The 8 (Very) Best Backpacking Tents of 2020

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 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.


Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside, which has made several top outdoors blog lists. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip. Please follow my adventures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube.


 

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. I try to respond to all comments.

The 8 Best Backpacking Tents

ModelScore (1-5)PriceWeightFloor AreaPeak HeightDoorsFeatures
Gossamer Gear The One4$3001 lb. 6 oz.19.6 sq. ft.46 ins.1* Single-wall with good ventilation.
* Pitches with trekking poles.
* Excellent space-to-weight ratio.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 24$9001 lb. 12 oz.32.5 sq. ft.45 ins.2* Single-wall.
* Pitches with trekking poles.
* Waterproof, super durable fabric.
* Excellent space-to-weight ratio.
Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 Platinum4.4$5501 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 Trek4.4$3292 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 2P4.6$4002 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 UL24.6$4502 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 2P4.3$3493 lbs. 4 oz.32 sq. ft.42 ins.2* Exceptional value.
* Spacious interior, good headroom for its weight.
* Good stability.
MSR Zoic 24.2$3504 lbs. 6 oz.33 sq. ft.39 ins.2* Spacious interior.
* Easy to pitch.
* Good ventilation, stability, durability.
The Gossamer Gear The One solo ultralight tent in Glacier National Park.
The Gossamer Gear The One solo ultralight tent in Glacier National Park.

Gossamer Gear The One
$300, 1 lb. 6 oz.
gossamergear.com

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 Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2 ultralight backpacking tent in the Wind River Range.
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2 ultralight backpacking tent in the Wind River Range.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2
$900, 1 lb. 12 oz.
hyperlitemountaingear.com

For six nights on the 96-mile Wind River High Route, camping between 10,000 and 12,000 feet, the Dirigo 2 endured rain and winds—including getting hammered throughout one night by gusts of 40 to 50 mph without bending. That’s better than most freestanding, two-person tents weighing twice as much. A single-wall, non-freestanding tent that pitches using two adjustable trekking poles, with interior mesh walls and a bathtub floor, it’s made with waterproof, ultralight, and bombproof Dyneema Composite Fabrics. And its livability and space-to-weight ratio are best-in-class.

Read my complete review of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking this affiliate link to purchase a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2 at hyperlitemountaingear.com.

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Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 Platinum tent in the Grand Canyon.
The Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 Platinum tent in the Grand Canyon.

Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 Platinum
$550, 1 lb. 15 oz.
backcountry.com

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 no cost to you, by clicking either of these affiliate links to purchase a Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 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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Slingfin 2Lite Trek ultralight backpacking tent.
The Slingfin 2Lite Trek ultralight backpacking tent in Idaho’s City of Rocks.

Slingfin 2Lite Trek
$329, 2 lbs. 6 oz.
slingfin.com

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 ultralight backpacks.

The Nemo Dragonfly 2P interior.
The Nemo Dragonfly 2P on the Teton Crest Trail.

Nemo Dragonfly 2P
$ 400, 2 lbs. 10 oz.
backcountry.com

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 by clicking any of these affiliate links, at no cost to you, to purchase a Nemo Dragonfly 2P at backcountry.com, Moosejaw.com, or nemoequipment.com, or a Nemo Dragonfly 1P at backcountry.com, Moosejaw.com, or nemoequipment.com.

Want to hike the Teton Crest Trail, John Muir Trail, or another trip? Click here for expert advice you won’t get elsewhere.

 

Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 ultralight backpacking tent.
The Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 ultralight backpacking tent in Hells Canyon.

Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2
$450, 2 lbs. 11 oz.
backcountry.com

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 either of these affiliate links to purchase a Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 at Backcountry.com or Moosejaw.com.

Lighten up with my expert tips in “How to Choose the Best Ultralight Backpacking Tent for You.”

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
$349, 3 lbs. 4 oz.
backcountry.com

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

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MSR Zoic 2 backpacking tent.
The MSR Zoic 2 backpacking tent in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains.

MSR Zoic 2
$350, 4 lbs. 6 oz.
backcountry.com

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.comMoosejaw.com, or msrgear.com, a Zoic 1 at backcountry.commoosejaw.com, or msrgear.com, or a Zoic 3 at backcountry.commoosejaw.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 ($430, 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.

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See all of my reviews of backpacking tents that I like, and all of my reviews of backpacking gear and ultralight backpacking gear.

