In choosing the right backpacking tent, you have a wide range of options from minimalist ultralight shelters to inexpensive and heavier entry-level models. Uses and budgets vary, and the ideal tent for beginners and those taking shorter trips differs significantly from thru-hikers counting every ounce. After extensive testing and many nights sleeping under the stars, below we break down the best backpacking tents of 2023. For ease of comparison, we’ve primarily listed two-person models here with other available capacities in the specs. For more background information, see our backpacking tent comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
Our Team's Backpacking Tent Picks
- Best Overall Backpacking Tent: Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2
- Best Combination of Price and Performance: REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+
- Best Budget Backpacking Tent: REI Co-op Trail Hut 2
- Best Ultralight Backpacking Tent: Zpacks Duplex
- Best All-Season Backpacking Tent: MSR Access 2
- Best Backpacking Tent for Families: REI Co-op Trail Hut 4
Best Overall Backpacking Tent
1. Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 ($550)
Packaged weight: 3 lb. 2 oz.
Floor dimensions: 88 x 52/42 in.
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P, 4P
What we like: Best-in-class combination of low weight, generous interior space, and ease of setup.
What we don’t: Pricey and thin materials require extra care.
For a backpacking tent that deftly balances weight, interior space, and features, look no further than Big Agnes’s Copper Spur. This tent helped define the ultralight category and still is going strong many renditions later. In the latest 2-person version, you get a healthy 29 square feet of floor space, solid headroom with pre-bent poles and steep walls, and two doors and vestibules—all at just 3 pounds 2 ounces. It’s much lighter than competitors like the Nemo Dagger below but has few compromises with a spacious and freestanding design. We’ve tested various iterations of the Copper Spur everywhere from Patagonia to Mongolia, and it’s performed flawlessly in conditions ranging from warm nights to heavy rain and wind.
At $550, the Copper Spur HV UL2 is one of the pricier tents in its class, and you’ll want to be careful with the delicate materials (its 15 x 20D floor in particular is quite thin and won’t hold up to wear and tear as well as heavier models below). In addition, while the low weight is worth it for those who get out a lot, recreational backpackers may be better off with a heavier yet more durable design. Nevertheless, the Copper Spur’s quality is impeccable, with substantial zippers, thoughtful interior storage, color-coded grommets, and easy adjustments to really dial in your setup. And for bikers, Big Agnes also makes the Copper Spur HV Bikepack in 1, 2, and 3-person versions, which features shortened poles and rugged compression sacks that attach to a bike frame in multiple configurations... Read in-depth review
See the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2
Best Combination of Price and Performance
2. REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+ ($329)
Packaged weight: 4 lb. 11.5 oz.
Floor dimensions: 90 x 54 in.
Capacities: 2+, 3+
What we like: A well-built tent with tons of room at a good price.
What we don’t: Relatively heavy and only comes in “plus” sizes.
If you’re looking for the right combination of performance and price, it’s hard to beat REI’s iconic Half Dome. This tent has gone through multiple iterations over the years, and the most recent SL (“superlight”) is one of the most balanced offerings yet. For $329, the SL is well built, easy to set up and take down, relatively durable with a 40-denier floor, and has ample mesh for stargazing and ventilation. Yes, you can save with the cheaper REI Trail Hut below, but there are real tradeoffs in terms of interior space, weight, and packed size. All told, we think the Half Dome is a great value for what you get and should keep many backpackers happy—it’s the tent we recommend most to family and friends.
For more than $200 less than the top-rated Copper Spur, the Half Dome SL offers a bump in durability, and its generous dimensions make it a very roomy tent for two. But you can’t have it all, and in the case of the SL, the big compromise comes in terms of weight and bulk. At over a pound and a half heavier than the Copper Spur, “superlight” is a bit of a misnomer, although you can drop about 8 ounces by leaving the included footprint behind (the Big Agnes does not come with a footprint). Despite the nitpicks, we think the Half Dome SL is in a class of its own among value options, making it a reasonable choice for avid backpackers and beginners alike... Read in-depth review
See the REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+
Best Budget Backpacking Tent
3. REI Co-op Trail Hut 2 ($199)
Packaged weight: 5 lb. 15 oz.
Floor dimensions: 88 x 52 in.
Capacities: 2P, 4P
What we like: Inexpensive, tough, and features a headroom-boosting ridge pole.
What we don’t: Not as modern-feeling or spacious as the Half Dome above.
Let’s be honest: A fair share of us are casual, fair-weather backpackers who make our way into the backcountry for just a weekend or two each summer. If this sounds like you, a budget pick like REI’s tried-and-true Trail Hut 2 is a great choice. For just $199, you get a durable tent (its 66D and 68D materials are much tougher than the lighter-weight options here) that features a door and vestibule on each side, full-coverage rainfly, and ridge pole for increased headroom. Throughout our testing (we even took the tent to Southern Patagonia), we’ve been very impressed with its high-quality and confidence-inspiring feel. The sub-$200 category is dwindling as inflation causes tent prices to rise, but the Trail Hut 2 continues to hold down the fort with a winning formula that few tents match.
What do you sacrifice by going with the REI Trail Hut? At almost 6 pounds (that includes the footprint), it will add significant weight and bulk to your pack, which is not ideal for those covering long distances over multiple days in the backcountry. In addition, you get standard aluminum rather than DAC poles, which are generally less premium and don’t come pre-bent like many high-end designs (this helps to boost interior space). But we can’t help but love the low price of REI’s budget model, which makes it a great pick for shorter trips and most casual backpackers. It’s also worth noting REI’s even cheaper Trailmade 2 ($179), but its quality and livability are noticeably more compromised for a mere $20 savings... Read in-depth review
See the REI Co-op Trail Hut 2
Best Ultralight Backpacking Tent
4. Zpacks Duplex ($669)
Packaged weight: 1 lb. 2.5 oz. (trekking pole-supported)
Floor dimensions: 90 x 45 in.
Capacities: 1P, 1+P, 2P, 2+P, 3P
What we like: Extraordinarily light; Dyneema doesn't sag and won't ever lose its waterproof properties.
What we don’t: Expensive, limited headroom, and setup can be challenging.
A number of leading ultralight tents are built with Dyneema—the high-tech fabric praised for its hydrophobic nature, sag resistance, and stellar strength-to-weight ratio—and the Zpacks Duplex is best in class. With an incredibly low all-in weight of just 1 pound 2.5 ounces (not including stakes), it’s by far the lightest tent here, yet still sleeps two and includes a bathtub floor for protection from the elements. In use, we found the Zpacks to feel decently roomy for its weight with a 48-inch peak height, and you can adjust the dimensions fairly easily depending on the campsite and conditions. In the end, no ultralight tent is perfect, but the Duplex is a high-quality option that has been relied upon by serious thru-hikers for years.
