.

Other Options

You can check out similar three-person backpacking tents in this round-up.

The Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3 is a solid contender for a cheaper three-person backpacking tent option. It’s got a few extra square feet of floor space and even has a tall enough vestibule for you to sit under while lounging in a chair. One of the downsides though is that it’s much heavier and clocks in at over four pounds.

The NEMO Dagger 3 Ultralight Backpacking Tent is also a great option for those seeking a three-person backpacking tent. It’s about the same price as the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3 but it’s slightly lighter. It uses FeatherliteTM poles that have a sleek design to allow some serious headroom.

The Big Agnes Tiger Wall 3 Platinum is pretty much a carbon copy (no pun intended)to the Carbon ReflexTM 3 Featherweight. The Tiger Wall 3 is slightly cheaper (by $50) and is only one ounce heavier. It has the same amount of space in the interior so although it says it’s a three-person tent, it’s more likely better used as a two-person.

You may also consider the 2-person and 1-person versions of the MSR Carbon ReflexTM Featherweight if you are trying to save even more weight — but be ready to be cramped, and it’s best to consider both as solo shelters.

Conclusion

All in all, the MSR Carbon ReflexTM 3 Featherweight tent’s pros far outweigh the cons. Yes, it’s a little on the pricier side but if you don’t have to buy a new tent for 20 years, it’s well worth it. This means that, ultimately, money stays in your pocket while keeping waste out of the landfill.

The real star of the show, though, is its incredible light weight. Seriously, it can’t be said enough — it is near impossible to find a three-person tent that isn’t at least three and a half pounds. With just over two and a half pounds of weight, you can easily use this tent for a solo adventure. No need to buy multiple tents — again, keeping waste out of landfills. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing an Appalachian Trail thruhike or simply weekend warrioring to your local mountains, this tent has everything you need.

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Editor’s Note: MSR supplied our writer with the Carbon ReflexTM 3 Featherweight Tent for testing purposes, as is common practice with gear reviews. However, our writer’s opinions are entirely (his/her/their) own; our writers don’t profit off sales. We strive for honesty and transparency at all times. 


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