An ideal backpacking tent is lightweight, packs down small, and is tough enough to handle inclement weather. The good news is that tent technology has come a long way even over the past few years, and weights are dropping as thinner yet strong fabrics and lighter poles are employed. Below are our picks for the best backpacking tents of 2018—all include tent poles, which means that we have not included ultralight trekking pole supported shelters or tarps. For background information, see our tent comparison table and buying advice below the picks. To complete your kit, we’ve also tested and written about backpacking packs and sleeping bags.
 

1. Nemo Dagger 2P ($400)

Nemo Dagger 2 backpacking tentMinimum weight: 3 lbs. 5 oz.
Floor denier: 30D
Capacities: 2P, 3P
What we like: Lightweight, roomy, and easy to set up.
What we don’t: Ventilation could be better.

For weight-conscious backpackers who don’t want to compromise on things like livability, durability, and ease of use, the Nemo Dagger is the whole package. At just 3 pounds 5 ounces for the 2-person version, this tent is lightweight and packs small yet comes with 2 large doors, 2 spacious vestibules for storing gear, and a roomy interior topped off with a solid 42-inch peak height. More, the floor of the Dagger is symmetrical as opposed to tapered toward the feet like some in its weight class, which makes it possible for two people to sleep in opposite directions (head to toe) for more shoulder room.

The most direct competition for the Nemo Dagger comes from the MSR Hubba Hubba NX below. These tents have a ton of similarities, including price ($400), weight (the Dagger is 2 ounces lighter), and durability (both have 30-denier floors). But we give the final nod to the Dagger: it’s slightly roomier than the Hubba Hubba with 31 square feet of floor space and has a higher celling, the couple ounces of weight savings do matter, and the Dagger has the clear advantage in vestibule space (23 square feet vs. 17.5 square feet). But the Achilles Heel of the Dagger is availability: it seems that Nemo hasn’t caught up with the heavy demand, and we’ve seen this tent go out of stock on multiple occasions. If you can get one, it’s our favorite backpacking tent on the market... Read in-depth review
See the Nemo Dagger 2P

 

2. REI Co-op Half Dome 2 Plus ($229)

REI Half Dome 2 Plus 2018Minimum weight: 4 lbs. 14 oz.
Floor denier: 70D
Capacities: 1 Plus, 2 Plus, 3 Plus, 4 Plus
What we like: A great value and ample room with all "Plus" capacities for 2018.
What we don’t: Heavier than our other top picks.

The Half Dome is REI’s iconic tent, offering just about everything that most backpackers need at a reasonable price. Freshly updated for 2018, the Half Dome line has moved entirely to more spacious "Plus" versions, along with a handful of other solid improvements. You now get vertical walls for extra headroom, more mesh for better stargazing, a lighter weight by a few ounces, and a number of fun colorways to choose from. Importantly, REI stuck with the foundation that has made this tent so popular: good build quality, easy setup and take down, a nice feature set, and a great price for what you get. 

At 4 pounds 14 ounces for the new 2 Plus version, the REI Half Dome certainly isn't the lightest backpacking tent on the market. But we love the roomy 35.8 square feet of floor space, which is ample for two adults, their gear, and even a furry friend. More, unlike many of the ultralight models on this list, durability is excellent with a substantial 70-denier floor. And circling back to price, you would be hard pressed to find a better value. At $229, the Half Dome is a reliable and comfortable choice that should make most weekend and summer backpackers happy. Our full review of the new version is coming shortly. 
See the REI Co-op Half Dome 2 Plus

 

3. Zpacks Duplex Flex ($724)

Zpacks Duplex FlexMinimum weight: 1 lb. 15.2 oz.
Floor: 1.0 oz/sqyd
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P
What we like: Extremely light and surprisingly good wet weather protection.
What we don’t: Drafty, setup can be challenging, and expensive.

We’ll start by saying that the Zpacks Duplex is a polarizing tent option. Ultralighters and thru-hikers swear by it, and particularly its sub-2-pound weight all-in. The Dyneema fabric—commonly used in boat sails and praised for its strength-to-weight ratio—is the real deal and provides impressive weather protection given its minimalist nature. More, we found the Zpacks Duplex to be surprisingly roomy for an ultralight tent, and you can adjust the height and dimensions fairly easily depending on the campsite and conditions. For fast and light three-season backpacking missions, this is our top UL pick.

