The Best Backpacking Tents | Digital Trends
Unlike traditional car camping where the size, weight, and ease of setting up a tent are mostly non-issues, choosing a backpacking tent requires much more pre-trip planning. Not only is it crucial to shave precious weight whenever possible but pack space is a premium. So, before you just buy the lightest tent on the market, there are a few key aspects you’ll want to keep in mind while shopping.
From the toughness of its construction material to its overall capacity, the exact type of tent you’ll need depends on where you’re taking it and who’s using it. For instance, if you’re backpacking with a partner, buying a bigger tent to sleep the two of you may seem like a smart idea — especially considering the fact you can split pack weight — but going too big can ruin the trip (for the person carrying it, at least). To help get an idea of which tent is best, we’ve sorted through the crowded marketplace to find the best backpacking tents available, and also compiled a quick list of things to remember before you purchase.
The best overall
They say, “don’t fix what’s not broken,” but Big Agnes keeps making improvements to its popular Copper Spur tent anyway. This year, the brand created even more interior space for the Copper Spur than ever before — hence the HV addition, meaning high volume. If you’re looking for that optimum balance of comfort, weight, stability, and ventilation, this tent takes the prize as one of the best three season options on the market. Its low profile, simple pole configuration, and ample guy points make for a trusty companion in strong winds while remaining lightweight at just over three pounds.
Two doors and vestibules keep both parties happy and a generous use of mesh along with a vent at the top of the rainfly allows for plenty of ventilation, even with its double-wall construction. Its free-standing design is favored by serious backpackers and makes for easy set-up and breakdown.
It does come with a downside, however. When sacrificing weight, there is often a sacrifice in the durability of the fabric — and this tent is no exception. With a proprietary patterned rip-stop nylon that increases tear strength by 25 percent, it does still rank as 20-denier while the mesh ranks slightly weaker at 15-denier. This means you’ll need to treat it with care if you want it to last. Despite its slight decrease in durability, the $450 Copper Spur HV UL2 is still the easy choice as our top pick.
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The best for the weekend backpacker
If you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of weight for added durability, the MSR Hubba Hubba NX is a high-quality option — and at just $400, it won’t break the bank, either. Although redesigned to weigh less than last year’s model, the Hubba Hubba NX still ranks below many of the lighter weight tents bursting onto the scene. When you’re just heading out for the weekend, however, it serves as an excellent tent choice.
The Hubba Hubba NX matches the Copper Spur HV in terms of floor space (at 29 square feet), and is also constructed with two doors and vestibules for comfort and plenty of gear storage. The tent has a symmetrical design, meaning both parties can sleep in either direction, unlike the Copper Spur HV and other tents that taper in at the feet. It’s attractive to look at and a unique all-in-one pole construction makes for one of the easiest tents to set up. Perhaps its best feature is the inclusion of a rain gutter on the tent’s fly.
The 30-denier fabric makes the Hubba Hubba NX slightly more durable than the Copper Spur HV but it doesn’t do as well in storms, as it comes standard with only six stakes which aren’t enough to properly guy it out. If it’s a trip with sunshine in the forecast, MSR’s Hubba Hubba NX is your trusted backpacking tent companion.
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The best for the long-distance backpacker
The Nemo Hornet is about as ultralight as you can get without transitioning to a tarp or a shelter — and it’s on the cheaper end of the expense spectrum, coming in at just $370. It’s rare to find a two-person backpacking tent with two doors and two vestibules and its light weight make it a stand-out choice for the long-distance backpacker, measuring just slightly over two pounds.
While the rainfly comes only halfway down the tent body, the tent compensates with excellent seam-sealing and a slightly raised bathroom floor, which also creates added ventilation. The semi-freestanding design means you’ll have to stake out one end to completely utilize the space of the interior, but it compromises by being a dedicated pole tent and not requiring the utilization of trekking poles.
Although lightweight, the Hornet stands its own in inclement elements, assisted by its DAC Featherlite NFL pole system. However, its light weight means it does feature a tapered design, reduced interior space, and the use of less durable fabric. If you take care of your gear and embark on many long-distance expeditions, you’ll love the Nemo Hornet for exactly what it is.
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The best for the ultralight backpacker
If you’re an ounce-counting ultralight backpacker but aren’t ready to give up an enclosed space for a tarp, the Zpacks Duplex offers the lowest weight possible for a fully enclosed tent at just 21 ounces. Although it requires two adjustable trekking poles for set up, it does allow for the use of straight tent poles you can buy separately.
Zpacks is a cottage company known for its utilization of Dyneema Composite Fiber (DCF), an incredibly strong fabric that’s taken the outdoor industry by storm — and the Duplex is a perfect example. Dyneema is naturally waterproof, which means you don’t have to mess with DWR coatings such as those used on popular SilNylon tents. You can also rest assured the tent won’t absorb water, stretch, or sag. Additionally, its combination DCF bathtub style floor and sewn-in bug mesh netting are extremely appealing features not often found in ultralight tents.
The Duplex is a single wall tent you set up as an A-frame, offering two doors and vestibules — one on each side. It isn’t freestanding on its own, but you can upgrade to the Duplex Flex Tent, which utilizes freestanding tent poles when stakes just won’t get the job done. The additional hardware only adds .2 ounces to the tent — a small price to pay in weight for the advantage of being able to set up anywhere. At $600, the Duplex is one of the pricier tents on the market, but when you’re counting every ounce, this product shines.
