In choosing the right backpacking tent, you have a wide range of options from inexpensive and relatively heavy entry-level models to minimalist ultralight shelters that come in just over one pound. But 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 2020. For ease of comparison, we’ve listed two-person models here with other available capacities in the specs. For more background information, see our tent comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
Packaged weight: 3 lbs. 2 oz.
Dimensions: 88 x 52/42 x 40 in.
Denier: 15D x 20D
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P, 4P
What we like: Standout combination of low weight, generous interior space, features, and ease of use.
What we don’t: Pricey and thin materials require extra care.
For a backpacking tent that deftly balances low 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. For the latest 2020 model, you get 29 square feet of floor space for the two-person version, solid headroom with a hubbed-pole structure, and two doors, at just 3 pounds 2 ounces. It’s much lighter than competitors like the MSR Hubba Hubba and Nemo Dagger below, and without the design compromises of Big Agnes’s Fly Creek. And for two backpackers who want a little extra room, the three-person version of the Copper Spur offers a healthy 41 square feet of space at 3 pounds 14 ounces.
As mentioned above, Big Agnes made some light updates to the design for 2020. Changes include pre-bent poles that slightly increase interior space, new vestibules that can be set up like awnings with trekking poles, redesigned storage, and a 1-ounce increase in weight. We recently tested the revamped model in Patagonia and it performed flawlessly in conditions ranging from warm nights to heavy rain and wind. As with the prior generations, you’ll still want to be careful with the delicate materials—its 15- x 20-denier floor in particular is quite thin. But the Copper Spur puts it all together better than any other tent we’ve tested, which earns it our top spot this year... Read in-depth review
See the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2
Packaged weight: 5 lbs. 5 oz.
Dimensions: 92 x 56 x 44 in.
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P, 4P (all “Plus”)
What we like: A well-built tent with tons of room at a good price.
What we don’t: Heavy and only comes in Plus sizes.
If you’re looking for the right combination of price and performance, it’s hard to beat REI’s iconic Half Dome. For $229, the tent is well-built, easy to set up and take down, durable with a 70-denier floor, has vertical walls for extra headroom, and ample mesh for stargazing. Yes, you can save with the cheaper REI Passage below, but there are real compromises in terms of interior space, material quality, 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.
It’s worth noting that a couple of years ago, REI moved the entire Half Dome line to the more spacious "Plus" versions (they used to offer both regular and “Plus” for each capacity). The truth is that we appreciated having the option of going non-Plus: the regular Half Dome was around $200 at that time and weighed less. To be fair, the Plus’s 35.8 square feet of floor space is quite comfortable for two adults, gear, and even a furry friend, but we hope REI brings back the regular sizes in the future. If anything, it’s more choice. This gripe aside, you won’t find a higher-quality or more versatile tent in this price range... Read in-depth review
See the REI Co-op Half Dome 2 Plus
Packaged weight: 1 lb. 3.4 oz. (trekking pole-supported)
Dimensions: 90 x 45 x 48 in.
Denier: 1 oz/sqyd
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P
What we like: Extraordinarily light and surprisingly good wet-weather protection.
What we don’t: Drafty and and set-up can be challenging.
A number of leading ultralight tents utilize Dyneema—the high-tech fabric commonly used in boat sails and praised for its strength-to-weight ratio—and our top pick is the Zpacks Duplex. With an all-in weight of just 1 pounds 5 ounces (counting stakes and using two trekking poles for support), it’s an impressive 10 ounces lighter and about $200 cheaper than the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2 below, yet still includes a bathtub floor for protection from the elements. In practice, we found the Zpacks to feel decently roomy for this category with a 48-inch peak height, and you can adjust the dimensions fairly easily depending on the campsite and conditions. All in all, no ultralight tent is perfect, but the Duplex is an impressive 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 open sides and thin materials definitely can make it feel drafty in certain conditions. Second, the Duplex technically is smaller than the Dirigo 2 in terms of floor area, and like many ultralight tents and shelters, it is a feasible but cramped option for two backpackers. Third, setting up the tent can be a bit more complicated than some single-pole designs, so we recommend practicing before heading out into the wilderness to make sure you know how to get a taut, even pitch... Read in-depth review
See the Zpacks Duplex
Packaged weight: 3 lbs. 14 oz.
Dimensions: 90 x 50 x 42 in.
Capacities: 2P, 3P
What we like: Roomy, relatively light, and easy to set up.
What we don’t: Wet weather protection could be a little better.
For weight-conscious backpackers who don’t want to compromise on livability and durability, the Nemo Dagger is a great option. At just 3 pounds 14 ounces for the two-person version, this tent is roomy, light, and packed with features. You get two large doors, two spacious vestibules for storing gear, and a roomy interior that saw a 10-percent boost in space last year thanks to the addition of pre-bent poles. Additionally, the floor of the Dagger is symmetrical as opposed to tapered toward the feet like some in its weight class, making it possible for two people to sleep in opposite directions (head to toe) for more shoulder room.