What are the downsides of the Zpacks Duplex? We had no issues with water entering the tent even while camping in snow, but the open sides definitely can make it feel drafty. More, setting up the tent is considerably more complicated than traditional backpacking designs. Although technically freestanding, it performs a lot better using hiking poles and with the guy lines staked out (we heartily recommend setting up this tent a couple of times at home before doing so in the wilderness). Finally, $724 is a lot to spend ($600 without the tent poles). Our conclusion is that the Duplex is a great ultralight option for most three-season conditions, but it’s purpose-built for ounce counters who plan on getting a lot of use out of it—think AT or PCT thru-hikers.
See the Zpacks Duplex Flex

 

4. MSR Hubba Hubba NX ($400)

MSR Hubba Hubba NX backpacking tentMinimum weight: 3 lbs. 7 oz.
Floor denier: 30D
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P, 4P
What we like: Better ventilation than the Nemo Dagger.
What we don’t: Slightly heavier and less roomy, although not by much.

It was a very close call between the MSR Hubba Hubba NX and Nemo Dagger above (so close, in fact, that the Hubba Hubba was ranked #1 for much of last year). In summary, this is a terrific backpacking tent: it’s lightweight at 3 pounds 7 ounces, yet unlike many true ultralight tents, is strong enough with a 30-denier floor to stand up to most normal wear and tear. In terms of features, you get 2 doors and vestibules, a comfortable interior, good weather protection, and easy set up and take down. For just about all kinds of backpacking not involving serious snow, the Hubba Hubba is an excellent choice.

To really get down to the nitty gritty, both the Hubba Hubba NX and Dagger are the same price at $400, but the MSR is 2 ounces heavier, a little less roomy at 29 square feet of floor space vs. 31 square feet, and has a lower peak height of 39 inches vs. 42 inches. On the other hand, the Hubba Hubba has better ventilation (the Dagger only vents out the doors) and more complete rainfly coverage (the Nemo leaves small portions of the ends slightly exposed, although it hasn’t caused us issues). You can see how close the decision is, but the truth is you can’t go wrong with either. And an added bonus in choosing the Hubba Hubba: it always seems to be available, while the Nemo often is out of stock... Read in-depth review
See the MSR Hubba Hubba NX

 

5. Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3 ($500)

Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3 tentMinimum weight: 3 lbs. 7 oz.
Floor denier: 20D
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P, 4P
What we like: Extremely light yet roomy, which is a rare combination.
What we don’t: Thin materials (a little too thin for our tastes).  

Good news for ultralight family backpackers and couples who prefer more space: you don’t need to lug around a big and heavy tent. The Copper Spur HV UL3 is a winner in this regard, offering enough room (41 square feet, to be exact) for up to 3 adults while coming in at a feathery 3 pounds 7 ounces. Impressively, that’s the same as the popular 2-person MSR Hubba Hubba above. Despite the low weight, you still get 2 doors and vestibules, along with a notably roomy interior with near vertical walls (hence the “HV” or “high volume” in the name).

What you give up with the Copper Spur’s lightweight package is durability. The tent body, rainfly fabrics, and zippers are quite thin and require extra care. In particular, the 20-denier floor fabric has us concerned about the potential lifespan of the tent (be very careful if you have a dog), and you should treat the zippers and mesh gently to avoid snags and tears. For those who don’t need or want the space, the 2-person version of the Copper Spur HV UL weighs just 2 pounds 12 ounces. We still favor the stronger materials and long-term durability of the Nemo Dagger and MSR Hubba Hubba above, but the Copper Spur remains a favorite among the ultralight crowd... Read in-depth review
See the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3

 

6. REI Co-op Quarter Dome 1 ($279)

REI Quarter Dome 1 backpacking tentMinimum weight: 2 lbs. 7 oz.
Floor denier: 20D
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P
What we like: Good headroom and a very large vestibule.
What we don’t: Materials are on the thin side.

