The MSR Advance Pro 2 is a single-wall, 4-season ultralight bivy-style tent designed primarily for fast and light alpine mountaineering.
I had been eyeing up this tent for a while as I liked the idea of a small, lightweight, simple to setup and strong 4-season tent, but had been put-off by warnings of severe condensation issues when used in colder temperatures or in humid climes. Luckily I held off from purchasing the tent long enough for MSR to release a new updated model in May 2020, redesigned with slightly better ventilation to reduce condensation problems, and now after using it a few times throughout the winter I feel I can offer a few initial thoughts on it. I haven’t been able to find many reviews or much information at all specifically about this latest model, so hopefully this review helps anyone considering purchasing this particular tent.
Size: 2 person
Minimum weight: 1.3kg (2lbs 14oz)
Packed weight: 1.46kg (3lbs 3oz)
Dimensions: 208x107cm (82×42 in), height 112cm (44in)
Floor fabric: 30D ripstop 3000mm Xtreme Shield polyurethane and DWR
Wall fabric: 20D ripstop nylon 2 ply breathable 1000mm
Poles: 2 Easton Syclone poles (permanently connected)
Stakes: 6 Groundhog tent stakes
2020 Updated model – The main change for this new model is that side vents have been added to both walls on either side of the door. The previous model had one small vent above the door, but this has now gone and been replaced with the much larger side vents. This has increased the weight of the tent by a fraction, but offers slightly better breathability than before.
Weight – Probably the first thing that attracted me to this tent was its weight; I had been looking for a lightweight shelter to use in the winter months, but still wanted something that would be able to hold up to reasonably heavy snowfall and strong winds. Coming in at around 1.3kg minimum weight and 1.46 including poles and stakes, the Advance Pro is certainly one of the lightest winter tents on the market, and compares favourably to other similar bivy-style shelters such as the Black Diamond Firstlight. Compared to most double-wall winter tents the Advance Pro is lighter by far, as almost all of them tend to weigh in at around 2kg or above, so you`ll certainly notice the difference when carrying this on your back. Hiking and camping in winter generally involves bringing much heavier gear, but I still generally try to save weight wherever possible and so this tent helps with that.
As I tend to only use this tent for camping on snow I don’t bring a footprint (sold separately) to protect the floor from rocks and branches etc, so that helps to keep the weight down too. But if I am likely to be camping on a rocky windswept ridge where snow rarely settles then I may consider bringing a footprint or sheet of Tyvek to protect the floor of the tent.
Packability – The Advance Pro comes in its own stuff sack, with its long and narrow form making it fairly easy to squeeze into a rucksack or attach to the outside. The poles and pegs also come in their own drawstring bags which easily fit in the stuff sack alongside the body of the tent.
For multi-day winter hikes I usually pack the main body of the tent into the large pocket on the outside of my rucksack, so don’t actually use the stuff sack when I’m hiking, but the tent’s low weight and general small size means it is easy to pack and carry in any way you want.
Setup – Another selling point of this tent is its quick and easy setup, as demonstrated on the MSR website by a guy pitching it while standing on a bucket. If you plan on using the tent in relatively exposed and narrow spaces with little room to manoeuvre then the ability to set it up easily may be crucial. Likewise, if the weather is bad then you don’t want to be messing around with poles, flaps and fabric for long, and the Advance Pro excels in this regard. Being a single-wall shelter you don’t need to worry about attaching an inner and then outer fly, so it’s incredibly simple.
The poles are permanently attached at the centre and simply slide into the pole sleeves and then clip into place – it`s incredibly quick and intuitive. The tent can then be staked out fully using the six included guy lines, including two reinforced centre guy-points on either side of the tent which really help reduce flapping and increase the space inside the tent. There is another reinforced guy-point in the middle of the back wall of the tent, but unfortunately a guy line for this is not included.
One tip for setup – stake the tent out at the corners or throw your rucksack inside the tent before fixing the poles, as the tent is so light that if the wind suddenly picks up then the tent is liable to fly off the mountain, especially if the door is open (as it will capture air like a sail). After fully staking out, the tent feels absolutely bombproof, and there are plenty of additional tie-in points including one on top of the tent to tie the tent down if conditions really take a turn for the worse.
All in all, this is one of the easiest and quickest to pitch tents that I’ve ever used.