What’s not to like with the Nemo Dagger? As we touch on in the Hubba Hubba NX write-up below, the Dagger gets the edge in interior space and price but comes up a little short in wet-weather protection. Specifically, the rainfly is raised at each end of the tent, which leaves sections of the tent body vulnerable to blowing rain. And while the fabric is technically waterproof, you can feel the wetness if you bump your head, hands, or feet up against the walls (granted this was in pretty rough conditions, but it’s something we didn’t experience with the Hubba Hubba on the same trip). Both are well-rounded tent designs with few compromises... Read in-depth review
See the Nemo Dagger 2P
Packaged weight: 5 lbs. 5 oz.
Dimensions: 86 x 43 x 39 in.
Capacities: 2P, 3P, 4P
What we like: An absolute tank in high winds.
What we don’t: Expensive and overkill for mild conditions.
The majority of the tents in this article are of the lightweight, 3-season variety, but if you anticipate backpacking in tougher conditions, you may want to step up in protection. Slotting just below a full-on winter-ready design is 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. This means that the Nallo is built for backpacking in some of the world’s toughest places—think Scandinavia, Alaska, or Patagonia—but it’s definitely overkill for summer in the Lower 48. Other downsides include its price and weight, which is heavy for this list but certainly manageable considering the level of protection. All things considered, the Nallo remains a niche backpacking tent, albeit an awesome one.
See the Hilleberg Nallo 2
Best of the Rest
Packaged weight: 3 lbs. 14 oz.
Dimensions: 84 x 50 x 39 in.
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P, 4P
What we like: All-around quality build with excellent weather protection.
What we don’t: A bit pricier and less roomy than competitors like the Nemo Dagger.
MSR’s Hubba Hubba NX has never been the absolute lightest on the market nor the most spacious, but it checks just about all of the boxes we look for in a backpacking tent. It’s lightweight at 3 pounds 14 ounces, yet unlike many true ultralight models, offers good livability with two doors and vestibules and near-vertical walls. In addition, compared to the Big Agnes Copper Spur above, you get a relatively strong 30-denier floor that can take more use and abuse. Last but not least, weather resistance is excellent, and MSR honed in the design even further last year with an Easton Syclone hubbed pole that improves performance in windy conditions and a longer-lasting waterproof coating on the fly.
It was a really close call between the Hubba Hubba NX and Nemo Dagger above. To get down to the nitty gritty, the Nemo weighs the same but is slightly roomier with more width a higher peak height, and it costs $20 less. On the other hand, the Hubba Hubba has superior ventilation for summer backpacking (the Dagger only vents out the doors) and more complete rainfly coverage (the Nemo leaves small portions of the ends slightly exposed, which can result in some wetness along the interior in heavy moisture). But the MSR is very well-built and readily available throughout backpacking season, which is something Nemo struggles with year after year... Read in-depth review
See the MSR Hubba Hubba NX
Packaged weight: 5 lbs. 10 oz.
Dimensions: 88 x 52 x 40 in.
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P
What we like: Inexpensive, tough, and easy to set up.
What we don’t: Not as modern-feeling or spacious as the Half Dome above.
Let’s be realistic: many people are new to backpacking, or perhaps can only get out for a weekend or two each summer. For the value crowd, we turn again to REI Co-op and their tried-and-true Passage. For just $159, you get a reasonable weight of 5 pounds 10 ounces (note: this includes the footprint), a door and vestibule on each side, a full-coverage rainfly, and durable materials. REI lightly updated the tent for 2020 with a new rainfly design that improves ventilation and is more adaptable for nighttime stargazing, but the formula largely remains the same.
What do you sacrifice by going with the REI Passage? It doesn’t feel as modern or spacious as its more expensive sibling, the Half Dome above. The simple X-shaped pole structure is dated (most pricier tents now have a center ridge pole to pull out the sides), which results in sloped walls and less headroom. In addition, the Passage does not use DAC poles and instead opts for standard aluminum. But again, we can’t help but love the low price and feature set of the Passage, which is why it’s our top budget pick. And it’s worth noting that REI has released the Trail Hut 2 for 2020, which splits the difference between the Passage and Half Dome in price at $199 and adds a ridge pole to boost interior space... Read in-depth review
See the REI Co-op Passage 2
Packaged weight: 2 lbs. 8 oz.
Dimensions: 86 x 52/42 x 39 in.
Capacities: 2P, 3P
What we like: More spacious than the Nemo Hornet and a more viable option for two backpackers.
What we don’t: 2 ounces heavier and $30 pricier than the Hornet.