The Half Dome above may be REI’s most popular backpacking tent, but we like the ultralight Quarter Dome too, and particularly the 1-person version. At 2 pounds 7 ounces, this tent is all that most solo backpackers need while still coming in at a reasonable $279. Last year, REI redesigned the Quarter Dome by adding more headroom and a much larger vestibule, which now offers ample space for protecting you and your pack from the elements. All in all, it’s a comfortable and well-designed 1-person tent for everything from fast and light backcountry trips to bike touring.

Similar to the Big Agnes Copper Spur above, the Quarter Dome uses a 20-denier nylon floor, which cuts weight but also impacts durability (take care when setting up the tent and avoid sharp rocks). For those shopping for the 2-person variety, that version of the Quarter Dome comes in at 3 pounds 5 ounces—the same as the Nemo Dagger—but is more tapered than we prefer and strangely comes with only 9 stakes while 10 are required for a basic set-up. For these reasons, we like the 1-person model best... Read in-depth review
See the REI Co-op Quarter Dome 1

 

7. Hilleberg Niak ($795)

Hilleberg Niak backpacking tentMinimum weight: 3 lbs. 5 oz.
Floor denier: 50D
Capacity: 2P
What we like: Hilleberg’s lightest 2-person tent.
What we don’t: The side door design is less convenient for 2 sleepers than the Anjan.

The Niak is Hilleberg’s lightest 2-person tent to date, coming in at 3 pounds 5 ounces minimum weight. If you haven’t used a Hillberg before, this Swedish company makes extraordinarily tough tents built to withstand harsh climates, and they are known for their high quality build. Once you’ve slept in a Hilleberg, it’s hard to go back to other brands. Keep in mind, however, that Hillebergs are among the most expensive backpacking tents on the market and aren’t known as great ventilators. They are terrific for wind and rain but overkill for mild summer conditions.

In the 3-season, 2-person tent category, the two main choices from Hilleberg are the Niak and Anjan (3 pounds 8 ounces minimum weight). Our editors here at Switchback Travel debated extensively about which to include on this list. The Anjan has one door at the end of the tent, meaning that sleeping two doesn’t require one person to crawling over the other to get out (the Niak has one large door on the side). And the Anjan has a slightly larger floor area at 30.1 square feet instead of 28. Both are top tier tents, but we like the Niak’s 3 ounces of weight savings and lack of tapering at the feet. And don’t let people tell you the Niak is a 1.5-person tent as originally billed: it’s not huge but we’ve slept two adult men comfortably with a dog under the vestibule... Read in-depth review
See the Hilleberg Niak

 

8. Marmot Tungsten 2P ($199)

Marmot Tungsten 2P tentMinimum weight: 4 lbs. 13 oz.
Floor denier: 68D
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 above.

REI’s Half Dome above isn’t the only value tent on the market. At budget-friendly price of $199, the Marmot Tungsten has a similar 3-season build with plenty of mesh and all the features that most weekend backpackers need. The tent has 2 doors and vestibules, weighs in at a respectable 4 pounds 13 ounces, and offers a decently roomy 32 square feet of floor space. And unlike the Half Dome, the Tungsten comes with a footprint (the Half Dome footprint is sold separately).  

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 2018 version of the REI Half Dome 2 Plus weighs only 1 ounce more than the Tungsten at 4 pounds 14 ounces yet offers considerably more floor area. For families, the Tungsten 4 is a popular option that costs only $339. And Marmot also makes the Tungsten in a UL variation, which trims an impressive 1 pound 9 ounces off the 2-person model.
See the Marmot Tungsten 2P

 

9. MSR Papa Hubba NX ($600)

MSR Papa Hubba NX tentMinimum weight: 5 lbs. 5 oz.
Floor denier: 30D
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P, 4P
What we like: The ultimate family backpacking tent.
What we don’t: Low peak height for a 4-person tent.