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The best four-season tent
When you’re taking on the harshest weather conditions, you want a bomber tent, and the Jannu is just about as bomber as any two-person backpacking tent can get. The tent weighs seven pounds which may seem heavy after reading about much lighter alternatives but when you’re trekking through snowstorms, seven pounds isn’t much for the superior weather resistance you receive. The Swedish company Hilleberg is touted as one of the highest quality tent makers in the world and the Jannu stands as a tried and true testament.
Its simple design is highlighted by a single sidewall and it’s incredibly easy to set-up. You stake out the tent and pitch the freestanding poles first before clipping up the body, then stake out the vestibules and guylines, all of which can be done in under five minutes in the midst of a snowstorm. The intersecting network of poles gives the tent its strength. As a bonus feature, the guylines are made of Spectra, which is equivalent to Dyneema. Although it’s our most expensive tent in this round-up at $935, if you’re headed into the worst winter conditions, the Jannu is worth its weight in gold.
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The best for the budget-conscious
If you can’t afford to spend a fortune or you’re backpacking for the first time, the REI Half Dome 2 is a roomy, durable, and relatively lightweight option. If comfort is your main priority, the Half Dome 2 serves as a luxurious companion, equipped with lots of mesh for ventilation, plenty of headroom, and a fly design that allows the sides and ends to be rolled up for maximum airflow.
Two doors and two vestibules ensure both parties have their own space and enough room for total gear storage. Although its weight exceeds 4.5 pounds, it’s still a light enough load to be split between two people on most backpacking expeditions. A hubbed pole design similar to the Hubba Hubba makes for easy set up and breakdown, even after a long day on the trail. Above all, price is where the Half Dome 2 really stands out and for the kind of quality you’re getting, you can’t beat this $200 tent.
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Things to consider
Type and Capacity
The first question to ask yourself is how many people you plan on sleeping with? Every tent in this round-up are two-person tents for simplicity, but there are plenty of great three- to four-person tents on the market — as well as single-person tents for those who prefer to go solo. Backpacking tents tend to fit sleeping pads and bags snuggly, so if you’re tall or need more room than the average person, pay attention to the interior capacity or try plus-size tent designs. Note that ultralight models are likely to be even cozier.
Double wall tents
Double wall tents are comprised of three parts: An inner body likely made of mesh with a waterproof floor, a waterproof rain fly, and poles. Freestanding tents stand up entirely on their own while self-supporting tents have poles that hold most of the body up but need other parts, such as the vestibule to be guyed out. Tunnel tents require guylines for support.
Note: Keep in mind you’re likely going to want to bring a footprint which is typically sold separately.
As a general rule of thumb, when you go below three pounds, you’ve crossed over into the ultralight realm. This usually equates to thinner fabrics, less interior space, and increased cost. Tarps and shelters can also be included under this umbrella. Designed for dedicated minimalists and thru-hikers, many ultralight tents are of the single wall variety and often utilize Dyneema, such as in the ZPacks Duplex described above. Many forego poles completely and instead rely on a pair of trekking poles for set up.
Lightweight three-season tents
These are typically the most popular type of backpacking tents and are suitable for use in the spring, summer, and fall seasons. They’re capable of withstanding a good downpour or light snowfall but are not designed for harsh winter conditions. These tents need to ventilate well in summer yet be able to handle mild to moderately inclement weather.
A four-season tent is what you reach for when you’re winter camping, as it’s designed to handle substantial snowfall and strong winds. These tents are typically heavier, consist of more poles, have fewer mesh panels, and a rainfly which extends all the way to the ground. They do tend to be more expensive, however. What you pay for in heavier weight you receive in added protection. The Hilleberg Jannu described above is an ideal four-season tent as it’s specially designed for snowfall.
Materials and fabrics
A fabric’s denier indicates its yarn strength, and you’ll notice that this varies considerably. Ultralight tents tend to have lower denier fabric for weight-saving purposes whereas heavier tents are likely to be more durable. The type of fabric matters, however, so be aware of differences when comparing fabrics. Deniers can vary between tent floor, canopy, and rain fly.
Polyurethane (PU) coated fabrics
This is the cheapest way to attain a waterproof fabric but the downside is its susceptibility to degradation over time — specifically a chemical process known as hydrolysis, which will eventually break down the material.
Silicone elastomer coated nylons have become increasingly used in high-quality backpacking and mountaineering tents. The advantages to SilNylon are that it tends to be lighter, stronger, and more durable than PU-coated fabrics. This also equates to a higher price tag. Many tents are made of SilNylon on the outside and PU-coated on the inside, so the inside can be seam-sealed by hand.
Dyneema, formerly known as Cuben Fiber, is by far the strongest and lightest fabric on the market — and it’s also the most waterproof. Compared to SilNylon, which stretches considerably, Dyneema keeps its shape, which is an advantage in wet conditions because you won’t have to adjust your guylines as frequently. Dyneema can also be repaired quickly with tape and weighs less than half as much as SilNylon. While seen as an obvious advantage for utilization in backpacking tents, its major drawback is its expense.