Whether you’re looking to spend 100 nights on the trail or want to stick to a tight budget, we’ve found the best backpacking tents of 2022.
From PCT hikers spending 6 months on the trail to the nascent hiker spending 6 days on their first solo backpacking trip, a good tent is the cornerstone of outdoor preparedness. The right tent can be a shelter from the elements and critters. In the wild, it’s a home away from home.
Our team of testers has spent hundreds of nights in tents in weather conditions that run the gamut from excruciating desert heat to frigid winter nights at high elevations to bring you our selection of the best backpacking tents for this year. When it comes to picking a tent, one truth stands out: no single tent will work well for every situation.
Sometimes you want a superlight bivy that just keeps the bugs away on a long hike. Other times, you want a burly winter abode capable of standing up to gale-force winds and heavy snow. Maybe you want that tent that can do a little of everything.
In general, picking a tent largely comes down to how you plan to use it. If you need help deciding, check out our buyer’s guide. And if you’re looking for something roomier for car camping or family camping, we have a separate review of the best camping tents.
We considered six factors while evaluating the best backpacking tents: ease of setting up, durability and materials, weight and packed size, interior space, weather resistance, and value.
Floor space and packed weight were the most important factors to our panel, while extra features such as pouches and pockets weighed less heavily in our evaluation.
Each tent excels in one or more of these aspects, and we have awarded outstanding models “Best of Rating” corresponding to their outstanding qualities. So whether you are pinching pennies, ready to splurge on the tent of your dreams, or just wanting to replace your tattered gear, we have found a tent that can fit your budget and needs.
The Best Backpacking Tents of 2022
Best Overall Backpacking Tent: Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2
Looking for a three-season freestanding tent that tips the scales at just 3 pounds, 2 ounces? Enter the Big Agnes Copper Spur ($500). Although you can find lighter tents on the market, this tent is light enough to make it a contender for the best backpacking tent, even for the gram-counters among us.
This tent boasts a good overlap between the bathtub floor and the rainfly, ensuring a dry night’s sleep. Above the floor material, quality mesh provides a breathable, well-ventilated space that should keep condensation low.
With so little weight in your pack, you get a really comfortable abode for the trail. It has two doors, two vestibules, 29 square feet of floor space, and 18 square feet of combined vestibule space. The vestibules transform into awnings with trekking poles to cook under or to allow airflow.
Easy-to-use tent buckles on the corners where the fly attaches make for quick setup in a storm. We also appreciated the storage pockets at the feet and head for electronics, snacks, or layers. Plus, the ceiling pocket at the head has media pockets with cord-routing for electronics if you are stuck in bad weather.
The Copper Spur is a lightweight tent, therefore, the materials are more delicate to save weight. The ripstop floor and fly have 1,200mm polyurethane (PU) coating but are very thin. The poles are a mix of DAC’s NSL and NFL, and are the lightest the brand offers. The four-way hub at the apex where the poles join aids in a speedy setup.
Remember, it is important to exercise caution when setting up to avoid ripping or breaking poles. Always double-check to make sure poles are properly seated before flexing them into position.
Be careful when packing light tents into your pack, too. With conscientious care and maintenance, these tents can last a long time.
This Big Agnes Copper Spur tent is ideal for lightweight backpacking so long as you take good care to protect the materials. Hikers who use electronics more, or who think they may take a rest day or two in the tent, will enjoy the extra features.
There are lighter tents available for ultralight hikers and beefier ones for those who will be within spitting distance of a car. Overall, this tent is great for summer camping, backpacking, and any multiday trip where you’re looking for a balance of comfort and weight.
- Weight: 3 lbs., 2 oz.
- Height: 40 in.
- Floor space: 29 sq. ft.
- Materials: Nylon, aluminum, and composite
- Vestibule area: 18 sq. ft.
- Roomier than expected
- Excellent storage and vestibule design
- Struggles in high winds (above 40 mph)
- Somewhat fragile
Best Budget Backpacking Tent: Marmot Catalyst 2P Tent
At $219, the Catalyst two-person tent is an excellent value for someone looking for a solid backpacking tent that can also function as a car camping tent, all without breaking the bank.
At a minimum trail weight of 4 pounds, 11 ounces, it’s on the heavy side, but it’ll do the job and packs down small enough to fit comfortably in a backpack. It’s also quite spacious, with 32.5 square feet of floor space.
