best tents backpacking

2019 Best Backpacking Tents | Lightweight & Ultralight

February 16, 2019 | by Alan Dixon

There is an exceptional and light tent here for every type of backpacker. But you’ll need to choose carefully to get the perfect tent for you at the right price! This guide to the Best Backpacking Tents will help you do just that.

Information You Won’t Find Elsewhere

At the end of this Guide we have Pro Tips you won’t find elsewhere. They will help you find exactly the right tent and accessory gear. And give you tips on and how best to use your tent. They cover topics like, “How Much Tent Do You Need?,” the best tent stakes; a cheap 4 oz footprint to protect your tent floor, how to beat the bugs, and more.

The 5 Tent Categories

Pick the Category that Meets Your Needs

To help you find your right tent we divide backpacking tents into 5 basic categories of features, weight & price. This makes it faster and easier for you to find a fantastic backpacking tent at the right price that has the features that matter the most to YOU. Use the links below to jump to the backpacking tent category you are interested in.

1 – Traditional Lightweight Backpacking Tents | 2.5 to 3.5 lb oz | $350 to $450
The 1st choice for many backpackers, these are the “classic,” full-featured, easy-to-setup tents most are familiar with. Carefully selected, the tents in this guide are lighter than most backpacking tents while still being storm-worthy and bug-proof.

2 – Single Wall Tents | 1.2 lb to 2.6 lb | $260 – $680
Single walled tents are quickly rising in popularity. In fact, some single walled tent brands are now more popular than some well known double walled tent brands. This makes sense, as a single walled tent has most of the benefits of a double walled tent, but for much less weight.

3 – Budget Backpacking Tents & Shelters | 0.6 lb to 5+ lb | $80 to ~$250
These low cost tents (or tent-like shelters) will keep $ in your wallet but still keep you safe and dry. And if you are willing to think outside the box you can get both exceptionally low weight and low cost!

4 – Pyramid Tents | 12 oz to 1.5 lb | $265 to $700
These are some of our personal favorites and go on many of our trips including challenging places like wet and windy Patagonia. They are the very lightest and the highest-tech way to stay warm and dry. Many are palatial compared to a conventional tent (I can even put my pants on standing up in a few). Some are surprisingly affordable!

5 – True Tarps. | 12 oz to 15 oz | $80 to $325
Finally, for adventurous campers willing to stretch their skills a bit there are tarps. Ounce for ounce, true tarps are the very lightest, lowest cost shelters with great ventilation, views and livable area.

best backpacking tents

“Traditional,” Lightweight Backpacking Tents like Big Agnes Tiger Wall tents (above) are likely the first choice for many backpackers. These are the “standard,” full-featured, easy-to-setup tents most are familiar with. One of our top picks, Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL3 Tent, has no equal when it comes to volume-to-weight ratio among “traditional,” double-walled, lightweight backpacking tents.

1. Traditional Lightweight Backpacking Tents – 2.3 to 3.4 lb, $350 to $450

These are the tents you’ll most likely see at big retailers like REI, e.g. Big Agnes Tiger Wall. They score Good to Excellent in most areas. They are feature rich, and provide good to excellent storm and bug protection. These tents are simple to setup and use — most of you have probably pitched one like them many times.

Read Pros & Cons for Traditional Lightweight Backpacking Tents

A key features for these tents are they the are freestanding. That is, once you insert the poles these tents can stand on their own without being staked out. So no trekking poles required. The are also double walled, having both an inner tent  with breathable fabric walls, mosquito netting and bathtub floor, and separate outer rain fly (waterproof fabric). This allows you to not setup the fly for better views and ventilation when it’s not raining. And when you do have the rain fly up and it begins to condense, the walls of the inner tent keeps you and your gear away from the fly’s wet inner surface. Downside is that some of these tents are heavier than other options in this guide and a few have limited livable room. They are also some of the pricier tents in this guide.

Freestanding tents do have an advantage for Leave No Trace. That is, when the winds are light you can pitch them on hard, durable surfaces such as solid rock with a minimum of anchor points (although you may need to use a few rocks to anchor things like the vestibule tie-outs). Obviously, in high winds and at an exposed campsite, this would not be a good idea. See our Pro Tips Section for how to choose the best campsite to maximize your tent performance.

We Have a Higher Standard than Most Guides

Note that we have a higher standard for inclusion than most guides. A traditional 2-person, 3-season tent must be under 3.5 pounds, preferably well under. For this weight you can get a fully storm-worthy shelter, with reasonable living area, and a good set of features, like double doors and vestibules. The cutoff weights for TarpTents, Pyramid Tents, and True Tarps is considerably lower. So except for our budget choices, you will only see the very best, highest performing lightweight backpacking tents — some surprisingly affordable!

best backpacking tents - BIG AGNES TIGER WALL UL3 Tent

BIG AGNES TIGER WALL UL3 Tent ($450)

HIGHLIGHTS: Best volume-to-weight ratio among traditional tents

WEIGHT: 2.6 lbs

FEATURES: 3 person | 3 season | Double Walled, Dome | Semi-freestanding

AREA: Interior: 38 ft2 | Vestibule: 16 ft2

AREA/POUND: 20.6 ft2/lb

SIMILAR MODELS: Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 Tent

NEW FOR APRIL ’19:  1.4 lb Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 Carbon &  1.8 lb Big Agnes Tiger Wall 3 Carbon. You can read a bit more in our First Look at Big Agnes “Carbon” Tents.

Yes, our most spacious recommended two-person tent is actually a three-person tent! The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL3 Tent has no equal when it comes to volume-to-weight ratio among traditional tents. It’s seriously huge AND light. In fact, at 2.6 lbs, it’s lighter than all the rest of our favorite two person traditional tents except for the Nemo Dagger and it’s little brother the Tiger Wall UL2. And its’ ~1/3 larger than them to boot. Somewhat mindbogglingly, the Tiger Wall UL3 is only seven ounces heavier than its 2-person counterpart (a great solo tent option), so why not go big? Complimenting the cavernous interior are two doors and two regular sized vestibules for plenty of access and gear storage. Keep in mind that while this tent is quite large for two campers, it’s a much tighter squeeze for three. A final note, some weight savings comes from the need to stake out the two rear corners. As such, this is a is semi-freestanding tent. Not a big deal to our minds.

BEST FOR: Anyone who prioritizes tent volume/livability and minimizing weight; two larger hikers; three smaller hikers

Best Backpacking Tent - REI CO-OP QUARTER DOME 2

Lightweight Backpacking Tent - REI CO-OPQUARTER DOME 2

REI CO-OP QUARTER DOME 2 $349

HIGHLIGHTS: Most affordable among premium lightweight free-standing tents

WEIGHT: 3.3 lbs

FEATURES: 2 person | 3 season | Double Walled, Dome | Freestanding

AREA: Interior: 28.7 ft2 | Vestibule: 21.5 ft2

AREA/POUND: 15.2 ft2/lb

SIMILAR MODELS: Quarter Dome 1pQuarter Dome 3p

REI fans rejoice; the REI CO-OP Quarter Dome 2 is a legitimately great option for any backpacker seeking a premium, free-standing, lightweight tent that won’t break the bank. Among our favorite freestanding options, it’s $50 cheaper than the MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 and $100 cheaper than the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 while still offering the same large vestibules and near-vertical sidewalls. Sure, at 3.3 lbs, Quarter Dome 2 isn’t the most featherweight option available, but it’s still over a pound lighter than our budget tent average and can be carried into the backcountry with ease. The bottom line is that this tent is an REI best-seller because it meets all the requirements of a lightweight backpacker for a very reasonable price.

BEST FOR: Backpackers seeking a premium tent that won’t break the bank.

Lightweight Backpacking Tent - BIG AGNES COPPER SPUR HV UL2

Lightweight Backpacking Tent - BIG AGNES COPPER SPUR HV UL2

BIG AGNES COPPER SPUR HV UL2 $450

WEIGHT: 2.8 lbs

HIGHLIGHTS: Lightest, most livable, most well rounded freestanding tent

FEATURES: 2 person | 3 season | Double Walled, Dome | Freestanding

AREA: Interior: 29 ft2 | Vestibule: 18 ft2

AREA/POUND: 17.1 ft2/lb

SIMILAR MODELS: Copper Spur HV UL1Copper Spur HV UL3

If you want the best freestanding tent money can buy, look to the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2. At 2.8 lbs, it’s very lightweight (THE lightest freestanding), and for 2.8 lbs, it’s very tall and roomy (THE roomiest freestanding). Its full-sized vestibules, near vertical sidewalls, and fully lofted ceiling provide excellent headroom and livability that no other freestanding tent achieves. And the frame is no compromise whatsoever! Its cross pole pitch is reliable, sturdy and user-friendly. The Copper Spur HV UL2 does it all and does it all extremely well. And at less than 3 lbs, you’ve got a real winner.

