Backpacking Tents
Testing backpacking tents in the Arizona desert; (photo/Matt Granger)

The Best Backpacking Tents of 2022

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 elevation to bring you our selection of the best backpacking tents this year. And 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 sort of do everything.

So, 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 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. On the other hand, 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.

Scroll through to see all of our recommended buys, or jump to the category you’re looking for:

The Best Backpacking Tents of 2022

Best Overall Backpacking Tent: Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2

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). It’s light enough to make it a contender even for the gram-counters, although tents definitely get lighter.

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.

Copper Spur Backpacking Tent Review
The Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 has excellent rain protection; (photo/Eric Phillips)

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. This tent is a great summer tent for multiday trips.

Specs:
  • Weight: 3 lbs., 2 oz.
  • Height: 40 in.
  • Floor space: 29 sq. ft.
  • Materials: Nylon, aluminum, and composite
  • Vestibule area: 18 sq. ft.
Pros:
  • Light
  • Stable
  • Roomier than expected
  • Excellent storage and vestibule design
Cons:
  • Expensive
  • Struggles in high winds (above 40 mph)
  • Somewhat fragile

Check Price at BackcountryCheck Price at evo

Runner-Up: MSR Hubba Hubba NX

MSR tent Earl Harper

The Hubba Hubba NX ($450) is, from our multiple tests and reviews, one of our favorite tents. It’s a big investment and a high-end design that has a lot to desire if you plan to spend plenty of time sleeping under the stars.

Mountain Safety Research’s flagship backpacking tent is a lightweight, freestanding, three-season, two-door, two-vestibule workhorse. You can get it in one-, two-, three-, and four-person sizes. We tested the two-person model.

The first thing that sets it apart is its poles. It uses composite poles, which are extremely strong, durable, and light. We abused them for more than a year in testing, and they came out in great shape. The brand claims its Xtreme Shield waterproofing material, on the fly and floor, lasts three times longer than standard waterproof coatings.

Setup and takedown are simple and intuitive. We easily set it up for the first time in under 5 minutes — no instructions needed. With two doors, smooth YKK zippers, and 15 square feet of vestibule space, entry and exit are easy. You’ll also have plenty of space to store your gear while hiking.

The tent has several pockets inside to stash your personal belongings. And a very cool feature — you can roll back the rainfly for stargazing and excellent ventilation. But if rain starts to fall, it’s quick and easy to close it from this configuration.

MSR Hubba Hubba NX

The Hubba Hubba NX is heavier than several of the tents on this list. But in testing, we found this MSR tent to be significantly more durable than others. If you don’t mind adding a few ounces to your pack for similar interior space, consider the Hubba Hubba NX.

The two-person model weighs in at 3 pounds, 8 ounces, which puts it in the midweight category of backpacking tents. It’s certainly very light to carry but not ultralight by any means. However, it does pack down well and has one of the best stuff-sack systems we’ve used, making putting it away very easy.

The only other complaint we have is that it doesn’t come seam-sealed from the factory. That means that before using it, you really should use the included seam-sealer gel and coat all the seams. The job is easy to complete in a backyard and gives you the chance to do a gear shakedown before using it in the field for the first time.

Overall, this tent fits the bill for a ton of activities. It’s burly enough for car camping, light enough to carry on a long backpacking trip. This tent should be at the top of the list for any hiker or outdoor enthusiast for fair to moderate climates.

Specs:
  • Weight: 3 lbs., 14 oz. (3 lbs., 8 oz. minimum trail weight)
  • Height: 39 in.
  • Floor space: 29 sq. ft.
  • Materials: Nylon and composite
  • Vestibule area: 15 sq. ft.
Pros:
  • Light enough to backpack
  • Tough enough for car camping
  • Rollaway fly
Cons:
  • Expensive
  • Must seam-seal at home
  • Heavier than ultralight models

Check Price at BackcountryCheck Price at Amazon

Second Runner-Up: Sea to Summit Telos TR2

Sea to Summit Telos TR2

Sea to Summit launched its first tents, the Alto and Telos ($559), for spring 2021. We tested both models and found that we preferred the free-standing Telos between the two.

We liked it enough that we scored it neck and neck with the MSR Hubba Hubba NX. 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.

Sea To Summit Tent
The Sea to Summit Telos is very breathable and durable; (photo/Eric Phillips)

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.

