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Remote destinations call for backpacking tents that can keep up. Brands continue to innovate with ever lighter and more packable shelters. And don’t be fooled by the paper-thin walls—they’re plenty stormproof, too. We’re speaking from experience when we say these trusty shelters are the ones you’ll want when the mountains, woods, or wherever start calling.
Read quick info on five great options from our testing, then keep scrolling for helpful buying advice and full reviews of these models.
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to check the local regulations at your destination before you leave. On federally managed parks and lands, face masks are required for individuals who aren’t fully vaccinated in most circumstances and for everyone when taking public transportation, like a park shuttle. Some other mitigation protocols, such as capacity limits or entrance reservations, might also be in effect. Elsewhere, the agencies that manage the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Continental Divide trails are recommending thru-hikers take safety precautions, such as using personal shelters instead of trail huts and avoiding crowds.
The Ins and Outs of Backpacking Tents
Backpacking tents are lightweight and compact so they’re easier to carry on your back, bike, or boat. To shed weight, companies make the side walls mostly out of mesh and trade fiberglass tent poles for aluminum or carbon. Full-coverage rain flies offer more protection from the elements than the smaller awnings of most car-camping tents. Plus, you can store your pack or boots in the vestibules overnight. If you’re particularly obsessive about weight, choose a more expensive ultralight version, but those can sacrifice durability in favor of lighter fabrics. Or skip a tent altogether in favor of a backcountry-ready hammock.
Given the focus on portability, don’t expect an ultra-roomy shelter. There’s enough headroom for most people to sit up straight or crouch low. As for floor space, most two-person models are just big enough for two sleeping bags and pads squished together. If you and your tentmate need a little extra space, opt for a three-person instead. The good news is backpacking tents have two doors, so you won’t need to crawl over your partner just to relieve yourself in the middle of the night. If you’re a frequent solo adventurer and don’t want to lug extra weight, choose a one-person model.
Most tents are three-season, meaning they are well suited for use in the spring, summer, and fall. But with the right sleeping bag and pad, many are perfectly fine for winter use, too. However, pick a true four-season tent if you plan to stay in an incredibly windy area. With stronger poles and thicker materials, such a shelter is better equipped to stay standing in harsh conditions.
When you take your new tent out for its first test drive, remember to bring a footprint or tarp and enough stakes for all the guy lines. And any extended storage, be sure to inspect your shelter prior to your trip. Look for rips, tears, and weak tent poles, and consider re-waterproofing your tent with a spray coating or seam sealant. We speak from experience when we say nothing will throw a wrench in your camping trip like a broken tent.
How Tent Shape Impacts Weather Resistance
A tent’s architecture is integral to the weather protection it provides, and having a preferred style can help you narrow down the options. Dome tents are the most common, but other designs have their advantages. A-frames shed precipitation easily, tunnel tents provide relatively large living quarters, and geodesic domes are incredibly strong in the face of high winds.
How We Tested
To find the best backpacking tents, we considered the spaciousness, features, materials, weights, constructions, and costs of 11 contenders. We slept in the most promising models for multiple nights while on trails in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Hamstrung by travel restrictions in the early days of the pandemic, some initial testing also took place in a backyard in Ohio. These tents have seen us through rain storms, clear but windy nights, sub-freezing temperatures, and summer humidity. As we used them, we judged how well the tents ventilated and how easy or hard it was to pitch and pack them up, plus verified or debunked the manufacturer’s weight claims with our own scale. Read about the five that impressed us the most below.
Sea to Summit Telos TR2
Packed weight: 3 lb 9.9 oz | Floor space: 28 sq ft | Peak height: 3 ft 7.5 in. | Doors: 2
Sea to Summit has a habit of sweating the small stuff, and the Australian company left little out when making its first line of tents, which launched this past spring. The ultralight Telos is riddled with features, right down to the modular stuff sack that separates for easier load sharing and, once you’re at camp, repurposes as interior pockets (bringing the total to four). The design is intuitive and well constructed, making the Telos a welcome addition to any backpacking kit. That is, if you can swing the premium price tag.
Sea to Summit’s goal was to create a backpacking tent that maximizes space, ventilation, and versatility. Part of the solve takes shape in the V-shaped Tension Ridge pole that supports the ceiling and fly. Most ridge poles curve down, but by flipping the design, Sea to Summit adds several inches to the peak height. This made it easier to get in and out of the Telos, and once inside, we enjoyed the generous headroom. The Tension Ridge also helps create the fly’s massive lofted ceiling vent, which—along with a vent on each vestibule—reduces condensation inside. In the company’s testing, the Telos had over 30 percent better airflow and at least 17 percent less humidity compared to other popular tents. We didn’t verify those numbers, but we didn’t wake up to find our duds had grown soggy overnight, either.
The unconventional architecture is also strong. The tent, sans guy lines, held up to persistent gusts without issue during one overnight on an exposed hilltop along the Appalachian Trail. Ultimately, the Telos is a thoughtfully and meticulously designed backpacking tent any regular trekker should consider.
NEMO Aurora 2
Packed weight: 5 lb 12.8 oz | Floor space: 31.8 sq ft | Peak height: 3 ft 8 in. | Doors: 2
For a reasonable price, NEMO includes a compatible footprint with the Aurora. The tent is a comfortable size and ready for trekking, though it will weigh you down some. The full-coverage fly has two roof vents, which are more on the sides of the tent than the top. Because they’re better protected from the elements, we left them open in a rain storm and didn’t wake up to a sopping wet tent the next day. You’ll want to bring a few extra stakes though, as there are only enough included for the tent corners and the doors. Both sides of the vestibule flaps roll up if you don’t need the weather protection or the privacy, and we appreciated that the internal gear storage includes a light-diffusing pocket on the ceiling. The four other mesh pockets kept the rest of the tent tidy.
