TheTentLab MoonLight ML2 is luxurious as backpacking tents come, and a great example of when its worth trading weight for comfort. The attention to detail in its design is apparent in every thoughtful feature from its materials to its spacious interior and flexibility of setup. The tent has extraordinary strength and weather resistance, while its eye-pole design provides nearly vertical walls for maximum living space. Overall, it is a great choice for those who enjoy time in camp as much as time on the trail.
Specs at a Glance
- People: 2
- Doors: 2
- Vestibules: 2
- Type: Freestanding dome, vestibules must be staked
- Interior Floor Dimensions: 88” x 52” (actual)
- Interior Peak Height: 43” (actual)
- Actual Weight (manufacturer specifications):
- Trail weight (tent, poles, body, rainfly, 6 stakes): 4 pounds, 10.4 ounces (4 pounds, 12 ounces)
- Poles: 1 pound, 6.1 ounces (1 pound, 6 ounces)
- Body: 1 pound, 8.8 ounces (1 pound, 11.2 ounces)
- Rainfly: 1 pound, 7 ounces (1 pound, 10.4 ounces)
- Full package (tent, poles, body, rainfly, all stakes, repair sleeve, stuff sack): 4 pounds, 12.6 ounces
- Footprint: 6.5 ounces (7.5 ounces)
- Trail weight (tent, poles, body, rainfly, 6 stakes): 4 pounds, 10.4 ounces (4 pounds, 12 ounces)
- Materials: 20D polyester
- Minimum number of stakes: 2 (vestibules)
The MoonLight ML2 is a generously sized tent with more interior room and floor space than comparable backpacking tents. The walls are almost vertical, giving enough headroom to sit up comfortably and change clothes without going through yoga poses. The extensive mesh in the body and multiple windows also contribute to the airy feel of the interior.
There are a lot of thoughtful details that went into this tent’s design. The poles are color-coded for a more intuitive setup. The cord used throughout is reflective Dyneema, and the corners are reflective as well. The cords to stake the tent down have 36” of flexibility so you can find the perfect stake placement, or tie around them a rock if the ground is too rocky for stakes. All of the longer guylines that provide extra stability have their own storage pouch in the rainfly. The cord adjustments are made with easy-to-use Lineloc3 tensioners. The interior pockets are large and several loops and clips allow wet gear to be hung in the vestibule.
In addition to being livable, the MoonLight ML2 is strong and extremely weather-resistant. The taped seams are waterproof. The manufacturer’s website features videos of wind tunnel tests where the tent takes far more abuse than it’s likely to be exposed to in normal use. In my use, including a night of solid rain in Mount Rainier National Park, I have never had the tent leak. The polyester fabric also eliminates sagging common to nylon tents.
The MoonLight ML2 does not use fire retardant chemicals or fluorinated DWR treatments (only silicone), making it a very popular choice for persons with chemical sensitivities.
The designer of the MoonLight tent, Mike Cecot-Scherer, is a professional designer of outdoor gear, with an extensive list of products he has designed for manufacturers such as Kelty, Gossamer Gear, The North Face, Sierra Designs, and Black Diamond. He wanted to create a tent that offered more strength and comfort than the traditional backpacking market, focused on trail weight and price point would support. He is also active in the Facebook community for tent owners and fans and has cheerfully provided support for his products there as well.
The setup is made easy by the color-coded poles and Jake’s foot fasteners. It goes like this:
- Assemble the gold pole first and lay it across the gold attachments on the tent body.
- Then assemble the eye pole and lay it across the green attachments, with the two gold sections of the eye pole located where it crosses the gold pole.
- Connect first the gold pole and then the eye pole to the Jake’s feet.
- Clip the gold pole and eye pole together.
- Fasten the tent body attachments to the pole assembly.
- Stake out the corners of the tent for maximum room and stability.
- Clip the rainfly, again following the color coding, to the tent body.
- Complete the setup by staking out the vestibules.
The trick to setting up the tent is joining the two pieces of the eye-pole together at their M-hubs. This takes a little flex to get everything to sit right. I’ve found a couple of good ways to accomplish this. Putting one end of the eye pole against a rigid surface like a tree or rock and pushing against it works. I’ve found it’s a little easier for me to put the ball end of one half of the pole in a Jake’s foot, put the flat end of the other half in the M-hub, step on the opposite green Jake’s foot to hold it in place, and then push against the poles to connect them.