Specs:
  • 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.
Pros:
  • Light but fairly durable
  • Accommodating for people over 6 feet tall
  • Steep walls
Cons:
  • Expensive
  • Storage system overly complicated

Check Price at REICheck Price at Backcountry

Best Three-Person Backpacking Tent: NEMO Dagger 3P

Nemo Dagger 3P

A bit of an outlier in our testing, the NEMO Dagger 3P Ultralight Backpacking Tent ($530) is a spacious model that can pivot between backpacking and car camping.

While NEMO calls it a three-person model, our tester thought it would be a little snug for three. It’s available in a two-person version that is even snugger. However, the model we tested certainly will work for three, while it’s extremely spacious for two people plus stuff.

The doors are large and easy for entry and exit. The vestibules aren’t huge but have room for backpacks and boots outside, even with three people.

Setup is easy with color-coded tabs, the ball cap connectors, and Jake’s feet corners attachments. Jake’s feet act as plastic inserts for the pole ends, replacing grommets at the corners. Their plastic construction is light and seems vulnerable, so if I were going on a long trip, I’d pack replacements.

Inside, the tent has good volume and height thanks to the pre-bent poles giving more vertical walls at the head and foot. I could stand up (bent over) inside to change pants.

Nemo Dagger tent
We’ve used the NEMO Dagger for years and have been impressed with its longtime durability; (photo/Eric Phillips)

The tent has good organization, with gear at the pockets. You can hang a headlamp from the overhead mesh light pockets (one at each end).

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.

Unfortunately, on one frosty cold night, it was sagging some at the shaded, windward corner, which was holding the frost and dripping through. My only complaints are the sagging issue and being a little expensive.

Overall, this is a good choice for two to three people who want to share the load on a traditional backpacking trip. It’s not fragile, so I would also use it for car camping.

Specs:
  • Packed weight: 3 lbs., 14 oz. (3 lbs., 5 oz. minimal trail weight)
  • Height: 42 in.
  • Floor space: 31.3 sq. ft.
  • Materials: Nylon and aluminum
  • Vestibule area: 11.4 sq. ft. x 2
Pros:
  • Spacious, can sleep three people
  • Relatively light
  • Tough enough for car camping with care
Cons:
  • Expensive
  • Drooped after collecting condensation and frost

Check Price at evo

Best Budget Backpacking Tent: Marmot Catalyst 2P Tent

Marmot Catalyst 2P Tent

At $183, the Catalyst two-person tent is a good value for someone looking for a solid backpacking tent that will also fit the bill as a car camping tent 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 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 also is the different length poles that 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. At this price, anyone who is unsure about how much backpacking they will do is unlikely to have buyer’s remorse.

Specs:
  • 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.
Pros:
  • Great value
  • Spacious
  • Easy setup with color-coded poles
Cons:
  • Heavier than other backpacking tents
  • Bulky when packed
  • Different pole lengths

Check Price at BackcountryCheck Price at REI

Best Ultralight Backpacking Tent: NEMO Hornet Elite

NEMO Hornet Elite

Our team has dozens of nights backpacking with the NEMO Hornet Elite ($500) under our collective belts, and the consensus is clear. We love this tent! Mostly, we love how much this tent saves both weight and pack space. It’s a marvel of engineering.

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, mesh interior, and integrated rainfly for a tent that keeps 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, my wife and I 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.

But 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.

Specs:
  • Weight: 2 lbs., 1 oz.
  • Height: 37 in.
  • Floor space: 27.3 sq. ft.
  • Materials: Nylon and composite
  • Vestibule area: 12.4 sq. ft.
Pros:
  • Ultralight
  • Packs small
  • Withstands weather
Cons:
  • Expensive
  • Fragile for car camping or sharp rocks

Check Price at NEMO Equipment

Top Minimalist Tent for Thru-Hikers: Zpacks Duplex

Zpacks Duplex

For minimalist backpackers and thru-hikers that put weight savings at the top of the list, it’s hard to beat 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 weight, space, and protection.

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 perfect for you if you are the person that cuts your toothbrush in half and takes pride in your base weight. 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.

Specs:
  • Weight: 1 lb., 3.4 oz.
  • Height: 48 in.
  • Floor space: 28.1 sq. ft.
  • Materials: Dyneema
  • Vestibule area: 11 sq. ft.
Pros:
  • Ultralight
  • Durable
Cons:
  • Expensive
  • Hard to set up
  • Requires large area, stakes, and guylines

Check Price at ZPacks

Versatile Ultralight Tent System: Six Moon Designs Haven Bundle

six moon designs haven

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.

And 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.

