Best small 2 person tents

Best Small 2 Person Tents for Backpacking or Camping

May 28, 2020 | by Alan Dixon

Since many of our readers have inquired about the Best Small 2 Person Tents on the market, we’ve picked some of the best inexpensive 2 Person Tents (some in the $100-$150 range) that are light enough for backpacking, while being comfortable enough for more luxurious car camping outings. While these Small 2 Person Tents may be a pound or so more than their ultralight counterparts, they are still light enough to hit the trail, and you’ll keep a bunch of dough in your pocket.

And for more serious backpackers, we’ve also included some of the better deals in Ultralight 2 Person Tents. While pricier, they are still reasonable in cost and provide the best value for the weight and performance.

Get a Quality Tent but Don’t Go Broke

Getting a new piece of backpacking / camping gear is an investment, and a tent can be one of the pricier items to add to your kit. This purchase doesn’t need to break the bank though, and if you’re on a tight budget, it also doesn’t mean you need to compromise quality or get a too heavy tent. There are plenty of smart, light and sophisticated tent options out there from dedicated outdoor-gear companies, which means you don’t have to hit Walmart to find a generic tent that will underperform and weigh down your pack. Buying a quality tent from a reputable outdoor focused company like REI or Kelty might cost a few dollars more than a generic tent at Walmart, but in the end you’ll have a much lighter and higher quality tent well suited to both backpacking and car camping. It also means you won’t be replacing this tent each season, which keeps broken gear out of the waste stream. In the end, you’ll come out ahead in enjoyment and long term value.

Want to See More of Best of the Best Backpacking Tents?

If you are an avid hiker or backpacker interested in the best overall backpacking tents, check out our top ranked and comprehensive Guide to the Best Backpacking Tents. It has a broad array of the best lightweight and ultralight backpacking tents on the market in all price ranges and styles.

5 Staff Quick Picks

If you are in a hurry… here are our Staff’s choices for some of the top small 2 person tents on the market.

Best Budget Tent: Kelty Salida 2 (or newer model Kelty Late Start 2)| honest backpacking tent for just over $140!

Best Traditional Tent:  2020 Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 | Lightest, most livable freestanding tent. A lot of new features for 2020 including awnings, better interior storage, and stronger fabric.

Ultralight Value Tent: REI Co-op Flash Air 2 Tent | Under 2 pounds and under $300. Amazing!

Best Crossover Tent:  REI Half Dome 2 Plus | Plenty roomy for camping but light enough for backpacking

Ultralight Traditional Tent: Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 | Only 2.2 lb for a full-featured, double-walled, dome tent

Best small person tent | kelty salida 2

Just over $100 online, the KELTY SALIDA 2 (or the newer model Kelty Late Start 2) are arguably the best performance-to-value tents on the market. At under 4 pounds the Salida 2 is surprisingly light for a budget tent and works well for both camping and backpacking.

Our Tent Categories

Pick the Category that Meets Your Needs & Budget

There is a budget-friendly, lightweight tent for you here whether you’re a camper, backpacker or a bit of both. Use the links below to jump to the tent category that best fits your needs.

1 – Budget-Friendly Small 2 Person Tents for Camping & Backpacking | 3.9 lb to 4.9 lb | $105 to ~$230
These lower cost tents have the best combination of being budget friendly and low weight. They’ll keep you warm and dry, they aren’t overly heavy, and they’ll save you money. They are perfect for camping on budget but still light enough and small enough to easily fit in a backpack for overnight trips in the backcountry. And there are some amazing values.

2 – Ultralight 2 Person Tents for Backpacking (or camping) | 1.9 to 3.4 lb | $299 to $400
The first choice for dedicated backpackers, these are the “classic,” full-featured, backpacking tents most are familiar with. These are lighter than many backpacking tents while still being storm-worthy and bug-proof. Some are a surprisingly good value. And of course, while they won’t be the most spacious tents in the campground, they’re still great for camping.

1. Budget-Friendly Small 2 Person Tents for Camping & Backpacking

3.9 lb to 4.9 lb | $105 to ~$230

These inexpensive small 2 person tents perform remarkably well. They will keep money in your wallet but still keep you warm and dry. They are great for camping and some are still small and light enough for a multi-day backpacking trip.

