Your tent can make or break a backpacking trip. But with all the options out there now, which ones are the best backpacking tents for your needs? Do you get something very lightweight? What about something heavier but more durable? Does it need to handle snow and rough weather?
We’ve covered how to find the best sleeping bag and backpack for you so let’s dig into tents. We’ll walk you through all the different tent features and each type of tent then show you examples of each kind of tent with pros and cons of. By the end of the article you’ll be able to pick something that is perfect for next trip.
For more of our top backpacking gear recommendations, check out the Best Budget Backpacking Tents.
Quick Answer - The Best Backpacking Tents
Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2
REI Co-op Quarter Dome 2
MSR Hubba Hubba NX
The North Face Stormbreak 2
Mountain Hardwear Ghost UL2
Hilleberg Anjan 2
Black Diamond Firstlight
Comparison Table - The Best Tents for Backpacking
|Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2||2||29 sq ft||2.75 lbs||3-Season||$$$||4.6|
|REI Co-op Quarter Dome 2||2||28.7 sq ft||3.56 lbs||3-Season||$$||4.5|
|MSR Hubba Hubba NX||2||29 sq ft||2.81 lbs||3-Season||$$||4.7|
|Mountainsmith Morrison||2||35 sq ft||4.88 lbs||3-Season||$||4.5|
|The North Face Stormbreak 2||2||30.5 sq ft||5.31 lbs||3-Season||$||4.7|
|Mountain Hardwear Ghost UL2||1||27 sq ft||1.94 lbs||3-Season||$$$||5.0|
|Hilleberg Anjan 2||1||30.1 sq ft||4 lbs||3-Season||$$$$||4.1|
|Black Diamond Firstlight||1||27 sq ft||3.31 lbs||4-Season||$$||4.3|
|Hilleberg Jannu||1||34.5 sq ft||7.06 lbs||4-Season||$$$$||4.8|
Reviews - Best Backpacking Tents
Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2
REI Co-op Quarter Dome 2
BEST FOR: GENERAL HIKING AND LIGHTWEIGHT ADVENTURES
PROS: Good value, lightweight, strong and spacious.
CONS: Difficult to set up. Not very durable. Low quality pegs.
MSR Hubba Hubba NX
BEST FOR: TRIPS FOR TALL PEOPLE
PROS: Inexpensive, large interior space, color-coded pole and fly connections
CONS: Heavier, angled sides mean less headroom
The North Face Stormbreak 2
Mountain Hardwear Ghost UL2
BEST FOR: MORE COMFORTABLE ULTRALIGHT TRIPS
PROS: Lightweight, freestanding, large front awning
CONS: One door, partial rainfly, lower weather resistance if vestibule not pointed to the wind
Hilleberg Anjan 2
BEST FOR: TRIPS IN TERRIBLE WEATHER
PROS: Very durable, very weather resistant, can pitch flourless
CONS: Heavier, expensive, one door
Black Diamond Firstlight
BEST FOR: FAST AND LIGHT TRIPS IN GOOD WEATHER
PROS: Lightweight, packs very small
CONS: Small inside, not completely waterproof
BEST FOR: BASECAMPING IN WINTER
PROS: Strong, good ventilation, easy to set up
CONS: Expensive, zippers are small
LEARN HOW TO CHOOSE HIKING GEAR FOR YOUR NEXT ADVENTURE
HOW TO CHOOSE A TENT FOR BACKPACKING
Tent prices cover the whole spectrum. You can find tents for less than $100 up to over $1000. As with all gear, there are trade-offs. The $100 tent isn’t going to last as long but it might suit your needs. You might need something very durable for the winter but will likely need to spend more than $500 for the strength and features needed. In the end very lightweight or durable materials cost more.
NUMBER OF PEOPLE
Aside from cost, one of the first things to decide when buying a tent is how many people you want space for. Backpacking tents are more often for one to three people, but sometimes more. It’s more flexible when you get into bigger groups to have a higher number of smaller tents. Sometimes tent locations are small and can only hold a one or two person.
If you are sleeping solo, you’ll just need a one person but if you plan to have another join you then you’d want a two person. If you don’t mind carrying a bit more weight and having more room inside, then add another person to your size. For example, you are only one person but you get a two person tent to have more room. This will give you more space to spread out and for your backpack and gear. Of course this will be a heavier option compared to taking a one person.
Once you know how many people you’d like to fit in your tent, one, two or more, then you can narrow down how much room you’ll need inside.
Small two person tents can be very tight with two people but make a spacious tent for one person. How big your sleeping mat and how close you’d like to get with your tent mate will affect how much space you want inside. Taller people will need larger tents. Having more gear or anticipating being stuck in the tent in bad weather are also good reasons for more room.
To look at real numbers, you’ll be looking at a range of 14 to 24 square feet of space for a single person tent and 26 to 35 square feet for a two person.
