The ideal backpacking tent is lightweight, spacious, and tough enough to handle any inclement weather that you can throw at it. It’s a big category, but the good news for backpackers is that tent technology has come a long way even over the past few years and there are a number of great options ranging from ultralight to budget. Below are our picks for the best backpacking tents of 2020. For more background information, see our backpacking tent comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
Packaged weight: 3 lbs. 1 oz.
Floor area: 29 sq. ft.
Floor denier: 20D
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P, 4P
What we like: Strikes a great balance among weight, space, and features.
What we don’t: Thin materials require more care than many of the non-ultralight tents below.
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. All told, you get 29 square feet of floor space for the two-person version, solid headroom with a hubbed pole design, and two doors, at just 3 pounds 1 ounce. It’s much lighter than competing models like the MSR Hubba Hubba and Nemo Dagger below, and without the design compromises of Big Agnes’ Tiger Wall and 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.
For 2020, Big Agnes has released a new version of the Copper Spur HV UL2. Changes include new vestibule awnings that stays open using your trekking poles, redesigned storage, and a slightly higher weight at 3 pounds 2 ounces. We are taking the new model to Patagonia for testing this January and look forward to getting it out in adverse conditions, but the older version currently is on sale while supplies last, which is a big reason we give it the nod here. With either model, keep in mind that the 20-denier floor fabric is relatively thin, so take care when setting it up and entering/exiting the tent. For an even more trimmed-down tent from Big Agnes, see the 2-pound-8-ounce Tiger Wall below... Read in-depth review
See the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2
Best Budget Backpacking Tent
Packaged weight: 5 lbs. 5 oz.
Floor area: 35.8 sq. ft.
Floor denier: 70D
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P, 4P (all “Plus”)
What we like: A well-built tent with lots of room at a good price.
What we don’t: You certainly can go a lot lighter.
If you’re looking for the right combination of price and performance, REI has been making some of the top budget-oriented tents on the market for years. The Half Dome is downright iconic at this point, offering just about everything that most casual and beginning backpackers need at a reasonable price. The tent is super easy to set up and take down, very durable with a 70-denier floor, has vertical walls for extra headroom, and sports ample mesh for stargazing. Yes, you can save with the cheaper REI Trail Hut below, but there are real compromises in terms of weight, interior space, and materials. All told, we think the Half Dome is a great value for what it is and should keep most people happy for years of backpacking—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. It’s true that the 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
Best Ultralight Backpacking Tent
Weight: 1 lb. 3.4 oz. (trekking pole-supported) or 1 lb. 8 oz. (with Zpacks Straight Poles)
Floor area: 28 sq. ft.
Floor: 1.0 oz/sqyd (Dyneema)
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P
What we like: Extremely 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
Best of the Rest
Packaged weight: 3 lbs. 14 oz.
Floor area: 29 sq. ft.
Floor denier: 30D
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 below. To get down to the nitty gritty, the Nemo weighs the same but is slightly roomier with 31.3 square feet of floor space and costs $50 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). The cherry on top for us: the MSR is extremely well-built and readily available, something Nemo struggles with year after year... Read in-depth review
See the MSR Hubba Hubba NX
Packaged weight: 5 lbs. 15 oz.
Floor area: 31.7 sq. ft.
What we like: Inexpensive, easy to set up, and tough.
What we don’t: Getting up there in weight at nearly 6 pounds.
The Half Dome above is REI’s best-selling backpacking tent, but you can go cheaper with the new-for-2020 Trail Hut. Here’s the good news: for under $200, you get a quality build with two doors, full-coverage rainfly, and ample storage. Notably, the Trail Hut 2 is replacing the old Passage, which was $159 without a footprint included (it’s debatable whether you need a footprint or not). Compared to the Passage, you get a modernized pole design for more headroom along with the option to roll up the sides on warm and clear nights, both of which are nice features.