Specs:
  • Weight: 2 lbs., 2 oz.
  • Height: 45 in.
  • Floor space: 38 sq. ft.
  • Materials: Nylon
Pros:
  • Ultralight
  • Packs down small
  • Can function as a tarp alone at just 17 oz.
Cons:
  • The 30-denier fabric is somewhat fragile
  • Requires hiking poles (or a pole kit, purchased separately for $30-80) to set up

Check Price at Amazon

The Best of the Rest

REI Arete ASL 2 Backpacking Tent

REI Arete ASL 2 Backpacking Tent

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. It’s 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. 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. Also, this is a heavy tent for long backpacking trips.

Overall, the Arete ASL 2 is a sturdy, all-season tent, 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.

Specs:
  • Weight: 6 lbs., 5 oz.
  • Height: 43 in.
  • Floor space: 32.9 sq. ft.
  • Materials: Nylon and aluminum
  • Vestibule area: 8.7 sq. ft.
Pros:
  • Value
  • Storm-ready
  • Lightweight for a four-season tent
Cons:
  • Single door
  • Heavy

Check Price at REI

Kelty Late Start 2

Kelty Late Start 2

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.

Specs:
  • Weight: 4 lbs., 8 oz.
  • Height: 40 in.
  • Floor space: 29.5 sq. ft.
  • Materials: Polyester and aluminum
  • Vestibule area: 7.85 sq. ft.
Pros:
  • Good value
  • Easy setup
  • Quality construction
Cons:
  • Heavier
  • Not built for extreme weather conditions

Check Price at REICheck Price at evo

REI Quarter Dome SL 2

REI Quarter Dome SL 2

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. 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.

Specs:
  • Weight: 2 lbs., 8 oz.
  • Height: 38 in.
  • Floor space: 28.7 sq. ft.
  • Materials: Nylon and aluminum
  • Vestibule area: 21.5 sq. ft.
Pros:
  • Value
  • Lightweight
  • Plenty of ventilation
Cons:
  • Tight fit for two people
  • May not withstand heavy storms

Check Price at REI

Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2 Dyneema Tent

Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2 Dyneema Tent

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.

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.

hyperlite mountain gear ultamid pyramid 2 tent
The UltaMid 2; (photo/Andy Cochrane)

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.

Specs:
  • Weight: 1 lb., 12 oz.
  • Height: 64 in.
  • Floor space: 50 sq. ft.
  • Materials: Cuben fiber, your trekking poles
Pros:
  • Ultralight
  • Very strong
Cons:
  • Expensive
  • Trekking pole tents aren’t for everyone
  • Need space to set up guy lines

Check Price at BackcountryCheck Price at Hyperlite Mountain Gear

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.

He believes every adventure requires the right tool for the job, and a good night’s sleep in a capable tent is essential for success in the backcountry.

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, buying 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.

Sea to Summit Telos TR2 Tent
Sea to Summit Telos

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 usually will 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.

Aluminum poles are usually found in more affordable models and can withstand rougher handling. NEMO Dagger and the REI Quarter Dome both employ aluminum poles.

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 on 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 and yet is less than one-third the price.

So, you need to balance your needs for weight against durability and cost. You may find some tents, like the Zpacks Duplex, that hit the best of both worlds by using ultra-strong, super-light Dyneema (cuben fiber) fabric.

The REI Arete can seem a backbreaker comparatively 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 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.

Interior Space

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.

Ultralight tents like the Six Moons Designs Haven or the Hyperlite UltaMid still offer high ceilings, but they often have more roof angles and less overall room compared to freestanding tents.

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.

Weather Resistance

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 MSR Hubba Hubba excels in this category with a rollaway fly that can be left secured open on a warm day to allow all 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 tents are far more common than 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 all the extra parts you can to 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.

Big Agnes Copper Spur
Big Agnes Copper Spur

Value

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 a great example of an entry-level tent that provides great features for a fraction of the cost of 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 just feel that hook sinking in their lip after their first adventure — you know that you will own more than one tent for your lifetime of outdoor adventuring.

Not all tents can handle every environment perfectly but are tailored to a range of conditions. A good rule for gear is to start within your budget with a versatile option. Then as your passions grow, your gear will become more specific. This is a big purchase, but it is also exciting and will open up many new doors to the natural world.

 

FAQ

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, and then you will discover how much you like it for a low entry price.

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 such as 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.

Zpacks Duplex
Zpacks Duplex

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 ultralight tents such as the Hyperlite UltaMid or Zpacks Duplex, a footprint is often important to preventing damage. That’s somewhat ironic, as the tent is meant to be as light as possible.

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.


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