Long-Term Review: Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3 Tent (3000+ Miles of Bikepacking)

Summary

  • The Copper Spur HV UL is a very popular line of lightweight freestanding tents from Big Agnes available in 1-person through 5-person sizes.
  • I’ve used the Copper Spur HV UL3 extensively during 3000+ miles of bikepacking with my partner.
  • I love the Copper Spur’s reliable weather protection, freestanding convenience, and balance of features with lightweight design. I have no real complaints aside from the relatively high price tag.

The best advice I’ve received about bikepacking as a couple: use a three person tent for a bit of extra space. This was the inspiration for my purchase of our Copper Spur HV UL3. My husband and I had big bikepacking plans and the minimalist tarps and bivvies we used for backpacking weren’t going to cut it. We’d be living together in this tent, along with a bunch of gear, for months at a time. The future of our marriage depended on it!

Our Big Agnes Copper Spur tent has been our home away from home on three big trips: the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route through the Rockies, a monthlong loop through Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, and two months in Morocco and Portugal this past spring.

I’m happy to report that we are still married, and (more to the point of this review) the Copper Spur HV UL3 is a truly excellent tent. I recommend it to bikepackers without reservation, and to backpackers who prioritize an easy reliable shelter over shaving every last gram.

The Copper Spur isn’t cheap, and if you’re considering shelling out for one I’m sure you’re interested in the details. In this review I’ll explain the Copper Spur’s design and features, my assessment of its pros and cons, some tips and tricks for getting the most out of it, and how this tent stacks up against its competition.

Related: Bikepacking Tent Buyer’s Guide

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Our Copper Spur (sans rainfly, temporarily) at 12,000 feet elevation in Kyrgyzstan.

Review Summary

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 months while bikepacking in the US and abroad, my husband and I give this tent a solid 5 star rating. It’s incredibly roomy and livable, completely hassle-free to pitch, and has kept us cozy and dry through some gnarly weather.

Price: $600 (but keep an eye out for sales)

Packed Weight: 3 lbs 14 oz

Trail weight: 3 lbs 8 oz

Max people: 3 (but available in other versions from 1 to 5 people)

Seasons: 3 (not a winter tent)

Colors: olive green, orange

My rating: 5 / 5 stars, meets all my needs and I would buy it again

Pros:

  • Perfect balance of weight, features, and durability; not minimalist but also no extra fluff
  • Performs well in heavy rain and wind
  • Roomy UL3 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 is very convenient if only two people in the tent
  • Comes in two color options: olive green for stealth or orange for visibility
  • Comes in bikepacking version with shorter poles and special stuff sack
  • Comes in long version for taller folks or extra space

Cons:

  • Slightly more expensive than its competitors
  • If three people in the tent, middle person must climb over someone to get in and out
  • Can’t be pitched fly first to protect the inner from rain (unless you buy the ground sheet)
  • Minor gripe but I don’t like the door keeper hooks; they’re hard to unhook with one hand
Our Copper Spur UL3 in Kazakhstan. When you’re living in a tent for weeks or months, a spacious and livable design is extra-important.

Lightweight (for its category)

The Copper Spur HV UL3 (the UL stands for ultralight) weighs 3 lbs 14 oz packed. To be clear, this is not “ultralight” by backpacking standards, especially not for two people. The lightest backpacking tents are typically single-wall and trekking pole supported and average under one pound per person. The Copper Spur was not designed to compete with these types of shelters.

The balance of weight versus comfort and convenience is a matter of personal preference. I use a few different types of shelters depending on my goals for each trip, but generally tend toward minimalist. I love my Big Sky Soul 1P tent for solo bikepacking and luxurious solo 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 (not including our car camping gear), thus also our heaviest. But when the HV UL3 is split between two of us, the weight we each carry is around 2 pounds — about the same as my solo tent when I bikepack alone. We’ve found that especially on bikes and for multi-week trips, a bit of extra weight is well worth the added space and convenience. And the Copper Spur HV UL2, when split between two people, is legitimately ultralight.

In short, if you’re into the types of adventures where a double-walled freestanding design has value, the Copper Spur offers excellent value for its weight. The packed weight of 3 lbs 14 oz is right inline with its closest competitor, the NEMO Dragonfly 3, and lighter than a number of others such as the NEMO Dagger OSMO. I don’t believe you can find a meaningfully lighter tent in the double-walled freestanding class.

Freestanding

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, since cyclists end up in civilization more often than backpackers do. I’ve pitched on porches, in parking lots, inside abandoned buildings, and even inside peoples’ homes.

We were happy to have a freestanding tent for camping in this stone courtyard in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.

Cyclists aren’t the only ones who can appreciate a freestanding tent. If you’ve ever backpacked in California’s high Sierra mountains or Arizona’s rocky desert, you’ll know that tent stakes aren’t always an option on granite slabs or parched desert dirt. Even when stakes are easy to pound in, a freestanding tent is the most hassle-free pitch you’ll ever experience.

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 bikepackers (who don’t carry trekking poles and can handle a little extra weight) but some backpackers appreciate the convenience too.

Staying dry in our Copper Spur despite a soggy afternoon in Montana on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route

Setup and Takedown

We’ve always been impressed by how quick and easy the Copper Spur UL HV3 is to pitch and pack up. We 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 (phew!).

