It’s called camping – not cramping! For Ashley and I, traditional 2-person tents just don’t cut it anymore.
When we close our eyes, everything seems fine. We have plenty of headroom, our gear is secure in the vestibule, and our dog has nestled in comfortably between us.
But in the morning, the scene turns into quite the opposite.
She has managed to slip out of her sleeping bag and is now sprawled across the tent like a starfish.
Apart from sleeping in separate tents (which is never a good sign for a camping marriage), I had to seek out a roomier shelter.
That’s when my tent research led me to the popular REI Co-op Half-Dome SL 2 Plus.
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REI Co-op Half-Dome SL 2 Plus Review
As with all of their products, REI has created a versatile tent for both camping rookies and outdoor experts.
The three-season Half-Dome SL 2 Plus has a near-vertical wall design, allowing you to freely move about the interior without having to scrape up against the sides.
If you are just diving into the world of backpacking, this tent coule be a great option. But once you start trekking 10+ miles per day, you may want to invest in a lighter option.
On shorter trips, you’ll probably be fine with the extra weight of this tent.
Features and Specifications
REI tents provide plenty of customer feedback to the company, so they are continually improving their products which allows you to have access to the newest outdoor technologies.
Compared to previous versions, the Half Dome SL 2 Plus has actually decreased over four square feet in floor area (38.1 sqft vs. 33.75 sqft), but the improved freestanding pole structure gives off the perception of more movable interior space.
Also, they have increased the vestibule area from 20.4 sqft to 22.5 sqft, leaving plenty of room to store your gear.
Other improvements include two gigantic, teardrop-shaped doors for ease of entry and an extra storage pocket.
Near-Vertical Side Walls
Arguably the most sought-after feature of the Half Dome SL 2 Plus is its shear walls, leaving plenty of room to ‘starfish’ out without bumping into your neighbor!
REI’s unique “tension truss-architecture” provides a 42” ceiling height, but doesn’t taper down like many of its competitors.
Unfortunately, with its boxy structure, the Half Dome SL 2 Plus is susceptible to collapsing in high winds.
If you are planning to experience gusts of 25+ mph, think about investing in more stakes and guy-lines to secure the shelter.
The provided stakes can sometimes be too weak to hold down the fort, so stocking up on beefier ones isn’t a bad idea.
Our article Best Tent Stakes can help you narrow down the perfect option for you!
Another outdoor pro tip for reducing wind damage is to maximize the shelter’s aerodynamics.
Struggling to pitch your tent can put a damper on a relaxing experience.
Luckily, if you choose to go with the Half Dome SL 2 Plus, the set-up is simple and quick. Remember, even though the floor is durable nylon, in order to increase the lifespan of your tent, you need to use a footprint.
This will protect any sharp rocks or loose sticks from puncturing the shelter.
Even though REI provides a footprint when buying this tent, in case you need a replacement you can purchase the footprint for the Half Dome SL 2 Plus here.
The aluminum pole comes in one, color-coded piece connected by a bungee cord, allowing for even the greenest of newbies to professionally pitch the shelter.
The gold crossbar fits horizontally across the top while the rest of the support fits into the grommets on the bottom.
Although, it’s important to be careful when twisting and bending the structure, as past versions of the poles have cracked under too much force.
Make sure each portion of the pole is firmly into the correct hubs before bending the beams.
After you’ve successfully set-up the base, you can throw on the rain fly, snap in the buckles, tie off the guylines, and look forward to a comfortable, waterproof night with your camping buddy!
Not only will this double-walled tent give you plenty of room, it will also keep you cool through its enhanced ventilation system.
The top three-quarters of the Half Dome SL 2 Plus are completely mesh, which promotes maximum airflow through the shelter and provides the possibility to romantically gaze into the night sky.
On the other hand, you should be careful while packing up the shelter in case it snags or catches, causing an unwanted tear to the netting.
If you add on the 30-denier nylon rainfly, the breeze still manages to move smoothly through the shelter thanks to the two adjustable Velcro roof vents (which can only be adjusted from the outside).
They help to hinder those pesky moisture droplets from dripping on you in the middle of the night.
The waterproof fly also has adjustable sides and ends, which enable you to quickly roll it up or down in case of inclement weather.
Also, the ripstop nylon panels on the bottom of the walls are just tall enough to block most wandering dust particles, cool drafts, and rain splashback from sneaking under the fly.
With all the extra room left over from the spacious design, REI included some nifty storage features in the Half Dome SL 2 Plus.
There is are plenty of interior pockets, both in the ceilings and corners (that way you have easy access from your sleeping bag).
They even incorporated loops into the fabric if you want to hang up your sweaty, damp hiking clothes.
Personally, I think I would have to pack more stuff just to fill out all of the compartments!
