Best Backpacking Tent 2023 | Lightweight & Ultralight
A backpacking tent is the single most important piece of gear you will carry. It will protect you from the elements, reduce the weight and volume of your backpack, and provides ample living space. An ultralight tent, in particular, can have such a big impact on quality of life on the trail, that we believe it is the first item you should upgrade to, and the most splurge-worthy in one’s entire kit.
Why Trust This Guide? 23 Years of Testing Backpacking Tents
We’ve been testing lightweight and ultralight tents for over 23 years all over the world in all sorts of conditions — from Alaska to the PCT, from the desert southwest to Patagonia. In addition, we rigorously analyze all the best backpacking tents to find the lightest, most functional, and protective shelters on the market. We’ve got you covered when it comes to picking the best backpacking tent for your needs.
Backpacking Tent Inclusion Criteria
In this guide, Best Backpacking Tent 2023, we evaluate based on the following criteria: weight, price, size, materials, features, design, user-friendliness, sturdiness, and backcountry performance. We acknowledge that what makes a backpacking tent the best for one person might make it less so for another.
That’s why we’re proud to review and recommend an assortment of lightweight and ultralight tents from the best overall to best for under $200, and everything in between.
While backpacking tents sized for two are the most versatile, every option listed is also available in more capacities, ranging from one to four occupants. It is safe to assume that our accolades and recommendations still apply when comparing smaller or larger capacity models. Unsurprisingly, the best overall 2P backpacking tent is also the best overall 3P backpacking tent! Happy camping!
Quick Picks: The Best Backpacking Tents of 2023
- Best Freestanding: Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2
- Best Ultralight: Zpacks DupleXL
- Best Lightweight: Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2
- Best Value Ultralight: Gossamer Gear The Two
- Best 3+/4- Season: SlingFin Portal 2
- Best Under $350: REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+
- Best Under $200: REI Co-op Trailmade 2
- Best Pyramid: Mountain Laurel Designs DuoMid
- 2023 New Release: Hyperlite Mountain Gear Unbound 2P
- 2023 Update: Durston X-Mid Pro 2
- 2023 Update: REI Co-op Flash Air 2
Backpacking Tent Accessories
- Best Stakes: Anygear 7075 Aluminum Tent Stakes
- Best Tent Footprint: Gossamer Gear Polycryo Ground Cloth
- Best Repair Patch: Gear Aid Tenacious Tape Repair Patch Kit
- Best Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT
Backpacking Tent Comparison Table
|Tents||Price ($)||Weight (oz)||Area (ft²)||Area/Pound (ft²)|
|Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2||550||43||47||17.5|
|Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2||450||35||44||20.1|
|Gossamer Gear The Two||375||24||46.2||30.8|
|SlingFin Portal 2||540||46||44.3||15.4|
|REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+||329||63||56.3||14.3|
|REI Co-op Trailmade 2||179||68||50.8||12.0|
|Mountain Laurel Designs DuoMid||565||15.5||45||46.5|
|Hyperlite Mountain Gear Unbound 2P||699||24||43.1||28.7|
|Durston X-Mid Pro 2||679||19.6||53||43.3|
|REI Co-op Flash Air 2||399||38.5||44.9||18.7|
Full Reviews of the Best Backpacking Tents
Best Freestanding Backpacking Tent
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 Tent
If you want the best overall and most highly rated freestanding backpacking of all time, choose the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2. Compared to similar backpacking tents, it’s smarter, taller, lighter, sturdier, better ventilated, and more livable. It handles all types of weather with ease.
On warm rainy nights, open the massive vestibule awnings to let the breeze flow in. On cold days, the near-vertical sidewalls and fully lofted ceiling provide excellent headroom for sitting up and spending hours inside.
- Price: $550
- Weight: 2 lbs, 11 oz
- Material: Sil-Nylon
- Interior: 29 ft² | Vestibule: 18 ft² | Area/Pound: 17.4 ft²
- Peak Height: 40″
- Pros: Lightweight. Extra headroom. Easy Setup. Great Features.
- Cons: Expensive. Not ultralight.
As gear reviewers, we tend to be unimpressed by most bells and whistles and prefer simple ultralight tents. But we love, love, love the Copper Spur’s features, including the innovative awning vestibules which help ventilate and create good vibes when you’re stuck inside. We prefer them open in all but the nastiest of weather, in which case each vestibule offers 9 sq ft, notably larger than average.
We are also huge fans of the interior pocket array, especially the “3D bin mezzanine” at the foot end, which in conjunction with sidewall and ceiling pockets, easily keep all of your gadgets organized and accessible.
The frame is a sturdy and well-designed x-bar plus spreader, a famously simple and storm worthy construction. The poles are pre-bent to create superbly vertical sidewalls, which maximizes the perceived space and livability inside the tent.
Setup is as easy and intuitive as one could hope; literally anyone can figure it out. As backpacking tents go, user experience and livability are so high that we think this would also be a great small 2 person tent for car camping.
At 2 lbs 11 oz, it’s a bit too heavy to be considered ultralight, which is really our only dig against it, aside from the high price tag. But that said, it’s still very lightweight overall, and significantly lighter than the average backpacking tent.
