(Photo/Elina Osborne)

The Best Ultralight Tents, According to Thru-Hikers

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 not sure where to start, jump down to our buyer’s guide and FAQ at the bottom of the page before scrolling through the top picks for packs. And, if you’re looking for more tent options check out the best backpacking tents of 2021.

The Best Ultralight Tents of 2021

Zpacks Duplex Tent

Zpacks Duplex Tent

Thru-hiker and visual storyteller Elina Osborne, 26, trekked the 2,653-mile Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in 2019. The Zpacks Duplex Tent ($649) 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.

ElinaPCT5
Follow Osborne’s adventures @elinasborne

“When I acquired the Duplex Tent, the Zpacks Altaplex Tent ($625) 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.

Check Price at Zpacks

Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL 1

Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL1

“The Fly Creek HV UL 1 Tent ($350) 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.

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Follow Hill’s adventures @kate_erpillar

“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.

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Zpacks Hexamid Pocket Tarp With Doors

Zpacks Hexamid Pocket Tarp with Doors - An Ultralight Backpacking Tent

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 ($299) 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 groundsheet, 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.

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Follow Mason’s adventures @firexneck

Mason has used this shelter for 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.”

Check Price at Zpacks

Gossamer Gear The One

Gossamer Gear The One Backpacking Tent

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 ($299).

“‘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.

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Follow Ingram’s adventures @pieonthetrail

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.”

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Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose an Ultralight Tent

The most ultralight tents help gram-conscious adventurers trim back the weight of their load. The tradeoff? These designs require more user care and, for some models, more time to set up than beefier builds.

All things considered, these noodle-weight tents are a great option for long-distance trekkers, thru-hikers, and other seasoned outdoor travelers wanting to slim down the burden of their supplies.

Seasonality

Tents are typically built for three-season or four-season conditions. A three-season tent will suffice if you plan on using your tent across the spring, summer, and fall.

The infrastructure of a three-season tent can handle rain and light snow. Typically, these builds are not ideal for heavy snow, super-high winds, or vicious storms — like the harsh or blizzard conditions you might face while ski mountaineering. A four-season tent is a better choice for full-on winter, the weight of snow, and strong winds.

zpacks duplex ultralight tent
(Photo/Zpacks)

Capacity & Doors

Folks aiming for ultralight tents usually invest in a one- or two-person design. Three- and four-person ultralight tents exist, too. For instance, the three-person Big Agnes Tiger Wall 3 Carbon Tent ($1,200) is 33 ounces.

Your ideal tent size depends on the number of campers, their overall size, and how much equipment needs to be stored. Brands categorize their tents based on the number of people, but the dimensions — length, width, height, and vestibule size — vary from tent to tent.

The tent’s peak height, which is where the tent is the tallest, also differs between each model. Get out your tape measure as you research. It’s also a good idea to visit a local retailer where the tent can be set up for you to check out in person.

You’ll want to consider whether one or two doors are more functional for you. Two doors can be helpful for each sleeper to have their own exit and entry. But, eliminating a door can cut weight and cost.

Single-Wall vs. Double-Wall

Tents are either a single-wall or double-wall design. Single-wall tents are lighter weight, nonbreathable, waterproof, and don’t include a rainfly. They typically don’t offer as much storage for gear.

A double-wall tent actually contains two items: a breathable tent that’s paired with a waterproof rainfly. The setup usually offers vestibule space to stash equipment. The kit weighs more and requires more time to setup compared to a single-wall tent. Single-wall tents are less breathable and produce more condensation.

Material & Footprint

Ultralight, strong materials — like the Zpacks Duplex Tent’s Dyneema Composite Fabric — cost more than heavier-set fabrics. For instance, the two-person Zpacks Duplex weighs 19.4 ounces and costs $649.

In contrast, the single-person Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL ($330) is constructed with ripstop nylon and weighs nearly 33 ounces. Their volume isn’t apples to apples, but the lighter material certainly comes at a premium.

The material used in tent construction is either inherently waterproof or treated with a DWR (durable water repellent) coating to block precipitation. If the fabric is treated, it’ll eventually need a refresh, depending on the conditions faced, user care, and volume of use. A separate footprint, or groundsheet, isn’t required for an enclosed single-wall tent.

Ultralight materials are pretty durable, but they tend to break down if they’re roughly handled. Investing in an ultralightweight bundle means the recreationist should be mindful with gear care.

Minimalist Shelters

Minimalist shelters, like the Hexamid Pocket Tarp, are essentially a rainfly that protects you from pouring elements — but not buzzing insects. The groundsheet is sold separately. Some designs have a zipper-free doorway that rolls up and can be clipped back. Campers can pair their superlight shelter with a personal bug net if the region is buggy.

To trim grams, some campers opt to leave behind the primary compartment of their double-wall tent kit. Instead, they solely use the footprint, poles, and rainfly.

Another option is a hammock tent: a hammock with a protective mesh enclosure, which is key if there are lethal insects around like scorpions or ticks, and an optional rainfly.

Weight

A dwelling’s ounces hinge on the materials — like the fabric and zippers — size, and whether poles, a rainfly, and footprint are included.

One of the lightest double-person tents on the market is the Zpacks Duplex, tapping in at 19.4 ounces. By comparison, the one-person ultralight Gossamer Gear The One is 20.6 ounces.

The Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL 1 is 33 ounces. To really slim down cargo, a minimalist option like the Zpacks Hexamid Pocket Tarp with Doors is 5.2 ounces.

