To pinpoint the best ultralight backpacking tents, we gathered sage advice from thru-hikers who’ve tracked the toughest, longest miles with their gear.
Thru-hikers haul their kit for thousands of miles through a spectrum of weather, terrain, wildlife, and obstacles. At a trek’s end, gear is either a benediction or extraneous deadweight. We reached out to a handful of impressive thru-hikers to find the best backpacking tents on the market.
Whether you’re establishing a lightweight backpacking setup or preparing for your inaugural thru-hike, this guide is for you. Here are the best ultralight tents according to thru-hikers from around the globe. If you’re looking for more tent options check out the best backpacking tents of 2020.
The Best Ultralight Tents
Zpacks Duplex Tent: $599
Thru-hiker and visual storyteller Elina Osborne, 26, trekked the 2,653-mile Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in 2019. The Zpacks Duplex Tent became Osborne’s top choice for shelter on her 4-month journey.
“The Duplex Tent is light (19.4 ounces), spacious, and sturdy. It’s the Taj Mahal of ultralight tents,” said Osborne, who lives in Auckland, New Zealand.
She purchased the two-person tent in Central California before she reached the High Sierra segment of the PCT. Then, she relied on the tent in every type of condition for months straight.
“This tent saw me through the High Sierra in a year of 200% snowpack at its peak. It stood through the dryness of Northern California, a mosquito-ridden Oregon, and the rainy state of Washington. As long as I set up the Duplex properly, it didn’t let me down,” said Osborne.
The Duplex Tent is constructed with Dyneema Composite Fabric, which has a high strength-to-weight ratio. The material is built to withstand high wind and remain stretch-free, so it won’t sag under moisture. The fabric is inherently waterproof and PFC-free.
Furthermore, the tent has watertight taped seams. A groundsheet is not required due to the floor’s durability. And the tent has a fully enclosed insect screen with super-tiny holes.
“When I acquired the Duplex Tent, the Zpacks Altaplex Tent ($585) had not yet been released. The Altaplex is also a top contender. It has a sturdy build and an edge on the Duplex Tent regarding weight. But the Duplex has extra space — there’s room for all of your gear and then some,” said Osborne.
The tent’s floor width measures 45 x 90 inches. The design features four storm doors and sets up with two trekking poles. This Duplex has a single-wall construction, which means that condensation is more prevalent, noted Osborne (Zpacks offers tips to avoid condensation).
The Duplex was fairly durable but can’t withstand hard abuse. Osborne learned she needed to “be more gentle with this tent. There’s a small tear on the inner netting, which resulted purely from personal recklessness.”
Today, the Duplex continues to accompany Osborne on trail adventures in New Zealand. “The Duplex is not exactly the most budget-friendly option. But if cutting weight is a priority and you want the luxury of being in your own space, then the Duplex is perfect. At the most desperate of times, you can also cram at least five in there too,” she added.
“The Fly Creek UL 1 Tent has never failed me,” said Katharine Hill. The 22-year-old teacher and thru-hiker is based in Golden, Colorado. Hill has ambled both the PCT and the John Muir Trail and tested several tents along the way.
“The Fly Creek is a freestanding tent, so I can pitch it anywhere, even if the ground is not ideal for stakes. This characteristic was glorious in places like the High Sierra: I watched many friends spend up to 30 minutes trying to find a good pitch,” said Hill.
She likes that this shelter’s frame is established with tent poles rather than trekking poles. With tent poles, the shelter remains stable and doesn’t collapse under extreme gusts, she noted.
The Fly Creek features a single door and a dry-entry vestibule. The tent’s fabric is ripstop nylon. The rainfly and floor have a 1,200mm waterproof polyurethane coating, and the seams are reinforced with waterproof polyurethane tape. This one-person tent was stalwart for nearly 200 days and three seasons in desert, snow, wind, and rain.
“It could take a beating and it also didn’t cost an arm and a leg. Many tents that people take on thru-hikes are lighter but are delicate or hard to pitch. This tent went up fast, kept me dry, and didn’t break easily,” said Hill. One tent pole developed a crack, which Hill taped, and it’s still dependable.
“Another great part of this tent is the optional rainfly. Half the time, I sleep without the rainfly to look at the stars, which is not an option in some tents. The other 50% of nights, I sleep with the rainfly but never wake up wet from condensation or rain,” explained Hill.
