Gear Review: The 5 Best Backpacking Tents
By Michael Lanza
The best backpacking tents on the market today only superficially resemble the tents most of us pitched in the backcountry just five or 10 years ago. Designers have thrown out ingrained notions of what a backpacking tent is, thinking outside the box to make shelters that are more livable, lighter, stronger, and include features like (of all things) built-in lights. Tents continue evolving and improving because the goal of making gear lighter long ago crossed a threshold from “the new thing” to how everyone thinks. That attitude has transformed the world of backcountry gear, especially tents.
You’ll see that trend in each of the five singularly outstanding tents reviewed below.
I’ve picked out five favorite backpacking shelters I’ve field tested and reviewed at The Big Outside. Each 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 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.”
Grab one of these tents and your days on the trail (with a lighter pack) will improve as much as your nights in camp. Some of them are available at deeply discounted sale prices at the links I provide below.
|Model||Price||Weight||Floor Area||Peak Height||Doors||Features|
|Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2||$450||2 lbs. 12 oz.||29 sq. ft.||40 ins.||2||* Good space-to-weight ratio and headroom.
* 2 vestibules.
* Quick to pitch.
|Exped Mira II Hyperlite||$379||2 lbs. 14 oz.||29 sq. ft.||43 ins.||2||* 2 vestibules.
* Quick to pitch.
* Good space-to-weight ratio.
|Marmot Tungsten UL 2P||$299||3 lbs. 4 oz.||32 sq. ft.||42 ins.||2||* Very good space-to-weight ratio and headroom.
* 2 vestibules.
* 88-inch length.
|MSR FlyLite||$350||1 lb. 9 oz.||29 sq. ft.||44 ins.||1||* Excellent space-to-weight ratio.
* Pitches with trekking poles.
* Hybrid design.
|Sierra Designs Flash 2 FL||$400||3 lbs. 10 oz.||30 sq. ft.||43 ins.||2||* Cavernous interior.
* Pitch in rain and keep inside dry.
* Good ventilation.
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.
Want a tent with lights? Another favorite of mine is the Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL2 mtnGLO ($350, 3 lbs. 9 oz.), which has LED lights built into the tent’s seams. Read my complete review of the Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL2 mtnGLO.
Exped Mira II Hyperlite
$379, 2 lbs. 14 oz.
The Mira II Hyperlite earns a spot on this list for a partly freestanding design that finds a sweet spot for weight and convenience: staying under three pounds while maintaining a two-door design that’s sturdy and easy and intuitive to pitch quickly. Plus, interior space is good for a shelter in this weight class—the peak height of 43 inches let me kneel in the middle of the tent, the 85-inch length accommodates tall people, and the 49-inch width is more than two sleeping pads.
Read my complete review of the Exped Mira II Hyperlite.
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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.
$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.
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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.
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 a discounted price right now at moosejaw.com.
Tell me what you think.
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See also these stories:
“The Simple Equation of Ultralight Backpacking: Less Weight = More Fun”
“5 Tips For Spending Less on Hiking and Backpacking Gear”
“Tent Flap With a View: 25 Favorite Backcountry Campsites”
“My Top 10 Favorite Backpacking Trips”
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.
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