With more than a decade of backpacking experience, we know what goes into a quality backpacking tent. We’ve spent the past several months setting up and tearing down the latest tents for 2019 to see how they perform where it counts: On the trail. Our top pick is thefrom Nemo. It won top honors for its new design that adds extra headroom without increasing the weight. The Hornet Elite 2P is a small, ultralight backpacking tent and is not for everyone which is why we included the spacious , the affordable from Sierra Designs and others. We have something for everyone on this list.
At a glance
|Nemo Hornet Elite 2P (2019)||Best backpacking tent|
|MSR Hubba Hubba NX||Best for the weekend backpacker|
|Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2||Best two-person shelter|
|Zpacks Plexamid||Best trekking pole tent|
|MSR Thru-HikerMesh Tent and 70 Wing||Best tarp shelter|
|Nemo Chogori||Best four-season tent|
|MSR Zoic 2P||Most spacious|
|Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight 2||Best on a budget|
Nemo Hornet Elite 2019
The best overall
Why you should buy this: It’s an ultralight tent that won’t weigh you down.
Who it’s for: Backpackers who want to go the distance in the lightest tent possible.
Weight: 2 lbs. 1 ounce
Floor area: 27.3 square feet
Vestibules: 6.2 + 6.2 square feet
Peak height: 37 inches
Why we picked the Nemo Hornet Elite 2P:
The Nemo Hornet Elite 2P has been one of our favorite tents because it is among the lightest two-person tents on the market. What held it back was its interior headroom space which felt cramped. This changes in 2019 when Nemo added the flybar, a small piece of plastic that extends out the top part of the tent, giving you extra headroom without increasing the weight.
The ultra-lightweight tent weighs a tad over 2 pounds and has plenty of room for a single person and their gear. It’s has a thoughtful design with two doors for entry, two interior pockets, and vestibules large enough for your boots and backpack.
MSR Hubba Hubba NX
The best for the weekend warrior
Why you should buy this: The MSR Hubba Hubba NX uses a unique pole design and 30-denier nylon floor, making it a durable and easy-pitch tent.
Who it’s for: If you need rock solid reliability in a tent, the MSR Hubba Hubba NX is our go-to pick.
Weight: 3 lbs. 14 ounces
Floor area: 29 square feet
Vestibules: 8.75 + 8.75 square feet
Peak height: 39 inches
Why we picked the MSR Hubba Hubba NX:
If you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of weight for added durability, the MSR Hubba Hubba NX is a high-quality option. Although redesigned to weigh less than last year’s model, the Hubba Hubba NX still ranks below many of the lighter-weight tents bursting onto the scene. When you’re just heading out for the weekend or can split the weight between two people, it serves as an excellent tent choice.
The Hubba Hubba NX matches the Copper Spur HV regarding floor space (at 29 square feet) and is also constructed with two doors and vestibules for comfort and plenty of gear storage. The tent has a symmetrical design, meaning both parties can sleep in either direction, unlike the Nemo Hornet ELite 2P and other shelters that taper in at the feet. It’s attractive to look at, and a unique all-in-one pole construction makes for one of the simplest tests to set up.
The 30-denier fabric makes the Hubba Hubba NX slightly more durable than other tents in its category but it doesn’t do as well in heavy rainstorms, as the 2019 model uses MSR’s Xtreme Shield waterproof coating and precision stitched seams instead of taped seams. If it’s a trip with sunshine in the forecast, MSR’s Hubba Hubba NX is your trusted backpacking tent companion. If it’s going to rain heavily, then you should use some seam sealer before you hit the trail.
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2
The best two-person
Why you should buy this: The Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 is roomy and lightweight — a rare combination in a backpacking tent.
Who it’s for: Backpackers who want a comfortable shelter and don’t mind carrying a few extra ounces for it.
Weight: 3 lbs. 1 ounce
Floor area: 29 square feet
Vestibules: 9 + 9 square feet
Peak height: 40 inches
Why we picked the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2:
They say, “don’t fix what isn’t broken,” but Big Agnes keeps making improvements to its popular Copper Spur tent anyway. If you’re looking for that optimum balance of comfort, weight, stability, and ventilation, this tent takes the prize as one of the best three season options on the market. Its low profile, simple pole configuration, and ample guy points make for a trusty companion in strong winds while remaining lightweight at just over three pounds.