Big Agnes has a knack for mixing and matching designs to create a new product, which is exactly what they did with the Tiger Wall UL2. This tent brings together the two-door-and-vestibule concept of the popular Copper Spur above, with the semi-freestanding layout of the ultralight Fly Creek below. The net result is a shelter with convenient access and gear storage for two people, while remaining extremely lightweight at 2 pounds 8 ounces. Not surprisingly, the price for the Tiger Wall UL2 also splits the Copper Spur ($450) and Fly Creek ($350) at $400.
We took the Tiger Wall out on a multi-day backpacking trip in Utah and were happy to find that it’s yet another quality build from Big Agnes. The large ridge pole across the center of the tent makes it more spacious than the Nemo Hornet, and the silicone-coated nylon is impressively strong (although it’s still thin and requires gentle treatment). The semi-freestanding design, however, isn’t for everyone. It was hard to get a taut pitch when we camped on rock, and it isn’t as weather-worthy or roomy as the Copper Spur. In the end, there’s a lot to like with the Tiger Wall and particularly the 2.5-pound weight, but the Copper Spur is the more livable and user-friendly option... Read in-depth review
See the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2
Packaged weight: 2 lbs. 8 oz.
Dimensions: 88 x 52/42 x 42 in.
Capacities: 1P, 2P
What we like: Legitimately ultralight yet easy to set up and use; half the price of the Zpacks Duplex.
What we don’t: Foot-end pole can be difficult to insert and remove.
REI has dabbled in ultralight tents in the past with models like the discontinued Dash, but they’ve gone all-in for 2020 with the new Flash Air 2. Sporting a non-freestanding design, thin 15-denier fabrics, and a simplistic pole structure, the tent is a legitimate contender to cottage-industry favorites like the Tarptent Double Rainbow and Gossamer Gear The Two. For the construction, REI opted for a hybrid single/double-wall build, which helps trim weight but provides plenty of ventilation with lots of mesh along the side walls and portions of the roof (there also are two roof vents to further help with air flow). Aggressively priced at $299 and made with quality materials throughout, the Flash Air 2 is poised to shake up the UL market and is our favorite new tent this year.
With a packaged weight of 2 pounds 8 ounces (you can save 3 ounces by swapping out the vertical side poles for trekking poles), the Flash Air unquestionably is light and packable, but you can save even more weight with options like the sub-2-pound Zpacks Duplex above. But what sets the Flash Air apart are its price and ease of use: they’ve made the set-up process very logical and we got a nice, even pitch the very first time (a rarity among non-freestanding models). In addition, interior space is excellent for the weight and the tent kept us fully protected in rain and wind without issue. We have minor nitpicks like the foot-end pole being too tight and difficult to insert and remove at first, but overall, we think REI knocked it out of the park with the Flash Air... Read in-depth review
See the REI Co-op Flash Air 2
Packaged weight: 2 lbs. 6 oz.
Dimensions: 85 x 51/43 x 39 in.
Capacities: 1P, 2P
What we like: As light as the Big Agnes Fly Creek below but with two doors and vestibules.
What we don’t: Tight quarters for two backpackers.
For minimalists that still want a tent pole-supported and bug-proof shelter, we highly recommend the Nemo Hornet. The standard bearer in this 2-pound category has long been the Fly Creek from Big Agnes, but we think the Hornet beats it in nearly every way. Most importantly, we love the Hornet’s two-door and two-vestibule design (the Fly Creek only has a single door at the head-end of the tent). As a tent for thru-hiking or ultralight backpacking, it’s the more livable option of the two, although you still need to take great care of the thin fabric and mesh.
In terms of size, the Hornet is a very snug place to be. It’s less roomy than its competition and certainly wouldn’t be our first choice for waiting out a long storm with a friend. That said, Nemo did give it a modest bump in interior space with two “FlyBar” pole clips (essentially two mini ridge poles at the head and foot end of the tent). This makes it a little easier for two people to sit up side-by-side, but we still consider the Hornet 2P ideal for single backpackers. For a step up in livability, the Big Agnes Tiger Wall and REI Quarter Dome SL below offer a bit more headroom with longer center ridge poles, although both are heavier and the Tiger Wall more expensive. And Nemo released the Dragonfly last year, although we thought it was still tight for two backpackers while weighing quite a bit more than the Hornet at 3 pounds 2 ounces.
See the Nemo Hornet 2P
Packaged weight: 5 lbs. 4 oz.
Dimensions: 88 x 54/46 x 42 in.
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P, 4P
What we like: A nice hybrid backpacking/car-camping option with a footprint included.
What we don’t: At this price point, we prefer the roomier Half Dome 2 Plus.
REI’s Half Dome and Passage above aren't the only good values on the market. At a budget-friendly price of $199, the Marmot Tungsten has a similar 3-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 and privacy. And unlike the Half Dome, the Tungsten comes with a footprint (the Half Dome footprint is sold separately for $35).
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 the REI Half Dome 2 Plus weighs only 1 ounce more than the Tungsten yet offers considerably more floor area and vestibule space. For families, the Tungsten 4 is a popular option and costs $339. Marmot also makes the tent in a lightweight version called the Tungsten UL, which uses substantially thinner materials to trim away about 1.5 pounds from the standard model.