BEST FOR: Lightweight backpackers seeking the best freestanding tent available

NEMO HORNET 2P $370

WEIGHT: 1.9 lbs

HIGHLIGHTS: Lightest traditional tent in category, good value

FEATURES: 2 person | 3 season | Double Walled, Dome | Semi-freestanding

AREA: Interior: 27.5 ft2 | Vestibule: 14.2 ft2

AREA/POUND: 21.5 ft2/lb

SIMILAR MODELS: Hornet 1p, Dagger 2p,

For those seeking one of the lightest traditional tents, Nemo Hornet 2P is a great option. At 1.9 lbs it is our lightest recommended traditional tent. And for $370, it’s the second most affordable. So it’s a great value! And the amazing part is that, despite the weight and cost trimmings, Nemo still managed to deliver what is only a somewhat smaller living space and vestibule setup than its heavier competition. Yes, the slanted sidewalls (tent lacks a spreader crossbar at the peak) make it better suited for sleeping than hanging out in (some even consider this a large person’s solo tent), but if small and light is your style, you were probably going to hike all day anyway. Note that this tent has light fabric and should be treated with care.. We would definitely recommend something under the tent to protect its 15 denier floor.Keep in mind that the Nemo family goes deep and quality options abound. Larger hikers or anyone seeking livability will appreciate the expanded footprint, vertical sidewalls, and bigger vestibules on the Dagger 2P (also a very nice tent!).

Best For: Those seeking the lightest traditional tent, even if it means compromising  a bit on space and livability. Light fabrics should be treated with care.

BIG AGNES TIGER WALL UL2 ($400)

HIGHLIGHTS: The lightest of our traditional tents, good volume to weight ratio

WEIGHT: 2.2 lbs

FEATURES: 2 person | 3 season | Double Walled, Dome | Semi-freestanding

AREA: Interior: 28 ft2 | Vestibule: 16 ft2

AREA/POUND: 20.0 ft2/lb

SIMILAR MODELS: Tiger Wall UL3

One of our very lightest recommended traditional tents is the The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2. It also has our 2nd best volume to weight ratio and a top spreader bar to keep the walls vertical and increase sitting space. This makes it more livable than its square footage might indicate. Like its’ big brother Tiger Wall UL3, it has two doors and two regular sized vestibules for plenty of access and good gear storage. This tent is on the snug side, tying the Nemo Hornet 2p at 44 ft2 for main tent body + vestibules. But it still has sufficient room for two and gear —and if you are looking at this tent you’re likely intent on going fast and light.  And like the Tiger Wall UL 3 and the Nemo, some weight savings comes from the need to stake out the two rear corners. As such, this is a semi-freestanding tent. Not a big deal to our minds.

BEST FOR: Those seeking the very lightest traditional tent that also has vertical walls but don’t need huge amounts of tent volume/area.

MSR HUBBA HUBBA NX 2P $400)

HIGHLIGHTS: Most durable and storm-worthy among lightweight traditional tents

WEIGHT: 3.4 lbs

FEATURES: 2 person | 3 season | Double Walled, Dome | Freestanding

AREA: Interior: 29 ft2 | Vestibule: 17.5 ft2

AREA/POUND: 13.5 ft2/lb

SIMILAR MODELS: Hubba NX 1p, Mutha Hubba NX 3p, Papa Hubba NX 4p

MSR’s Hubba Hubba NX 2p Tent is a perfect blend of strong, durable and light. At 3.4 lbs, it’s the heaviest tent we recommend, but due to its famous strength and durability, it’s also one of REI’s best sellers. Well-engineered pole structure and additional wind/water-resistant interior canopy fabric keep the wind at bay. Not surprisingly it had the tautest pitch in this category. [We saw a number of Hubba Hubba NX 2p tents this year in the legendary Patagonian wind & rain.] Campers rest comfortably in the roomy, near-vertically walled interior. It’s 30d Ripstop floor and 20d Ripstop fly are built to last. Sure, it’s not the very lightest tent, but ask the 350 reviewers on REI.com who gave it 4.6/5 stars what they think of the Hubba Hubba. Or, just trust us when we say it’s a great all-around tent.

BEST FOR: Backpackers seeking a strong, storm-resistant tent who also value durability.

Pro Tip | How Much Tent Do You Need?

Liveable Area – Why Tent “Volume” Matters

The standard floor area for a tent (ft2) is a good starting point for estimating the “livable area” but it’s far from telling the whole story. That is, two tents with the same floor area can have dramatically different amounts of livable area. Increasing the height of the tent and adding top spreader bar(s) make tent walls more vertical. Combined, these design changes significantly increase livable area making it far more pleasant to spend time in the tent. To illustrate this we’ll use two tents in this guide as examples.

Low Volume Tent Example. Red Xs indicate where sloping walls and low ceiling reduce the tent’s livable area. Illustration used with permission of SlingFin. You can read their full blog post here.

First, we have the Nemo Hornet 2p with 27.5 ft2 floor area for the main tent body. But the Hornet’s low 39 inch peak height and slanted sidewalls (tent lacks a spreader crossbar at the peak or foot of the tent) make it better suited for sleeping than hanging out in (some even consider this a large person’s solo tent).

How a High Volume Tent improves on this...

High Volume Tent Example. No red Xs here. Illustration used with permission of SlingFin. You can read their full blog post here.

Second, we have REI Co-op Quarter Dome 2 Tent with a similar 28.7 ft2 for the main tent body. But it has a higher, 43 inch peak height and a spreader bar at the peak of the tent, and another at the foot end to make its walls more vertical for much of the tent body. In addition, the more generous peak height is maintained over more of the tent’s floor area. This makes it possible for two people to sit upright in much of the tent. This is a tent that you can side by side in, or play cards sitting up — a tent that you can spend more time in.

Is One Tent Better Than the Other?

Actually, neither tent is better, it just depends on what your priorities are. While the greater “livable area” for REI Co-op Quarter Dome 2 Tent is attractive, it weighs 1.4 lbs more or 75% more than the Nemo Hornet 2p. So if you like room and intend to spend more time in your tent than just sleeping (maybe even one mosquito buzzing around is too many, or you are in a rainy area) then the extra weight may not matter as much. On the other hand, if you intend to hike much of the day, or spend most of your camp time outside of the tent only using it to sleep, then the Nemo might be a more attractive choice. And if you are hiking solo and like lots of room, you might get the Nemo Hornet 2p as a light and spacious on person tent. Or for two people who want more space, the upgrade to the The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL3 Tent might make sense.

Backpacking Tent - Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2 Tent

The 1.8 pound Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2 Tent. It’s incredibly strong and storm-worthy, roomy and durable. A winning combination that is more and more common with single walled tents.

2. Single Walled Tents | 1.2 lb to 2.6 lb | $260 – $680

Single walled tents are quickly rising in popularity in the backpacking community. And with good reason. They weigh significantly less than conventional double walled tents while providing similar features and performance like a full bathtub floor, and 100% rain and bug protection. Most single walled tents are not freestanding and usually require user-supplied trekking poles and good staking out. And as their name implies, they are single-walled – that is the tent body and the rainfly are one-in-the-same, making them lighter than a conventional tent. Read more in the Pros and Cons below…

Read Pros & Cons for Single Walled Tents

Single Wall Tents and Pyramid Tents, contain the shelters Alison and I use most often. From Patagonia to Alaska they get the job done! But you won’t see these shelters at REI. As such, many readers may not be familiar with Single Walled Tents and Pyramid Tents.

In a nutshell, Single Wall Tents are considerably lighter than conventional tents while providing similar precipitation protection, and keeping the bugs out. Single Walled Tents have more in common with the conventional tents above including a bathtub floor, and 100% rain and bug protection. But they are not freestanding and usually require user-supplied trekking poles and good staking out. They are single-walled – that is the tent body and the rainfly are one-in-the-same, making them lighter than a conventional tent.

The downside is that single-walled tents are more prone to condensation on tent walls. In contrast, most conventional tents are double-walled, having both an inner body of breathable nylon and/or mesh and an outer rainfly of waterproof fabric. The inner body fabric prevents you from bumping up against the wet condensation on the underside of the rain fly. But some newer single wall tents like the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2 also do a very good job managing this.

