Most of the best backpacking tents are designed with the three-season trekker in mind, providing enough ventilation and airflow for the summer months, without compromising on their ability to stand up to the spring rain or windy fall. There are, of course, a huge selection of tents that cater for the accommodation needs of the wilderness wanderer, all with varying degrees of quality, weight, liveability and cost.
To find a backpacking tent that is perfect for you takes some consideration. It is your home away from home whilst you are in the wild and it will be up there with the most expensive bits of outdoor gear you will invest in. You want to make sure you get a good tent that is light enough to carry in your pack without breaking your back.
This review of the best backpacking tents is based on the best selection of two person three-season tents under 2.5kg that are available in 2018:
|Terra Nova Zephyros 2||Great value||1.7kg||$|
|MSR Hubba Hubba NX||Light and liveable||1.72kg||$$$$|
|REI Half Dome 2 Plus||Top choice||2.5kg||$$|
|Vaude Terratrio 2P||Good in bad weather||2.45kg||$$$|
|Alps Mountaineering Zephyr 2||Good value||2.15kg||$|
|Robens StarLite 2||Good in wet weather||2.4kg||$$|
|Mountain Hardwear SuperMegaUL 2||Super lightweight||1.13kg||$$$$|
|Hilleberg Anjan 2||Good all rounder||1.6kg||$$$$$$|
|Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2||Light and good in bad weather||1.49kg||$$$$|
|Tarptent Double Rainbow||Super light and easy||1.2kg||$$$|
|Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2||Spacious, light and strong||1.39kg||$$$$|
To help understand what your own personal requirements are in a backpacking tent, you’ll need to think about what type of backpacker you are. The best backpacking tents in this review suit those wanting to minimise weight in their packs and maximise their enjoyment of time in the wilderness, like the below types of backpackers.
Which type of backpacker are you?
If you’re more of a ‘drive to the middle of nowhere and camp for a week’ type camper, then you might be better off looking at some bigger tents like these family car camping tents.
- Weekend wanderer – you love a last minute Friday night getaway to your local wilderness, and to make the most of limited time on the trail, comfort and liveability can be sacrificed for a lightweight and easy tent to keep you on the move.
- Lone wolf – you prefer enjoying it all to yourself and love those long distance thru-hikes. Odds are, that you’ve already over-packed, so the lighter your tent is, the better.
- Mountain goat – you’re a sucker for true adventures in the wilderness – the higher, windier and colder, the better! Lightweight is important, but most essential is the ability for your tent to hold up in storms and sideways rain.
Things to consider when choosing the best backpacking tent
Before you delve into details and specs of what lies beneath the ultralight silicone treated nylon rip-stop 1200mm waterproof polyurethane coated fly sheet of a backpacking tent, take a read of all the other things that you need to consider when making the investment on your new mobile home.
One of the most important considerations for backpackers, is the weight of their pack. Hours on the trail with excess weight can soon turn trekking into a boot camp style endurance test, that takes much of the inherent enjoyment out of the experience. So each gram saved by choosing the lightweight option for each piece of gear soon adds up and really does make a difference. Opting for a shelter that doesn’t weigh a ton is no different. So long as the key requirements of your tent aren’t compromised, the lighter you go, the better.
As with most outdoor gear, paying a little more for a good quality backpacking tent will be well worth the investment if your wilderness wanderings are more than just a temporary fad. That said, there’s also no need to get a second mortgage out on your tented home, as there are plenty of good quality backpacking tents out there that will tick most of your boxes and not cost the earth.
Never satisfied with a simple sell, the battle of weight versus quality has shown it’s complex head again. There really is no point investing in a super lightweight tent, if even the idea of bad weather makes your tent quiver and crumble. Thankfully, most of the best lightweight backpacking tents are designed with windy weather in mind, and there are some super lightweight options on the market that stand up to the elements with unbelievable defiance.
Your tent needs to be able to pack down pretty small to fit into your backpack, and even better, can be split into two to share the weight with your buddy. But it’s not just the pack down size that you need to consider, how much space it provides once erected is also key. If you and your camping companion are both on the tall or wide side, then there are some tents that won’t suit you at all. So take a look at the dimensions before you commit to the lightest technical tent on the market.
This is a pretty important factor to consider, especially in challenging weather conditions. The last thing you want to do at the end of long day on the trail is spend ages putting up your shelter. Add in some sideways rain and freezing winds, and you’ll most certainly wish you’d chosen differently. Ideally you need something that you can put up on your own in under 5 minutes, without the use of the instruction manual. It’s also a bonus if the outer wall can be pitched first, or simultaneously with the inner wall, so as to avoid the inner wall getting saturated if it’s pouring down.