What are the shortcomings of the Zpacks Duplex? We’ve had no issues with water entering the tent—even while camping in snow—but the mesh sides and thin materials definitely can make it feel drafty in certain conditions. Second, with a trekking pole design you don’t get the steep walls of tents like the Copper Spur above, making the Zpacks a cramped (but still feasible) option for two. And third, setting up the tent is more complicated than with a freestanding model, so we recommend practicing before heading out to make sure you know how to get a taut, even pitch. Last but not least, $669 is a big investment for a small tent, but for the right person the weight-savings are well worth it. It’s worth noting that Zpacks offers the Duplex in two different fabric weights, the .55 ounce-per-square-yard version here, and a more durable .75 model ($699)... Read in-depth review
See the Zpacks Duplex
Best All-Season Backpacking Tent
5. MSR Access 2 ($800)
Packaged weight: 4 lb. 1 oz.
Floor dimensions: 84 x 50 in.
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P
What we like: Lightweight yet much burlier than a standard 3-season tent.
What we don’t: Expensive; solid walls impact breathability in mild conditions.
The majority of backpacking tents are of the lightweight, 3-season variety, but if you anticipate getting out in tougher conditions, you may want to step up your protection. Slotting just below a full-on winter-ready design is MSR’s Access 2. With a sturdy structure, durable poles, and considerably less mesh than its warmer-weather counterparts, the Access is built to handle driving wind, rain, and snow. Importantly, you still get two doors and vestibules and a decently roomy, non-tapered floor area for just 4 pounds 1 ounce, which is a truly impressive feat. For backcountry ski trips or spring mountaineering when you need a step up from a standard backpacking tent, the Access is well worth a closer look.
Our biggest gripe with the Access is that it’s not particularly versatile for mild conditions—with very little mesh in the tent body, it’ll overheat quickly unless you’re mindful to keep doors and vents open at night. And at $800, it’s surprisingly pricey. In terms of other tents that fit a similar designation, the Hilleberg Nallo below is an impressively tough option (compare its 70D floor to the MSR’s 30D), but offers less interior space, is less breathable due to its thicker materials, and is over a pound heavier than the Access at 5 pounds 5 ounces. Additionally, Big Agnes makes a beefed-up Expedition version of its popular Copper Spur, we’ve had good luck with the Nemo Kunai over the years, and REI offers the Arete ASL for a reasonable $449. These are all worthy tents for intrepid backpackers headed out year-round, but the Access meets a particularly nice balance of weight, price, and performance.
See the MSR Access 2
Best Backpacking Tent for Families
6. REI Co-op Trail Hut 4 ($299)
Packaged weight: 8 lb. 1.6 oz.
Floor dimensions: 90 x 88 in.
Capacities: 2P, 4P
What we like: A spacious four-person tent with a ridge pole for extra headroom.
What we don’t: Not the most lightweight 4P option.
Most of the tents here are designed to fit two sleepers—we do this both for comparison’s sake and because two-person designs are the most common and versatile size among backpackers. But if you’re traveling with children, want to mix in some car camping, or are willing to bear the extra burden for a roomier shelter, a four-person tent is a great solution. Within this category, the Trail Hut 4 is our favorite model: For just $299, you get sufficient room for four side-by-side sleeping pads, two doors and vestibules, and a generous 48-inch peak height. And unlike the 90’s-era REI tent that we spent countless nights in as a kid, the Trail Hut here is decidedly modern with a center ridge pole to increase headroom throughout.
But at 8 pounds 1.6 ounces, the Trail Hut 4 is undeniably heavy and bulky for human-powered travel, even when divided between two backpacks. There are certainly lighter four-person designs on the market, including the 5-pound-11-ounce Copper Spur 4P, but expect tradeoffs in terms of price ($800 for the Copper Spur) and durability. On the other hand, opting for two two-person tents will give you more room overall (including vestibule space) and can result in a better night’s sleep for everyone, albeit with increases in both weight and cost. Given that the majority of family trips are of the casual variety, we think the Trail Hut 4 is the best overall solution for most groups of three or four. And all specs aside, we wouldn’t trade anything for the memories of waiting out a high-country storm with the whole family, complete with a deck of cards and a good book.
See the REI Co-op Trail Hut 4
Best of the Rest
7. MSR Hubba Hubba 2P ($550)
Packaged weight: 3 lb. 4 oz.
Floor dimensions: 84 x 50 in.
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P
What we like: Lightweight and livable with excellent weather protection.
What we don’t: Less overall headroom than the Copper Spur; solid walls result in less ventilation.
One of the most well-rounded backpacking tents on the market for years running, MSR’s Hubba Hubba offers exceptional livability and weather protection in a durable, lightweight package. Revamped last year, the newest version shaves a considerable amount of weight (10 oz.) off of the outgoing model with the use of thinner materials, but the overall design remains the same. A non-tapered floor plan, 40-inch peak height, and near-vertical walls offer excellent interior space, and you get great weather resistance with a long-lasting waterproof coating on the fly and a hubbed pole design for stability in high winds. Checking in at just 3 pounds 4 ounces, our takeaway is that it’s the best Hubba Hubba yet.
How does the Hubba Hubba measure up to our top-ranked Copper Spur? The Big Agnes is 4 inches longer and 2 inches wider at the head, and the steep walls and non-symmetrical pole structure create an impressive amount of headroom at one end. On the flip side, the MSR’s non-tapered build offers more width throughout, which means you have the option of sleeping head-to-toe with your tentmate. Another factor to consider is the Hubba Hubba’s solid tent walls (the Copper Spur is more mesh-heavy), which will be better in high winds but result in less ventilation overall. Finally, both tents use relatively similar materials—the MSR’s floor is 20D versus the Big Agnes’ 15 x 20D—but there have been several complaints with the latest Hubba Hubba’s durability, including reports of the carbon fiber poles splintering (we didn’t experience this during testing). In the end, the Copper Spur maintains the top spot due to its unparalleled ventilation, livability, and reliability, but the slightly more weather-worthy Hubba Hubba is hot on its heels... Read in-depth review
See the MSR Hubba Hubba 2P
8. Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL3 Solution Dye ($500)
Packaged weight: 2 lb. 15 oz.
Floor dimensions: 88 x 66/60 in.
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P
What we like: Lightweight yet still roomy.
What we don’t: Semi-freestanding design is a bit more difficult to pitch.
If you’re traveling as a pair, a two-person tent is your best bet for streamlining weight and bulk. But if you’ve ever been tent-bound in a storm before, you know: The walls can start closing in quickly. The good news is that with advancements in fabric technology and tent design, it’s possible to bump to a more spacious shelter without dramatically increasing your load. Big Agnes’ Tiger Wall UL3 is one of our favorite three-person tents thanks to its low weight—for under 3 pounds, it’s a very roomy shelter for two, with space still left over for a child, a canine, or gear. If you’re traveling in inclement weather, with a smaller third companion, or just like the idea of some extra room (without a crazy weight penalty), it’s as good an option as any.
The Tiger Wall keeps weight down with a semi-freestanding design, which does come with some disadvantages. We’ve found it particularly difficult to get a taut pitch when camping on rock, and the tent simply isn’t as weather-worthy as a freestanding design like the Copper Spur above. But you do get two doors and two vestibules, and a large ridge pole across the center offers a great boost in headroom. In terms of materials, the Tiger Wall’s silicone-coated nylon is impressively strong (although it’s still thin and requires gentle treatment), and we like that Big Agnes has turned to fade-resistant solution-dyed fabrics in order to reduce their environmental footprint. Finally, keep in mind that you can shave even more weight by opting for the Tiger Wall 2 Platinum ($650, 2 lb. 11 oz.) or Carbon ($2,000, 2 lb. 1 oz.) which feature the same design but with even lighter materials... Read in-depth review
See the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL3 Solution Dye
9. Nemo Dagger OSMO 2P ($530)
Packaged weight: 4 lb. 2 oz.
