Lightweight Backpacking Tents – How to Choose
Whether you are a seasoned backpacker or a complete novice, investing in the right backpacking tent is of utmost importance. It will allow you to stay warm while on the road, give you plenty of privacy and even protect you from bugs. Put simply; your backpacking trip will be more fun if you have the best tent. But how do you choose good tent? What factors should you consider?
Backpacking Related Further Reading
- If you are new to backpacking, or require a checklist for backpacking then please have a look at our guides.
- To ensure ease of access and a proper weight distribution, check out our guide on packing a hiking backpack the correct way.
- Alternatively, learn about ultralight camping, and how you can start shaving weight off your next trip. A particularly useful skill for thru-hikers.
- Always remember to clean and store your tent properly after every trip to get the maximum lifespan out of your tent.
Every model comes in different sizes and what is ideal for two people may not be ideal for three people. A two-person tent from one manufacturer may feel roomier compared to a three-person tent from another brand. It helps a great deal if you buy one size larger if you are nervous about getting something smaller than what you actually need.
Be sure to check all dimensions when looking at tents. Including the floor area in square feet, floor dimensions as well as the peak height. If you are tall, you should look for something with longer floor length and peak height. Two tents may have equal floor dimensions but completely different shapes.
Another important feature when it comes to size is the peak height. This just refers to the highest vertical point on the interior of the tent. It is also called interior head room. The last thing you need to hunching over in your tent because the head doesn’t allow you to stand up straight. The more peak height your tent has, the roomier it will feel.
Tents are classified into 1-person, 2-person, 3-person and 4-person tents. Depending on the number of people that will be sleeping in a given tent, these capacity sizes ensure that all of you can spend the night comfortably. Extra large tents are also available for those who need extra length as well as width.
In addition to size, it’s important to consider the type of tent you need in regards to expected weather conditions. Your choices here include a 3-season tent, extended season tent and 4-season backpacking tent.
These are by far the most popular backpacking tents and understandably so. They are best suited for mild and temperate climates. Many 3-season tents feature double wall construction and mesh paneling that increases ventilation. Convenient features you will found on these tents include rainfly vents, multiple doors, and gear pockets or lofts. Three-person tents are designed to withstand light snows and downpours but aren’t the best for heavy snow, violent winds or harsh storms.
Extended Season Tents
These tents are an excellent option for trips in the late fall, summer and early spring. They are also ideal for outdoor enthusiasts who frequent exposed, high-elevation destinations. Some of the key features include one or two more poles compared to 3-season tents for strength and fewer mesh panels for greater warmth retention. They also have more upright walls to allow for more interior headroom. The ability of extended-season tents to blend the need for tent strength, ventilation and keeping users warm is what makes it a favorite for many.
Four Season Tents
Four season tents are designed to withstand storms and heavy snowfalls, making them the ideal choice for someone who backpacks throughout the year. They have extra reinforcing and can, therefore, hold up when hit by violent wind. Because of their ability to survive rough weather conditions, they are also known as expedition or mountaineering backpacking tents. They are built with more durable and heavier fabric. You can choose between single-walled or doubled-walled construction.
It’s also important that you think about the kind of ventilation you want. Without proper ventilation in your tent, you will end up seeing water condensation at the top of the tent. The tent may also end up being too stuffy. While mesh panels do a good job of improving ventilation, there is always the risk of getting too cold. This is particularly true if your tent has a lot of panels. You can take out the rain fly if you need more ventilation at night during the summer. However, ensure that you don’t misjudge the weather when doing so. Another advantage of opting for a tent with mesh panels is that they protect you from bugs at night, thus a peaceful night’s sleep.
Vented rainflys are also effective when it comes to reducing condensation. Considering that they have more vents than standard rainflys, they provide excellent ventilation that is direly needed on long, humid nights. They help a great deal when it is too cold to unzip the tent door as they ventilate the interior while allowing you to stay warm.
Your choice of a backpacking tent is an opportunity for you to lighten your overall load. Tent design has advanced so much over the past few decades that finding a model with a per-person weight of less than 5 pounds that is comfortable and spacious is not impossible but is now becoming the standard.
Some of the tent weight specs that you will come across in our search include:
- Packed size: The amount of space that a backpacking tent takes up in a pack affects the ease of transportation and portability.
