Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL1 Review: More for me?
The new HV version of the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 is a significant reboot of the original. Having lived in the old Fly Creek UL1 during countless solo bikepacking trips, I was stoked to check out the new model but suspicious of the “improved” moniker that came with it. As we all know, newer isn’t always better…
The crux of the new Fly Creek HV series is a revamped steep wall architecture. This theoretically maximizes floor space and headroom, without adding any weight—all promises that sound good to a 6’ tall, weight conscious bikepacker. The High Volume (HV) interior space isn’t the only change. The new Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL1 has a few hardware bits which were completely redesigned—something slightly concerning on the grounds of the exceptional functionality and durability of the HV’s predecessor. Continue reading to find a comparison of the new HV with the original model, as well as a complete review of the Fly Creek HV UL1.
Side by Side Comparison
Before putting the HV UL1 through its paces, I set it up to give it a once over and shoot a few photos. For the sake of comparison, the HV and my well-worn original Fly Creek UL1 were erected side by side, both sans rainfly to inspect the construction and actual living space. The first thing that stood out was the stature of the new tent. The HV is significantly taller than the original, and its walls are steeply sloped. To achieve this pitch, Big Agnes redesigned the tent’s pole system, incorporating an angled segment at the foot end of the tent. There are also longer poles at the head, making the door panel nearly vertical and the opening itself a little taller. This design also widens the front peak and the top of the door opening.
The second thing I noticed about the HV UL1 was that the footprint appeared to be smaller than that of its forerunner. I measured, and, indeed, the new tent is about 4” narrower at the front and 2” at the back. This seems to contradict the claimed ‘High Volume’ title of the new and improved tent. Upon closer inspection there were a few other changes to the overall shape of the footprint. The tapered shape of the foot of the UL1 has been all but eliminated, while the overall length of both tents is the same. This means the side walls were lengthened by a few inches on the HV UL1. Even with 2 sq ft less floor area, the slightly longer side walls along with the increased pitch at the foot make the overall volume of the foot area feel much larger than that in the older version.
Another element that adds to the perception of increased floorspace in the HV UL1 is the bottom ‘tub’ of the tent. It was redesigned to eliminate taper and add more functional area. To accomplish this, in addition to the increased pitch at the front and sides, Big Agnes added a new double cord system at the rear corners. These pull outward on the walls of the tent, about 6” up from its corners, giving the lower pan of the tent a more square profile. That, in tandem with the steeper rear wall, adds volume to the entire rear area of the tent—a huge improvement for taller folks.
Additionally, a third ‘roof’ strap was added in the middle of the tent, which also increases the loft of the interior. Big Agnes also included four side strap loops (two on each side) that hook to the rainfly and pull the sidewalls outward when the fly is staked down, which opens the space even further. Other new hardware includes redesigned pole clips and adjustable slide cord locks on the sides.
Another major change between the UL1 and the HV UL1 is the amount of screen mesh used in the body construction. The HV’s entire roof is now mesh. In addition to shaving a few grams off of its weight the mesh ceiling also adds to the open feeling of the interior.
The two tents pack down nearly identically, save an extra ½-3/4 inch length on the HV. The new bent rear pole and longer front poles add just a little length to the pole bundle when collapsed. This isn’t a huge penalty, but might govern the size of the bag in which they fit. The weight of the two tents is very close; at 970g (without the mtnGLO battery unit), the HV is only 45g (1.5oz) heavier than the UL1.
Tested on The Trail
As I mentioned above, the packed HV still has the nice compact size that I’ve become accustomed to with the UL1. I was happy to find that the full tent still fits in a large Revelate Tangle partial frame bag, with room to spare for tools and food.
I’ve used the Fly Creek HV UL1 on several trips. In full transparency, I have been lucky with the weather and haven’t tested it out in heavy rains or stiff winds, yet. But, given my experience with the original version, I trust that it will perform well in severe weather.
It’s been pitched on both level ground and less than ideal slopes. The HV UL1 sets up easily, a trait that’s carried across all of the Fly Creek line. Compared to the original UL1, added steps are needed to hook the sidewall straps and new roof strap, but the time it takes is nominal, and the new pole clips are actually slightly simpler to both hook and unlatch. Another piece of hardware that aids in setup is the new adjustable slide cord lock on each side of the rainfly. Gone are the days of battling a root, tree, or rock to get the proper stake placement. The HV UL1 comes with 11 stakes (technically two extra, although they could be used with the upper guy lines should wind be in the forecast) and an emergency pole repair splint.
The two main gripes I’ve had with my old Fly Creek are spatial in nature and have been ameliorated with the HV revamp. 1. When using a thick inflatable sleeping mat, my toes always touch the ceiling at the end of the tent, making it feel like the tent is too short.too short. By extending the length of the walls, adding the vertical tub design, and increasing the pitch of the foot wall, the low slung triangular space at the foot of the tent has been removed, and now my toes don’t touch the walls.
