In this post, we'll guide you in choosing the best backpacking tent for your needs. Because it's one of the largest and heaviest gear items in your pack, a tent has to be lightweight, easy to set up and access, and offer enough room for you to sit up and hang out comfortably in. You'll also want to consider its ability to sustain harsh weather depending on the time and place of your hike.
First we'll dive into the list of backpacking tents that we tested. Then we'll cover some considerations, the types of tents, how to set up a tent, tent maintenance, how to stay warm in a tent, and finally some FAQs.
Table of Contents
|Model||Capacity||Freestanding||Packed Weight||Floor (sq ft)||Floor Denier||Price|
|BIG AGNES Tiger Wall UL||1 or 2||Y||2 lb 3 oz||19||15D Silnylon||$370|
|HYPERLITE MOUNTAIN GEAR Ultamid 2||2||N||1 lb 14 oz||24||1.3 oz||$735|
|NEMO Hornet Elite OSMO||1 or 2||Y||1 lb 13 oz||21.8||0D OSMO Ripstop||$500|
|MSR Hubba Hubba||1 or 2||Y||2 lbs 14 oz||18||20D Silnylon||$410|
|SIX MOON DESIGNS Lunar||1 or 2||N||1 lb 10 oz||31||40D Silnylon||$250|
|BIG AGNES FlyCreek HV UL Solution-Dyed||1 or 2||Y||2 lb 1 oz||20||15D Silnylon||$350|
|TARPTENT ProTrail and MoTrail||1 or 2||N||1 lb 10 oz||21||30D Silnylon||$239|
|GOSSAMER GEAR The One and The Two||1 or 2||N||1 lb 5 oz||18.3||10D Nylon w/ PU coating||$299|
|ZPACKS Plexamid and Duplex||1 or 2||N||15.5 oz||21||1 oz DCF||$549|
|MARMOT Tungsten UL||1 or 2||Y||2 lb 9 oz||19.1||30D Ripstop Nylon||$193|
|SLINGFIN Portal 2||2||Y||2 lb 7 oz||27.5||20D Nylon PE||$490|
|REI CO-OP Quarter Dome SL||1 or 2||Y||2 lb 6 oz||18.9||15D Nylon||$299|
|MOUNTAIN LAUREL DESIGNS Solomid and Duomid||1 or 2||N||1 lb 2 oz||35||20D Silnylon or 0.75 oz DCF||$275|
|SEA TO SUMMIT Alto TR||1 or 2||Y||2 lbs. 1 oz||19.5||15D Ripstop Nylon||$449|
|SIERRA DESIGNS High Route 1 FL||1||N||1 lb 15 oz||16.6||20D Nylon||$300|
Best Backpacking Tents
Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL1 and UL2
Weight: 2 lb 3 oz
84 in (l) x 38 in max (w) x 38 in max (h)
19 sq foot floor
Floor Denier: 15D Silnylon
Why we like it: Near vertical sidewalls give the tent tons of usable space.
Why it's awesome:
Although slightly heavier than its older cousin, the Tiger Wall has some undeniable advantages over the Fly Creek, namely its side doors and vestibules. The side-entry doors make getting in and out of the tent a breeze. And if you're going to be sharing the tent with another person, you'll enjoy the two-door configuration of the Tiger Wall UL2. We also found that the side doors resulted in better ventilation and minimized condensation.
Although the interior space is a bit tight, we appreciate the extra inch of headroom the Tiger Wall provides over the Fly Creek. Moreover, the space that's lost on the inside is gained on the outside, as the Tiger Wall's vestibule is a whole 3 square foot larger. Note the UL2 comes with two side vestibules.
Also check out the Copper Spur HV UL tents. They are slightly heavier but offer more space and come with side doors as well.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 2
Weight: 1 lb 13.9 oz
84 in (l) x 52 in max (w) x 41 in (h)
24 sq ft floor
Floor Denier: 1.3 oz DCF
$735 for 2-person
Why we like it: A true ultralight 4-season tent.
Why it's awesome:
Hyperlite Mountain Gear took the most premium materials available and made a bomber shelter that can handle storms all year round. The pyramid design does require more space to pitch than many other tents, requires 2 poles, and some practice, but once it’s set up it’s a safe haven no matter what the conditions.
With an overhead height of 64” there is ample room to sit up when changing or playing cards while waiting out a storm. The sides of the tent are a bit less useful as the walls slope down, but it’s a great place to stash your gear and keep it out of the way. Overall, it’s more than enough room for 2 people and gear.
