Gear Review: Big Sky Soul 1P Solo Tent
My solo tent is my sanctuary. Maybe you can relate? At the end of a long or overwhelming day, whether in the mountains of California or on a beach in West Africa, I look forward to crawling in as if I’m climbing into my soft bed at home.
My current home away from home is the Soul 1P Tent from Big Sky. I’ve lost count of how many nights I’ve spent in it, but I know it’s accompanied me to at least 16 different countries. It’s been stuffed in my backpack on hiking trips, strapped to my handlebars on bicycle tours, and carried in my duffel bag on international adventures. I demand a lot from my tent, and the Soul has delivered admirably.
The Big Sky Soul 1P tent is a lightweight, freestanding, double-walled, three season tent for one person. If you’re a lightweight backpacker, bikepacker or bicycle traveler, or just a regular traveler who likes to keep a tent in your luggage, you should definitely consider it. It’s versatile, lightweight, and roomy, all for a reasonable price.
Read on for the critical specs, pros and cons, and detailed descriptions of the Big Sky Soul 1P’s design, durability, weather resistance, and more.
Big Sky Soul 1p Tent at a Glance
Weight: 928g (2.04 lbs)
Size: 1 person (2 person also available)
Style: double wall free-standing
My rating: 5 out of 5
Available from: Big Sky Products
Summary: The Big Sky Soul 1P tent is an affordable, lightweight, double-wall, 3-season tent for 1 person. The freestanding design and separate interior bug tent make it incredibly versatile for backpacking, bikepacking, and traveling in almost any terrain or region. It’s quick to set up and surprisingly roomy inside.
Upgrades: Ultralight enthusiasts can get a version with lightweight fabric substitutions that weighs 667g (1lb 7.6oz) and costs $689.95. I think for most people the original version is a better value though.
Pros and Cons
Here are the pros and cons of the Big Sky Soul 1P tent as I see them:
- Free standing; can be pitched on any surface without stakes
- High ceiling, spacious
- Full mesh inner with completely separate rainfly, allowing for wide variety of setups in different weather
- Quick and easy setup
- Well ventilated
- Minor durability issues after lots of use
- Produced by small company, so it’s only available on their website and sometimes lead times are long.
Big Sky Soul Tent Design
The Big Sky Soul 1P tent consists of:
- a fully mesh interior with waterproof bathtub bottom
- two poles that cross in the middle and attach to each corner of the interior’s floor
- a waterproof rainfly that attaches to each corner of the interior’s floor where the poles insert into grommets
As I’ll describe more below, this completely freestanding, modular design allows for maximum flexibility in terms of setup and weather. The entrance is at the front/feet, which is wider, and the tent tapers to a narrower width at the back/head.
There are six stake points, but all are technically optional since the structure is freestanding. However, staking the four corners does help the floor hold its shape a bit better, and is especially critical in wind. Staking the two sides of the fly improves ventilation and reduces condensation.
You can see from pictures that the poles extend beyond the front of the mesh interior, which I originally thought was a little odd. However, when the fly is attached this space becomes a sheltered vestibule, and the design actually works really well. Even the vestibule is completely freestanding, requiring zero stakes!
Comfort and Space
Let me first say that I am a slim 5’5″. While this makes some parts of outdoor adventure harder – riding a heavy bike or carrying a big pack for example – fitting comfortably into a small tent is not one of them. I’ll take what I can get.
For me, the Soul 1P is a roomy palace. I can sit up, change clothes, do some light stretching, and sit cross-legged at the entrance and stick my head out the opening to cook in the vestibule.
The design is wider at the feet and tapers at the head. I can fit all kinds of gear on either side of my feet: a mid-size hiking backpack for example, or two bicycle panniers plus helmet and shoes. I tuck small items, like headlamp and phone, up near my head on either side of my sleeping mat. For what it’s worth, I use a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite sleeping pad, which is relatively narrow.
The vestibule in front adds a bit of extra sheltered space for gear that doesn’t need to come inside, though anything larger than maybe a pair of shoes will get wet if it’s rainy and windy. It’s enough space to comfortably use a camp stove if necessary, though I don’t technically recommend this.
According to the Big Sky website, the Soul is rated for humans up to 6’1″ in height. I expect tall people will have a different experience, but, I do believe the Soul is still one of the roomiest lightweight solo tents available.
Setup and Take Down
Granted I have some practice, but I find the Big Sky Soul 1P extremely easy to set up and take down.
First you unfold the two poles, then stick the ends into grommets on each corner of the interior, then lift the netting and attach it to the poles with some easy-to-use clips (I can even do it in mittens when my hands are cold).
The fly pulls over the structure and attaches at each of the four corners with plastic hooks. Optionally, you can stake out the four corners for stability and the two sides for ventilation.
One thing I’ve never tried is setting it up or taking it down in the pouring rain. With the order I do it in, the interior would get wet. Maybe there’s some creative solution I haven’t thought of. If not, at least the process is very fast.
Ventilation and Condensation
The Big Sky Soul’s double walled design keeps it decently well ventilated, which is great in warm weather and for battling the condensation problem. There are three features that help.
- If it’s not too wet or cold, you can secure the fly in “moon roof” mode, partially off the netting, for plenty of ventilation.
- With the fly fully on, you can optionally stake out two points on the sides to create more airflow. This even works in the rain.
- There’s a small vent above the door that can be fastened open, with a clever design that even works in the rain.
The flexibility of the Big Sky Soul’s design is my favorite thing about it. It’s versatile enough to be my go-to shelter for literally any activity, in any (non-winter) weather. This is a big difference from single-walled shelters, like my Tarptent Double Rainbow, which I also love but don’t find nearly as versatile.