Add it all up and you get, what we consider to be the best freestanding backpacking tent that money can buy. It’s just such a smart design with so many great lightweight features. The Copper Spur HV UL 2 is great for beginners and experts alike. This is one helluva great tent.
Best Ultralight Tent
Zpacks DupleXL Tent
While many similar options exist, we believe the Zpacks DupleXL is the best and most user friendly ultralight backpacking tent design on the market. At only 20.8 oz, it delivers an incredible space-to-weight ratio. Like its smaller sibling DupleXL is constructed with Dyneema Composite Fabric, the lightest, strongest, and most premium tent fabric that is fully waterproof and never sags due to condensation.
- Price: $719
- Weight: 1 lb, 4.8 oz
- Material: Dyneema
- Interior: 29.3 ft² | Vestibule: 14.5 ft² | Area/Pound: 33.6 ft²
- Peak Height: 48″
- Pros: Ultralight weight. Spacious interior. Good headroom. Best-in-class materials. Durable floor.
- Cons: Expensive. Not freestanding. Drafty in wind.
Its namesake XL size boost means you won’t brush the end of your sleeping bag against the tent. This ultralight tent is 8′ feet long, so you can easily store your backpack at your feet. At it’s peak, it’s 48″ high, though the usable ceiling is a bit lower. We find that all but the very tallest hikers can easily set up without brushing their head on the fly. Risers add extra height at the front and back, increasing the usable space around the edges.
The bathtub floor keeps things dry and is durable enough to not require a footprint (though for a $750 tent, you should still use one on abrasive surfaces). All in all, this tent is extremely large and livable without compromising weight.
This is a trekking pole shelter, but we find it’s one of the easiest to set up and very user friendly. When properly staked out, the dual apex structure is extremely sturdy and rebuffs high winds. However, we do find it gets a bit drafty as wind blows from under the vestibule and through the bug mesh gap between eaves and bathtub floor.
Dyneema is also a slightly louder fabric when flapping than nylon or polyester. But both of those are very minor issues, and we’re happy with how it performs in rough weather.
The mosquito netting adds excellent ventilation and fully bug proofs the shelter. Roll up both of the vestibule doors and you have a complete cross breeze for maximum comfort on warm days. There is even a slight overhang of roof above the edge of the door, creating eaves.
Compared to the original Zpacks Duplex, we feel that 2.3 additional ounces of weight are well worth it for the extra interior space and height. The Triplex is another consideration if you want a bigger ultralight tent than the original duplex, but we feel the DupleXL is a superior option for most people.
The increased headroom and length of DupleXL create a superior use experience than the additional width of two people using the Triplex. What’s more, compared to Triplex, DupleXL also saves $50 and take up less volume in one’s backpack. At time of publishing, the Zpacks DupleXL is our go-to 2-person backpacking tent, and the original Zpacks Duplex our favorite “solo” tent).
Best Lightweight Backpacking Tent
Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL 2 Tent
At only 2.2 lbs and with one of the best area-to-weight ratios on our list, the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 is the lightest option available among traditional backpacking tents. And priced at $450, it’s a really great blend of high end performance and value. It is lighter than most models costing over $500.
- Price: $450
- Weight: 2 lbs, 3 oz
- Material: Coated sil-nylon ripstop
- Interior: 28 ft² | Vestibule: 16 ft² | Area/Pound: 20.0 ft²
- Peak Height: 39″
- Pros: Very lightweight. Great Value. Good headroom. Fully featured.
- Cons: Semi-freestanding. Slightly delicate.
In addition to lightweight materials, Tiger Wall UL2 utilizes a semi-freestanding design which reduces weight with minimal impact to the user experience.
Structurally speaking, a singular rear pole traces down the center back of the tent, which means both rear corners require staking or it will sag on your feet. However, we believe that all tents should be fully staked out, whenever possible, to optimize their pitch, so this is mostly a non-issue.
While the weight-saving design is very effective at achieving its goal, it does leave the tent wanting for a bit more sturdiness and durability. We would describe the Tiger Wall UL2 as fully adequate when faced with a reasonable amount of wind, but it wouldn’t be our first choice if we knew to expect a big storm or hiking with a dog.
Tiger Wall has great headroom and good perceived livability for a small 2 person nearly ultralight tent, but the 28 ft² interior area is a bit below average these days among high end backpacking tents.
We wish it were just a titch bigger. However, thanks to its full height ceiling, we feel it is still much more livable than its shorter competition from NEMO, the Hornet and Dragonfly.
Nonetheless, we will conclude by reminding readers that the Tiger Wall UL 2 weighs only two pounds three ounces, which is in a class of its own when it comes to traditional full sized tents.
If you want to straddle the ultralight line without sacrificing much in the way of comfort or the user-friendliness of a traditional tent, this is your single best way to reduce weight.
