Best Backpacking Tent: Our Top Picks of 2021

Heading on a longer-term adventure in the wilds or mountains? Find the kind of shelter you can count on in our straight-talking buyer's guide to the best backpacking tent out there in 2021.

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Editors Choice

Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2

Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL

The Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 is a great option for backpackers who want to keep weight to an absolute minimum without compromising on quality, weather protection, and livability. 

As with all things Big Agnes, this Copper Spur oozes quality from every stitch and seam. It’s made with an ultralight double ripstop nylon interior and double rip-stop nylon rainfly with a 1200mm waterproof polyurethane coating. Combined, these fabrics make it as breathable as they come and more than capable of fending off the very worst the weather can throw at you.

Other backpacking-friendly features in the Copper Spur include two doors and two vestibules, a duo of extendable awnings that let you and your partner create sheltered cooking or chill-out spaces, a large gear loft, and a shedload of storage pockets that help you keep things neat and tidy inside the tent.

The Copper Spur also has 29 square feet of floor space, 9 square feet of vestibule space, and is easy to set up, even for backpacking newbies.

It may be a little on the pricey side, but if you’re searching for the best tent for backpacking your money can buy, your search can end here!

Bottom Line: The Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 wins our vote for the title of best overall backpacking tent on account of combining a super-low trail weight with superior performance and livability to most, if not all, of its competitors.

Best Tents for Backpacking: Our Top 9 Picks for 2021

Looking for the best lightweight backpacking tent?

You’re in the right place! In this guide, we will be covering the following:

    • Why you need a backpacking tent
    • What you should consider when buying ultralight backpacking tents
    • Backpacking tent reviews of our favorite 9 options
    • Our unbiased recommendation on the #1 backpacking tent

Want to make your camping trips in the backcountry as safe, comfortable, and convenient as can be? If so, it’s time to ditch your regular car-camping tent and invest in something that’s custom-made for the rigors and specific demands of life on the trail. 

In this post, we’ll introduce you to 9 awesome tents that fit that bill to a ‘T’.

We’ll also provide you with all the info you need to choose the best backpacking tent for your future adventures and point out the ideal picks for different types of backpacker. From ultralight tents for the gram-counting minimist all the way through to four-season bomb shelters for all-weather warriors, our list has it all! 

  • MSR Elixir 2
  • Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2
  • REI Halfdome Plus 2
  • Kelty TN2
  • Nemo Hornet 2P
  • MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2
  • North Face Stormbreak 2
  • Hilleberg Akto
  • Tarptent Notch

How To Choose a Backpacking Tent

Whether you are a seasoned backpacker or a complete novice, investing in the right backpacking tent is of utmost importance. But how do you do the choosing? To help you out, we’ve included a brief overview of the most important things to consider when buying.  

Size/Sleeping Capacity

As with other types of tent, backpacking tents are classified by manufacturers as 1-person, 2-person, 3-person and 4-person tents. While these figures give you a rough idea of how many people the tent will accommodate, however, it’s worth bearing a few things in mind when buying. 

Firstly, backpacking tents are usually less roomy than car-camping equivalents. As such, a one-, two-, three-, or four-person backpacking tent is likely to offer considerably less square footage than a one-, two-, three-, or four-person car-camping tent.

Secondly, manufacturers are prone to overstate the person capacities of their tents or, alternatively, forget that some persons are a lot larger than other persons. 

While the stated person capacity might help you draw up a short list, therefore, it shouldn’t be relied on as an accurate means of sourcing the ideal shelter for your needs.

So, what to do?

The best way to gauge a tent’s suitability for you as regards spaciousness is to check it’s overall square footage, floor dimensions, and peak height. 

tarptent-notch
Lightweight options like the Tarptent Notch offer little in terms of space as a comprimise to packed size & weight

As a general rule, the average adult sleeper will need roughly 14 square feet of floor space. Knowing this, you can simply divide the tent’s overall square footage by the number of sleepers it will need to accommodate and – hey presto! – you’ll have a better idea of whether or not the tent will be a good fit.

