11 Best Ultralight Backpacking Tents - Appalachian Trail 2017 - Greenbelly Meals

11 Best Ultralight Backpacking Tents | Appalachian Trail 2017

Here are the best ultralight backpacking tents on the market.
Tested and written by Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers.

best lightweight backpacking tents


Your Tent Requirements...

Lightweight: Keeping your backpacking tent lightweight is extremely important. It is one of the biggest items in your pack and the biggest opportunity to save weight. A light load will minimize the impact on your knees and your back. You also want to enjoy your hike without the heavy moaning and groaning. The term "ultralight" is somewhat novel to first-time backpackers and might seem like the extreme end of the spectrum.

Ultralight is becoming the new standard for ALL backpackers though. You don't have to sacrifice comfort, space and durability for a compact and ultralight backpacking tent anymore. The small technical brands have grown into industry leaders and the former industry leaders have desperately adapted to shave their gear weight. As a rule of thumb...

1-person tent should be around 2 pounds.

A 2-person tent should be below 3 pounds.

Lightweight and Compact Shelter

Enough Space: You are going to be outside hiking around most of the time so don't stress too much about getting a luxurious tent palace. However, you don't want the dreaded coffin bivvy-like tent. Waiting all day for a storm to pass in a tiny cocoon can be miserable. You want a tent large enough to comfortably lay down in with a few inches above your head and below your feet. You also want a ceiling height with at least a couple feet above your face to read or (semi) sit up inside. 

Length: A 6 foot man (70 inches) needs at least 78 inches.

Height: Nothing below 30 inches. Ideally above 36 inches.

Easy Entry and Exit: Some tents are shaped like a tee-pee pyramid, others more like half-spherical igloos, and some like rectangular prisms. Mostly a matter of personal preference.

My big thing is pole location. I find side panel doors are usually easier to roll in and out of than front panel doors. Some tent designs have the pole sticking straight up in the middle of the tent. I specifically chose NOT to include any shelters like that on this list. Just keep in mind where the support frame for your tent is located.

Minimal Guylines and Poles: Tents designed with several poles generally maximize more space. However, more poles means more things to setup, more things to manage and more things with the potential to break.

I vote less poles and less guylines - prioritize a simple design. Simple designs are not only easy to setup, but are generally more durable. The more awkward and less aerodynamic your tent is, the less likely it is to handle a heavy storm or fast winds.

(Ideally) a Bathtub Floor:  Your tent will have two types of fabrics: a tarp-like fabric used to repel water and a mesh-like fabric used to block out bugs and enable ventilation. A bathtub floor means the tarp-like fabric lines the floor and at least a few inches above the ground before it meets the mesh walls. This mini tarp-like ‘bathtub’ can be helpful to prevent heavy rains from pouring in. Fortunately, bathtub floors have become standard in the best backpacking tents.

Things to Consider...

1) Should I get a Freestanding or Non-Freestanding tent? 

Freestanding tents come with a framework of poles to stand 100% (or mostly) upright. They still use stakes and guylines for stability, but are not reliant on them to stand. The advantages:

●  Setup Anywhere. Soft surfaces (ex: a loose, sandy beach) or on hard surfaces (ex: a rocky summit) where stakes are ineffective.

●  Very Stable. More metal means more stability against strong wind, heavy snow, etc.

●  Easy and Fast Setup. The metal frame is usually very fast and easy to setup. They do not require intricate webbings of guylines to adjust nor numerous stakes to tie down.

Non-freestanding tents require guylines and stakes to stand and usually utilize your trekking poles (instead of poles designed exclusively for the tent). This means you must carry trekking poles. Not a problem for most hikers, but worth considering. The advantages:

●  Lightweight. Without tent poles, these puppies can almost get down to a scant pound.

●  Compact. Again, without tent poles, you will have more space in your pack.

●  Affordable. Non-freestanding tents usually cost less. After all, those poles cost money honey. 

2) What is the difference between Nylon and Dyneema (formerly 'Cuben Fiber') material? 

Silnylon and Dyneema are the most common types of materials used for backpacking tent fabrics. Both are great for their intended function - repelling the elements. There are some differences to note though.

●  Dyneema (Cuben Fiber) is a high-tech fabric that looks (and feels) like it was meant for space exploration. It is great for it's strength-to-weight ratio. It will weigh less and be a little stronger than it's silnylon rival.

●  Silnylon is much, much MUCH more affordable. Generally, a rip-stop nylon tent will cost half as much as a Dyneema tent.