Who should buy the REI Trail Hut 2? It’s a great option for those new to backpacking or who can only get out for a trip or two each summer. At $30 less than the Half Dome 2 Plus above with a footprint, the value is there but you do sacrifice in terms of weight, interior space, materials, and the amount of mesh (the Half Dome has more). And for those who want to spend even less, the Kelty Late Start 2 below is another viable budget option that costs only $160, although that tent only one has side door, which is suboptimal for two backpackers.
See the REI Co-op Trail Hut 2
Packaged weight: 3 lbs. 14 oz.
Floor area: 31.3 sq. ft.
Floor denier: 30D
Capacities: 2P, 3P
What we like: Lightweight, roomy, and easy to set up.
What we don’t: Ventilation and protection could be 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 light, comfortable, 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 touched on in the Hubba Hubba NX write-up above, the Dagger gets the edge in interior space 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 still 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 undeniably great designs, but the improved protection gives the MSR the advantage for us... Read in-depth review
See the Nemo Dagger 2P
Packaged weight: 5 lbs. 4 oz.
Floor area: 32 sq. ft.
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 and Trail Hut 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. 8 oz.
Floor area: 28 sq. ft.
Floor denier: 15D
Capacities: 2P, 3P
What we like: Very light yet more livable than the Nemo Hornet.
What we don’t: Semi-freestanding build isn’t easy to pitch on rock.
Big Agnes has a knack for mixing and matching designs to create a new product, which is exactly what they’ve done 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 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 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 below, and the silicone-coated nylon is impressively strong (but 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, but the Copper Spur is the more livable option for two people... Read in-depth review
See the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2
Packaged weight: 4 lbs. 10 oz.
Floor area: 28 sq. ft.
Floor denier: 50D
Capacities: 2P, 3P
What we like: Premium build and the biggest vestibule on this list by far.
What we don’t: Pricey and long (you’ll need a campsite with a decent amount of space).
Hilleberg is a legendary Swedish brand known for making the finest tents on the planet. Here at Switchback Travel, we've tested many of their models and constantly debate which should be included in this round-up. Over the years, the Nallo, Niak, and Anjan have been represented, and all are worthy in their own right. But if we were to choose one for backpacking (there are more Hillebergs in our 4-season tents article), it would be the Anjan GT. The tunnel shape is the best for wind management, and the vestibule is so impressive that it feels like a separate room (people use the Anjan GT for bikepacking, which says a lot). The truth is that almost all Hillebergs are great and have their purposes—the company is like the Arc'teryx of tents—but the Anjan is the 3-season standout for us.
If you're considering a Hilleberg, here are some key things to know. 1) They're expensive but worth it in our opinion. If you sleep outdoors a ton, a Hilleberg can be your home away from home. 2) They aren't great breathers in warm conditions. These tents work best in places like Scandinavia, Alaska, Patagonia, and true alpine conditions in the Lower 48. If you're camping in 85-degree summer weather, condensation may be an issue. 3) The wind protection is incredible. Most tents bow and howl in strong winds, but with guylines tightened down, a Hilleberg is as stable a tent as you'll find. For extended trips in tough conditions, that sure can have a lot of value.
See the Hilleberg Anjan GT
Packaged weight: 2 lbs. 14 oz.
Floor area: 18.9 sq. ft.
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 one-person version. At 2 pounds 14 ounces, this tent is all that most solo backpackers need while still coming in at a reasonable $299. REI redesigned the Quarter Dome a couple years ago 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 one-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 two-person variety, that version of the Quarter Dome comes in at 3 pounds 12 ounces, but is more tapered than we prefer and strangely comes with only nine stakes while 10 are required for a basic set-up. For these reasons, we like the one-person model best. REI also released the Quarter Dome SL last year, which has more mesh in the tent body and a simplified pole design that cuts the packaged weight to 2 pounds 6 ounces... Read in-depth review
See the REI Co-op Quarter Dome 1
Packaged weight: 2 lbs. 10 oz.
Floor area: 30.5 sq. ft.
Floor denier: 30D
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
Weight: 1 lb. 12 oz. (trekking pole-supported) or 2 lbs. 4.6 oz. (with Hyperlite Carbon Fiber poles)
Floor area: 32.5 sq. ft.