The walls of the entry-level tent didn’t feel quite vertical, so we lost out on a minor amount of headroom. The upside was that the continuous zipper on each door slid very smoothly on its track. Our real concern was with the rain fly, which seemed just slightly large. It attaches to the ridge pole with what are essentially washers that don’t have backings. This led to some frustration when we were connecting the two parts, because we would hook one side on only to have it fall off when we moved to the other. If you don’t get it right, there’s enough slack to fix it from inside the vestibules, but we recommend staking out guy lines if you’ll be camping in windy or rainy weather. Frustrating as pitching was, it’s not a dealbreaker, especially if you’re starting to backpack or on a tighter budget.
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2
Packed weight: 3 lb 2 oz | Floor space: 29 sq ft | Peak height: 3 ft 4 in. | Doors: 2
If you’re searching for a backpacking tent, you won’t get very far before encountering the Copper Spur. The well-built tent has distinguished itself for years with its supreme balance of weight and size, as well as a rich set of features. Still, Big Agnes hasn’t shied away from improvements. In 2020, the company installed a buckle system for the fly attachment, updated the interior pockets, and redesigned the vestibules to double as awnings. If that all sounds heavy, it isn’t. The Copper Spur remains just over three pounds even with these additions, thanks to the new ultralight, double-ripstop nylon in the body and vented, waterproof fly.
The petite size is a major factor in keeping the weight low. The Copper Spur is the second smallest on this list, and the design tapers at the footbox, which is 10 inches narrower than the opposite end. But the vertical walls and mesh on the ceiling and walls made it feel larger. We found it comfortable enough for two people, and the two doors and vestibules mean sharing the space is easy. It felt even more livable when we propped up one of the vestibule doors with our trekking poles to create an awning during the day. (Not to mention, this new feature allows thru-hikers to air out their tent.) There was ample room to store our stuff, especially in the new oversize bin that’s positioned halfway up the wall above the footbox. While we were pleased to see Big Agnes included an emergency field splint should one of the DAC Featherlite aluminum poles fail unexpectedly, we were disappointed that a $450 tent doesn’t come with enough stakes to secure the perimeter of the fly. Unfortunately, this is standard for high-end backpacking tents, so it’s not a deal breaker, but plan to throw a few extras in your pack. If lighter is better in your book, the Copper Spur is a clear winner.
—BEST VALUE ULTRALIGHT—
Sierra Designs Meteor Lite 2
Packed weight: 3 lb 14.9 oz | Floor space: 29.8 sq ft | Peak height: 3 ft 5 in. | Doors: 2
The redesigned Meteor Lite—an ultralight version of Sierra Designs’s regular Meteor—nearly nabbed the title of best overall backpacking tent in our test. Which is to say this is a well-designed, weatherproof model that is an excellent option for any regular backpacker or thru-hiker who doesn’t want to shell out $400-plus on shelter. The C-shaped doors have continuous zippers, and we liked that they were quicker to open and close than the more standard two-zipper design. Once we were inside, the almost entirely mesh body and vent on the fly provided a nice amount of air circulation while still keeping the rain out.
Sierra Designs departs from the norm for a sub-four-pound tent by sticking with a rectangular—not tapered—shape. Combined with the vertical walls, this made the tent feel roomy throughout. We also appreciated the very compact stuff sack, which has a generously large adjustable opening in the middle instead of at one end. The advantage was clear when we didn’t have to spend as much time perfectly folding up the tent parts to get them to fit back into the stuff sack. Instead, we could tighten the cinch cord as much as we needed and move on. Our tester, who is notorious for spending leisurely mornings at camp, appreciated that this made breaking camp a little faster and let her get on the trail sooner.
Our biggest gripe was the lack of storage space inside the tent. There are just two regular-size pockets, one positioned to the left of each door. Luckily, there are several interior loops, so you can add overhead lighting or a gear loft for more organization. There are ultralight tents that weigh less or come with more bells and whistles, but the Meteor Lite offers comfort and durability at justifiable cost.
REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+
Packed weight (provided): 4 lb 13.5 oz | Floor space: 35.8 sq ft | Peak height: 3 ft 6 in. | Doors: 2
Despite the trimmed-down specs of the 2021 model, the Half Dome still manages to be one of the roomiest two-person tents out there. Now, it’s also 10 percent lighter, compared to our past season’s test sample. That’s even more impressive considering the tent comes with a footprint that wasn’t included before. REI shaves weight by cutting the number of roof vents from four to two, lowering the peak height by two inches, updating the door design to remove part of the zipper, and using finer fabrics on the floor and fly. What hasn’t changed is the nearly 36 square feet of floor space, which can accommodate campers with a four-legged friend or extra gear. That’s roomy enough that we didn’t feel like we were on top of our bunkmate all night.
The Half Dome stays standing via a hubbed pole that combines the supports for the tent body and the ridge line into one. Color-coded clips easily snapped into place, allowing us to speed through setup. The full-coverage fly didn’t falter despite an all-night deluge, and we appreciated that we could open and close the roof vents from inside the vestibule instead of outside the tent, like on most other two-person models in our test. Still, the shelter had enough ventilation, even with them closed. Capable in the backcountry as well as at frontcountry campgrounds, the reasonably priced Half Dome has the chops to become your one-quiver, do-it-all tent.
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