The best advice I’ve ever heard about bikepacking as a couple: use a three person tent.
That’s why I bought a Copper Spur HV UL3 on sale a few years ago. My husband and I had big bike touring plans in the works, and the more
cramped minimalist shelter systems we’d been using for backpacking weren’t going to cut it. We’d be living together in this tent, along with a bunch of gear, for weeks or months in various foreign countries. The future of our marriage depended on choosing the right tent!
So how did our Copper Spur HV perform? Well, two big trips later and we’re still married. 🙂
We just returned from a month of bikepacking in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, where we spent many nights in our Copper Spur and weathered a few scary storms. The summer prior we used it on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route from Wyoming to Canada. I like to test my gear extremely thoroughly before reviewing it, and I’ve decided it’s finally time to write a long term review of our Big Agnes Copper Spur HV 3 person tent.
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Product: Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3 Tent
The Copper Spur HV UL3 is a lightweight freestanding tent for up to 3 people and 3-season weather. After living in ours for a combined couple of months while bikepacking in the US and Central Asia, my husband and I give this tent a solid 5 star rating. It’s incredibly roomy and livable, a cinch to pitch and pack up, and has kept us cozy and dry through some gnarly weather.
- Perfect balance of weight, features, and durability; not minimalist but also no extra fluff.
- Performs very well in heavy rain and wind (for a 3 season tent)
- Roomy design is a palace for 2 people, and adequate for 3
- Freestanding design (except for vestibules) is easy to pitch on hard surfaces
- Two side doors! No crawling over your tent companion(s) to get in and out.
- Comes in two color options: olive green for stealth or orange for visibility.
- Comes in bikepacking version with shorter poles and specialized stuff sack
- Comes in long version for taller folks or extra space
- Can’t be pitched fly first to protect the inner from rain.
- Slightly more expensive than its competitors.
- Minor gripe but I don’t like the door keeper hooks; they’re hard to unhook with one hand.
Big Agnes is a small outdoor gear company based in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. They make quality, sustainability-focused gear in a number of other categories including sleeping bags and pads, camp furniture, and backpacks, but they are best-known for their extensive line of camping and backpacking tents.
The Copper Spur is a very popular tent from Big Agnes’ “ultralight” line, which means it costs a bit more and weighs a bit less. It will appeal to serious backpackers and bikepackers who put lots of miles on their gear and care about keeping weight down. It’s not the lightest tent Big Agnes makes – that would be their “crazylight” Platinum and Carbon lines – but it’s the best balance of weight, durability, and price.
The Copper Spur is a full-featured, freestanding, double-walled tent with excellent livability at a surprisingly light weight. Yes, lighter shelters are available, but most are single-wall and non-freestanding, and most top out at 1 or 2 person capacity. For bikepackers especially, but really anyone who appreciates a simple pitch and extra space, the Copper Spur strikes an excellent balance.
The Copper Spur is a freestanding tent, which means the main body can be pitched without stakes. Like most freestanding tents you’ll still need stakes to guy out the fly for vestibule space and ventilation, but at least you’ll have a bare-bones stake-free shelter if you need it.
Why might you want to pitch a tent without stakes? It happens a lot while bikepacking and bicycle touring, since cyclists tend to end up in civilization more often than backpackers do. For example, here’s an odd case in Wyoming where we were allowed to camp for free in this parking lot, but only on the pavement (I know, we thought it was weird too, but rules are rules).
Cyclists aren’t the only ones who can appreciate a freestanding tent. If you’ve ever backpacked in California’s high Sierra Nevada mountains or Arizona’s rocky desert, you’ll know that tent stakes aren’t always an option on granite slabs or parched desert dirt.
The downside to freestanding tents is that they’re a little heavier, all other things being equal, because of the more robust pole structure. Many non-freestanding tents incorporate trekking poles into their pitch, which also saves weight. These are both reasons why freestanding tents are especially popular with cyclists (who don’t carry trekking poles and can handle a little extra weight) but some backpackers appreciate the convenience too.