Floor dimensions: 90 x 50 in.
Capacities: 2P, 3P
What we like: Roomier than most 2-person backpacking tents and easy to set up.
What we don’t: Relatively heavy; ventilation and weather protection could be a little better.
For weight-conscious backpackers who don’t want to compromise on livability and durability, the Nemo Dagger OSMO is a great option. At 4 pounds 2 ounces for the two-person version, this tent is roomy, relatively lightweight and durable, and packed with features. You get two large doors, two spacious vestibules for storing gear, and a generous interior that’s a few inches longer than most of the competition (and a half-foot longer than the Hubba Hubba above). And like the MSR, the floor of the Dagger OSMO is symmetrical as opposed to tapered toward the feet, making it possible for two people to sleep in opposite directions (head to toe) for more shoulder room.
Revamped last season, the big news with the latest Dagger is the use of Nemo’s OSMO fabric, which is intended to boost water resistance and reduce sagging, all while eliminating the use of harmful chemicals in production. It’s great news in terms of weather protection and sustainability, but with a 4-ounce weight increase, the Dagger OSMO is now considerably heavier than tents like the Copper Spur (3 lb. 2 oz.) and Hubba Hubba (3 lb. 4 oz.). Further, its design falls short in a few other ways: The small openings at the doors don’t dump condensation as well as the MSR’s large vents at each end, and the fly doesn’t extend all the way to the ground at the head and foot. But the Dagger OSMO is unparalleled in terms of interior space, making it especially well-suited for taller hikers or those who want a bit more room... Read in-depth review
See the Nemo Dagger OSMO 2P
10. Tarptent Double Rainbow ($319)
Packaged weight: 2 lb. 10 oz.
Floor dimensions: 88 x 50 in.
Capacities: 1P, 2P
What we like: A fairly uncompromised design that’s still affordable and lightweight.
What we don’t: Not freestanding and seam sealing costs extra.
California-based cottage brand Tarptent isn’t a household name yet, but the company offers an inspiring ultralight lineup at reasonable price points. The Double Rainbow is our favorite model, featuring a unique single-wall design that keeps weight in check while still maintaining impressive livability. For just 2 pounds 10 ounces, you get a 30-denier floor (15D is standard in UL tents), a generous and symmetrical floor plan that easily fits two sleepers (30.6 sq. in. compared to the Tiger Wall’s 28 sq. in.), and two doors and vestibules. Priced at just $319, it’s no wonder that the Double Rainbow is one of the most popular cottage designs among ultralighters and thru-hikers this year.
The Tarptent’s hybrid single-wall construction means setup is a breeze: you simply thread the main pole through a sleeve in the rainfly and stake everything out (the “tent body” is made of mesh and hangs from the bottom of the rainfly). This is particularly nice in wet conditions, as there’s no moment during the setup process when the inside of the tent is exposed to rain. It’s important to keep in mind that the Double Rainbow is a non-freestanding design, which means you’ll need soft ground or good anchors to get a good pitch (alternatively, you can convert it to freestanding with trekking poles). Finally, it does not come seam-sealed, but it’s a fairly simple DIY process or you can add it onto your order for $35. And a final note: Tarptent also makes the Double Rainbow Li ($724), a Dyneema version of the tent here that competes with the Zpacks Duplex above... Read in-depth review
See the Tarptent Double Rainbow
11. Nemo Hornet Elite OSMO 2P ($650)
Packaged weight: 2 lb. 1 oz.
Floor dimensions: 85 x 50/42 in.
Capacities: 1P, 2P
What we like: Incredibly lightweight without sacrificing the two-door, two-vestibule design.
What we don’t: Thin fabric requires extra care; floor plan is very tight for two.
For the cream of the crop in ultralight tents, look no further than the Nemo Hornet Elite. At just 2 pounds 1 ounce for the two-person model, this semi-freestanding tent is just about as light as you can go without dipping into the trekking-pole shelter market. And thanks to the use of Nemo’s thin yet durable OSMO material and features like their headroom-increasing “Flybar” pole clip, it’s impressively functional and spacious, too. We love the Hornet Elite’s two-door and two-vestibule design, and creative storage solutions offer organization for you and your tentmate’s headlamps, phones, backpacks, and more. Further, Nemo uses ripstop nylon (rather than mesh) at the head of the tent, which translates to increased protection in windy conditions (some ultralight tent bodies are fully mesh). Ounce for ounce, the Hornet Elite is one of the most livable and premium options in its weight class, making it an ideal choice for serious thru-hikers and ultralight backpackers.
But while the Hornet Elite is arguably the best semi-freestanding tent on the market, its ultralight build still has a host of limitations. Nemo doesn’t list a thickness for the fabric, but we’d place it around 10-denier for the fly and floor, which is undeniably thin. What’s more, the Elite’s tapered and streamlined floor plan is a very snug place for two people, and weather protection is slightly compromised with just a partial rainfly at the head (meant to increase ventilation). But if you choose your campsites wisely (don’t pitch the Hornet Elite on top of sharp rocks or sticks) and aren’t opposed to cozying up with your tentmate, the Nemo is a remarkable 2-pound shelter. For those willing to suffer a slight weight penalty, the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 offers a bump in headroom and better weather protection via its full-length fly ($450; 2 lb. 8 oz.).
See the Nemo Hornet Elite OSMO 2P
12. Sea to Summit Telos TR 2 ($599)
Packaged weight: 3 lb. 10.7 oz.
Floor dimensions: 84 x 53/43 in.
Capacities: 2P, 3P
What we like: Tension Ridge maximizes livable space and ventilation.
What we don’t: Water can pool in the fly’s concavities and drip in through the vents.
Australia-based Sea to Summit is a reliable go-to for outdoor gear, but 2021 marked their first foray into backpacking tents. And they entered the competitive market with a bang, unveiling two models: the semi-freestanding Alto TR and the all-around Telos TR featured here (a new, more budget-friendly Ikos TR was released for 2023). The headliner is the unique Tension Ridge, which gently bends the ridge pole upward at each end rather than the more common downward-sloping design (concave vs. convex). It’s a small tweak in construction with a significant effect, resulting in taller doors, increased livable space, and better airflow (the vent naturally remains agape at the apex rather than drooping closed). Tack on a number of creative extras—including a snap-on “Lightbar” headlamp diffuser and a versatile fly that sets up in multiple configurations—and it’s safe to say that Sea to Summit has made one heckuva debut.
