Recommended Tents, Tarps and other Shelters

Recommended Tents, Tarps and other Shelters
Possibly the best all-around, lightweight shelter is a pyramid shelter. I have used Pyramid Shelters on trips to Alaska, Patagonia, the Sierras, major European treks and around the world. (Picture of Alison in a Mountain Laurel Designs DuoMid XL on the G20 in Corsica. Considered to be the toughest long distance trek in Europe, the GR20 is legendary for its violent weather.)

Recommended Tents, Tarps and other Shelters

Why would I not take a conventional tent?

Pyramid SheltersTarps and Shaped Tarps are lighter and better ventilated than most Conventional Tents, yet give excellent wind and rain protection. For instance a pyramid shelter with a palatial 65+ ft2 floor area and 5+ feet of headroom can weigh between 1.5 to a only pound depending on fabric (43ft2/lb to 65 ft2/lb). A well-known 2-person backpacking tent is almost 5 pounds for 47 ft2 floor area and 3+ feet of headroom (9.6 ft2/lb). So the pyramid shelter has between 4.5 to 6.8 times more room per pound than a conventional backpacking tent—put differently it is a larger storm-worthy shelter that weighs 4 pounds less!

See Shelter Weights and Stats for a detailed comparison table of Tents, Tarps and other Shelters.

Quick Answers for Tent and Shelter Selection

1) I just want to get the best all-around shelter and be done: Look at the Pyramid Shelters Page


Pyramid shelters are light and keep you dry!

Consider pyramids from Mountain Laurel Designs, Hyperlite Mountain Gear or My Trail Co. Pyramid shelters give you huge floor area and great storm protection for the minimum weight. Many of the pyramid shelters have an optional insert which has full mosquito netting and a bathtub floor, effectively making them a tent when needed. But giving you the option of leaving the insert at home, saving both weight and pack volume.


2) I want a conventional Tent from a major retailer like REI: Look at the Tents and Tarptents Page 

Consider lightweight tents like the REI Quarter Dome 1 Tent, or the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 1 Tent. (If you want to save a bit more weight, look at the Tarptents, altho these will not be from REI.)

3) I feel adventurous & want to go really light: Look at the Tarps and Shaped TarpsPyramid Shelters Page

Recommended Tents, Tarps and other Shelters

The 7.8 ounce MLD Cuben Fiber Grace Duo Tarp was our choice for the Wind River High Route: Don and I weathered a strong thunder and hailstorm at the back of Cirque of the Towers. Exposed at over 10,000 feet in a mountain meadow, it kept us and all our down gear dry.

Consider one of the pyramids without an insert and/or in Cuben Fiber. Or consider Tarps (like the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Tarps, or Mountain Laurel Designs Tarps) and Shaped Tarps if you backpack in places with occasional rain (Summer in the Sierras or the desert of Southern Utah) and/or camp in more sheltered areas (below treeline, behind large rocks, etc.). Tarps and Shaped Tarps far more floor area but a bit less headroom than a pyramid. They are significantly lighter than pyramids. e.g. a 2-personMountain Laurel Designs Cuben Fiber Grace Duo Tarp  is 8 oz vs the 16 oz for the DuoMid XL. (Note: that some skilled and adventurous backpackers use Tarps above treeline in the high mountains and other exposed areas that get appreciable wind and precipitation. Some even winter camp under a tarp!)


Shelter Types and Stats

These shelters are listed by weight (high to low). In general they are also listed in increasing floor area (ft2) per pound (lb) of shelter weight (ft2/lb) . That is a conventional 4 pound tent provides only 5 square feet of floor area per pound of shelter weight, while a Cuben Fiber tarp provides an astonishing 100 to 130 square feet per pound of shelter weight—over 20x floor area per pound.

