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Gear Review: The 7 Best Backpacking Tents of 2019

Gear Review: The 7 Best Backpacking Tents of 2019

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—first for Backpacker magazine, 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.

ModelPriceWeightFloor AreaPeak HeightDoorsFeatures
Gossamer Gear The One$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.
MSR FlyLite$3501 lb. 9 oz.29 sq. ft.44 ins.1* Superior space-to-weight ratio.
* Pitches with trekking poles.
* Hybrid single-, double-wall design.
Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 Platinum$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 Trek$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.
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2$4502 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$2993 lbs. 4 oz.32 sq. ft.42 ins.2* Exceptional value.
* Spacious interior, good headroom for its weight.
* Good stability.
MSR Zoic 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.

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 purchase a Gossamer Gear The One at gossamergear.com.

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The MRS FlyLite tent in Paria Canyon.
The MRS FlyLite tent in Paria Canyon.

MSR FlyLite
$350, 1 lb. 9 oz.

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 moosejaw.com.

 


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.


 

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.

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 by clicking either of these links to buy a a Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 Platinum at Moosejaw.com or rei.com.

Want to save $150? Get the nearly identical predecessor to the Tiger Wall 2 Platinum, which is only five ounces heavier. See my review of the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2.

Slingfin 2Lite Trek ultralight backpacking tent.
Slingfin 2Lite Trek ultralight backpacking tent.

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.

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

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 moosejaw.comems.com, or rei.com.

Plan your next great backpacking adventure using my downloadable, expert e-guides.
Click here now to learn more.

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 moosejaw.com or rei.com.

Want an expert, personalized gear makeover from the former lead gear reviewer for Backpacker magazine?

Email me at michael@thebigoutside.com and let’s talk.

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

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 Moosejaw.comrei.com, or msrgear.com, a Zoic 1 at moosejaw.comrei.com, or msrgear.com, or a Zoic 3 at moosejaw.comrei.com, or msrgear.com.

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

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 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 at right, 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.

Want to make your pack lighter and all of your backpacking trips more enjoyable? See my story 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 that story for free, or click here to download that full story 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 categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.

 

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About The Author

Michael Lanza

A former field editor and primary gear reviewer for Backpacker Magazine, Michael Lanza created The Big Outside to share stories and images from his many backpacking, hiking, and other outdoor adventures, as well as expert tips and gear reviews to help readers plan and pull off their own great adventures.

15 Comments

  1. Avatar

    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
    • Michael Lanza

      Hello Tai, I’m glad my blog is helpful to you. In fact, I used the SlingFin Portal 2 backpacking in the Grand Canyon in May and I plan to post a review soon. In short, it has good stability and decent space for its weight and other strengths, but I’ll get into more detail in my review.

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    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
    • Michael Lanza

      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
  3. Avatar

    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
    • Michael Lanza

      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
  4. Avatar

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

    Reply
    • Avatar

      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
  5. Avatar

    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
    • Avatar

      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
  6. Avatar

    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
    • MichaelALanza

      Thanks for the testing report, Chris. Yup, I’m a fan of the Copper Spur tents.

      Reply
  7. Avatar

    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
    • MichaelALanza

      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
  8. Avatar

    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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Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside and former Northwest Editor at Backpacker magazine. Click my photo to learn more about me and my blog. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside now to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. And click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

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