The Best Backpacking Tents of 2021

Choosing a tent for your thru-hike is a big deal, but it’s also probably the least stressful house shopping experience you’ll have over the course of your lifetime. Enjoy it. The best backpacking tents strike a balance between weight, livable space, ease of pitch, and stability. Your tent should also be stable in snow, breathable in areas of high humidity, and super waterproof. You should be able to comfortably keep your sleeping bag away from tent walls to prevent dampness, and also get in and out easily, sit up comfortably, and have enough space (if hiking with a partner) where you don’t feel like you’re whacking them every time you move or put a layer on.

Why should you trust us?

Because we’re so incredibly intelligent, of course! Attractive, too. (Not to mention extremely humble).

But if that isn’t enough to impress you, there’s also the fact that everyone who contributed to this article is an experienced thru-hiker with thousands of on-trail miles under their belt. We’re gear nerds who love putting our equipment to the test on trails long and short, and we’ve tested dozens of tents in pursuit of a better night’s sleep in the backcountry.

Moreover, we survey hundreds of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers every year to learn about their behaviors, demographics, and—you guessed it—gear preferences. That means our picks for the best backpacking tents aren’t just our opinions: they’re based on years of feedback from the thru-hiking community.

Check out AT hikers’ best backpacking tents from the 2017, 2018, and 2019 thru-hiker surveys.

Competence and backpacking proficiency personified.

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Best Backpacking Tents of 2021

Gossamer Gear The DCF One (Easiest Pitch for a Trekking Pole Shelter)

best backpacking tents

Best backpacking tents: Gossamer Gear The DCF One.

MSRP: $539
Weight: 15.3 ounces
Interior space: 16 square feet
Doors / Vestibules: 1 door, 1 vestibule (10 square feet)
Best For: Ultralight solo hikers who value space

Why We Love This Tent

The (Original) One is a solo-hiker fave that tops ultralight gear roundups across the board. It’s affordable, lightweight, and spacious. Gossamer Gear rolled out a much-anticipated, even-ultralight-er version of this classic shelter last year. So far, the all-Dyneema The DCF One is more than living up to the hype.

The setup is simple for a trekking pole shelter, and the venting design helps prevent some of the condensation issues that arise with single-wall shelters. The top bar is wide enough to provide ample shoulder room, something that can feel lacking in solo shelters. This is a one-piece shelter that sets up with six stakes and two trekking poles.

I grew to love The One in its original form on my first two thru-hikes. The DCF One cuts out a fat chunk of weight compared to the original and even made a few other minor improvements. The tent is pretty easy to set up once you get the hang of it, there’s generous space in the vestibule, and the interior even has a bit more space than your average 1P shelter. For the particularly weight savvy hiker, a fully enclosed tent that weighs less than a pound is about as good as it gets.” —Carl Stanfield

Features

  • Side-wall guy outs: If you want to put in the extra effort to guy out the side walls for more tension (recommended), the option is there.
  • Silnylon floor: The DCF One’s 7D silnylon bathtub packs down smaller and resists punctures better than the DCF walls.
  • Large side-entry door: The side entry in The DCF One is large and unzips fully for easy entry and exit.
  • Quick pitch: All trekking pole shelters (OK, all shelters in general) take some practice to get right, but this shelter is one of the less finicky trekking pole options to pitch.

Nobody’s Perfect

Some of our taller users had trouble keeping their feet away from the walls of the tent. It’s also significantly more expensive than the traditional silnylon version of The One, but the resultant weight savings are disappointingly less significant.

The price definitely speaks for itself here: if you want this tent, you’re gonna have to fork some over. Functionally speaking though I do wish the tent was just a little bit longer. At 6 feet tall I’m right at the edge of fitting comfortably without soaking my head and/or feet with condensation at night.“—Carl Stanfield

Check out our reviews of Gossamer Gear’s The Two, The DCF One, and The DCF Two.

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Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 (Best Freestanding Tent for Individuals)

best backpacking tents

Best backpacking tents: Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 Solution Dye.

MSRP: $370
Weight: 2 pounds, 4 ounces
Category: Semi-freestanding
Interior space: 28 square feet
Doors / Vestibules: 1 door, 1 vestibule (8 square feet)
Best For: Solo hikers who want extra space, pairs of hikers who want to split a lightweight tent

Why We Love This Tent

The Fly Creek is one of the flagship lightweight backpacking tents from Big Agnes, and hasn’t changed a lot since its original inception. This is a well-designed tent with a pole structure that offers maximum interior space for as little weight as possible, and the materials have stood the test of time on thru-hikes, with very few durability issues compared to other tents. It was a toss-up between this and the Copper Spur, which is more comfortable but also heavier and more expensive.

New for 2021, Big Agnes is manufacturing the Fly Creek with high-quality solution-dyed fabric that is resistant to UV fade and conserves water and energy during manufacture.

Find the one-person here.