- Packaged weight: Refers to the total weight of the components that come with a purchase including pole sack, instruction manual, stuff sack, stakes, rainfly poles and the body. The amount you end up carrying on the trail will range between this and the minimum weight.
- Minimum weight: This refers to the weight of the bare essentials i.e. tent body, poles, and rainfly. Depending on the nature of your expedition, where you will be going and the weather conditions, you may need to pack more than just the essentials.
Ultra-light tents are a great option and generally weigh around one-pound per person. They are designed to be less robust and less spacious. They can, however, benefit from more advanced features. Choosing an ultra-light tent that is one-person larger than what you need can help improve livability and comfort.
Backpacking tents often come with durable and lightweight aluminum poles. Manufacturers have, over the years, used aluminum to maintain strength while reducing the weight by shrinking the wall thickness as well as diameter.
There are plenty of choices available to backpackers when it comes to tent fabrics and denier. The most common ones are specialized polyesters and nylons. Denier is a popular spec seen on tents that, despite the fabric, indicates the weight (in grams) of the fabric’s yarn based on a 9000-meter length of the yarn. Lower deniers mean less durable fabric and lightweight tents while the vice versa is true for higher deniers. Only compare deniers in similar fabrics.
In the event that you are compelled to take a closer look at the specs, focus on the poles provided. The best tents come with high-grade poles. The seasonal rating will also give you insight as to how strong the tent is, particularly since the fabrics and strength of poles affect the rating.
Alternatives to Tents: Going Minimalistic
Backpacking tents usually have a double-wall design that includes an exterior rainfly and the main tent body. This can make them quite expensive. The good news is that if you want to save as much as possible without compromising on quality, there are other options you can look to. Such include:
- Bug shelters: They are made up of poles and some netting, but no floor. Some have entire canopies made out of bug netting.
- Hammock Tent: This version of backpacking tents has an entry point on the bottom, bug netting, and a rainfly that resembles a tarp. They a little getting used to, and one sleeps midair. Trees in close proximity are required for setup.
- Tarp shelters: They have a lightweight rainfly that protects users from snow and rain. They, however, can’t protect one from damp ground or bugs.
- Bivy sacks: Otherwise known as bivouac sacks, these shelters act as a waterproof but breathable barrier for sleeping bags.
- Single wall tents: They are best suited for dry conditions. They don’t have a rainfly, but the entire fabric is waterproof. Single-wall tents are designed to keep snow from getting through the fabric, and their reduced weight makes them more suitable for long backpacking trips compared to double-wall tents.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Backpacking Tents
- Protection: These tents help protect campers from adverse weather conditions like low temperatures, rain, and heavy snow. They also protect you from nasty bugs and mosquitoes at night. Installation of these tents only requires one to drive stakes in the ground in a flat-level area. This means that unlike hammocks, you get to preserve the environment and protect it.
- Privacy: Everyone wants a little bit of privacy, even in the outdoors. Backpacking tents provide plenty of privacy as compared to hammocks, tarps, and sacks.
- Weight: While they can be lightweight, they are not necessarily the lightest sleeping options, when compared to minimalist shelters such as hammocks or bivvy sacks.
- Ground: One needs a flat, level ground to set up. Such locations aren’t always easy to find due to things like small rocks and unseen roots that make for an uncomfortable sleep.
MSR Elixir 2MSR Elixir 2-Person Lightweight Backpacking Tent
- Unique pole geometry optimizes headroom and fits two mats; adaptable…
- Built-in gear lofts and glow-in-the-dark zipper pulls enhance livability
- Includes an MSR Elixir footprint that allows for a lightweight fast & light…
- Freestanding system features color-coded poles, clips and webbing, Plus red…
- Mesh and solid fabric panels offer ventilation, warmth and privacy
The MSR Elixir 2 is a roomy tent that comfortably accommodates up to two people along with their gear. It is just over 1m tall, which though doesn’t sound like much, allows the average camper to sit up and move around. It comes with three poles, two of which are attached to a hinge and cross one another while the third one goes across the top. This not only makes the tent sturdier but also widens the head space.