Most tents on this list fall into some sort of category: they’re ultralight but built with thin materials, or budget but heavier to carry. MSR’s Hubba series pretty much does it all, and for families who care about weight, durability, and features, we love the Papa Hubba NX. Nemo doesn’t make a 4-person version of their Dagger, our top pick, but MSR comes to the plate in a big way with 53 square feet of floor space, a 30D nylon floor fabric, and an impressively low minimum weight of 5 pounds 15 ounces. Taken together, this is a serious family backpacking tent with few compromises.

In terms of competition to the Papa Hubba NX, Big Agnes makes a 4-person version of the Copper Spur HV UL series. Although that tent saves 12 ounces in weight at 5 pounds 3 ounces total, it costs more at $650, uses thinner materials including a 20D floor, and is more delicate overall than the MSR. One downside of the Papa Hubba—and a weight cutting maneuver to be sure—is the 44-inch peak height. That’s more than nearly all 2-person tents on this list but low for the 4-season variety, which commonly are 50 inches or more. 
See the MSR Papa Hubba NX

 

10. Tarptent Double Rainbow ($289)

Tarptent Double Rainbow backpacking tentMinimum weight: 2 lbs. 9 oz.
Floor denier: 30D
Capacities: 1P, 2P
What we like: Inexpensive for an ultralight tent, roomy interior, and can handle stormy weather.
What we don’t: Tendency to collect moisture on the interior.

California-based Tarptent isn’t a household name, but the company offers an inspiring ultralight lineup at reasonable price points. The Double Rainbow is our favorite: it’s fully bug proof, decently roomy, and weighs a scant 2 pounds 9 ounces. Surprisingly durable and weather worthy, this tent will outperform much of the competition in its price range in tough conditions, although we have had issues with condensation collecting along the interior (Tarptent does sell a separate clip-in liner to help with this issue).

In contrast to the traditional way of erecting a tent (tent body first then rain fly), 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 clip-in liner and seam sealing, the Double Rainbow remains one of the best ultralight values on the market.
See the Tarptent Double Rainbow

 

11. Nemo Hornet 2P ($370)

Nemo Hornet backpacking tentMinimum weight: 2 lbs. 0 oz.
Floor denier: 15D
Capacities: 1P, 2P
What we like: About as light as the Fly Creek but has 2 doors/vestibules.
What we don’t: Tight quarters inside.

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 2-door and 2-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 and it wouldn’t be our first choice for waiting out a long storm with a friend. In fact, its best use arguably is for a single backpacker, perhaps with a well-mannered dog, that wants something as light as a bivy but with extra space. And if you’re teetering between the 1-person and 2-person Hornet models, we think the extra 5 ounces of weight is well worth the added breathing room... Read in-depth review
See the Nemo Hornet 2P

 

12. Kelty TraiLogic TN2 ($250)

Kelty TraiLogic TN tentMinimum weight: 4 lbs. 4 oz.
Floor denier: 70D
Capacities: 2P, 3P
What we like: Creative fly design for unobstructed views.
What we don’t: Mesh goes too low for dusty weather.

Much like REI, Kelty targets the value end of the gear spectrum and does a great job balancing price and quality. Released a few years ago, the TraiLogic TN2 has been heralded for its innovative design and spacious interior. In particular, the “Stargazing” tent/rainfly design offers full mesh coverage for a completely open view of the night sky when the rainfly is off (other tents like the Half Dome offer only partial viewing with some mesh and some nylon). When the fly is on, it can be rolled up halfway and easily rolled back down should the weather turn nasty. 

We took the TN2 out for a spin and really like the open views. For clear summer nights, this tent is a winner. However, it’s tough to compete with the REI Half Dome above, which is about $50 cheaper and arguably a better all-around tent for a variety of conditions. We also have concerns about dust: 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 TraiLogic TN2

 

13. Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 ($390)

Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 tentMinimum weight: 1 lb. 15 oz.
Floor denier: 20D
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 2-person version weighs in at a measly 1 pounds 15 ounces, which is comparable to a decent bivy sack or hammock. This feathery lightweight is accomplished with a single door at the head end, an interior that tapers 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.