The Telos TR2 takes direct aim at the Copper Spur HV UL2 above: both are freestanding tents that feature thin fabrics, tapered footprints, and two doors and vestibules. The Copper Spur is $49 less and gets the edge in terms of weight and floor dimensions, with a half-pound lighter build and 3.5 more inches length. That said, it’s a close call in terms of livability: The Telos’ generous 42.5-inch peak height and ridge-pole design makes for a very spacious interior (the Big Agnes’ peak height is 39 in.). But we should note that the Sea to Summit has a flaw in wet weather: During our testing in a torrential downpour, rain pooled in the concavities of the fly and slowly dripped into the tent through the vent opening. But most tents need to go through a few iterations before reaching perfection, and we really like the direction the Telos is headed... Read in-depth review
See the Sea to Summit Telos TR 2
13. Nemo Aurora 2P ($300)
Packaged weight: 5 lb. 7 oz.
Floor dimensions: 88 x 52 in.
Capacities: 2P, 3P
What we like: Eye-catching design and steep walls at a good price.
What we don’t: Not as roomy or lightweight as the REI Half Dome SL above.
For backpackers who care more about saving money than ounces, Nemo’s Aurora is an interesting addition to the market. And it’s not all pinching pennies here: The Aurora is impressively livable with two oversized doors, near-vertical walls, and a full-coverage fly with built-in vents. The symmetrical design and Nemo’s intuitive hardware make setup easy, and thoughtful internal storage is great for staying organized at camp. All in all, we’ve found that Nemo tents consistently are high quality and offer a nice balance of thoughtful features, and the Aurora falls right in line.
Priced at just $300 (with an included footprint), the Aurora is a strong budget pick and gives the REI Half Dome SL above a run for its money. You save $29 with the Nemo and get more durable materials (68D vs. 40D for the floor), but the REI is over 11 ounces lighter and more spacious with an additional 2 inches in both the length and the width (although the Aurora’s peak height is 2 in. taller). Weight-conscious hikers will likely opt for the Half Dome, but the Aurora is still a durable and affordable choice. And for more space, you can bump up to the Aurora 3P (88 x 72 in.) for $360.
See the Nemo Aurora 2P
14. Durston X-Mid 2 ($300)
Packaged weight: 2 lb. 7.4 oz. (trekking pole-supported)
Floor dimensions: 92 x 52 in.
Capacities: 1P, 2P
What we like: A highly engineered, double-wall trekking-pole shelter for just $300.
What we don’t: Heavier and not as long-term waterproof as the Dyneema Zpacks above.
A lot goes into making a solid tent at a low weight, so ultralight price tags can be fairly steep compared to standard backpacking tents (as evidenced by the Nemo Hornet Elite and Zpacks Duplex above). It’s for this reason that the Durston X-Mid is such a surprising entry. Like many trekking-pole shelters, the X-Mid 2 is well built, stormworthy, roomy, and checks in for less than 2.5 pounds. But at just $300, it’s less than half the price of many tents in its weight class. Importantly, there’s nothing about the X-Mid that is cheap: It features a double-wall build, which does a lot to boost ventilation (a rarity among trekking-pole shelters), polyester fly that doesn’t sag when wet, and innovative parallelogram shape that ensures that the doorways aren’t blocked by poles. If you’re looking to go light on a budget, the X-Mid 2 is a high-quality option.
So how does Durston manage to make the X-Mid at such a low price point? In short: with compromises that will be fairly minor for most, but might add up for serious users. The X-Mid is over a pound heavier than the Duplex above, which could be a deal breaker for thru-hikers set on a low base weight. What’s more, the sil/PEU polyester fly will gradually lose its waterproofing over time, while Dyneema is naturally hydrophobic. And for just $19 (and 2.6 oz.) more, the Tarptent Double Rainbow above offers a more user-friendly setup with standard tent poles, although the Durston is a better ventilated and more spacious design (and once you get the hang of the trekking-pole setup, it’s a breeze). For UL hikers looking for a very high quality budget tent, it’s truly hard to beat. If you venture out solo, you can save even more with the X-Mid 1 ($240).
See the Durston X-Mid 2
15. SlingFin Portal 2 ($540)
Packaged weight: 3 lb. 5 oz.
Floor dimensions: 85 x 51/42 in.
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P
What we like: A lightweight 3-season tent with a number of unique and noteworthy features.
What we don’t: All-mesh body is vulnerable to the elements; not as weather-worthy as we were hoping.
SlingFin might not be a household name, but don’t be fooled: This company knows how to make a serious tent. Established by the original Mountain Hardwear tent designer (also a former TNF and Sierra Designs designer), SlingFin is employee-owned and self-describes as “small, lean, and scrappy,” specializing in high-quality tents with no constraints. The Portal is their most popular and lightest freestanding design, alleged to handle rough weather with more ease than most 3-season tents. SlingFin accomplishes this feat by way of internal guylines, a plethora of exterior guy-out points, secure connections between the fly and poles, and attachments that allow you to reinforce the structure with trekking poles. And as a nice touch, the Portal also features pre-installed spare zipper sliders on both doors, which quickly extends the life of the tent (and makes in-the-field repairs easy).
We brought the Portal 2 backpacking in Patagonia, thinking the windy environment would be an excellent testing ground for a tent that claims to be between 3- and 4-season categories. Unfortunately, we faced conditions that were unfair for almost any tent, and spent a night with the Portal collapsed on top of us, bivy-sack style (we did not set it up with trekking pole reinforcements, which would certainly have helped). It is worth noting, however, that the SlingFin didn't fare as well as other tents we had with us that night, including the much heavier Sea to Summit Ikos (we suspect some of this is due to the Portal's lighter poles and predominantly mesh upper). In the end, the Portal 2 is a great 3-season tent with a premium fit and finish (it falls in the same category as models like the Copper Spur and Dagger above), but we just can’t get behind SlingFin’s strong claims regarding its weather resistance.
See the SlingFin Portal 2
16. Hilleberg Nallo 2 ($855)
Packaged weight: 5 lb. 5 oz.
Floor dimensions: 86 x 43 in.
Capacities: 2P, 3P, 4P
What we like: An absolute tank in high winds.
What we don’t: Expensive and overkill for mild conditions.
For hitting the backcountry in winter or even treks in inhospitable places like Nepal or Peru, you’ll most likely want a step up in toughness and warmth from the 3-season tents that dominate this list. Enter Hilleberg’s fantastic Nallo (Hilleberg describes it as “all-season” and they don’t use that designation lightly). With a tunnel-like shape as opposed to a traditional dome layout, the Nallo excels in strong gusts and heavy precipitation. Just face either end of the tent in the direction of the wind, batten down the hatches with the many guylines, and sleep in relative peace. We used the Nallo in some brutal weather above the Arctic Circle and came away extremely impressed with its toughness.
The Achilles' heel of the Nallo is breathability. If you’re backpacking in warm conditions, it struggles to ventilate and can build up serious condensation on the inner walls. It’s for this reason that we’re such big fans of the Nemo Kunai (not listed here due to lack of availability), which has canopy walls that unzip to reveal breathable mesh. Other downsides include the Nallo’s steep price and hefty build, which is over a pound heavier than the MSR Access above. What's more, the Hilleberg features just one door and vestibule—if you want a step up in convenience, check out their Allak 2 instead. There’s no denying that Hilleberg tents are expensive, but their ridiculously high quality and stalwart weather protection make them top choices for guides, avid explorers, and those headed into inclement conditions.
See the Hilleberg Nallo 2
17. Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 Solution Dye ($400)
Packaged weight: 2 lb. 4 oz.