Sometimes even the best laid plans go out the window, so even if you don’t envisage doing much more than sleeping in your tent, if the weather turns on you, hanging out in your tented home might be all you can do. Choosing a tent that is comfortable to sit in is worth thinking about. Something with steep sided walls will provide more headroom – perfect for whiling the hours away over a game of cards whilst you ride out the storm.
Vestibules and entrances
If it’s likely that you’ll be backpacking in rainy conditions then a tent with a porch can make a big difference to your comfort levels. It provides a place where you can dump your wet stuff and leave your boots, as well as providing shelter whilst you take off your wet weather gear. And if you’re sharing your tented home with someone, then two entrances will provide a much higher level of ease and comfort when clambering in and out.
There are loads of little extras in the design of your backpacking tent to consider. Most of them will come down to personal preference and although they may seem like trivial ‘extras’, they can really effect the livability of your tent. Some things to look for are:
- Internal storage pockets
- Internal storage hooks
- Ventilation panels
- Easy clip inner tent to pole attachments
- Easy to use door zippers
- Doors that tie back easily and are out of the way
- Colour-coded pole set up
- Easy to adjust stake outs
You also need to consider whether the tent is freestanding or not. This is probably one of the most important things to consider, depending on the type of terrain you envisage yourself camping on.
A freestanding tent offers greater versatility when it comes to choosing your ground, and is the preferred option over a non-freestanding tent at times when the ground is too hard for stakes, or when the only surface to camp on is rock.
Non-freestanding tents rely on being secured with stakes and guy lines, which can provide greater stability in stormy conditions.
The best backpacking tents in 2018
Now that know what to look for in a lightweight tent, and which features are important to you, take a look at the best backpacking tents that you can get your hands on and get cosy inside!
Although this is around 1kg heavier than the lightest tents in this review, the REI Half Dome 2 Plus gets our Top Choice for it’s spacious and stable design with a very reasonable price tag. The 3 pole design includes an eyebrow pole that extends the headroom and makes the walls more vertical. But don’t let that put you off – it is super simple to put up and creates a really roomy area for two people to comfortably live in on longer trips. The double entrances provide really spacious vestibules for all your kit or a canine camping companion, and the mesh canopy pockets add even more storage space. It is a freestanding tent designed to pitch the inner first, which is the main downside.
REI have also got the ventilation balance spot on, with mesh panels that create enough airflow for the warmer months, but no too much so as to put you off getting out early or late in the year. For a more lightweight version of this tent, take a look at the REI Quarter Dome 2.
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If it’s a lightweight, no fuss, good value tent you are after, then the Terra Nova Zephyros 2will fit your requirements nicely. If however you are on the tall side and plan on sharing your already limited personal space with someone else, then you might want to consider the Zephyros 2XL for a bit extra headspace and length.
The Zephyros 2 is a non-freestanding tent with a single pole structure. It is easy to put up with the benefit of both the inner and outer sheets going up together. But at only 92cm high and 230cm long (external measurements) this great value tent is better suited to the solo backpacker or bikepacker who needs nothing more than on the go convenience and shelter.
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MSR have created an all round great little tent that has an unparalleled blend of strength, low weight and durability. The single pole hub design makes for a quick and easy freestanding setup that provides its inhabitants with a good level of headspace for sitting around. TheHubba Hubba also features two entrances with sizeable vestibules for it’s weight, making it a comfortable and practical option to snugly fit in two backpackers and their gear. There is a good level of ventilation through the mesh panelled inner to keep condensation levels down, which needs to be pitched before the fly sheet. The structure of this design will stand up well to high winds, but the tent floor is a little on the fragile side, so you may want to consider using a footprint for more rugged sites.
This is one of the best lightweight backpacking tents in this price bracket that provides the space and quality offered by the Hubba Hubba, with only the Big Agnes presenting a little extra space and less weight, but at a slightly higher cost.
At 2.45kg, the robust and stable design of the Vaude Terratrio 2P more than makes up for it’s shortcomings in the weight department. The inner and outer can be put up simultaneously making it a really straightforward and quick set up – ideal for getting shelter fast in bad weather. Although there is only one entrance and vestibule, it provides plenty of space for the gear of two people, and the built in poles at the tent foot improve storage space, as well as enhancing the stability of the tent. There is adequate room to sit up at one end and the length is just good enough for two tall trekkers to snuggle into.
With fewer ventilation panels than other tents, and it’s ability to hold up well in very blustery condition, this 3 season tent is more suited to colder times of the year and could definitely deal with some light snow.
The Zephyr 2is an straightforward freestanding tent that is very well suited to summer backpacking. The inner quickly and easily clips in first to the 3 pole frame, and is made entirely of mesh providing excellent ventilation and airflow.
