Big Agnes Crag Lake SL3 tent review: quality construction is all the USP you need

Easy to pitch and simple to carry the Big Agnes Crag Lake SL3 is a great-looking three-person, three-season backpacking tent that ticks a lot of boxes

Big Agnes Crag Lake SL3 tent
(Image: © Craig Taylor)

Advnture Verdict

The Big Agnes Crag Lake SL3 is a lightweight, durable and spacious two- to three-person tent that’s comfortable to use, a joy to pitch and impressively versatile.

Pros

  • +

    Large interior

  • +

    Lightweight

  • +

    Stealthy color

  • +

    Small pack size

Cons

  • -

    Inner-pitch first

You can trust Advnture Our expert reviewers spend days testing and comparing gear so you know how it will perform out in the real world. Find out more about how we test and compare products.

Meet the tester

Why I Love Camping – Finally time for a brew
Craig Taylor

Craig loves nothing more than pitching up in the backcountry, preferably while taking on a long-distance thru-hike. His adventures usually take place in the hills and mountains of Wales but he occasionally gets away to his beloved Alps. As one of our expert campers, Craig revels in testing camping equipment and knows a sturdy shelter from one that will give up the ghost when conditions become challenging.

Big Agnes Crag Lake SL3: first impressions

The Big Agnes Crag Lake SL3 is a three-person tent that’s been designed to be, “simple, durable and superlight”. Big Agnes call it, “your ideal companion for quick overnighters on any three-season camping adventure”, and – coming with lightweight aluminum poles, a recycled nylon fly and a lightweight inner – the specs certainly back this up.

Specifications

• List price: $399.95 (US) / £339.99 (UK)
• Style: Dome tent
• Weight: 2.15kg / 4lb 12oz
• Packed size: 15cm x 50 cm / 6in x 19.5in
• Internal space: 3.6m² / 38.5 ft²
• Rooms: One bedroom, two vestibules
• Compatibility: Two people and gear

Now, if you’re not familiar with Big Agnes, I wonder where you’ve been for the last decade. Hailing out of Colorado, USA, the brand has given us some of the most comfortable and innovative UL shelters in recent years, namely the Fly Creek UL2 and the Three Wire Hooped Bivy, both shelters I highly rate (and continue to enjoy). Going into this test, then, I was excited to try out one of Big Agnes’ larger lines and to see how well their materials lend themselves to a three-person shelter. 

The Big Agnes Crag Lake SL3 weighs in at 2.15 kg. For a brand known for ultralight innovations, this felt rather unimpressive and weighty when I first opened the box, especially considering that the Crag Lake’s pack size is also far from industry-leading. The setup is a typical inner-pitch first approach, meaning that you construct the dome from the ground up, clipping the durable nylon inner to the exoskeleton formed from the lightweight aluminum poles. From there, you simply mount the fly over the top, clip everything together and lash it all tight. Pretty standard stuff. 

So what’s the unique thing about the Crag Lake SL3, then? To find out, I tested this tent over the course of three days in Bannau Brycheiniog National Park in Wales, a place known for its strong winds and driving rain as much as its peaks and waterfalls. So how did the little Crag Lake fair?

Big Agnes Crag Lake SL3: in the wild

Man sitting in Big Agnes Crag Lake SL3 tent

There’s no one feature that sets the Big Agnes Crag Lake SL3 tent apart, but it does ooze quality (Image credit: Craig Taylor)

Fall in Bannau Brycheiniog can be a bleak affair. Beautiful, sure, but grim, especially at night. Wind and rain can arrive at the drop of a hat, and there’s no saying how cold – or warm – it might get. 

On this occasion, I was lucky: the weather was reasonably stable, with lows of around 8°C (46°F) and only a small amount of rain was forecast. The weather couldn’t have been better for testing a three-season dome tent: rough enough that it could be uncomfortable, but nothing that the tent shouldn’t be able to handle well. So how did the Big Agnes Crag Lake SL3 perform? 

Going into this test, I wasn’t particularly impressed by any single aspect of the Crag Lake SL3 out of the box. The weight and pack size were both standard for the specs, while the price felt a little high for what the tent offered. For $399.95 / £339.99, you can easily pick up a tent that performs better whatever metric you look at: the Robens Chaser 1 packs down smaller and performs better in wind. The Wild Country Helm 3 offers more room and enhanced durability in bad weather, as does the MSR Elixir 3. And the Alpkit Jaran 3 offers something similar at a slightly lower price – despite being a little heavier and having a larger packed size. 