Also single walled tents can take a bit of time to learn how to set-up properly. The rely on user supplied trekking poles and generally require more staking out than conventional free-standing tents. (Note: this setup is not much harder than a conventional tent, it’s just that most people are not familiar with how to do it.) But again, most Single Wall Tents weigh half of what a similar double walled Traditional Lightweight Backpacking Tents.

Zpacks Duplex Ultralight Two Person Tent $599

WEIGHT: 1.2 lbs

HIGHLIGHTS: Exceptionally light, full featured, highest volume to weight for a tent with a bathtub floor & bug netting, one of the lowest cost Dyneema fabric tents

FEATURES: 2 person | 3 season | Single Walled, TarpTent | Trekking Pole Supported (with freestanding option) | DCF Fabric

AREA: Interior: 28.1 ft2  | Vestibule: 14.4 ft2

AREA/POUND:  35.8 ft2/lb

SIMILAR MODELS: Plexamid Tent 1.5pTriplex Tent 3p

Look no further than the Zpacks Duplex if you want the lightest full featured tent with and amazing volume to weight ratio. It is one of the very lightest 2 person tents on the market, yet it has all the creature comforts of a much heavier conventional tent — a full bathtub floor and mosquito netting, dual doors, dual vestibules, and interior storage pockets on both ends. Even with all these features it manages to achieve 35.8 ft2/lb. Impressive for just over a pound! And unlike many many “tarptent” style shelters, the Duplex can be freestanding with an optional pole set. 

In hard or rocky ground, it can take a bit of time secure all 8 of the Duplex’s 8 stakes securely in good location (see more on good stakes in our Pro Tips). And in strong winds, the Zpacks Duplex can be a bit drafty and the tent walls can deflect some (both not unusual for exceptionally light tents, and certainly not show stoppers). This can be dealt with by good campsite selection (to lower your wind exposure and wall deflections) and/or using your backpacks and other gear to block the mesh on the windward side. Also vestibules at 7.2ft2 each are a bit on the small side, although that’s understandable given the tent’s low weight.

BEST FOR: Backpackers looking for one of the very lightest two person tents on the market. Also one of the lowest cost Dyneema tents.

backpacking tent - Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2 Tent

backpacking tent - Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2 Tent

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2 Tent $795

WEIGHT: 1.8 lb | 28.2oz | 800 g

HIGHLIGHTS: Exceptionally strong & storm worthy, light, deals well with condensation, high area to weight ratio

FEATURES: 2 person | 3* Season | Tarptent/Pyramid Hybrid Design | Trekking Pole Supported | Dyneema Composite Fabric

AREA: Interior: 32.5 ft2 | Vestibules: 28.2 ft² 

AREA/POUND:  33.7 ft2/lb

At a scant 1.8 pounds the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2 Tent is a serious contender for the title of “strongest, lightest and most storm-worthy backpacking tent” on the market. Compared to most ultralight backpacking tents, the Dirigo 2 is about a pound or 30% lighter while providing 10 to 15% more floor area, and a more generous 45″ peak height. But while it’s larger and lighter,  it’s also stronger and more durable than most ultralight backpacking tents.

What sets the Dirigo 2 apart from most ultralight backpacking tents is its strength to resist high winds and other extreme weather. The Dirigo 2  Tent’s combination of an innovative, linked trekking pole structure and tough Dyneema Composite Fabric is strong enough that we can lean against it. As such, even though Hyperlite Mountain Gear rates it as a 3 season tent, we see it being much closer to a 4 season tent yet weighs less than most 3 season tents. Oh, and it handles condensation much better than most single walled tents.

BEST FOR: Backpackers who want an exceptionally light and strong and durable tent with a large area. Those who camp exposed in areas of high wind or extreme weather and need the peace of mind knowing their tent can handle it. Optimizers who want the best gear for the task.

Read our review: Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2 Tent | First Look

* For us, it is much closer to a 4 season tent, or 3+ season (at the very least)

TARPTENT DOUBLE RAINBOW ($299)

WEIGHT: 2.6 lbs

HIGHLIGHTS: Lighter, roomier, and a great value

FEATURES: 2 person | 3 season | Single Walled, Tarptent | Non-freestanding

AREA: Interior: 30.5 ft2  | Vestibule: 14.5 ft2

AREA/POUND:  17.2 ft2/lb

SIMILAR MODELS: Rainbow 1p, Rainshadow 3p

The best-selling Tarptent Double Rainbow is a great performer and one of the best ultralight values on the market. It just missed going into our budget category (even at $300, we seriously considered putting it in). The Tarptent Double Rainbow is a hybrid in every sense of the word. Like its peers in the non-freestanding tent category, pitching this shelter does not require trekking poles; only the aluminum arch frame and stakes. But should you choose to integrate trekking poles, it can easily be converted to fully freestanding! However, unlike other lightweight tents, freestanding or semi-freestanding, the single-walled construction clearly differentiates it as a tarp shelter. For its weight and volume, the Double Rainbow shares similar stats to the lightweight tents, but its cost is more reminiscent of a budget tent. So what to make of this shelter? A surprisingly great all-around option! It’s lighter than average, roomier than average, cheaper than average, and better than average ease of setup. The Double Rainbow is a jack-of-all-trades that every backpacker should seriously consider, and especially those who appreciate a great value.

BEST FOR: Anyone seeking a great jack-of-all trades tent who is willing to try something a little less traditional.

TARPTENT STRATOSPIRE Li $680 in DCF | $325 in SilNylon

WEIGHT: 1.8 lbs

HIGHLIGHTS: A double walled, 4 season tent for less than two pounds!

FEATURES: 2 person | 4 season | Double Walled, Pyramid Tent | Non-freestanding

AREA: Interior: 27.0 ft2  | Vestibule: 19.7 ft2

AREA/POUND:  26.6 ft2/lb

SIMILAR MODELS: Stratospire 2 (less expensive silnylon version)

The Tarptent Stratospire Li is a seriously light shelter that will protect you in the worst conditions. Unlike most products from Tarptent (the brand), it’s technically not a “tarptent” but a fully double walled, 4 season pyramid tent up to winter and strong winds. But at under two pounds it is 1/2 to 1/3 the weight of most 4 season, double walled, free standing tents. The tent’s Dyneema fabric (DCF) body is carefully designed to remain taut in high winds and snow-loads with catenary cut fabrics, and faceted panels to increase strength, and minimize fabric stretch and flapping. The Stratospire Li’s light but strong DCF fabric is an important contributor to its low weight. It also contributes to its high cost — although the cost is in line with many conventional, freestanding 4 season tents. The Stratospire Li doesn’t skip on features. It is dual door, with two large vestibules — its interior is completely removable and can set up independently as a stargazing bug shelter (there is also a solid interior option). Unlike many trekking pole supported pyramid shelters, there are no poles disturbing the interior space of the tent. Finally, compared to almost all other tarp-tents (and their single-walled ilk) it is fully double walled, so it does a much better job of dealing with condensation. This is a big deal in humid or very cold environments.

BEST FOR: People who want bomber, but also the very lightest 4 season tent and are OK with a trekking pole supported design.

Real People with Real Tents!

Dylan and I are in the tent photos for a reason. I am 5’8″ and Dylan is 6’2″. That will give you some scale to assess the size of these tents — in particular, to see how we fit side-by-side lying down inside the tents. Note that we fit “reasonably” enough in all the tents and we could have slept a night in all of them albeit close in some like the Nemo. The main size difference between tents is how much extra room you have for activities besides sleeping (e.g. sitting up and hanging out) and/or how much gear you can store in the main tent body. As such, you should evaluate these tents for your for intended purpose, camping style and expected weather and bug conditions.

Many thanks to Dylan McCarthy, our intern from Georgetown University, who was a huge help with this Tent Guide and our Best Rain Jacket Guide.

ultralight backpacking gear list

Save More Weight than Just a Tent

Top ranked for over 10 years, our 9 Pound – Full Comfort – Lightweight Backpacking Gear List is likely the best fit for most backpackers. So, if you want to lower your pack weight but retain all the convenience and comfort of “traditional” backpacking, look no further. You’ll be safe, warm and comfortable. This list has served Alison and I admirably on most 3-season trips in the lower 48 and on our trips world-wide from Alaska to Patagonia.

best backpacking tents

The KELTY SALIDA 2 is arguably the best performance to value tent on the market. We bought ours for $103 on Amazon. And at under 4 pounds it’s surprisingly light for a budget tent.

3. Budget Backpacking Tents & Shelters – 0.6 lb to 5+ lb, $80 to ~$250

These budget tents perform remarkably well. They will keep $ in your wallet but still keep you safe and dry. Cutoff for inclusion is approximately $250 for a 2-person tent/shelter.