Two doors and vestibules keep both parties happy, and generous use of mesh along with a vent at the top of the rainfly allows for plenty of ventilation, even with its double-wall construction. Its freestanding design is favored by serious backpackers and makes for easy setup and breakdown.
It does come with a downside, however. When sacrificing weight, there is often a sacrifice in the durability of the fabric — and this tent is no exception. With a proprietary patterned ripstop nylon that increases tear strength by 25 percent, it does still rank as 20-denier while the mesh ranks slightly weaker at 15-denier. This lightweight fabric means you’ll need to treat it with care if you want it to last. Despite its slight decrease in durability, the $450 Copper Spur HV UL2 is still a natural choice as our top pick for two people.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2
The best for the ultralight backpacker
Why you should buy this: The Dirigo 2 packages rock solid performance in a lightweight design.
Who it’s for: The Dirigo 2 is for backpackers who want more than a tarp without sacrificing weight.
Weight: 1 lbs. 12 ounces
Floor area: 32.5 square feet
Vestibules: 21.5 square feet
Peak height: 45 inches
Why we picked the Hyperlite Dirigo 2:
Hyperlite is known for its outstanding backpacks and tarp shelters which are handmade right here in the US. The company recently expanded its product lineup with the new Dirigo 2, its first trekking pole tent. The Dirigo 2 has a triangular-based design that is rock solid. Once you set it up and stake out the sides, it’ll take one powerful storm to knock the tent down to the ground. Pitching it is easy, too — simply stake out the sides, prop it up with two trekking poles and use the guylines as needed.
The construction is top notch with well-sticthed seams and quality components. It is made from five different types of Cuben fiber which were carefully chosen for their strength and waterproof qualities. Not only is the tent lightweight, but it also is roomy with 32 square feet of floor space. It has two entrances and two vestibules for ample storage. It is a single-wall tent with a bathtub floor to protect from water and mesh panels on the inside for breathability. COndensation is only a minor problem when the shelter is sealed up tight thanks to the well=placed vents and angled walls that encourage water to slide off the exterior and not pool. If condensation is a concern, opening the door, even a crack, helps immensely with breathability.
The best trekking pole tent
Why you should buy this: The Zpacks Plexamid weighs 14.8 ounces, packs down small in your pack and has plenty of room for one person and all their gear.
Who it’s for: Ounce-counting backpackers who want an ultralight shelter that will last for 2000 miles.
Weight: 14.8 ounces
Floor area: 29 square feet
Peak height: 48 inches
Why we picked the Zpacks Plexamid:
The Zpacks Plexamid is a minimalist backpacking tent that is among the lightest shelters you can purchase and remain comfortable. On the interior, it measures 38-inches at its widest point and tapers to 28-inches at both ends. Though narrow, the tent has a peak height of 48-inches and is 7.5-feet long so most backpackers will be able to sit up comfortably or lay down to stretch their legs out. There is a single door with a vestibule for storing dirty or muddy gear that you don’t want to bring into the tent.
The Plexamid is a single-layer tent with mesh for the door and a bathtub floor that is sewn directly to the rain fly. The rain fly overhangs the interior portion of the tent, allowing you to keep the doors open during a light rain. This design maximizes ventilation to help reduce condensation, a problem for most single layer tents. The tent is constructed with Dyneema (formerly cuben fiber) which has a very high strength to weight ratio and is waterproof. The Plexamid won’t leak when it rains or tear when the winds start to howl.
MSR 70 Wing Tarp with Mesh House 2 Insert
The best tarp shelter
Who it’s for: Ultralight backpackers who want a versatile shelter to protect them from the elements.
Weight: 1 lbs. 2 ounces (mesh house), 1 lbs (tarp)
Floor area: 30 square feet (mesh house); 90 square feet (tarp)
Peak height: Variable
Why we picked the MSR Thru-Hiker Mesh tent and 70 Wing:
The 16-ounce Thru-Hiker 70 wing tarp provides ample protection from wind and rain without weighing your pack down. When fully extended, it 9.5-feet square design has enough room for 2-3 people and gear. The Thru-Hiker tarp quickly pitches with two trekking poles or by hanging it from nearby trees. This setup makes it very versatile. You can adjust the height of the two poles to angle the tarp, so rain rolls off or keep it very low to the ground when the winds pick up. You can extend it out to accommodate additional people or leave it at a steep pitch for warmth. Best of all, the tarp packs down compactly to fit in any nook or cranny of your pack.