Big Agnes Crag Lake SL3 tent inside

Despite being listed as a three-person tent, it’s more comfortable when there’s just two of you (Image credit: Craig Taylor)

Therefore, as I unpacked the tent, I was expecting to be underwhelmed as I considered where the Crag Lake SL3 fit into this part of the market. But that opinion swiftly changed when I started to pitch this beautiful little shelter. I should never have doubted the folks at Big Agnes.

The quality of the materials that go into the Crag Lake SL3 is, in my opinion, better than those used by many of its competitors – at least, those that I’ve tested. The stitching on the inner, the taped seams on the fly, the durable and easy-to-use drawcords on the clips; everything oozes quality, which makes the Crag Lake SL3 a joy to pitch.

And once up, the tent is an equally joyous place to spend the night. Granted, it would be a push to sleep three people in here (at 152cm in width at the thinnest end, you’d have to top and tail it to make it work), but the SL3 makes a great tent for two campers and gear. To me, it felt as roomy and as comfortable to use for two people as The North Face Trail Lite 2, one of my most highly rated two-person tents of this year. The Crag Lake SL3 also comes in with a slightly smaller packed size than that tent.

Big Agnes Crag Lake SL3 tent

Durable webbing straps help you get the fly nice and tight (Image credit: Craig Taylor)

When it comes to performance in inclement weather, the Crag Lake SL3 does just as good a job as any other dome tent of this style. It rocks in the wind and is noisy in the rain, but it’s safe and comfortable if you pitch it right – you just wouldn’t want to ride out an autumnal storm at elevation in this thing. 

I don’t consider that a downside, however, as that is not what this tent was built for. Again, Big Agnes describe this tent as, “your ideal companion for quick overnighters on any three-season camping adventure”. And I can’t think of a better way to sum it up myself. 

Big Agnes have managed to create a comfortable, durable and good-looking shelter that performs well whatever metric you look at, being light and easy to carry, comfortable to sleep in, beautiful to look at and a cinch to pitch. To me, there are no clear drawbacks outside of those associated with a tent with this design – and the Crag Lake SL3 might just be one of the top all-rounders out there for couples right now. 

Big Agnes Crag Lake SL3 tent

Big Agnes Crag Lake SL3 is a comfortable shelter with or without the flysheet (Image credit: Craig Taylor)

Inside the tent, you’ve got two vestibules and two doors. That means that each inhabitant has their own to pack their kit away in and use as a kitchen, or you can keep one side for cooking and the other for storage. What’s more, with the footprint, you have the option to pitch this tent in Big Agnes’s “fast fly” style. This allows you to leave out the inner completely, giving you a cavernous bivy of sorts to while away the night when you don’t have any creepy crawlies to worry about. This reduces the overall carry weight by around 600g and significantly decreases the pack size.

Big Agnes Crag Lake SL3 tent

Big Agnes have managed to deliver a shelter that ticks practically every box you could hope to expect out of a lightweight backpacking shelter of this size (Image credit: Craig Taylor)

Despite being a lightweight backpacking tent, the Crag Lake SL3 actually feels plenty durable. Naturally, you always need to be careful when pitching anything this small and light, though the high-tenacity ripstop nylon fly feels significantly more durable than the silnylon materials used on the likes of the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL. 

What’s more, the optional footprint provides added protection between the bathtub floor and the ground, though as it’s made of the same material as the fly, I’d argue it’s not necessary in most situations. 

Overall, I highly rate the Crag Lake SL3. With it, Big Agnes have managed to deliver a shelter that ticks practically every box you could hope to expect out of a lightweight backpacking shelter of this size. And though it doesn’t excel in any one area in particular, the level of performance it delivers across the board might just be the best I’ve seen in a long time. 

Big Agnes Crag Lake SL3 tent packed

The Big Agnes Crag Lake SL3 tent packed up (Image credit: Craig Taylor)
Craig Taylor

Growing up just south of the glorious Brecon Beacons National Park, Craig spent his childhood walking uphill. As he got older, the hills got bigger, and his passion for spending quality time in the great outdoors only grew - falling in love with wild camping, long-distance hiking, bikepacking and fastpacking. Having recently returned to the UK after almost a decade in Germany, he now focuses on regular micro-adventures in nearby Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons, as well as frequent trips to the Alps and beyond. You can follow his adventures over on komoot, or visit www.craigtaylor.co for more info.