By Michael Lanza
A good backpacking tent not only makes your trips more comfortable by keeping you warm and dry in foul weather—it’s critical safety gear and one of the heaviest and most expensive items you’ll carry. But how do you choose from the many models out there, which come in a huge range of designs, weights, and prices? Whether you’re shopping for your first backpacking shelter or looking to replace an old one, I’m going to make that choice easy for you.
I’ve tested scores of backpacking tents over more than a quarter-century of testing and reviewing gear—including many years as Backpacker magazine’s lead gear reviewer. This article covers my picks for the eight top-performing, three-season backpacking tents available today—seven two-person models and one ultralight solo tent—with links to my complete review of each one. I think you’ll find at least one tent here that’s perfect for you.
Each of these tents is different enough from the others to give you clear choices, and they range in weight categories from midweight 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 below offers a quick look at specs and features that distinguish these tents from one another and offers an overall rating based on specific criteria that are detailed at the bottom of each tent’s complete review.
Spend your money smartly when picking out the right tent for your adventures: Start with my “5 Expert Tips For Buying a Backpacking Tent” and “Ultralight Backpacking Tents: How to Choose One.” (Both of those stories require a subscription to read in full.)
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. I try to respond to all comments.
The 8 Best Backpacking Tents
|Model||Score (1-5)||Price||Weight||Floor Area||Peak Height||Doors||Features|
|Gossamer Gear The One||4||$300||1 lb. 6 oz.||19.6 sq. ft.||46 ins.||1||* Single-wall with good ventilation.
* Pitches with trekking poles.
* Excellent space-to-weight ratio.
|Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 Platinum||4.4||$550||1 lb. 15 oz.||28 sq. ft.||39 ins.||2||* Sub-2-lb. double-wall.
* Good space-to-weight ratio and headroom.
* Good ventilation, stability.
|Slingfin 2Lite Trek||4.4||$329||2 lbs. 6 oz.||28.5 sq. ft.||41 ins.||2||* Good space-to-weight ratio.
* Very stable for an ultralight.
* Pitches with trekking poles.
|Sea to Summit Alto TR2||4.3||$449||2 lbs. 9 oz.||27 sq. ft.||42.5 ins.||2||* Balance of low weight and livability.
* Functional design details.
* Good ventilation, stability.
|Nemo Dragonfly 2P||4.6||$400||2 lbs. 10 oz.||29 sq. ft.||41 ins.||2||* Very good space-to-weight ratio and headroom.
* Well-featured for sub-3 lbs.
* Quick to pitch.
|Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2||4.6||$450||2 lbs. 11 oz.||29 sq. ft.||40 ins.||2||* Very good space-to-weight ratio and headroom.
* Very well-featured for sub-3 lbs.
* Quick to pitch.
* Awning rainfly doors.
|Marmot Tungsten UL 2P||4.3||$349||3 lbs. 4 oz.||32 sq. ft.||42 ins.||2||* Exceptional value.
* Spacious interior, good headroom for its weight.
* Good stability.
|MSR Zoic 2||4.2||$350||4 lbs. 6 oz.||33 sq. ft.||39 ins.||2||* Spacious interior.
* Easy to pitch.
* Good ventilation, stability, durability.
Strong nighttime gusts on a six-day, 94-mile traverse of Glacier National Park on the Continental Divide Trail never rattled The One—affirming my impression that it is quite possibly the best solo ultralight tent on the market today. A single-wall, non-freestanding A-frame that pitches using two adjustable trekking poles, with an interior tent featuring mesh bug netting and a bathtub floor, The One’s stability is as good as many freestanding, three-season tents. Living space is palatial, cross-ventilation minimizes condensation, and the vestibule shelters a pack and boots.
Read my complete review of the Gossamer Gear The One.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking this affiliate link to purchase a Gossamer Gear The One at gossamergear.com.
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The sub-two-pound, double-wall, two-door, freestanding tent has become like the two-hour marathon of the backpacking gear world: the holy grail that many have come close to achieving, without quite getting there. The Tiger Wall 2 Platinum nails it while avoiding shortcomings endemic to other ultralight tents. Ultralight Dominico Textile fabric delivers critical weight savings, while the hubbed pole architecture let the tent stand up to gusts of 30 to 40 mph in the Grand Canyon—and creates impressive headroom and livability for a tent in this category.