Best Value Ultralight Tent
Gossamer Gear The Two Tent
At only 1.5 lbs and costing $375, the Gossamer Gear The Two is the best deal on an ultralight tent, and nothing else even comes close. Unlike more expensive ultralight tents made with Dyneema, The Two utilizes classic ripstop sil-nylon to save cost and reduce packed volume.
- Price: $375
- Weight: 1.5 lbs
- Material: Sil-Nylon
- Area: 26.25 ft² | Vestibule: 20.0 ft² | Area/Pound: 30.8
- Peak Height: 43″
- Pros: Ultralight. Affordable. Good headroom. Large vestibules.
- Cons: Smaller interior. Condensation.
The interior is approximately a 7’x4′ rectangle (slightly narrowed at the foot end), which we’ll note is the smallest on our list. We would not recommend this tent as good option for two larger hikers.
However, the smaller size saves weight and average sized hikers likely wont notice much difference. And makes for a killer solo tent. Nonetheless, massive 20 sq ft vestibules and a taller-than-average 43″ ceiling both help to compensate for this.
The dual apex trekking pole setup is tried, true, and stronger than it looks. This tent holds up to reasonable amounts of wind, though it might sag a little as condensation builds up. Like all single-wall shelters, occasionally brushing against a wet ceiling is the cost of doing business.
Besides two interior pockets, an interior clothes line, and vestibules holsters, this is also one of the backpacking tents with the least amount of features. But that’s typical of minimalist ultralight designs and helps save weight and cost.
All in all, this is a great ultralight tent at a great price, and an excellent entry point into reducing carried weight. We recommend Gossamer Gear The Two as the best value among all ultralight tents, and it easily outperforms significantly more expensive freestanding backpacking tents.
Best 3+/4- Season Backpacking Tent
SlingFin Portal 2 Tent
If you’re hiking into a storm, we recommend the SlingFin Portal 2. It’s the sturdiest sub-3-pound freestanding backpacking tent we know of, and it’s capable of handling gnarly conditions like high winds and snow-loading.
- Price: $540
- Weight: 2 lbs 14 oz
- Material: Sil-Nylon
- Area: 27.5 ft² | Vestibule: 16.8 ft² | Area/Pound: 15.3 ft²
- Peak Height: 44″
- Pros: Extremely sturdy & wind-resistant. Generous headroom. Lightweight.
- Cons: Not ultralight. Expensive. Small floor plan
The Portal 2 is clearly designed by engineers, and is more like a slimmed down mountaineering tent than a beefed up backpacking tent. The heavy duty x-pole design, ceiling spreader, and many tie out points are supplemented by internal guy lines, which prevent structural distortion due to wind shearing.
We consider it to be a 3+/4- shoulder season backpacking tent, and it is the perfect companion during spring and fall.
If you need a lightweight mountaineering/winter tent, Slingfin makes those too! At 2.9 lbs, The Portal 2 might not be an ultralight tent, but it’s certainly not heavy, and incredibly light for how sturdy it is.
What’s nice is that this backpacking tent is no slouch when it comes to creature comforts. With generous headroom thanks to a taller-than-average 44″ ceiling and a litany of interior pockets, the Slingfin Portal 2 is a very livable tent. Despite the slightly smaller than average floor plan, it has excellent vestibules.
The Slingfin Portal 2 is an excellent backpacking tent to add to one’s quiver, and our go-to when strong winds and snow are in the forecast.
Best Backpacking Tent Under $350
REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+ Tent
The REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+ Tent is a best-seller thanks to it’s incredible performance and livability relative to price. Half Dome’s value is simply best-in-class. And no matter where and how you choose to camp in the front or backcountry, this tent will keep you comfortably protected.
- Price: $329
- Weight: 3 lbs, 15 oz
- Material: Sil-Nylon, 40D floor, 30D fly
- Area: 33.8 ft² | Vestibule: 22.5 ft² | Area/Pound: 14.4 ft²
- Peak Height: 42″
- Pros: Affordable. Freestanding. Spacious. Great headroom. Easy setup. Fully-featured. Comes with footprint.
- Cons: Average weight.
For starters, we must call out the floor plan. With 33.8 ft², it is the largest of any small 2 person tent. What’s more, it has massive vestibules for external storage. And all that with an above-average height of 42″, plus a ceiling spreader to distribute all of that headroom in areas where people site up.
The x-bar pole structure with spreader is storm-worthy and classic for a reason, it just works. What’s more, these poles are pre-bent to create even more verticality on the side walls, adding to the perception of livability.
Half Dome has a solid set of features including an array of internal mesh pockets and hang loops which create excellent internal storage. We love the rainfly vents, and also rolling up both sides of the vestibule for maximum airflow on warm days. And it even comes with its own footprint to protect against abrasive surfaces. Oh yeah, and REI’s warranty!
While at 3.9 lbs, it’s definitely not the lightest backpacking tent, it’s certainly not the heaviest. We feel it lands fairly middle of the pack and roughly in line with it’s price. But it’s area/weight ratio is actually really good!
If you want a quiver-of-one tent that is spacious and comfy for car camping while also being compact and mid-weight for backpacking, then Half Dome is the perfect crossover tent for you.