Lb Ft2/lb  Type of Shelter  Example Pros and Cons
Tents and Tarptents
4  5.0 Conventional
retail tent
REI Passage 1 Pro: low price, readily available, full floor and bug protection, freestanding Con: heavy, low ft2/lb area & headroom
2.6  8.2 Lightweight
retail tent
REI Quarter Dome 1  Pro: moderate price, readily available, full floor and bug protection, semi-freestanding Con: heavy, low ft2/lb area & low headroom
2.1 14.3  Tarptent  TarpTent Squall 2 Pro: OK price, full floor and bug protection Con: not available at major retailers, not freestanding FYI: requires trekking poles
Pyramid Shelters
1.7  18.2 Pyramid shelter
silnylon w innernet
Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid Pro: full rain & wind protection, large floor area, 4+ ft high, full floor and bug protection, modular – take innnet only when needed Con: moderately expensive with innernet, not available at major retailers, not freestanding FYI: requires trekking poles
 1.1 29 Pyramid shelter
silnyl w/o innernet
Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid Pro: moderate price, great ft2/lb ratio, full rain & wind protection, large floor area, 4+ ft high Con: no floor or bug netting, not available at major retailers, not freestanding FYI: requires trekking poles
.7  46 Pyramid shelter
Cuben w/o innernet
 Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid  Pro: Exceptional ft2/lb ratio, full rain & wind protection, large floor area, 4+ ft high Con: High price, no floor or bug netting, not available at major retailers, not freestanding FYI: requires trekking poles
 1.1  57.3 Pyramid shelter
(Cuben Fiber)
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 2 Pro: Exceptional ft2/lb area, full rain & wind protection, large floor area, 5+ ft high Con: Expensive, no floor or bug netting*, not available at major retailers, not freestanding FYI: requires trekking poles, *can get optional floor/bug net insert
Tarps and Shaped Tarps
 1.9  38 Flat tarp with innernet & beak
(Cuben Fiber)
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo II UL Shelter System Pro: better rain & wind protection than plain flat tarp, large floor area, full floor and bug protection, modular – take “insert” or beak only when needed Con: Very expensive, not available at major retailers
 1.2 40 Shaped tarp
Silnylon fabric
(Cuben 0.7 lb and 72 ft2/lb)
Mountain Laurel Designs TrailStar Pro: Great ft2/lb area, moderate price, good rain & wind protection, huge 50+ ft2 floor space Con: (vs. a pyramid; less headroom, somewhat less rain & wind protection), no floor or bug netting*, not available at major retailers FYI: *there is an innernet for the TrailStar
 0.8  80 Flat tarp
Silnylon fabric
Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Duo Pro: High ft2/lb area, moderate price, decent rain & wind protection, huge floor space Con: (vs. a pyramid; less headroom, somewhat less rain and wind protection), no floor or bug netting*, not available at major retailers FYI *can get optional innernet, 7.8 oz in Cuben
0.6  115 Flat tarp
Cuben Fiber
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo II Tarp Pro: Exceptional ft2/lb area, decent rain & wind protection Con: Very expensive, (vs. a pyramid; less headroom, somewhat less rain and wind protection), no floor or bug netting*, not available at major retailers FYI *can get optional floor/bug net insert
 .5  130 Flat tarp
Cuben Fiber
Mountain Laurel Designs Cuben Fiber Grace Duo Tarp Pro: Exceptional ft2/lb area, decent rain & wind protection, huge floor space Con: Very expensive, (vs. a pyramid; less headroom, somewhat less rain and wind protection), no floor or bug netting*, not available at major retailers FYI *can get optional innernet,


By | 2017-07-17T13:51:29+00:00 November 11th, 2015|Beginners, Recommended Gear, Tents Tarps Shelters|27 Comments

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  1. Jeff December 9, 2015 at 3:28 pm - Reply

    I currently use a ZPacks Hexamid Duo tent with extended beak in cuben fiber. With my wife and I, we’ve found the tent cramped and “fiddly” during periods of prolonged rain. Fiddly meaning my home-made clip-in bathtub floor has to be positioned just right to keep rain from dripping off the fabric edge and onto the floor. Maybe the Zpacks made floor would work better. The single door also requires one person to climb over or around the other when entering/exiting, a particular nuisance when answering the call of nature in the middle of the night.

    I wish I had an opportunity to look at some of the other pyramid tents in person. My concern about a single entry would be similar. With the net tent installed, the MLD Duomid looks like it places the netting close to your face. Also, it’s unclear to me whether opening the single door when raining would allow rain to enter the sleeping area. The diagram for the Duomid XL make it clear this isn’t a problem, but it’s unclear if this would be a problem for the Duomid. With the DuoMid XL, sitting up headroom still appears to be a problem for the person in the back due to the sloping rear panel.

    For the price and weight of the DuoMid XL in Silnylon, I’m liking the Six Moon Designs Lunar Duo, seems to offer more interior living space at a price significantly cheaper than purchasing a DuoMid + innernet combo in Sil.

    • Alan Dixon December 9, 2015 at 4:28 pm - Reply

      Good points Jeff. The beauty of a Mid is when it’s used without an innernet/floor (about 95+% of my use is without). Mids are light, and in silnylon inexpensive. The simple, rectangular shape and a minimum number stakes makes or a fast, non-fiddly setup. And you get a palatial area for the weight. I used a SuperMid for two weeks in Alaska’s Brooks Range in the wettest August on record and didn’t use innernet/floor, nor felt the need for it. We stayed dry and happy. I would agree that if you are intent on using bug netting and a floor most of the time, that offerings from Six Moon Designs, or TarpTent may be lighter and less expensive. But then you do loose the flexibilty of the lightweight palace. In the SuperMid, I can put my pants on standing up in the shelter!

