Gear Review: The 5 Best Backpacking Tents

November 30, 2016  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment
The Exped Mira II Hyperlite tent in Idaho's White Cloud Mountains.

The Exped Mira II Hyperlite tent in Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains.

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.

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.

 

ModelPriceWeightFloor AreaPeak HeightDoorsFeatures
Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL2 mtnGLO$3503 lbs. 9 oz.27 sq. ft.40 ins.2* LED lights.
* 2 vestibules.
* 88-inch length.
Exped Mira II Hyperlite$3792 lbs. 14 oz.29 sq. ft.43 ins.2* 2 vestibules.
* Quick to pitch.
* Balances low weight with good space.
MSR FlyLite$3501 lb. 9 oz.29 sq. ft.44 ins.1* Pitches with trekking poles.
* Hybrid design.
* Great space-to-weight ratio.
Sierra Designs Flash 2 FL$4003 lbs. 10 oz.30 sq. ft.43 ins.2* Cavernous interior.
* Pitch in rain and keep inside dry.
* Good ventilation.
Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL3$4502 lbs. 15 oz.39 sq. ft.42 ins.1* Great space-to-weight ratio.
* Versatile as two- or three-person tent.

 

Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL2 mtnGLO

Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL2 mtnGLO

Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL2 mtnGLO
$350, 3 lbs. 9 oz.

Introducing LED lights built into a tent’s seams was hands down the coolest recent innovation in tents. Big Agnes offers a line of mtnGLO tents, and the Rattlesnake SL2 strikes a nice balance between space and the convenience of two doors and vestibules while keeping the weight to three-and-a-half pounds. Without lights, the Rattlesnake SL2 is a smart choice; with the lights, it literally changes how we see the act of sleeping in the backcountry.

Read my complete review of the Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL2 mtnGLO.

BUY IT NOW: You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase a Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL2 mtnGLO at backcountry.com.

 

Exped Mira II Hyperlite

Exped Mira II Hyperlite

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.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to buy an Exped Mira II Hyperlite at moosejaw.com.

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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 this link to buy an MSR FlyLite at backcountry.com.

 

Do you like The Big Outside? I’m Michael Lanza, the creator of The Big Outside, recognized as a top outdoors blog by a USA Today Readers Choice poll and others. Subscribe for updates about new stories and free gear giveaways by entering your email address in the box at the bottom of this story, at the top of the left sidebar, or on my About page, and follow my adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

This blog and website is my full-time job and I rely on the support of readers. If you like what you see here, please help me continue producing The Big Outside by making a donation using the Support button at the top of the left sidebar or below. Thank you for your support.


 

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 backcountry.com.

 

Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL3

Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL3

Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL3
$450, 2 lbs. 15 oz.

With a DAC Angle Hub, the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV (for High Volume) tents are roomier than the previous generation; the pole structure creates steeper wall angles for more headroom. These ultralight tents already had respectable stability and ventilation (despite having just one door). Still, they’re compact. I like the three-person Fly Creek HV UL3 because it’s light enough to use as a two-person shelter (less than a pound heavier than the two-person model) and has great space for two people (39 square feet), and is snug but livable for three people.

Read my complete review of the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL3.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to buy a Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL3 at rei.com; or by clicking this link to buy its predecessor, the Fly Creek UL3, which is comparable in weight but has less interior space and is available at a much lower price at backcountry.com.

See my “5 Tips For Buying a Backpacking Tent” and all of my reviews of backpacking tents that I like and all of my reviews of backpacking gear and ultralight backpacking gear.

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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