TBT Gear: The Kelty Zen

A look at the venerable Kelty Zen tent.

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


Kelty Zen from Da Google image search

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.

Amanda settles in for the winter evening

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.


4 Replies to “TBT Gear: The Kelty Zen”

  1. 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…

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