Tents are separated into season ratings to specify the features they’ll come with. Tents with thicker fabric and more poles will be stronger and more weather resistant. They will also be heavier and more bulky. The best backpacking tent will be the one that suits the climate and weather where you plan to use it.
3 season tents are for spring, summer and fall weather. They tend to be made with lot of mesh and only a few lightweight poles to hold up the rainfly. 3 season tents aim to be lightweight and packable. They don’t hold up well to heavy snow and harsh weather. These are the most popular for backpacking.
3.5 season tents will have stronger poles and less mesh than the 3 seasons. They may have solid panels that cover the mesh in the winter and zip out in the summer.
4 season or winter tents are the strongest and most weatherproof of all tents. Strong poles withstand snow loading on top that would flatten a 3 season. Reduced mesh keeps the heat in. Small vents help reduce condensation. 4 season tents are heavier than the others and can have problems with condensation because of reduced ventilation.
Think about what kind of weather you’ll be backpacking in and pick a tent appropriate for that. You can use a 3-season tent in the winter but be aware they may collapse under snow or rough storms.
SINGLE OR DOUBLE WALL
Tents are classified as single or double wall. Double wall tents are the most popular, having an inner layer, often with mesh and fabric sections and a waterproof bottom, and then a waterproof outer layer called the rainfly. Single wall tents only have the one waterproof layer. They are usually made of a breathable fabric and can have vents to reduce condensation.
Most backpacking tents will be double wall. These are less expensive and easy to use. Some can set up without the rainfly to see the stars or with just the rainfly and poles to conserve weight.
Weight is a big consideration with backpacking tents. These tents need to fit on your back. You might be carrying them for hundreds of miles.
There is always a balance between weight and comfort. Lighter tents are usually smaller inside. If you can, spend some time in the tent before buying to see how wide and tall it is. A tent might be very lightweight but too small for your taste.
3 season tents will be the lightest, 3.5 season heavier, and 4 season heavier still. You could use a 4 season all year round but you’ll be carrying around extra weight in the warmer months.
Dome tents are most popular type of backpacking tent. They are simple, easy to assemble and have plenty of room inside. Poles arc from one side of the tent to the other and the tent is hung on the poles with the rainfly on the outside. Some are freestanding and some aren’t, requiring stakes in the ground with small ropes or guy lines to hold it upright. Their round shape makes them good in higher winds as long as they’re staked down. If the wind changes direction during the night, the round shape is aerodynamic from all sides.
Geodesic tents are large dome tents. They use more poles that crisscross to create a strong structure. You see them often in winter expeditions because of their strength and wind resistance.
Tunnel tents aren’t as common. They are simple to set up. 2-3 u-shaped poles make the tunnel. Tunnel tents need to be tied down with stakes at both ends to stand up. They can have issues with the wind hitting the side of the tent because of the vertical surface. You’ll need to look for the cover of a small hill or pitch with one end pointing into the wind to avoid the issue.
A-frame tents are less common still today. Some tarps and tarptents are pitched as an A-frame. These are simple shelters to set up, just requiring a pole at either end and a tarp over top making a triangle or “A” shape. A-frames shed snow well but can be pushed around from the side by wind.
FREESTANDING OR STAKED
In an effort to make some tent models even lighter, designers have removed everything they can. This includes the very poles and straps that make the tent stand on it’s own. This is great when you’re looking to reduce weight. The downside is that it can’t be pitched without tying it to the ground somehow, usually with stakes. With soft ground, staking down the tent is easy. On the other hand, staking down a tent on wood tent platforms or solid rock is more difficult. Some semi-freestanding tents only need to be staked at one end.
The floor on a tent is durable and waterproof but it can wear down over time. Once it starts to leak or tear it’s usually time to start looking for a new tent. To extend the life of the floor you can use a footprint.
Footprints are an extra piece of fabric laid on the ground before putting the tent down. You could just use a light piece of plastic to protect the bottom but footprints are exactly the same size as the bottom of the tent and connect to the poles just like the body and the fly.
Having a footprint lets you pitch in a Fast and Light configuration which you’ll see next.
FAST AND LIGHT SETUP
Carrying the body, rainfly and footprint of a tent can take up a lot of space in your pack. When conditions permit, you can lighten that load to just the footprint and rainfly by using the Fast and Light configuration method. Tent manufacturer MSR calls it Fast and Light pitching. Other manufacturers have different names for them.
To do this, put the footprint on the ground, pitch the poles like normal and then then rainfly over top, skipping the body section. This leaves out the bathtub bottom and mesh of the body meaning you don’t have to carry the extra weight. It also means you don’t get the water-proofing or bug proofing it provides either.
Using the same method you can put up your tent without getting it wet inside. Lay out the footprint, pitch the poles and the rainfly and then get inside and hang the tent body from within the pitched rainfly. This only works with some tents.