Read Pros & Cons for Budget Backpacking Tents & Shelters

The good news is that the Budget Backpacking Tents in this Category have similar features and performance their lighter cousins, and perform well. But they are not lightweight. As such, these budget tents usually weigh 50% to 100+% more vs. the Lightweight Tents above and can have fewer features. An upside is that their thicker and heavier fabrics make these tents more durable than the lightweight tents. The exception here is for the included Tarptents, Pyramid Tents, and True Tarps where you can have both low price and low weight. So make sure you look at all the options we present in the Budget Backpacking Tents & Shelters Category.

KELTY SALIDA 2 $150 – at publishing, $103 on Amazon

HIGHLIGHTS: Best value-to-weight ratio available, least expensive

WEIGHT: 3.9 lbs

FEATURES: 2 person | 3 season | Double Walled, Dome | Freestanding

AREA: Interior: 30.5 ft2 | Vestibule: 10 ft2

AREA/POUND: 10.45 ft2/lb

SIMILAR MODELS: Salida 4P

When it comes to value, no other tent compares to the Kelty Salida 2. The bottom line is that this is a fully functional, sub 4 lb free-standing tent for only $150 (or less on sale). That’s a whole pound lighter and $55 cheaper than our next most affordable budget pick, the REI Co-op Passage. Truly, the Salida has got it where it counts. That being said, the price and weight come at a real cost: only one door and one vestibule. So despite its average-sized interior, users may find that it feels a bit smaller when they run out of vestibule space and have to store excess gear inside with them. This tent is a best-selling industry classic, and years of production and optimization have led to a reliable, and easy to pitch aluminum cross-pole frame system plus higher than average durability in the 68d floor and rainfly fabric. We can only wish that Kelty would use a 30d fly on this tent to bring it into the range of 3½ pounds.

BEST FOR: Budget or beginning backpacker seeking the lightest and most affordable value tent.

REI HALF DOME 2 PLUS ($229)

HIGHLIGHTS: Largest and most livable tent in category, car camping crossover

Weight: 4.9 lbs

FEATURES: 2 person | 3 season | Double Walled, Dome | Freestanding

AREA: Interior: 35.8 ft2 | Vestibule: 22.5 ft2

AREA/POUND: 12.0 ft2/lb

SIMILAR MODELS: Half Dome 1p, Half Dome 3p, Half Dome 4p

The REI Half Dome 2 Plus is a best selling tent at REI for a reason; it just works. No matter where and how you choose to camp in the backcountry or front-country, this tent will keep you warm, dry and comfortable. Its vertical walls, spacious interior, and expansive vestibules make for great livability, which is why this backpacking tent also has great crossover into car camping. If you need a quiver of one budget tent for all purposes, the Half Dome is your go-to. In addition to more volume and features than the Salida 2 or Passage 2, it’s also made with higher quality, longer lasting materials. A 60d floor prevents rips and pokes while durable DAC poles form a strong and light cross-pole frame with sidewall lifters. But all of these benefits comes at the weight-cost of 4.9 lbs, making it the single heaviest tent we recommend. Quality and value run throughout the entire Half Dome Plus family, so don’t hesitate to buy according to your typical group configuration.

BEST FOR: Budget or beginner backpackers seeking a safe, comfy, reliable tent that works great for backpacking and car camping.

REI CO-OP PASSAGE 2  $159

HIGHLIGHTS: Cheapest full-size, fully featured tent in category

WEIGHT: 4.8 lbs

FEATURES: 2 person | 3 season | Double Walled, Dome | Freestanding

AREA: Interior: 31.1 ft2 | Vestibule: 18.75 ft2

AREA/POUND: 10.4 ft2/lb

SIMILAR MODELS: Passage 1p, Passage 3p

The REI Co-op Passage 2 is the textbook definition of a backpacking tent, but at a fraction of the price. Traditionally, tents from a reputable brand that look and perform this well would cost twice as much! While nothing about the Passage 2 is cutting edge, everything about its design is intentionally traditional, reliable and user-friendly, especially the two door, two vestibule chassis and cross-pole frame. Compared to the Kelty Salida, our cheapest recommended tent, the Passage weighs an entire pound more but offers an extra door and vestibule; a tradeoff worth considering for those who enjoy hanging out in the tent.

BEST FOR: Budget or beginning backpacker seeking a classic, inexpensive backpacking tent

TARPTENT MOTRAIL $259

WEIGHT: 2.1 lbs

HIGHLIGHTS: Most affordable, best value, classic

FEATURES: 2 person | 3 season | Single Walled, TarpTent | Trekking Pole-Supported

AREA: Interior: 30.3 ft2 | Vestibule: 13.0 ft2

AREA/POUND: 20.4 ft2/lb

SIMILAR MODELS: ProTrail 1p, (and the Double Rainbow 2p just barely missed this list at $300 but is a great value tent worth a serious look!)

The Tarptent MoTrail is a modern take on the classic A-frame trekking pole tarp shelter, refined and perfected by decades of backcountry use. It’s the most traditional type of Tarptent, and still totally relevant today. At just over 2.1 pounds and for $259, this easy-to-set-up, yet highly effective shelter is lighter, cheaper, and roughly as spacious as any of our recommended lightweight tents and also the most affordable Tarptent. But they didn’t skimp on bells and whistles. The MoTrail has a durable 30D bathtub floor (vs. the 15D and 20D of comparable UL tents), storage pockets, upper front vents and a rear stormflap that drops for massive ventilation, (thus making it a great option for warm weather rain and bugs). Keep in mind that most of the MoTrails headroom is concentrated at the front, so if you do plan on hanging out inside, prepare to spend that time in the very front of the tent or lying down.

BEST FOR: Hikers seeking great value in an ultralight, well ventilated, bugproof shelter.

MOUNTAIN LAUREL DESIGNS DUOMID 2  $265

WEIGHT: 1.2 lbs

HIGHLIGHTS: Ultralight, ultra strong, great wind/weather protection

FEATURES: 2 person | 4 season | Single Walled, Pyramid| Trekking Pole Supported

AREA: Interior: 45 ft2 | Vestibule: N/A

AREA/POUND: 40 ft2/lb

SIMILAR MODELS:  SoloMid, SoloMid XL, DuoMid XL, SuperMid

The Mountain Laurel Designs DouMid in SilNylon is an excellent shelter for anyone looking to go ultralight and save some money. Ounce for ounce, shelters designed in the pyramid shape are lighter and stronger than the competition, and the DuoMid is no exception. While more expensive pyramids are often constructed using expensive, high tech Dyneema fabric, the DuoMid uses SilNylon to save you tons of money in exchange for a measly four extra ounces of weight (a Dyneema option is available for +$175). And compared to the other budget and lightweight tents, we have what is by far the lightest option. Sure, it’s not palatial like the HMG UltaMid 2 or its sibling the MLD DuoMid XL, but most would consider the size reduction to well justify saving two or more pounds of weight. While the setup pictured uses a groundsheet, there is an optional Innernest that adds a bathtub floor and mosquito netting only when you need it (you can see pictures of the Innernest in our Pyramid Tent section). All said and done, we’re talking about a storm worthy, 1.2 lb shelter for less than $300. What a deal!

BEST FOR: Hikers (small to regular sized) seeking a strong (4-season) ultralight shelter at an affordable price

BORAH GEAR 7’x9′ ULTRALIGHT TARP $98

WEIGHT: 0.6 lbs (9.5 ounces)

HIGHLIGHTS: Lightest budget shelter and under $100

FEATURES: 2 person | 3 season | Flat Tarp | Trekking Pole or Tree Supported

AREA*: Interior: 54 ft2 | Vestibule: N/A

AREA/POUND*: 92 ft2/lb

For those willing to try a new way of camping, tarps are the lightest shelters out there. This basic tarp is a great choice for anyone looking to go ultralight and save tons of money. It has a flat shape (no catenary ridge-line) and just webbing tie-out points (e.g. no LineLock adjusters so you’ll need to know your knots – we prefer a truckers hitch). Nonetheless, it provides a decent amount of livable area for 2-people (and a ton for 1-person!), great views and ventilation. It will keep rain and dew off of you and your gear.  Downside is that tarps provide no bug protection so they are best used in areas with low bug pressure (e.g. the Rockies and Sierras past early season mosquito hatches, desert southwest, etc.). Good campsite selection is important for tarp use. Also see our Pro Tip | Beat the Bugs. Bottom line it’s a storm worthy, 0.6 lb shelter for less than $100.