If you do have an abundant amount of gear, there is plenty of extra space out in the dual vestibules.
Compared to similar tents, the Half Dome SL 2 Plus comes in at a reasonable price – pretty much the industry average.
If you take into account the technology, quality, and durability – this camping shelter has both a stellar price-to-performance ratio and an excellent value vs. versatility!
Unlike big box stores, REI specializes in outdoor material and has several stores across the USA if you want to test out products before you buy them.
If you want to gain a little more knowledge before heading into the backcountry, they also offer outdoor classes ranging from cooking a great campsite breakfast to wilderness first aid!
What Other Campers Are Saying
Just to give you a little more perspective, I dove into the depths of the internet to find out what other campers think about the REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2 Plus.
Most campers agree that the unique designs provide a world of interior room, and the price-to-performance ratio is much better than average.
Still, they have voiced the same concerns about the tent’s heavier weight, susceptibility to high winds, low quality poles.
We went on a Boy Scout trip with my two boys. The Half Dome 2 was a bit heavy but that was specified in the description. The tent was very easy to set up for my 12 year old boys. I did notice that there were not enough stakes provided to properly set up the tent and rain cover. It rained all night and we stayed dry. So overall pretty happy.
Overall a good tent. Not too heavy, substantial and good in the rain. Easy to set up and roomy for two. But when we got caught in 30-40 knot winds at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, the side of the tent caved in. I had to tie the tent to a tree to keep it stable. I’ll be talking to REI about why it happened.
Closest Alternative Tents to The REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2 Plus
If the allure of the outdoors is calling your name, but you haven’t fully been convinced that the Half Dome SL 2 Plus is your best option, don’t worry.
I’ve got you covered with some alternatives that might suit your outdoor needs.
Marmot Tungsten 2P
Coming in slightly cheaper than the Half Dome SL 2 Plus is the Tungsten 2P.
Marmot is well-known for its quality-crafted outdoor products and this shelter is no different.
Most of the specs are similar to the Half Dome, except the fact that the walls are more tapered, leaving less headroom.
One awesome add-on that quickly puts the Marmot Tungsten 2P at the top of any budget camper’s list is the fact that it comes with a footprint!
No need to spend any more of your hard-earned cash in addition to your tent purchase.
MSR Elixir 2
On the slightly more expensive side comes the MSR Elixir 2, known for its interesting pole geometry.
Similar to the Half Dome SL 2 Plus, even though the floor area is smaller, the shape of the tent allows for ample head and elbow room.
MSR boasts the fact that it has “35% more space” than previous models.
With added features like the glow-in-the-dark zippers, this tent is extremely unique!
The Elixir 2 has less mesh than the Half Dome SL 2 Plus, lending to a more durable build, but at six pounds the shelter can be a little bulky.
How to Choose Your Tent
For me, the most important concern during my tent research was the amount of space, but without sacrificing overall weight.
But for you, these concerns may differ.
Since a tent is your only protection from the ever-changing elements, it’s imperative that you consider all factors in your decision: size, weight, durability, setup, warmth, storage, price, etc.
How are you supposed to weigh all those options and make the proper choice?
There are a few broader comparison metrics that you can utilize to discover which tent suits you best.
Wants Vs. Needs
Sure, you may want to purchase a top of the line tent, but do you really need it?
I hate to admit it, but a lot of the gear in my closet ends up never touching the campsite.
Learn from my mistakes: find a shelter that fits your needs, not your wants.
Price to Performance
While more expensive shelters do generally tend to perform better in the outdoors, it’s not a 1:1 correlation.
What I mean is – some $200 tents might be perfect for you, whereas some $400 tents might lack some features you personally find valuable.
A quick tip to make objective price-to-performance comparisons: first figure out the specific options you wish to have in your tent and only then compare prices.
You’ll find that prices seldom correlate directly to neither what you personally might find valuable or to review scores from other campers.
Value Vs. Versatility
Finally, unless you plan on camping in the same spot for the rest of your life, you should consider the versatility of your tent.
Some heavy and big tents may be suitable if you sleep close to your car, but carrying the bulky load can be a hassle should you choose to venture further.
In these cases it may be necessary to spend a bit more to get a lightweight model.
Wrapping It Up…
The REI Half Dome SL 2 Plus is a versatile tent that can be packed up into the woods (on shorter distances) or simply pitched next to your car by the campfire.
The near-vertical walls provide an ample amount of space, while the abundant mesh, waterproof rainfly, and roof vents work together to ventilate the shelter, keeping you dry.
Even with the myriad of features and REI’s world-renowned quality, the Half Dome SL 2 Plus won’t cost you an arm and a leg.
Save your limbs and stretch out in the spacious interior instead!