Gear Review: The 5 Best Backpacking Tents of 2017

November 21, 2017  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   3 Comments
The Marmot Tungsten UL 2P in Titcomb Basin, Wind River Range, Wyoming.

The Marmot Tungsten UL 2P in Titcomb Basin, Wind River Range, Wyoming.

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. Designers have thrown out ingrained notions of what a backpacking tent is, making shelters that keep getting 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; try them all, prices will vary throughout this season).

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 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.

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.

 

ModelPriceWeightFloor AreaPeak HeightDoorsFeatures
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2$4502 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$4292 lbs. 14 oz.29 sq. ft.43 ins.2* 2 vestibules.
* Quick to pitch.
* Good space-to-weight ratio.
Marmot Tungsten UL 2P$2993 lbs. 4 oz.32 sq. ft.42 ins.2* Very good space-to-weight ratio and headroom.
* 2 vestibules.
* 88-inch length.
MSR FlyLite$3501 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$4003 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 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 backcountry.com, ems.commoosejaw.com, or rei.com.

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.

BUY IT NOW: You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase a Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL2 mtnGLO at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or rei.com.

 

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

 

Exped Mira II HL tent.

Exped Mira II HL tent.

Exped Mira II HL
$429, 2 lbs. 14 oz.

The Mira II HL 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 HL.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking either of these links to buy an Exped Mira II HL at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com.

 

I can help you plan the best backpacking, hiking, or family adventure of your life. Find out more here.

 

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 backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or rei.com.

 

Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, the creator of The Big Outside, recognized as a top outdoors blog by USA Today and others. I invite you to get email updates about new stories and gear giveaways by entering your email address in the box in the left sidebar, at the bottom of this post, or on my About page, and follow my adventures on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

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 any of these links to buy an MSR FlyLite at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or rei.com.

 

Do you like my blog? Get full access to all stories at The Big Outside. Become a subscriber now!

 

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 or moosejaw.com.

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.

 


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3 Responses to Gear Review: The 5 Best Backpacking Tents of 2017

  1. 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.

  2. 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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