There is a door on either side of the inner and outer, with plenty of space in-between to store a backpack. The two ventilation windows help stop most of the condensation, and the porch area is a much-appreciated feature. It weighs just under 6 pounds, which you can reduce considerably by just taking the flysheet and footprint.
- The unique pole geometry allows for optimized headroom
- Color-coded poles, clips, and webbing make set up easy
- Dual rainfly vents provide cross-ventilation
- It comes with pockets on the sides for storing small essentials
- It isn’t built to withstand strong winds
- At the heavier end of the spectrum for a backpacking tentBottom-Line: The MSR Elixir 2 is a decent entry level backpacking tent that does well across the board, but is a master or none.
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2
Best Backpacking TentBig Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 Backpacking Tent, Grey/Orange, 2 Person
- AWARD-WINNING COMFORT – Based on the features of our best-selling,…
- A BETTER SHELTER – It’s not all about the volume; 2 large, dual-zipper…
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- BELLS & WHISTLES – Storm flaps on both vestibule zippers; Massive ceiling…
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This is a high performance, 2-person tent that’s best suited for backpackers who need more comfort and space. At 52.6 ounces or 3 lb. 4.6 oz, this tent is one of the lighter options available on the market, but more remarkably its space-to-weight ratio is well above average, making it feel much much roomier. Still, on the issue of space, the tent comes with two vestibules.
Some of its outstanding features include ample headroom, adequate storm protection as well as double doors that allow users to move freely. On matters of gear storage, Big Agnes offers four upper pockets as well as two supportive side pockets for keeping nighttime essentials.
The unique geometry of the Copper Spur UL2 produces a tight pitch that holds steady in the winds. Three guy heads at the top combined with one at the foot help improve weather resistance. The tent comes with one large vent above the head area that helps curb condensation.
Unfortunately, Big Agnes sacrifices a great deal of durability for a lightweight yet roomy design. While it is a good compromise, users should take good care of the tent. The fabric from which it is constructed is not very abrasion resistant, hence the importance of leaving it staked down.
- It is lightweight
- Hubbed pole configuration and two vestibules help make the interior spacious
- High peak height of 42.”
- It sacrifices durability to keep the weight downBottom-Line: The Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 provides comfort and livability while still weighing in at just over 3 pounds.
Kelty TN2Kelty TN 2 Person Tent
- The TN2, 2 person camping and backpacking tent was awarded the 2014…
- Part of our TraiLogic Collection, the TN2 is loaded with useful features:…
- TENT FEATURES: 3 Season rated, Freestanding design, DAC Pressfit poles,…
- FLY FEATURES: Stargazing fly, Taped seams, Jake’s foot fly attachment, Fly…
- SPECIFICATIONS: Seasons: 3 | Doors: 2 | Vestibules: 2 | Capacity: 2
The TN2 is one of the newest additions from Kelty and at its price range, it offers excellent weather protection as well as lots of room for movement and storage. It has a width of 50-inches, which is plenty of space for two people along with their gear. The 42-inch height creates plenty of room for sitting up while the pole structure pulls the tent walls vertically, hence more headroom and elbowroom. A 20-square foot floor area, two vestibules, and two large doors make the tent feel roomier.
The tent comes with a cube-shaped stuff sack, and the pole sections are only 14 inches. This makes the tent compact and easy to store. At two-pounds per person, there isn’t much to complain about when it comes to weight. Setting up is easy with two poles two poles that cross each other and one that cut across the top. The fact that they are color coded is a bonus for users.
On the issue of durability, the Kelty TN2 2-person tent is constructed using 40-Denier Sil Nylon. It is known for its thickness and durability. The floor of the tent is made from a 70-Denier material that can withstand any rocks or pine cones you set it on.
- The construction features 40-denier Sil Nylon and 70-denier material for durability
- It is easy to setup
- Plenty of room for two people and their gear
- It has a lot of headroom for users to sit up at the same time
- It can use more pockets and gear lofts
- It is not the best option for people who are over 6-feet tallBottom-Line: The Kelty TN2 is comfortable and easy to setup 2 person tent for a reasonable price.