The tent weighs in at 33 ounces. Overall, the Fly Creek is a solid budget option for a lightweight (rather than an ultralight) setup.
Matt Mason of Bozeman, Montana, is a thru-hiker and wildland firefighter. The 31-year-old is also a Triple Crowner, meaning he’s completed the three major long-distance trails in the U.S.: the PCT, Appalachian Trail (AT), and Continental Divide Trail (CDT).
He’s also trekked the Long Trail, Tahoe Rim Trail, Colorado Trail, and the Lone Star Hiking Trail. Among the many tents Mason has beat up, his all-time favorite shelter choice is the Hexamid Pocket Tarp with Doors.
“The Hexamid’s Dyneema Composite Fabric has an incredible weight-to-strength ratio – it’s 15 times the strength of quality steel per its weight. This fabric does not stretch, which can make pitching it tricky. But once it’s properly pitched, it does not start to sag like nylon shelters do. That means no adjusting is needed in the middle of a rainstorm,” said Mason.
The Hexamid’s weight is only 5.2 ounces, which is ideal for fast-packing. But a shelter’s weather-proofness is an even more important rule of thumb, said Mason: “By golly, the Hexamid keeps me dry! I’ve weathered high-alpine rain storms; wet, heavy snowfalls in the Southeast; and long, rainy nights in the Pacific Northwest.”
This one-person tarp sets up with one trekking pole or walking stick. The single-wall tarp doesn’t include a ground sheet, which can be bought separately. The tarp packs into a small stuff sack that’s 6.5 x 10 x 14 cm.
“Zippers on a shelter can be a potential point of failure — and this tarp doesn’t have any zippers,” said Mason. He applauded that it’s made in the U.S., and there are two storm doors and enough space to stow the hiker’s gear.
Mason has used this shelter on more than 300 nights, and it’s extremely durable. “I’m very impressed with how well it’s held up over the years. The tent body, tie-out points, seam sealing, and guylines are in good shape considering this shelter has two trips from Mexico to Canada and plenty of week and weekend trips under its belt,” he said. (However, the stuff sack now has many patches on it.)
When using this tarp, Mason carries personal bug netting for buzzy sections of trail. After he completes those segments, he ships the netting home. Unfortunately, he shipped the netting home too early on the CDT.
“I used a mosquito head net and my baseball hat to keep the mosquitoes off my face while I slept. This system worked surprisingly well, and it saved a lot of weight compared to the full-length bug net,” said Mason.
This shelter is ideal for an arid climate — and for anyone under 6 feet tall. “On a long-term trip that’s extremely wet and damp, this tarp might not work as well, especially if you tend to toss and turn at night like myself,” said Mason.
“On a long hike, I prefer to be hiking — not hanging out in camp. This minimalist tarp allows me to minimize my base weight and maximize my miles per day.”
Gossamer Gear The One: $299
Paul “Pie” Ingram is a thru-hiker based in Helsinki, Finland. The 32-year-old has checked off the AT, Annapurna Circuit, CDT, and more than 400 miles of the High Sierra Trail. Ingram’s favorite tent is the Gossamer Gear The One.
‘The One’ features an interior clothesline and flashlight loop. The vestibule rolls open for views. The central body and floor are treated with a 1,200mm waterproof polyurethane coating, and the seams are factory-taped. Both tent doors open for extra ventilation,” said Ingram.
“The One tent provides a huge amount of livable space for its weight compared to many similar tents on the market. It provides more protection from the elements than lighter options, such as a tarp and bivy. It’s not as light as some tents made with Dyneema Composite Fabric, but it’s cheaper and arguably more durable.”
This tent has accompanied him across more than 3,000 miles and more than 180 nights on trail. So far, the tent shows zero issues, abrasions, or holes.
The tent body and floor are constructed from a custom 15-denier nylon blend fabric. And the tent’s floor is 36 inches wide at the head, 24 inches wide at the foot, and 88 inches long. The 20.6-ounce shelter is set up with trekking poles, or the segmented poles can be purchased separately.
“When I’m hiking in good weather with zero bugs, a tarp is preferable due to its lower weight. But those conditions rarely last for long. So, on longer trips with varied conditions, The One shines,” Ingram said.
“Super-ultralight people may call it ‘too heavy,’ but for the features it offers, it’s hard to beat. This tent handles rain, wind, bugs, and light snow well. For consistent heavy snow, I would look at a freestanding four-season tent instead.”