The Copper Spur HV UL3 (the UL stands for ultralight) weighs 3 lbs 14 oz packed. Though this is more than the per-person weight of minimalist ultralight backpacking shelters, it’s quite respectable for a fully featured, double wall, three person tent. Its closest competitors, the NEMO Dragonfly 3 and MSR Hubba Hubba 3, weigh about the same while others are heavier.
The balance of weight versus comfort and convenience is a matter of personal preference, and all of us lie somewhere along the spectrum. I use a few different types of shelters depending on my goals for each trip, but generally tend toward lightweight and minimalist. I love my Big Sky Soul 1P tent for solo bikepacking and luxurious backpacking, my Borah Gear Bivy for bikepack racing and fair-weather ultralight backpacking, and our Six Moon Designs Haven tarp for thru hiking with my husband.
The Copper Spur is our most luxurious and fully featured shelter. But when split between the two of us, the weight we each carry is around 2 pounds – about the same as when I carry my solo tent for bikepacking alone. We’ve found that especially on bikes and for multi-week trips together, a bit of extra weight is worth the added space and convenience.
We haven’t taken the Copper Spur backpacking, and honestly we probably won’t (unless we someday add a dog or a little backpacker to our family). When carrying all our gear on our backs we do count ounces more carefully, and the ability to cover a lot of miles in comfort is worth sharing a tighter space. But for many backpackers, especially couples who hike with a dog or a small child, the Copper Spur 3P would be an excellent lightweight choice. And the Copper Spur HV UL2, when split between two hikers, is legitimately ultralight.
Setup and Takedown
We’ve always felt the Copper Spur UL HV3 is quick and easy to pitch and pack up. We recently had the “opportunity” to test this under pressure during a storm in Kyrgyzstan at 11,000 feet. Working together in howling wind with numb hands and mild hypothermia, we managed to pitch our Copper Spur in just a couple tense minutes.
We usually pitch the tent together because it’s slightly faster, but it’s not hard for one person to pitch alone. The main pole is an integrated 4-legged “spider” with sections that snap together – don’t smack yourself or your partner in the face with any of the legs! The tips slip into grommets at the corners of the mesh inner, then the mesh snaps onto the poles with a few simple clips. A small cross-pole in the ceiling ensures ample headroom even at the sides of the tent.
Then the fly attaches by slipping the ends of the cross pole into pockets (easiest to do this first) and then snapping each corner to the inner with convenient color coded buckles. The tent is freestanding, but if possible we stake down the four corners for stability and guy out the vestibules (for gear space) and the middle of the other two sides (for ventilation and condensation control).
That’s 8 stakes, which is what we typically carry. If one gets lost you can get by with staking only one side of the fly for ventilation. All guy lines are pre-cut and pre-installed with tensioners, so setup is a cinch from the very first try.
Each corner of the fly has an additional guy line midway up the pole. These can be used in heavy wind to add structural integrity. Above treeline in Kyrgyzstan where winds often ripped down the valleys, we guyed two of these corner lines out to our bikes.
The only downside to the setup process: like many tents, you can’t set up the rainfly without first setting up the inner (unless, in this case, you also have the Copper Spur footprint). This means the inner will get wet if it’s raining while you setup or pack up. In our experience this is usually tolerable since the fly goes on so quickly, but it might be best to wait out a true deluge before setting up.
The Big Agnes Copper Spur UL comes in two color options: olive green and orange.
Choose the green color if you want to keep a low profile, like when camping in more populated areas as bicycle travelers often do. Choose orange if you want to be visible – some folks consider this a safety advantage in the wilderness if you ever need to be rescued.
Our tent is olive green and we’ve been impressed by how well the muted color blends into a wide variety of landscapes. We can slip off the road behind some bushes and not worry if the tent is slightly visible, as it’s unlikely to catch the eye of passing drivers.
Interior Space and Features
The “HV” part of the Copper Spur UL3 HV stands for “high volume.” The living space is larger than Big Agnes’ other 3 person tents (like the Tiger Wall), making it an absolute palace for two people. It might even be tolerable for three people, which isn’t something all “3 person” tents can actually claim.