For last year, the pole system received a minor but really important redesign by tilting the hub, which increases the interior space from cramped to more livable. 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). More, we think the Nemo Hornet is the better all-around choice with its 2 door and vestibule design. But the newfound openness in the interior should make the Fly Creek a continued favorite for thru hikers and ultralight backpackers.
See the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2

 

14. MSR FreeLite 2 ($440)

MSR FreeLite 2 backpacking tentMinimum weight: 2 lbs. 7 oz.
Floor denier: 15D
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P
What we like: Symmetrical interior and full coverage rainfly at a low weight.
What we don’t: Semi-freestanding; very thin fabrics.

Sharing a silhouette with the popular Hubba Hubba but in a pared-down form, the MSR FreeLite is a fully-featured ultralight tent. Despite a minimum weight of only 2 pounds 7 ounces, the FreeLite doesn’t compromise on the interior with 2 side doors and vestibules and a rectangular floor (the ceiling is low, however). A full-coverage rainfly and hubbed pole design proved strong enough to wait out a few rough storms in the Canadian Rockies, although it falls well short of the Hilleberg above in weather-worthiness (but so does every other tent on this list). And with liberal applications of mesh on the tent body, we’ve found it ventilates very well in warm and humid conditions.

The main downsides—and reason the FreeLite drops to 14th on our list—are the very thin fabrics and semi-freestanding build. It’s always a balancing act of durability and convenience, but the 15-denier floors are extremely thin and one end of the tent needs to be staked out, which can be a challenge for setting up in some areas. That being said, if you’re willing to take extra care, the FreeLite is lighter than the Copper Spur above and nearly as roomy inside... Read in-depth review
See the MSR FreeLite 2

 

15. REI Co-op Passage 2 ($159)

REI Passage 2 backpacking tent (2017)Minimum weight: 4 lbs. 13 oz.
Floor denier: 75D
Capacities: 1P, 2P
What we like: Spacious, good price, and easy to set up.
What we don’t: Heavy.

The Half Dome is the typical headline grabber for REI, but the tried-and-true Passage remains one of their best sellers. It has all the ingredients necessary for weekend backpacking trips: 2 doors and a full coverage rainfly, tough but reasonably light materials, and a roomy interior. REI lightly updated the tent for 2017 with more mesh in the tent body and greater interior volume thanks to a slight change to the pole design. Both the Passage and Lynx below are good options for backpackers on a sub-$200 budget, but we prefer the more spacious and modern Passage.

An important thing to consider is that the Passage is $70 cheaper than the Half Dome, the number 2 tent on our list. For that relatively small savings, you’re giving up some interior space as the Passage foregoes a center ridge pole, and it lacks the fancy hubbed pole system and lighter weight fabrics. An upside is that the simple two-piece, x-shaped pole design is super easy to set up and take down. We prefer the Half Dome for anyone who plans on covering distance or is getting a decent amount of use out of their tent, but the Passage is still a solid option for casual backpacking and camping.
See the REI Co-op Passage 2

 

16. Nemo Kunai 2P ($500)

Nemo Kunai 2P backpacking tentMinimum weight: 4 lbs. 0 oz.
Floor denier: 30D
Capacity: 2P
What we like: A 4-season backpacking model.
What we don’t: Doesn’t ventilate as well in the heat.

Every other tent on this list is built for 3-season use, but the Nemo Kunai is a true 4-season model that can withstand winter conditions. Its double-wall design resembles a regular backpacking tent, but a strong pole structure, guyline system, and low-profile design allows it to handle alpine-worthy winds and snowfall. And Nemo kept the weight impressively low check at 4 pounds for this 2-person model, so it’s truly viable for long hauls year-round.

Understandably, the Kunai’s balance of a backpacking-friendly weight and 4-season sturdiness creates a few challenges. First is ventilation in the summer. Without a lot of mesh in the design, the tent can be stuffy in hot weather (a roof vent does help move some air, however). And as a mountaineering tent, the Kunai falls on the light end of the spectrum with relatively thin fabrics and tent poles and a snug interior. But for the right backpacker that gets out all season long, the Kunai is a bomber option.
See the Nemo Kunai 2P

 

17. Alps Mountaineering Lynx 1 ($85)

Alps Mountaineering Lynx 1 backpacking tentMinimum weight: 3 lbs. 8 oz.
Floor denier: 75D
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 4P
What we like: Bargain basement price and good feature set.
What we don’t: Heavy for a 1-person tent; budget build quality.