Size – With an interior floor space of around 24 square feet, the Advance Pro feels palatial when used as a solo shelter, with plenty of room for a sleeping pad plus additional floor space for boots, rucksack etc. If you’re under six foot then you should be able lie down without your head or feet touching the tent walls, especially if you stake out the guy line on the back wall to create a bit more space.
The wedge shape design of the tent means that while some may consider the tent a little narrow, it has loads of height, more than almost any other one or two person tent I’ve used. This stops the tent from feeling too cramped and allows you to easily sit up, get changed and do general tent chores without ever touching the roof (and so avoiding early morning frost showers – see condensation notes). The small footprint also allows the tent to be pitched almost anywhere a person can lie down flat, so no worries about site selection. For two people things are much tighter and the size of the tent does become more of an issue, this is discussed later.
Strength – As mentioned earlier, for its weight the Advance Pro feels absolutely bombproof – the fixed pole design and Easton Syclone composite material poles give the tent a very sturdy construction, and when all the guy lines are staked out too I imagine that it could handle any amount of wind and snow. I once camped on a very windswept ridge with winds blowing in the region of 40 to 50 km/h for most of the night and the tent barely moved. The simple wedge design and steep walls of the tent allow it to shed wind and snow very well, and the lack of excess fabric means that even in a storm there will be very little flapping.
The fabric itself feels robust for a tent this lightweight, although I’d still be very careful of rubbing it against trees and rocks, especially as the walls can be quite taut when the tent is fully staked out.
Looks and design – While looks are somewhat subjective, I think that this a great looking tent. The orange colour is bright but not overly garish, and helps the tent to stand out in a whiteout. It’s obviously not the best tent for using stealthily, but for many of the extreme environments where this shelter was designed to be used for stealth camping is not really a thing anyway. As stated before, the high walls are great for shedding snow and provide lots of headroom, while inside the tent there are plenty of loops for attaching lines to dry clothing, hang a gear loft, lights or stove etc. There are no internal pockets on this tent, but that is no big deal for me (although I know that doesn’t suit everyone). But this is a stripped back-to-basics tent, designed with only the fundamentals in mind, and so forgoes some of the typical features and luxuries found on other models.
Overall, it is a stylish and cleverly designed shelter as long as you know what you are getting.
Most of the cons of this tent can be applied to almost any single-wall bivy style tent of a similar design, so it’s mostly a matter of knowing what you’re getting into and working with the limitations of the shelter. All tents have compromises of some kind (be it size, weight, design, ventilation, strength etc), so for a slightly specialised tent like this you have to be clear about your requirements and have the experience to know what works best for you.
Lack of vestibule – The lack of any kind of vestibule does keep the size and weight of the tent to a minimum, but it also causes a few inconveniences, especially when the weather is bad. Basically, no vestibule means fewer storage options; I’ve never been one to keep my pack in the vestibule (I usually always prefer to have it inside the tent with me) and in the winter I keep my boots inside the tent too to stop them from getting frozen, but it’s sometimes nice to have additional space to store some gear.
What I do miss is the lack of cooking space that a vestibule offers, as I try to avoid using a stove inside the tent (because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning) as much as possible. In bad weather when cooking outside isn’t an option however, I have used the stove inside, but only with both vents open and one side of the door unzipped too (as long as the door is zipped at the top then I find snow doesn’t enter the tent even if one side of the door is mostly unzipped), but it’s something I try to avoid when possible.
The lack of vestibule also means that you have to be quick and careful when exiting and entering the tent unless you want a bit of snow in there with you.
If MSR were to release an attachable (and lightweight) vestibule option I’d certainly be interested for treks when I don’t plan to be super fast and light. I guess you could always bring a tarp to use as a makeshift vestibule (the exposed poles alongside the door would probably make attaching it easy too), but I haven’t tried that yet.
Door – Kind of connected to the no vestibule issue, with this type of shelter you have to be careful when leaving the tent to avoid snow dropping in when you unzip it, as the door arcs back towards the centre of the tent. I usually give the door a good shake before opening it, and brush off the snow and ice as I roll it down, and while a little time-consuming this tends to stop much snow from entering the tent.