While it is incredibly light, it does pack a little larger than some of the other tents as DCF doesn’t compress as much as silnylon. Also, the tent comes in individual pieces, meaning the bug net and floor is sold separately. If you are looking for one tent to rule them all this is great because you can use it without the floor in the winter and then swap in a bug net and floor for the summer.
Nemo Hornet Elite Osmo
Weight: 1 lb 13 oz
87.1 in (l) x 40.2 in max (w) x 36.6 in (h)
21.8 sq ft floor
Floor Denier: 0D OSMO Ripstop
Why we like it: It’s the lightest semi-freestanding tent available.
Why it's awesome:
NEMO has created an ultralight powerhouse. The Hornet Elite is the high-end sibling of the original Hornet... making it one of the lightest freestanding tents on the market.
The Hornet Elite comes with side doors, which is our favorite thing about this ultralight tent. Usually only seen in 2+ person shelters, 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 it has strong weather resistance to help block out any frigid breezes.
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. Not a huge complaint, but could use a little more gear storage and ventilation.
From the zippers to the stuff sack, all aspects of this lightweight backpacking tent just feel quality. Yes... we really love the stuff sack. Simply put, this tent is awesome and one of our favorites.
MSR Hubba Hubba 1 & 2
Weight: 2 lbs 14 oz
85 in (l) x 30 in max (w) x 38 in max (h)
18 sq foot floor
Floor Denier: 20D Silnylon
Why we like it: The best freestanding tent for inclement weather.
Why it's awesome:
The MSR Hubba Hubba is a bombproof shelter for three-season backpacking. It's not the lightest tent on our list, but it is among the most durable. It strikes a nice balance—it’s not too heavy and it’s not too delicate. You can easily shoulder the just-under-three-pounds weight and don’t have worry too much about where you pitch it. The chances of you tearing it are slim.
Its rugged design makes it suitable not only for summer but also for shoulder seasons where you could get some light snow. The mesh sides allow for airflow and protect you from bugs. We especially like the high fabric sides which block the wind and give you some privacy as well.
Our only complaint is the waterproofing on the tent. The tent is coated with the company’s Xtreme Shield waterproofing which effectively blocks the rain. It’s the seams that are the weak point. MSR uses precision-stitched seams which provide some waterproofing but not enough for heavy rains. We recommend seam sealing the tent body and fly before heading out on a long trip.
Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo and Duo
Weight: 1 lb 10 oz (w/o stakes)
90 in (l) x 48 in (w) x 48 in (h)
31 sq ft floor
Floor Denier: 40D Silnylon
Why we like it: The apex poles of the duo make it the most livable non-freestanding tent.
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 is a great ultralight tent for several reasons. First, it can be set up with a single trekking pole. Second, for $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, we would like for it to be lighter. If you want a roomy shelter for a good price, this is a great choice though. Winner of Backpacker Magazine's Editors' Choice Award for 2019.
Big Agnes FlyCreek HV UL1 and UL2 Solution-Dyed
Weight: 2 lb 1 oz
86 in (l) x 38 in max (w) x 38 in max (h)
20 sq foot floor
Floor Denier: 15D Silnylon
Why we like it: Small footprint makes it easy to find a good spot to pitch.
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.
In 2020, Big Agnes redesigned the FlyCreek HV UL (HV stands for "High Volume") which now comes in a solution-dyed fabric with an extra 2 inches of headroom compared with last year's model. The new fabric protects the tent from UV fade and is more sustainable to manufacture.
This lightweight 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 rainfly 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... We would like to see a more secure internal overhead pocket. You don't want headlamps fall on your face at night because of this. Note the HV is not 100% freestanding either—the footbed needs to be staked out.
Tarptent ProTrail and MoTrail
Weight: 1 lb 10 oz
84 in (h) x 42 in max (l) x 45 in max (h)
21 sq ft floor
Floor Denier: 30D Silnylon
Why we like it: Most usable space in a non-freestanding tent.
Why it's awesome:
Tarptent is known to make the best 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 set up. 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, ultralight backpacking tent 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.
Gossamer Gear The One and The Two
Weight: 1 lb 5 oz
88 in (l) x 36 in max (w) x 46 in (h)
18.3 sq ft floor
Floor Denier: 10D Nylon w/ PU coating
Why we like it: Best vestibule space in a non-freestanding tent.