Alps Mountaineering does not make the lightest tents or use premium materials, but they certainly win out in price. For just $85—and often less than that on Amazon—the Lynx 1 is an awesome value in a solo backpacking tent. All the intangibles are there: the Lynx is decently roomy, offers good weather protection and ventilation including two vents up top, and has a large door and vestibule for storing your gear at night. In terms of durability, the Lynx uses a burly 75D floor and substantial zippers, which is 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 1? With a minimum weight of 3 pounds 8 ounces, it’s heavier than many 2-person tents on this list, although those 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 2-person and 4-person varieties.
See the Alps Mountaineering Lynx 1

 

Backpacking Tent Comparison Table

TENT PRICE WEIGHT Floor Area HEIGHT Door(s) Capacities
Nemo Dagger 2P $400 3 lbs. 5 oz. 30D 31 sq. ft. 42 in. 2 2P, 3P
REI Co-op Half Dome 2 Plus $229 4 lbs. 14 oz. 70D 35.8 sq. ft. 44 in. 2 1P, 2P, 3P, 4P
Zpacks Duplex Flex $724 1 lb. 15.2 oz. N/A 28 sq. ft. 48 in. 2 1P, 2P, 3P
MSR Hubba Hubba NX $400 3 lbs. 7 oz. 30D 29 sq. ft. 39 in. 2 1P, 2P, 3P, 4P
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3 $500 3 lbs. 7 oz. 20D 41 sq. ft. 43 in. 2 1P, 2P, 3P, 4P
REI Co-op Quarter Dome 1 $279 2 lbs. 7 oz. 20D 18.9 sq. ft. 42 in. 1 1P, 2P, 3P
Hilleberg Niak $795 3 lbs. 8 oz. 50D 28 sq. ft. 39 in. 1 2P
Marmot Tungsten 2P $199 4 lbs. 13 oz. 68D 32 sq. ft. 42 in. 2 1P, 2P, 3P, 4P
MSR Papa Hubba NX $600 5 lbs. 15 oz. 30D 53 sq. ft. 44 in. 2 1P, 2P, 3P, 4P
Tarptent Double Rainbow $289 2 lbs. 9 oz. 30D 30.5 sq. ft. 43 in. 2 1P, 2P
Nemo Hornet 2P $370 2 lbs. 0 oz. 15D 28 sq. ft. 40 in. 2 1P, 2P
Kelty TraiLogic TN2 $250 4 lbs. 4 oz. 70D 27.5 sq. ft. 42 in. 2 2P, 3P
Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 $390 1 lb. 15 oz. 20D 28 sq. ft. 39 in. 1 1P, 2P, 3P
MSR FreeLite 2 $440 2 lbs. 7 oz. 15D 29 sq. ft. 36 in. 2 1P, 2P, 3P
REI Co-op Passage 2 $159 4 lbs. 13 oz. 75D 31.1 sq. ft 40 in. 2 1P, 2P
Nemo Kunai 2P $500 4 lbs. 0 oz. 30D 27 sq. ft. 42 in. 1 2P
Alps Mountaineering Lynx 1 $85 3 lbs. 8 oz. 75D 20 sq. ft. 36 in. 1 1P, 2P, 4P

 

Backpacking Tent Buying Advice​​

Tent Weight and Types

In many ways, the weight of a backpacking tent is its defining feature. You can get down to around 2 pounds without moving into tarp or shelter territory, but as weight goes down, there are compromises in space and durability. Finding the right balance of weight, performance, and comfort was one of our primary considerations when putting together this list, and below are the categories we created in doing so. For a full breakdown on this topic, see our detailed backpacking tent weight comparison chart.

