Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3 Review: Family Space Pod
Cass and his family crew take a Big Agnes Copper Spur UL3 on tour through Baja California, Mexico, where it provides the perfect capsule for star gazing and beach camping. Read on for the full review, strip lighting and all…
I have to be honest… for the most part, I’m more of a minimal ‘tarpist’ myself. It’s not just the weight savings; I like the earthiness of a tuft of grass sprouting next to my head, or a few wildflowers between my feet. But my partner definitely errs towards the cosy cocoon of a two skin tent and the peace-of-mind sanctuary that it promises.
For this reason, we’ve alternated between a Hyperlite UltaMid 2 (reviewed here) and the previous generation of Big Agnes’ Copper Spur UL3, a three-person tent. Unfortunately, the latter was never quite the same after an encounter with an Ecuadorian dog (lesson learnt, don’t leave snacks in your tent when you’ve gone for a walk), hence the upgrade to this newer model.
Big Agnes’ latest version of the Copper Spur UL3 retains many of the features we liked about our former tent, with a few modifications that offer significant improvements, as well as a nifty lighting option.
Let’s begin with the pitch. Like its predecessor, the Copper Spur is so easy to put up that even my five-year-old son Sage can do it (in fact, insists on it), needing only a little help engaging the tent poles and fitting the fly, which is definitely easier done with two, given how much material there is. Clips, rather than the sleeves seen on some tents, make it especially simple.
The shape, however, is a little different than the one we previously owned. Rather than being completely symmetrical, the cross struts are now offset to one side, presumably to offer more headroom where it’s needed most. Usefully, the last segment of the poles and grommet tabs are color-coordinated, so it’s easy to ensure each pole tip finds the right home. A shorter cross strut provides additional awning space, with two doors for easy access from either side, each with its own small vestibule. The two-door part is a big deal for us… no scrabbling over each other if someone wants to go pee in the night, plus the promise of better ventilation. As such, is definitely worth the extra weight. If a zip should ever fail on one door, you also have a backup.
In terms of surviving the elements, Big Agnes lists the Copper Spur series as suitable for three-season use (compared to the Hyperlite UltaMid mentioned before, which is four) and I’d definitely agree. The whole structure is effectively mesh, though there are silnylon side panels rising towards the head, that cut out wind and offer extra privacy if you’re pitching it without the fly, as we did for most nights of our nights in Baja.
This brings me to one of the main benefits of a geodesic design over my ‘mid style tarp. Aside from being free-standing – which makes positioning the tent easy and cleaning out sand/debris straightforward – being able to pitch the Copper Spur without its fly treated us to the most magnificent vista of stars every night, framed perfectly within the scaffold of the tent poles. Worried about screen time for your kid? This is the best alternative to TV show, ever. Being in a mozzie-free cocoon, that cuts out the wind, is especially welcome too.
Before trying Big Agnes’ mtnGLO system, I wasn’t entirely convinced about the benefits of a strip of LED lighting, fearing even that it may kill some of the camping mood. I’m now convinced it’s a game changer. The lighting is strong enough to make wearing headlamps in your tent a thing of the past; I only needed mine when reading Sage his bedtime story. Day to day – or rather, night to night – the mtbGLO system makes tent living so much easier. Note that the tent comes with a device that offers two different outputs, powered by three AAA batteries. But, given that it uses a USB port to connect, I used our cache battery that was easily charged with the Anker Solar Panel we carried. Not that the lighting uses much juice at all. You can buy the same tent without lighting for $499.50, but I think it’s worth the extra $50 and minimal weight gain, whether you’re camping as a family or not.
As is usually the case with Big Agnes, attention to detail is extremely good. Inner and outer doors can be tucked away neatly, and there are all kinds of mesh pouches to keep your nomadic home tidy and clutter free. There are also multiple tabs for extra guy lines. We immediately noticed that the walls rise up more steeply than our previous model, offering considerably more useable space. Apparently, it’s an increase of 20%. The zips feel better designed, too. There’s now two on either side, helping to take some of the tension off the zipper where it curves, often a failing point in ultralight tents. There are some other mod cons, too, like the headphone port that allows your earbuds to hang down like spiders from the roof pocket so you can listen to some suitably ambient music while star gazing. Given all the mesh, ventilation is very good. This said, most of the camping we’ve done has either been in brittle, dry desert conditions (no issues there) or right by the sea, where moisture would challenge even the airiest of tents. I’ll update this review when we’ve had a chance to try the Copper Spur UL3 in heavy rain. But, given that the last version performed perfectly well in the relatively high winds and storms it weathered in Chile and Ecuador, I can’t foresee any real issues.
