By Michael Lanza
We all know the secure feeling of being ensconced, warm and dry, inside a sturdy tent while cold, wet weather rages right outside your nylon walls. Many of us have also known the very opposite: a tent failing, inflicting us with a big load of wet misery. But when is the time right to get a tent, and how do you choose from the many models out there—which come in a huge range of designs, weights, and prices? I’m going to make that choice easy for you. I’ve tested scores of backpacking tents, and this review covers the very best of what’s available today.
Whether shopping for your first backpacking tent or looking to replace an old one, there’s hardly been a better time to get one. And 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 review, I’ve updated my picks for the seven top-performing backpacking tents available today—six two-person models and one ultralight solo tent—with links to my original, complete review of each one. My judgments draw from my experience of three decades of backpacking and a quarter-century of testing and reviewing gear—for many years as Backpacker magazine’s lead gear reviewer, and now for this blog. I think you’ll find at least one tent here 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 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 specs and features that distinguish these tents from one another.
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 “How to Choose the Best Ultralight Backpacking Tent for You.” Both of those stories require a subscription to read.
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.
|Model||Price||Weight||Floor Area||Peak Height||Doors||Features|
|Gossamer Gear The One||$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||$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||$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.
|Nemo Dragonfly 2P||$390||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||$450||2 lbs. 12 oz.||29 sq. ft.||40 ins.||2||* Very good space-to-weight ratio and headroom.
* Well-featured for sub-3 lbs.
* Quick to pitch.
|Marmot Tungsten UL 2P||$299||3 lbs. 4 oz.||32 sq. ft.||42 ins.||2||* Exceptional value.
* Spacious interior, good headroom for its weight.
* Good stability.
|MSR Zoic 2||$350||4 lbs. 6 oz.||33 sq. ft.||39 ins.||2||* Spacious interior.
* Easy to pitch.
* Good ventilation, stability, durability.
Gossamer Gear The One
$300, 1 lb. 6 oz.
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 by clicking this link to buy a Gossamer Gear The One at gossamergear.com.
Find your next adventure in your Inbox. Sign up for my FREE email newsletter now.
Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 Platinum
$550, 1 lb. 15 oz.
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.
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.
Plan your next great backpacking adventure using my downloadable, expert e-guides.
Click here now to learn more.
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.
You deserve a better backpack. See “The 10 Best Backpacking Packs”
and the best thru-hiking packs.
Nemo Dragonfly 2P
$ 390, 2 lbs. 10 oz.
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 60 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 by clicking any of these links to purchase a Nemo Dragonfly 2P at backcountry.com, Moosejaw.com, or rei.com, or a Nemo Dragonfly 1P at backcountry.com, Moosejaw.com, or rei.com.
Want to hike the Teton Crest Trail, JMT, or another trip? Click here for expert advice you won’t get elsewhere.
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2
$450, 2 lbs. 12 oz.
The Copper Spur series from Big Agnes got it all started when it comes to balancing truly good living space with low weight and weather protection, and the HV UL2 raised the performance bar while lowering the weight bar. DAC Featherlite NFL hubbed poles create 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. Vestibules are spacious, ventilation excellent, and the Copper Spur keeps the weather on the outside. If you’re looking for an ultralight tent that doesn’t feel like a coffin, you have few options, and this tent remains one of the very best.
Read my complete review of the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2.
Lighten up with my expert tips in “How to Choose the Best Ultralight Backpacking Tent for You.”
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.
Want an expert, personalized gear makeover from the former lead gear reviewer for Backpacker magazine?
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s talk.
MSR Zoic 2
$350, 4 lbs. 6 oz.
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 by clicking any of these links to buy an MSR Zoic 2 at backcountry.com, Moosejaw.com, rei.com, or msrgear.com, a Zoic 1 at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, rei.com, or msrgear.com, or a Zoic 3 at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, rei.com, or msrgear.com.
BONUS FAVORITE 3-PERSON 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 either of these links to buy a Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL3 at backcountry.com or 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 at right, and leave a comment or question at the bottom of this story. I’d really appreciate it.
Want to make your pack lighter and all of your backpacking trips more enjoyable? See my “10 Tricks for Making Hiking and Backpacking Easier” and “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking.” If you don’t have a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read part of both stories for free, or download the e-guide versions of the 10 tricks here and the lightweight backpacking guide here without having a paid membership.
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.
The Big Outside helps you find the best adventures. Join now to read ALL stories and get a free e-guide!