A campsite in Titcomb Basin, in Wyoming's Wind River Range.

Gear Review: The 5 Best Backpacking Tents of 2018

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By Michael Lanza

Time for a new backpacking tent? There’s hardly been a better time to get one. Whether you prioritize weight, living space, performance in foul weather, or unique features, tents for backpacking have seen great innovation and variety. In the competitive outdoor industry, designers keep making shelters that are lighter, stronger, and in many ways more livable.

For this article, I’ve picked out the five top-performing backpacking tents I’ve field tested and reviewed at this blog. I think you’ll find at least one that’s perfect for you—plus you’ll find some at great sale prices now (and links to those online retailers below).

Each of these five two-person tents is different enough from the others to give you clear choices, and they range in weight categories from lightweight to ultralight—because I believe every ounce should be justified in the gear I carry. The tents are listed from lightest to heaviest. The comparison chart offers a quick look at features that distinguish these tents from one another.

For some guidance on picking out the right tent for your adventures, you may want to first read my “5 Tips For Buying a Backpacking Tent” and “How to Choose the Best Ultralight Backpacking Tent for You.”

Grab one of these tents and your days on the trail—with a lighter pack—will improve as much as your nights in camp.

I’d love to read your thoughts about these tents in the comments section at the bottom of this story, especially if you have experience with any of them or others you like.

 

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ModelPriceWeightFloor AreaPeak HeightDoorsFeatures
MSR FlyLite$3501 lb. 9 oz.29 sq. ft.44 ins.1* Excellent space-to-weight ratio.
* Pitches with trekking poles.
* Hybrid single-, double-wall design.
Slingfin 2Lite Trek$3292 lbs. 6 oz.28.5 sq. ft.41 ins.2* 2 doors, vestibules.
* Good space, strength for an ultralight.
* Pitches with trekking poles.
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2$4502 lbs. 12 oz.29 sq. ft.40 ins.2* Good space-to-weight ratio and headroom.
* 2 doors, vestibules.
* Quick to pitch.
Marmot Tungsten UL 2P$2993 lbs. 4 oz.32 sq. ft.42 ins.2* Good space-to-weight ratio and headroom.
* 2 doors, vestibules.
* 88-inch length.
Sierra Designs Flash 2 FL$4003 lbs. 10 oz.30 sq. ft.43 ins.2* Roomy interior.
* Pitch in rain and keep inside dry.
* Good ventilation.

 

MRS FlyLite

MRS FlyLite

MSR FlyLite
$350, 1 lb. 9 oz.

The most nontraditional tent on this list, the FlyLite delivers an incredible space-to-weight ratio that renders it big enough for two and legitimately light enough to use solo. It detours from tradition with design sacrifices that seem like minor tradeoffs in light of the gains achieved. Pitching with two trekking poles, it ventilates well enough to avoid the bane of many single-wall shelters: condensation. If low weight is more important to you than having a freestanding tent with traditional poles, it’s hard to find a better choice.

Read my complete review of the MSR FlyLite.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking either of these links to buy an MSR FlyLite at moosejaw.com or rei.com.

 

Want the best backpack? See my picks for “The 10 Best Backpacking Packs
and the best thru-hiking packs.

 

Slingfin 2Lite Trek ultralight backpacking tent.

Slingfin 2Lite Trek ultralight backpacking tent.

Slingfin 2Lite Trek
$329, 2 lbs. 6 oz.

Various small companies are manufacturing ultralight tents with unique designs, but few offer the appealing balance of livability, strength, and two doors found in the 2Lite Trek from Slingfin. Pitching with trekking poles or an optional front pole, it stood up to steady winds of 30 mph and gusts around 40 mph from the Grand Canyon to Idaho’s City of Rocks. Its 28.5-square-foot interior, 41-inch peak height, and dual 10.7-square-foot vestibules offer more space than typically found in tents in this category. Plus, the price is very competitive.

Read my complete review of the Slingfin 2Lite Trek.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to buy a Slingfin 2Lite Trek at slingfin.com.

 


Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside, which has made several top outdoors blog lists. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip. Click here to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Follow my adventures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube.


 

Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 tent.

Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 tent.

Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2
$450, 2 lbs. 12 oz.