See the Marmot Tungsten 2P
Packaged weight: 2 lbs. 14 oz.
Dimensions: 88 x 52/42 x 38 in.
Capacities: 1P, 2P
What we like: Great price for a user-friendly ultralight tent.
What we don’t: Heavier than the Big Agnes Tiger Wall.
REI’s Half Dome is their signature tent and the new Flash Air is a legitimate ultralight offering, but don’t overlook their high-quality Quarter Dome line. Up until the release of the Flash Air, the Quarter Dome SL was their weight leader, and it’s still quite impressive at just 2 pounds 14 ounces for the two-person version. Despite the focus on trimming weight, you still get solid livability thanks to a two-door layout with large vestibules, a good array of interior storage, and a hubbed-pole system that opens up the head end of the tent. Fabrics are undeniably thin—we recommend taking good care of the 15-denier floor—but the Quarter Dome is an excellent option for lightweight backpackers and thru-hikers.
In testing the Quarter Dome SL, it reminded us a lot of Big Agnes’s Tiger Wall above. Both tents trim weight with semi-freestanding constructions, a tapered shape that narrows around the feet, and thin materials. On the other hand, they’re also reasonably roomy, easy to set up, and feature rich. The Quarter Dome SL is the cost leader at $349 (the Tiger Wall comes in at $400) and has bigger vestibules, but the Tiger Wall doesn’t sacrifice much while saving you a substantial 6 ounces. This gives it the edge for us, but it’s a very close call between these two well-made ultralight tents.
See the REI Co-op Quarter Dome SL 2
Packaged weight: 2 lbs. 10 oz.
Dimensions: 88 x 50 x 40 in.
Capacities: 1P, 2P
What we like: Inexpensive for a lightweight tent, roomy interior, and can handle stormy weather.
What we don’t: Prone to moisture build-up; 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: it weighs a scant 2 pounds 10 ounces, is reasonably tough with 30-denier fabric and silicone coating, and is fully bug-proof. Updated last year, Tarptent addressed one of our complaints with the prior version with a longer center ridge pole and 2-inch-wider floor that makes it easier to sleep side-by-side. Importantly, they kept all of the Double Rainbow’s signature features including two doors and vestibules, a small packed size, and solid all-around weather protection.
In contrast to the traditional way of erecting a tent (tent body first then rainfly), setting up the Double Rainbow is quite simple. 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. One thing to keep in mind is that the Double Rainbow does not come seam-sealed. But it’s a fairly simple process to do yourself, or Tarpent will do it before shipping for $35. Even with the seam sealing and optional clip-in liner for reducing moisture build-up, the Double Rainbow remains one of the best ultralight values on the market... Read in-depth review
See the Tarptent Double Rainbow
Packaged weight: 4 lbs. 13 oz.
Dimensions: 84 x 50 x 42.5 in.
Capacities: 2P, 3P, 4P
What we like: Creative fly design for unobstructed views.
What we don’t: Mesh goes too low for dusty weather.
Kelty targets the value end of the gear spectrum and does a nice job at balancing price and quality. Near the top of their backpacking line is the Dirt Motel 2, which features near-vertical walls, a competitive $260 price tag, and a number of innovative touches. In particular, we like the “Stargazing” tent/rainfly design that offers full mesh coverage for a completely open view of the night sky when the rainfly is off (other tents like the REI Half Dome only offer partial viewing with some mesh and some nylon). When the fly is on, it can be rolled up halfway and easily cinched back down should the weather turn nasty.
We appreciate the Dirt Motel’s durable materials and general ease of use, but it’s tough to beat the Half Dome above in terms of value. The REI saves you about $30, provides significantly more interior space (at the cost of an additional 8 ounces), and has roomier vestibules. We also have concerns about dust with the Dirt Motel (an unfortunate coincidence given the “Dirt” in the name): in the quest to drop weight and further improve 360-degree viewing, Kelty extended the mesh on the tent body all the way down to the waterproof tub floor. This leaves you somewhat exposed in windy and dusty conditions, although again, it’s a very cool tent in good weather.
See the Kelty Dirt Motel 2
Packaged weight: 2 lbs. 5 oz.
Dimensions: 86 x 52/42 x 40 in.
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P
What we like: A real tent that weighs as much as a bivy.
What we don’t: Not everyone loves the single door and thin fabrics.
Fast and light hikers love the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL—the two-person version weighs in at a measly 2 pounds 5 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.
