Packing a top-notch tent is one of the best ways to increase comfort, safety, and enjoyment on backcountry trips. But when you’re in the market for a new tent, you’ll quickly find there are A LOT of options out there. Trying to find the best tent to fit your needs can quickly become overwhelming.
That’s why we put together this list of the best backpacking tents on the market. We’ve spent hundreds of hours researching and testing to narrow this list down to the very best of the best. We’ve heavily factored characteristics like weight, cost, interior space, durability, and weather protection into our choices. We hope this post helps you find the perfect backpacking tent for keeping warm, dry, and protected in the wilderness for many years to come.
CRITICAL TENT CONSIDERATIONS
PRICE – You shouldn’t have to spend a fortune to get a great backpacking tent. That’s why this list contains an array solid options in a variety of price ranges. If you backpack a lot, it probably makes sense to spend more for a quality product that will get many years of use. If you’re on a limited budget, you may want to check out our budget backpacking tent recommendations, but they do tend to be much heavier.
WEIGHT – A few ounces here and there might not seem like a big deal, but keeping weight down is critical for enjoying backpacking trips. Lightweight tents make hiking more fun, and that’s what it’s all about. Your tent will be one of the four heaviest items on your back (shelter, backpack, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad), so it’s a great place to keep weight to a minimum. The tents we recommend on this list represent the best blend between weight, comfort, and convenience, but if you’re willing to make sacrifices to go even lighter, check out our favorite ultralight tarps and tents.
PROTECTION – A backpacking tent that doesn’t protect against the elements is worse than worthless, it’s dangerous. So be careful about extreme budget tents you’ll find elsewhere. Every tent on this list will provide excellent storm protection to keep you safe, dry, and warm.
INTERIOR SPACE – Backpacking tents keep weight to a minimum by limiting interior space (and thus, use less material). Most two-person tents have room for two sleepers and a few stuff sacks, with backpacks and extra gear stored in the vestibules. If you want more interior space for camping comfort, you may want to bump up one size in tents (for example, buy a 3-person tent to fit 2 hikers). Just remember, interior tent space is a tradeoff between comfort and weight. If you prefer hiking light and crushing miles, stick with a 2-person model for two hikers. If you’re willing to carry more weight for camping comfort, you may want to bump up one tent size.
CAPACITY – 1-Person tents are great for dedicated solo hikers looking to travel fast and light. 2-Person tents tend to be the most popular, because they strike a good balance between weight and interior space, just don’t expect the interior to be palatial. 3 & 4-Person tents tend to get crowded and impractical, though they can be a good fit for 2 or 3 hikers wanting more interior space for gear storage and extended hangouts.
SEASON RATING – 3-season shelters are the most popular backpacking tents and the style we’re focusing on in this guide. They’re built for spring, summer, and fall trips where you’ll need to keep bad weather out while promoting ventilation, which helps keep interior condensation to a minimum. 3-Season tents can usually handle a little snow, but they’re not made for heavy snow and winter conditions.
DESIGN – A single design flaw can easily ruin an otherwise solid backpacking tent. Great tents keep design elements simple and include multiple doors, adequate vestibule space, lots of headroom, air vents to reduce condensation, and interior pockets for gear storage.
SETUP – Freestanding tents are generally preferable because they’re easier to use and quicker to pitch. They come with a fixed pole system that can be set up almost anywhere, even on solid rock. Non-freestanding tents use stakes, guylines, and trekking poles for pitching. They save weight by cutting out tent poles, but require more time and space to pitch, and will take more practice to master.
WALL CONSTRUCTION – Double-wall tents come with two separate parts – a mesh tent body and a rainfly. The mesh inner-tent acts as a barrier from condensation that forms on the inside of the rainfly. Single-wall tents reduce weight by ditching the mesh inner-tent, but that leaves hikers vulnerable to interior condensation in wet/cold conditions. Rubbing up against a wet tent interior is the pits, so that’s why we mostly recommend double-wall tents, unless you usually backpack in arid, dry climates. For ultralight hikers open to the idea of single-wall shelters, have a look at our ultralight tarp and tent recommendations.
DOORS & VESTIBULES – If you plan on sleeping two people in your tent, it’s more comfortable to have two doors and two vestibules. Having separate entrances will ensure that you’re not climbing over a tentmate and two sets of gear every time you want to get in or out of your tent. That’s a huge benefit, and it’s why almost all of our tent recommendations have two doors and vestibules.
DURABILITY – The main trade-off with lightweight tents is that they’re built using thinner materials, which tend to be less durable than heavy-duty shelters. That said, ultralight tents will literally last for thousands of miles if treated with care. It’s also important to remember that a sharp stick or rock will puncture just about any kind of tent fabric. If you’re tough on gear and don’t want to deal with lightweight materials, we recommend choosing one of our heavier recommendations built for durability. For our personal use, we think lightweight tents are well worth the tradeoff.
FOOTPRINT – Most tents don’t come with a footprint these days and many lightweight backpackers view them as unnecessary. The main benefit of a footprint is adding durability to the floor of your tent. A footprint will protect your tent floor from abrasion, so it will last longer and need fewer repairs. If you’re willing to carry some extra weight to extend the life of your tent, consider picking up a footprint sized specifically for your tent.
BUYING ONLINE – Check the seller’s return policy, but you can almost always return an unused tent within a certain time frame after purchasing. We recommend buying your top choice, testing it at home, and returning or exchanging if it doesn’t work out. We’ve been buying lightweight tents online for years and we’ve yet to have a single problem.
10 Best Backpacking Tents of 2018
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2
MIN TRAIL WEIGHT: 2lb 12oz
DIMENSIONS (L x W x H): 88 x 52/42 x 40in (wider at head, narrower at foot)
FEATURES: 2 Person, 3 Season, Double-Wall, 2 Doors/Vestibules, Freestanding
SIZES: 1P, 2P, 3P & 4P
BEST FOR: Ultralight Quality, Features & Interior Space
The Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 has an exceptional blend of weight, interior space, and functionality. It’s light enough to disappear in your pack, but roomy enough to wait out a prolonged storm without going stir crazy. It has great features for maximizing comfort – freestanding, double-wall, near-vertical sidewalls, two large doors/vestibules, interior pockets – and it’s still somehow under 3lb. For freestanding tents in this weight class, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better option.
MORE: Here’s our full review of the Copper Spur HV UL2. The Copper Spur HV comes UL1, UL2, UL3, and UL4 sizes (links above). We’re partial to the UL2 and UL3 sizes, but the UL1 and UL4 are great as well. Pick up the UL2 footprint if you want to increase tent floor durability.