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 Wilderness Backpacking Trip” 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 “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Wilderness Backpacking Trip” and the lightweight backpacking guide without having a paid membership.

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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.

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24 thoughts on “The 8 (Very) Best Backpacking Tents of 2020”

  1. Hi Michael,

    Any thought on bivy sacks or recommendations on specific ones if you’ve used them any? The weather where I mainly backpack right now averages low temps at night in the 20-30 degree F range. I’m an ultralight backpacker and also starting to bikepack and always looking for the lightest and most convenient items to use. I’m interested in how fast bivy sacks are to set up and how versatile they are.

    Plus, I love sleeping on the ground wild-style. Something special about it. I’m mainly hiking in the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas right now and this is perfect backpacking weather down here. I’m also nervous for other readers to see this because it’s not on many backpackers’ radar… just kidding of course. But it should because I’ve been all over the country, and the Ozarks Mountain Range in Arkansas and Missouri is without a doubt one of the most beautiful areas in the country.

    Anyway, just wondering what you could recommend about bivy sacks.

    Thanks as always!

    Slade Smith

    Reply
    • Hi Slade,

      Always good to hear from you, thanks for a thoughtful question. I may not give the answer you were expecting in that I wouldn’t recommend a bivy sack for backpacking. I haven’t actually spent a night sleeping in one, although I have had a variety of similarly cramped sleeping experiences outdoors, ranging from very small solo tents to sharing a solo tent with another person (not recommended unless you really like that person a lot) to very tight snow caves. I’ve also slept under the stars countless nights and love doing that, too, but I often had a tent available as a backup for bad weather.

      I had this conversation with a couple of good friends recently who had bought a couple of bivy sacks for backpacking and then, after hearing my thoughts, decided against using them for backpacking. Short answer is that bivy sacks are intended as very minimalist shelters for one person in extreme conditions, generally climbers needing some kind of shelter on the side of a mountain, sometimes in terrible weather. These are not designed for comfort, by any stretch. I can’t see any argument for backpackers to use a bivy sack.

      Consider a few metrics. Some of the two-person tents in this review are the same weight as two bivy sacks, but these tents provide much more living space than any bivy sack. You can’t even sit up in a bivy sack. In hours of rain, at least a tent lets you move around and sit up. Not so in a bivy sack.

      While bivy sacks are typically waterproof-breathable, the close quarters and very limited ventilation options, plus the single-wall design, means that condensation can often build up inside, getting your bag and clothing wet. A bivy doesn’t have a vestibule for storing wet boots, shells, and a pack.

      There are very good, lightweight and ultralight solo and two-person tents out there that rival the low weight of a bivy sack and make much more sense for backpackers. I suggest you get one of those.

      Thanks for asking. Good luck.

      Reply
  2. Have you had a chance to try out the 2020 version of the Copper Spur UL2? Looks promising but I’d love your opinion. Thanks!

    Reply
  3. Thanks for this helpful info! There are a lot of review out there, but yours are more thorough and based on great experience, with great tips. I appreciate!

    Reply
  4. Hi Mike. Your blog is helpful for getting ready for Philmont with our Scouts next year. Did you have a chance to try the SlingFin Portal for your review? Thanks!

    Reply
  5. I’m still stewing about tents. In your reply to my post asking about warmer backpacking tents, you mentioned Big Agnes Battle Mountain. I notice that Big Agnes also makes Copper Spur HV Expedition. Do you have any experience with it or knowledge of it that you might be willing to share?

    Reply
    • Evan, I haven’t used the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV Expedition 2-person or 3-person, but a cursory look at its design suggests to me that it’s a good choice if you’re looking for a tent that traps heat more efficiently and is stronger than typical three-season tents in wind and under the weight of fresh snow. Instead of mesh, the walls are solid, but there are “window” panels you can upzip to roll back the solid panel and have mesh to add some ventilation, and the pole design looks stronger than lighter three-season tents. But I strongly suspect the Battle Mountain tents are stronger because of the more elaborate pole architecture, and they have more living space than the Copper Spur HV Expedition.

      Reply
  6. My question concerns MSR tents, in particular the Access 2 for which you provide a link in your answer to my earlier query. From looking at consumer reviews online, I grew a little concerned about the quality of MSR products (or quality control), since some of the reviewers raised what seemed to me to be serious concerns (poor sewing of seams, poles that broke at the ends after little use, inadequate waterproofing). I understand that online reviews are to be read with caution, but these matters did not seem trivial. Do you have direct experience with MSR tents, and, if so, are you willing to comment on your perceptions of their quality and durability?