We definitely enjoy the space when we travel with this tent. My husband likes to listen to audio books and fall asleep early, while I write in my journal and loosen up tired muscles with some stretching. Even with a whole pile of gear inside the tent, I can do floor yoga without waking him up!
The 43″ peak height is more than enough for us to sit up and move around. We’re not tall – my husband is 5’7″ and I’m 5’5″ – but the lofty ceiling design should help taller folks feel comfortable too. We have plenty of room for gear at both the head and foot area, but tall people take note: Big Agnes has a long version of the Copper Spur HV UL3 on the way.
Crucially, the Copper Spur 3P has two side doors. This is common for three person tents, but not universal, so it’s worth mentioning how much we – as two people in a three person tent – appreciate this feature. When someone sneaks out for a midnight pee, they use their own private side door instead of entering shared space to clamber out a single front door. Of course, if you actually have three people in the tent then a front door is probably better, at least for the poor sucker stuck in the middle.
I find the interior organization features of the Copper Spur to be totally delightful. That might sound odd, but remember, I often use more minimalist gear with zero extra bells and whistles. The Copper Spur’s mesh ceiling pockets and foot “mezzanine” are so handy for keeping track of small items in the midst of a gear explosion, and also for drying wet clothes overnight.
The two roomy vestibules might be my favorite part of the Copper Spur 3P. They easily fit a pile of gear like bike helmet, shoes, and stove while keeping it all totally dry. They would cover most hiking backpacks too. In Central Asia we often cooked in the vestibules on rainy nights or cold mornings (but not on the Great Divide – don’t cook near your tent in bear country!).
Our older 2019 version doesn’t have the new option to unzip each vestibule into an awning (you can read about the updates from 2020 here). Since we’re bikepacking and don’t have trekking poles, we’ve never missed this feature. I can see it being a nice bonus for backpackers though, especially with three people vying for space in the tent.
Our Copper Spur 3p tent has now been through some pretty gnarly weather. During heavy rain in the Rocky Mountains of the US and the Tian Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan, the interior stayed completely dry through major downpours. The deep bathtub floor and low-lying rain fly team up to keep water from splashing, blowing, or flowing into the interior.
Strong wind also failed to faze our Copper Spur. In Central Asia especially, wide-open landscapes sometimes left us with no options for shelter from the wind. Though the tent walls flapped and flexed, nothing broke. I would recommend using the extra mid-pole guy lines on the fly on the windward side; this helps the tent keep its shape and creates a sharper corner to reduce the wind load.
The Copper Spur is a 3 season tent, so it’s not designed for winter weather. Though ours has never seen snow, I would expect a light dusting to slide easily off the domed top.
Perhaps worth noting here in the weather section: the tent comes with a lightweight pole splint. We’ve never needed it (knock wood) but like knowing we have it.
Good ventilation is key to a good night’s sleep in hot climates, and also for reducing condensation. All tents can collect condensation in certain conditions, but double wall tents have an edge over lighter single wall shelters and the Copper Spur is no exception. We think it has excellent ventilation and minimal condensation problems, if set up properly.
For starters, the tent inner provides ample ventilation and can be used on its own in hot climates with no rain in the forecast. Thoughtfully placed nylon panels at the bottom block wind for warmth, but the upper is 100% mesh.
There’s plenty of space between the mesh and fly for air to circulate, and to prevent the fly from sagging onto the mesh and causing condensation to drip inside. An optional vent in the top of the fly allows air to escape without letting rain in.
On the two sides without vestibules, a short guy line allows for pulling the fly away from the mesh. This is important; otherwise condensation on the inside of the fly can run into the tent and drip onto your sleeping bag.
The three person Copper Spur HV packs down to 6×21″ in its included stuff sack. There’s a separate sack for the poles and a little pouch for the stakes, and they all fit neatly inside the main sack without too much muscle. One benefit of having a separate sack for the poles: it’s easy to split up the load among two people or pack the poles separately if space is tight.