It’s important to be aware that the Fly Creek won’t offer the same protection from the elements as a sturdier tent like the MSR Hubba Hubba above, particularly in heavy rain when the rainfly is prone to sagging onto the tent body (guying it out properly will alleviate this issue). Further, we think the Tiger Wall and Nemo Hornet are the better all-around choices with their two-door-and-vestibule designs. If you're interested in cutting even more weight, Big Agnes offers the wild Fly Creek Carbon with Dyneema, which swaps the standard nylon fabrics and aluminum poles for ultra-thin Dyneema and a carbon-fiber hubbed system. The packaged weight: a truly amazing 1 pound 7 ounces... Read in-depth review
See the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2
Packaged weight: 4 lbs. 1 oz.
Dimensions: 84 x 50 x 42 in.
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P
What we like: Lightweight, warm, and strong. The Access is much burlier than a standard 3-season tent.
What we don’t: Expensive and not super roomy.
For those who plan on hitting the backcountry in winter, or even for 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 the MSR Access 2, which offers exactly that. With a sturdier pole structure and considerably less mesh than its warmer-weather counterparts, the Access is a great option for winter and rough conditions. In terms of best uses, the tent is ideal for winter camping and ski touring around treeline, but it’s not a true mountaineering tent like some of the much heavier and more expensive 4-season designs on the market. That said, we’ve taken the Access from the snowy B.C. backcountry to Peru’s rugged Cordillera Huayhuash with no issues.
For other tents that fit a similar designation (it’s sometimes called 3/4 season), the Hilleberg Nallo above is another tough option that can handle extreme wind with relative ease. We love Hilleberg tents and they are works of art, but practically speaking, the Nallo is quite pricey at nearly $800 and overkill for moderate conditions (it’s built for places like Scandinavia where the wind and rain are unrelenting). In addition, Big Agnes makes a beefed-up Expedition version of its popular Copper Spur, we’ve had good luck the Nemo Kunai over the years, and REI offers the Arete ASL for a reasonable $400, although weight goes up to over 6 pounds. All are more formidable tents than your standard 3-season builds... Read in-depth review
See the MSR Access 2
Packaged weight: 1 lb. 12 oz. (trekking pole-supported)
Dimensions: 90 x 52 x 45 in.
Denier: 1.3 oz/sqyd
What we like: A true all-in-one tent system from Hyperlite.
What we don’t: Heavier and more expensive than the Zpacks Duplex above.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear has been around for nearly a decade, so it wouldn’t be fair to call this Dyneema specialist the new kid on the block. But the Dirigo 2, which was released for spring of 2019, is their most impressive shelter yet. Instead of the floorless design of the popular Ultamid, which we can tell you from firsthand experience can be an open door to moisture entering through the bottom, the Dirigo includes a built-in bathtub floor. All told, the Dirigo is cheaper and lighter than the UltaMid with the mesh insert ($885 and 2 lbs. 1.6 oz. total) and beats out the Echo 2 with the insert ($1,005 and 2 lbs. 12 oz.) by a mile. It's the first Hyperlite shelter to put it all together: weight, weather protection, and durability.
What are the shortcomings of the Dirigo 2? The most obvious is price: $795 is cheaper than comparable Hyperlite systems, but Dyneema fabric is expensive, and you can get a more traditional nylon and mesh ultralight tent from a brand like Big Agnes for hundreds of dollars less. Moreover, the Dirigo is a two-person tent with a competitive 32.5 square feet of floor space, but its ceiling is much more tapered than a dome-style model, resulting in less headroom. Finally, don’t forget to factor in the weight of your trekking poles as tent poles are not included (this can be as little as 10 ounces for poles like the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z, plus you get to use them on the trail)... Read in-depth review
See the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2
Packaged weight: 4 lbs. 8 oz.
Dimensions: 85 x 54 x 40 in.
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 4P
What we like: Bargain-basement price.
What we don’t: Only one door/vestibule.
For an inexpensive backpacking tent from a respected brand, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better option than the Late Start from Kelty. For $160 and at 4 pounds 8 ounces, it bucks the industry trend that cheap tents have to be heavy. In fact, it checks in considerably lighter than REI’s two leading backpacking tents above and undercuts them both in price. Further, Kelty hasn’t compromised in durability with a tough 68-denier floor. Tack on its full-coverage rainfly and simple, freestanding construction, and the Late Start 2 is an attractive budget backpacking tent.
The Late Start 2’s closest competitor on this list is the REI Passage above, and despite the Kelty’s clear weight advantage, we think the REI is the better all-around design. Most importantly, the Late Start only has one side door and vestibule (the Passage has two of each), so it can be a pain for two people to get in and out. The Passage also has the edge in interior space with 31 square feet of floor area vs. 29 on the Kelty. But we do like the cost savings of the Late Start, which is why it’s included here.
See the Kelty Late Start 2
Packaged weight: 5 lbs. 15 oz.
Dimensions: 90 x 60 x 46 in.
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P, 4P
What we like: Incredibly cheap and good feature set.
What we don’t: Heavy; budget build quality.