Why it's awesome:
Cheers to Gossamer Gear for making this minimalist beauty. The thing that makes this tent stand out is how truly well-rounded it is. It does an excellent job at NOT having any real flaws. Good weight, good internal space, good price, good ventilation, good vestibule storage... and two side doors. If you're a tall person who wants more headroom and better floor width, The One has got you covered at 88 inches long. It comes factory seam-taped and includes a bathtub floor. Aside from its ultralight quality, its setup is also quite easy and straightforward.
The only potential ding is the fact that it is a non-freestanding shelter and, therefore, is subject to all inherent cons of non-freestanding tents. Not a fair ding in our opinion though. Great overall shelter.
Zpacks Plexamid and Duplex
Weight: 15.5 oz
90 in (1) x 30 in (w) x 48 in (h)
21 sq ft floor
Floor Denier: 1 oz DCF
Why we like it: The lightest tent on our list.
Why it's awesome:
For anyone looking to get their pack weight down to an absolute minimum, the Zpacks Plexamid (or 2-person Duplex at 1 lb 5 oz) is for you. Take a look at that weight again... 15.5 oz. A water bottle weighs more than that! Simply put, this is as light as it gets, folks. Besides being the lightest tent on our list, it is a truly amazing shelter. It's durable, packs tiny, has 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 Dyneema (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.
Marmot Tungsten 1P & 2P UL
Weight: 2 lbs 9 oz
84.5 in (l) x 36 in max (w) x 38 in max (h)
19.1 sq foot floor
Floor Denier: 30D Ripstop Nylon
Why we like it: Durable enough for car camping but light enough to take backpacking.
Why it's awesome:
The Marmot Tungsten 2P is another quality built tent that emphasizes durability over pack weight. It's freestanding tent with two vertical interior walls. It's on the heavy side, but for $239, it's one of the best values you'll find in a backpacking tent.
The Tungsten UL is easy to pitch thanks to the color-coded clips and poles. This scheme takes the guess-work out of which way the tent body and fly attach to the tent poles. It seems like a little thing, but it is extremely helpful when you are trying to set up a tent in heavy rain, wind, or similar adverse conditions. Once it is set up, this tent will weather any storm. It has a bit more mesh than a four-season tent, but its solid structure still will handle the unexpected snowfall.
The two-person version comes with two side doors and two vestibules. Also available as a 3- and 4-person tent.
Slingfin Portal 2
Weight: 2 lb 7 oz
85 in (l) x 51 in max (w) x 44 in max (h)
27.45 sq ft floor
Floor Denier: 20D Nylon PE
$490 for 2-person
Why we like it: The best weight to square footage ratio in a freestanding tent.
Why it's awesome:
The Portal 2 is a high-quality and rather luxurious ultralight tent for 2 persons - 2 wide-open side doors, breathable double walls, and a completely freestanding design. Our favorite thing about it is the attention to detail. It really comes with all the bells and whistles... pockets all over the interior for convenient storage, spacious ceiling, easy minimalist hooks for the rainfly, etc. The zipper tags along the doors even have different colors for you to easily differentiate the interior zip (black) versus the exterior zip (red).
Other than being an overall great tent, the Portal 2 really stands out for its strength and stability. There are several additional features to help the Portal withstand the elements (heavy winds, snow, etc). The rainfly comes with extra attachments along the poles, there is an internal guyline for additional tension, and a Velcro "outrigger" mechanism that allows you to attach your trekking poles for even more support.
Overall, I'd say this is the best lightweight backpacking tent for enduring harsh environments and thus the best 4-season ultralight tent.2-person
REI Co-Op Quarter Dome SL 1 & 2
Weight: 2 lb 6 oz
88 in (l) x 35 in max (w) x 38 in max (h)
18.9 sq foot floor
Floor Denier: 15D Nylon
Why we like it: The easiest tent to set up with color-coded grommets and poles.
Why it's awesome:
The REI Co-op Quarter Dome SL is a roomy tent with space to sit up and stretch out, especially if you are using it as a one-person tent. It also accommodates two people and is not as snug as some of the other ultralight offerings.
The Quarter Dome SL stands up to the elements with no leaks even under the heaviest of rains. And when it rains, the ample vestibule space offers a safe spot for your extra gear. There are plenty of pockets inside for storage.