There are no hard rules about what defines an ultralightweight tent. Folks with a goal to decrease haul weight need to consider the accumulative ounces of their entire kit. Generally, lightweight tents range from 48 to 72 ounces. Ultralight configurations are less than 48 ounces.

You’ll need to select a feathery tent that still delivers the features that you need — like built-in insect protection or not. Be forewarned, the lighter a tent is, the more complicated the setup is and the less headroom there is.

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Tent Setup

The lightest tents and shelters are non-freestanding, meaning they don’t include tent poles to be hoisted. Instead, one or two trekking poles plus stakes are used to elevate the tent.

Compared to a freestanding tent, this type of skeleton takes more time to assemble, because the ground needs to offset the stake just right — especially if it’s windy or rainy out.

Some light designs, like the Big Agnes Fly Creek UV UL 1, are freestanding and fast to raise or adjust location — they just weigh a bit more.

Bathtub Floor

Frequently, ultralight setups have a bathtub floor, which prevents groundwater from seeping in during a weather event. A bathtub floor means that the waterproof fabric comprising the floor extends a few inches off the ground and up the tent walls.

Vestibule & Interior Storage

Ultralight tents will often have storm doors that roll back or clip forward to protect equipment rather than a zipper-enclosed vestibule door. Compare your body measurements to the tent’s width and length. If it’s really stormy out and you’re hunkered down for a while, it’s nice to have a bit of extra room to bring some or all of the gear inside.

Otherwise, the vestibule can be a great spot to leave the boots or pack overnight. But, be careful not to bring pebbles inside that could poke through the tent floor.

Some ultralight tents might have small, interior mesh pockets to store a few items like a phone or headlamp. Generally, lighter tents don’t have as many storage compartments as lightweight or heavier tent designs.

Ventilation

Ultralight tents often feature walls constructed of mesh, storm doors that furl back, or no walls at all for airflow. Walls that are constructed of mesh decrease the overall temperature inside the tent.

As mentioned, single-wall tents with a solid synthetic construction experience more condensation and feel clammy beneath precipitation.

FAQ

What Is the Best Ultralight Tent?

The best ultralight tent is one that keeps you comfortable in the terrain where you venture and one that alleviates the weight on your back. However, you could sacrifice comfort and durability if you choose an ultralight tent that’s too lightweight.

Some experienced thru-hikers and adventurers prefer to drop as much weight as possible to help them boost mileage. And they don’t mind the caveat of being more vulnerable to the surrounding habitat and inclement weather.

Are Ultralight Tents Durable?

Ultralight tents are fairly durable against the weather but are also more sensitive to abrasion and rough handling than heftier tent designs. The lower the ounces, the more conscious the tent’s user needs to be.

How Much Do Ultralight Tents Weigh?

There’s no universal guideline that defines the ultralightweight tent category. Generally, ultralight tents weigh less than 48 ounces. The shelters recommended in this guide range from 5.2 to 33 ounces, and this list isn’t comprehensive of all the best ultralight options.

Are Ultralight Tents Worth the Cost?

An ultralight tent is a stellar investment for long-distance or high-volume trekkers seeking to move faster and more nimbly. Also, if an outdoor traveler is seeking to pare down their entire overnight kit, cutting the den weight is a good avenue.

Some hikers need to lessen the burden on their bodies for health reasons and overall longevity, and the extra cost is worthwhile.   

How Long Do Backpacking Tents Last?

Backpacking tents degrade over time due to exposure to the elements. Those variables include rain and direct sunlight, contact with the terrain, overall handling, care, and storage conditions.

As with any outdoor equipment, tents reflect wear and tear with time. They will last longer if they’re well maintained.

To give you an idea, the Zpacks Duplex Tent claims it will last a minimum of 2,500 miles straight or several years of casual use. Thru-hiker Elina Osborne confirmed the tent tackled her 2,653-mile journey along the PCT and counting.

At print, the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL 1 handled 200 days of use. The Zpacks Hexamid Pocket Tarp with Doors withstood more than 300 nights. And the Gossamer Gear The One breezed through more than 3,000 miles, all according to our expert crew of thru-hikers. Each of those tents isn’t in mint condition but they’re all still workable, protective, and in the field.

How Do I Make My Backpacking Tent Last Longer?

You can integrate a few simple routines to extend the life of your tent. During a trip, shake out the tent before you pack it away, to relinquish loose debris that could scrape the fabric.

After heavy use, your shelter can be soaked in soapy water, rinsed, and hung or put up outside in the shade to completely dry. When it’s ready to be stashed, make sure the tent is in a dry, fairly cool place and not wound up tight.

You can make simple repairs, too. Tent seams are taped to prevent water from entering the tent but can degrade. They can be restrengthened with seam sealer.

A waterproof coating can be reapplied, as well. Be sure to check with your tent’s manufacturer about which aftermarket products are compatible with the materials.

How Do I Know When to Replace My Backpacking Tent?

If the interior material itself is falling apart — as in, the waterproof coating is peeling off — that’s a clear sign the tent is worn out, and it’s near time for a replacement. If there are large holes (like from a campfire spark) that can’t be dependably patched, it’s a fair segue to a new purchase.

Furthermore, as more outdoor industry brands remove chemical treatments from their tent products, you might opt to purchase a tent that is more environmentally friendly and aligns with your health needs.


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