MSR Hubba Hubba NXSaleMSR Hubba Hubba NX 2-Person Lightweight Backpacking Tent, Without Xtreme Waterproof Coating
- 3-season, 2-person backpacking tent that offers the most livable…
- Pole geometry maximizes space with 29 sq. feet of floor area, interior peak…
- Complete setup weighs 3. 9 lbs. and packs down to 18×6 inches; minimalist…
- Includes DuraShield Coating and DAC Featherlike NFL poles
- Includes tent, one unified hub-and-pole system, rainfly, stakes, and guy…
MSR managed to trim a whole pound off the weight during its makeover in 2014. This was achieved by incorporating a thoughtful design, mini zippers as well as lightweight fabrics. The new Hubba Hubba NX was specially designed to minimize weight while optimizing the space.
This 2-person backpacking tent comes with two doors so that one can go in and out without disturbing their partner. For a lightweight backpacking tent, this model has adequate space and excellent ventilation. The latter is made possible by two vestibules, mesh walls as well as kickstand vents. The low peak height is a bummer as it makes it hard for two people to sit up at the same time.
It’s packed weight is 3 pounds 12 ounces, which can be reduced down to 3 lbs 6 ounces with just poles, fly and tent body. This helps improve portability. The tent comes with a stuff sack that has a wide-mouth draw cord design and features compression straps. This allows for easy storage when the tent is not in use.
- Setup is incredibly easy
- It is lightweight, making it a perfect for long trips
- It provides superior ventilation
- It lacks sufficient guy points, which compromises its ability to withstand rough weather
- It is not the best choice for tall people that need more headroomBottom-Line: The Hubba Hubba NX from MSR is another super tent across the board without excelling in any one area.
North Face Stormbreak 2The North Face Stormbreak 2, Asphalt Grey/Papaya Yellow, OS
- BACKPACKING & CAMPING TENTS: Find The North Face tent for you, from a 1…
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The North Face Stormbreak 2 is a great choice for summer camping trips when plenty of ventilation proves useful. It has a peak height of 43 inches and thus provides lots of headroom to sit up. With dimensions of 87 by 50 inches, it is not the best tent for tall people. The vestibule door creates a large entrance for moving large inflated sleeping bags as well as other gear in and out of the tent. It also features two pockets that one can use to store small essentials.
Unfortunately, despite the name, the North Face Stormbreak 2 is not built to withstand storms. The thin diameter poles can’t stand up to high winds, and the high peak height doesn’t help matters. The nylon panels combined with bathtub floors help prevent splash-back during heavy rains.
The tent weighs 94.2 ounces, the heaviest on the list, and the space-to-weight ratio is among the worst. It is also constructed using relatively bulky materials, which don’t pack down well. On the flip side, setup is incredibly easy.
- It is cheap and affordable
- It has large doors
- It has a roomy interior
- The heavy weight makes it unsuitable for long backcountry trips
- The poles are low quality and so are the stakes
- It is not the best for rough weather conditions
This is a single-person, double-walled tent that weighs 27 ounces. It has two vestibules and two doors, making it spacious and easy for one to go in and out of the tent. The removable inner vest that also includes a bathtub floor allows one to pitch the rainfly either as a complete double-walled tent or as a standalone tarp depending on your needs.
The Tarpent Notch is a Dual Apex shelter meaning that it has two peaks and, therefore, requires two trekking poles to pitch. This design provides more space for one to store their gear and sleep comfortably. As for ventilation, the tent comes with two zippered vestibules. Keeper toggles found along the side seams can be rolled up to increase ventilation. Another way to improve airflow involves pitching the tent higher. The increased space between the bottom of the fly and the ground helps regulate airflow more efficiently. Setting up is incredibly easy, although you may need to practice it a few times.
- The inner nest can be pitched from the inside after the rainfly to keep it dry
- The tent provides excellent ventilation
- It requires small footprint and is incredibly easy to pitch, even in narrow forest pitches
- The end pitch lock struts make it harder to pitch the tent
- The small attachment points found on the inner nest can prove quite the hassle to secureBottom-Line: Looking to go ultralight, the Tarptent Notch uses your hiking poles as the frame to keep the weight low.
Best Expedition Tent
This single-person, 4-season tent was first introduced to the market in 1995. The design of the tent allows one to first pitch the outer then the hang the inner tent inside the outer one. The idea is to offer optimum protection from the rain. To stop internal condensation, Hillberg incorporated revolutionary venting options. Along with a large vestibule, these features make the Akto a comfortable shelter for backpackers.