Floor dimensions: 86 x 52/42 in.
Capacities: 1P, 2P
What we like: Ridiculously lightweight for a semi-freestanding tent.
What we don’t: Just one door and vestibule and terrible in high winds.
Fast and light hikers love the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL—the two-person version weighs in at a measly 2 pounds 4 ounces, which is comparable to a decent bivy sack or hammock. This feathery-light weight is accomplished with a single door at the head end, an interior that tapers aggressively towards your feet, and a hubbed pole that runs the length of the tent in a spine-like shape. The tent and rainfly fabrics are also impressively strong despite being so thin they’re semi-see-through, and with a recent update are now solution-dyed, which means they’re less prone to fading (notably, this process also reduces energy and water waste during manufacturing).
It's important to be aware that the Fly Creek won’t offer the same protection from the elements as a sturdier design like the MSR Hubba Hubba above. The rainfly is prone to sagging onto the tent body (guying it out thoroughly will help alleviate this issue), and the fairly simple pole structure means the tent collapses inward during heavy winds. What’s more, the all-mesh body is vulnerable to drafts and does a poor job keeping out flying dirt and sand. In the end, we think the Tiger Wall and Nemo Hornet Elite are the better all-around UL choices for parties of two, both of which utilize two-door-and-vestibule layouts for just a few ounces more... Read in-depth review
See the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 Solution Dye
18. Marmot Tungsten 2P ($249)
Packaged weight: 5 lb. 4 oz.
Floor dimensions: 88 x 54/46 in.
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P, 4P
What we like: A nice hybrid backpacking/car-camping option.
What we don’t: Heavier and less spacious than the Half Dome SL above.
REI’s Trail Hut above isn't the only good values on the market. At a budget-friendly price of $249, the recently updated Marmot Tungsten has a similar three-season build with durable fabrics and all the features that most weekend backpackers need. The tent has two doors and vestibules, weighs in at a respectable 5 pounds 4 ounces, and offers a roomy 32 square feet of floor space. We also like the mix of solid nylon and mesh on the tent body, which provides both good ventilation alongside privacy and weather protection. And whereas the Half Dome SL above has a 40-denier floor and 30-denier fly, the Tungsten ups the ante with 70- and 68-denier fabrics in the floor and fly, respectively.
All things considered, we like the Marmot Tungsten and it makes a nice hybrid backpacking and car camping option. One downside is the tent’s packed size, which is large enough to make it difficult to squeeze into a backpack (it’s much easier to divide up the load between two people). And although it’s more expensive at $329, the REI Half Dome SL 2+ weighs over 8 ounces less than the Tungsten yet offers considerably more floor area and vestibule space. But the Tungsten is nevertheless a solid option for penny pinchers, and we like that the newest version features solution-dyed fabric, which reduces energy and water waste during manufacturing. Marmot also offers the 2-person tent in a lightweight version (the Tungsten UL, for $379), which uses substantially thinner materials to trim away nearly 2 pounds from the standard model.
See the Marmot Tungsten 2P
19. The North Face Stormbreak 2 ($185)
Packaged weight: 5 lb. 14 oz.
Floor dimensions: 87 x 50 in.
Capacities: 2P, 3P
What we like: Great price and feature set.
What we don’t: Heavy and no rainfly vents.
The North Face makes a lot of high-performance tents for expedition use, but their casual lineup also has a lot to offer. For just $185 at full retail price, the Stormbreak 2 is a great value in a two-person backpacking tent. All the intangibles are there: The Stormbreak is roomy with a full 50 inches of non-tapered width, offers good weather protection with a full-length fly, and has two large doors and vestibules for storing your gear at night. In terms of durability, the TNF uses a burly 75-denier canopy and 68-denier floor, which means it should last you years to come. All in all, that’s a lot of bang for your buck.
What are the downsides of The North Face’s Stormbreak 2? With a packaged weight of 5 pounds 14 ounces, it’s one of the heaviest two-person tents on this list, although most of the competition is literally hundreds of dollars more expensive. And given the low cost, the fabrics and poles feel cheaper than mid-range and premium models. It’s also important to note that the Stormbreak’s fly does not feature any venting, which means it could overheat quickly in a storm (on a dry night, you can open up your vestibule doors for airflow). The price is right, but we’ll always point you first to REI’s in-house collection for the best value.
See The North Face Stormbreak 2
Backpacking Tent Comparison Table
|Tent||Price||Category||Weight||Floor Dimensions||Floor Denier||Capacities|
|Big Agnes Copper Spur||$550||All-around||3 lb. 2 oz.||88 x 52/42 in.||15Dx20D||1P, 2P, 3P, 4P|
|REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+||$329||All-around/budget||4 lb. 12 oz.||90 x 54 in.||40D||2+P, 3+P|
|REI Co-op Trail Hut 2||$199||Budget||5 lb. 15 oz.||88 x 52 in.||66D||2P, 4P|
|Zpacks Duplex||$669||Ultralight||1 lb. 2.5 oz.||90 x 45 in.||1 oz/sqyd||1P, 2P, 3P|
|MSR Access 2||$800||All-season||4 lb. 1 oz.||84 x 50 in.||30D||1P, 2P, 3P|
|REI Co-op Trail Hut 4||$299||All-around||8 lb. 1.6 oz.||90 x 88 in.||66D||2P, 4P|
|MSR Hubba Hubba 2P||$550||All-around||3 lb. 4 oz.||84 x 50 in.||20D||1P, 2P, 3P|
|Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL3||$500||Ultralight||2 lb. 15 oz.||86 x 66/60 in.||15D||1P, 2P, 3P|
|Nemo Dagger OSMO 2P||$530||All-around||4 lb. 2 oz.||90 x 50 in.||Unavail.||2P, 3P|
|Tarptent Double Rainbow||$319||Ultralight||2 lb. 10 oz.||88 x 50 in.||30D||1P, 2P|
|Nemo Hornet Elite OSMO 2P||$650||Ultralight||2 lb. 1 oz.||85 x 50/42 in.||Unavail.||1P, 2P|
|Sea to Summit Telos TR 2||$599||All-around||3 lb. 11 oz.||84 x 53/43 in.||20D||2P, 3P|
|Nemo Aurora 2P||$300||Budget||5 lb. 7 oz.||88 x 52 in.||68D||2P, 3P|
|Durston X-Mid 2||$300||Ultralight/budget||2 lb. 7.4 oz.||92 x 52 in.||20D||1P, 2P|
|SlingFin Portal 2||$540||All-around||3 lb. 5 oz.||85 x 51/42 in.||20D||1P, 2P, 3P|
|Hilleberg Nallo 2||$855||All-season||5 lb. 5 oz.||86 x 43 in.||70D||2P, 3P, 4P|
|Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2||$400||Ultralight||2 lb. 4 oz.||86 x 52/42 in.||20D||1P, 2P|
|Marmot Tungsten 2P||$249||Budget||5 lb. 4 oz.||88 x 54/46 in.||68D||1P, 2P, 3P, 4P|
|TNF Stormbreak 2||$185||Budget||5 lb. 14 oz.||87 x 50 in.||68D||1P, 2P, 3P|
*Editor's Note: "Weight" refers to the packaged weight of each tent, with the exception of trekking pole-supported models.