The REI Co-op Quarter Dome is mid-range in weight. It's not the heaviest tent on the list nor the lightest. It falls right in the middle in all categories, including price. It's a great overall tent—lightweight, freestanding, relatively inexpensive... especially if you have some extra REI member dividends to spend.
Mountain Laurel Designs Solomid and Duomid
Weight: 11-18 oz.
110 in (l) x 58 in max (w) x 56 in max (h)
35-45 sq foot floor
Floor Denier: 20D Silnylon or 0.75oz DCF
Why we like it: The most affordable ultralight shelter.
Why it's awesome:
The Solomid and Duomid are two trekking pole tents from cottage-manufacturer Mountain Laurel Designs. The single-person Solomid has a triangular A-shape with over 35 square feet of living space inside the tent. The Duomid is meant for two people and has a pyramid shape with a roomy 45 square feet. In both tents, the sides slope so you can only sit up towards the center of the tent. Even though you are most comfortable sitting in these tents, the sitting and sleeping space feels luxurious.
Because they are single-walled and use trekking poles to pitch, the Solomid and Duomid are at the extreme end of ultralight weighing only 18 ounces and 14 ounces, respectively. There's no rainfly nor poles to add unnecessary ounces. You also can stuff them easily into your pack. The base model is made of silnylon, but you can switch to Dyneema for $175.
You do have to practice setting up the Solomid and Duomid before you head out into the woods. You need to get the correct pitch so the tent doesn't collapse in the middle of the night. You need to get the correct balance of tension on all sides of the tent. Pull too hard in one direction, and the tent will lean.
Even though it is a single-wall tent, condensation is not much of an issue when the weather is favorable. You can keep the door open and let the tent breathe through the mesh door. On rainy days, when you close the door, air does flow a bit under the edges of the tent, but it can get damp and warm inside if you are not careful.
Sea to Summit Alto TR1 and TR2
Weight: 2 lbs. 1 oz
Space Dimensions: 84.5 in (l) x 42 in (w) x 24 in (h)
19.5 sq foot floor
Floor Denier: 15D Ripstop Nylon
Why we like it: Rolling back the rain fly is great for those uncertain weather nights and decreases condensation.
Why it's awesome:
Making serious waves in the ultralight tent market is Sea to Summit’s new semi-freestanding 3-
season semi-freestanding Alto series. The series features the option of a 1 or 2-person tent, the Alto TR1 and TR 2 (each available in a “plus”, 3+ season version).
The Sea to Summit team created the Alto following three years of research and testing to design a functional yet spacious tent. It features a specialized Tension Ridge pole system with an inverted design that improves ventilation throughout the tent and creates a roomier interior, surpassing the overall space-to-weight ratio of competitors. The Tension Ridge build also makes the tent adaptable to humidity and various climates thanks to its one-of-a-kind adjustable cross ventilation system that includes both a Baseline Vent and Apex Vent.
Another cool feature is the tent's pole sack that can function as a LightBar by attaching a headlamp to the clips, creating a lantern-like ray that will light up the tent’s interior. There’s also an easily adjustable rain fly that has a classic, half-opened, or fully opened mode that’s fit for the stargazers out there.
If you're looking for a freestanding 2- or 3-person tent, check out Sea to Summit's other brand new tent, the Telos.
Sierra Designs High Route 1 FL
Weight: 1 lb 15 oz.
102 in (l) x 42 in max (w) x 40 in max (h)
16.6 sq foot floor
Floor Denier: 20D Nylon
Why we like it: The asymmetrical shape provides easy entry and huge interior headspace.
Why it's awesome:
The High Route 1 FL is a double-wall non-freestanding tent that requires two trekking poles to set up. The offset pole construction provides this tent with two vertical walls and ample interior space. It also makes the High Route more vulnerable to strong winds.
We love the versatility and ease of setup of this one-person shelter. Use it a complete shelter system or save even more weight by using the tarp on its own when conditions allow it. You can set up the High Route from the outside in, meaning the interior will remain dry and cozy even when you have to pitch it up under pouring rain. Although it's easy and fast to set up, its configuration is unconventional, which is why we recommend you use it in your backyard a few times before bringing it out on the trail.
The High Route 1 FL also comes with a gear closet that can easily be accessed through a small half-door located opposite of the main entrance. It allows you to conveniently reach your pack without ever having to leave the tent. The two-door design also offers the tent great ventilation and keeps condensation at bay.