  2. George Schlossnagle December 9, 2015 at 5:30 pm - Reply

    No love for Zpacks? I would say they fit smack in the middle of the tarps/shaped tarps section.

    • Alan Dixon December 9, 2015 at 10:08 pm - Reply

      Yes George, there is a Zpacks gap. I have absolutely nothing against Zpacks–backpacks or shelters. Just haven’t had a chance to test/evaluate their gear. And I don’t like to post/rec’ gear that I’m not familiar with. I am currently evaluating an Arc Blast Pack, and will likely test a few Zpacks shelters in the future. If I like them, I will add them to the site then. (And I have no reason to assume that I won’t like them.)

  3. Larry December 10, 2015 at 12:12 am - Reply

    This article needs more Trailstar.

    • Alan Dixon December 10, 2015 at 2:17 am - Reply

      The Trailstar is indeed a very nice shaped tarp. It is the primary shelter for a number of my backpacking friends. Did you see that it has its own table entry on the comparison list on this page? And that the Trailstar is highlighted with a photo in the “Recommended Tarps and Shaped Tarps” page?

  4. Gerry Brucia December 15, 2015 at 3:33 am - Reply

    Thank you very much for this informative article. I have a Duomid that I like but when going solo I will often take an MLD Patrol Shelter, an MLD shelter that gets very little exposure. It is not as comfortable as a Duomid but I love that it has such a small footprint,no zippers to fail and is so simple to set up correctly every time. If weather is questionable I’ll carry the MLD Serenity Bug Shelter but will only set it up if I expect lots of bugs or a serious storm.

  5. Luke April 3, 2016 at 5:18 pm - Reply

    How do you deal with mosquitos with a tarp with no insect screen? Or do you just use a floor/net system whenever in bug zones? It seems like my family always camps in bug zones. We occasionally bring a tarp on a rainy trip for an extra shelter for sitting out a storm. I haven’t tried it for sleeping yet because of the bug factor. Not sure if the tarp we have has a floor/net option.

    • Alan Dixon April 4, 2016 at 1:15 am - Reply

      Hi Luke, everybody has a different opinion and tolerance of bugs. As such, there is no one “right” answer to this Q. So I’ll answer for me and you can come to your own conclusions: The last time I used a shelter with a floor and bug netting was a trip to Alaska during summer solstice of 2013 (the height of their mosquito season). I shared a TarpTent Rainshadow 2 with my partner. Other than that is has all been tarp, or pyramid tarp camping with no inner nests/mosquito netting. And that includes two AK trips in August (bugs are lower but still present). Unless you are in a heavy mosquito area, even if bugs are present they are usually only bad the last 45 to 60 minutes of daylight. Campsite selection matters with bugs. Camping where there are fewer bugs and a good breeze helps a lot. That’s whey folks sleep on breezy riverbeds in AK. Camping in the woods (no wind) near swampy areas is a bad idea. If I think there will be some bug pressure, I will take a bivy with bug-netting like a Mountain Laurel designs SUPERLIGHT BIVY. Once it gets cold, the bugs go away and I usually unzip and sleep with my head out the rest of the night. The bivy doesn’t weigh that much more than a ground cloth that I would take anyway. Hope this helps, -alan

  6. Brian Anderson April 4, 2016 at 8:58 pm - Reply

    I want to go it under the stars. Sleep on a ground cloth. Maybe even without a sleeping bag 4 nights. It’s springtime in Texas and well it’s rattlesnake and copper head season. I see and read so much about people sleeping under the stars. But what about snakes? Are my “fears” concerns overplayed?
    How can I help keep myself safe. Both physically and mentally with good sound information from experience?


    • Alan Dixon April 4, 2016 at 9:54 pm - Reply

      There is no “correct” answer or strategy to this one Brian. Dealing with snakes is a very personal, perceived risk, and mental level of comfort thing. There’s going to be a lot of variation between individuals on how to handle this. My wife and I sleep in bivies in the desert–in fact, have never used a tent. We are fine with that approach. But that does’t make it the right thing to do–or mean that a snake couldn’t decide crawl in to get warm on a cold night. So, far in many years the only animal that has every crawled into my bivy is a mouse, and that was more amusing than life threatening. All the best, -alan

  7. Micah April 14, 2016 at 11:37 pm - Reply


    I just found your website and I have to say it is a top contender for one of the BEST, most information-dense (yet accessible) backpacking resource on the web. And believe me, I’ve been to almost all of them! Your experience is very evident yet you don’t come off as elitist or proselytizing in your views, which is appreciated.

    I agree with your assessment of shelters. I’ve been using a TarpTent Notch for the last 1.5 years and really like it. It’s the best of the tent and tarp worlds—hence their moniker I suppose. I have yet to experiment with mids, but I think they are the next frontier for me to bring my base weight down to 10 lbs. My biggest hurdle is convincing my WIFE to sleep in a floorless shelter!! She is irrationally concerned about bugs and creepy crawlies. Zpacks makes some compelling tents for 2, but it is hard to justify the cost. Do you use a ground sheet under your mids or just put pad on bare ground?


