Published: July 1, 2021
© Photo by B.M.A.C Adventure
3-person tents are popular because they can be a sweet spot for dual adventurers. Big enough to enjoy with car camping luxuries while still light enough to take out on backpacking trips.
In this post, we’ll break down important considerations when choosing a 3-person tent and review popular models to help you make the best choice.
|Minimum Weight||Floor Area||Freestanding||Price|
|Zpacks Triplex||21.9 oz||37.50 ft||N||$749|
|Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3||3 lbs 14 oz||41 ft||Y||$500|
|Mountain Hardwear Aspect 3 Tent||4 lbs 2.1 oz||41.25 sq ft||Y||$480|
|MSR Mutha Hubba NX 3 Tent||5 lbs||39 sq. ft||Y||$550|
|Nemo Dagger 3||3 lbs 5 oz||31.3 sq ft||Y||$530|
|Sea to Summit Telos TR3||4 lbs 3.8 oz||39.5 sq ft||Y||$600|
|REI Co-op Half Dome SL 3||4 lbs 13 oz||48.75 sq ft||Y||$329|
|Marmot Limelight 3P||6 lbs 11oz||42.5 sq ft||Y||$322|
|The North Face Eco Trail 3||6 lbs 11 oz||39 ft||Y||$300|
|Ozark Trail 3-person Dome tent||5.64 lbs||N/K||Y||$40|
There is no official size that distinguishes a 2-person from a 3-person tent.
Roughly speaking, the sleeping capacity is determined by how many standard sleeping pads can fit inside the tent, with minimal extra space. 3-person tents will fit two people comfortably but can be a tight fit for three people.
There are two factors to consider when evaluating the size of a tent:
1. Floor Area: When comparing tent sizes, the first spec to look at is tent area. This is the length and width at ground level.
If you’re car camping and want to use a larger, queen size air mattress, make sure to choose a tent that can accommodate the 60” by 80” size.
The North Face Eco Trail 3 without its rainfly
2. Peak Height: the height of the tent at its maximum point. This is usually in the middle of the tent, but depending on the tent construction can be at either end.
You’ll want 36” to 40” to sit up straight and 48” or more to kneel inside your tent. A taller peak height can make a smaller tent area feel roomier.
If you're bringing your furry friend into the backcountry they’ll need space to sleep too. Size them the same you would a person.
If you’re two people closely counting the ounces and don’t mind sacrificing a bit of space, go for a 2-person tent.
If looking for extra space and comfort, sleeping three people, or mostly car camping, go for a 3-person tent.
Weight: 21.9 oz
Floor Area: 37.50 ft
Who will love it: The Triplex is designed for long-haul ultralight trips and delivers on that promise. If you refuse to compromise on both weight and size, this is your tent.
If you’re after one of the lightest 3-person tents the Triplex has you covered. Weighing 1lbs 6oz, stakes not included, the two-door Triplex is the ultralighters dream. It’s made of Dyneema, an ultralight, super strong, waterproof material. At 60” by 90”, it's the smallest 3-person tent in this review, making it a squeeze for three people. With a peak height of 48” and vertical sidewalls it has a more roomy feeling than you might expect for its size. The Triplex uses slightly thicker fabric for the floor than other Dyneema tents adding extra durability. Though the specs are eye-popping, there are drawbacks to this tent. Dyneema tents do not come cheap and you’ll need to factor in buying at least 8 stakes as well. Like all single-walled tents, condensation is an issue. As a non-freestanding tent, it pitches with two trekking poles. Setup requires a bit more practice and time to get a tight pitch.
Weight: 3 lbs 14 oz
Floor Area: 41 ft
Who will love it: The backpacking couple wanting a roomy, comfortable freestanding tent while still being ultralight.
The Copper Spur HV UL3 is a two-door tent made of ripstop nylon with a polyurethane coating. It’s the lightest freestanding tent in our review, with a packed weight of 3lbs 14oz. To achieve this, the footprint of this tent is on the smaller side of other 3-person freestanding tents, measuring 90” long and 70” wide at the head and 62” at the foot. The tapered foot can feel a little snug, especially if you’re trying to fit three people. The peak height of 43” is average, giving you enough room to sit up. The overhead and pockets at the foot are giant. The foot pocket is big enough to stuff your sleeping bag in hot weather! Another unique feature of this tent is the vestibule design. By opening the vestibules up and using two trekking poles you can create an awning-like entry. This provides more shade in the sun and more shelter in light rain. The vestibules, when zipped up, are on the smaller side, just fitting a pack and a pair of shoes.
Weight: 4 lbs 2.1 oz
Floor Area: 41.25 sq ft
Who will love it: Backpackers who want a lightweight roomy tent with superior environmental credentials.