Silnylon (left) and Dyneema (right)

3) What are the advantages of a Single Walled vs a Double Walled tent? 

As mentioned, there are two types of wall fabrics: 1) a tarp-like rain fly used as a barrier and 2) a mesh-like wall used an enclosure to keep out bugs. A single walled shelter is usually only the tarp-like wall. A double walled shelter is usually the combination of both the tarp-like wall AND the mesh-like wall.

●  Single walled tents are light, fast and compact. Without that extra wall, these can get reeeally light.

●  Double walled tents are usually 100% dry because their extra wall shields that condensation build up from dripping inside the interior... and on you... and on your precious gear.

4) Do I need a 1 or 2 person tent? 

If you are hiking with a partner, you will need a 2 person tent. You can efficiently split up the weight of the shelter with each other. Also, you can always still go solo with a 2 person tent if need be.

1 person tents are ideal for long-distance backpacking where shaving every little ounce counts. My tent from the Appalachian Trail was a 1 person tent and I would recommend the same for anyone thru-hiking. I have squeezed 2 people in it, but would not recommend that much congestion.

Big Agnes

FlyCreek HV UL1 and UL2

best lightweight backpacking tents - big agnes

Weight: 2 lb 1 oz 

Space Dimensions: 
86 in (l) x 38 in max (w) x 38 in max (h) 
20 sq foot floor

$349.95 for 1-person
$389.95 for 2-person

Why It's Awesome:
When it comes to ultralight freestanding tents, Big Agnes is the gold standard. Their tents are beautifully designed, durable and light enough to compete with non-freestanding tents.

The FlyCreek HV UL model is an upgrade from the former FlyCreek UL. "HV" stands for "high volume". Meaning it's walls are more vertically designed and provide 25% more space inside the tent.

This tent really shines in design. The three sections of poles are all connected and collapse into a single 10 inch-long bundle. The double wall design is superior - the ripstop nylon rain fly keeps you dry in the heaviest of rains, while the mesh tent is airy enough to ventilate all potential condensation. There are only a handful of guylines to stake down which makes setup a breeze. Each guyline also comes with reflectors to prevent from tripping over at night. The front vestibule is one of the most spacious on this list - plenty big enough to store your pack(s) under.

To get real nit picky... I would like to see a more secure internal overhead pocket. I've had a few headlamps fall on my face at night because of this. Note the HV is not 100% freestanding either - the footbed needs to be staked out.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear

Echo II

best lightweight backpacking tents - hyperlite mountain gear

Weight: 1 lb 13.9 oz

Space Dimensions: 
84 in (l) x 52 in max (w) x 41 in (h)
24 sq ft floor

$695.00 for 2-person

Why It's Awesome:
Hyperlite Mountain Gear (HMG) has grown into an ultralight industry leader. They are cuben fiber patriots and make some of the best thru-hiking gear on the market.

They only make two shelter models, but their Echo II is a double walled fortress. Most tents are shaped like a "V" and taper the foot area a lot. This leaves just a small amount of room for those soar and steamy feet breath. Not the Echo II. It's interior is like a big rectangular box with plenty of room for 2.

My favorite thing about the Echo II is how easily separable the tarp and the insert are. They can both function fully independent from one another which is a rare and much appreciated feature. Depending on your backpacking trip conditions, this option of either the tarp or the insert, provides a lot of flexibility.  The beak is a well designed removable vestibule capable of storing a large amount of gear as well.

This sexy thing comes with a big price tag - the most expensive on the list. If you are willing to spend the money though, the Echo II is one of the best ultralight shelter systems on the market.


Hornet 1 and 2

best lightweight backpacking tents - NEMO

Weight: 2 lb 0 oz 

Space Dimensions: 
87 in (l) x 40 in max (w) x 40 in max (h)
21 sq ft floor

$319.95 for 1-person
$369.95 for 2-person

Why It's Awesome:
NEMO has created an ultralight powerhouse. The Hornet is the lightest freestanding tent on the list... AND has the most spacious floor. It is truly an engineering accomplishment to get something this light and this roomy.

One of my favorite things is the side door. Usually only seen in 2+ person tents, a side door is much easier and more practical to get in and out of than a front door. Front doors often feel like you are crawling out on all fours through a tunnel before you can stand up. You can almost just roll out of the Hornet.

The fly almost touches the ground in the Hornet as well. This means you can really block out a cold wind if need be. From the zippers to the stuff sack, all aspects of this tent just feel quality. Yes... I know, I really love the stuff sack. It comes with two compartments - one for the tent and one for the fly. Simply put, this tent is awesome and a personal favorite.