We love the color-coded poles for easy setup, which most say is a piece of cake even for new campers. It also has two D-shaped doors with vestibules, adding room for gear storage.
The only drawbacks to this tent are its weight and bulk. A minor complaint is that the different length poles can be confusing if you are in a hurry. Practicing your setup in advance (always recommended) is a good way to shorten setup time.
The packed size is 21 by 7.5 inches, and the Catalyst weighs 5 pounds, 3 ounces. This is fairly heavy for a two-person tent, and it’s no easy task to carry up a steep pass.
Still, for new hikers getting into the game, the Marmot Catalyst 2P Tent is a great place to start. Divide the parts of the tent between you and your hiking partner and start exploring. Anyone who is unsure about how much backpacking they will do is unlikely to have buyer’s remorse, making this one of the best backpacking tents for the price.
- Weight: 4 lbs., 11 oz.
- Height: 44 in.
- Floor space: 32.5 sq. ft.
- Materials: Polyester and aluminum
- Vestibule area: 11 sq. ft., 6.5 sq. ft.
- Great value
- Easy setup with color-coded poles
- Heavier than other backpacking tents
- Bulky when packed
- Different pole lengths
Best Ultralight Backpacking Tent: NEMO Hornet Elite
Our team has spent dozens of nights backpacking with the NEMO Hornet Elite ($500), and the consensus among us is clear. We absolutely love this tent! Mostly, we love how much this tent saves both weight and pack space. It’s a marvel of engineering, and is truly one of the best backpacking tents ever designed.
The NEMO Hornet Elite weighs a scant 2 pounds, 1 ounce. And you can ditch some stakes and the stuff sack for a minimum trail weight of 1 pound, 11 ounces. For gram-counters, that makes it a contender on weight alone.
This tent is more than light. It’s also a very legit abode in bad weather. On rainy, stormy nights on the trail, the NEMO Hornet Elite 2 kept our testing team dry and comfortable.
Unlike many ultralight options, which depend on trekking poles, this is a freestanding tent. It uses a clever three-pole design, has a mesh interior, and utilizes an integrated rainfly to keep out bugs, rain, and wind.
Inside, a 27.3-square-foot floor gives a small but acceptable space for two adults. This is certainly not a large footprint, and you will be shoulder to shoulder with your tentmate. Remember, we’re ultralight backpacking here, so snuggle up.
Fortunately, there is enough room under the two vestibules (serviced by two doors) for a large pack, shoes, and some other gear. We’ve used it many times in the rain, and it’s enough space to keep your kit dry, even in nasty weather.
Setup and takedown are also easy. Once familiar with the tent, our testers were able to set it up easily in less than 5 minutes.
Of course, at $500, the Hornet Elite is a significant investment. But we’ve used it for enough nights to be impressed with its durability. That said, this is a superlight silnylon tent. That means it won’t hold up to abuse, and we don’t recommend it for car camping, as that would put wear and tear on a very expensive tent.
For those who want a lightweight tent to carry over big miles, the NEMO Hornet Elite is our favorite ultralight backpacking tent on the market right now.
- Weight: 2 lbs., 1 oz.
- Height: 37 in.
- Floor space: 27.3 sq. ft.
- Materials: Nylon and composite
- Vestibule area: 12.4 sq. ft.
- Packs small
- Withstands weather
- Fragile for car camping or sharp rocks
Best Value Ultralight: REI Co-op Flash Air 2
The REI Flash Air 2 ($349) borrows the popular one-piece design from the Zpacks Duplex and offers up a moderately priced alternative for the backpacker who’s looking to cut weight without parting with too much of their hard-earned dough. While not quite as light or easy to set up as its high-dollar competition, those willing to compromise will enjoy plenty of beautiful nights in the backcountry without breaking their backs to get there.
Weighing in at just over two pounds, this tent is light without skimping on features. It has two doors, each with a small vestibule, and several pockets for gear storage so you’ll always know where your headlamp is at night. Its hubbed pole design allows you to swap out the included vertical support poles with your own trekking poles for even more weight savings.
The Flash Air 2 isn’t a free-standing tent, meaning you’ll need to properly stake it out at six points to keep it from falling over. For the experienced camper in a forest or meadow with soft soil, this is a fairly easy task. In the high desert outside of Gunnison CO, our team of seasoned testers had to fight hard to pitch this tent in heavy winds on top of a rock slab, where they needed additional cordage to use boulders as anchors. In short, a little practice and planning go a long way when pitching the Flash Air 2.