BEST FOR: Hikers who want the very lightest and lowest cost shelter with great ventilation and views — and are skilled at pitching tarps (or are willing to learn). Best for areas with low bug pressure (much of the US past peak mosquito season).

* Area under the tarp is calculated using a 120º peak angle. This area is for mostly vertical rain. There will be less, but sufficient, dry area for windblown rain.

4. Pyramid Tents | 12 oz to 1.5 lb | $265 – $700

Pyramid Tents are the lightest and most protective shelters out there. A 2-person pyramid tent can weigh less than a pound but have 2x to 3x more livable area than a 4 pound tent, while providing excellent protection from wind and precipitation. Most Pyramid tents are strong enough for 4-season use.

Read Pros & Cons for Pyramid Tents

Pyramid Tents contain the shelters Alison and I use most often. From Patagonia to Alaska they get the job done! But you won’t see these shelters at REI. As such, many readers may not be familiar with TarpTents and Pyramid Tents/Shelters.

In essence, a pyramid tent is a fabric tarp in a pyramid shape that is supported by a center pole (usually trekking poles). But don’t let pyramid tents minimal nature fool you. These are some of the most storm worthy and protective shelters out there. They are our first choice for brutal weather like Alaska and Patagonia where we’ve seen good conventional tents crushed by driving Patagonian winds while our pyramid tent remained standing and undamaged.

Pyramid Tents are strong enough for 4-season use and provide great protection from wind and precipitation including snow. But in their basic setup they do not have a waterproof floor or bug netting — although almost all have an option to add an inner nest that provides a floor and bug netting. An optional inner nest provides both a bathtub floor and bug netting for 100% bug protection. Altho that does add weight and cost to the tent. If you like us, choose not to use the inner nest and instead use a light groundsheet, THEN see our  Pro I Tip on good campsite selection  and also see our Pro Tip | Beat the Bugs

Livable Area in Tarptents and Pyramid Tents vs. a Conventional Tent

To be fair, for the same floor area, livable area for a tarptent or pyramid tent is not the same as floor area on a modern, more vertical walled traditional, double walled tent.

  1. First tarptents, and pyramid shelters are single walled. When the walls condense (in certain conditions) your actual area and useable volume is less as you need to avoid brushing against wet walls. But given their low weight vs. a double walled tent you still come out ahead on “useable area” to weight ratio, but the advantage is not quite as high as it might appear if you did not take condensation into consideration.
  2. Second, the sloping walls on pyramid shelters (and some tarptents) can be fairly low around the shelter’s perimeter (vs. a modern, more vertical walled conventional tent) and may not be usable for living or sleeping. This is not necessarily a problem because it provides a great gear storage are, leaving the middle of the shelter free for sleeping/living area. And again, most pyramid tents have substantially greater area than a similar weight conventional tent. As such, even taking into account the sloping walls they have more area. But this should be taken into consideration when comparing it to a double walled tent.

best backpacking tent

Optional ULTAMID 2 INSERT WITH DCF11 FLOOR is $395.00

HYPERLITE MOUNTAIN GEAR ULTAMID 2 $715 (tent w/o insert)

 WEIGHT: 1.2 lbs

HIGHLIGHTS: Ultralight, ultra strong, ultra spacious, Dyneema

FEATURES: 2 person | 4 season | Single Walled, Pyramid | Trekking Pole Supported

AREA: Interior: 63 ft2 | Vestibule: 0 ft2

AREA/POUND:  53.1 ft2/lb

SIMILAR MODELS: UltaMid 4

The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 2 is everything a pyramid tent should be and nothing more. Thanks to its shape and high tech Dyneema fabric, the Ultamid 2 is categorically lighter, stronger and more spacious than any traditional tent or tarptent on the market. Two top vents help reduce condensation and a multitude of guyout points provide extreme storm resistance. Setup requires lashing two poles together with ski straps. While this can feel a bit finicky at first, it certainly isn’t difficult and one practice pitch at home will have you ready to take this incredible shelter into the backcountry for many years to come. The HMG brand is also a huge plus. As cottage manufacturers go, they’re known for speedy delivery and great customer service, even offering free product repairs. Plus, you’ll impress your friends; the all-white HMG look feels like something out of the future.

Note: The optional ULTAMID 2 INSERT WITH DCF11 FLOOR ($395) adds full bug protection and a floor to the Ultamid 2. Or it can be used on its own for stargazing and fresh air.

BEST FOR: Backpackers seeking the lightest, largest, and strongest ultralight shelter. HMG Fans.

DuomMid XL in Pro SilNylon

Mountain Laurel Designs DuoMid XL in DCF with optional Innernet (additional cost)

MOUNTAIN LAUREL DESIGNS DUOMID XL $365 Silnyon | $690 DCF (tent w/o innernet)

WEIGHT: 1.0 lbs DCF, 1.3 lbs Pro Silnylon

HIGHLIGHTS: Ultralight, ultra strong, ultra spacious, no pole between sleepers

FEATURES: 2 person | 4 season | Single Walled, Pyramid | Trekking Pole Supported

AREA: Interior: 65 ft2 | Vestibule: 0 ft2

AREA/POUND: 65 ft2/lb (DCF) | 50 ft2/lb (Silnyon)

SIMILAR MODELS:  SoloMidSoloMid XLDuoMidSuperMid

The Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid XL in Dyneema is a marvel of engineering. Like all pyramid shelters, it’s lighter, larger and stronger than any traditional tent or tarp tent, and it’s also the lightest and largest pyramid tent we recommend. On top of that, in SilNylon its $350 cheaper ($25 in DCF) than its primary competitor, the HMG Ultamid 2 . Stats aside, we absolutely love its asymmetrical pitch. By keeping the support pole off center, the floor area is divided into two sections; sleeping (70%) and gear storage (30%). So, unlike other pyramids, couples looking to share a two-person sleeping bag or snuggle will be able to do so without interference from a center pole. And unlike regular pyramid tents, the asymmetrical layout keeps the sleeping area dry even with the door open. The award-winning MLD’s Duomid XL will keep you warm, dry, and protected in any environment you choose to camp. Shopping for a performance UL shelter on a budget? Make sure to check out the MLD DuoMid in SilNylon, written up in the budget section.

Note: The optional MLD INNERNET (additional cost) adds full bug protection and a floor to the Duomid.

BEST FOR: Backpackers (particularly couples) seeking the lightest, largest, and strongest ultralight shelter.

Two Great 1-Person Pyramid Shelters That Can Fit Two in a Pinch

If you are looking for incredibly light but want rain/snow protection and wind resistance these are worth a serious look. When guiding in the Sierras last fall, Flyin’ Brian Robinson and I shared a Sierra Designs High Route 1 FL during an unusually nasty stretch of fall weather. Alison and I recently shared a Mountain Laurel Designs SolMid XL on a 350 mile bike-packing trip where we were really trying save on space (a SilNylon Solomid XL takes up insanely little space). In both cases the tents did fine!

Note: To fit two people in either of these tents, you’ll need to skip the inner nest. Just use a $10, 2 ounce ground cloth like a MLD UL (tent foot print GROUND CLOTH or Gossamer Gear POLYCRYO (TENT FOOTPRINT) GROUND CLOTH

To save space and weight Alison and I shared a SoloMid XL on a recent bikepacking trip.

MOUNTAIN LAUREL DESIGNS SOLOMID XL  $265 SilNylon, $465 Dyneema

WEIGHT: 12.5 oz Dyneema, 17 oz Pro Silnylon

HIGHLIGHTS: Ultralight, ultra strong, ultra, asymmetric for a fully protected sleep area

FEATURES: 2 person | 4 season | Single Walled, Pyramid | Trekking Pole Supported

AREA: Interior: 40 ft2 | Vestibule: 0 ft2

AREA/POUND: 51 ft2/lb Dyneema, 38 ft2/lb Pro SilNylon

SIMILAR MODELS:  SoloMidDuomid XLDuoMidSuperMid

The Mountain Laurel Designs Solomid XL in Dyneema is the solo version of the Duomid XL. It’s been refined and perfected for over 12 years. It’s listed here because it is a large enough shelter (spacious for one) that it can also be used as a two person shelter if you don’t mind sleeping close. In fact, Alison and I recently shared one on a 350 mile bikepacking trip where we were really trying save on space — and a SilNylon Solomid XL takes up about as little space as any shelter on the market. It did just fine! And unlike regular pyramid tents, the asymmetrical layout keeps the sleeping area dry even with the door open. Other than being smaller and lighter, it has most of the same advantages as its bigger sister the Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid XL.