If you need extra protection from bugs or wet weather, you can add in the optional interior micromesh tent. The mesh tent clips inside the tarp and provides a barrier from biting insects. It also has a bathtub-style 15D nylon floor that’ll keep the wetness out when it rains. The front and sides of the insert tent are mesh, while the back is ripstop nylon. You can position the tent, so the nylon faces the elements adding an extra layer of protection.
The best four-season tent
Why you should buy this: The Nemo Chogori is a rock solid four-season tent that shines when the winds howl and the snow is blowing.
Who’s it for: Winter backpackers who want a bombproof shelter to weather the harsh conditions of winter.
Weight: 8 lbs. 7 ounces
Floor area: 44.3 square feet
Vestibules: 13.9 square feet + 5.4 square feet
Peak height: 46 inches
Why we picked the Nemo Chogori:
When you’re taking on the harshest weather conditions, you want a bomber tent, and the Nemo Chogori is just about as bomber as any two-person or three-person backpacking tent can get. Nemo is known for its outstanding ultralight tents, and the Chogori proves the New Hampshire-based company has the chops for the mountaineering market as well.
The tent weighs just over eight pounds which may seem heavy after reading about much lighter alternatives, but when you’re trekking through snowstorms, seven pounds isn’t much for the superior weather resistance you receive. The tent fabric is carefully chosen to balance weight and strength with 20D nylon ripstop canopy, 30D SilNylon rainfly, and a 70D PeU nylon floor.
Its innovative design is highlighted by a single sidewall with an integrated rainfly that makes it incredibly easy to set up. You stake out the tent and pitch the freestanding poles first before clipping up the body, then stake out the vestibules and guylines, all of which can be done in under five minutes during a snowstorm. The intersecting network of poles gives the tent its strength and the rain fly provides extra protection from sleet and snow. Although it’s one of our most expensive tents in this round-up, the Chogori is worth its weight in gold when you’re headed into the worst winter conditions.
MSR Zoic 2P
The most spacious
Why you should buy this: The MSR Zoic offers plenty of room for sleeping, changing and even a game of cards when the weather is foul.
Who’s it for: Backpackers willing to sacrifice weight for space and durability.
Weight: 4 lbs. 13 ounces
Floor area: 33 square feet
Vestibules: 9 + 9 square feet
Peak height: 39 inches
Why we picked the MSR Zoic 2P:
Like most MSR tents, the Zoic 2P is a tank built with a 70D nylon floor and a 40D rainfly. It is heavier than the ultralight tents on this list, but that is the tradeoff you get for the rugged, freestanding design. Whether you are trailhead camping or at the summit, the Zoic will not fail you when the winds pick up. The Zoic also is spacious with plenty of headroom for sitting and enough floor space to fit two wide air mattresses. There are two interior gear lofts for storage, two doors for easy access and two vestibules for storage.
The Zoic 2P is new for 2019 and, like most of MSR”s new tents, it includes MSR’s new Xtreme Shield waterproof coating. MSR did not tape the seams on the tent, and instead used precision stitching to prevent leaking. If you are going to encounter heavy rain, then you should grab some seam sealer before heading out. If the lack of taped seams is a dealbreaker, then you should check out the Dragonfly 2 from Nemo which is about the same size, but is made from lighter weight material.
Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight 2
The best tent for the budget-conscious
Why you should buy this: With a price tag that undercuts most of its competition, the Clip Flashlight 2 is suitable for two people and their gear.
Who’s it for: Backpackers looking for a tent that is comfortable on the trail but won’t break the bank.