And at $329, you won’t have to break the bank on it either. This tent has so much to offer in terms of value and livability that there’s no doubt as to why it’s such a best seller.
Best Backpacking Tent Under $200
REI Co-op Trailmade 2 Tent
The REI Co-op Trailmade 2 Tent with footprint is about as much backpacking tent as you could possibly hope to get from a reputable outdoor brand for under $200.
REI has been really upping their backpacking collection lately, and they’ve been especially dominate in the budget backpacking tent department. This small 2 person tent in particular is a perfect, highly functional crossover whether you’re camping or backpacking.
- Price: $179
- Weight: 4 lbs, 4 oz
- Material: Coated Polyester
- Interior: 31.7 ft² | Vestibule: 19.1 ft² | Area/Pound: 12.0 ft²
- Peak Height: 40″
- Pros: Very affordable. Spacious. User-friendly. Complimentary footprint.
- Cons: Heavy (for backpacking).
There is literally nothing fancy about the Trailmade 2. Structurally speaking, it’s built with a cross pole aluminum frame with unspecified coated polyester fabric.
No top spreader, but the ceiling height is a respectful, average 40″. But perhaps where this backpacking tent shines the brightest is it’s spaciousness relative to cost. It’s not huge, but at nearly 32 sq ft, it’s solidly bigger than average, and definitely way less expensive than average.
REI Co-op Trailmade 2 Tent is not exactly feature rich. There are some interior pockets, and like many small 2 person tents in this class, it comes with a footprint. But beyond that, there just isn’t much else to write about. But in the budget backpacking tent category, having two doors/vestibules is in and of itself a feature, perhaps the best of all.
Notably, the Trailmade competes with another tent offered by REI Co-op, the Trail Hut 2. They are similar is design, but the Trail Hut costs $20 more, is 10 oz heavier, and includes a spreader bar at the top and some rain fly vents.
While those are nice add ons that make it better for car camping, we still prefer the Trailmade over the Trail Hut because it’s better for backpacking. Ten oz of weight savings and 10%/$20 in cost savings are both a big score!
Weighing just over four pounds and costing only $179, the Trailmade is a killer value, and an excellent entry-level tent. We hope this one helps lots more people get into backpacking.
Best Pyramid Ultralight Tent
Mountain Laurel Designs DuoMid Tent
The Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid in Dyneema (DCF) is a marvel of engineering. Like all pyramid shelters, it’s lighter, larger and stronger than any traditional tent or tarp tent, and also our favorite pyramid design on the market. Plus, the SilYnylon version is an incredible bargain!
- Price: $565
- Weight: 15.5 oz
- Material: Dyneema
- Area: 45 ft² | Vestibule: 0 ft² | Area/Pound: 46.4 ft²
- Peak Height: 59″
- Pros: Super ultralight. Bomber solid. 4-season compatible. Spacious. Best-in-class materials.
- Cons: Not bugproof. Floorless.
Due to its pyramid design and its use of 0.7 oz DCF fabric (vs. 0.5 oz for the competitions) its bomber up to 4-season winds and snow loading, yet it weighs less than a pound. This is a great shelter for fastpacking and bikepacking — we’ve even used this shelter for two weeks in Patagonia and above the Arctic Circle!
The biggest downside with pyramids as backpacking tents is that they are not intrinsically bug-proof and are floorless. While this can be addressed by adding in the modular InnerNet bug-mesh-plus-bathtub-floor-insert, it pushes an extra 12 oz, downgrading the weight class from super ultralight, to the heavier end of ultralight spectrum (total 27.5 oz).
We will also note that the area within about a foot of the permitter is very sloped and short. While it is excellent for storing gear, it isn’t space that can be occupied by people, so the actual interior area feels a bit smaller than the stats imply.
All in all, we think this is a great option whenever the InnerNet is not required, especially from late summer into shoulder season. Pending availability, we also recommend the DuoMid XL, which adds a couple ounces for a larger footprint and an asymmetrical pitch – better for couples who would prefer not to be separated by the center pole.
2023 New Release – Ultralight Tent
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Unbound 2P Tent
We’re excited to test out the new Unbound 2P ultralight tent from Hyperlite Mountain Gear. This dual apex Dyneema shelter immediately evokes similarities in design and price to our favorite ultralight backpacking tent, the Zpacks Duplex series. We expect this will overtake their pyramids in popularity, as the design is more user friendly.
- Price: $699
- Weight: 1 lb 8 oz
- Material: Dyneema
- Area: 28.1 ft² | Vestibule: 15 ft² (estimate) | Area/Pound: 28.7 ft²
- Peak Height: 48″
- Pros: Ultralight. Best in class materials. Good features.
- Cons: Expensive. Not freestanding. Semi-translucent.
Unbound 2p and Duplex are almost the exact same size, though Unbound is 3″ wider and 5.5 heavier according to the listings. With that 5.5 oz penalty, Unbound gets a few cool ugprades including 3D sidewalls that use reinforced pseudo-ridgelines to create a central tie out point on the walls for extra head room.