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. The tips slip into grommets at the corners of the mesh inner, then the mesh snaps onto the poles with a few plastic clips. A small cross-pole in the ceiling ensures ample headroom even at the sides of the tent.

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 when possible we stake the four corners for stability. Then we guy out the vestibules for gear space and the middles of the other two sides for ventilation and condensation control. All guy lines are pre-cut and pre-installed with tensioners, so setup is a cinch from the very first try.

Convenient buckles make it super easy to attach the rainfly. (Note, newer versions of the Copper Spur have a new and improved buckle system.)

That’s 8 stakes, if you’re counting, which is what we typically carry. If one gets lost you can get by with staking only one side of the fly.

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. We sometimes guyed these out to our bikes above treeline in Kyrgyzstan where winds ripped down the valleys.

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.

Showing off the easy takedown process for this curious Kazakh cow

Colors

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.

The olive green color is a surprisingly good match for many landscapes, from brighter green foliage to the more muted browns of this desert in Kazakhstan.

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 workable for three people, which isn’t something you can truly say about all “3 person” tents.

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! If we need to wait out a rainy day or lounge around for awhile, it’s no problem.

The interior is extremely roomy for two people, and would still be a reasonable fit for three people thanks to its nearly vertical side walls.
View of the roof pole that holds out the sides for a roomy high-volume interior. (Note: This pole has a slight bend in it on newer versions for improved strength and stability.)

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.

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.

Here’s how our sleeping pads – a regular Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite and my shorter Women’s NeoAir XLite – fit in the space.

Doors and Vestibules

The Copper Spur 3P has two side doors. This is common for three person tents, but not universal, and whether it’s a pro or con depends on whether you actually have three people in the tent. For two people like us, each person has their own door and midnight pee breaks can be accomplished without waking each other. Of course, if you actually do have a third person sandwiched in the middle, that poor sucker has to climb over someone to get in or out. In this case a large door at the foot is better for the middle sleeper but slightly worse for the two edge sleepers.

It’s worth noting that on the Copper Spur 2P, which uses a very similar design to the 3P, the two side doors is purely an advantage.

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.

One side of the roomy vestibule staked out and the other side rolled up in the door keeper.

Weather Resistance

Our Copper Spur 3p tent has 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 rain fly team up to keep water from splashing, blowing, or flowing into the interior.

Our Copper Spur on a stormy afternoon in the Tian Shan Mountains

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.

Our Copper Spur holding up well on a windy afternoon in the Moroccan Sahara desert

The Copper Spur is a 3 season tent, so it’s not designed for winter weather. Though ours has never seen accumulating snow, I would expect a few inches 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.

Ventilation

Good ventilation is key to a good night’s sleep in hot climates, and also for reducing condensation. All tents 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 mesh inner provides ample ventilation and can be used on its own in dry weather and hot temps. Thoughtfully placed nylon panels at the bottom are designed to 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 causing condensation to drip inside. An optional vent in the top of the fly allows air to escape without letting rain in.

Closeup of the ceiling vent

On the two sides without vestibules, a short guy line allows for pulling the fly away from the mesh. In our experience this is a small but important detail, otherwise condensation on the inside of the fly can run into the tent and drip onto your sleeping bag.

Packed Size

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 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. We ended up splitting the tent and the poles between us and carrying each on the front of our respective handlebar bags.

Splitting the Copper Spur between two of us on the Great Divide.
The Copper Spur strapped to a rear bike rack for our Central Asia trip.
Side view of the same setup with tent strapped to rear rack.

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, to protect the tent floor and allow for pitching the fly alone as a tarp

Some of these variations are hard 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; we just 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.

Comparison Table

Here’s how the Copper Spur stacks up beside other popular lightweight 3-season freestanding* backpacking tents.

ModelPriceWeight (packed)Peak heightFloor
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3$6003 lbs 14 oz43 in90×70/62″, 41 sq ft
NEMO Dagger OSMO$5504 lbs 10 oz42 in90×70″, 43.9 sq ft
MSR Hubba Hubba 3$5803 lbs 13 oz46 in84×68″, 39.5 sq ft
NEMO Dragonfly 3$5303 lbs 15 oz44 in88×70/65″, 41.2 sq ft
Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL 3 (*semi-freestanding)$5002 lbs 15 oz42 in88×66/60″, 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 without sacrificing easy setup.

The Copper Spur is also the most expensive tent in 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 personally test all those tents. But I will say this: 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.

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):

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.

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About the Author

Hi there, I’m Alissa, founder of Exploring Wild. I’ve traveled over 19,000 miles by bike and still can’t stop planning my next ride (and helping you plan yours). Pavement and panniers or singletrack and seat bag, I love it all. On my bike I feel free. Learn more about me here.

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    3 thoughts on “Long-Term Review: Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3 Tent (3000+ Miles of Bikepacking)”

    1. We love ours (same model) and have used it on all our thruhikes. Agree with your article 100%. We do though use a footprint due to the rough ground we usually have to set up on, but we have also made a lightweight cord footprint for setting up the fly in the rain even before the footprint to keep everything dry as possible.

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