Alps Mountaineering does not make the lightest tents or use premium materials, but they certainly win out in price. For just $150 at full retail price—and often less than that on Amazon—the Lynx 2 is an awesome value in a two-person backpacking tent. All the intangibles are there: the Lynx is roomy, offers good weather protection and sufficient ventilation with two vents up top, and has two large doors and vestibules for storing your gear at night. In terms of durability, the Lynx uses a burly 75-denier floor and substantial zippers, which are great for those who are hard on their gear. All in all, that’s a lot of bang for your buck.
What are the downsides of the Alps Mountaineering Lynx 2? With a packaged weight of 5 pounds 15 ounces, it’s the heaviest two-person tent on this list, although most others are literally hundreds of dollars more expensive. And given the low cost, the fabrics and poles feel cheaper than mid-range and premium models. But we keep circling back to price, which is why Alps has carved out a loyal following among beginning backpackers and those on a tight budget. In terms of larger versions, the Lynx also is offered in three- and four-person varieties.
See the Alps Mountaineering Lynx 2
|Big Agnes Copper Spur HV||$450||3 lbs. 2 oz.||88 x 52/42 x 40 in.||15Dx20D||1P, 2P, 3P, 4P||Yes|
|REI Half Dome 2 Plus||$229||5 lbs. 5 oz.||92 x 56 x 44 in.||70D||1P, 2P, 3P, 4P||Yes|
|Zpacks Duplex||$599||1 lb. 3.4 oz.||90 x 45 x 48 in.||1 oz/sqyd||1P, 2P, 3P||No (available)|
|Nemo Dagger 2P||$430||3 lbs. 14 oz.||90 x 50 x 42 in.||30D||2P, 3P||Yes|
|Hilleberg Nallo 2||$795||5 lbs. 5 oz.||86 x 43 x 39 in.||70D||2P, 3P, 4P||No|
|MSR Hubba Hubba NX||$450||3 lbs. 14 oz.||84 x 50 x 39 in.||30D||1P, 2P, 3P, 4P||Yes|
|REI Co-op Passage 2||$159||5 lbs. 10 oz.||88 x 52 x 40 in.||75D||1P, 2P, 3P||Yes|
|Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2||$400||2 lbs. 8 oz.||86 x 52/42 x 39 in||15D||2P, 3P||No (semi)|
|REI Co-op Flash Air 2||$299||2 lbs. 8 oz.||88 x 52/42 x 42 in.||15D||1P,2P||No|
|Nemo Hornet 2P||$370||2 lbs. 6 oz.||85 x 51/43 x 39 in.||15D||1P, 2P||No (semi)|
|Marmot Tungsten 2P||$214||5 lbs. 4 oz.||88 x 54/46 x 42 in.||68D||1P, 2P, 3P, 4P||Yes|
|REI Quarter Dome SL||$349||2 lbs. 14 oz.||88 x 52/42 x 38 in.||15D||1P, 2P||No (semi)|
|Tarptent Double Rainbow||$299||2 lbs. 10 oz.||88 x 50 x 40 in.||30D||1P, 2P||No (available)|
|Kelty Dirt Motel 2||$260||4 lbs. 13 oz.||84 x 50 x 42.5 in.||70D||2P, 3P, 4P||Yes|
|Big Agnes Fly Creek||$350||2 lbs. 5 oz.||86 x 52/42 x 40 in.||20D||1P, 2P, 3P||No (semi)|
|MSR Access 2||$600||4 lbs. 1 oz.||84 x 50 x 42 in.||30D||1P, 2P, 3P||Yes|
|Hyperlite Dirigo 2||$795||1 lb. 12 oz.||90 x 52 x 45 in.||1.3 oz/sqyd||2P||No|
|Kelty Late Start 2||$160||4 lbs. 8 oz.||85 x 54 x 40 in.||68D||1P, 2P, 4P||Yes|
|Alps Lynx 2||$127||5 lbs. 15 oz.||90 x 60 x 46 in.||75D||1P, 2P, 3P, 4P||Yes|
*Editor's Note: "Weight" refers to the packaged weight of each tent, with the exception of trekking pole-supported models.
- Backpacking Tent Weight
- Packaged Weight vs. Minimum Weight
- Price and Value
- Interior Space: Dimensions and Slope
- Durability (Denier)
- Weather Protection
- Storage: Vestibules and Interior Pockets
- Set up and Take Down
- Freestanding vs. Non-Freestanding Tents
- Tent Poles and Stakes
- Footprints and Tent Care
For many backpackers, a tent is the heaviest item in your pack and weight is a key consideration. To help clarify, we’ve broken backpacking tent weight down into four categories based on the two-person versions:
Heavy/midweight: 4.5 pounds+
Lightweight: 4.5 to 3 pounds
Ultralight: 3 to 2 pounds
Crazylight: Less than 2 pounds
In general, heavy/midweight is the value category as you aren’t paying for ultralight materials, and they also tend to be the roomiest and most durable tents (we’ve used various versions of the REI Co-op Half Dome for years and if offers great bang for the buck). Dropping down to the lightweight category, you get similar fully featured designs but with thinner materials that weigh less and cost more. Breaking below the 3-pound barrier, you start seeing compromises in interior space including tapered dimensions, simplified pole structures, lower peak heights, smaller vestibules, and fewer features overall. Finally, the crazylight category is for thru-hikers and other minimalist backpackers for whom every ounce counts. With these tents and shelters you can expect the thinnest possible materials and mostly non-freestanding, single-wall designs.