The vestibule is skinny leaving you only enough room to stand your pack upright vertically and the side door could open up a bit wider.


ProTrail and MoTrail

best lightweight backpacking tents - tarptent

Weight: 1 lb 10 oz

Space Dimensions: 
84 in (h) x 42 in max (l) x 45 in max (h)
21 sq ft floor

$225.00 for 1-person
$259.00 for 2-person

Why It's Awesome:
Tarptent is the king of silnylon, non-freestanding tents. Instead of a complete shelter system, Tarptent helped pioneer the use of a tarp as a minimalist tent. Their brand name "tarptent" stuck as a category description and has spawned a whole wave of minimalist backpacking shelters.

The ProTrail (and MoTrail) is an ultralight bunker. Using a thick 30D silnylon, this shelter is extremely durable. Because it uses silnylon (instead of cuben fiber) and does not come with poles, this shelter is extremely affordable and packs down to nothing. For a non-freestanding tent, the ProTrail is as easy as it gets to setup. It requires very few stake down points - not even one for the front guyline. With a ceiling height of 45 inches, it is also extremely spacious.

This single walled shelter has good ventilation. The unique feature of the tent is the tensioned internal mesh screen that helps protect you and your gear from contact with the potentially wet wall.


FlyLite 2

best lightweight backpacking tents - msr

Weight: 2 lb 4 oz

Space Dimensions: 
82 in (l) x 55 in max (w) x 44 in max (h)
29 sq ft floor

$349.95 for 2-person

Why It's Awesome:
The MSR Flylite design is sleek... and rather unique. It really shines as a spacious 2 man tent palace. The massive front door opening is fantastic. There are no poles blocking the entrance nor a front vestibule with zippers to slow you down. This is a true 2-person shelter - meaning you and your partner can feel comfortable setting up your sleeping pads and sleeping bags with plenty of wiggle room. While this tent is not freestanding, it does come with a rear pole for additional support and a minimal amount of guylines and stakes for fast setup.

If you chose to keep the front mesh wall open, then there is plenty of ventilation in this single walled tent. However, in cold weather, you will want to fully zip up that front wall which can increase condensation. The front middle part of the roof has been reported to sag in heavy rains.

Sea to Summit

Specialist Solo and Duo

best lightweight backpacking tents - sea to summit

Weight: 1 lb 6 oz

Space Dimensions: 
84 in (l) x 36 in max (w) x 37 in (h)
14.5 sq ft floor

$429.00 for 1-person

Why It's Awesome:
Sea to Summit really stepped into the ultralight market with the Specialist Solo and Duo. Known for making all sorts of quality and lightweight backpacking gear (from sleeping pads to sporks), Sea to Summit has done a great job creating this minimalist shelter.

The Specialist is the lightest nylon shelter on this list. This thing is for light, simple and fast backpacking. It packs down nearly to the size of a Nalgene bottle and will help save a LOT of space in your pack. The tent comes with some mini 6-inch poles which provide loft at the floor base. These "poles" are supported by individual guylines from the top and bottom which join at the stake and subsequently, help consolidate the number of stake down points. The Specialist is extremely fast and easy to setup, especially for a non-freestanding tent.

The Specialist is the smallest shelter on the list - with a narrow toe box of only 11 inches. The single wall construction provides adequate ventilation as a 3 season tent, but can create condensation on the interior walls in winter. I always recommend using a groundcloth with any tent. With the thin 15D nylon material of the Specialist though, a ground cloth is absolutely necessary for an extended trip.

YAMA Mountain Gear

1P and 2P Cirriform DW

best lightweight backpacking tents - YAMA Mountain Gear

Weight: 1 lb 12.8 oz

Space Dimensions: 
84 in (h) x 34 in (w) x 40 in max (h)
17.2 sq ft floor

$315.00 for 1-person
$375.00 for 2-person

Why It's Awesome:
Founded by thru-hiker Gen Shimizu, YAMA Mountain is one of the only tent companies that makes BOTH nylon and cuben fiber tents... and even some hybrids. This specific Cirriform design above is silnylon (see cuben fiber models here).

The Cirriform is a non-freestanding shelter made with thick 30D ripstop nylon fly and floor. Similar to the HMG Echo II, the Cirriform has a rather rectangular design complete with two trekking poles for support at front front entrance and rear footbed. The 2-person version is a bit roomier than the Echo II though. This double walled shelter is a great option for a spacious backpacking tent with a lot of breathability.