    Micah M.

    • Alan Dixon April 14, 2016 at 11:53 pm - Reply

      thanks for the kind words. Alison and I usually share a 2-person bivy (10 z) when sleeping in a mid or under a tarp. This might be of some help to your wife with the bug issue. Occasionally we skip the bivy and share a large Gossamer Gear Polycro groundsheet. Hope this helps. Have a great year hiking, -alan

  8. Pete May 7, 2016 at 3:33 pm - Reply

    Hi – great info Alan! My preferred combo is a Trailstar with polycro groundsheet and Sea to Summit Nano bug net or Borah Gear lightweight bivvy. With those I can cover pretty much all conditions. However I am being tempted by the HMG cuben 8×10′ flat tarp for a truly ultralight option.

  9. Ian August 8, 2016 at 6:49 am - Reply


    Looking at getting a flourless tarp or pyramid. Wondering how to deal with water running underneath the shelter? I’ve heard a lot of people talk about site placement and such, but I’m not convinced at this point based off of the things I’ve heard. I really don’t want to add the weight of a bathtub floor to a shelter so I’m looking for help in convincing myself that this is the way to go. Any advice from your experience on how to avoid the running water beneath a tarp and groundsheet?


    • Troy May 13, 2017 at 11:56 am - Reply

      I too am curious about this.

      I’ve never really been a fan of sleeping on ground as opposed to using a floor/groundsheet, perhaps due to some bad experiences during torrential storms.

      I use Zpacks Cuban fibre duplex. No more wet ground or floating away at night. A great lightweight tent.

  10. Chris January 3, 2017 at 1:09 am - Reply

    Hi Alan. Just come across your website and I have to say what a wonderful resource it is for someone like me, who just about to buy their gear in the transition from normal backpacking to UL. Thanks for taking the time and trouble.

    • Alan Dixon January 3, 2017 at 1:14 am - Reply

      You are most welcome. Happy trekking. -a

  11. Matt Schroeder February 1, 2017 at 2:11 am - Reply

    Thanks for turning me on to Tarptent, Alan. I just ordered a 3 person Rainshadow II that will fit me and two of my kids while still being under 3 pounds. Love the site! Keep doing what you do!

    • Alan Dixon February 1, 2017 at 3:14 am - Reply

      So glad the TarpTent worked Matt. And love that you are getting out with your kids. Nothing better. Warmest, -a

  12. James M May 22, 2017 at 4:54 am - Reply

    I’m considering getting a Duomid for using with 2 people but am concerned about the entrance. It looks like opening the door in the rain would cause one of the occupants to get rained on and since I backpack in the Pacific Northwest, that could be an issue.

    The other option I’ve considered would be something along the lines of a TT Stratospire 2 which I’d use without the bug nest. The only qualms I have with it is a very large footprint and about $100 more expensive.

    Would a mid work out in rain or would the extra weight, size and cost of the TarpTent be worth it?

    • Alan Dixon May 22, 2017 at 7:31 pm - Reply

      James, seriously consider a DUOMID XL. Due to the Asym shape, all the living area is behind the door/pole is protected. The area in front serves as a vestibule and cooking area. It is what Alison and I use. Best, -alan

      • James M May 23, 2017 at 7:18 pm - Reply

        Thanks for the quick reply, I’ll look at the XL. This would be my first lightweight shelter purchase and from what I’ve heard MLD doesn’t disappoint.
        Thanks again,

  13. Nadina May 28, 2017 at 12:38 am - Reply

    Hi Gerry, thank you for posting . I like the solo Patrol Shelter too (with superlight bivy), especially for the shoulder seasons. Leaning toward a Serenity Shelter under my duo Grace Tarp for warmer weather. And Cuben is totally worth it!

  14. Derek Freridge July 16, 2017 at 11:52 pm - Reply

    Have you seen or checked out Zero Gram tarp shelters? I had just purchased one with a bug-net and tub. I really like it. I mostly camp in Michigan and we have bad bugs and can get surprise thunderstorm at any the time. It’s is less than 3lbs all together. I would be interested in your thoughts on it. Thanks.

    • Alan Dixon July 17, 2017 at 12:52 am - Reply

      Derek, I am not familiar with Zerogram shelters. I just checked out their site and they look intersting. That they test to 70 mph winds (if that really equates to in-field use) is very impressive for a tent just over 3 lbs. Looks somewhat similar to some of the Big Agnes tents but with more of a 4-season mountaineering bent than 3-season camping comfort. You’ll have to let me know how it works out in terms of livable area and condensation etc. All the best, -alan

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