BEST FOR: Backpackers (particularly single) seeking a spacious and strong ultralight shelter. BUT it can fit two in a pinch for fantastic weight and volume savings.

Sierra Designs High Route 1 FL – 2019 Model  $299

WEIGHT: 1.1 lb Tarp Only – 1.8 lb Tarp + Inner Nest

HIGHLIGHTS: Excellent value in a modular pyramid shelter that can fit two in a pinch. Extremely light when used in fly only mode (our preferred way).

FEATURES: 1 person | 3 season | Single Walled, Pyramid Tent (dual peak) | Trekking Pole Supported

AREA Tarp Only: 29.8 ft2  | Vestibule: N/A

AREA Tarp + Inner Nest: 18.8 ft2  | Vestibule: 17.3 ft2

AREA/POUND:  28.0 ft2/lb Tarp Only – 19.4 ft2/lb with inner nest

The Sierra Designs High Route 1 FL Tent deserves a serious look as an innovative, and light 1-person pyramid tent that can fit two in a pinch. The High Route 1 FL is a two-part tent — the “fly” (actually a pyramid tent) and the “body” (bug net and floor insert). When combined they are the equivalent of a double walled tent. Read our full review here: Sierra Designs High Route 1 FL Tent Review. If you are willing to sleep in a pyramid tent (SD’s “fly”) without the inner nest (SD’s “body”), this is a roomy, strong and storm worthy shelter at just over 1 pound! Again, Flyin’ Brian Robinson and I shared a Sierra Designs High Route 1 FL (less inner nest) when guiding in the High Sierras for two weeks last fall and were quite happy with it. But if you feel you must have an inner nest for most of your trips you might be better off looking at our Lightweight Backpacking Tents  or Tarptents & Single Wall Tents.

BEST FOR: Anyone looking for a good value in an extremely light and innovative pyramid tent and is willing to consider not using the inner nest (body) some of the time. Also a great option for a super light “tent” that can fit two in a pinch

After the storm: An 8 ounce Mountain Laurel Designs Dyneema Grace Duo Tarp after weathering a severe afternoon T-storm during our Wind River High Route. The tarp kept Don and I dry and protected even tho we were well above treeline. [photo: Don Wilson]

5. True Tarps | 12 oz to 15 oz | $80 to $325

There is a lot to like about Tarps! Ounce for ounce, tarps are the lightest shelters out there. They give great views and have great ventilation. Pitched high, they have a ton of livable area. Pitched low, they provide good protection from wind and rain.

Read Pros & Cons for True Tarps

Tarps like this take up little room in your pack and can be pulled out of a outside backpack pocket and pitched in just a few minutes to weather a rain burst. Then they can be just as easily folded back into an outside pocket of your backpack — away from all your dry gear inside the pack.

Downside is they have no bug protection so are best for drier climates, and places like the Sierras (like the John Muir Trail), or Rockies past the early season mosquito hatches. In this section we also give you some tips on how to successfully deal with moderate bug pressure when using a tarp. . Good campsite selection is important for tarp use.  Also see our Pro Tip | Beat the Bugs

Where and When Tarps Work

Tarps like this work great in areas of intermittent rain, e.g. the afternoon T-storms typical of summer in the Sierras and Rockies and areas that have low bug pressure (Desert Southwest, or Rockies and Sierras past early season mosquitoes). Note: that this covers the bulk of the hiking season for many locations in the US. We have used tarps quite successfully to protect two people and gear in many high mountain rages, above treeline and in some strong storms — even snow.

Tarps and Bugs

The obvious downsides of the tarps are lack of bug protection and that they require some skill to pitch. For bug protection:

  1. Some tarps do have inner nests with a bathtub floor and bug netting similar to the Pyramid Tents above. e.g. the highly flexible HyperLite Mountain Gear ECHO II ULTRALIGHT SHELTER SYSTEM and MLD has a TRAILSTAR INNERNET for their Trailstar Tarp.
  2. Your other option is to pair a bug netted bivy sack like the MLD SUPERLIGHT SOLO BIVY with a tarp for intermittent to light bug pressure. This is our favorite system for Sierras in the summer (John Muir Trail, etc.). Cowboy camping in a bivy is one of our favorite ways to sleep out. We just bring a tarp as a backup in case of rain. Best of both worlds. Most nights, the bugs die down and we sleep with our faces out staring at the tarps.

Tarps Setup and Pitching Skills

Finally, tarps are not as difficult to pitch as people imagine. Take a tarp, some cord and two trekking poles into your backyard and you should be able to learn to pitch it well in about 30 minutes. Oh, It’s easier and faster with two people, especially when you are starting out.

HYPERLITE MOUNTAIN GEAR ECHO II CATENARY CUT TARP $325

WEIGHT: 0.6 lbs (9.5 ounces)

HIGHLIGHTS: Extremely versatile and light, high-tech DCF fabric, nice optional “beak” to form a vestibule at the front of the tarp (part of the ECHO II ULTRALIGHT SHELTER SYSTEM)

FEATURES: 2 person | 3 season | Catenary Cut Tarp | Trekking Pole or Tree Supported | Part of a system that includes the ECHO II BEAK (vestibule) and ECHO II INSERT (bug netting an floor).

AREA*: Interior: 55 ft2 | Vestibule: optional ECHO II BEAK adds area

AREA/POUND*: 95 ft2/lb

At 9.5 oz including tie-out cords and line adjusters, the HYPERLITE MOUNTAIN GEAR ECHO II CATENARY CUT TARP is exceptionally light! And we really like the weather protection and pitching flexibility of the ECHO II CATENARY CUT TARP especially when combined with the optional ECHO II BEAK. With the beak it provides almost 100% rain and wind protection to the front of the tarp. And it provides a great, protected cooking area and extra storage for wet gear like muddy shoes.

The ECHO II ULTRALIGHT SHELTER SYSTEM can be mixed and match based on need. By adding the ECHO II BEAK it can go from just a UL tarp, to a tarp with a vestibule for more protection and a place to cook. And then by adding the ECHO II INSERT it can go to a completely bug-proof shelter with a floor. Or any combination of those.

BEST FOR: Hikers who want an extremely light BUT want a highly versitle shelter system that can be adapted to changing conditions and trip goals — and who have the budget to afford it. [Best when used with the beak for additional storage area]

Note: call HMG to order just the BEAK. Price is $150.

* Area under the tarp is calculated using a 120º peak angle. This area is for mostly vertical rain. There will be less, but sufficient, dry area for windblown rain. HMG has a 68 ft2 area, likely based on a shallower (wider) peak angle.

MOUNTAIN LAUREL DESIGNS GRACE DUO TARP  $165 Pro SilNylon | Dyneema $295 DCF

WEIGHT: 12 oz in 20D Pro SilNylon | 7.5 oz in Dyneema (weights include linelocks but not cord)

HIGHLIGHTS: Large and light, fully featured, low price!

FEATURES: 2 person | 3 season | Catenary Cut Tarp | Trekking Pole or Tree Supported

AREA*: Interior: 70 ft2 Pro SilNylon, 62 ft2 Dyneema | Vestibule: N/A

AREA/POUND*: 93 ft2/lb Pro SilNylon, 105 ft2/lb Dyneema

The spacious and reasonably priced Mountain Laurel Designs GRACE DUO TARP has been carefully refined for 15+ years and is great choice for anyone trying to balance performance and cost. It is both larger and lighter than most 2-person tarps. It has a modern catenary cut pattern for a super taut pitch. I comes with all tie-out cord and LineLock adjusters so no need to know your knots. Nonetheless, it provides a ton on livable area (30% more than the Borah Gear), great views and ventilation. It will keep rain and dew off of you and your gear.  New this year is a 20D Pro SilNylon which dropped weight by 15%. The Dyneema version pictured (and in the lead tarp photo) is slightly smaller and lighter. It has all the advantages of Dyneema — light, incredibly strong, super stiff, doesn’t stretch when wet. But it has the downside of being almost twice the cost.

BEST FOR: Hikers proficient at pitching shelters and who want a tarp with the best combination of low weight, performance and cost. Best for areas with low bug pressure (much of the US past peak mosquito season).

* Area under the tarp is calculated using a 120º peak angle. This area is for mostly vertical rain. There will be less, but sufficient, dry area for windblown rain.