Backpacking Tent Buying Advice
- Backpacking Tent Categories
- Backpacking Tent Weight
- Interior Space
- Fabric Durability (Denier)
- Weather Protection
- Storage: Vestibules and Interior Pockets
- Set up and Take Down
- Freestanding vs. Non-Freestanding Tents
- Tent Poles and Stakes
- Backpacking Tent Capacities
- Do You Need a Footprint?
- Price and Value
Backpacking Tent Categories
There are as many styles of backpacking tents as there are backpackers, from streamlined thru-hiking-inspired designs to durable and comfortable classics. It follows that when deciding on a tent, you’ll first want to think about what backpacking looks like for you. Are you someone who gets out every weekend of the summer, or just a few days a year? Do you like to travel fast and light or prioritize comfort and durability? How much space do you need? Below we break the field down into four separate categories: all-around, budget, ultralight, and all-season.
Backpacking tents in our all-around category are the core of the market. These tents offer the best combination of livability and weight-savings, checking in around 3 to 4 pounds (for a 2P model) and featuring complex pole structures that result in steep walls and generous interior space. Their design also translates to impressive stability in high winds and great wet-weather protection. Further, most all-around tents feature two doors and two vestibules, which adds a great deal of convenience and storage. But there are a few caveats: These tents are expensive (our top-ranked Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 is $550) and aren't particularly durable, with relatively thin fabrics and zippers. Finally, although all-around tents are very doable for two sleepers, you’ll often find larger floor plans in our budget category. But for class-leading performance, tents in our all-around category are our top choice for most.
If you’re new to backpacking or only get out a few times a year, it’s worth taking a look at a budget tent. Most of these designs have an MSRP of less than $350 and are defined by their thicker fabrics, simple pole structures, and heavier builds. Comfort is high, with spacious floor plans that don't compromise for weight-savings, two doors and two vestibules, and lots of storage. And with considerably more durable fabrics, they can withstand much more use and abuse, which is good news for those who don’t want to spend too much time taking care of their gear. It's true that budget tents lack the fancy architecture and low weights of more expensive tents here, but in our opinion they're all beginners need and nothing they don’t. From our list above, the REI Co-op Trail Hut 2 is our favorite budget tent, and you can bump up to the Half Dome SL 2+ for an impressive mix of price and performance.
Weight-conscious thru-hikers have relied on bare-bones shelters for a long time, but only recently has the ultralight craze hit mainstream backpacking. The number one consideration here is keeping weight to a minimum (3 pounds or less), which ultralight tents do by way of thin fabrics and zippers, tapered floor areas, heavily sloped ceilings, fewer doors, smaller vestibules, and simplified pole structures. Further, the majority are non-freestanding and semi-freestanding, meaning they must be staked out in order to hold their shape. Unsurprisingly, there are a fair share of potential tradeoffs with tents in this category: They suffer in terms of weather protection (we’ve had particularly bad luck with the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 in high winds), require a lot of extra care, and can be fairly cramped quarters for two. Further, you'll spend up to drop weight: Most ultralight tents are $400 or more, and Dyneema tents like the 1-pound 2.5-ounce Zpacks Duplex will run you up to $699.
But we’re big believers that ultralight gear can be taken too far, which is what happens (in our opinion) when tent floor fabrics drop below 15 denier (as is the case with the Big Agnes Tiger Wall Platinum’s 7D floor) or when you wake up with a tent wall stuck to your face (a real life experience we had with the Six Moon Designs’ Lunar Solo). We certainly understand the appeal for thru-hikers and serious backpackers, and in the right environments the compromises can be minimal. But for most recreational backpackers, the weight-savings probably isn’t worth it. Most of the time, you can get a whole lot of comfort and convenience (not to mention, a longer lifespan) by bumping up to a tent that’s just one pound heavier (at just over 3 lb., the Big Agnes Copper Spur is fairly uncompromised). For this reason, we feature a few ultralight tents here and are sure to call out their weaknesses in the write-ups above. For a deeper dive on this topic, see our article: Backpacking Tents: How Light is Too Light?
We’ve included a few all-season tents on this list to provide a complete view of the backpacking market, including the MSR Access and Hilleberg Nallo. These tents offer more protection than your standard 3-season tent without being quite as bulky or expensive as a 4-season tent. Whereas most 3-season designs are fairly mesh-heavy, all-season tents use mostly nylon walls for better warmth and wind protection. You also get sturdier pole structures, which adds a bit of weight but is worth it when the weather turns. You can expect higher price tags and increased weights in this category, but all-season tents are nevertheless our top pick for backpacking in areas like Peru, Nepal, or Alaska. And if weight isn't your top priority, you can always bump up to a 3-person version for more space.
Backpacking Tent Weight
A backpacking tent is one of the heaviest and bulkiest items you’ll pack for an overnight trip, but the good news is that modern designs are lighter than ever. The 2-person tents on our list range from 1 pound 2.5 ounces for the non-freestanding Zpacks Duplex to 5 pounds 15 ounces for the budget REI Co-op Trail Hut 2, with popular models like the MSR Hubba Hubba and Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 settling somewhere in the 3-pound range. In general, you can expect budget tents to be the heaviest, followed by all-season, all-around, and ultralight. As is the case with most outdoor gear, shaving weight from a tent design will result in some tradeoff, often in the form of compromised durability, interior space, weather protection, or ventilation (not to mention a higher price tag). In the end, it helps to be mindful of your priorities when making your tent purchase.
Packaged Weight vs. Trail Weight
When researching tent weight, you’ll commonly see manufacturers and retailers list two specs: packaged weight and trail weight (also referred to as "minimum weight"). The former includes everything that comes with the purchase of the tent, including the tent body, rainfly, poles, stakes, guylines, stuff sacks, and footprint (when it’s included with the tent—as is the case with REI Co-op's Trail Hut 2 and Half Dome SL 2+). This is an important factor to consider when comparing models, as a footprint can tack on 7 ounces or more to the total tent weight, not to mention a stuff sack that may be unnecessary while backpacking.
The trail weight, on the other hand, only includes the tent body, rainfly, and poles. We’ve chosen to list packaged weight in the specs above—it’s closer to what most folks realistically bring—but keep in mind that you can trim ounces from there. Depending on the build of the tent components, the difference between packaged weight and minimum weight can be substantial: anywhere from over a pound for the entry-level REI Trail Hut 2 with its heavy aluminum stakes and included footprint to a 7-ounce difference for the Big Agnes Copper Spur.
In parsing out how roomy a backpacking tent is, the first thing you’ll want to evaluate is the floor dimensions (L x W), which matter quite a bit when you’re trying to fit two backpackers with their sleeping pads side-by-side. In general, the floor area of a tent tends to go down as weight goes down, and some two-person tents can get pretty cozy with two adults and gear inside (you always can size up to a “plus” or three-person version for more space). It’s also worth mentioning that some tents taper at the foot end, which helps shave weight but also has a negative impact on livability (making it hard to sleep head-to-toe). In these cases, we’ve provided two measurements for the floor width (86 x 52/42, for example). And a final note on floor dimensions: While they’re a good place to start, they certainly don’t tell the whole story about a tent’s interior space. It’s a good rule of thumb to take the tent’s peak height and shape into consideration as well, and in particular the slope of the walls (more on this below).