This tent employs ripstop nylon which is heavier and less durable than the Dyneema composite material used by the Zpacks Duplex. But the Flash 2 is half the price, and with careful campsite selection, you can keep the Flash 2 rip-free and watertight. If you’re an experienced backpacker who wants to go ultralight without going ultra-expensive, this tent is the perfect choice.
- Packed weight: 2 lbs., 8 oz.
- Height: 42 in.
- Floor space: 28.7 sq. ft.
- Materials: Nylon, mesh, Aluminum
- Vestibule area: 16.8 sq. ft.
- 2 vestibules
- Can be supported with trekking poles
- Setup takes practice
- Not freestanding
Best Minimalist Tent for Thru-Hikers: Zpacks Duplex
For minimalist backpackers and thru-hikers that put weight savings at the top of the list, it’s hard to beat the Zpacks Duplex ($699). This non-freestanding, trekking pole-supported design has been a long-time favorite on the AT and PCT thanks to its excellent mix of minimal weight, ample space, and protection from the elements.
Featuring a Dyneema Composite construction (rather than nylon or silnylon found on most backpacking models), the tent is legitimately ultralight at just 1 pound, 3.4 ounces. But the unique fabric holds up well to rough use and isn’t prone to sagging, even in heavy moisture.
The Duplex offers good all-around livability for two backpackers with a peak height of 48 inches, two side doors and vestibules, and a symmetrical rectangular floor.
What do you give up with the ultralight build? For one, the setup process is much more involved than a typical, pole-supported backpacking tent. You’ll need a fairly large area to stake out all the guylines, and it takes quite a bit of practice to get an even pitch.
Also, condensation buildup can be an issue at night, especially along the canopy peak. This model utilizes single-wall construction (and no mesh insert). Finally, in particularly rough and windy weather, we did find it to be pretty drafty due to the mesh sidewalls.
As such, the Duplex likely isn’t the best choice for casual backpackers, four-season adventurers, or those looking for a great value. (It costs $699, and that doesn’t include stakes.)
This tent is ideal for the type of person who cuts their toothbrush in half and takes pride in overall base weight. Overall, the Duplex is a standout option for serious hikers who plan to log a lot of miles and aren’t shy about paying for quality ultralight materials.
- Weight: 1 lb., 3.4 oz.
- Height: 48 in.
- Floor space: 28.1 sq. ft.
- Materials: Dyneema
- Vestibule area: 11 sq. ft.
- Hard to set up
- Requires large area, stakes, and guylines
The Best of the Rest
The Arete ASL 2 ($449) offers a lot of versatility in an affordable package. With a minimum trail weight of 5 pounds, 10 ounces, it’s not ultralight by any stretch, but it is surprisingly light and reasonably priced for a winter-ready four-season tent. It does well in the summer too, with plenty of mesh.
We found the four-pole setup quick and easy, thanks to intuitive color-coding. The vestibule provides enough room for two packs and hiking shoes. The corner pockets and hang loops keep essentials at hand. For better durability and comfort, we recommend adding on the footprint, which is sold separately.
We don’t love the single-door design, but at least the door is large and easy to access from either corner of the tent. Previous models of this tent experienced issues with the rainfly seam sealant, but it appears that REI has fixed that problem with this newest update.
Overall, the Arete ASL 2 is a sturdy, all-season tent, and comes in at about half the price as other four-season tents. This tent is great for any winter enthusiast not ready to spend a lot of cash on a specialized winter tent, but it’s too heavy for most warm-weather backpackers.
- Weight: 6 lbs., 5 oz.
- Height: 43 in.
- Floor space: 32.9 sq. ft.
- Materials: Nylon and aluminum
- Vestibule area: 8.7 sq. ft.
- Lightweight for a four-season tent
- Single door
Nemo upgraded many of its best-selling models this year with its proprietary OSMO fabric. The Nemo Dagger OSMO 2P ($479) now benefits from the OSMO fabric’s increased water repellency and reduced stretch, and we all can benefit from its use of 100 percent recycled yarns.
Like previous versions, the setup process remains fast and easy, with one pole connected by a series of hubs. No guessing is required thanks to color-coded webbing and plastic inserts for the pole ends. As with previous iterations, our testers are concerned about the durability of the critical plastic parts, though none broke during our testing trip.