BORAH GEAR 7’x9′ ULTRALIGHT TARP $98

WEIGHT: 0.6 lbs (9.5 ounces)

HIGHLIGHTS: Lightest budget shelter and under $100

FEATURES: 2 person | 3 season | Flat Tarp | Trekking Pole or Tree Supported

AREA*: Interior: 54 ft2 | Vestibule: N/A

AREA/POUND*: 92 ft2/lb

For those willing to try a new way of camping, tarps are the lightest shelters out there. This basic tarp is a great choice for anyone looking to go ultralight and save tons of money. It has a flat shape (no catenary ridge-line) and just webbing tie-out points (e.g. no LineLock adjusters so you’ll need to know your knots – we prefer a truckers hitch). Nonetheless, it provides a decent amount of livable area for 2-people (and a ton for 1-person!), great views and ventilation. It will keep rain and dew off of you and your gear.  Downside is that tarps provide no bug protection so they are best used in areas with low bug pressure (e.g. the Rockies and Sierras past early season mosquito hatches, desert southwest, etc.). Good campsite selection is important for tarp use. Also see our Pro Tip | Beat the Bugs. Bottom line it’s a storm worthy, 0.6 lb shelter for less than $100.

BEST FOR: Hikers who want the very lightest and lowest cost shelter with great ventilation and views — and are skilled at pitching tarps (or are willing to learn). Best for areas with low bug pressure (much of the US past peak mosquito season).

* Area under the tarp is calculated using a 120º peak angle. This area is for mostly vertical rain. There will be less, but sufficient, dry area for windblown rain.

Paria Outdoors Sanctuary SilTarp 8′ x10′  $80

WEIGHT: 1.0 lbs (15.5 ounces) Tarp | cord and stakes 3.7 oz

HIGHLIGHTS: Least expensive, large coverage, complete kit, available at major retailers like Amazon

FEATURES: 2 person | 3 season | Flat Tarp | Trekking Pole or Tree Supported

AREA*: Interior: 69 ft2 | Vestibule: N/A

AREA/POUND*: 71.4 ft2/lb

SIMILAR MODELS: 10 feet by 7/5 feet – Tapered Cut

The Paria Outdoors Sanctuary SilTarp is a great choice if you need a light, large tarp, off the shelf from a major retailer like Amazon (e.g. you need it in the next two days — we’ve been there too!). It is a complete and well-thought out kit with UL guylines with line locks, our favorite aluminum Y stakes, and a stuff sack for the stakes and one for the tarp. The tarp fabric is of a sturdy 30D rip-stop Silnylon which should last for years. There are a number of tarp sizes but for two people, we prefer the 10 x 8 foot version. The  10 feet by 7/5 feet – Tapered Cut would be a great choice for solo use or for two people in areas with only intermittent rain. And unlike some of the catenary tarps, in this section, the Paria Outdoors Sanctuary SilTarp is a flat cut tarp. As such it opens itself up to a myriad of customized pitches. Some incredibly storm-worthy!

BEST FOR: Hikers who want the very lightest and lowest cost shelter with great ventilation and views — and are skilled at pitching shelters (or are willing to learn). Best for areas with low bug pressure (much of the US past peak mosquito season).

* Area under the tarp is calculated using a 120º peak angle. This area is for mostly vertical rain. There will be less, but sufficient, dry area for windblown rain.

Tarp camping in the Wind Rivers Mountains during a 2-day blizzard. This was much cozier than it looks! We walked out next morning warm and fine. In contrast many tent campers fled the mountains due to the impending storm – their loss as we had a glorious snow capped Circ of the Towers to ourselves in the morning!

Pro Tips

Here is some gear and use tips that will help you get the best performance and enjoyment out of your tent. Either the tent you intend to buy or the tent you already own.

Note: A inexpensive tent used properly will usually outperform a far more sophisticated and expensive tent in inexperienced hands. As such, scanning through our Pro Tips is worth a read, no matter what tent you buy (or even if you already own a tent).

Pro Tip | How Strong Can an Ultralight Tent Be?

While high altitude mountaineering tents that can withstand Everest level winds snow are not the focus if this guide, it’s interesting to point out a new ultralight tent that can. Check out new ultralight, super strong SlingFin WindSaber Tent from a startup company SlingFin in Berkeley CA. It’s a sub 5 lb, double-walled high mountain tent that can withstand extreme winds and huge snow-loads. As such, it can go up against the 10 lb big-dog mountaineering tents like the TNF Mountain 25. The key to SlinFin tent’s high strength and low weight is their innovative SlingFin WebTruss™ which also makes it much easier to initially pitch the tent in high winds, the Achilles heel of many other mountaineering tents.

Picture here is of our SlingFin WindSabre on the Southern Patagonia Ice Shelf. The view is of the Circlo de los Atares with the highest peak in the background, the infamous Cerro Torre. Winds routinely blow over 100 MPH here.  [Lead photo credit Alison Simon]

PRO TIP | Protect Your Tent Floor for Less

Skip the Manufacturer’s Footprint which is heavy and expensive. Instead, use a 2 to 3.5 oz Polycro Footprint to protect the floor of very light tent floors (less than 30D), we recommend putting a $9 Gossamer Gear Polycro Footprint or MLD UL FOOTPRINT under it. This multilayer, cross-linked polyolefin film weighs less than 4 oz and is much stronger and more durable than the typical painters plastic sheet you’d get at a hardware store. It’s also ~ 1/2 the weight and 12% the cost of a footprint from the tent manufacturer. It should last for weeks or months of use. When it starts to wear it can easily be replaced by another $9 footprint. [Get a large size and cut it to fit your tent.]

Oh, and if your tent floor is 30D or better then you can likely skip a footprint or Polycro sheet altogether. It’s durable enough if you pitch it carefully. On the other hand, many of the ligher tents in this guide have 20D or even 15D floors. In this case, you should sercionsly consider protecting it with a footprint or Polycro sheet.

PRO TIP | Upgrade Your Tent Stakes

The light stakes that came with your tent are OK but you can do better. Good stakes make tent pitching faster and more secure. For pitching in rocky ground and other difficult areas we prefer these inexpensive but bomber TNH ‘Y’ Tent-Stakes on Amazon. They have only a single notch at the head making them extremely resistant to bending and damage when pounding in with a rock. And they have a pre-attached cord to make them easier to pull out — the cord is reflective to keep you from tripping on them during the night. Finally, ‘Y’ stakes have greater holding power than most stakes so they’ll hold your tent more securely. You can get similar ‘Y’ stakes, MSR Ground Hogs, at REI.

PRO TIP | Beat the Bugs

Even if you have a tent with bug netting, nobody really wants to be in tent-jail the entire time you are in camp trying to avoid the mosquitoes. And if you are using a tarp or a pyramid tent without bug netting this is even more important. Here are some tips to beat the bugs.

Campsite selection matters

Ten or 15 minutes scouting for a good camp may save you hours of misery.  Mosquitoes and other flying insects that bite are fairly predictable. They like wet areas with little or no wind. So avoid camping near wet and boggy areas. Instead try and find a higher and drier ridge or other well drained area that will have less bugs. Try standing around in your prospective campsite for 5 minutes or so before committing and pitching your tent. If they are going to be bad you’ll know by then. And if it’s not windy, try and find a place that gets more wind — again a higher place with fewer trees or shrubs that will catch even slight breezes. Even during the height of mosquito season in Alaska we were usually able to find breezy area, like a bluff above a river, where we could eat dinner outside the tents and with our shoes off.

In western mountains the mosquito hatch moves up in altitude as the season progresses going to nearly zero by August in most areas. Before then the mosquito hatches are worst at a certain altitude and you can avoid camping there if possible. Finally, bug pressure may go down substantially in the late evening. In more arid climates they usually settle down once the temperature drops at the end of the day, and especially after dark. We’ve cowboy camped (no tent, faces exposed) many a night when the mosquitoes were buzzing around during the day, but dwinded to nearly zero after dark.

Sometimes you can’t beat the bugs

And yes, if you are in the Boundary Waters in July, you’ll likely want a tent with full bug netting. We would! But we find those instances the exception rather than the rule. Most times we can get away with a tarp our pyramid shelter without the netting.

PRO TIP | Tent Performance Upgrade – Pick the Right Campsite

Even a so-so tent will usually work great in a good campsite. First figure out what your major concerns are — wind, rain, cold & bugs are usually top. Below we tell you which campsites are best for which concerns. We cover bugs their own Pro Tip.

Wind Rain and Cold

while those catalog photos of a tent on a picturesque lakeshore with a tree nowhere in sight look great — they are horribly exposed places to be in bad weather! So do yourself a huge faver and pitch your shelter in a protected area — preferably in trees! But if not trees, behind a large rock, a small hill, a line of shrubs a — anything to break the wind.