As for durability, I’d have to say that the tent feels extremely thin – typical to pretty much all ‘ultralight’ tents – and I’d definitely recommend using a groundsheet and treating it carefully. It’s worth pointing out that Big Agnes’ own footprint also means you can pitch the flysheet only, which in our case, would have been a really nice way of quickly providing some shade.
On this trip, we pressed the one we already owned into service, but as the attachment clips have changed in design between generations, we’ll be investing in the updated version soon. It’s a shame that it’s a rather costly $80, given how important it is for the longevity of your tent – especially if you’re camping out in rocky desert terrain. Bear in mind too this is a UL tent – ultralight – so it’s never going to get the same of longevity, as a heavier, hardier alternative.
Still, I can’t see why the tent should last any less than our previous one, which we had for a few years, and was still going strong despite the repairs after our canine encounter – used most recently for our week in Sedona.
As for length and width, I didn’t feel cramped (I’m 185cm/6’1″) and there’s plenty of headroom height, too, with enough width to comfortably fit three air mattresses. Weight wise, the Copper Spur is incredibly impressive for its size at just 1.79kg (3lb 15oz), though you should definitely factor in the groundsheet as well (227g / 8oz), given how thin the floor is. Considering the curved design of the poles, and the number of them, it’s not a tent that packs down especially small. We stowed ours in our trailer (a rear rack would also work), but for more minimal setups, I’d separate the poles and pack them in a framebag, or maybe cinched to a handlebar roll. We bought longer tent stakes for our trip as we were expecting sandy camping conditions, and swapped out the super thin tent bag – which we ripped before we’d even had the chance to use the tent – for something stouter.
- Easy to pitch (even a five year old can do it)
- Super roomy
- Great for stargazing
- Lighting very practical
- Incredibly low weight for internal volume
- Excellent detailing; a noticeable improvement over predecessor
- Curve and number of poles make tent a big bulky
- Lightweight floor benefits from additional groundsheet ($80)
- Better for warm climates, given all the mesh
- This is an ultralight tent so needs extra TLC
- Light material/color doesn’t do much to darken tent in moonlight or bright conditions
- Weight 1.79kg (3lb 15oz)
- Pack Size 11 x 51cm (4.5″ x 20″)
- Floor area3.8 m² / 41 sq ft
- Head area110cm / 43″
- Place of manufacture China
- Price $550 (MtnGlo) / $500 (without)
- Manufacturer’s Details Big Agnes
Although I now use a tarp for many of my solo bikepacking trips, depending on where you live, there’s still a strong argument for carrying a lightweight, fully enclosed tent, be it for fear of ticks, mosquitos, spiders, or other critters that may disturb a good night’s sleep.
In many ways, I consider the Copper Spur UL3 mtnGlo an almost a perfect family tent, whether or not it’s used with its flysheet (and given it’s weight, a very roomy option for a couple too). Being freestanding is extremely useful, be it for pitching it on a sandy beach or a hard surface, repositioning the tent, cleaning it out, or, most of all, enjoying those starry nights. Given how speedy it is to set up, we often found ourselves pitching it during the day if Sage needed a nap, which was especially useful for those long, blissfully empty (but shade-free) Baja Californian beaches.
Although the packed tent itself is relatively bulky, the Copper Spur UL3’s weight is undoubtedly impressive for its internal volume, while its steep sidewalls ensure its space is very livable. The detailing is very good and the mtnGLO overhead lighting is far from being the gimmick I initially thought it might be. It’s actually remarkably practical, especially when three campers are settling in for the night.
This is an ‘ultralight tent’, so bear in mind the compromises that this means when considering durability. But given some care and attention, the Copper Spur UL3 should offer several years of use, justifying its noticeably high price tag. Just don’t forget to factor in that footprint, too, to get the most life out of it.