Best small person tent | kelty salida 2

KELTY SALIDA 2 $150 (priced lower online)
KELTY LATE START 2 $160 (new model, priced lower online)

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

WEIGHT: 3.9 lbs

FEATURES: 2 person | 3 season | 1 door / 1 vestibule | Double Walled, Dome | Freestanding

AREA: Interior: 30.5 ft2 | Vestibule: 10 ft2

AREA/POUND: 10.45 ft2/lb



Best Budget Tent: When it comes to value, no other tent compares to the Kelty Salida 2 or the newer model Kelty Late Start 2 (currently $125 online). The Salida 2 is a fully functional, free-standing tent that weighs less than four pounds, for only $150 (or less online— we got ours for $103). That said, the price and weight comes at a 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. 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.

BEST FOR: Budget campers or a great introductory tent for backpackers seeking the lightest and most affordable value tent.

NOTE: The Salida 2 has been replaced with the Kelty Late Start 2 Backpacking Tent. On the plus side, it adds pockets to capture pole ends for faster pitching, and pre-bent poles for more vertical walls and increased livable space. On the downside, it is slightly heavier and has a smidge less floor and vestibule area. The online price is about the same. For now, there is sufficient stock of the Salida 2, but we expect them to sell out of the older inventory.

Help for the Buyer | Knowing What is Important in a Tent

For those not 100% familiar with Small 2 Person Tents, check out our Key Information for the Tent Buyer & Tent Terminology Explained. Even if you know a lot about tents it has pro-tips on ways to save weight and cost like an inexpensive and light footprint option to protect your tent floor and low-cost, strong and light tent stakes.

REI Co-op Passage 2 person Tent with Footprint


HIGHLIGHTS: Cheapest full-size, fully featured tent in category with 2 doors & 2 vestibules

WEIGHT: 4.1 lbs

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

AREA: Interior: 31.1 ft2 | Vestibule: 18.75 ft2

AREA/POUND: 12.1 ft2/lb



At a fraction of the price of tents with similar features, the REI Co-op Passage 2 is the textbook definition of a backpacking tent. 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 it’s 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

MOUNTAINSMITH BEAR CREEK 2  $140 | at pub. $105 Amazon

HIGHLIGHTS: Lowest online price, durable floor, spacious, included footprint

WEIGHT: 4.2 lbs

FEATURES: 2 person | 3 season | 1 door / 1 vestibule | Double Walled, Dome | Freestanding | Fast fly set-up (Footprint included)

AREA: Interior: 30.5 ft2 | Vestibule: 5 ft2

AREA/POUND: 8.5 ft2/lb


SIMILAR MODELS: MORRISON 2 (2 doors + 2 Vestibules, but heavier)

As of this writing, the $105 Mountainsmith Bear Creek 2 was the lowest priced “4 pound” tent. As such it’s a great value — even more so when you realized that it includes a footprint (usually an added cost). The footprint allows you to pitch the tent in fast-fly mode for a trail weight of just 3.1 pounds. The Bear Creek 2 has a good interior area, although it doesn’t have the vertical walls similar to the Kelty Late Start 2, or higher-end backpacking tents. The tent is built of durable 68d poly fabric and can handle some abuse, especially when you use the footprint. There are a few trade offs for low weight and cost. There’s only one door and vestibule. And the 5 ft 2 vestibule is small accommodating a few pairs of shoes at best. So if it’s raining most of your gear goes into the tent. The stakes aren’t great and we recommend you upgrade to these TNH ‘Y’ Tent-Stakes on Amazon. Finally, it’s a bit heavier and has less overall area than the Kelty Salida 2 and Late Start 2.

BEST FOR: Campers and backpackers seeking a classic, inexpensive two-person tent with good livable area, at the lowest possible price.

REI Co-op Half Dome 2 Plus Tent


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



Best Crossover Tent: 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 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 come 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 flash air 2 tent ultralight tent

2. Ultralight 2 Person Tents for Backpacking (or camping)

1.9 to 3.4 lb | $299 to $400

The first choice for dedicated backpackers, these are the “classic,” full-featured, backpacking tents most are familiar with. These are lighter weight and have more “advanced” materials and construction than the lower-priced tents listed above, but some of these models are still a good value. And of course, while they won’t be the most spacious tents in the campground, they’re still great for car camping.

