TBT Gear: The Kelty Zen



Kelty Zen from Da Google image search

A semi-regular look at older gear that is no longer my primary gear but that I still use.

UPDATE OCTOBER 2019: I no longer own this tent. I gave it to some friends’ children.

Back in 1999, I was twenty-five.  And I was in love.

As with most young men in love, I had grandiose plans about how we were going to live our lives together.

We were going to get married, hike a long trail together and no doubt walk in blissful and perpetual sunshine for life. Ah..the innocence of youth. 😉

And out of that relationship, I bought a two-person tent. The Kelty Zen. We had planned to walk a long trail together and needed a two-person tent. It was on clearance  for $110 ( $150 in 2013 dollars) and it was a good bargain.

Alas, the relationship ended not long after I bought the tent.  I have since moved to Colorado, hiked other long trails, started a career and have married. What seemed traumatic at 25 now seems just a part of life at 40.

But I still have the tent.

And it is still used.

Heavy by today’s cottage-gear standards, but at 4lbs 12oz, a light-weight tent when many people are still lugging in REI-type tents for a weekend jaunt that are easily 6+ pounds.

The Kelty Zen was a near identical clone of the classic Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight. ( As an aside, both companies have American Recreation as their parent company currently). A lighter version of the Clip Flashlight is still made today. 

This non-freestanding tent is sturdy, weather-proof and has a relatively small profile for shedding wind.  Easy and quick to set up. The Zen is a tent that I have used in the past fifteen years as a loaner tent fairly frequently (as recently as last week; hence the inspiration for this article) or for car camping.  A little snug for two adults, but  spacious for one.

Overall, a good tent that still has enough place in my gear collection that I will keep it for a while yet.

One of the many friends who borrowed the tent over the years…

Why I still use this gear:  Makes a great loaner tent or a base tent when car camping/attending hiker gatherings/festivals/trail work.

Would I recommend buying this gear? :  Well, besides the fact that this tent is no longer made, I suspect most of us who have transitioned to lightweight gear have a similar tent in our collection. Good to keep for using as a loaner, car camping or festivals.  The lightweight tents made of silnylon or cuben fiber aren’t quite as sturdy and really don’t do as well for base camp type activities in established areas IMO. Keep your similar tent. You’ll probably make use of it as well!

UPDATE: The ALPS Mountaineering Mystique 2  is a very similar tent to the old Kelty Zen. Retails for $220, but I’ve seen it onsale for as little as $120.

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8 years ago

Hello, I have a Kelty Zen Tent with no poles. Any chance you want to sell your poles or have my tent????


Adam Brown
Adam Brown
7 years ago

Do you or have you used a footprint with this tent? I just picked one up used on eBay and wondered if it required any additional footprint? Thanks…

5 years ago

Hi Paul, I was very pleased to find your post and that you still use your Zen. I hope it’s okay if I ask you two questions, especially as you describe your tent as “weatherproof.” 🙂 Like you, I bought my tent on clearance at REI around the same time. I recently started using it again and expected some maintenance stuff. Question 1) Have you ever resealed your rain fly and did you have good luck with this? I went through some big thunderstorms and had some leakage, so I sealed the seams on the inside of the fly, and… Read more »

5 years ago
Reply to  Paul Mags

Thanks very much for your ideas, Paul. I’ll give waterproofing another try and also see if I can get the fly staked out farther. Glad to hear there’s hope. 🙂 Happy trails to you, too.

4 years ago

Hi Paul. So glad to find a fellow Zen user. We pulled ours out after several years of non-use and found the fly is fused together. My guess is the Boy Scout who last used it didn’t fully dry it. Anyway, do you know of anyone who sells replacement flies that would fit the Zen 98.

Jim Austin
Jim Austin
9 months ago

As soon as I saw your Kelty Zen photo, I said to myself: “Nope. That’s a Clip Flashlight!” (The go-to tent for me during the early years, late ’90s, sectioning the AT.) I was delighted to read further down that you acknowledged the Zen being a near-clone of the Clip Flashlight. Mine finally bit the dust, but I still use and often prefer the tent that replaced it–also from the ’90s–the Eureka Zeus Classic. The ultralight alternatives, like my 2P Big Agnes Fly Creek, are just over half the weight but I’ll scrimp weight elsewhere to use the Zeus when… Read more »