The truth is that backpacking tents is not a one-size-fits-all category and your final decision should come down to what you prioritize. For those on a budget or who hike shorter distances, a heavy/midweight tent is a great way to save. If you plan on covering a lot of miles, shaving weight certainly can make your backpacking experience a lot more pleasant and we think lightweight and ultralight models are the most balanced options on the market. And the crazylight movement certainly is going strong and there are a lot of fun options there as well. For a deeper dive on weight, see our article: Backpacking Tents: How Light is Too Light?
Tentmakers often list two weights, which can be confusing, so we are happy to explain the differences. Packaged weight, which is what we use for our specs and table above, refers to everything that comes from the manufacturer: the tent body, rainfly, poles, stakes, guylines, and stuff sacks. In cases where the footprint is included with the tent, the weight of the ground sheet is included here too. But you can carry less than the packaged weight: some people ditch the stuff sacks and leave them at home (a very minimal weight savings), others buy ultralight stakes or use rocks to secure their tent, and guylines are optional, although they do help in high winds and we prefer to bring them along on most trips.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is minimum weight, also referred to as “trail weight.” This includes only the tent body, rainfly, and poles (no stakes, guylines, or stuff sacks). 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 Passage with its heavy aluminum stakes and included footprint to a 7-ounce difference for the Big Agnes Copper Spur. As mentioned above, we’ve chosen to list packaged weight as we feel it’s the more realistic measure of the two, but you can trim ounces from there—all the way down to the minimum weight if you so desire.
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 Passage ($159 with a footprint included, although we would leave it at home) and Half Dome ($229 but a noticeable step up in interior space and features). The build quality of these tents is good, they are both durable and roomy, and cost considerably less than lighter-weight models.
The next group of people consists of those who take longer, multi-day backpacking trips, get out multiple times each summer, and who prioritize keeping the weight of their pack lower. On long trails days, it matters a lot how heavy your pack is, and each component of your backpacking kit contributes to that. For this group, we think it’s worth spending up for a lightweight or ultralight tent. Our top pick, the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV, offers a fantastic combination of low weight, generous interior space, and features, albeit for a steep $450 and with thinner materials throughout. If you’re willing to trim dimensions and features, a number of quality tents drop down below 3 pounds, including the REI Quarter Dome SL 2 and Big Agnes Tiger Wall/Fly Creek.
True ultralight or crazylight tents are great for thru-hikers and those who desire to carry the least possible weight, and cost takes a back seat here. These folks spend countless nights on the trail (months for a thru hike), know their gear inside and out (setting up these tents is more complicated), and don’t care about paper-thin materials or minimalist feature sets. But when you achieve that 15- or even 10-pound base weight with a combination of an ultralight tent, backpack, sleeping bag, and everything else from the stove to the water filter, that’s a pretty good feeling—almost like wearing a daypack for an overnight trip. On our list, we have the $599 Zpacks Duplex (very popular among thru-hikers), along with options from Tarptent, Hyperlite Mountain Gear, and more. It’s worth nothing that although there are values to be had in this category, ultralight gear is expensive in general but worth it for those who really use it.
Dimensions (L x W x H)
In parsing out how roomy a backpacking tent is, the first thing you’ll want to evaluate is the dimensions (L x W x H). The length and width are the floor dimensions, which matter quite a bit when you’re trying to fit two backpackers with their sleeping pads side-by-side. In general, the floor dimensions of a tent tend to go down as weight goes down, and two-person ultralight 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. In these cases, we’ve provided two measurements for the floor width (86 x 52/42 x 40, for example).
The height dimension matters as well, which also is referred to as “peak height,” or the tallest point at the center of the tent. Among two-person models, peak height varies from 38 inches for the REI Co-op Quarter Dome SL up to 44 inches for REI’s Half Dome. That 6 inches does matter in terms of sitting up and moving around inside your tent, so the higher the peak height, the better. Most backpacking tents tend to have a peak height of around 40 to 42 inches.
A final note of dimensions: make sure to take the manufacturer-provided specs with a grain of salt. Usually, the floor area is based off of measurements taken right at ground level and in the stretched-out corners, so they don’t always line up with actual usable space. In practice, the numbers are helpful for comparing models and for getting a general idea on the shape of the footprint, but it’s best to assume the true dimensions will be a bit less than the listed amount.