Floor: 1.3 oz/sqyd (Dyneema)
What we like: A true all-in-one tent system from Hyperlite.
What we don’t: We appreciate the sturdy design, but it is 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: 7 lbs.
Floor area: 53. sq. ft.
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 four-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. You get 53 square feet of floor space, a 30-denier nylon floor fabric, and an impressively low packaged weight of 7 pounds. Taken together, this is a serious family backpacking tent with few compromises (other than its $700 price tag).
In terms of competition to the Papa Hubba NX, Big Agnes makes a four-person version of the Copper Spur HV UL series. Although that tent saves 1 pound 6 ounces in weight at 5 pounds 10 ounces total, it uses thinner materials including a 20-denier 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 two-person tents on this list but low for the four-person variety, which commonly are 50 inches or more.
See the MSR Papa Hubba NX
Packaged weight: 4 lbs. 13 oz.
Floor area: 28 sq. ft.
Floor denier: 70D
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. 6 oz.
Floor area: 27.5 sq. ft.
Floor denier: 15D
Capacities: 1P, 2P
What we like: As light as the Fly Creek but has two 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 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 noticeably less roomy than the Tiger Wall above 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 (and perhaps even a well-mannered dog). For a step up in livability, Nemo also released the Dragonfly last year. However, we’ve found it’s still very tight for two backpackers while weighing quite a bit more than the Hornet at 3 pounds 2 ounces... Read in-depth review
See the Nemo Hornet 2P
Packaged weight: 4 lbs. 8 oz.
Floor area: 29.5 sq. ft.
Floor denier: 68D
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 Trail Hut (our #5 pick), 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 Trail Hut has two of each), so it can be a pain for two people to get in and out. The Trail Hut also has the edge in interior space with 31.7 square feet of floor area vs. 29 on the Kelty, and its ridge pole results in better headroom. 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: 2 lbs. 5 oz.
Floor area: 28 sq. ft.
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 two-person version weighs in at a measly 2 pounds 5 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 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.
See the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2
Packaged weight: 4 lbs. 4 oz.
Floor area: 20 sq. ft.
Floor denier: 75D
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 4P
What we like: Incredibly cheap and good feature set.
What we don’t: Heavy for a one-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 $120—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 sufficient ventilation with 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 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 1? With a packaged weight of 4 pounds 4 ounces, it’s heavier than many two-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 two-person and four-person varieties.
See the Alps Mountaineering Lynx 1
|Big Agnes Copper Spur||$450||3 lbs. 1 oz.||29 sq. ft.||20D||40 in.||2||1P, 2P, 3P, 4P|
|REI Co-op Half Dome 2 Plus||$229||5 lbs. 5 oz.||35.8 sq. ft.||70D||44 in.||2||1P, 2P, 3P, 4P|
|Zpacks Duplex||$599||1 lb. 3.4 oz.||28 sq. ft.||1 oz/sqyd||48 in.||2||1P, 2P, 3P|
|MSR Hubba Hubba NX||$450||3 lbs. 14 oz.||29 sq. ft.||30D||39 in.||2||1P, 2P, 3P, 4P|
|REI Co-op Trail Hut 2||$199||5 lbs. 15 oz.||31.7 sq. ft.||Unavail.||40 in.||2||2P|
|Nemo Dagger 2P||$400||3 lbs. 14 oz.||31.3 sq. ft.||30D||42 in.||2||2P, 3P|
|Marmot Tungsten 2P||$199||5 lbs. 4 oz.||32 sq. ft.||68D||42 in.||2||1P, 2P, 3P, 4P|
|Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2||$400||2 lbs. 8 oz.||28 sq. ft.||15D||39 in.||2||2P, 3P|
|Hilleberg Anjan GT||$860||4 lbs. 10 oz.||28 sq. ft.||50D||39 in.||1||2P, 3P|
|REI Co-op Quarter Dome 1||$299||2 lbs. 14 oz.||18.9 sq. ft.||20D||42 in.||1||1P, 2P, 3P|
|Tarptent Double Rainbow||$299||2 lbs. 10 oz.||30.5 sq. ft.||30D||42 in.||2||1P, 2P|
|Hyperlite Dirigo 2||$795||1 lb. 12 oz.||32.5 sq. ft.||1.3 oz/sqyd||45 in.||2||2P|
|MSR Papa Hubba NX||$700||7 lbs.||53 sq. ft.||30D||44 in.||2||1P, 2P, 3P, 4P|