On the diddy side to comfortably fit two tall adults, you may be better off adding a few hundred grams extra to your pack for the extra space offered by the Zephyr 3. That said, there is just enough space in the two vestibules for boots and bags, with roof pockets for the little extras, and the clever placement of the eyebrow pole creates adequate headroom for sitting comfortably.
A super good value and stable backpacking tent that is the perfect choice for short summer trips.
The Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2is a slightly lighter more expensive alternative to the Hubba Hubba. The pole setup is very similar creating steep walls for good headroom and the double entrance and vestibules provide ample storage space. Like the Hubba Hubba, it is freestanding but is a tight squeeze for two, so for a more roomy option, the Copper Spur UL3 is one of best 3 person backpacking tents that might be more suitable.
This tent features some handy internal mesh pockets including a media pocket in the roof, and the inner mesh keeps the air flowing well, even in rainy conditions. An all round high performing tent, but for those on a tighter budget, the REI Half Dome is the next best option.
At 90cm high and 215cm long (internal measurements) the Robens Starlite 2, offers a more spacious alternative to the Zephyros 2. Although it is considerably heavier and a little pricier, the Starlite is one of the best backpacking tents for the those anticipating questionable weather conditions. It comes in a roll up dry bag, has an internal washing line to dry out damp gear, reinforced storm proof guy lines, double clip fly to pole hooks, rain proof ventilation flaps both at the peak and foot of the tent, and to top it off – it is designed to be pitched fly first or simultaneously with the inner.
The Starlite 2 is a single pole non-freestanding design, reinforced with built-in end poles. The single door and small vestibule makes it more suited to single campers or a two smaller people.
As the lightest backpacking tent in this review (closely followed by the Tarptent Double Rainbow), the Mountain Hardwear SuperMega UL2 deserves an honourable mention. It’s ability to perform exceptionally well in bad weather for it’s inconceivably light and delicate design, sets it apart from other tents in this price bracket. So light that you will barely notice it in your backpack, and with the super easy single pole hub set up, it provides an ideal option for short, fast trips for two on tough terrain. The main downside, together with the thin and slightly fragile fly, is it’s lack of space. With only one door and small vestibule, the already limited internal space is reduced even further, making it the one of the best lightweight backpacking tents that is a more comfortable option for the lone wolf.
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The Hilleburg Anjan 2 is the most expensive backpacking tent in this review, but earns its value as an excellent all rounder choice that is as well suited to car camping as it is to wilderness trekking. The two pole tunnel design creates steep walls to provide decent headroom for two people, and although there is only one door – which can be a pain for space sharing – the vestibule has enough room to stash all your gear.
The inner and outer can be pitched simultaneously – a big plus for bad weather, and the structure holds up very well in high winds. For summer conditions, there is good ventilation due to the outer fly not going all the way to the floor, so for colder conditions, the Nallo 2 would be a better choice to keep out the chill.
The Anjan is a three season, durable and spacious tent that will stand the test of time, and although on the pricey side, still deserves the Cool of the Wild All Rounder Award.
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This is the only single walled backpacking tent that we have included in this review, and it owes it’s mega low weight to the tarp-like properties of the design – as the name suggests. The Tarptent Double Rainbow not only competes with the Mountain Hardwear in weight, but it also has a more appealing price tag without compromising on its robustness and ability to weather the storm. You will need to purchase a seam sealing kit for optimal waterproofing.
The clever design of the Tarptent Double Rainbow certainly maximises the space. Not only does it feature two entrances on each side, but the vestibules can also be adapted into veranda style porches with the help of trekking poles or guy lines. The nature of this half tent, half tarp shelter ensures great ventilation, a must for keeping on top of condensation levels which can be a problem with single walled set ups. Surprisingly spacious for its weight and a really good value option for summer backpackers and bikepackers.
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Brand new for 2017, Big Agnes have taken all that is brilliant in the Copper Spur SL and made it even better. At just under 1.4kg it is incredibly a fraction lighter that the SL and yet more spacious inside, making the Copper Spur HV much more liveable for two people. Most notably, there is significantly more headspace at the foot of the tent and a little more at the head, enabling two people to sit up easily at the same time. This is mainly due to the simplified pole configuration that now relies on a single hub with one small cross pole. The result is a 25% increase in strength and walls that are much more vertical.
Big Agnes have also improved the floor of the HV, tightening it up for a more streamlined finish. Less significantly, the original D-shaped doors have been replaced with a dual zipper design that hinges at the side rather than the bottom, making it store much more conveniently when open and tied back.
Together with the improved pole strength of the HV, Big Agnes have also made changes to the double ripstop pattern nylon, improving its strength by 20%. This really is a durable, well designed and super lightweight backpacking tent that is well worth the extra cost to gain the benefits of is reinvention.
For more details read our full review of the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2.