Weight: 3 lbs. 14 ounces
Floor area: 30 square feet
Vestibules: 8.8 square feet
Peak height: 42 inches
Why we picked the Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight 2:
If you can’t afford to spend a fortune on a backpacking tent or you’re backpacking for the first time, the Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight 2 is a roomy, durable, and relatively lightweight option. The semi-freestanding tent serves as a luxurious trail companion, equipped with ample mesh for ventilation and a fly design that rolls back for improved airflow even when it is raining. The fly also can be pitched as a shade-providing awning when the sun is burning hot.
Redesigned with more interior space, the latest version of this iconic two-person backpacking tent has large mesh pockets for storing knick-knacks and extra floor space for a pillow, a fleece and other small pieces of gear. There is ample headroom, especially at the front of the tent, allowing you to sit comfortably while you put on your boots or sift through your backpack. A single oversize door and spacious vestibule ensure both parties can easily exit the tent without waking up their partner or tripping over their gear.
Although its weight pushes 4 pounds, the tent is still a light enough load to be split between two people on most backpacking expeditions. And with a sub-$200 price tag, the Clip Flashlight 2 is an outstanding deal.
Things to consider
Type and capacity
The first question to ask yourself is how many people you plan on sleeping with? Every tent in this round-up are two-person tents for simplicity, but there are plenty of great three- to four-person tents on the market — as well as single-person tents for those who prefer to go solo. Backpacking tents tend to fit sleeping pads and bags snuggly, so if you’re tall or need more room than the average person, pay attention to the interior capacity or try plus-size tent designs. Note that ultralight models are likely to be even cozier.
Double wall tents
Double wall tents are comprised of three parts: An inner body likely made of mesh with a waterproof floor, a waterproof rain fly, and poles. Freestanding tents stand up entirely on their own while self-supporting tents have poles that hold most of the body up but need other parts, such as the vestibule to be guyed out. Tunnel tents require guylines for support.
Note: Keep in mind you’re likely going to want to bring a footprint which is typically sold separately.
As a general rule of thumb, when you go below three pounds, you’ve crossed over into the ultralight realm. This usually equates to thinner fabrics, less interior space, and increased cost. Tarps and shelters can also be included under this umbrella. Designed for dedicated minimalists and thru-hikers, many ultralight tents are of the single wall variety and often utilize Dyneema, such as in the ZPacks Plexamid described above. Many forego poles completely and instead rely on a pair of trekking poles for set up.
Lightweight three-season tents
These are typically the most popular type of backpacking tents and are suitable for use in the spring, summer, and fall seasons. They’re capable of withstanding a good downpour or light snowfall but are not designed for harsh winter conditions. These tents need to ventilate well in summer yet be able to handle mild to moderately inclement weather.
A four-season tent is what you reach for when you’re winter camping, as it’s designed to handle substantial snowfall and strong winds. These tents are typically heavier, consist of more poles, have fewer mesh panels, and a rainfly which extends all the way to the ground. They do tend to be more expensive, however. What you pay for in heavier weight you receive in added protection. The Nemo Chogori described above is an ideal four-season tent as it’s specially designed for snowfall.
Materials and fabrics
A fabric’s denier indicates its yarn strength, and you’ll notice that this varies considerably. Ultralight tents tend to have lower denier fabric for weight-saving purposes whereas heavier tents are likely to be more durable. The type of fabric matters, however, so be aware of differences when comparing fabrics. Deniers can vary between the tent floor, canopy, and rain fly.
Polyurethane (PU) coated fabrics
This is the cheapest way to attain a waterproof fabric, but the downside is its susceptibility to degradation over time — specifically a chemical process known as hydrolysis, which will eventually break down the material.
Silicone elastomer coated nylons have become increasingly used in high-quality backpacking and mountaineering tents. The advantages to SilNylon are that it tends to be lighter, stronger, and more durable than PU-coated fabrics. This also equates to a higher price tag. Many tents are made of SilNylon on the outside and PU-coated on the inside so the inside can be seam-sealed by hand.
Dyneema, formerly known as Cuben Fiber, is by far the strongest and lightest fabric on the market — and it’s also the most waterproof. Compared to SilNylon, which stretches considerably, Dyneema keeps its shape, which is an advantage in wet conditions because you won’t have to adjust your guylines as frequently. Dyneema can also be repaired quickly with tape and weighs less than half as much as SilNylon. While seen as an obvious advantage for utilization in backpacking tents, its major drawback is its expense.