These are the tents you’ll most likely see at big retailers like REI, e.g. Big Agnes Tiger Wall. They are full of features and provide good to excellent storm and bug protection. These tents are simple to setup and use, and are light and small enough to carry into the backcountry.

small 2 person tent | rei co-op flash air 2 tent

New REI Co-op Flash Air 2, Two Person Tent $299
REI’s Lightest 2-Person Tent

WEIGHT: 1.9 lbs

HIGHLIGHTS: Under 2 pounds and $300, highly livable, good condensation management

FEATURES: 2 person | 3 season | Single/Double Walled Tent | Trekking Pole Supported

AREA: Interior: 28.7 ft2 | Vestibule: 16.8 ft2

AREA/POUND:  23.5 ft2/lb (best in this guide)


Ultralight Value Tent: New for this spring, the 2-person REI Co-op Flash Air 2 Tent is an exciting new entry into trekking pole supported tents. Yup, it’s a full sized, highly livable, 2-Person Tent under 2 Pounds! That will save you a bunch of weight and money vs. the competition! We especially like the brow poles that increase livable space (more vertical walls) and peak height. Its multi-position doors easily go from stargazing to full storm mode. The REI Co-op Flash Air 2 Tent is among the best at managing potential condensation issues for this style of tent.

BEST FOR: Backpackers looking for an extremely light, 2-person tent that’s quite livable and won’t break the bank.


Note: Only seasonally Available

HIGHLIGHTS: Best combination of lightweight & affordability in a dome tent

WEIGHT: 2.5 lbs

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

AREA: Interior: 28.7 ft2 | Vestibule: 21.5 ft2

AREA/POUND: 20.1 ft2/lb

Value Traditional Tent: For 2020 we go with the REI CO-OP QUARTER DOME SL 2 over the plain Quarter Dome. The reason is that SL stands for “super light” — it’s almost a pound lighter vs. the quite similar regular Quarter Dome. Also it’s lighter and $100 less expensive than the Big Agnes Copper Spur. Beyond that, the major difference is that the SL is non-freestanding so you’ll need to stake out the rear corners (which you should do anyway). In our estimation, the only significant downside is slightly lower peak height of 38 inches vs 42 for the plain Quarter Dome. We think that is a reasonable trade for the lower weight bulk of the tent with no cost increase. In summary, if you want a very light, traditional dome backpacking tent at a good price, this is your tent.

BEST FOR: Backpackers seeking traditional domed tent that is both light and low cost and don’t mind staking out the rear corners.

Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 Bikepack Tent


WEIGHT: 2.7 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: 17.5 ft2/lb



Best Traditional Tent | most livable: If you want one of the best freestanding tents money can buy, look to the 2020 Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2. At 2.7 lbs, it’s very lightweight (the lightest freestanding), and for 2.7 lbs, it’s tall and roomy (one of the roomiest freestanding). Its full-sized vestibules (now with an awning mode for 2020), near vertical sidewalls, and fully lofted ceiling provide excellent headroom and livability that few freestanding tent achieve. We’re also big fans of pockets to keep space organized and livable. For 2020 there’s a big 3D Bin Mezzanine pocket a the foot, an oversized ceiling pocket, & media pockets. And the frame is no compromise whatsoever! Its cross pole pitch is reliable, sturdy and super 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 one the of the best freestanding tents available with great livable space

REI Co-op Quarter Dome 2 Person Tent


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



REI fans rejoice; the REI CO-OP Quarter Dome 2 is a legitimately great option for any backpacker seeking a premium, fully free-standing, lightweight tent that won’t break the bank. Among our favorite freestanding options, it’s $100 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.

Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 Tent


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 (great option for those that need more room)

Ultralight Traditional Tent: One of our very lightest recommended traditional tents is The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2. It also has our second-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 the main tent body + vestibules. But it still has sufficient room for two people and gear. If you are looking at this tent, you’re likely intent on going fast and light. Like the Tiger Wall UL 3 and the Nemo, some of the weight savings comes from the need to stake out the two rear corners. As such, this is a semi-freestanding tent.

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

MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 person Tent


HIGHLIGHTS: Most durable 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


MSR’s Hubba Hubba NX 2p Tent is a perfect blend of strong, durable, and light. At 3.4 pounds, it’s the heaviest tent we recommend in this section, but due to its strength and durability, it’s also one of REI’s best sellers. We also saw a number of the Hubba Hubba NX tents this year in the legendary Patagonian wind and rain. Well-engineered pole structure and additional wind/water-resistant interior canopy fabric keep the wind at bay. Not surprisingly, it had one of the tautest pitches in this category, and 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 who gave it 4.6/5 stars… or just trust us when we say it’s a great all-around tent.