The vestibules have large vents to decrease condensation build up. And they’ve opted for YKK waterproof zippers instead of toggles, though we feel this is heavier and more breakable than toggles, and not actually an upgrade.
Noteworthy, the white Dyneema fabric used on the canopy appears less opaque than colored Dyneema tents from Zpacks, though they’re weight is also very sheer.
We’ll be testing the Unbound 2P this season, and we look forward to reporting back on how it does. But assuming it performs as well the stats say it should, and approximately as well as similar Zpacks models, then this will be an excellent ultralight tent.
Durston X-Mid Pro 2 Tent
At just under 20 ounces, and an astonishing 44.6 ft² area per lb, the Durston X-Mid Pro 2 Tent is a hot new entry into an elite group of ultralight tents. No other tent on the market gives you this much livable area for so little weight.
- MSRP: $679
- Weight: 19.6 oz
- Material: Dyneema
- Interior: 30 ft² | Vestibule: 23 ft² | Area/Pound: 44.6 ft²
- Pros: Seriously light! Amazing area-to-weight, innovative asymmetrical design. Fast, easy to pitch, fits tall hikers.
- Cons: Expensive. Not freestanding. 15D tent floor needs a footprint.
What’s unique about the Durston X-Mid Pro 2 Tent is its twin offset trekking pole pitch. This asymmetrical setup gives the tent tons of living space in addition to good headroom. We love the generous 30 ft² of the inner tent and 23 ft² of vestibule area. Both are class leading.
And it’s ideal for larger hikers (or people that need more room. It accommodates hikers up to 6’4″ (dual occupancy) or 7’0″ (solo occupancy). Our only gripe is that the 15D tent floor will likely need a footprint in most situations — but this is true for many tents in this weight class.
The Durston X-Mid Pro 2 Tent is a incredible ultralight tent design, one of the best we’ve seen yet.
2023 Update – Backpacking Tent
REI Flash Air 2 Tent
Updated for 2023, the 2-person REI Co-op Flash Air 2 Tent builds off the success of their first ultralight tent design that we loved for its great value proposition.
- Price: $399
- Weight: 2 lbs 6.5 oz
- Material: Silnylon
- Area: 28.1 ft² | Vestibule: 16.8 ft² | Area/Pound: 18.7 ft²
- Peak Height: 47″
- Pros: Lightweight. Good value. Good headroom. Sustainable design.
- Cons: Not freestanding. Not ultralight.
Improvements include larger vestibules, a 47″ peak height for excellent headroom, increased durability, and the use of recycled materials and bluesign® approved manufacturing for an overall more sustainable design.
On the flip side, the Flash Air 2 is now half a pound heavier and $100 dollars more expensive than its predecessor, which means that it is not quite the ultralight value banger that it once was.
That being said, $399 is still an excellent price for such a lightweight and functional backpacking tent, and while 2.4 lbs is not quite light enough to be considered ultralight, it is still very lightweight compared to most tents, and lighter than almost all tents in its price range.
The overall design remains the same as the original. It is an asymmetrical, single-wall, non-freestanding trekking pole shelter with a basic feature set including a mini pole for extra height at the foot end, mesh pockets at the headend, and closeable fly vents to decrease condensation. It comes with setup poles but we will always recommend using your trekking poles.
The updated REI Flash Air 2 is an excellent value, lightweight tent with great headroom that will help loads of people reduce the amount of weight they carry.
Backpacking Tent Accessories
Best Backpacking Tent Stakes
AnyGear 7075 Aluminum Tent Stakes
The starter stakes that came with your tent are okay. But we prefer these inexpensive & far stronger Y-stakes as they make tent pitching easier and more secure in rocky, rooty dirt.
- Price: $0.66
- Weight: 0.5 oz
- Material: Aircraft-grade Aluminum Alloy
- Pros: Head never bends. Three grip notches. Affordable. High visibility. Great holding security.
- Cons: Average weight.
Features and Verdict
The ANYGEAR 7075 Aluminum Stakes have only a single notched rib at the head making them extremely resistant to bending and damage when pounding in with a rock. And the 3-Latch point heights allow you to securely attach the cord even if they are not pounded all the way in.
These tent stakes have a pre-attached cord to make them easier to pull out. And the cord is reflective to keep you from tripping on them during the night. Finally, ‘Y’ stakes have greater holding power than aluminum v-stakes, titanium shepherd stakes, and round carbon stakes. Since upgrading to this type of stake, we’ve never looked back. Highly recommend to all backpackers and campers.
Best Backpacking Tent Footprint
Gossamer Gear Polycryo Ground Cloth
To protect your backpacking tent floor from abrasive surfaces, we recommend the Gossamer Gear Polycryo Ground Cloth. It’s much, much lighter than the sil-nylon/poly tent footprint that manufacturers provide, and still protects against puncture and scratches.
- Price: $11
- Weight: 3.7 oz
- Material: Cross-linked Polyolefin Film
- Area: 48.0 ft² | Area/ounce: 13 ft²/oz
- Pros: Very affordable. Ultralight. Protects tent floor from punctures.
- Cons: Only lasts 1-3 hiking seasons.
