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When it comes to backcountry adventures, there’s not much that’s more important than your tent. The right tent can be the difference between being comfortable or miserable, and in extreme circumstances, the right tent can be the difference between life and death.
But choosing a tent can get pretty overwhelming because of the huge available variety in terms of sizes, features, and prices. Mountain Hardwear’s Shifter 2 is a great option, at least in some circumstances, but is it the right tent for you?
Before you choose a specific tent, you need to consider your basic needs:
If you’re car camping, for example, tent size and comfort may be your biggest priorities; a heavy tent will offer a larger, more comfortable living space, and the weight doesn’t matter much since you won’t need to carry it far from your car.
If you’re backpacking, you need a lightweight tent, because you’ve got to carry it on your back. And you’ll need a tent that’s relatively rugged and quick to set up since you might have to set it up in adverse weather conditions.
If you’re mountaineering, you need a tent that’s as light as possible while being absolutely bomb-proof, because if your tent gets shredded by a windy snowstorm at altitude, your chances of survival are slim.
The Mountain Hardwear Shifter 2 is a backpacking tent that falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. It’s light enough to carry on your back, and rugged enough to stand up to most weather, but not bomber enough to be the best choice for really high-stakes adventures.
Mountain Hardwear as a brand is known for producing rugged, higher-end gear, and the Shifter 2is on the lower end of its tent range, making it a great entry-level tent for backpacking, hiking, and camping. The name “shifter” comes from the design of its 75D Polyester Taffeta rain fly, which is cut to provide an outer door on one end and a vestibule on the other. This fly can then be “shifted” 180 degrees to change which side of the tent the door’s on. The tent itself features an asymmetrical design, with one opaque wall blocking wind and one see-through mesh wall that’s more breathable, so you can shift the rain fly around to make the breathable side your door (for more airflow and openness) or the opaque side your door (for more wind protection and privacy.
Both the “front door” and vestibule are also cut to allow them to be staked away from the tent with guy lines, offering a good deal of additional rain-protected gear storage space for your muddy boots, etc.
That’s important because the actual inside of the Shifter 2 tent is…intimate. It’s technically a two-person tent, but any two adults will find themselves in close quarters with little room for gear (or movement), and particularly tall or large people might find it to be entirely too small to fit two. It’s the kind of tent that’s well-suited to be the shelter for sleep, but if you’re planning to spend much waking time hanging out in your tent, you may want to opt for something bigger.
Other than those details, the tent’s features are pretty straightforward and very similar to other tents in its price range. It weighs in at just under 6 lbs and packs down into a cylinder of about 7 inches by two feet, and it comes with taped seams and a taped fly.
Oh, and it also comes with beer openers. The toggles for the guylines of the vestibule can be used to open beer bottles, which is always a nice feature to have.
TheShifter 2 is dead easy to set up, and it’s likely that if you’ve got any prior experience with tents, you’d be able to set it up in under five minutes without needing to consult any kind of instructions. The process is incredibly simple:
It’s very doable alone, which makes the Shifter 2 a good option for a solo backpacking tent if you’re the sort of person who wants or needs a bit of extra room.
(All of that said, you should still practice setting the tent up a couple of times in your yard before you take it out into the field. Even “easy” tents like the Shifter 2 become pretty hard to set up in the dark, particularly if you’re also dealing with unpleasant weather.
Durability is an important factor in a tent, and I’m happy to report that the Shifter 2 has stood up to all of the weather conditions I’ve thrown at it, including heavy rain and relatively high winds. It performs better than any tent at its price point has a right to. That said, it does have limits, and its skinny tent poles, while lightweight, aren’t going to hold up to everything. I wouldn’t want to subject it to unprotected mountain winds or serious storms, for example, and while I’ve used it in light snow, I doubt it would hold up well under heavy snowfall. (It’s also not designed to be a cold-weather tent, so that’s not a recommended usage anyway).
The other question, of course, is the interior – tents that are too watertight can get downright wet from the condensed human breath if there’s not enough airflow. How much that affects theShifter 2 depends a lot on the conditions and how you’ve configured the tent. Obviously, with the rain fly open (or off) outside of the mesh door canopy, the tent gets a ton of airflow and interior moisture isn’t an issue. In the other configuration and with the door closed, it can get a bit damper, but it hasn’t caused any serious problems for me in my own experiences with the tent.
With an MSRP of $200, the Shifter 2 offers pretty incredible value, particularly when you factor in that it comes with an included footprint (which many tent makers sold separately). There are lots of excellent options in the arena of two-person backpacking tents, but few that can rival the Shifter 2’s price. Another perennial favorite in this category, for example, is MSR’s Hubba Hubba MX. Weighing in at just over three and a half pounds, it’s noticeably lighter than the Shifter 2, but it also retails for double the Shifter 2’s price. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a tent from a respectable brand that’s as good an all-around fit for most backpackers’ needs than the Shifter 2.
When you factor in the price, it’s tough to be too critical of the Shifter 2. Obviously, there are lighter tents, and there are more bomb-proof tents, and if you’re a winter or alpine camper, there are four-season tents. All of these will outperform the Shifter 2, but they’ll also typically cost you a lot more.
The complaints I do have are minor. Cramming it back into its carry bag can be a bit difficult; you really need to wrap it tightly. And the stakes, while serviceable, aren’t particularly special (and you could probably lighten the tent somewhat by replacing them). They work fine for most surfaces, but wouldn’t be effective in the sand or most types of snow. And of course, it could be lighter (but again, for the price, it’s hard to complain).
Considering one size up? Check out our top rated 3-person tents.
The Mountain Hardwear Shifter 2 is an excellent value for a two-person backpacking tent, and it’s a great option for a backcountry tent as long as you don’t need a ton of space or need something more specialized like an ultralight tent or an alpine or winter tent. It’s unusual to find tents of this quality and pedigree – Mountain Hardwear is well known for making quality gear – at this low a price point, but in this case, there’s no catch, and the Shifter 2 is a great tent that will serve you well for years if you take good care of it and understand its limits (don’t try to use it to climb Everest).
The only places I have reliably found a good pricing and supply are at:
Sam Hardy is an outdoor enthusiast with a penchant for survival skills. He writes about the great outdoors and his favorite equipment here.