With regard to peak height (aka “center height”), we recommend opting for a model that offers a minimum of 36 inches. While tents with peak heights of 28-35 inches won’t be restrictive while you sleep, if you have to sit out a storm in your tent the lack of headroom is sure to start feeling mightily claustrophobic very quickly.    

Season Rating

In addition to size, it’s important to consider the type of shelter you need as regards expected weather conditions. Your choices here include a 2-season, a 3-season, or a 4-season backpacking tent.

2-Season Tents

These are typically budget options that offer minimal water-resistance and, as such, are suitable for good-weather trips only. 

3-Season Tents

These are by far the most popular backpacking tents because they are the most versatility and adaptable to varying weather conditions. 

Three-season backpacking tents typically use a double-walled design, combining a breathable tent body with a waterproof rainfly. This combo allows them to provide ample protection from the elements whilst also ensuring they keep things cool and comfortable when you’re camping in warmer weather.

The double-walled design of these tents also allows you to cut down on pitching time or packed weight by leaving the fly in your pack, or at home, when camping in fair weather.   

tent on scottish hillside_intext
The 4-season Hilleberg Akto on a chilly March trip in the Scottish Highlands

4-Season Tents

These tents combine superior waterproofing with more heavy-duty, hard-wearing fabrics and robust designs that are capable of dealing with high winds, heavy rain, and snow loading. While ideal for camping in winter, these tents are usually much heavier than 3-season models and lack the ventilation and breathability required to keep things cool inside in summer.

Ventilation

Without adequate ventilation, your tent is going to start feeling very clammy and stuffy very quickly, and will inevitably start to form condensation on the interior walls. This is especially true if you’re camping in humid conditions.

Far from being just a minor annoyance, condensation can easily ruin a trip. It can force you to leave the doors open at night (inviting in the bugs and/or cold air), soak your sleeping bag and gear, and/or set you back 30-60 minutes every morning while you dry down your tent’s interior with a towel. 

When buying your tent, therefore, it’s imperative that you ensure it has plenty of features that aid ventilation. The most important of these include plenty of mesh fabric in the tent body, mesh windows, ground vents, and ventilation panels in the rainfly. 

tent season ratings featimage
MSRs Hubba Hubba getting some mountain fresh air

As a general rule, double-walled and double-doored tents offer far superior ventilation to their single-walled and single-doored cousins. This is because air can circulate freely in the gap between the rainfly and inner tent on a double-waller and the duo of doors encourages airflow by providing two points of entry/entry for fresh/stale air.

Weight

One characteristic that distinguishes backpacking tents from other varieties is their light weight. 

But how lightweight do you need to go?

This will, of course, depend on a number of variables, including how many companions you’ll be camping with, how much room you’ll need for gear, how many miles you plan on hiking before setting up camp, and whether or not you’re happy to carry a few extra pounds if is means saving a few hundred $. 

For obvious reasons, ultralight tents are highly desirable. However, they also usually come with princely price tags and might not provide the same weather protection, comfort, or livability as heavier and cheaper models. This being so, it’s important to decide on your priorities before drawing up a shortlist of potential purchases. 

Some of the weight-related 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. This refers to the size of the tent when folded/rolled up inside its carry bag.
  • Packaged weight: Refers to the total weight of all components, including poles, stuff sacks, stakes, rainfly, and the inner body of the tent. 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 (usually) the rainfly. 

Materials

The materials used in any backpacking tent can give you a good idea of how durable and resistant to rips, tears, and breakage the tent will be. 

rain drops on tent rainfly intext

The thickness of tent fabrics is usually measured in denier. This is a unit of density that’s based on the length and weight of a yarn or fiber, and the higher the denier count, the thicker the yarn will be. For example, a 40D fabric will be twice as thick as a 20D fabric. As a general rule, the higher the denier count, the stronger the fabric will be.