With gear in the pockets, this tent offers good organization. You can hang a headlamp from the overhead mesh light pockets (one at each end). Two doors and two sizable vestibules ensure you and your tentmate have easy exits and space for gear, and if you happen to have this tent to yourself, it feels like a palace.
The Dagger held up well to strong winds once we fully guyed it out and angled it into the wind. It was warm and condensation-free during a rainy night, and the new fabric significantly alleviates our previous complaint about this tent sagging when wet.
While this tent isn’t Nemo’s lightest model, it’s less expensive and more durable than the brand’s ultralight tents, and will better serve campers who spend equal time backcountry and front country camping.
For more details, check out our full review on the NEMO Dagger OSMO 2P.
- Packed weight: 4 lbs., 2 oz.
- Height: 42 in.
- Floor space: 31.3 sq. ft.
- Materials: OSMO Ripstop/Nylon blend, aluminum
- Vestibule area: 11.4 sq. ft. x 2
- Spacious for 2 people
- Durable enough for car camping
- Easy to set up
- Not the lightest
The Telos is an excellent first attempt from the brand in this crowded market. It definitely stands apart from other tents, with unique architecture that creates very steep sidewalls and a high 43.5-inch peak height.
This gives even tall users (like our 6’4″ editor-in-chief) plenty of headroom to lay down or sit upright. It also proved to have strong architecture. Our test faced very strong winds, pushing 50 mph, and the Sea to Summit Telos did not collapse at all, even when receiving heavy gusts.
However, our testers did not love everything about the Telos. The biggest complaints surrounded the tent’s unique storage system. Sea to Summit opted to use two bags and a “light bar” tube (a separate narrow stuff sack for the poles that has a light diffusing material to create a night light when a headlamp is placed in it).
We agreed that the light bar idea was overly clever and that we would probably never use it. Furthermore, you stuff the tent body into one bag, the fly into another, and the poles into the tube. This allows users to split the load or drop elements of the tent from the trip (as you can set up the fly without the body for ultralight use).
However, our testers found it unnecessary and confusing. We all agreed that you’d likely end up losing parts this way. In short, while Sea to Summit really thought through this design, we would prefer a simple stuff sack and pole bag.
All that said, the Telos is an excellent backpacking tent that offers good ventilation, excellent interior space, two doors, and two vestibules.
We would not hesitate to buy one primarily as a backpacking tent that could flex into car camping, thanks to fairly durable materials and an available footprint. For those who like versatility in setup, and are good at keeping track of stuff sacks, this is a solid choice.
Read our full review on the Sea To Summit Telos.
- Packed weight: 3 lbs., 10.7 oz.
- Height: 43.5 in.
- Floor space: 23 sq. ft.
- Materials: Polyester and aluminum
- Vestibule area: 19.5 sq. ft.
- Light but fairly durable
- Accommodating for people over 6 feet tall
- Steep walls
- Storage system overly complicated
If price is your primary concern when buying a tent, but you still want good quality, the Kelty Late Start 2 is a good place to look. At $160, the Late Start 2 is a modestly priced tent. And it has quality construction while hitting a price point that most people won’t balk at.
It sets up super fast with a simple two-pole design. Once up, the bathtub floor offers a slight overlap with the rainfly, so splashback could be an issue in heavy rain and wind.
The tent packs down to 16 x 7 inches. While certainly not tiny, it will work in a backpack. Similarly, at a minimum weight of 4 pounds, it’s not ultralight, but works for short backpacking excursions.
The vestibules are barely big enough for a single backpack, but they will suffice for hikers on a budget. Two small pockets offer space to stash a couple of important items.
There are better tents out there, but you’ll pay more for them. For $160, this one is a value that should last through lots of happy camping.
- Weight: 4 lbs., 8 oz.
- Height: 40 in.
- Floor space: 29.5 sq. ft.
- Materials: Polyester and aluminum
- Vestibule area: 7.85 sq. ft.
- Good value
- Easy setup
- Quality construction
- Not built for extreme weather conditions
The REI Quarter Dome SL 2 ($379) is a very popular, affordable tent. It’s well-rounded for car camping and backpacking. With a minimum trail weight of 2 pounds, 8 ounces, this tent hits a sweet spot that should appeal to a broad cross-section of hikers and campers.
The freestanding tent sets up quickly and easily. The main tent body has tons of mesh and a small bathtub floor that extends slightly above the overlapping rainfly. It stays dry in rainstorms but could see a little splash-over from runoff.
Four pockets in the mesh provide adequate storage for small items, and the two large doors give each camper easy access to the interior or the vestibules on each side.