Bathtub floors on tents are the waterproof lining on the bottom and lower part of the walls. They create a bit of a bucket or bathtub for you to sleep in. This prevents water coming in if you’ve pitched the tent in a water-collecting low spot or it’s raining so hard that it splash up underneath the rainfly. You can extend the life of the bathtub bottom with a footprint.
When it comes to bad weather, some tents won’t keep you as dry as others. Long rainfly’s keep the rain out when it’s going sideways. Make sure the edge comes down past the sides of the bathtub floor. Good waterproof floors will help keep the water out of the bottom even if you’ve pitched the tent in a low spot in a storm.
Some tents are not seam sealed and entirely waterproof from the manufacturer, you may have to do it yourself. Double check when buying that yours is sealed. Most backpacking tents are already waterproof when you buy them.
Backpacking tents typically have one or two doors. One side door will save you some weight but makes you crawl over the person closest to the door when you need to get out. A single door on the end of the tent is more convenient. Having your own door is more efficient and gives you more storage. Each door usually has some sort of vestibule covered by the rainfly to store gear under. One door means only one vestibule. 3 and 4 person tents will only have 1 or 2 doors.
Vestibules are the areas covered by the rainfly just outside doors of the tent for storing gear, getting boots on and cooking in bad weather. Big vestibules offer more covered space but will add to the weight of the rainfly. Most tents have a vestibule outside of each door so two doors will give you two vestibules. Only having a single door means only one vestibule. Vestibules are rated by their square footage. They typically range from 6 square feet up to around 10 for each vestibule.
Backpacking tents can be expensive. You want them to last as long as possible. Take care of your tent and it will last you for years of adventures. Here are some tips to ensure your tent will last.
Sometimes your tent will just be really dirty after a trip or you’ve gone on a bunch of small trips and it’s time to clean. Salt, mud and dust can break down the fabrics, coatings and poles over time.
You can do a light clean with a garden hose on gentle most of the time. If you need more than that, a mild soap (not detergent or other harsh cleaner) and a soft sponge will do the trick.
Never wash in the washing machine or dry in a clothes dryer. They are too rough for the delicate tent fabrics.
After washing make sure it’s completely dry before storing.
The most important thing to remember when storing a tent is that it’s dry. Mildew will start on a wet tent in as little as 24 hours. The moisture can break down the fabrics and waterproof coatings leaving you with a gooey, peeling tent.
Set up or hang your tent to dry completely before storing it. Don’t leave in the sun for long as the UV rays will start to break down the rain fly.
Once it’s dry, roll or stuff into a loose bag or a mesh duffel and store in a cool dry area. Try to avoid folding the tent on the same fold lines over and over. This will increase the wear on those small areas.
The rainfly and floors of tents will be waterproof to start. Over time and use the coatings will wear out and you might notice leaks. You can seal these leaks with spray- or paint-on sealers. Some tents are waterproofed with polyurethane and some with silicone so make sure the sealant or patches work with your tents fabric.
OTHER SHELTERS THAN TENTS
Tents aren’t the only option for shelter on a backpacking trip. Some of these other shelters can be even lighter than tents.
Tarps are one of the most flexible shelters you can get. Depending on where you are and the weather, you can choose to pitch them in any number of ways. Trees, paddles or trekking poles all make great supports to hold the tarp up. Some tarps come with mesh and a waterproof bottom creating a very tent-like structure but most don’t. The mesh and waterproof bottom add to the weight. Don’t forget to check out the guide backpacking tarps 101 for more information.
Floorless tents or tarp tents are in between tents and tarps. They are propped up by tent poles, hiking poles or trees and often don’t have a floor to save weight.
Without a floor you’ll need to careful picking a campsite. You’ll be ok during dry weather but if it’s raining you might be wake up in a puddle.
Pitching a floorless tent on the snow means you can dig out your floor underneath. This gives you endless options for configuration.
If you want to get off the wet ground, hammocks make a great option for shelter. Large cotton hammocks with heavy wood spreaders aren’t used for backpacking but many models out now are made of much lighter materials.
Camping hammocks have a bug net attached keeping the critters off and a tarp that pitches overtop, keeping you and your gear dry. They don’t offer as much room inside as a tent but can be very comfortable. There is a bit of room inside for gear, but most has to be stored outside underneath where you are hanging. They are quick to set up as long as you can find trees. For more information about them, check out the article camping hammocks 101.
Bivy bags are tough overbags that fit over your entire sleeping bag. Some are waterproof. Some have a small pole to keep the fabric lifted off your face. Ventilation can be an issue if you zip them closed entirely. If you just need a dry place to sleep the night and then are off in the morning they are very lightweight. You can also use them to increase warmth and reduce the moisture under tarps or tarp tents. If you are interested in bivy bags, check out the article bivy bags 101.
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