Ultralight (3-Season) Tents
There aren’t hard-and-fast rules for what defines an “ultralight” or “lightweight” tent, but from our experience, around 3 pounds and under for a 2-person setup is where you start seeing significant shifts in design. These ultralight options push the limits on durability for the all-out goal of trimming weight wherever reasonably possible. You’ll see thin fabrics and tent poles, less interior space, a smaller packed size, and increased cost. Ultralight tents are perfect for serious, ounce-counting backpackers who take good care of their gear.
MSR Freelite BC

For the purposes of this article, all of our tent picks have poles to support the structure. There is, however, a whole other world of backpacking shelters and trekking pole supported tarps that make our ultralight models look downright heavy (some weigh as little as 7 ounces not including trekking poles). Typically produced by small, cottage brands like Zpacks, Six Moon Designs, and Mountain Laurel Designs, they can be awesome for dedicated minimalists and thru hikers but require a higher level of expertise in getting a proper pitch. We hope to have a full article on ultralight shelters up in the near future.

Lightweight (3-Season) Tents
Weight is a moving target in the tent industry—consistently trending downward—and lightweight 2-person tents now range from 3 to 5 pounds. Compared to the ultralight options, lightweight tents have thicker fabrics (thus greater tear resistance), more interior space, and often greater wind and wet weather protection. A properly designed lightweight tent should be well ventilated and comfortable in summer weather, yet capable enough to handle all but the worst 3-season conditions: wind, rain and some light snow. Because of these important characteristics, lightweight tents are what we recommended most (including our top pick the MSR Hubba Hubba NX).
REI Quarter Dome 2 (2017)

4-Season Tents
The majority of backpackers head out in the summer months, but a small subgroup venture out in the shoulder seasons and even winter. For these folks a 4-season tent is best, which amounts to either a beefed up backpacking tent (like the Nemo Kunai) or mountaineering tent (like the The North Face Mountain 25). In rough conditions the sturdier pole design and structure are critical. We’ve used these tents in remote places like Norway and Nepal and have been blown away with their abilities to sustain heavy winds and rain. But there’s a reason we don’t cover them extensively on this list: the lack of mesh and increased weight are not good for warm weather trips.
The North Face Mountain 25 mountaineering tent

Durability (Denier)

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 rain fly. 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 15D floor, while the sturdy 5-pound REI Half Dome is 70D. Ultralight gear certainly requires an extra level of care—we highly recommend using a footprint with all lightweight tents and checking your campsite for sharp sticks or rocks—but it’s a sacrifice many are willing to accept to reduce their pack weight. We prefer a tent that balances weight and durability, which is one of the reasons why the Nemo Dagger (and its 30D floor) gets our top spot.
 

Doors

This article covers mostly 2-person backpacking models (the most common capacity), and a quick look at our top picks above shows our clear preference for tents with 2 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 1-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 and Nemo Kunai, is easier to access than 1 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 2-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.
Backpacking 2-person tent

Size: Floor Area and Peak Height

In parsing out how roomy a given tent is, there are a couple important specs to look for. First are the floor dimensions (L x W), or floor area (listed in square feet), and we list the latter in our table above. The numbers range from a snug 27 square feet in the 2-person Nemo Kunai to the spacious 53 square foot MSR Papa Hubba NX. This number will give you a general idea of interior space for comparing tents and whether or not you will be able to fit wide or long sleeping pads side-by-side. The second spec is the peak height of the tent, the tallest point of the interior.

Both measurements are important in determining the interior comfort of a tent, but they do not tell the entire story. For one, the floor area is based off of measurements taken right at floor level. Depending on the slope of the walls, the actual usable space inside may be substantially different. More, the peak height only is taken at the tallest point in the tent and doesn’t account for how much of the ceiling is that tall. The good news is that the recent trend in tent design is toward vertical walls and large, open spaces overhead, so even ultralight tents are becoming more livable (including the recently updated Big Agnes Copper Spur HV). We think checking these specs are still important, but make sure to look at the tent shape to get a good idea of the actual space inside.
Modern Tent Pole Design

Finally, keep an eye on the shape of the tent and whether or not it slopes toward one end. For example, the Nemo Hornet slopes heavily toward the feet end of the tent and therefore you can only sit up in one area (and can’t sleep two in opposite directions). But the Nemo Dagger is much roomier with a dome shape that is consistent on both ends of the tent. The Dagger weighs considerably more than the Hornet, but the latter sacrifices livable space in a big way. What you prioritize is up to you. 
 