As for complaints, it’s a snug layout for two, but it should suffice as long as you and your partner don’t mind being cozy. Also, it’s probably not great for heavy storms due to the short bathtub ring around the floor.
We liked the Quarter Dome SL 2, especially at the reasonable price point, as a versatile tent at a very light weight. Given the massive amount of mesh, it should be a strong performer in hot, dry climates where ventilation and protection from insects are top priorities.
- Weight: 2 lbs., 8 oz.
- Height: 38 in.
- Floor space: 28.7 sq. ft.
- Materials: Nylon and aluminum
- Vestibule area: 21.5 sq. ft.
- Plenty of ventilation
- Tight fit for two people
- May not withstand heavy storms
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2 is incredible, but it’s also super expensive. So while we do love this model for several reasons, it comes with a caveat of a $735 price tag, plus another $395 if you want the mesh insert to keep bugs away! For serious hikers, the hefty investment may be worth it, as it’s definitely one of the best backpacking tents available.
Hyperlite builds the UltaMid 2 with Dyneema fabric, an extraordinarily durable material that withstands tons of abuse yet remains incredibly light. This tent, which uses trekking poles for support, weighs in at just 1.19 pounds for the main tent body.
Add 1.3 pounds for a matched mesh insert, and it’s still super light. It provides a floor area of over 50 square feet, enough space for two hikers and packs.
The only drawbacks are the price and that you must have trekking poles. You also are going to need space to guy out the lines, as it is not freestanding.
While expensive, this is a top-tier tent that will last a very long time. If you’re looking for an ultralight tent our tester called a “wonder of engineering” that will give you many seasons of use, this one is worth considering. For more, check out our full review of the UltaMid 2.
- Weight: 1 lb., 12 oz.
- Height: 64 in.
- Floor space: 50 sq. ft.
- Materials: Cuben fiber, your trekking poles
- Very strong
- Trekking pole tents aren’t for everyone
- Need space to set up guy lines
The cottage brand Six Moon Designs focuses on building very light equipment with long-distance hikers in mind. While quite specialized, the Haven Bundle ($335) is an easy-to-use trekking pole tent that tips the scales at just 2 pounds, 2 ounces, including a tarp and interior net.
You can use the tarp alone on the trail, which, for 17 ounces of packed weight, gives you a large 53 square feet of shelter. If you’re in a buggy locale, add the Mesh Nest inside the tarp for even more protection.
The nest is 48 inches wide and 114 inches long, providing 38 square feet of space for two adults. In this configuration, you end up with two large vestibules and two doors. At $335 for the package, it’s a fairly priced ultralight tent.
Thanks to the ability to be set up as a tarp alone, the system packs a lot of versatility and can stretch from fast-and-light missions to more leisurely base camps.
It’s held back mostly by the ultralight 30-denier silicone-coated nylon. This lacks the durability of bulkier fabrics. It’s a little trickier to set up and requires good guyline attachments for stability and ample space because it is not freestanding.
The Haven is the most versatile ultralight system we tested, as it is able to be set up as a simple tarp without the insert. This is especially nice in stormy weather so that you aren’t bringing water and detritus into the sleeping area. This tent is great for any gram counter and is a steal compared to other tents in its class.
- Weight: 2 lbs., 2 oz.
- Height: 45 in.
- Floor space: 38 sq. ft.
- Materials: Nylon
- Packs down small
- Can function as a tarp alone at just 17 oz.