The Aspect 3 is a two-door tent with a packed weight of 4lbs 2oz. It’s designed to hold its own with similar tents in its class like the Copper Spur HV UL3 and the Nemo Dagger 3 and it achieves that goal. The floor dimensions of 90” by 68” and a peak height of 43” are similar to other 3-person models. The floor is constructed from 40D ripstop nylon, thicker than other backpacking tents which opt for 30D or 20D. This adds durability but also weight. What sets the Aspect 3 apart is its focus on sustainability. The tent body and rainfly aren’t treated with the fire retardant chemicals that many tents are. These chemicals have been linked to many health problems, including cancer. A bonus to not using these chemicals is it allows Mountain Hardware to apply silicone to both sides of the rainfly. This adds more water repellency and UV protection. Another plus, the poles don’t use harmful acids in the anodizing process.
Weight: 5 lbs
Floor Area: 39 sq. ft
Who will love it: Backpackers who want a lightweight tent that’s super roomy for hanging out in.
The Mutha Hubba is a tunnel style tent. Instead of crisscrossed “X” poles to form the structure, it uses two hoops connected with a long central pole to create a tunnel shape. The shape means the 44” peak height runs the long way of the tent. This gives it a very roomy feel despite the slightly smaller 84” by 68” footprint. The tunnel shape puts the doors and vestibules at the head and feet vs the sides. Due to less mesh on the tent body and the tunnel shape, condensation can be more of an issue. The packed weight of 4lbs 13oz is light enough for backpacking but it’s not the lightest in its price class. The 20D ripstop nylon on the fly and 30D on the floor is standard for backpacking tents. MSR uses their proprietary “Xtreme Shield” polyurethane coating to give the tent extra waterproofing. If you want pockets, the Mutha Hubba has you covered with two large overhead pockets and four corner pockets.
Weight: 3 lbs 5 oz
Floor Area: 31.3 sq ft
Who will love it: Those looking for one tent that balances weight and space for both backpacking and car camping.
At a packed weight of 4lbs 5oz and a 90” by 70” footprint, the Dagger 3 achieves a balance of size and weight great for both car camping and backpacking. The straight sidewalls add to the usable space inside the tent. It features two doors and two larger than average vestibules along with built-in mesh pockets that give you plenty of room for storing gear. Ventilation in the Dagger is good due to the large amounts of mesh on the body. Though a touch heavier than the Copper Spur HV UL3 and Aspect 3, the extra floor space means you can sleep three much easier. If you want to go lux, you can (just) fit a queen size air mattress inside when car camping. The Dagger 3 peak height is a bit shorter than average providing only 41” headroom. The rainfly and body are made of 15D ripstop nylon, a bit thinner than other tents.
Weight: 4 lbs 3.8 oz
Floor Area: 39.5 sq ft
Who will love it: A camping couple wanting maximum ventilation in warm conditions and lots of headroom.
The engineers at Sea to Summit take ventilation seriously. Telos TR3 body is designed almost entirely of mesh and the rainfly has large roof vents to let air escape. There are also a number of ways to pitch the rainfly for increased ventilation and stargazing. The shape of the tent is a tapered design, 71” wide at the head and 58” wide at the foot and 90.5” long giving it less overall floor area than other tents. With the taper, squeezing in three people is a bit optimistic. Sea to Summit makes up for this by having a generous peak height of 52.5”. Using their Tension Ridge system the center pole slopes upward further increasing interior space. At 4lbs 10oz, it is heavier than other similar tents, especially for the smaller floor space. The 15D ripstop nylon on the rainfly and 20D ripstop nylon on the floor makes this a thin tent compared to the rest.
Weight: 4 lbs 13 oz
Floor Area: 48.75 sq ft
Who will love it: Budget-conscious backpackers who want the most space possible.
The Half Dome SL 3 is a behemoth. With floor dimensions of 90” by 78” and two large vestibules this is a big tent that you can still take backpacking. It also has vertical sidewalls increasing the already roomy interior. The packed weight of 5lbs 12oz might make ultralighters cringe, but if you leave the included footprint at home you can save 12.5oz. If camping in the frontcountry you can fit a queen-size air mattress in here no problem. This is a durable tent featuring a 40D ripstop nylon floor and a 30D ripstop nylon rainfly. It also scores sustainability points by containing materials that meet the bluesign® criteria. The REI line is known for doing a good job balancing cost and features and the Half Dome SL 3 is no exception. A great price point for those new to backpacking or if you’re on a budget. The trade off is the weight and the packed size can’t match more expensive models.
Weight: 6 lbs 11oz
Floor Area: 42.5 sq ft
Who will love it: Car campers who want a spacious tent that also doesn’t break the bank.