    Reply
    • Hi Evan,

      In fact, I’ve reviewed many MSR products, including tents, and you can see a menu of those reviews here.

      MSR has a long history and a strong reputation for making quality gear; that’s why they’re a brand I like to review, because honestly, I don’t bother reviewing gear that I wouldn’t want to own.

      I’m not surprised you saw some negative comments on MSR products. I occasionally read online comments about gear that get posted at the websites of outdoor brands and at other blogs. I see some as insightful and useful, and others as misleading because they’re based on little experience with the product or a general lack of experience with gear.

      I also see many high-quality brands that occasionally receive similar negative comments. That can reflect dissatisfaction with a specific product, sometimes legitimate and sometimes due to a misperception of the product’s intended use; sometimes the brand will eventually either improve or discontinue that product. Not all new products succeed. Some have production flaws that get worked out, and any reputable brand will stand behind gear that fails with a repair or replacement of it.

      But I don’t see isolated negative comments as a reflection of a brand’s overall quality. I take a longer view on brand quality, making judgments based on a variety of products. I’ve been doing this for 25+ years. I’ve seen some brands go through a bad spell, and I’ve seen some come out with new stuff that didn’t make the cut. However, I’ve seen many high-quality brands survive and maintain their reputation in a highly competitive industry, which the outdoor industry still is (with many small, innovative companies), because they consistently make very good to excellent gear that users like. MSR remains a brand I trust.

      All that said, reading online reviews is useful, but look for significant trends in those comments, not isolated criticisms.

      I hope that’s helpful. Thanks for the good question.

      Reply
  7. Is there such a thing as a warm, 1-2 person backpacking tent? If so, are any of them (relatively) light in weight?

    Reply
    • Hey Evan, thanks for asking a good question. You’re right that all of the tents above are three-season tents, designed for good ventilation to keep occupants cooler on warm nights, but also to minimize or prevent condensation buildup inside on nights that drop below around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. They would feel cold inside on nights that drop well below freezing. But they would still protect you from most wind, certainly from precipitation, and you can obviously use a warmer sleeping bag for cold temps.

      Tent designers largely focus on making three-season tents lighter, adequately sturdy, and well ventilated. If you want a tent that traps heat better, you’re looking potentially at a four-season tent, one that’s made for winter temps and conditions (including stronger winds and possibly a snow load on the tent) and mountaineering at any time of year. That generally means much less mesh, replaced by small vents of some kind (you still have to release moisture from the inside to prevent condensation).

      The tradeoff is that they’re much heavier and bulkier when packed and usually uncomfortably hot in mild temps, not to mention considerably more expensive. Single-wall tents are lighter but often plagued by condensation.

      Some of the better tents in this category are the Big Agnes Battle Mountain 2, Black Diamond First Light, Mountain Hardwear Trango 2, and Hilleberg Jannu 2.

      Some tent models seek a middle ground between full-on winter/mountaineering and the lightest three-season tents, meaning they are good for colder temps and lots of precip, but not really for mountaineering or huge winds or snowfall. One of the lightest models is the MSR Access 2.

      If you need a stronger tent for weather more severe than typical three-season conditions, look at one or more of these tents. If you just want to be able to camp on colder nights but don’t really need a stronger, heavier tent, I suggest you get a warmer bag, a good insulated air mattress, and use a three-season tent.

      Reply
  8. I am an avid reader and value your advice. Since our almost 10 year old son is getting bigger, we are looking to purchase a new tent to give us more elbow room. Currently we have a GoLite Imogene UL3 that we love. We are not interested in moving to two two person tents, but instead moving to a 4 person tent for a few years. I see you like the Big Agnes Copper Spur. Any other suggestions/reviews to point us towards for a 4 person backpacking tent? Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hi Dana, yes, I’m a fan of the Big Agnes Copper Spur series, and there is a UL4 version. I think other good options are the Marmot Limelight or Tungsten. I haven’t used a 4p in a while, but those tents series are good ones.

      Reply
  9. Another vote for the Big Agnes Copper Spur. We picked ours up last winter and it has been awesome in tropical St Johns US Virgin Islands; in spring on the Long Trail in Vermont; in summer kayaking on the Connecticut River in VT/NH/MA; and fall camping with the Cub Scouts in VT.

    Reply
  10. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  11. 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!

    Reply

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