Features and Verdict
This is the preferred footprint of ultralight tents, and should last multiple hiking seasons. For solo tents, cut off 1/3 of the sheet to save weight and bulk.
While it’s very puncture resistant, we find that it becomes more susceptible to lateral tearing as it ages. Still though, a great inexpensive piece of smarter backpacking gear.
Best Repair Patch For A Backpacking Tent
Gear Aid Tenacious Tape Repair Patch
For small to mediums sized rips and tears, we prefer using a Gear Aid Tenacious Tape Repair Patch, precut in a hexagonal shape.
- Weight: 0.1 oz (once applied)
- Price: $5
- Technology: Tenacious Tape
- Cons: Long lasting. Works in backcountry. Very adhesive. Waterproof.
- Cons: Requires smooth surfaces
When applied to a smooth, relatively clean surface, the repair patches are incredibly long lasting and durable. The adhesive is significantly stickier than duct tape. The patch itself is waterproof and will prevent leaks. We recommend the hex shaped patches because the corners are less sharp than rectangles, thus less prone to catching and peeling.
These repair patches work on tents, backpacks, rain jackets, hiking clothes, and pretty much any other fabric item that can be laid flat and smoothed out. However, they won’t work well on textured surfaces, like shoes or mesh.
Nonetheless, Gear Aid makes a best in class product that should be a staple in every hikers repair kit, especially those who use ultralight tents with thin fabric. We always carry them and you should too.
Best Sleeping Pad for a Backpacking Tent
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT Sleeping Pad
New for 2023, the Therm-a-rest NeoAir XLite NXT is currently the undisputed best performance sleeping pad for backpacking that money can buy, and it has no equal. It is statistically superior in almost every way and across all measurements when compared to all other sleeping pads.
- Price: $210
- Weight: 13 oz
- R-Value: 4.5 | R-Value/Weight: .35
- Thickness: 3”
- Fabric: 30d
- Sizes: Regular Short, Regular, Regular Wide, Large
- Pros: Comfy. Thick. Ultralight. Very High R-Value-to-weight.
- Cons: Expensive.
NXT’s R-Value of 4.5 is one of the highest among three season pads, and with a weight of only 13.0 oz, it’s also one of the very lightest. It’s so far ahead of the pack, that compared to the second best sleeping pad, its R-value-to-weight ratio is 24% higher.
XLite NXT is no slouch on comfort either. Now with an additional half inch of thickness compared to the original, XLite NXT is 3” thick, which means you can basically ignore small roots and divots in the ground, and side and back sleepers will be happier. And what’s more, compared to previous editions, it’s designed to be much quieter.
While it’s definitely still a bit crinkly, we’d describe the overall volume as average and acceptable. At time of publishing, Therm-a-Rest states it is six times quieter than the original XLite on their homepage. While it did get noticeably quieter, our experience did not indicate 6X.
Inflation with NXT can be a bit of a chore considering how thick the pad is. But the “winglock” valve is excellent, and you don’t have to constantly tighten it in between breaths or pumps. The 30D fabric is very durable, and you shouldn’t have any problems so long as you aren’t using it on scratchy surfaces.
This is the best overall sleeping pad for backpacking that has ever been manufactured, and we can’t wait for you to try it out! Enjoy!
Pro Tips & Tricks For Backpacking Tents
How Much Tent Do You Need?
Liveable Area – Why Tent “Volume” Matters for a Backpacking Tent
The standard floor area for a backpacking tent (28 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.
Nemo Hornet Example
Here we have for example the sleek Nemo Hornet 2p ultralight tent 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).
REI Quarter Dome Example
Second, we have the REI Quarter Dome, showing 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.
Actually, neither tent is better
Which is better 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.
PRO TIP | How to Beat Mosquitos
Even though most backpacking tents have 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 an ultralight 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.
Hatching trends throughout the season
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 dwindled 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 need a backpacking tent with full bug netting. An ultralight tent without mesh would not suffice. 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.
Increase Weather Resistance By Choosing A Good Campsite
Even a so-so backpacking tent will usually perform great when pitched properly in a good campsite
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 favor and pitch your backpacking tent in a protected area — preferably in the trees! But if not the trees, behind a large rock, a small hill, a line of shrubs, or anything that can break the wind.
Trees do a number of things to protect you from wind, which is extra important if you have an ultralight tent supported by trekking poles.
- 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. 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 can shield from light rain, and 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.
- 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 backpacking tent is not in an area where water will pool-up or stream through underneath in the event of a heavy downpour.
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.] One of the biggest downsides to ultralight tents that pitch with trekking poles is that you cannot use them on solid rock – the hardest and most durable of all surfaces.
Key Information for the Backpacking Tent Buyer
& Tent Terminology Explained
What You Get by Spending More For An Ultralight Tent
At this point with backpacking gear, spending more often means a lighter tent without losing durability. More expensive ultralight tents are often constructed with DCF (formerly Cuben) or other pricier fabrics with a light weight and high durability. More expensive tents will often last longer, have a better space-to-weight ratio for livability, and have more features such as multiple doors and vestibules.