The design of the Limelight 3P is best described as cabin-like. All four walls are vertical for the first third of their height and the two sidewalls are vertical the whole way up. This, along with the peak height of 48” makes this a very spacious tent, despite the average 90” by 68” size. Marmot calls this a backpacking tent, but let's be honest, at a packed weight of 6lbs 11oz only the brave will take it far from the car. The Limelight used robust and durable 68D polyester taffeta fabric. It also includes a tent footprint for even more protection. The higher headroom and walls will allow for a queen size air mattress to fit in as well. The two doors are of different sizes. The larger, teardrop style door, can be tucked into a pocket at the foot of the door when unzipped. This is a similar price to the Half Dome SL 3, which makes it an affordable option.
Weight: 6 lbs 11 oz
Floor Area: 39 ft
Who will love it: Environmentally minded car campers looking for a durable tent.
Very few tents on the market are made of recycled materials and the Eco Trail 3 is one of them. Hats off to The North Face for designing the floor, canopy, and rainfly to be made from fully recycled polyester. This two-door, two vestibule tent is the heaviest on our list with a packed weight of 7lbs 6oz. It’s not going to venture far from the car. Its smaller 89” by 63” footprint also means fitting a queen size air mattress inside would be tough. It makes up for a smaller footprint with a taller than average 46” peak height and straight sidewalls adding interior space. The floor, fly, and body are all thick, 75D, recycled polyester with a polyurethane coating making this a very durable tent, great for bringing pets.
Weight: 5.64 lbs
Floor Area: N/K
Who will love it: Those on a very tight budget and newcomers to camping.
Ozark trail is an extremely budget-friendly tent, costing about the same as a good burger and a couple of beers. The large 84” by 84” footprint means lots of space to stretch out and will easily sleep three people. It is also designed to fit a queen size air mattress. It feels less roomy than the floor plan would indicate because of the curved walls. This single-door tent has very little mesh for ventilation. Condensation can be an issue and it can get stuffy in warm temperatures. The rainfly is small and does not extend to the ground, leaving the door and back of the tent exposed in poor weather. A couple of features unique to this tent are a built-in E-Port for running power cables and a built-in mud mat at the entry. Given the price point, this tent is ideal for introducing children and pets to camping. In good weather conditions, it’s hard to beat the Ozark Trail’s price and simplicity for car camping.
DOORS: SINGLE-DOOR TENTS ARE LESS CONVENIENT, ALTHOUGH CHEAPER AND LIGHTER
In single-door tents, the door is placed on the front of the tent. One door can mean crawling over your sleeping companions in the night. In some designs, the peak height of the tent is near the door allowing for a larger vestibule area.
Two-door tents come with the advantage of separate entryways, causing less disturbance at night. For many campers sharing a tent, this factor alone will end the discussion of one vs two doors.
Two-door tents also provide better ventilation by allowing you to open both sides of the rainfly to create a cross breeze.
On the other hand, single door tents are cheaper to construct as fewer cuts and zippers are needed. They also save weight by only having one vestibule.
Typical layout of a 3-person tent.
VESTIBULE AREA: SIZE MATTERS, AND SO DOES LOCATION
A vestibule is a covered area outside of the door of your tent. They are not sealed in like the body of your tent. Their goal is to provide cover for storing gear and add space outside the body of your tent.
In fair weather conditions, they can be left open to provide airflow into the tent. In poor weather, they increase the livability of a tent by giving you extra covered space for changing or spreading out gear.
If you’re traveling with a dog, vestibules also are a great space to keep your pet close but not inside your tent.
Vestibules on single entry tents tend to be larger, giving you more space to store gear.
Front vestibules can make entry and exit slightly awkward if they are too large, making it hard to reach the zipper from inside your tent.
Side vestibules are typically smaller and on two-door tents. They allow individual vestibule space to prevent crowding. Alternatively, you can choose to load up one side with gear and keep the other door free for entry and exit.
Large vestibule, held up by two trekking poles. (North Face Eco Trail 3)
FREESTANDING VS NON-FREESTANDING: MOST 3-PERSON TENTS ARE FREESTANDING
Freestanding tents hold their shape without using stakes and come complete with tent poles, while non-freestanding tents are not able to stand on their own and usually require trekking poles to set up.
While most 3-person tents are freestanding, if you’re pounding out long days on the trail and counting ounces, using a non-freestanding tent is a good pick for you (see Zpacks Triplex).
REI Half-Dome SL3 double-wall tent
VENTILATION: SINGLE VS DOUBLE-WALL TENTS
Without adequate ventilation, condensation can build up in the tent and limit the performance of your gear (eg. down sleeping bags will lose the ability to fully loft making them less effective).
Condensation forms when warm air from inside the tent comes in contact with the cooler fabric of your rainfly. Good ventilation moves the warmer, humid air out of the tent before it has the chance to condense.
Tent design plays an important part in this air exchange.
Double-walled tents (ie. tents with a separate body and rainfly) are more effective against condensation. The body is partly made of mesh making them more breathable. The extra room between the body and the rainfly allows space for air to escape the tent structure.