The floor of the inner tent is five-sided, thus providing enough space for one to stretch and even store their gear. Also, you can completely unzip and roll back the right side of the tent to create a barrier between the inner tent and side vestibule. The triangular mesh window on the side can be zipped or unzipped depending on whether you need to retain heat or gain more ventilation.
Since the vestibule is bi-directional, you can fine-tune it to counter internal condensation, prevent carbon monoxide when cooking or increase ventilation. The small-beaked window on the vestibule provides additional ventilation, even in the event of snow or rain.
- Great ventilation options
- Roomy interior space
- Inner vestibule provides ample protection in winter conditions
- The center hoop acts as an excellent wind breaker
- It is not freestanding
- Setting up requires a fair amount of practice
- One needs a clothes pin to keep the vestibule door open as it can’t on its ownBottom-Line: The Hilleberg Akto is one of the worlds most renowned one-person, four-season expedition tents.
Nemo Hornet 2P
Best Lightweight TentSaleNemo Hornet Ultralight Backpacking Tent, 2 Person
- THE MASTER OF ULTRALIGHT – The updated Hornet offers unmatched livability…
- LIGHTWEIGHT & LIVABLE – The 2P model is one of the only free-standing tents…
- WEATHERTIGHT & RUGGED – Premium 10D Nylon Ripstop fly with silicone water…
- PERKS & DETAILS – Guyouts and struts at corners increase volume at the…
- LIFETIME WARRANTY – We strive to design and build the best outdoor…
This is a two person tent that weighs a little over one pound, without the tent stakes and stuff sacks. This makes it lighter than most 2-person tents and a great option for long backpacking trips. It is a semi-freestanding tent, meaning that it hangs from a spoke pole and an exoskeleton style hub by utilizing plastic clips. In addition to making setup easy, this design creates a large air gap between the rainfly and inner tent for increased ventilation as well as reduced condensation.
One of the best features of the Nemo Hornet 2P is that it has two doors, allowing one to get in and out at night without disturbing their partner. The vestibules and doors can be rolled up and secured with toggles, adding great functionality without increasing the weight. The inner tent is designed in such a manner that it is narrow at the feet and wider at the head where more space is needed. The tent has sloping sides with A-frame style that has a high center point.
There is plenty of space to store nighttime essentials. Every occupant gets their own side pocket as well as a large shared pocket located at the head end of the back tent wall. Much of the weight saving in the Nemo Hornet 2P comes from the 10-denier Sil Nylon/PU rainfly as well as the DAC Featherlite NFL hub and spoke pole.
- It is semi-freestanding and can, therefore, be pitched quickly without worrying about surface conditions or staking
- It is a double-walled tent, making it perfect for extremely cold weather
- It weighs less than two pounds
- The sloped side walls limit headroom considerably
- Narrow vestibules make it hard for occupants to store large backpacks upright
- The width is tapered, thus limiting use of wide sleeping padsBottom-Line: Our top pick for best lightweight backpacking tent, the Nemo Hornet 2P is one of the lightest 2 person tents on the market.
REI Half Dome
Well designed and constructed with quality materials, the REI Halfdome Plus is a great backpacking tent is ideal for those on a budget and weekend expeditions. The design features useful elements like ventilation as well as mesh pockets in the interior. You can also roll back the rainfly halfway for a little bit of stargazing in the evenings.
Compared to the previous model that had a 3-piece pole design, the poles on this tent are a single unit. This is to say that two hubs combine one ridgepole that runs across the center with two poles that run along each side. Being a three-season tent, the REI Halfdome Plus is best suited for weather that isn’t nasty.It comes with four rainfly vents that do a great job of ventilating the interior, even when it’s raining. The large swaths of mesh in the upper part also help with ventilation.
- The tent is moderately strong and offers great value at its price range
- It has plenty of room for its weight
- Doesn’t hold up well in rough weather
- It could use more guy lines and stakes
- It is too heavy for long backpacking tripsBottom-Line: The REI Half Dome Plus is a comfortable and affordable two person tent for those on a budget.