“I shared a two-person Fly Creek with my partner on an Appalachian Trail thru-hike and we both absolutely loved it. It’s durable and easy to set up. Although some people find it cramped for two, we never really minded. We were also very impressed by the tent’s stormworthiness: it stood up to high winds, driving rain, and literal floods without missing a beat. To this day, it’s never leaked, ripped, bent, or otherwise developed signs of wear despite heavy use.” —Kelly Floro

Features

  • Single-hub pole structure: Fast pitch, easy to set up. Big Agnes uses lightweight plastic clips to attach the tent body to the poles that are easy to clip, even with frozen fingers.
  • Interior pockets: Never lose your headlamp or your phone with two interior pockets, handy for organizing smaller items.
  • Dry-brow entry: Helps keep your gear dry when it’s stashed in the vestibule.

Nobody’s Perfect

The Fly Creek has less interior space than the Copper Spur and less headroom than the Tiger Wall. It only has one door/vestibule at the front of the shelter, which means scooting forward out of your sleeping bag and doing tent yoga to get in and out in the middle of the night. While we like the idea of the dry-brow entry, it does make it slightly more physically challenging to crawl in and out of the tent.

 “Although I love this tent, I eventually upgraded to a Tiger Wall because of the increased headroom and side doors. The front door is really difficult to use, especially if you’re trying not to accidentally squash your partner’s face in the dark. This also renders the tiny vestibule virtually useless.”—Kelly Floro

Read our review of the Fly Creek HV UL2 here.

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Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 (Best Ultralight Freestanding Tent)

best backpacking tents

Best backpacking tents: Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 Solution-Dyed tent.

MSRP: $400
Weight: 2 pounds, 8 ounces
Category:
 Semi-freestanding
Interior space: 28 square feet
Doors / Vestibules: 2 doors, 2 vestibules (8 square feet each)
Best For: Pairs of weight-conscious thru-hikers who want a fast pitch and two entrances

Why We Love This Tent

This tent combines the best features of the Fly Creek and the Copper Spur. The Tiger Wall is a similar size to the Fly Creek, but the horizontal spreader bar allows for additional shoulder room, plus two doors and two vestibules, which make it easier to share. It’s eight ounces lighter than the Copper Spur (and $50 cheaper) but has more shoulder space than the Fly Creek, plus the two doors and vestibules that pairs of hikers might prefer. New for 2021, Big Agnes is manufacturing the Tiger Wall with high-quality solution-dyed fabric that is resistant to UV fade and conserves water and energy during manufacture.

“To me, the Fly Creek was already one of the best backpacking tents out there, and the Tiger Wall solves all the beefs I had with that tent (more headroom, convenient side doors) while retaining the durability, compactness, and ease of use—all with a very minimal weight penalty.”—Kelly Floro

Find the Tiger Wall Carbon here, and Tiger Wall 3 here.

Features

  • Structured corners: This means the bathtub floor has a few extra inches in the corners of vertical structure, which can give you more space to keep your sleeping bag and feet away from the tent walls
  • Dry-door entry: A few inches of space extending over the door means the interior of the tent can stay drier during setup and exits during rainy nights.
  • Interior pockets: A large ceiling pocket can hold a headlamp for some *~*ambient lighting*~* and media pockets along the side are perfect for stashing small items.
  • Color-coded buckles: Sure, you can still mess up clipping the fly to the tent body, but it’s harder to do with the color-coded buckles.

Nobody’s Perfect

The vestibules can be hard to crawl in and out of, and the rain fly can get snagged on the zipper. It is smaller than the Copper Spur with less foot room, but again, it comes in eight ounces lighter. It’s roomier than the Fly Creek but comes in four ounces heavier. The Platinum and Carbon versions of the Tiger Wall are lighter, but the price tags are traumatic. Pick your poison.

Watch our review of the Tiger Wall here.

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MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 (Best Tent for Rough Weather)

best backpacking tents

Best backpacking tents: MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2.

MSRP: $450
Weight: 3 pounds, 14 ounces
Category:
 Semi-freestanding
Interior space: 29 square feet
Doors / Vestibules: 2 doors, 2 vestibules (8.75 square feet each)
Best For: Pairs of hikers who want to maximize their space and need a burlier tent model

Why We Love This Tent

This is the heaviest tent on the list, but thanks to the way the shoulder space and poles are set up, it can be more comfortable for taller hikers, or pairs of hikers who want to split the weight for the luxury of some extra space. While the specs look similar to the Big Agnes models, the design of this tent makes it feel more spacious. The floor angles outward, instead of vertical or angled in, which gives users more foot room.

The fly and tent body materials are heftier than other models of a similar size, but the tradeoff is increased durability and less chance of the fly getting caught in the zipper. The poles are thicker (over 9mm) than lighter weight tents, so you can be a little rougher with this tent. The fly pitch is taut, but what really sells us is the design for maximizing head, shoulder, and foot space as well as the burlier materials for durability.

Find the MSR Hubba 1 NX here.