1. ULTRA LIGHTWEIGHT: Keep it as light as comfortably possible.
Keeping your backpacking tent lightweight is extremely important. It is one of the biggest items in your pack and therefore, one of the biggest opportunities 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 lightweight 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...
- A 1-person ultralight tent should be around 2 pounds.
- A 2-person ultralight tent should be below 3 pounds.
2. CLEAN DESIGN: Make sure it has a simple setup and design.
This can be broken down into two things:
Minimal guylines and stakes. Backpacking tents with more complex designs are great for maximizing space, especially in those one-off corners and the ceiling. However, a complex design means more poles and guylines, more things to manage and more things with the potential to break. Non-freestanding tents (more on those below) are notorious for requiring a lot of guylines to setup. We vote for simplicity.
Stable layout. Simple designs are not only faster and easier to set up but are generally more durable. The more awkward and less aerodynamic your backpacking tent is, the less likely it is to handle a heavy storm or fast winds. Some designs are notorious for sagging as well.
3. EASY ENTRY AND EXIT: Make sure it is easy to get in and out of.
Again here, two things to consider:
Frame. 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.
Pole location. Some tent designs have the pole sticking straight up in the middle of the tent. We 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.
Doors. Door count and location is important when choosing a tent, especially when you plan to share the tent with someone else. You can manage with a single door if it's just you and your dog in a tent, but you’ll want two doors if there is more than one person. These doors should be side-opening so you can step right into your space in the tent. Doors at the end of the tent are OK for some, but most people don’t like having to crawl and shimmy into their spot. Single-door tents also require the inside person to climb over their tent-mate when they need to leave the tent on a midnight bathroom run.
4. ADEQUATE HEADSPACE: Consider how much headspace you need.
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 bivy-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.
Look for tents with a spreader bar in the ceiling. These bars expand the headroom area so you can sit up and move around without touching the top of the tent. They add minimal weight, but maximize the space.
Ideally, you want a tent that you can sit up in, but to save weight, you can manage in a smaller tent with a ceiling height that’s a couple of feet above your face. These bivy-style tents, like the Eureka Solitaire, let you read or (semi) sit up inside them.
As a rule of thumb...
- Length: A 6-foot man (72 inches) needs at least 78 inches.
- Height: Nothing below 30 inches. Ideally above 36 inches.
SINGLE VS DOUBLE WALL: What are the advantages of single-walled vs double-walled backpacking tents?
There are two types of wall fabrics: 1) a tarp-like rainfly used as a barrier and 2) a mesh-like wall used as an enclosure to keep out bugs.
A single-walled shelter is usually only the tarp-like wall. Single-walled tents are light, fast and compact. Without that extra wall, these can get reeeally light.
A double-walled shelter is usually the combination of both the tarp-like wall AND the mesh-like wall. 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.
1-PERSON VS 2-PERSON TENT: How much space do I need?
Look carefully at the square footage when choosing a tent and don’t rely on a tent's designation as a 1-person or 2-person tent. Most thru-hikers choose a one-person tent to save weight and money, but these tents can be almost too small. Some single long-distance hikers opt for a two-person tent because it gives them extra space to stretch out and store their gear inside the tent. Other hikers travel with a partner, so a 2-person tent is a must-have.
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. Bear in mind that many ultralight two-person tents have a slim cut that allows you to fit two standard sleeping pads and sleeping bags with room for little else. You might be able to squeeze your hiking shoes inside the tent, but your backpack will have to stay inside the vestibule.
Ultralight 1-person tents are ideal for long-distance backpacking where shaving every little ounce counts. Greenbelly Founder Chris Cage's tent from the Appalachian Trail was a 1-person tent and we would recommend the same for anyone thru-hiking. We have squeezed 2 people in it, but would not recommend that much congestion.
PACKAGED WEIGHT VS TRAIL WEIGHT: What's the difference?
You'll often hear people differentiate two weights when talking about tents—packed weight and trail weight.
Packed weight is the weight of the tent when you purchase it from the manufacturer. It includes stuff sacks, repair kits, tie-downs, and stakes.
Trail weight (sometimes called minimum weight) consists of the essential components like the tent body, rainfly, and the poles. Most people ditch the extra items like the stuff sacks, so trail weight is a better approximation of the weight you will end up carrying in your pack.
BATHTUB FLOOR: Does my tent have a bathtub floor?
As mentioned before, 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.