This shelter requires adjusting a lot guylines for optimal tension and an extra effort with the stake down points.


Solplex and Duplex

best lightweight backpacking tents - ZPacks

Weight: 15.5 oz

Space Dimensions: 
90 in (1) x 30 in (w) x 48 in (h)
21 sq ft floor

$555.00 for 1-person
$599.00 for 2-person

Why It's Awesome:
For anyone looking to get your pack weight down to an absolute minimum amount of weight, the ZPacks Solplex (or 2-person Duplex at 1 lb 5 oz) is for you. Take a look at that weight again... 15.5 oz. My water bottle weighs more than that! Simply put, this is as light as it gets folks. Besides dominating everyone else on weight, these are truly amazing shelters. They are durable, pack tiny, have high interior ceilings and big side-doors for easy access. 

ZPacks is often compared to Hyperlite Mountain Gear. These two brands are the ultralight leaders of cuben fiber non-freestanding tents. If the ZPack's Duplex weighs less AND costs less than the HMG Echo II... easy decision, right? Not so fast. While the Duplex still has a lot of ventilation, the roof is single walled. The single wall also means that the tarp and tent insert are inseparable. Some people find the design a little awkward as well requiring a lot of stakes and guylines. It all comes down to your priorities - weight... or design and simplicity.

Mountain Hardwear

Ghost UL1 and UL2

best lightweight backpacking tents - mountain hardwear

Weight: 2 lb 1 oz

Space Dimensions: 
80.5 in (l) x 25 in (w) x 33.5 in (h) 
16 sq ft floor

$299.97 for 1-person
$399.97 for 2-person

Why It's Awesome:
Mountain Hardwear has really stepped up their tent game. The Ghost is ultralight, 100% freestanding, easy to setup and double walled for maximum breath ability. There are few tents in this weight range that do not need guylines to support their footbed. The Ghost is complete with 20D ripstop nylon fabric and super airy mesh walls. There is a small front vestibule to store your gear and minimal guylines for fast setup.

The Ghost is small - several inches shorter and narrower than other freestanding tents on this list. It's vestibule is smaller too. Still big enough to store your pack, but not much more.

Six Moon Designs

Lunar Solo LE and Lunar Duo

best lightweight backpacking tents - Six Moon Designs

Weight: 1 lb 14 oz (w/o stakes)

Space Dimensions: 
90 in (l) x 48 in (w) x 48 in (h)
31 sq ft floor

$210.00 for 1-person
$310.00 for 2-person

Why It's Awesome:
Six Moon Designs (SMD) has been making ultralight gear for over 15 years and the founder is a 2-time thru-hiker (Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail). SMD is known for non-freestanding nylon shelters.

The Lunar Solo LE is a great ultralight tent for several reasons. First, it can be setup with a single trekking pole. Second, for just over $200, this tent is as affordable as it gets for a high quality shelter. Third, you can sit inside completely upright with several inches to spare. How about that for a roomy 1-person shelter? Also, check out it's lighter brother model (Lunar Solo) to shave a few ounces.

For a single walled shelter without any tent poles or any stakes, I would like for it to be lighter. If you want a roomy shelter for a good price, this is a great choice though.


Force 1P and 2P

best lightweight backpacking tents - Marmot

Weight: 2 lb 14 oz 

Space Dimensions: 
85 in (l) x 40 in max (w) x 36 in max (h)
22 sq ft floor

$208.99 for 1-person
$369.95 for 2-person

Why It's Awesome:
Marmot Force is the best 'lightweight' freestanding tent on the market. Notice I did not say 'ultralight'. Most ultralight 1 person tents should hover around the 2 lb range. The Force is nearly a whole pound heavier than other options. So why consider it? Well... it is affordable. For around $200, you can get a fantastic tent complete with all of the best features - double walls, superb ventilation, side panel doors, 100% freestanding and roomy floor space. The additional weight is mainly due to the freestanding tent poles and thicker fabric. Most ultralight tents use a 15D or 20D fabric. The Marmot Force uses a 30D ripstop nylon material. This is a huge plus for anyone prioritizing durability and insulation over ultralight. 

My only real complaint is the pole design. While not overly complex, there are a couple extra poles to setup.

chris cage greenbelly

By Chris Cage
Chris launched Greenbelly Meals in 2014 after thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail for 6 months. Since then, Greenbelly has been written up by everyone from Backpacker Magazine and Bicycling Magazine to Fast Company and Science Alert. He recently wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail and currently works from his laptop all over the globe.

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