For starters, there aren’t many freestanding, two-person tents with two doors and vestibules that weigh under three pounds, so if that’s what you’re shopping for, you already have a short list. The new DAC Featherlite NFL hubbed pole structure creates steeper walls that make the tent feel roomier than its 29 square feet, plus it has a 40-inch peak height and 88-inch length. If you’re looking for an ultralight tent that doesn’t feel like a coffin, your search may be over.

Read my complete review of the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to buy a Copper Spur HV UL2 at moosejaw.comems.com, or rei.com.

How would you like a two-door tent that’s barely more than two pounds? Check out my review of the ultralight Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2.

 

Plan your next great backpacking adventure using my downloadable, expert e-guides.
Click here now to learn more.

 

Testing the Marmot Tungsten UL 2P in Wyoming's Wind River Range.

The Marmot Tungsten UL 2P in Wyoming’s Wind River Range.

Marmot Tungsten UL 2P
$299, 3 lbs. 4 oz.

Sure, weight is important when evaluating a tent. But space—and especially the space-to-weight ratio—merits equal consideration, particularly for taller people, for whom a few extra ounces is a smart tradeoff for more space. The Tungsten UL 2P offers more square footage than virtually any comparable freestanding, three-season, two-person tent, while still weighing in just ounces over three pounds—and costs less than virtually all competitors in its category. I have some nitpicks with it, but it’s a sturdy tent and a super value.

Read my complete review of the Marmot Tungsten UL 2P.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by any of these links to purchase a Marmot Tungsten UL 2P tent at moosejaw.com, or rei.com.

 

Get my help planning your backpacking, hiking, or family trip and 25% off a one-year subscription. Click here.

 

Sierra Designs Flash 2 FL

Sierra Designs Flash 2 FL

Sierra Designs Flash 2 FL
$400, 3 lbs. 10 oz.

A personal favorite of mine for its innovative, hybrid design, the Flash 2 FL marries the benefits of single- and double-wall tents by integrating the interior tent canopy with the rainfly. A partial rainfly and weatherproof side walls block wind and precipitation, and the side doors have both mesh and solid, weatherproof, zippered panels. The design eliminates a step when pitching—so it goes up fast—and keeps the interior dry when erecting the tent in the rain. Its living space, ventilation, and sturdiness in wind are exceptional.

Read my complete review of the Sierra Designs Flash 2 FL.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to buy a Sierra Designs Flash 2 FL at moosejaw.com.

 

Lighten up with my expert tips in “How to Choose the Best Ultralight Backpacking Tent for You.”

 

BONUS FAVORITE TENT Looking for a light, three-person tent? See my review of the ultralight Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL3 ($450, 2 lbs. 15 oz.). You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to buy a Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL3 at moosejaw.com.

 

Tell me what you think.

I spent a lot of time writing this story, so if you enjoyed it, please consider giving it a share using one of the buttons below, and leave a comment or question at the bottom of this story. I’d really appreciate it.

 

See all of my reviews of backpacking tents that I like, and all of my reviews of backpacking gear and ultralight backpacking gear.

NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.

 

The Big Outside helps you find the best adventures. Subscribe now to read ALL stories and get a free e-guide!


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9 Responses to Gear Review: The 5 Best Backpacking Tents of 2018

  1. Evan M. Melhado   |  July 12, 2018 at 9:48 am

    Is there such a thing as a warm, 1-2 person backpacking tent? If so, are any of them (relatively) light in weight?

    • Michael Lanza   |  July 12, 2018 at 12:27 pm

      Hey Evan, thanks for asking a good question. You’re right that all of the tents above are three-season tents, designed for good ventilation to keep occupants cooler on warm nights, but also to minimize or prevent condensation buildup inside on nights that drop below around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. They would feel cold inside on nights that drop well below freezing. But they would still protect you from most wind, certainly from precipitation, and you can obviously use a warmer sleeping bag for cold temps.

      Tent designers largely focus on making three-season tents lighter, adequately sturdy, and well ventilated. If you want a tent that traps heat better, you’re looking potentially at a four-season tent, one that’s made for winter temps and conditions (including stronger winds and possibly a snow load on the tent) and mountaineering at any time of year. That generally means much less mesh, replaced by small vents of some kind (you still have to release moisture from the inside to prevent condensation).