- The 30-denier fabric is somewhat fragile
- Requires hiking poles (or a pole kit, purchased separately for $30-80) to set up
Backpacking Tent Comparison Chart
|Backpacking Tent||Price||Weight||Height||Floor space||Materials||Vestibule area|
|Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2||$500||3 lbs.||40 in.||29 sq. ft.||Nylon, aluminum, and composite||18 sq. ft.|
|Marmot Catalyst 2P Tent||$219||4 lbs.||44 in.||32.5 sq. ft.||Polyester and aluminum||11 sq. ft., 6.5 sq. ft.|
|NEMO Hornet Elite||$500||2 lbs.||37 in.||27.3 sq. ft.||Nylon and composite||12.4 sq. ft.|
|REI Co-op Flash Air 2||$349||2 lbs.||42 in.||28.7 sq. ft.||Nylon, mesh, Aluminum||16.8 sq. ft.|
|Zpacks Duplex||$699||1 lb.||48 in.||28.1 sq. ft.||Dyneema||11 sq. ft.|
|REI Arete ASL 2 Backpacking Tent||$449||6 lbs.||43 in.||32.9 sq. ft.||Nylon and aluminum||8.7 sq. ft.|
|NEMO Dagger OSMO 2P||$479||4 lbs.||42 in.||31.3 sq. ft.||OSMO Ripstop/Nylon blend, aluminum||11.4 sq. ft. x 2|
|Sea to Summit Telos TR2||$560||3 lbs.||43.5 in.||23 sq. ft.||Polyester and aluminum||19.5 sq. ft.|
|Kelty Late Start 2||$160||4 lbs.||40 in.||29.5 sq. ft.||Polyester and aluminum||7.85 sq. ft.|
|REI Quarter Dome SL 2
||$379||2 lbs.||38 in.||28.7 sq. ft.||Nylon and aluminum||21.5 sq. ft.|
|Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2 Dyneema Tent
||$735||1 lb.||64 in.||50 sq. ft.||Cuben fiber, your trekking poles||N/A|
|Six Moon Designs Haven Bundle||$335||2 lbs.||45 in.||38 sq. ft.||Nylon||N/A|
Why You Should Trust Us
Ryan Baker lives in the Eastern Sierra with his wife and enjoys hiking, climbing, and skiing every chance he gets. Last summer, he spent over a month backpacking on and off-trail following the Sierra high route.
He has hundreds of nights spent in the backcountry from humble beginnings of sleeping under a hardware store tarp guyed out with parachute cord to fully kitted-out backcountry ski tours.
After 20 years of experience, he has learned the value of a true tent. He still prefers to travel as light as possible, whether it is with a summer tent that fits in the palm of his hand or his zero-pound all-season tent for ski tours in the dead of winter.
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Backpacking Tent
Do you plan to camp alone or with your family? Are car camping tents your jam, or do you regularly head out for weeks in the backcountry? Are you strictly a summer camper, or do you sleep outside all year long?
There’s no right or wrong answer, but being clear on how you want to camp will make choosing a tent easier. The Zpacks Duplex may work for some users who want to go as light and minimalist as possible.
On the other hand, the Marmot Catalyst, while heavier, provides a budget option for those who don’t plan to hike as far and want a little more room. Using the six factors we listed at the start of this article as a guide, finding the best backpacking tent can be a simple errand of choosing which qualities are most important to you.
Ease of Setup
This is your first moment with your brand-new tent and maybe you can intuitively figure out where everything goes, or maybe you need to reference the manual every step of the way. Some tents make setup easy with color-coded poles or poles that are all the same length.
Single-walled winter tents are notorious for barely making room for poles in the material to hold a taut exterior. Still, other tents need numerous guy lines to hold in place and aren’t freestanding without them.
Whatever the case may be, our preference is that the easier a tent is to set up, the better. Of course, domes for alpine basecamps are going to be more difficult than a two-person bug net.
The Sea to Summit Telos has many hubs connecting different length poles, so it pays to try and set this type of tent up in advance. However, the Hyperlite UltaMid simply calls for two trekking poles lashed together in the center with equalized guy lines. Preference is king and no matter what design suits your experience level, always practice setting it up at home before you go.
Durability and Materials
Most tents for backpacking are made from nylon fabrics, cuben fiber, or polyester. Each of these materials has its unique benefits, from lower cost to tougher weather resistance or ripstop qualities.
Cuben fiber has proven to be an excellent material that is very lightweight and extremely weather-resistant. It also resists tearing — but it is expensive. Unfortunately, it can puncture relatively easily, but crosshatched reinforcement prevents further tearing.
Nylon is a less costly material but is also less durable. Often it is reinforced against the elements with polyurethane, silicone, or acrylic coating. This makes it more water-resistant but less breathable. Polyester is heavier than nylon and also not particularly breathable.
The thickness of the material is measured in denier units, which are basically the density of fibers measured in grams over meters. The lower the denier count, the lighter the material. Lower deniers are great for reducing pack weight but require more care to prevent rips and tears.
Lightweight tents will usually have 15-20-denier fly and floors. And a heavy car camping or winter tent will have a rating as high as 75 or more.
Then there are the poles. In an effort to reduce weight, some tents such as the Zpacks Duplex or Hyperlite UltaMid forgo their own poles and instead rely on trekking poles to provide structural support. Always be sure to check that your trekking poles are compatible with your tent.