Be a smart shopper though: Are you paying a higher sticker price for a fancy name brand? Or will a tent from a lesser-known company provide the same durability and quality? Be sure to understand the specs (volume, material, weight) and read reviews for livable space and setup tips before buying. You can often save money without sacrificing too much in the way of construction quality.
Area Per Pound of Tent Weight
This a key factor to evaluate and compare tents. Our area per pound of tent weight gives you a good idea of how light a tent really is. That is how much volume/livable space do you get for each pound of tent weight. For the tents in this guide these range from around 10 ft2/lb for the more budget oriented tents, to near 40 ft2/lb for the lightest ultralight tents.
That is the best ultralight tents are 1/4 the weight for the same livable area. And pyramid tents are amazing at around 64 ft2/lb!
Backpacking Tent Weight Explained
Your tent can be one of the heaviest items in your pack, relative to overall base weight. Your tent is one of your “big three” items (pack and sleep system are the other two), and is a constant in your base weight. For a freestanding tent, you are carrying a tent body, a tent fly, poles, and stakes. But! Pairs of hikers can often split up a tent to distribute the weight.
For freestanding tents, it’s easy to divide the fly and tent body, and choose who carries the poles. This comes with a weight penalty vs. non-freestanding ultralight tent of (usually) two pounds or less per person, if the two-person backpacking tent is between 3-4 pounds. Most hikers should aim for carrying no more than 2.5 pounds of shelter weight per person.
Ultralight tents may or may not be able to be divvied but they’re often so light, it hardly matters.
Tarps and single wall ultralight tents are a great way to reduce shelter weight, as you use trekking poles instead of tent poles to set them up, and you’re likely already carrying the trekking poles. Single wall ultralight tents combine the tent body and tent fly, resulting in significant weight savings and some two-person single wall tent models weigh a scant one pound.
Packaged Weight vs Minimum Weight
You’ll see references to packed weight and minimum weight (or trail weight) on many manufacturers and retailers sites. Packed weight is referring to how much the entire tent package weighs when you purchase it, including tent body, fly, poles, stakes, guy lines, compression sacks or stuff sacks, and anything else included in the package. Basically, how much it weighs when it shows up at your door.
Minimum trail weight can vary in what it’s referencing, but typically means the weight of the tent body, fly, and poles… the basics of what you need to pitch the tent. You’ll likely need stakes and some guy lines as well, so you can assume the actual weight of what you’ll be carrying is somewhere between minimum weight and packaged weight — but with good stakes, closer to the minimum weight.
Backpacking tent Durability (Denier)
Ultralight tents have to be treated with care. Regardless of price and quality, if the denier of your tent walls and tent floor go down, the durability goes down too, and the tent is more prone to ripping or punctures. For tents with floor material under 30D, be very aware of where you set it up, and avoid roots and sharp rocks. We recommend a footprint or Polycro sheet to help protect the tent floor.
“Denier” is the term used to describe the thickness of the tent fibers. One strand = 1 denier. So a 20-denier (or 20D) fabric has 2/3 the density of a 30D fabric. Many backpacking tents will have a higher-denier fabric on the floor of the tent vs. the wall. Durability in material matters too. A 20D DCF tent wall will wear differently than a 20D nylon tent wall.
Backcountry Weather Protection
There are a few things to consider with weather protection in a tent: precipitation from above, and soaking through from below. Some tents don’t come fully seam sealed, and you’ll have to apply waterproofing and seam sealing yourself.
For other brands, this is an add-on option. Be sure you know your tent is fully weather-proofed before you take it out for the first time. You can also get “wet from the inside” due to condensation see more on this in Ventilation below.
For super weight savers, sleeping under a tarp with no bug net and no bathtub floor means less weight to carry, but also less protection from the elements. A fully enclosed tent with a bathtub floor and bug netting carries more of a weight penalty, but comes with increased protection. Four-season tents are shaped differently than three-season tents.
Their steeper walls allow them to deal with snow loading better, and not accumulate heavy snow on their tops. Four-season tents have less mesh, and seal in heat better. This also means they accumulate condensation more.
Backpacking Tent Ventilation
Condensation management and ventilation is important to take into consideration when choosing a backpacking tent. Some models and styles vent better than others, but it also has to do with how you set your tent up and your site location. For double walled tents will do well with managing condensation.
The potential for excessive condensation is a downside to single-wall ultralight tents, but it’s starting to be addressed in different models. Backpacking tents like the REI Flash Air 2 with two mesh side walls, and doors on each side will vent better than single wall models with limited openings and solid rear walls.
Backpacking tent models with doors on both sides allow for cross ventilation options, which is key to avoiding condensation. Opening a door or vents will help prevent condensation buildup, and choosing a high, dry site.
Venting your tent helps prevent condensation buildup because the flow of air helps move water vapor outside of the tent. The warm air inside is continually pushed out, replaced by cooler air, and helps keep the temperature equal (or as equal as possible) inside and outside the tent.
