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!
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, for at least part of the tent, 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 with the exception of the REI Co-op Flash Air 2 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.