BEST FOR: Backpackers seeking a strong, durable tent with good storm resistance and also value durability.

Slingfin 2 person tents

SlingFin PORTAL $485

HIGHLIGHTS: Sub 3-pound tent than can handle four-season conditions and extreme winds. Can use trekking poles for additional support. Internal cross-bracing

WEIGHT: 2.8 lbs

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

AREA: Interior: 27.5 ft2 | Vestibule: 16.8 ft2

AREA/POUND: 15.8 ft2/lb

At less than three pounds, the SlingFin Portal may be the lightest two-person freestanding tent that can handle four-season conditions. As such, this tent adds a margin of safety and protection that most three-season, double-walled backpacking tents like the Big Agnes Copper Spur can’t provide.

The SlingFin Portal is an excellent choice for hikers who could be heading into stormy weather and high winds, and can’t be sure of a protected campsite. It’s also ideal for hikers looking for a freestanding tent that can handle significant snow loading, without the weight of a dedicated four-season shelter. Additionally, the interior of the Portal is far from spartan. The SlingFin Portal has near-vertical walls, generous headroom, two doors and vestibules, and tons of pockets that makes the 28 square feet of floor area seem much larger.

BEST FOR: Backpackers seeking a premium UL tent that can handle extreme winds and winter snow loading, without the weight penalty.

Key Information for Buying Small 2 Person Tents

& Tent Terminology Explained

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 area ft/lb values range from around 8-13 ft2/lb for the more budget/camping oriented tents, to over 23 ft2/lb for the more ultralight/backpacking oriented tents. That is, the ultralight tents are 1/2 the weight for the same livable area, of course you’ll pay a bit more for the UL tent.

For comparison, a generic camping tent available at Walmart and sporting good stores, the Coleman Sundome 2 Person Tent, weights 7.2 pounds and has 35 ft2 of area. That calculates to a meager 4.6 ft2/lb — about 1/2 to 1/3 of the performance of the “Budget-Friendly Small 2 Person Tents” in this guide like the Kelty Salida. Or put another way, the Kelty Salida is almost 1/2 the weight for similar liveable area.

Price: What You Get by Spending More

At this point with backpacking gear, spending more often means a lighter tent without losing durability. More expensive tents are often constructed with pricier fabrics which have both 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 (e.g. the Kelty Salida vs. a generic Coleman Camping Tent)? 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.

Backpacking Tent Weight Explained

Your tent can be one of the heaviest items in your pack. As such, it’s a great place to save a ton of 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. Most hikers should aim for carrying no more than 2.5 pounds of shelter weight per person (and those going ultralight backpacking might aim for 1.5 pounds or less per person).

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.

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 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. 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 Kelty Salida.

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.

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.

Durability (Denier)

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. Tent floors are the most prone to damage. The “Budget-Friendly Small 2 Person Tents” in this guide all have 68D or better floors and should be fine without a footprint on decent ground. And some come with a footprint, altho you’ll likely leave it at home if you are backpacking overnight vs. camping.

For tents with floor material under 30D (most of the tents in our “Ultralight 2 Person Tents for Backpacking” section)  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 tents will have a higher-denier fabric on the floor of the tent vs. the wall. Durability in material matters too. For instance, Big Agnes new 15x20D fabric is surprisingly strong.

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.


Condensation management and ventilation is important to take into consideration when choosing a 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 most tents in this guide with exception of the REI Flash Air 2 are double walled and will do well with condensation.

The potential for excessive condensation is a downside to single-wall tents, but it’s starting to be addressed in different models. 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. 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.

What Does Freestanding Mean?

Freestanding tents are the “classic,” full-featured, easy-to-pitch tents most are familiar with. Once you insert the poles, freestanding tents can stand on their own without being staked out… no trekking poles 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 some of these tents are heavier than other options on the market, and a few have limited livable room. They are also sometimes pricier.

“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, non-freestanding tents usually use your trekking poles to support them and need to be staked out be fully pitched. The advantage is usually a big savings in weight and usually lower cost as well.

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 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. ‘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 Tent Care

When storing your 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.

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 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 $11 footprint. Get a large size and cut it to fit your tent.


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