The soul’s freestanding structure is key. Unless pitching it in heavy wind, you don’t need stakes or guy lines at all. It can pitch in loose sand, on granite slabs, or even in a hotel room filled with mosquitoes in a malarial climate. When I traveled in Africa for 5 months I used it in equal amounts as an outdoor hiking shelter and an indoor mosquito net tent.
The double walled design with separate rainfly is amazing for weather flexibility. In hot rain-free climates you can leave the fly off completely; the full mesh interior provides bug protection with excellent ventilation. When it’s cold or wet, the rainfly keeps you warm and dry. There are even handy attachments to secure the fly in “moon roof” mode, partially on and partially off, for a view of the stars with a more sheltered feel.
Once I even used the interior as a bivy without the poles, and staked the fly out over me like a tarp. It’s a long story, but I needed to camp by the highway in the rain in the middle of a flat section of Idaho, and wanted to keep a low profile. It worked surprisingly well!
Rain: I’ve been impressed with the Big Sky Soul’s rain resistance. It came seam sealed from the factory and has yet to leak in wet weather. The rainfly is well designed, and the bathtub floor of the inner is tall and holds its shape well. It’s seen some torrential downpours and the inside has always stayed nice and dry.
Wind: As for wind resistance, it’s not ideal, but when staked with the small end into the wind it does alright. If you orient the wide flat sides into the wind, you’ll definitely have a blustery night.
Snow: Mine has seen a light dusting of snow and had no problems, but it’s definitely not designed as a winter tent. Big Sky does sell a 4-season tent called the Chinook if you see a lot of snow in your future.
General rule of thumb: the lighter the gear, the less durable it is. For its weight I think the Soul’s durability is fine, maybe even better than expected. I’ve had two small issues, only after a lot of use.
- The floor eventually developed some spots where it looked like the waterproof coating was worn or flaked off, but I painted some seam sealer over them and that was that. I don’t use a ground sheet, which probably contributed to the problem, but I find the simplicity and weight/space savings worth the risk.
- Just recently, the door zipper has been acting up. Sometimes the pieces don’t stay together after I zip, and I have to retry a few times. Maybe there’s some zipper maintenance I need to do.
Bag: The tent comes with the option to buy a “tubular compression” tent bag, which I do recommend. It has three straps that cinch around it to reduce the diameter and make the whole thing more compact.
Footprint: Big Sky also sells a lightweight footprint for a reasonable price, which might be worthwhile if you want to prolong the life of the tent. Personally I don’t use a footprint and try to just choose my spot carefully, but I may end up paying a price for that in the long run.
Stakes: I use some aluminum tube stakes that I already had, and they work just fine, but Big Sky sells a range of tent stakes and other accessories.
Solo Tent Weight Comparison
I had a hunch that the Big Sky Soul 1P offers the best value in its category of lightweight freestanding 1 person tents, so I went ahead and looked up the details on a few of its competitors.
Now, I haven’t personally tried all these other solo tents, but these are my observations:
- The Soul isn’t the cheapest or the lightest, but it’s close to both, making it the best lightweight value in my opinion.
- The rest of these tents are considered freestanding, but most of them still require stakes for the vestibule, which the Soul does not.
- I’m willing to bet the Soul is simpler and faster to pitch than most of these.
Finally, if you are really just looking for the most ultralight shelter available, you should be looking at bivy sacks, tarps, or non-freestanding tents. The Soul is for people who are willing to carry an extra pound or so for the comfort of sleeping in a tent and the simplicity of a freestanding design.
Backpacking: Yes. If you’re primarily into lightweight backpacking, you can find a lighter tent or tarp that can be pitched with hiking poles, saving the weight of dedicated tent poles. But these are typically not freestanding, making them hard to pitch on rocky ground (cue the search for appropriately sized rocks to wrap the guy lines around).
The Big Sky Soul 1P is an excellent tent for backpacking in any environment, for when you don’t want to hike with poles, or for other activities that don’t involve hiking poles at all.
Bikepacking and bicycle touring: Yes. On a bike the weight penalty is never quite as important, and I find the roominess of the Soul to be well worth the weight of having it strapped to my handlebars. Particularly when bicycle touring in populated areas, I like to sleep fully enclosed (meaning not in a bivy sack) after being exposed out on the road all day. Being able to climb in and shut out the world is key to a good night’s sleep when camping in towns or busy campgrounds. I really love my Big Sky Soul for bicycle touring and bikepacking.
Travel: Yes. I’ve traveled a lot in tropical areas where malaria is an issue, and if traveling on a budget in these places you often want to have your own bug net. If you just want a net to set up on your hostel bed, you can get a much cheaper and lighter one, but you can’t hike with it. Having a tent that can work as an indoor mosquito net plus a fully weatherproof hiking shelter enables me to go on all kinds of crazy adventures when I travel. Bonus, the Big Sky Soul fits perfectly in the side of my favorite travel backpack, the Osprey Porter 46.
Ultralight and racing scenarios: No. There are a couple scenarios where I still take a bivy sack over the Soul tent, and they are all highly weight and space focused: fastpacking with big mile days, bikepack racing when I don’t plan to sleep very much, or short and rain-free trips in mild climates.
Do I recommend the Big Sky Soul?
It’s probably obvious, but yes. I highly recommend the Big Sky Soul 1P for anyone looking for a lightweight, freestanding, solo tent. It holds its own across that entire category, but the bargain price and simplicity of setup and takedown make it the obvious winner in my opinion.
I’ve become quite attached to my Soul, and not just because we’ve been on some crazy adventures together. The cozy just-right amount of space, the adjustable rainfly with a view of the stars, the way I can sit cross-legged at the entrance and cook my dinner in the vestibule while it’s raining outside… It’s been my reliable companion for a couple years now and I expect to keep using it for at least a few more.
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