The tent can be set up with the rainfly only, which as an added bonus lets you put up the tent in wet weather while keeping the body as dry as possible. It’s a little more effort than body-first, but it’s worked well.
The adjustability of the stake cord makes securing the tent very easy, especially in rocky areas. Be aware that if the vestibule cords are too long, the rainfly will ride up higher and you can get splashback inside the vestibules; keeping the rainfly low helps prevent this.
I purchased my MoonLight ML2 in large part due to my frustration with the “typical” two-person tent which barely held me and my gear, much less another person. There are only so many nights I can spend in a tent barely larger than me before a couple of extra pounds in the pack becomes the sensible choice for improved quality of sleep and camping contentment. This tent is roomy enough that I comfortably shared it with my 17-year-old son on a 10-night trip.
One of the features that I most appreciate in the MoonLight ML2 is the ability to retract and quickly deploy the rainfly. After the setup is complete and the vestibules are staked out, you can unclip the rainfly from the foot end of the tent and pull it over the body. The large mesh roof makes for ideal stargazing and maximum ventilation, while the rainfly can be rapidly pulled back into place to block out the wind or sudden rain shower.
The vestibule can unzip from the bottom or the top. I really don’t have much need to unzip it from the top and I was always grabbing the wrong zipper pulls to answer late-night nature calls, so I untied the cord from the topmost zipper. The doors include a second set of zipper pulls, so if one set failed, you could use the other. I’ve never had an issue with this, but I can see where it would be handy in that situation. I also appreciate that the tent body has enough tension on it that the door can be unzipped in one continuous motion rather than having to tension slack spots along the range of zipper travel.
My complaints with the tent are very minor when compared with the overall quality and comfort level. The light-colored floor color shows dirt pretty easily, where a slightly darker shade wouldn’t. The vestibule can easily drape into the tent if I don’t flip it up all the way or secure it (there’s a convenient cord and loop to hold it open). The rainfly vents aren’t adjustable from inside the tent body.
MoonLight tents are only available directly from the designer. They are manufactured in batches, with a preorder window for each batch. The wait time can be several months. Mike typically has some available for immediate sale to fulfill immediate needs, though if you can wait, the preorder is typically significantly cheaper than buying one from stock on hand.
Also available in the MoonLight tent family are a lighter version of the ML2 that is tapered towards the feet (the UL2), the ML2+ which is a roomier version of the ML2, and three- and four-person versions (the ML3+ and ML4+, respectively).
Note: my ML2 was from the first batch made; I had been part of the original Kickstarter campaign and then purchased one in the first preorder window. There may be a few minor differences between mine and current production runs (they come in a different stuff sack now, for example), though I verified features against the website.
I’ve spent a fair number of nights in my MoonLight ML2 in a variety of environments and conditions, including the Guadalupe Mountains in Texas, Mount Rainier in Washington, Shenandoah and the Mount Rogers area in Virginia, Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, and numerous camps in the southeast. This is my go-to backpacking tent because I appreciate the comfort and weather resistance it provides. Its thoughtful design adds to my camping experience; all the little touches appeal to my inner gear nerd while top-down stargazing makes for memorable evenings that I probably wouldn’t have had in other tents. I feel good about supporting a product that is a labor of love by someone with the knowledge and skills to create a product that enhances my camping experience. I recommend the TentLab MoonLight ML2 for anyone seeking a strong, durable, and enjoyable tent who doesn’t mind its non-ultralight weight.
Disclosure: The author purchased this tent.
About the author
Carl Nelson developed his interest in the outdoors on childhood family road trips that included many National Parks. He was introduced to backpacking through Boy Scouts in the 1980s. He refined his interest and skills in college as a trip leader for the Vanderbilt University Outdoor Recreation program, culminating in leading a week-long backpack in the Grand Canyon three times. He is an Eagle Scout and Assistant Scoutmaster, frequently serving as the adult advisor for his troop’s outdoor activities. His backpacking experience ranges from his home state of Tennessee to the Appalachians, the Rockies, the Cascades, Philmont Scout Ranch, and China. Carl is an avid photographer and reader, a self-proclaimed gear nerd, and an unabashed lover of maps.
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