Peak Height and Slope
A tent’s “peak height” refers to its tallest point, and among two-person models varies from 39 inches for a design like the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 up to 48 inches for the Zpacks Duplex and Durston X-Mid 2. But while peak height does make a difference in terms of sitting up and moving around inside your tent, it’s important to also consider the slope of the walls in order to get a true picture of a tent’s livability. To understand this, just picture the difference between a pyramid-shaped tent (a tall peak height at the apex with sharply sloped walls) and a box-shaped tent, which features the same peak height throughout (headroom is the same at the sides as in the middle). Slope is a trickier subject than peak height and cannot be communicated via a simple measurement, but there are a few tell-tale signs to look for.
Most of today’s most premium designs feature pre-bent poles and a ridge pole, both of which help to stretch the walls outward and make them near-vertical. This can go a long way in extending the peak height both length and widthwise, and is seen in popular tents like the REI Half Dome SL and Nemo Dagger. On the other hand, some budget and ultralight tents use simplified pole structures (or even trekking pole setups), resulting in a sharper slope and less interior space (the Nemo Hornet Elite, for example). While a tent like the Nemo Dagger is actually fun to hang out in (two people can sit face-to-face), the Hornet Elite can feel a bit like a coffin. Not everyone will need to prioritize a tent with a generous peak height throughout, but it’s especially worth it for those who anticipate bad weather or spending a lot of time inside.
Fabric Durability (Denier)
One of the easiest ways to think about tent durability is to consider the thickness of the fabric, which is measured in terms of denier (technically speaking, the weight of the yarn). The higher the denier—of the floor, canopy, and rainfly—the more durable the tent. Logically, denier lines up with weight: The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL3 ($500; 2 lb. 15 oz.) has a thin 15-denier floor, while the 5-pound-14-ounce TNF Stormbreak 2 ($185) uses a robust 68-denier fabric. Ultralight gear certainly requires an extra level of care—we typically recommend using a footprint with lightweight tents and checking your campsite for sharp sticks or rocks—but it’s a sacrifice many are willing to accept to reduce their packed weight. Because the area most vulnerable to punctures or tears is the floor, this is the number we list in the specs and comparison table above.
While fabric thickness is a large factor in determining a tent’s durability, it’s not the only one. The quality of the rest of the materials (poles, zippers, etc.) also plays a part, as does the attention to detail. Additionally, premium tents will often add a silicone coating (also referred to as “silnylon”) to their thin fabrics for additional tear strength and longevity, while most budget designs do not. This is an expensive process—there’s a reason Hilleberg tents are $850 or more—but the payoff is incredible toughness even on a tent like the Nallo that uses otherwise thin 30-denier fabric. We’ve learned to trust the build quality of tents from leading manufacturers like REI, Nemo, and MSR, but you’ll want to be a bit more careful with dedicated budget brands like Alps Mountaineering and Eureka, which specialize in the entry-level market.
Your first line of defense in bad weather is the rainfly. As the name indicates, the rainfly covers the exposed tent body for increased resistance from precipitation, wind, and cold. Even ultralight designs have a waterproof coating, are seam-taped (or can be inexpensively), and can withstand hours of downpour without leaking, provided they cover the entire tent body (we’ve found that most leakage actually comes from the ground around the bottom of the tent). We almost always recommend a full-coverage rainfly, although some tents like the Nemo Hornet Elite have impressive weather resistance even with some sections only protected by the tent body.
The next factor in weather resistance is the tent structure. In general, more expensive tents offer increased weather resistance (some ultralight models are exceptions). The poles and pole systems on budget tents are likely to bow during strong winds, while high-end tents like those from MSR and Big Agnes have stronger poles and tons of exterior ties to anchor yourself down during a storm.
A healthy percentage of people get up to the mountains a few weekends a year during the summer months, and encounter moderate conditions in terms of temperature, wind, and precipitation. If you fall into this category, all on our list should perform admirably. We once slept in an older version of the REI Half Dome for six consecutive weeks in Patagonia with only a couple of uncomfortable nights during big storms. That being said, subsequent trips in a Hilleberg did make us appreciate the quality and bombproof feeling you get in a high-end tent.
How well a tent ventilates depends on a couple of factors. First, look at the amount of mesh on the tent itself. A double-wall tent (the tent body and rainfly being two independent pieces) with liberal amounts of mesh should breathe well in mild weather. Leave the rainfly off and the tent will be even more comfortable in hot temperatures so long as the sun isn't hitting you directly. With the rainfly on, things get a little trickier. A standard rainfly has a waterproof coating to help protect the interior from getting wet, which also means the rainfly doesn’t ventilate very well, and moisture from your breath is trapped inside, creating a dewy interior.
So what can you do? Tent manufacturers combat these problems by installing roof vents towards the top of the rainfly that can be deployed even in the rain. The vents are covered from the top by the rainfly fabric, so only in a strong storm with rain coming sideways will there be an issue with raindrops reaching the interior. By creating good airflow out the top of the tent, along with good spacing between the rainfly and tent body at the bottom, problems with moisture collecting on the interior of the tent can be greatly reduced. And some tents like the Sea to Summit Telos TR 2 have convertible-like rainfly designs that roll back fairly easily. You can leave half of the rainfly open for ventilation and stargazing, but if you feel a couple of rain drops during the night, it only takes a few seconds to roll the rainfly back down.
Storage: Vestibules and Interior Pockets
Tent storage can be broken into two categories: vestibules and gear closets outside the tent, and pockets inside the tent body for small items you need close at hand. A traditional vestibule covers the entry door to the tent with enough space for a couple backpacking packs and footwear. Without it, your options are bringing the wet and grimy gear inside the tent or letting it soak outside. Needless to say, we put a priority on some sort of outside gear storage. The amount of vestibule space is measured in square feet and can vary a fair amount. From our top picks above, the smallest vestibules are designs with just one door, like Big Agnes’ Fly Creek (8 sq. ft.). On the other end of the spectrum is the REI Half Dome’s roomy 22.5 square feet divided between two vestibules. For those camping with a partner, the REI’s added space makes staying organized (and sane) much easier.
A tent with excellent interior organization isn’t a top priority, that is, until you get into the tent for the first time and look for a spot to store your headlamp, handheld GPS, or other small items. We’ve found the most helpful area for a pocket is near your head, and a simple mesh drop-in pocket or two is sufficient. Some tents have pockets along the interior of the roof, which make for an easy place to squeeze in a headlamp to light up a game of cards. Should the tent not include pockets along the roof, look to see if it has hang loops instead for securing a light. These extra little details can make your backcountry camping experience all the more enjoyable.
This article covers primarily two-person backpacking tents (the most common capacity), and a quick look at our picks above shows our clear preference for models with two doors. These designs are by far the most convenient if you consistently camp with a partner: Each person has their own door for getting in and out, including vestibule storage space. A few models above use just one door to save weight—the Big Agnes Fly Creek, for example, puts its door on one end. If you’re sharing the tent with a partner, this can be a major downside—you’ll be crawling over your tent mate to get in and out and will be limited to one vestibule for exterior storage. In the end, unless you’re traveling alone or pulling out all the stops to save weight, we recommend a tent with two doors.
