Gear Review: The 5 Best Backpacking Tents

April 19, 2017  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   1 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.

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.

 

ModelPriceWeightFloor AreaPeak HeightDoorsFeatures
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2$4502 lbs. 12 oz.29 sq. ft.40 ins.2* Great space-to-weight ratio.
* 2 vestibules.
* Quick to pitch.
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 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 this link to buy a Copper Spur HV UL2 at moosejaw.com.

 

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.

 

The Big Outside is proud to partner with sponsors Backcountry.com and Visit North Carolina, who support the stories you read at this blog. Find out more about them and how to sponsor my blog at my sponsors page at The Big Outside. Click on the backcountry.com ad below for the best prices on great gear.

 

 

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.

 

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

 

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.

 

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 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.

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.

See 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

 

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.

 

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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One Response to Gear Review: The 5 Best Backpacking Tents

  1. 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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