In single-wall tents, the body and rainfly are combined into a single layer of material. This means less mesh and less area for warm air to escape, making condensation more problematic.
To prevent condensation:
Marmot Limelight 3P double-wall tent.
STORAGE POCKETS: USEFUL FOR CAMPING, NOT SO MUCH FOR BACKPACKING
Many tents come with in-built storage pockets to help you store and organize your gear. These pockets are a handy place to keep easy to access items, like a headlamp, glasses, or phone.
If you’re spending multiple nights in the same camping spot or traveling with more gear, they allow you to unpack in a more organized way.
If you’re not spending a lot of time in the tent, or packing up daily on a backpacking trip, they are less necessary.
Are you backpacking, car camping, or both? Your primary use will be a critical factor in determining the tent model you choose. For backpacking, lightweight and durability are primary considerations. For car camping, size and comfort are more important.
WEIGHT: KEEP IT UNDER 5 LBS
When researching tents it’s important to know the difference between packed and trail weight.
Packed weight is the weight of everything that comes with the tent when purchased.
Trail weight, or minimum weight, is the manufacturer’s weight of minimum components needed to set up the tent in the best case scenario.
In practice, you won’t take everything in the packed weight, but the trail weight may not be realistic when planning for adverse conditions. The actual weight of the tent you throw in your pack will likely fall between these two numbers.
If you are car camping, weight isn’t a critical factor to consider.
If you’re backpacking, the more intense your trip is, the more you’ll want to shed weight. On easier trips with more time in the tent, more weight can be worth the extra comfort gained.
A weight of five pounds is a good number to target. Tent setups over this weight start to become too heavy and too bulky to be practical for backpacking.
PACKABILITY: SHARE THE LOAD WITH YOUR TENT MATES
Packed size is important, especially if your main use is backpacking.
Packs are normally sized by volume in liters. A smaller packed tent means more space for other gear or the ability to use a smaller and lighter backpack.
If you’re sharing the tent with another person you can distribute volume (and weight!) between each other. For example, one person can take the tent body and poles while another can take the rainfly and stakes.
Wide front door and several pockets for storage.
TENT MATERIAL: NYLON VS. DYNEEMA
The material a tent is made of greatly affects weight, durability, and weatherproofing. Nylon and polyester are measured in “denier” or how thick the fabric is. Often tents have multiple deniers. Thicker in high abrasion areas and thinner in areas that need less protection.
Nylon: most commly used materila.
*: This can be addressed by tightening up the rainfly periodically at camp and by keeping your water-resistant coating in top shape.
Dyneema (formally Cuben Fiber): ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene.
Ceiling vent helps reduce the condensation inside the tent.
WALL CONSTRUCTION: 3-SEASON VS 4-SEASON TENT
3-season tents: designed to be lighter weight, breathable and versatile.
4-season tents: designed for cold weather camping.
TENT ACCESSORIES: FOOTPRINT, STAKES, GUYLINES, AND REPAIR KITS
There is no shortage of accessories to modify and customize your tent. Some tents come with them, others don't. Keep this in mind and budget for them when you're choosing new tent.
1. Footprint: a footprint is a sheet of protective material placed under your tent giving an extra layer of material against abrasive ground and in wet conditions. Many tents offer specially fitted footprints that can be purchased separately. A cheaper, basic version is the classic blue tarp.
2. Stakes: tent stakes are easy items to swap to save weight. Many types of material are used from ultralight titanium to rugged steel. There are also special stakes made for pitching on sand and snow. Not all tents come packaged with stakes.
3. Guylines: guylines are extra sets of thin cords that add stability in windy conditions. Each guyline needs its own additional stake. Bonus points if your guyline is reflective, preventing tripping over them at night.
4. Repair kit: There are specially made patch kits for mending holes in the tent fabric, fixing broken poles, and stopping leaks. If you’re in a pinch duct tape, as always, works wonders.
WATERPROOFING AND SUN-PROOFING
Does your tent need waterproofing? The answer depends. If you plan on shelling out the big bucks for a Dyneema tent, you can skip this section.
Materials like nylon and polyester, on the other hand, absorb water.
Most tents come with a pre-applied water-resistant coating. However, over time, UV exposure, dust, and dirt build-up will reduce your tent's ability to shed water.
If you’re often pitching your tent in high UV areas like deserts, on snow, and at high elevations, UV damage can be an issue. UV diminishes the waterproofing and strength of nylon and polyester fabric.
In order to minimize UV damage:
📸 Some photos in this post were taken by Jonathan Davis (@meowhikes).
By Justin Sprecher (aka "Semisweet"): Semisweet is a Wisconsin-based thru-hiker, adventurer and digital storyteller. You can find him exploring the upper midwest on foot, in a canoe and on a bike.
About Greenbelly: After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.
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