With regard to the tent poles, we recommend only opting for those made with aluminum alloy. While fiberglass poles might save you an ounce or two in a larger tent, these are more prone to breaking in strong winds and virtually impossible to repair. 

Other Features

A few other features can greatly enhance any tent’s livability and practicality. There include:

  • Freestanding design: Freestanding tents, as the name suggests, will stand without support once pitched, meaning you won’t have to peg them out or find a friend to help out when pitching.
  • Tub-style flooring: A tub-style tent floor rises a few inches above the ground, thereby preventing groundwater from sneaking in while you sleep.
  • Poleless design: Some tents let you substitute a trekking pole or two for regular tent poles, thereby allowing you to save further pack weight if you happen to be a trekking pole user. 
  • Number of doors: Two-doored designs will allow you to enter and exit the tent without disturbing your tentmates. 

Alternatives To Hiking Tents: Going Minimalist

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 into. Such include:

  • Bug shelters: These are bare-bones “shelters” that allow you to keep the bugs at bay when camping in fair weather but don’t, however, provide any protection against the elements. 
  • Hammock: When combined with a tarp and bug net, hammocks can provide a lightweight, three-season sleeping system that can shave a pound or two off of your overall pack weight. They take a little getting used to and require two sturdy trees for setup.
  • Tarp shelters: A simple, frill-free sleep setup that keeps costs to an absolute minimum. On the downside, they offer far less protection from the elements and bugs. 
  • Bivy sacks: These minimalist shelters are a little claustrophobic for some, but are ultralight and can offer just as much protection as a tent.  
  • Single wall tents: These are usually much lighter than double-walled tents and in many cases offer comparable weather-resistance. On the downside, they are prone to condensation, far less breathable, and don’t allow you the option of ditching the rainfly on clear nights. 

The Results: The Best Backpacking Tent in 2021

MSR Elixir 2

Best All-Rounder

MSR Elixir 2-Person Lightweight Backpacking Tent

The MSR Elixir 2 is a roomy option 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 model 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.

MSR Elixir 2 Review

  • PROs

    • 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
  • CONs

    • It isn’t built to withstand strong winds
    • At the heavier end of the spectrum

Bottom-Line: The MSR Elixir 2 is a decent entry-level model that performs well across the board.

Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2

Best Overall

Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL

This is a high performance, our pick for the best 2-person tent that’s well suited for backpackers who need more comfort and space. At 52.6 ounces or 3 lb. 4.6 oz, it 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.

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 HV 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. It 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.

Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 Review

  • PROs

    • Lightweight
    • Hubbed pole configuration and two vestibules help make the interior spacious
    • High peak height of 42.”
  • CONs

    • It sacrifices durability to keep the weight down

Bottom-Line: The Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 provides comfort and livability while still weighing in at just over 3 pounds, making it our top pick for the best 2-person backpacking tent.

MSR Hubba Hubba NX

MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2-Person Lightweight Backpacking Tent

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 model comes with two doors so that one can go in and out without disturbing their partner. For such a lightweight tent, it 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. It comes with a stuff sack that has a wide-mouth draw cord design and features compression straps. This allows for easy storage when not in use.

MSR Hubba Hubba NX Review

  • PROs

    • Setup is incredibly easy
    • It is lightweight, making it a perfect for long trips
    • It provides superior ventilation
    • Weight: 3 lbs 12 oz
  • CONs

    • 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 headroom

Bottom-Line: The Hubba Hubba NX from MSR is another super product across the board without excelling in any one area.

North Face Stormbreak 3

Best Budget Backpacking Tent

The North Face Stormbreak 3, Golden Oak/Pavement, OS

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 option for tall people. The vestibule door creates a large entrance for moving large inflated sleeping bags as well as other gear in and out. 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 Stormbreak 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.

North Face Stormbreak 2 Review

  • PROs

    • It is cheap and affordable
    • It has large doors
    • It has a roomy interior
  • CONs

    • 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

Tarptent Notch

Tarptent Notch Image

This is a single-person, double-walled lightweight backpacking tent that weighs 27 ounces. It has two vestibules and two doors, making it spacious and easy for one to get in and out. 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, it 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 Notch 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.