Tent-specific poles are comprised of carbon fiber, aluminum, composite, or a combination. Aluminum is light but not nearly as light as carbon fiber or some of the proprietary composites offered today.
For durability, we like to use a footprint, which usually has to be bought separately. You can always fashion a custom footprint by cutting a piece of Tyvek, which is available at most hardware stores but lacks the grommets and fastening points of a manufactured footprint. Buying from the manufacturer insures a proper fit and usually will snap, click, or tie in to integrate with the tent.
Tent stakes also come in a variety of materials. Carbon fiber tent stakes, such as those offered by Hyperlite, are light but have a thicker circumference compared to aluminum and are therefore bulkier. Saving weight is an important goal, it all just depends on how much you are willing to spend.
Weight and Packed Size
If you only plan to car camp, weight and packed size aren’t major concerns. But anyone planning to haul their tent into the backcountry should take a hard look at these considerations.
An ultralight tent, such as the 2-pound, 1-ounce NEMO Hornet Elite, is a great option for backpacking. It doesn’t take up a lot of space or weight in your pack, meaning you can justify bringing a favorite flask or a few extra snacks. But due to the light materials, it’s not as durable as heavier tents and requires more care. The Kelty Late Start 2 is over twice the weight at 4 pounds, 8 ounces, but it’s less than one-third the price.
So, you need to balance your needs for weight against durability and cost. You may find that some tents, like the Zpacks Duplex, hit the best of both worlds by using ultra-strong, super-light Dyneema (cuben fiber) fabric.
The REI Arete can seem a like backbreaker compared to lighter tents, but it has loads of headroom and luxurious space. If you are splitting a tent between many people, the extra pounds get spread out. If you are planning a solo thru-hike, coughing up the cash for a small, light tent can save you a lot of back pain.
Regardless of your choice, be honest with yourself in considering your likely uses. If you expect to do a lot of car camping, it’s smart to carry a little more weight in exchange for durability.
There are large books written on shaving weight for backpacking. The uninitiated may balk at tent prices before a trip, only to learn the hard way that every gram really does add up.
To save weight, you have to be willing to snuggle into a two-person tent and rub shoulders or smell your partner’s feet. Ceiling height is an important consideration as well.
The UltaMid is one of the roomiest tents, with over 50 square feet of floor space and a 64-inch ceiling. The benefit of a traditional tent like the REI Arete is that it doesn’t have a pole through the center of it.
Interior space in a tent equals comfort. The main things to consider are floor dimensions, length, and ceiling height. Tents have a stated number of people they sleep, but how roomy or cramped they will be at capacity varies by brand.
If you are only packing the tent for “just in case” or to mostly store gear, you can downsize to a lighter, more cramped model. Pay attention to dimensions in the specs from a manufacturer, as they can give you a good idea of how many sleeping pads will fit in it.
Basic tents handle pleasant weather like a champ and can even manage light rain and wind. But if you plan to camp during storms (which often roll in unexpectedly), it’s worth it to save up and buy a sturdier tent. In the event of a storm or condensation buildup, all tents need ventilation to adequately remove moisture.
The Sea to Summit Telos excels in this category with a rollaway fly that can be left secured open on a warm day to allow all of your items to dry while you are away.
Many four-season tents are single-wall models. The benefit of a single-wall design is that there is no gap for wind or precipitation to sneak in. Check out our Winter Tent Review for more insight on this topic.
Double-wall designs are far more common for three-season or summer tents. Removable rain flies are a plus if all you need is a barrier from the mosquitos and you want to stargaze.
If you are confident in the forecast, dropping the fly can bring you to what some call “trail weight,” which refers to leaving out the extra parts to achieve the bare minimum weight.
Vestibules are an important feature to have in inclement weather. They act as a miniature mudroom and provide space for gear storage.
The Big Agnes Copper Spur adds a unique design with its awning vestibules. Sealed seams also help buffer against the elements and leakage.
If you plan to use a tent in a wet, rainy, or snowy environment, consider doing this yourself, as seams are a weak point in the waterproof protection of a fly or single-wall tent. Conveniently, Six Moon Designs will seam-seal its tents for an extra fee, but this will likely delay shipping time.
It is hard to put a price tag on the nights of adventure and comfort that a backpacking tent provides. Cost is directly related to the quality of the materials and the packed weight.