The floor dimensions and peak height of a tent are useful indicators of interior space, but there’s more to it. Many newer tents have modern pole structures that stretch the walls outward and make them near-vertical, whereas certain budget and ultralight tents have more slope that equates to less interior space. On the roomy end of the spectrum, tents like the REI Half Dome and Nemo Dagger are noticeably spacious on the inside, whereas the Big Agnes Fly Creek is sloped in just about every way possible to cut weight (both the floor dimensions and ceiling are tapered). So, while evaluating the dimensions is important, make sure to look closely at the tent shape to get a better idea of the actual space inside. Are the walls vertical or do they cut in sharply toward the center of the tent? In the case of ultralight tents, does the ceiling slope abruptly toward the foot end?
In terms of tent durability, you’ll often see manufacturers list the “denier” rating of their fabrics, which is a measurement of the fabric yarn’s weight. While there are variables such as quality and construction type, a lower denier generally indicates a thinner and less durable fabric. Most tents list the denier of the tent floor, canopy, and rainfly. The area most vulnerable to punctures or tears is the floor, so we have listed that number for each tent in the specs and comparison table above.
Logically, denier lines up with the total weight of the tent: Nemo’s 2-pound Hornet has a very thin 15-denier (D) floor, while the sturdy 5-pound-5-ounce REI Half Dome is 70D. 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. We prefer a tent that balances weight and durability, which is one of the reasons why the Nemo Dagger and MSR Hubba Hubba NX (and their 30D floor) get some of our top spots.
As we mentioned above, strictly using denier to compare tents isn’t a perfect method in determining durability. One way manufacturers increase tear strength and longevity is by adding a silicone coating (also referred to as “silnylon”). High-end tents like the Hilleberg Nallo and Anjan have 3 layers of silicone on both sides of their ripstop nylon, which gives a significant boost in strength with a minimal weight penalty. This is an expensive process—there’s a reason Hilleberg tents are $700 or more—but the payoff is incredible toughness even on a tent like the Anjan that uses otherwise thin 20-denier fabric. You'll also find this technology on some premium tents from brands like Big Agnes and MSR (and to varying degrees), although it certainly doesn't filter down to the low end of the 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 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 Hilleberg 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 Kelty Dirt Motel and REI Half Dome 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.
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 mostly two-person backpacking models (the most common capacity), and a quick look at our top picks above shows our clear preference for tents with two doors. These designs are far more convenient for getting in and out of the tent, and most include a vestibule outside of each door for extra storage space. Not all one-door designs should be treated equally, however. A single door at the head end of the tent, like what you get with the Big Agnes Fly Creek, is easier to access than one side door, which requires crawling over your tent mate to get outside (not a fun thing to do in the middle of the night). On the other hand, a two-door design makes life around camp that much easier, and in the cases of the Nemo Hornet and Big Agnes Copper Spur, has little impact on total weight.
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 using shelters like the Zpacks Duplex, we found ourselves 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 set-up 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.
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 set-up 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. For a deeper dive into the topic, see our article on freestanding vs. non-freestanding tents.
You’re getting to the nitty gritty with tent pole and stake research, but there are some important details to cover. Regarding tent poles, nearly every quality backpacking tent uses aluminum poles (the carbon fiber Zpacks Duplex Flex, MSR Carbon Reflex, and Big Agnes Fly Creek Carbon are notable exceptions). The material is relatively affordable, lightweight, and will flex quite a bit prior to failing. Name brand poles like Easton or DAC are easier to trust, but that’s not to say there aren’t some quality generic aluminum poles offered. Hubbed pole designs are growing in popularity for their rigidity—a single pole unit holds the tent together tautly—and as a result are found on a number of our favorite tents.
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, Niak, and Anjan are some of the best we've used.
We’ll start by noting that a footprint is optional. These simple tarps go beneath your tent to provide an extra layer of protection, can help when it’s wet (make sure to avoid pooling as that can have the opposite effect), and offer extra piece of mind for your investment. On the other hand, they add additional cost (a $40 footprint would increase the cost of a $200 tent by a whopping 20 percent) and weight to your pack (many footprints are between 5 and 10 ounces). It’s not an easy call either way.
Here’s our take: a footprint is a good idea if your tent is thin in terms of denier (see the durability section above), you plan on camping on rough surfaces like granite, you tend to be careless with your gear, or you don’t have the risk tolerance for a torn floor, which can be tough to fix. If you have a durable tent and are camping on dirt, it’s unlikely that your tent will rip, although certainly not impossible.
When buying a footprint, you can get one specifically designed for your tent, which will be precut to the proper dimensions and the grommets will attach to the tent poles directly. It’s an integrated system that you don’t need to worry about, and if your tent has a fast-pitch option, you can use just a footprint, rainfly, and tent poles to set up an ultralight shelter. In addition, there are a number of DIY options that are cheaper and lighter including Polycryo and Tyvek. For more information on this topic, see our article: Does Your Backpacking Tent Need a Footprint?
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