      The tradeoff is that they’re much heavier and bulkier when packed and usually uncomfortably hot in mild temps, not to mention considerably more expensive. Single-wall tents are lighter but often plagued by condensation.

      Some of the better tents in this category are the Big Agnes Battle Mountain 2 (my review: https://thebigoutside.com/gear-review-big-agnes-battle-mountain-2-mountaineering-tent/), Black Diamond First Light (see https://bit.ly/2ut51GG), Mountain Hardwear Trango 2 (see https://bit.ly/2NMj1nS), and Hilleberg Jannu 2 (see https://bit.ly/2KQtjWf).

      Some tent models seek a middle ground between full-on winter/mountaineering and the lightest three-season tents, meaning they are good for colder temps and lots of precip, but not really for mountaineering or huge winds or snowfall. One of the lightest models is the MSR Access 2 (see https://bit.ly/2JhjSJI).

      If you need a stronger tent for weather more severe than typical three-season conditions, look at one or more of these tents. If you just want to be able to camp on colder nights but don’t really need a stronger, heavier tent, I suggest you get a warmer bag, a good insulated air mattress, and use a three-season tent.

  2. Dana DeBruyn   |  June 19, 2018 at 5:46 pm

    I am an avid reader and value your advice. Since our almost 10 year old son is getting bigger, we are looking to purchase a new tent to give us more elbow room. Currently we have a GoLite Imogene UL3 that we love. We are not interested in moving to two two person tents, but instead moving to a 4 person tent for a few years. I see you like the Big Agnes Copper Spur. Any other suggestions/reviews to point us towards for a 4 person backpacking tent? Thank you!

    • Michael Lanza   |  June 19, 2018 at 6:33 pm

      Hi Dana, yes, I’m a fan of the Big Agnes Copper Spur series, and there is a UL4 version. I think other good options are the Marmot Limelight or Tungsten. I haven’t used a 4p in a while, but those tents series are good ones.

  3. chris   |  November 22, 2017 at 7:37 am

    Another vote for the Big Agnes Copper Spur. We picked ours up last winter and it has been awesome in tropical St Johns US Virgin Islands; in spring on the Long Trail in Vermont; in summer kayaking on the Connecticut River in VT/NH/MA; and fall camping with the Cub Scouts in VT.

    • MichaelALanza   |  November 22, 2017 at 7:43 am

      Thanks for the testing report, Chris. Yup, I’m a fan of the Copper Spur tents.

  4. John Kelly   |  November 21, 2017 at 7:52 am

    Michael,

    I have a couple friends contemplating new tents. This will be helpful.

    I have been using a Hilleberg Anjan 2 for the past three years. It is a tunnel design, single door with a mesh window at the foot. It is not free standing but sets up very quickly. The fabric is Hiieberg’s proprietary Krylon which is a silicon impregnated nylon. The tent is light, strong, very versatile. The tent and fly are integrated, but can be quickly separated to allow use of the tent alone or the fly can be used like a tarp using the two poles and guylines.

    I have been in 50-60 mph winds and it solid as can be.

    My only niggles are venting with the fly on could be better (disclosure: I am a condensation machine in a tent). This primarily because the fly at the foot sits close to the ground. I have recently started using my titanium poop shovel as an extra tent peg to elevate the fly. The fly fabric attracts fine desert sand, like in Utah, that has to be washed off.

    Hilleberg tents are expensive but the quality and design are exceptional.

    • MichaelALanza   |  November 21, 2017 at 8:20 pm

      Thanks for that detailed field-testing report, John. I know that you know tents and gear well, and I’ve heard good things about the Anjan 2 before. Keep the comments coming please, my friend.

  5. Steve Winnett/Laura Knoy   |  May 14, 2017 at 3:09 pm

    Hi Mike, It’s really great to see your work on the blog and you seem to be having a really great time. I wish I had more time to read it, but with our sons being 13 and 17, you can imagine how busy we are.
    I read your tent review because we’re looking for one, but not a lightweight backpacking tent, per se. We do more car camping these days and are looking for a roomier one, like a dome that will really comfortably fit two (more and more) or three of us (sometimes). You probably understand. If we backpack, we’d be sharing the weight, but (sadly) we’re not doing much of that these days! Do you have any general recommendations? I realize it’s not cutting edge but that’s alright.
    Keep up the great work!

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