The Marmot Catalyst is a case in point when it comes to value for the budget hiker, as it’s light on the wallet but heavy on the back. A frugal hiker can save money on this piece of gear to spend more on other necessities like a sleeping bag and backpack.
Manufacturers realize that the entry cost of this passion is steep and provide economical options to fit any budget. With proper care and maintenance, the most affordable tent can last many seasons.
The Kelty Late Start 2 is an example of an entry-level tent that provides great features for a fraction of the cost of something like the Hyperlite UltaMid. On the other hand, the UltaMid gives the savvy, dedicated hiker what they have longed for on many arduous miles — a tent that weighs next to nothing and is durable and easy to set up.
The value of a tent is really the ratio of enjoyment versus cost. All of the tents we tested have a high value when paired with the right user. Sit down, and write out a budget that not only includes how much you have in the bank but also indicates how dedicated you are to the sport. Plan to spend about a quarter to a third of your budget on a tent.
The true backcountry addicts — and those that feel the hook sinking in their lip after their first adventure — will almost certainly own more than one tent for their lifetime of outdoor adventuring.
Not all tents can handle every environment perfectly, but are instead tailored to a range of conditions. A good rule for gear is to start within your budget with a versatile option. As your passions grow, your gear will become more specific. Purchasing the best backpacking tent for your needs is no small task, but it is also exciting and will open up many new doors to the natural world.
How Much Does a Backpacking Tent Cost?
Prices of backpacking tents vary considerably. Materials and the weight of the tent cause prices to range from under $200 (such as the Kelty Late Start 2) to over $1,000 out the door.
Specialized ultralight tents such as the Hyperlite UltaMid or burly all-weather mountaineering tents are usually the most expensive and are made from very strong and light materials.
Less expensive tents are priced for the beginning or occasional hiker. Expect to spend a third of your budget on a tent, another third on your sleeping bag, and the rest on your cooking supplies, etc.
The amount you are willing to spend depends on your commitment to the sport. Affordable options are a great place to start, as you can then gauge your willingness to invest.
What Should I Look for When Buying a Tent?
When buying a backpacking tent, pay attention to whether it is freestanding, like the REI Quarter Dome, or requires trekking poles, like the Zpacks Duplex. Tents that use trekking poles are on average far lighter, but they take guy lines and know-how to set up.
Materials are important to consider as well. The more expensive tents offer light rip-resistant materials like cuben fiber (such as the Hyperlite UltaMid), while more economical models are bulky and heavier (see the Marmot Catalyst). This affects not only weight but also packed size.
Make sure the tent has adequate space for your needs, with floor space, vestibules, and storage. Minimalist tents will be lighter but usually offer less in terms of extra pockets and storage. Tents more suited for car camping will have those amenities but weigh considerably more.
Should I Buy an Ultralight Tent?
Ultralight tents are fragile, expensive shelters exposed to potentially harsh conditions in the wilderness. The major benefit of a tent like the Six Moon Designs Haven comes in very little weight and volume on your pack.
Having used several ultralight tents, I would say that most backpackers should steer clear of the absolute lightest tents unless they are extremely cautious with their gear.
And by that, I mean they put it away perfectly every time, and even go so far as to load their car and backpack with the care of their gear in mind. I’ve had holes worn in ultralight tents from nothing but friction and vibration during a 2-hour drive, so this isn’t an exaggeration.
How Much Should a Backpacking Tent Weigh?
So, if ultralight is too light for you, what is a reasonable weight for a backpacking tent? A well-established guideline is about 2.5 pounds per person, meaning a tent under 5 pounds for a 2-person tent is reasonable.
The Big Agnes Copper Spur weighs in at 3 pounds, 2 ounces, which is very light split between two people, while the Zpacks Duplex is 1 pound, 3 ounces. Both tents are for two people but are made from different materials, and the Duplex depends on your trekking poles to set up.
What Is a Footprint, and Should I Use a Footprint for My Backpacking Tent?
Many tents offer footprints as an aftermarket add-on. A footprint is a piece of fabric that matches the shape of the tent floor. It often will clip into your tent poles or stake system to integrate with your setup under your tent.
The footprint offers protection against sharp objects on the ground and may increase the lifespan of your tent. However, carrying a footprint adds to the weight of your pack. So, you need to balance the need to protect your tent with the added weight of the footprint.
For that reason, sometimes a slightly heavier floor build, as on the REI Arete, makes more sense, as you can leave the footprint behind. For car camping, a footprint is always a good idea, as it will increase the life of your tent.