Read my complete review of the Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 Platinum.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at not cost to you, by clicking either of these affiliate links to purchase a Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 Platinum or a Tiger Wall UL3 Platinum at backcountry.com or Moosejaw.com.
Want to save $150? Get the nearly identical predecessor to the Tiger Wall 2 Platinum. See my review of the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2, which is only five ounces heavier.
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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.
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The semi-freestanding, two-door, double-wall Alto TR2 weighs barely more than two-and-a-half pounds, but on a five-day hike in Washington’s Pasayten Wilderness it proved far more livable than its 27 square feet of floor space suggests. The recipe is vertical walls, a generous 42.5-inch peak height—and most uniquely a bridge pole with arms that swing upward, boosting headroom. It kept two of us dry in rain, ventilates very well, stood up to moderate wind, and has smart design details. Pitching it requires a little practice and time, but that’s a minor tradeoff for this nice balance of low weight with stability and comfort.
Read my complete review of the Sea to Summit Alto TR2.
You deserve a better backpack. See “The 10 Best Backpacking Packs”
and the best ultralight backpacks.
There are exactly two freestanding, two-person tents on this list 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 Dragonfly’s space-to-weight ratio—29 square feet, 41-inch peak height, beaucoup headroom, and possibly the most spacious vestibules in this category—put this shelter in an elite class with the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 (below). But more importantly, it’s very appealing to backpackers who want to reduce their pack weight without reducing the amount of sleep they get in the backcountry. Besides some nice details, the Dragonfly 2P is also two ounces lighter and 50 bucks cheaper than its main competitor.
Read my complete review of the Nemo Dragonfly 2P.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog , at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase a Nemo Dragonfly 2P, 3P, or 1P at backcountry.com, Moosejaw.com, or nemoequipment.com.
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Updated for 2020 with multiple new features—including two awning-style doors, better buckles, and abundant interior pockets—the Copper Spur HV UL2 remains one of the leading choices for backpackers seeking an ultralight tent that doesn’t compromise on sturdiness or livability. DAC Featherlite hubbed poles create steep walls that make the tent feel roomier than its 29 square feet, 40-inch peak height, and 88-inch length. Vestibules are spacious, ventilation excellent, and the Copper Spur keeps the weather on the outside. If you’re looking for a freestanding, two-door, ultralight tent that doesn’t feel like a two-person coffin, you have very few options, and this tent remains one of the best.
Read my complete review of the 2020 Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase a Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 at Backcountry.com or Moosejaw.com or another version of the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL series at backcountry.com or Moosejaw.com.
Lighten up with my expert tips in “How to Choose the Best Ultralight Backpacking Tent for You.”
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 many 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, at no cost to you, by clicking either of these affiliate links to purchase a Marmot Tungsten UL 2P tent at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com, or other versions of the Tungsten UL at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com.
Planning your next big adventure? See “America’s Top 10 Best Backpacking Trips”
and “Tent Flap With a View: 25 Favorite Backcountry Campsites.”
The thing about ultralight gear is that you have to live with its tradeoffs, too. MSR’s Zoic 2 takes a more comfortable approach to backpacking. It pitches intuitively in minutes, has superior ventilation and good stability, weather performance, and durability—but most of all, has excellent livability. Its 33 square feet of interior space and width for two 25-inch-wide air mattresses beat what you’ll find in many backpacking tents. All that and it’s still only a few ounces over two pounds per person.
Read my complete review of the MSR Zoic 2.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase an MSR Zoic 2 at backcountry.com, Moosejaw.com, or msrgear.com, a Zoic 1 at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or msrgear.com, or a Zoic 3 at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or msrgear.com.
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Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned backpacker, you’ll learn new tricks for making all of your trips go better in my “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Backpacking Trip,” “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking,” and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.” With a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read all of those three stories for free; if you don’t have a subscription, you can download the e-guide versions of “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Backpacking Trip,” the lightweight and ultralight backpacking guide, and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.”
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 my Gear Reviews page at The Big Outside for categorized menus of all of my reviews and my expert buying tips.