Interior Space: Floor Area, Peak Height, and Walls
Interior space (or “livable” space) means the space you’ll be sleeping in, changing clothes in, and ultimately will be able to determine how comfortable you’ll be existing in this space, whether or not you share it with another person. The steepness of the walls and peak height of the roof also contribute livable space.
A wall with a slant from floor to peak means less shoulder room, while a backpacking tent with a spreader bar across the top and more vertical walls equates to more shoulder space and sitting-up space without hitting yourself on the steeply pitched walls.
The standard floor area for a tent (square footage) is a good starting point for estimating the “livable area” but it’s far from telling the whole story. Approximately 28 sq ft is average for an ultralight tent, while traditional backpacking tents tend be closer to 30 sq ft.
For example, 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) and/or pre-bent poles can make tent walls more vertical. Combined, these design changes significantly increase livable area making it far more pleasant to spend time in the tent. For example the Big Agnes Copper Spur has a significantly more livable area than the Nemo Hornet 2p.
Number of Doors
For a two-person tent, two doors are ideal for many pairs of hiking partners. Having two doors eliminates crawling all over one another for midnight bathroom breaks, and gives each person their own side. However, two doors mean two zippers, which adds to the weight of the tent. This can be a matter of convenience and comfort over weight.
Many people cutting weight are happy with one door, either on the side or the front of the tent because it’s less extra material, and also less chance of construction failure with seams and zippers. As noted two doors give you are better ventilation options and is a superior option overall.
Storage: Vestibules and Interior Pockets
Having a larger vestibule doesn’t just mean more space: it means you can save the inside of your tent from getting drenched with wet gear on rainy outings. The more space you have in a vestibule, the more you can leave your soaked gear outside of the while still having it be protected. Look for a vestibule at least 7 ft2, and for two-person tents, two vestibules are really nice.
While interior pockets aren’t critical, they are really nice for organizing small items such as headlamps, ear plugs, small electronics, and other items that can get lost in piles of gear at night. A pocket or two at the head of the tent for quick access is great, and an overhead pocket can make a nice place to have a headlamp turned on to illuminate the entire shelter before you go to sleep. Vestibules are very important for ultralight tents which sometimes have smaller interior floor plans and require campers to put backpacks outside.
What Is A Freestanding Backpacking Tent? Are Ultralight Tents Freestanding?
Freestanding backpacking tents are the “classic,” full-featured, easy-to-pitch tents most people are familiar with. There are not currently any freestanding ultralight tents weighing less than 2 lbs. Once you insert the poles, freestanding tents can stand on their own without being staked out… no fly required.
They 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 avoid setting up 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. The downside is that freestanding models are heavier than ultralight tents with non-freestanding designs, and might have more limited livable room. High quality aircraft grade aluminum poles can significantly increase cost.
Why you should still stake out freestanding tents
“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.
Freestanding tents do have an advantage for Leave No Trace. 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). In high winds and at an exposed campsite, this is not a good idea.
In comparison, most ultralight tents are non-freestanding and require the use of your trekking poles to support them, and also need to be staked out be fully pitched. Since poles are the heaviest part of tent, this design strategy often saves multiple pounds of weight.
Backpacking Tent Poles and Stakes
Sturdy, lightweight stakes make tent pitching faster and more secure. It’s not a bad idea to replace the stakes your tent came with.
For pitching in rocky ground and other difficult areas, we prefer inexpensive but bomber AnyGear 7075 Aluminum Tent Stakes. 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. ‘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.
Freestanding tents come with their own set of poles, usually collapsible single-hub or double-hub. Both styles will be hollow poles of varying weight, material, and durability, with elastic holding them together. A single-hub pole set will unfold and snap together with one central cross-point. Other models have a separate spreader bar or other components you’ll have to attach and configure.
Tarptents and single-wall shelters utilize trekking poles for structure and stability, but some have a roof spreader bar for more shoulder room and interior space.
Footprints and Backpacking Tent Care
When storing a backpacking tent, it’s imperative to make sure the tent is clean and entirely dry. Don’t crumple it into a stuff sack, rather fold it carefully and store it flat to help prevent degradation of waterproofing and seam sealing. This is especially important for thinner ultralight tents.
If your backpacking 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 lighter tents and single-wall tents have 20D or even 15D floors. In this case, you should seriously consider protecting it with a footprint or Polycro sheet.
We recommend skipping the manufacturer’s footprint, which is heavy and can be expensive. Instead, use a 2 to 3.5 oz Polycro Footprint to protect the floor of very light tent floors. We recommend putting a $11 Gossamer Gear Polycro Footprint or MLD UL FOOTPRINT under this type of shelter.
This multilayer, cross-linked polyolefin film weighs less than 4 oz and is much stronger and more durable than the typical painter’s 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 months of use. When it starts to wear it can easily be replaced by another $9 footprint.
Need a Better Sleeping Bag, Quilt, or Sleeping Pad?
If you’d like to upgrade your sleeping bag, backpacking quilt, or sleeping pad, hop on over to the respective buyers guides.
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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. Many of the tents in this guide were provided for review by the manufacturer free of charge. Others were 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.
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