Set up and Take Down
The good news for backpackers is that setting up a modern tent has become surprisingly easy. Many of us remember the fabric sleeves of old that were both time consuming and extremely frustrating, but the majority of tents now use simple clips that take a matter of seconds to attach. In addition, tent poles have become streamlined and come together with ease. To set up most tents, you simply lay out your footprint if you have one, stake out the corners, attach the poles, and clip everything together. From there, the rainfly often can be the trickiest part (we’ve put ours on inside or backwards more times than we can count), plus you have those small Velcro attachments on the inside. But the whole process usually takes just a few minutes from start to finish, which is fantastic.
It’s worth noting that some ultralight tent systems can be more finicky to set up and definitely require some practice. When getting acquainted with shelters like the Zpacks Duplex, we've found ourselves initially fumbling a bit to get everything taut and in place. And because Hilleberg tents are designed so uniquely, it can take a few tries to get setup speed where you want it to be. Regardless of your tent choice, it’s always a good idea to set it up at home first. Not only will this help guarantee that you know what you’re doing in the backcountry when the conditions may be more challenging, but it also ensures that you have all of the necessary components.
Freestanding vs. Non-Freestanding Tents
The term freestanding means that by attaching poles to the tent body, it has a solid structure and can stand completely on its own. Non-freestanding or semi-freestanding tents need to be staked out in some (or all) of the corners to create a rigid frame. The benefit of a freestanding tent is a simple setup that is far easier to move from one area of your campsite to another (or to use on a rocky surface). As a result, most mainstream tents on the market are freestanding. Non-freestanding tents require fewer pole sections, which reduces weight, and are a popular choice for backcountry enthusiasts that are well versed in choosing a good campsite and erecting a tent. Owing to their design, semi- and non-freestanding tents also tend to have more sloped walls (read: less headroom) and less interior space overall. For a deeper dive into the topic, see our article on freestanding vs. non-freestanding tents.
Tent Poles and Stakes
Without getting too into the nitty gritty on tent poles and stakes, there are a few important details to cover. In terms of poles, nearly every quality backpacking tent uses aluminum poles (exceptions to the rule are the Zpacks Duplex Flex, MSR Carbon Reflex, and Big Agnes Fly Creek Carbon, which use carbon-fiber poles). Aluminum is relatively affordable, lightweight, and will flex quite a bit prior to failing. Name brand poles like Easton or DAC are easy to trust, but there are also a number of quality in-house offerings. You’ll find simple pole layouts in budget tents—for example, the criss-crossing structure of the REI Co-op Trailmade 2—while more premium tents tack on a ridge pole at the apex for stability and headroom. And in 2023, most of our favorite tents feature hubbed poles (meaning that the poles are all attached at a center “hub”), which offer greater rigidity and easier setup.
No matter the tent style or manufacturer, stakes are an integral part of setting up a tent. Most two-person tents will include six: one for each corner and one for each side of the vestibule. That’s all fine and good for setting up in mild conditions, but it’s insufficient for bad weather when you want to use guylines. Thus, you may want to purchase some extra stakes, and it may be worth replacing your stock ones as well. Cheaper hook-style aluminum stakes come with most tents and can be a pain to use because they’re too thick and round to easily sink into the ground, and have a tendency to bend when being hammered in. Thankfully, upgrading isn’t very expensive. We really like the MSR Groundhogs: they are light, tough and easy to put in the ground. And the DAC stakes that come with the Hilleberg Nallo (and other Hilleberg models) are some of the best we've used.
Backpacking Tent Capacities
Most of the backpacking tents above are of the two-person variety, with floor plans that can accommodate two 20-inch sleeping pads side-by-side. The two-person tent is the most popular capacity, but many backpacking models also come in one, three, and four-person designs. Solo travelers can save some weight by opting for a one-person option, while families or couples traveling with a dog can bump up to a three- or four-person model. It almost goes without saying that weight and packed size will increase alongside capacity, but it is worth noting that, in general, one four-person tent will be lighter than two two-person models. For example, REI's Trail Hut 4 checks in at 8 pounds 1.6 ounces, while the two-person version weighs 5 pounds 15 ounces.
Do You Need a Footprint?
We’ll start by noting that a footprint is optional—some of the tents above come with an included footprint, while others do not. These simple tarps go beneath your tent (usually attaching to the pole in each corner) to provide an extra layer of protection underneath. They’re a nice added bit of assurance to have when it’s wet (make sure to tuck them under the tent to avoid pooling, as that can have the opposite effect) or when you’re camped on rough surfaces like granite or sharp plants. That said, they do add an additional cost (a $40 footprint would increase the price of a $200 tent by a whopping 20%) and 5 to 10 ounces to your pack.
Here’s our take: A footprint is a good idea if your tent is thin in terms of denier (see the durability section above) or if you plan on camping on rough surfaces like granite, tend to be careless with your gear, or don’t have the risk tolerance for a torn floor (and the subsequent repair). On the other hand, if you have a durable tent and are camping on dirt, it’s unlikely that your tent will rip.
If you do choose to buy a footprint, you can usually get one specifically designed for your tent, pre-cut to the proper dimensions with grommets that attach to the tent poles directly. If your tent has a fast-pitch option, the footprint will complete the setup, allowing you to set up an ultralight shelter by adding your tent poles and rain fly. And for those who want to save money or weight, there are a number of DIY options, including grabbing a sheet of Polycryo or Tyvek from your local hardware store. For more information and to help you determine if a footprint is a necessary addition to your kit, see our article: Does Your Backpacking Tent Need a Footprint?
Price and Value
Cost always is a key consideration and a backpacking tent is a big purchase. Here’s our take: if you are on a budget, only plan on backpacking once or twice a summer, are covering short to moderate distances, or just don’t mind carrying a few extra pounds, we are big fans of entry-level tents like the REI Co-op Trail Hut 2 ($199 with a footprint included) and Half Dome SL 2+ ($329 but a noticeable step up in interior space and features). These tents offer the highest value: Build quality is good, they are durable and roomy, setup is easy with simplified pole structures, and they cost considerably less than lighter-weight models. For casual backpackers on shorter trips, there is no need to spend more.
Continuing up the price ladder, the trend is toward lighter and more packable designs. For those who take multi-day backpacking trips, get out a lot, and prioritize a low pack weight, the investment will be well worth it. Tents that are lightweight yet fairly uncompromised will be some of the most expensive (consider the $550 Big Agnes Copper Spur), while semi-freestanding designs with smaller footprints will come in a bit less (the $400 Big Agnes Fly Creek, for example). Most people may not want to consider anything above $500, but this is where you’ll find the lightest designs and the most expensive materials, such as Dyneema fabrics and carbon fiber poles. These tents (like the $669 Zpacks Duplex and $650 Big Agnes Tiger Wall Platinum) are a good fit only for extremely weight-conscious backpackers and thru-hikers who spend countless nights outside and need the best tool for the job. However, unless you care a lot about saving weight, they’re often not the best value, with fragile materials and compromised livability and features.
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