Camping protected in the trees does a number of lovely things for you:

  • Trees block the wind: which keeps you a lot warmer (reduces convective heat loss). It also lowers wind load and stresses on your shelter and tent stakes. That is you don’t need a bomber tent if you are protected in the woods.
  • Trees keep you warmer: Trees prevent radiant heat loss. They reflect the day’s heat back to the ground at night in the same way that a cloudy sky makes it warmer overnight.
  • Trees keep you drier: Camping in the trees is also less prone to the heavy dew and condensation of exposed campsites.The worst place for dew is in a treeless meadow at the bottom of a canyon. The best place to be is in the woods on a flat area a few hundred feet above the canyon bottom (or surrounding lower area).
  • Trees provide shelter anchors: for tarps, shelter tie-outs, and hammocks. Far more secure than stakes in the ground. Just a few good tie-out to trees will make any tent a lot more stable.

Finally, make sure that your tent is not in an area where water will pool-up or stream through (this is far better than relying on your tent floor to be 100% waterproof).

Leave No Trace (LNT) Ethics

Current Leave No Trace (LNT) Ethics have you discreetly camping out of sight in the trees [e.g. all campsites in Rocky Mountain Park fit this criteria]. Camping out of sight is a favor to fellow backcountry travelers sharing the area with you — rather than advertising your presence to everybody for miles around. Then everybody can view that beautiful lake or meadow without any human presence to mar their experience. In addition, you should try and camp on hard, durable surfaces whenever possible. [Your park reg’s likely have you camping away from lakes, streams, and trails as well.]

Pro Tip | Is a Freestanding Tent Really Freestanding?

“Freestanding” is a bit misleading, and does not necessarily mean that you do not need to stake out these tents. In reality, it is a good idea to stake out any tent or shelter, freestanding or not. While the main body (less rain fly) of a freestanding tent will stand on its own without stakes, it is still better to stake it out. We have seen more than a few un-staked tents blow a considerable distance in strong winds, sometimes resulting in tent damage and lost gear (thus our recommendation to find a good campsite that avoids exposure to strong winds). And if you add a rainfly over your freestanding tent you will need to stake out the vestibules. And most important, you will always get a better/tauter and much stronger pitch if you stakeout the corners (and other points as necessary).

Disclaimer

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on the these links, a portion of the sale helps support this site at no additional cost to you. I do not receive compensation from the companies whose products are listed. For product reviews: unless otherwise noted, products are purchased with my own funds. I am never under an obligation to write a review about any product. Finally, this post expresses my own independent opinion.

14 replies
  1. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    Great article as always Alan (and Alison and Dylan)!

    Can you recommend a budget but ultralight bivy to complement the Borah Gear tarp? I was considering the MLD bivy + Grace combo but also considering other budget quality combos.

    Thanks in advance,
    Jeff

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Jeff. Apologies for the late reply. I was out in the Arizona Canyons to find summer for a few days :-) Borah gear makes a bivy that would work just fine. I think they are a bit backed up outfitting section hikers for the year. But again MLD probably has a 4 to 6 week lead time as well this time of year. Hope this helps. Wishing you a great year of hiking. Warmest, -alan

      Reply
  2. Jason Gray
    Jason Gray says:

    Great, comprehensive review. I love that you give different price points.

    I just returned from two weeks in Patagonia with a new MLD DuoMid XL and it everything I hoped for, minus the tiny leak where I missed when seam-sealing. It is easy to pitch (easier than the MLD TrailStar I had) but it helps to practice pitching when the footprint is not quite even or flat. Question: in the DuoMid XL pictures above, how much pole off-set did you have? Eyeballing, it looked substantial. I didn’t use an off-set as I was paranoid about high winds (and we had some) but would like to know I can get away with 5 or six inches of additional interior room. Thanks for all you do!

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Jayson, our pleasure! And apologies for the late reply. I was out in the Arizona Canyons to find summer for a few days :-) In general windspeed right at ground level is much lower than it is 6′ above the ground, which in turn is much lower than it is a 20′ above the ground. As such, unless it is very windy and very cold, it’s fine an even desirable to have the ‘Mid up a bit — more room, better ventilation and lower condensation. And if you know what direction the wind is coming from you can block just that side with your packs. Hope this helps. Wishing you great trekking this year. Warmest, -alan & alison

      Reply
  3. David Menges
    David Menges says:

    Great summary, timely. I’m in the market for a pyramid (some prior experience), but no manufacturer seems to accommodate tall people (I’m 6’ 4”).

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Good Q David. My hiking partner is 6’5″ and fits fine in a MLD SuperMid. It’s what we use on most of our trips together. Good deal in Pro SilNylon! Hope this helps. Warmest, -alan

      Reply
  4. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    Hi Alan,

    I currently have the Nemo Dagger 2p tent, most of my backpacking is with my daughter and occasionally by myself, do you think it’s worth upgrading to the 2019 Edition of the Nemo Dagger with a few updates or just staying with the previous edition.

    Thanks,

    Kevin

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Good Q Kevin, Unless, you have serious issues with your Dagger 2p tent I would just stick with it. It’s a nice tent and buying a completely new one of the same tent seems like a lot of expenditure for just little gain. Instead if you were going to spend that type of $ to improve upon your tent… I might try a Pyramid Tent without the inner nest, as an optional second tent. See if you couldn’t use that a fair amount of the time. Since you already have a traditional tent for bug protection to fall back on, you could use the pyramid tent when bug pressure is low (honestly for much of the country, it’s a lot the hiking season). The pyramid shelter would weigh 3 pounds less than your current Dagger 2p. Just a thought. Wishing you and your daughter a great hiking season. Warmest, -alan & alison

      Reply
      • Kevin
        Kevin says:

        Alan,

        Thanks for the very helpful reply and for convincing me to not throw down that much money for the updated Nemo Dagger. While I am definitely a true tent guy through and through and likely wouldn’t get a pyramid shelter, I see your point, if I’m gonna invest in adding another shelter, probably better to keep the Dagger and maybe and a more ultralight option such as a Hornet 2p or BA Tiger Wall 2p for solo trips, thanks for the insight

        Reply
  5. Khan
    Khan says:

    Thanks Alan.

    As always, information rich and very helpful.

    1. The critical “floor width” number would be useful to have alongside the interior areas you have included. For my son and me, we start bumping into sidewalls and each other with less than 52 inches of floor width.

    2. We hike in scorpion and snake country, so a full enclosed tent is a requirement. True, snakes tend to shy away and are rarer under shelters, but scorpions are another matter. In order to find the lightest enclosed tent with a floor space of at least 52 inches, I came up with these numbers:

    (listed in order of recommendation, giving preference to weight vs. floor width)

    Zpacks Triplex— 1.4 lbs (638 grams), 60 x 90
    Gossamer Gear The Two— 1.9 lbs, 52 x 89
    Tarptent Motrail — 2.1 lbs, 52 x 84
    Six Moon Designs Lunar Duo Explorer — 2.8 lbs, 54 x 90
    Hyperlite Echo II Ultralight Shelter System — 2.4 lbs, 52 x 84
    Hyperlite UltaMid 2 – Ultralight Pyramid Tent with DCF Insert and Floor — 2.8 lbs, 76 x 96
    Mountain Laurel Design Supermid with DCF Innernet — 2.6 lbs, 90 x 90
    Mountain Laurel Design Duomid XL with DCF Innernet — 2.2 lbs, 47 x 87
    Tarptent Stratospire Li — 1.8 lbs, 45 x 86
    Zpacks Duplex— 1.2 lbs, 45 x 90

    By a significant margin, the Zpack Triplex was the lightest fully enclosed tent with a floor width greater than the critical 52 inches (the Duplex was not considered because it was tiny at only 45 inches; for an extra couple of ounces one gets 15 inches of extra floor width). I currently own the Six Moon Designs Lunar Duo Explorer and have overall been happy, with practice, with the high-wind performance and set up time of a tarp tent.

    I am thinking about going to the Triplex to save 1.4 pounds and get more floor space for two. Would like your thoughts.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Kahn, having been stung by an Arizona Bark Scorpion, I literally feel your pain. Nice job on figuring out what tent meets your needs. And an interesting criteria. I will note that while the Zpacks tents do many things very well, they are not the most stable tents in high winds, and their vestibule area is on the small size. So if you are in strong winds, and/or end up with a bunch of wet gear in your shelter on a rainy they might not be as roomy or pleasant. But assuming you sleep in a semi-protected area in the desert where you can store gear outside, I can understand why they might be a great choice. Wishing you a great year of trekking. Warmest, -alan

      Reply

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