Bikepackers take note, the bikepack-specific version of the Copper Spur uses 12″ poles and packs down to 7×13.5″. This might be a better fit for handlebars (especially drop bars) or panniers. We’ve fit the original version on our bikes with both a rear rack and a rackless drop bar setup, but the latter took some creativity (splitting the tent and the poles between us and carrying each on the front of our handlebar bags).
Variations and Accessories
The full Copper Spur lineup is the most complete line of tents I’ve ever seen. Big Agnes has rolled out a wealth of creative variations and extensions on this long-time favorite. Notably:
- Capacity from 1 person all the way up to a new 5-person version!
- Bikepack-specific versions with shorter poles and bike-attachable stuff sack
- mtnGLO integrated LED lighting
- Long version for tall people
- Hotel rainfly attachment to add sheltered outdoor living space
- Footprints for all models, for protecting the tent floor or pitching the fly alone as a tarp
Some of these variations are harder to find, out of stock, or still in the works. Check the Big Agnes website for the latest details.
Note on footprints: We’re generally anti-footprint and don’t use ground sheets for any of our tents. We don’t feel the additional weight is worth the benefit, and we try to remove sharp objects from the ground before putting down our tent. That said, if you do a lot of camping in especially rocky areas then a footprint will extend the life of your tent.
Here’s how the Copper Spur stacks up beside other popular lightweight 3-season freestanding* backpacking tents.
|Model||Price||Weight (packed)||Peak height||Floor|
|Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3||$600||3 lbs 14 oz||43 in||90×70/62″, 41 sq ft|
|NEMO Dagger OSMO||$550||4 lbs 10 oz||42 in||90×70″, 43.9 sq ft|
|MSR Hubba Hubba 3||$580||3 lbs 13 oz||46 in||84×68″, 39.5 sq ft|
|NEMO Dragonfly 3||$530||3 lbs 15 oz||44 in||88×70/65″, 41.2 sq ft|
|Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL 3 (*semi-freestanding)||$500||2 lbs 15 oz||42 in||88×66/60″, 38 sq ft|
You’ll notice the Copper Spur is comparable in weight to its lightest competitors and offers a decent amount of square footage. Floor dimensions and peak height by themselves aren’t enough to describe the interior volume though. Look closely at the pole structures of all those tents and you’ll see the Copper Spur is different; its unique x-shaped primary pole creates the roomy feeling inside (and is very simple to set up too).
The Copper Spur is also the most expensive of that list. Worth it? There’s a lot more to tent quality than just the basic specs, and I haven’t had the opportunity to try all those tents. But if my Copper Spur were to disappear tomorrow and I needed to buy a new tent, I would buy the Copper Spur again (maybe the bikepack version) rather than gambling on a different model. That’s how much I like it.
As one of the roomiest 3-person lightweight tents available, the Copper Spur UL3 is an excellent choice for couples with a small child or dog, two close friends who want to share a tent (or three really close friends), or a couple who just wants some extra space without much of a weight penalty.
Where to Buy
The Copper Spur is widely available at the Big Agnes website and major outdoor retailers. Like all outdoor gear, you can score a deal if you’re patient enough to wait for sales.
Check prices (each opens in a new tab):
- Copper Spur HV UL3 at REI
- Copper Spur HV UL3 at Backcountry
- Copper Spur HV UL3 at Moosetreks
- Copper Spur HV UL3 at Amazon
- Copper Spur HV UL3 at Big Agnes
Pre-owned: The Copper Spur is a popular model that’s been around a long time, so you might luck out and find a used one for a great price at eBay, REI’s used gear shop, Geartrade, or Outdoor Gear Exchange.
More Backpacking and Bikepacking Resources
If you found this review helpful, you might also enjoy these articles:
- Best Bikes for Bikepacking: How to Choose
- How to Make Backpacking Meals Better
- Thru Hiking the Arizona Trail: Essential Q&A
- Pooping in the Woods: Guide for the Shy or Squeamish
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