Tarptent Notch Review

  • PROs

    • The inner nest can be pitched from the inside after the rainfly to keep it dry
    • Excellent ventilation
    • It requires small footprint and is incredibly easy to pitch, even in narrow forest pitches
  • CONs

    • The end pitch lock struts make it harder to pitch 
    • The small attachment points found on the inner nest can prove quite the hassle to secure

Bottom-Line: Looking to go ultralight, the Tarptent Notch uses your hiking poles as the frame to keep the weight low.

Hilleberg Akto

Best One-Person Tent

Hilleberg Akto Image

This 4-season, 1-person backpacking tent was first introduced to the market in 1995. The design allows one to first pitch the outer then 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 is five-sided, thus providing enough space for the sleeper to stretch and even store their gear. Also, you can completely unzip and roll back the right side to create a barrier between the inner 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.

Hilleberg Akto Review

  • PROs

    • Great ventilation options
    • Roomy interior space for a single person tent
    • Inner vestibule provides ample protection in winter conditions
    • The center hoop acts as an excellent windbreaker
  • CONs

    • Non freestanding design
    • Not budget-friendly
    • Setting up requires a fair amount of practice
    • Small tent vestibule area

Bottom-Line: The Hilleberg Akto is one of the world’s most renowned one-person, four-season expedition tents.

Nemo Hornet 2P

Best Ultralight Backpacking Tent

Nemo Hornet Ultralight Backpacking Tent, 2 Person

This is a two-person model that weighs a little over one pound, without the 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. It 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 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.

  • PROs

    • It is semi-freestanding and can, therefore, be pitched quickly without worrying about surface conditions or staking
    • It is a double-walled model, making it perfect for extremely cold weather
    • Minimum trail weight is less than two pounds
    • Pack weight: 2 lbs 5 oz.
  • CONs

    • 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 pads

Bottom-Line: Our top pick for the best ultralight tent, the Nemo Hornet 2P is one of the lightest 2 person tents on the market.

REI Half Dome

REI Half Dome Image

Well designed and constructed with quality materials, the REI Half Dome 2 Plus is a great two-person tent for backpacking for those on a budget. 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 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 Half Dome 2 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.

  • PROs

    • Strong and offers great value at its price range
    • It has plenty of room for its weight
    • Big enough to be a fit 3 sleepers, at a push 
    • Two doors and vestibules
  • CONs

    • Doesn’t hold up well in rough weather
    • It could use more guy lines and stakes
    • It is too heavy for long backpacking trips
    • Packed weight: 5 lbs 5oz

Bottom-Line: The REI Half Dome Plus is a comfortable and affordable two-person model for those on a budget.

Kelty TN2

Kelty TN 2 Person Tent

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 walls vertically, hence more headroom and elbowroom. A 20-square foot floor area, two vestibules, and two large doors make it feel roomier.

The TN2 comes with a cube-shaped stuff sack, and the pole sections are only 14 inches. This makes it 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 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 is constructed using 40-Denier Sil Nylon. It is known for its thickness and durability. The floor of the TN2 is made from a 70-Denier material that can withstand any rocks or pine cones you set it on.

Kelty TN2 Review

  • PROs

    • 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
  • CONs

    • It can use more pockets and gear lofts
    • It is not the best option for people who are over 6-feet tall

Bottom-Line: The Kelty TN2 is comfortable and easy to setup 2-person model for a reasonable price.

Last update on 2021-07-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Brian has been an avid hiker and backpacker since he was a small kid, often being taken out into the wilderness on trips with his father. His dad knew everything about nature and the wilderness (or at least that's how it seemed to a ten year old Brian).

After high school, he went to university to read for both a BS and MS in Geology (primarily so he could spend his time outside rather than in a classroom). He's now hiked, camped, skied, backpacked or mapped on five continents (still need to bag Antartica) & 30 of the US states.