How to Choose a Tent + the Best Tents for Backpacking
A good tent should be lightweight, durable, weather-proof, and a cinch to set up, and all these factors can make it difficult to narrow down your choices….especially when you have to factor in the price tag.
In this blog post, I share some of the most important factors to consider when shopping for a new tent and recommendations for some of the best tents for backpacking so you can get ready for summer.
— Factors to Consider when Shopping for a Lightweight Backpacking Tent —Weight: When searching for a tent, this is the first factor I consider, and most backpacking tents weigh somewhere between 1-4 pounds. The lighter the tent, the more comfortable you are going to be when you are carrying it on your back. That said, there is often a trade-off between weight and durability. Ultralight tents require more care when setting them up and storing them when you get home. Ultralight tents also come with a heftier price tag. When comparing tents, you’ll typically see two different weight specs. The minimum trail weight is the weight of the tent, fly, and poles only. But you’ll probably also need stakes, a stuff sack, and maybe a footprint to protect the bottom of the tent. The packaged weight spec includes all of these the other goodies that come with the tent.
Capacity / Interior Space: Who and how many people will you be sharing your tent with? And how tall are you? Many of the 2-man tents (especially the ultralight options) are very tight for two people. If you plan to mostly camp with your significant other and are ok cuddling, then one of the smaller 2-man tents could be ok. On the other hand, if you are super tall or tend to share your tent with friends who you don’t want to spoon, you might want something a little more spacious (or perhaps even consider a lightweight 3-man tent). Things to pay attention to are the floor space, whether or not the tent has a tapered design (one side is wider than the other), and whether there is enough headspace for you to sit up and hang out if you get stuck inside due to bad weather.
Number of Doors: Two doors will make getting in and out of the tent way more comfortable when you are camping with someone else. It means you won’t have to crawl over each other and you will also have your own separate vestibule to store your stuff which helps you stay more organized. (A vestibule is the area outside of the tent door underneath the tent fly).
Seasonal Rating: A majority of backpackers will be fine with a 3-season tent which are designed to breathe well in moderate weather conditions (including heavy rain and light snow) during spring, summer, and fall. If you plan on camping in heavy snow or in extreme, exposed conditions, you may need a 4-season tent. Four-season tents have less mesh and retain heat better, but the lack of ventilation can make them feel a bit stuffy.
Wall Construction: Most of the popular backpacking tents are double-walled – which means they come with the actual tent as your shelter and a separate rain fly that you attach to the outside of the tent for weather protection. Double-walled tents ventilate better and experience less condensation due to airflow. A single-walled tent is weatherproof all around without the need for a fly, and that often helps shave off some weight. Single-walled tents also typically have no windows and no mesh. This means that condensation can be a problem in wet conditions. Single-walled tents are best in cold, dry conditions (like the southern Utah desert in early spring).
Free-standing vs Tarp-Style: A free-standing tent is one that comes with poles that support it. They are quick and easy to set up and can be pitched almost anywhere, which is why this style is more popular. A tarp-style tent is one that you set up using your trekking poles for support and by tying guy lines to trees, rocks, etc to get it taut. Tarp-style tents are lighter since they don’t have poles tend to appeal to experienced long-distance hikers.
— The Best Backpacking Tents —
For 2-person, free-standing backpacking tents, these are some of the best options available. The tents are listed in order of their packaged weight, and the tents featured are the some of the lightest for the given floor space.
BEARFOOT TIP: The packaged weight includes everything that the tent comes with, including stakes, stuff sacks, guy lines, and the instruction manual. You can shed a few ounces by swapping out the stakes for lighter ones, like these titanium tent stakes.
NEMO Hornet 2p Tent
Packaged weight: 2 lbs, 5 oz
Interior height: 40″
Floor size: 85” x 51” (head) x 43” (feet)
The NEMO Hornet is a great ultralight tent for a solo hiker or two folks that don’t mind a tight squeeze. While you’ll have to get cozy, this ultralight tent does have a few features that make it more comfortable for two people compared to other comparably sized lightweight tents. First, many tents in this weight class only have one door, but the Hornet 2p has a two door system. When sharing this small space with another person, having a door on each side makes it so much easier to get in and out (I know because the single door is the biggest problem I have with my Mountain Hardwear Super Mega UL2 – which is similar in size). The material on the NEMO Hornet is quite thin, so the optional footprint is recommended to protect it from wear and tear.
Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 2 Tent
Packaged weight: 3 lb, 2 oz
Floor size: 90” x 52” (head) x 42” (feet)
The Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 2 Tent is one of the most popular lightweight tents on the market and is a good choice for long distance hikers. Ultralight tents often cut ounces by sacrificing space, but with the near vertical walls, this Big Agnes tent remains quite livable. While your feet may be a bit cramped with the tapered foot, it still has two doors and ample head space. The downside of this tent is that the mesh is very thin and can tear easily if you aren’t careful.
For a less expensive but similar tent, check out the REI Quarter Dome 2 Tent.
NEMO Equipment Dagger 2P Tent
Packaged weight: 3 lbs, 12 oz
Floor size: 90” x 50”
Interior height: 42″
The NEMO Dagger 2p tent is one of the roomier tents in its weight range. A non-tapered design, 42″ of head space, and tall, wide walls make this a great option for 2 friends who want to share the weight. The vestibule also stakes out in two places giving you plenty of room to store gear, while still having a path to crawl in and out of the tent.
MSR Hubba Hubba NX Tent
Packaged Weight: 3 lbs, 13 oz
Floor size: 84” long x 50” wide
Interior height: 39″
The MSR Hubba Hubba Tent has been around for over 10 years, and this year’s new model is a great compromise between durability and weight. It has a non-tapered design so you have just as much room on both ends of the tent, and the Hubba Hubba is very similar in size, space, and weight to the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Sky 2 Tent down below. It also comes with a compression sack, making it super packable. Other features include rainfly vents which help reduce condensation, and the rainfly can be partially rolled up for extra air flow even while it’s raining. Poles are on a hub system
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Sky 2 Tent
Packaged weight: 4 lbs, 1 oz
Interior height: 39″
Floor size: 87” x 49”
The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Sky 2 is the new version of Mountain Hardware’s Skyledge tent which I took with me on the John Muir Trail. That tent has taken a good beating, and it still sets up as if it was new. It’s slightly heavier than some of the other backpacking tents on this list, but if you tend to be hard on your gear, this tent should last you for a very long time. It’s non-tapered design means that you have ample room around your head and feet, and it’s a cinch to set up.
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Disclosure: The links in this post are affiliate links which means if you make a purchase, I receive a tiny bit of compensation at no added cost to you. Any purchases you make help keep this blog going…so thanks for all of your support! If you ever have any questions about any of the products featured on my site, please email me. Thanks! Kristen