Published: 21 September 2017, 15:23 Author: Myrddin Irwin
Tested extensively by Cairngorm Treks from June 2017 to August 2017 during high multi-day trekking in the central Cairngorms.
Initial impressions would imply that this tent isn’t as light as its ‘ultralight’ name would suggest. However, and this is important, compared to the highly regarded 4 season version, the Orion II UL actually has an excellent size to weight ratio and offers 3 season use with the same great quality and features as the Orion II, while saving you a nifty 670g in weight. This is achieved with a change in the outer fly from 40 D down to a noticeably lighter 15 D, which is more than suitable for 3 season use. The Orion II UL’s packed down size, whilst may be larger than some other lightweight tents on the market, actually reflects its weight very well, and is easily manageable carried between two people on a lightweight trek.
Like with all Exped products we’ve come across, the high quality of this tent is instantly noticeable. The poles, pegs and spare guys/repair kit are all neatly packed into one bag with three compartments, making locating what you need easy and efficient. While the pegs included are suitable for an initial pitch, we always look to upgrade ours to something like the MSR Groundhogs, which suit the rocky Cairngorm environment better and ware well with continuous use.
Pitching is easy, especially as the inner is already attached, meaning poor weather won’t interfere too much with your operation. The three poles are all colour and number coded – little things that can save time when you need to get pitched quickly. Due to the size of the tent however, finding a large enough flat pitch site can be an issue. This is bittersweet, as the size is definitely an attractive feature.
One of our favourite features is the in-built packing system for the storm guys, which ravel neatly into little pouches so not to become tangled. This is something we’d love to see on more tents and is a thoughtful feature that makes pitching and packing away a much easier and tidier process. Another bonus is that the pouches double up as reflectors; so locating your tent in the dark just became easier.
Once pitched, the Orion II UL is clearly extremely stable and storm-proof, hunkering sturdily into the ground. This is facilitated by the ground rooted poles and tension system that allow the fly to pull tight to the ground. This is the point where you stand back and fully appreciate the size of the tent. Only now can you value the weight to size ratio and consider that those extra grams are worthy of being carried.
Access is made easy with the two large vestibules, meaning a comfortable stay for yourself and your camping buddy – no clambering over each other and a sense of personal space is achieved. Inside is as spacious as expected, with high vertical walls and storage in the form of 4 large pockets and an overhead line. Although at first the yellow/green colour pallet can seem a little vibrant, over prolonged use actually feels quite natural working in harmony with the morning light. There is a minimal amount of mesh on the inner, with just a couple of small vents that make up the top of each door. This ensures the warmth of the tent, which is excellent and means only a light sleeping bag would be required during summer use in the Cairngorms. If you’re still concerned about the weight, then a reduction in warm gear (bag and mat) can mitigate this nicely. Needless to say, the weather protection of the Orion II UL is excellent. It can be blowing an absolute hoolie outside but you would barely notice it from the comfort of your sleeping bag. This is due to the classic and well-worked design that cuts through the wind superbly. In extremely high winds situated on the Cairngorm plateau the Orion II UL performed extremely well and there are no doubts this tent can handle whatever is thrown at it.
The Orion II UL is a strong and freestanding tent made for adventures in which shelter from the elements and internal comforts are key. Small and well thought-out features make pitching and dismantling a piece of cake and weather conditions need not be a concern. This is a tent that you could spend a lot of time in, suited to multi-day treks where comfort and space for two people is high on your agenda.