|Kelty Dirt Motel 2||$260||4 lbs. 13 oz.||28 sq. ft.||70D||42.5 in.||2||2P, 3P, 4P|
|Nemo Hornet 2P||$370||2 lbs. 6 oz.||27.5 sq. ft.||15D||39 in.||2||1P, 2P|
|Kelty Late Start 2||$160||4 lbs. 8 oz.||29.5 sq. ft.||68D||40 in.||1||1P, 2P, 4P|
|Big Agnes Fly Creek||$350||2 lbs. 5 oz.||28 sq. ft.||20D||40 in.||1||1P, 2P, 3P|
|Alps Mountaineering Lynx 1||$120||4 lbs. 4 oz.||20 sq. ft.||75D||36 in.||1||1P, 2P, 4P|
*Editor's Note: "Weight" refers to the packaged weight of each tent, with the exception of trekking pole-supported models.
- Backpacking Tent Weight Explained
- Interior Space: Floor Area, Peak Height, and Walls
- Number of Doors
- Storage: Vestibules and Interior Pockets
- Durability (Denier)
- Weather Protection
- Price: What You Get by Spending More
- Set up and Take Down
- What Does Freestanding Mean?
- Tent Poles and Stakes
- Footprints and Tent Care
For many backpackers, a tent’s weight is perhaps its most important spec. In comparing the packaged weights (more on packaged weight vs. minimum weight below) of two-person models, most budget tents are around 5 pounds or more (the REI Trail Hut comes in at 5 pounds 15 ounces, for example). Many of our favorite premium all-rounders break the 4-pound barrier like the Big Agnes Copper Spur at 3 pounds 1 ounce and MSR Hubba Hubba NX at 3 pounds 14 ounces. At the true ultralight end of the spectrum, a leading model like the Zpacks Duplex comes in at just 1 pound 8 ounces with optional straight tent poles, or even less if using trekking poles for support.
You may find it confusing that tentmakers list two weights, 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 (plus any manufacturer tags or labels). And in cases where the footprint is included with the tent, such as REI’s Trail Hut and Marmot’s Tungsten, the weight of the ground sheet is factored in here. You can cut weight further if you so choose: some people ditch the stuff sacks and leave them at home, for example, although that results in a very minimal weight savings and slightly less protection. 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.
The other spec you may come across is minimum weight (also referred to as "trail weight"), which 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 entry-level REI Trail Hut with its aluminum poles and included footprint to a 5-ounce difference for the ultralight 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 minimalists will be able to trim ounces from there (nearly all the way down to the minimum weight if you so desire).
When making a tent purchase, there is no one-size-fits-all solution as to the ideal weight. If you are on a budget, don’t mind carrying the extra pounds in your pack, are doing a short backpack, or you value space and durability, a heavier tent will work fine and save you money in the process. If you’re a thru-hiker covering 20 miles a day with an ultralight pack that can only handle a 30-pound load, it’s worth spending up for a premium ultralight shelter. For people who fall somewhere in between—which represents a healthy percentage of backpackers—we like tents like the aforementioned MSR Hubba Hubba NX and Big Agnes Copper Spur, which strike a nice balance between weight and livability.
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 18.9 square feet in the one-person REI Quarter Dome 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. Further, 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 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.
Finally, keep an eye on the overall design of the tent and whether or not it slopes toward one end. For example, the Nemo Hornet slopes heavily toward the foot 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Anjan and Niak 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.
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. 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 $229 REI Half Dome and $120 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 sufficient protection in most conditions. If the extra 1 to 3 pounds don’t matter much to you, a value-oriented tent is a great option.
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 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 Tent Need a Footprint?
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