MATERIAL: What is the difference between Nylon and Dyneema material?
Silnylon and Dyneema (formerly 'Cuben Fiber') 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 its strength-to-weight ratio. It will weigh less and be a little stronger than its silnylon rival.
- Silnylon is much, MUCH more affordable. Generally, a rip-stop nylon tent will cost half as much as a Dyneema tent. To get into the ultralight category, manufacturers often use 10-denier (aka '10D') nylon in their tents. This material needs to be treated carefully so you don't rip them.
Freestanding vs Non-Freestanding Tents
Freestanding tents: These are the more traditional design. Freestanding tents come with a framework of poles specifically designed for that model of tent. These help the tent stand 100% (or mostly) upright—or be "freestanding". They still use stakes and guylines for stability, but are not reliant on them to stand.
✔️ 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.
Slingfin Portal 2 - A personal favorite freestanding tent
Non-freestanding tents: (or "trekking pole tents") Growing in popularity are trekking pole tents that strive to be super-ultralight by ditching the poles in the tent. These assume you will be carrying trekking poles on your backpacking trip. Not a problem for most hikers, but worth considering. The trekking poles are used to support the tent body. They make a sturdy pole for a tent, but they don't bend like a regular tent pole. As a result, these trekking pole tents tend to be more rectangular instead of dome-shaped.
Sliding tent stakes into loops
In addition to your trekking poles, tension provided from guylines and stakes are required for it to stand (instead of poles designed exclusively for the tent). Lots of guylines can lead to complicated setups - finding good ground to stake them down and constantly tweaking the lines for optimal tension.
You also need to have the right size poles. The best trekking poles are adjustable, allowing you to pitch the tent at its maximum height. When you take down the tent, you can then collapse the poles for walking.
Inserting tent stakes into the ground
✔️ 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.
Semi-Freestanding: Another common type of tent is a semi-freestanding tent. Kind of a half-breed of the two above. These tents use poles that hold up part of the tent, but need to be staked down to secure the entire tent. The Hornet 2P from Nemo (see reviews) is an excellent example of a semi-freestanding tent. One end of the tent is supported by two poles, while the other uses one pole and two stakeout points. Fewer poles translate into less weight as long as you don't mind having to find a soft surface or some rocks to stake out the footbed of the tent.
3-Season VS. 4-Season Tents
There are several differences between a 3-season and 4-season tent, so you want to make sure you purchase the tent that'll best suit your needs.
CONSTRUCTION/MATERIALS: 4-season tents are sturdier to withstand the elements
Winter tents tend to be made with more durable materials than their 3-season counterparts. Their poles are sturdier, their clips are beefier, and their fabrics are heavier. They are designed to withstand high winds and heavy snow. They tend to have more Velcro to attach the fly to the poles, more guy-out points to stake down the tent, and more clips holding the tent body to the poles. The fly also is longer, extending to the ground to prevent snow from blowing into the tent.
DESIGN: 4-season tent are less breathable and insulate better than 3-season tents.
Perhaps the biggest difference between a three-season tent and a four-season tent is the amount of mesh. Three-season tents are used in the warm weather and have ample mesh to encourage airflow. Four-season tents minimize mesh to protect from the elements. They either have less mesh overall or have fabric panels than can zipper to close off the mesh as needed. These panels are handy as you can unzip them in the warmer temps and zip them shut when you need to keep out the cold.
WEIGHT: 4-season tents are heavier than 3-season tents.
Because a four-season tent is beefier than a 3-season tent, they also are heavier. Most ultralight 3-season tents weigh under three pounds, while 4-season tents typically start at four pounds and climb up from there.
PRICE: 4-season tents cost more than 3-season tents.
Four-season tents tend to be more expensive than three-season tents because more detail goes into their construction. They use rugged materials, which also runs up the price. Most four-season tents will cost you between $500 and a $1,000.
USAGE: Consider owning one or two.
If you are backpacking in the spring, summer, or fall, stick with a three-season tent. You'll appreciate the lightweight and easy assembly of most ultralight tents. Four-season tents can be used in the warmer months, but they often are too heavy and too hot. Keep the four-season tents for the colder weather in the winter and the spring or fall shoulder seasons.
How to Set Up a Tent
- Unfold the poles and place them in the corresponding grommet of the tent, starting with the corners (they are sometimes color coordinated)
- Snap the loops around the pole so the entire body is now attached
- For double-wall tents- if you are attaching a rain fly, again check for color coordination.