What a “_” Person Tent Means

If you’re purchasing a 2-person tent for 2 people and are expecting extra space to spread out or accommodate a pooch, think again. That 2-person tent will fit a pair of regular sleeping pads side by side but that’s about it. It’s all in the quest to keep weight as low as possible. If you want additional room, there are “plus” versions of some tents, which add extra inches in length and width. We suggest checking out the REI Half Dome 2 Plus, which is 4 inches wider and 10 inches longer than the standard model.

The alternative is going to the next size up. It’s not uncommon to have 1 person in a 2-person tent or 2 folks and their dog in a 3-person model. Some of the ultralight tents, such as the Big Agnes Fly Creek and Nemo Hornet, take the biggest compromise in sizing up—added weight—out of the equation. Each 2-person model weighs 2 pounds, yet both have enough space to feel reasonably roomy when by yourself, which is great for solo thru-hikers or other long-distance trekkers. You also get the added benefit of being able to store your pack fully inside the tent as opposed to leaving it under a vestibule that is more exposed to the elements.
Backpacking tent interior space

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. Sierra Designs and their distinctive Lightning tent doesn’t have a traditional vestibule, but the rainfly design does include 2 gear closets on either side, which accomplish the same thing.

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.
REI Quarter Dome (vestibule)

Ventilation

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.
Kelty TN2 Utah

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, problems with moisture collecting on the interior of the tent can be greatly reduced. And some tents like the Kelty TN2 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 star gazing, but if you feel a couple of rain drops during the night, it only takes a few seconds to roll the rainfly back down.
Backpacking Tent ventilation

Weather Protection

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, 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. Hilleberg Niak Mt. Shuksan

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.
ZPacks Duplex (snow)

Intended Use: Serious vs. Casual Backpacking

Ask yourself these fairly simple questions: How often do you plan on getting out backpacking? Where are you headed? Do you plan on covering a lot of miles each day? If the answers are, “a lot” and “everywhere,” it may be worth purchasing an expensive tent. As we’ve touched on in the sections above, spending more yields tangible benefits. Trail weight and packed size goes down, and higher quality fabrics and pole designs stand up better to foul weather.

On average, most casual backpackers are happiest with a spacious, proven design and aren’t obsessed with trimming every possible ounce. It’s more about being comfortable and staying on a budget. These considerations are what make the $159 REI Co-op Passage 2 and $85 Alps Mountaineering Lynx such popular choices: they’re easy to set up, are made with fabrics that are thick enough for bringing kids or dogs, and offer maybe three quarters the performance of an expensive model at half the price. If the weather isn’t going to get nasty and the 1-2 extra pounds don’t matter much to you, a lightweight tent is a great option.
Nemo Hornet 2P lightweight tent

Tent Poles and Stakes

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 MSR Carbon Reflex is one notable exception). 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.
DAC tent poles

No matter the tent style or manufacturer, stakes are an integral part of setting up a tent. Most 2-person tents will include 6: one for each corner and one for each side of the vestibule. That’s all fine and good for setup for 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 Niak are the best we've used.
Backpacking tent stakes

What Does Freestanding Mean?

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. 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.  
Tarptent Double Rainbow

Footprints and Tent Care

A footprint might feel like an easy item to leave behind on a backpacking trip, but trust us, it is well worth the additional ounces. The extra layer protects the tent floor, and it’s a lot easier to buy and carry a $40 footprint than replace a damaged $400 tent.

You’ll often find footprints specifically designed for your tent, 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. Cost is the primary reason to look elsewhere.

A popular choice for making a generic ground cloth is to pick up bulk Tyvek from a hardware store. This relatively thin and packable material is cheap and offers sufficient waterproof protection. Or you can purchase an emergency blanket, like the Space All-Weather Blanket, and trim it to fit. Place the silver side up, and you get the added benefit of your heat reflecting back up to you. No matter what route you choose, using a footprint is the easiest way to extend the life of your tent.
Back to Our Top Backpacking Tent Picks   Back to Our Backpacking Tent Comparison Table

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