2. At 6’ tall, I sometimes feel a bit scrunched in the original UL1. The taller design and vertical front panel have really opened up the space in the HV UL1. Getting in and out of the tent is a little easier, and the higher pitches provide the option for sitting upright.
As a bonus, the vertical front panel also adds to the volume of useable space in the vestibule. And, the rainfly door can now be unzipped in the rain without the interior getting wet.
mtnGLO, is it worth it?
The first time I heard about the Big Agnes’ mtnGLO system, I scoffed. Who needs the excess weight and superfluous extravagance? But, after having used it, I must say that I am reformed. When I first unfurled the tent, I proceeded to roll my eyes and unzip the door to inspect the lighting hardware. I was immediately caught off guard by how minimalistic it is. There is essentially one tiny wire, with a series of LED nodes that bulb out to about the thickness of a toothpick. This ‘durable LED’ strand is enclosed within a fabric sheath that forms a V shape at the head of the tent. It terminates at the lower left of the tent to a USB port which connects to the battery power unit (shown below). The lighting wire is hardly intrusive and weighs somewhere around 30 grams (1 ounce), plus or minus a few grams. The battery pack is also removable and fits in a little pocket sewn into the tent body. It weighs about 25 grams, without the required three AAA batteries.
The lights are controlled via a single bubble button that cycles through three options… fully bright, 50% brightness, and off. The controller also has a safety switch on its side that disables the bubble button, so it doesn’t get turned on when bouncing around on the bike. You can also run the lights run with another USB power source. I tested it out with the LimeFuel backup battery pack that I normally carry. It works well; the only downfall being that the lights are not “dimmable”.
In regards to the actual quality and quantity of light, that tiny strand actually puts off a fair amount of ambient light. I found that, with fresh batteries, it was certainly enough to read by, although I have seen claims that it is too faint for some folks. The lower setting provides enough ambient light for an early morning pack up, or just a quick look for something in the middle of the night. According to Big Agnes, battery life is about 90 hours, depending on tent size.
- The HV redesign certainly added more useable floor space and headroom.
- It’s hard to beat the Fly Creek series tents for weight; at just over two pounds (that’s with two extra stakes), it’s still a full-featured tent.
- The redesigned clips and side cord tensioners are great details.
- The near vertical front panel and door add to the vestibule space, make it easy to enter and exit the tent, and help keep the inside nice and dry.
- It’s pretty tall, and although I haven’t yet been in gale force winds, I would expect that it may get pretty well beaten with a direct hit.
- For somebody taller than 6’3”, it may still be a bit short.
- At $400, the Fly Creek HV UL1 isn’t cheap; the non-mtnGLO version is still $350.
- Like other ultralight rainflys, the HV can be slow to dry without direct sunlight.
- Model tested: Fly Creek HV UL1 mtnGLO
- Weight: 970g/34.2oz (11 stakes; w/o mtnGLO battery unit (+25g))
- Packed size: 4×19″ (10x48cm)
- Floor area: 20sq ft (1.86sq meters)
- Place of Manufacture: China
- Price: $399.95*
I intended to review the original Fly Creek UL1 quite a while ago. It’s a great solo shelter, and I’ve enjoyed using it on many bikepacking trips. My instincts and past experiences have made me suspect whenever a quality product gets an “upgrade”. I’ve learned that change isn’t always for the better. Fortunately, in this instance, smart decisions were made, and the HV UL1 really is an improvement over its predecessor. The spatial adjustments eliminate the saggy feel to the interior; the steeper front and added struts makes sitting up in the tent comfortable, not to mention easier entry and exit. And the bigger foot volume completely eliminates any length issues.
As for the mtnGLO model, some might argue that it makes camping too plush. I scoffed at first, but was immediately tempered by its usefulness—it is rather handy to have immediate ambient light instead of fumbling around for a headlamp. And when pedaling for days on end, who says a little touch of comfort isn’t nice, especially when it only weighs an extra ounce (~28 grams). However, it does add $50 to the price tag, so if you are already counting dollars for the investment, it might be worth looking at the $350 non-mtnGLO version.
Overall the Fly Creek HV is a thoughtful redesign that only reinforces what I thought about the original UL1: for its weight, size, and ease of use, it’s simply hard to beat as a solo bikepacking tent. If you currently have a Fly Creek that you love, it may not be worth the upgrade; these aren’t cheap tents. But if you have a well worn tent and you’re prospecting a new shelter for the upcoming season, the HV is well worth the investment…
Disclosure: The Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL1 was provided for this review by Big Agnes.
New in gear
- Apr 20, 2018Revelate Vole Review: 11th Time’s a Charm.
- Apr 19, 2018Teravail Goes Skinwall + Sparwood First Look
- Apr 13, 2018Kona Wah Wah II Pedal Review: Plastic Fantastic
- Apr 5, 2018Outer Shell Drawcord Handlebar Bag + Stuff Sack Harness Review
- Mar 29, 2018Porcelain Rocket Nigel: The Standalone Handlebar Bag