- Stake out the corners of the tent and the rainfly, you never know when wind or rain can come!
- If the weather is looking exceptionally bad, guy out the fly to keep it further away from the body. This will increase airflow and keep the tent from flapping around in the wind and keep water out.
Tip: If it’s super windy, stake out your tent first. Otherwise, it will be flapping everywhere, also it will keep the tent anchored down right away. Once a tent is pitched it is more likely to catch flight so it’s best to avoid this altogether.
The same procedure applies to a freestanding tent, however, it can be helpful to pitch out the tent ahead of time. This may take a few tries to find the perfect angle to stake it at, so try it at home first.
Non-Freestanding tents can be intimidating because they don’t have any poles and require stakes in specific places to hold the tent up. But in reality, most (and all we reviewed) are very simple to set up and it just takes practice tries to get everything nice and taught.
- Find out which parts of the tent need to be staked out first, this is usually the corner or perimeter
- Stake the perimeter of the tent out so it’s clearly laid out but not tight, also don’t wedge the stakes in particularly deep because you will need to move them again
- Insert the first pole, most manufacturers will have a specific height
- Stake out the fly or associated guy line to hold the pole up
- Stake out the second pole (if there is one)
- Stake out the fly or associated guy line
- Starting with the corners, readjust the stakes and pull the tent so it is taught, now you can push the stakes in further. You might need to repeat this step a few times before you achieve the perfect pitch.
How to wash a tent:
- Setup the tent and sweep out any debris that is on the tent floor.
- Hose it down to get off all the mud and dust, if you don’t have a yard you can also toss it in the bathtub or shower.
- For stinky tents or stains that are tough to get out, use some tech wash. The same stuff you would wash your nice gear in. Fill a bathtub or bucket and hand wash the tent. If you have any particularly bad spots you can also use a toothbrush to scrub.
- Let the tent dry. If you can, set the tent up outside and let it air dry. Don’t put away a wet tent, it will mildew and break down, and this will destroy your tent.
How to fix a tent zipper:
For zippers that aren’t sliding smoothly:
- Make sure the zipper is free from dirt, dust, and debris, if you see anything large like pine needles pull it out. It’s also a good idea to rinse the zipper.
- Wax the zipper by using a candle or zipper wax, apply it to the teeth of the zipper and run the slider back and forth several times to work in the wax.
To replace a zipper slider:
- Check to see if your tent is still under warranty, the manufacturer will typically replace it if it is still covered. Also, replacing the zipper may void a warranty.
- Find out what size zipper you have, this will usually be something like #5 or #7 and will typically be “C” for a coil.
- Cut the zipper teeth very close to the previous zipper stop
- Remove the broken slider and replace it with the new slider
- Install a new zipper stop at the cut end you have created
How to waterproof a tent:
There are 3 areas on a tent that may need to be waterproofed and will typically need to be done every few years: The fly, the floor, and the seams. The fly and floor will always come precoated from the factory so this will only need to be done if it’s started to wear off. The seams however aren’t always sealed at the factory so you may need to seal them before your first use.
If your tent fly isn’t beading and repelling water anymore it’s probably time to reapply the DWR coating that helps the water bead off. This will help the tent stay taught and dry faster.
To start off, make sure you get the right product for the right material, Silnylon and nylon with polyurethane (PU) will require different products.
To seam seal:
- Set up your tent and make sure it is clean, dry, and in a well-ventilated area
- If you are applying this to your rainfly, put the rain fly on inside out so you have a nice working space
- Apply some water or rubbing alcohol to the seam to prep the surface
- Lightly brush on the seal sealant on the inside of the tent, paying careful attention to fully cover the seam and any flaps connected to it. Also, be sure to avoid the zipper.
- Let it dry for 10-20 minutes
- Reapply to heavy usage areas and reinforced areas
- Let it dry overnight
To restore the floor and fly waterproofing:
- Set up your tent to see what areas need to be attended to, on PU coated nylon this will usually look cloudy or crumbly
- Take the top part of a sponge and scrub away the dried-out coating with rubbing alcohol
- Reapply with the correct coating depending on what kind of tent you have
- Let it dry overnight
To restore water repellency:
- Wash your tent
- While the tent is still wet, spray on the DWR spray evenly over the entire rain fly. DWR spray can be found at most outdoor stores or online, just make sure it’s for gear rather than clothing.