A second piece of fabric does form a tiny overhang above the door, but I’ve found the protection it provides from the weather to be almost negligible. If it could be redesigned to hang down lower it would provide much better protection and may even allow you to leave the top of the door unzipped for better ventilation.
Perhaps an even better addition would be a mesh door underneath the main door – this would allow for even better ventilation and the ability to see outside the tent when conditions are a touch too bad to have the door fully open. A few times I’ve used the tent when snow has been gently falling – not blizzard conditions, but too much to have the door open (even just a couple of inches open at the top allows snow to fall in easily). This results in you being cocooned inside and can only peak outside through the wall vents (which are too high up to see through when sitting normally) or by pulling back the unzipped side of the door. A mesh door however would keep light snow out, let fresh air in and make the tent much more bright and liveable.
Condensation – This is probably the biggest worry for many people considering this tent, and while it is clearly an issue, I haven’t found it to be too bad. All single-wall tents will suffer from condensation to a certain degree, and the Advance Pro 2 is no different in that respect. I’ve never used it in mild rainy conditions so can’t speak about that, but in temperatures below 0 º C (32 ºF) ice has formed on the upper walls of the tent, even when both vents are fully open. Keeping the door slightly unzipped does reduce condensation somewhat, and I’d imagine fully opening the door would help a great deal, but I’ve rarely camped in conditions where that has been an option. Condensation does however really depend on conditions, and I’ve used the tent many times with almost no condensation issues at all.
If you’re camping solo then it should be possible to avoid brushing the sides of the tent during the night and in the morning, and so avoid any indoor frost-showers if ice does form. Early morning sunshine soon evaporates any water or ice, and I’ve never noticed any significant dripping, but it’s always a good idea to bring a small cloth or towel to wipe away any condensation.
So while condensation is often an unavoidable issue with any tent of this type, I have personally found it very manageable in the Advance Pro.
Miscellaneous – Here are a few more small points which may be issues for some but not others. The size of the tent, while perfect for the solo winter hiker or climber, is very tight for two people, and other issues (like the lack of a vestibule) may be heightened due to the lack of space. Lying or sat head to toe is no problem at all, and with a hanging stove in the centre it would be possible to ride out a storm no problem, but it is functional rather than liveable for two. Expect to constantly touch the sides of the tent and each other!
The price is another issue, as this is far from a cheap tent. The similarly designed and functioning Black Diamond Firstlight is almost half the price, although I’ve heard that that tent is not fully waterproof, and I’d choose the Advance Pro to ride out a heavy winter storm. A tent like this is an investment, and I certainly hope to use it for many years to come.
Lastly, the back wall guy-out point doesn’t come with a guy line, so you’ll have to attach one yourself. This is worth doing as it adds a bit more volume to the inside of the tent at that end. It would also be nice if MSR threw in some blizzard stakes for pitching in deep snow, but the stakes provided do a great job in most situations anyway.
Should you buy it?
So overall I think this is a great little tent – it is super strong and light, and I always feel confident that it can handle anything that winter may throw at it. If you are planning to use it as a lightweight solo winter shelter it is a great option, as long as you take into consideration the condensation issues (which all single-wall shelters suffer from to some degree) and the lack of a vestibule (which can be worked around).
Although these kind of tents are marketed as 4-season shelters, I think it is best to consider them as 1-season tents – for use exclusively in winter, and possibly the shoulder seasons. I would never consider using this tent in the summer in Japan (or in most other places in fact), as the lack of mesh would make it stifling inside, plus there would likely be huge condensation issues. There are better (and lighter) double-wall tents available for camping during the warmer months of the year, and I think it is almost impossible to find a tent (or hiking gear in general) which is suitable for serious use throughout the year. So if you are determined to do lots of camping in the winter, it pays to invest in a shelter designed specifically for the season, and in that regard the Advance Pro certainly fits the bill.
For mountaineering at very high altitudes or climbing on technical winter terrain where weight, space and time can be at a premium then this is a fantastic piece of kit, although for two people things will certainly be cramped. There is no doubt that this is a specialised kind of shelter designed with pro-alpinists in mind, but even for the more casual user it is an excellent winter tent, as long as you know how to manage its limitations. I certainly look forward to using it for many more years in the snowy mountains of Japan and in the greater ranges further afield.
Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with MSR and this tent was purchased with my own money. All views are my own.