- After about 10 minutes use a wet rag to wipe away any excess
- Let it fully dry
How to Stay Warm in a Tent
Being cold while in your tent at night is a major bummer. Here are a few tips on how to stay warm in your tent:
Sleeping bags - Usually sleeping bags are rated to the “limit” temperature rather than “comfort”. For example, a 15F rated bag will usually be “comfort” rated to about 28F. Go with a sleeping bag that is rated for an exceptionally cold night rather than what you will frequently be experiencing. If you run cold, go with warmer.
Sleeping pads - While sleeping pads are comfortable, the main purpose is to keep you insulated from the ground. The ground is cold, and your sleeping bag doesn’t provide any insulation when it’s compressed from you laying on it. Pad insulation is rated by an R-value. The higher the warmer. For 3-season camping go with an R-value between 3 and 5.
Eating - Make sure to eat before you jump in the tent on cold nights, ideally eat warm food to heat up your core temperature. If you are hungry, you are going to be colder.
Keeping your head and feet warm - Keep a pair of clothes just for sleeping in. Not only will this help keep your sleeping bag cleaner, but it will also be warmer and cozier than wearing your dirty and sweaty clothes. Merino base layers are great options. Be sure to include a beanie and pair of socks in this outfit.
Warm water bottle - If you are carrying a water bottle like a Nalgene, fill it up with warm water and put it in your sleeping bag, having a source of heat will help warm you up even faster.
Do I need a tent footprint?
Yes, you do need a tent footprint if you want to protect the bottom of your tent. Footprints protect the bottom of the tent from moisture and damage when you are sleeping on rough surfaces. They are helpful but not always necessary, depending on where you are backpacking. If you choose to go without one, you do have to be more careful where you pitch your tent. Avoid rough rocky areas or sharp twigs and roots. See more on tent footprints.
Can I use a tarp as a tent footprint?
Yes, you can use a tarp as a tent footprint, but a traditional tarp will be heavy to carry and bulky in your pack. Most people choose to carry Painter's Tarp of Tyvek instead. Tyvek is used in construction and easy to find. It's cheap, lightweight, and packable.
You also can purchase a manufacturer's footprint. These official footprints contain grommets that attach to the poles making it easier to pitch your tent. Some tents even allow you to leave your tent body at home and pitch your fly with the footprint. This combination is a lightweight option when bugs are not an issue.
Should you put a tarp under or above a tent?
You can put a tarp under or above a tent. If you bring a tarp, you can use it under your tent to protect the bottom of the tent from a rough surface. You can also suspend it above the tent to protect it from the rain.
Where can I pitch a tent?
You can pitch a tent anywhere you have enough room to spread out the bottom and insert the poles without obstruction. You'll want to look first for hazards such as widow-makers (which are dead or fallen trees that are at risk of falling on your tent) as well as any heavily exposed areas (like a windy ridgeline).
You'll also want as flat of a surface as possible. If you must sleep on an incline, put your head higher than your feet. Avoid roots and rocks for comfort. Lastly, pick an area that isn't wet and won't develop puddles if it were to rain. Ensure the ground is suitable for stakes as well.
How to pack a tent for backpacking?
Fold the tent into thirds lengthwise so the floor is the only part of the tent that is exposed and then roll it up. Rolling it up like this will protect the thinner material walls and mesh. Avoid stuffing your tent as it can stretch or tear.
How to pack a tent in a backpack?
If you have a freestanding tent, carry it under the lid of your pack, or stash the poles separately on the side of your bag. With the tent body rolled up, store it in the main compartment. Right at the top is a good spot so you can quickly set it up if you need to.
Do you need a tent when backpacking?
Yes, you do need a tent when backpacking. A shelter is absolutely necessary for backpacking. Weather happens, even if the forecast doesn’t call for it. Having a safe, dry space to hunker down during a storm can literally save your life. Also, in areas with wildlife, tents let the animals see you so there aren’t any surprises.
Where do you put the gear in a 1-person tent?
You put your gear in the vestibule of a 1-person tent. 1-person tents can be tight, but nearly all of them come with a vestibule. In reality, a lot of things can get wet so if you are tight on space just keep the things that need to stay dry in your tent: clothing, lighter, stove, electronics. Your pack and shoes can be put in the vestibule and will usually stay pretty dry with the exception of a little splashing. Also, keep your backpack straps towards you to keep them dry.