Features

  • Stable, durable poles: It will take a lot to make this tent collapse. Poles are Easton Syclone, which are ultra-rugged and can stand up to some serious wind.
  • Proprietary waterproofing: Nothing will prevent condensation in extreme conditions, but the Xtreme Shield waterproofing helps keep it dry from outside precipitation, and MSR claims will also help the fabric resist condensation buildup.
  • Livable space: I mentioned this above, but the design—from head(space) to toe(space) has livability in mind.

Nobody’s Perfect

The tent does have a smart design, but it’s still 29 square feet of interior space for nearly four pounds, which is certainly hefty. You’re trading out the durability for weight savings. Depending on what type of hiker you are, this could be worth it. Our testers who used other MSR tents with the Xtreme Shield waterproofing experienced some leaking at the seams.

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Zpacks Duplex (Best Ultralight Tent for Thru-Hiking)

best backpacking tents

Best backpacking tents: Zpacks Duplex.

MSRP: $600
Weight: 1 pound, 3 ounces
Category:
Trekking-pole tent
Interior space: 28 square feet
Doors / Vestibules: 2 doors, 2 vestibules
Best For: Ultralight hikers who want the spaciousness of a two-person tent  without the weight, or pairs of ultralight hikers

Why We Love This Tent

“For years the Zpacks Duplex has maintained its status as one of the most popular and well-liked tents of thru-hikers—and for good reason. It stands as one of the lightest and most durable two-person trekking pole shelters available, perfectly suited for an entire summer on the trail. Single-wall DCF construction keeps the weight low without sacrificing strength or longevity, providing fully waterproof protection and a rugged bathtub floor that does not require a groundsheet.

And despite the low weight, the Duplex is spacious enough to comfortably fit two hikers in the fully enclosed bug mesh while protecting their gear in the two vestibules. The Duplex provides full-sided protection when the weather gets nasty, and opens up on both sides for views and ventilation when the skies are clear. There will be plenty of both on a thru-hike, and the perennially awesome Duplex handles it all without weighing you down.”—Owen Eigenbrot

Features

  • Mesh pockets: Two mesh interior pockets are located near each screen door and can be accessed from outside the tent as well.
  • 8-inch bathtub floor: The tall bathtub floor keeps rain out even in the soggiest campsites
  • All-in-one construction and fast pitch: Tent body and fly are one unit, with a fast pitch using two trekking poles. Once you’ve pitched this a few times it’s easy to get it taut.
  • 48-inch peak height: Very few people will be too tall to sit up in here.
  • Rugged DCF construction: Naturally waterproof materials and taped seams mean no DWR finish or after-market seam sealing needed.

Nobody’s Perfect

“The major criticisms of the Duplex are shared across all ultralight trekking pole shelters. As with most of these, the Duplex takes some getting used to. One must find a balance between trekking poles and guy lines, which can be challenging and changes every night. Six solidly placed stakes are required, with an additional two recommended for gnarly weather events, to keep the structure solid and flapping to a minimum. On some terrain, finding a large enough flat spot that accepts stakes can be a chore. Condensation is also a chronic issue on nights when the storm doors are closed, and the A-frame walls make it impossible to avoid brushing against this moisture. The price tag is hefty, albeit fair.”—Owen Eigenbrot

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NEMO Hornet 2 (Smallest Footprint for a 2p Tent)

best backpacking tents

Best backpacking tents: NEMO Hornet.

MSRP: $370
Weight: 2 pounds, 6 ounces
Category: 
Semi-freestanding
Interior space: 27.5 square feet
Doors / Vestibules: 2 doors, 2 vestibules (7 square feet each)
Best For: Hikers who don’t need a ton of space, and want a more narrow tent footprint for pitching in tight spots

Why We Love This Tent

This is a versatile footprint, and can fit into tighter spaces than some of the broader pitches. This is more technically a semi-freestanding tent (like the Tiger Wall) as opposed to having all corners of the tent set up with poles. You’ll have to stake out the footbox for a full pitch. NEMO maximizes headroom with their proprietary “Flybar” pole clip, which takes the place of the spreader bars of other tents. This helps keep the angle of the tent walls away from shoulders, allowing for more sitting room and space to change without touching the sides of the tent. If you really want to save weight, the NEMO Hornet Elite weighs five ounces less, costs $500, and has the same interior space.

Find the NEMO Hornet 1 here. and the Hornet Elite 1 here, which Zach took on his Long Trail thru-hike.

Features

  • Single-hubbed pole system: Easy setup and pitch, lightweight poles are just one piece and have three anchor points—two at the head, one at the foot.
  • Flybar™ pole clip: Instead of a horizontal spreader bar, this tent comes with an extended pole clip to add volume to the head room.
  • Two side-entry doors: Can be considered a must-have for two-person tents.

Nobody’s Perfect

This is one of the smaller two-person semi-freestanding tents on this list. The Hornet is lightweight and stable but it does have less interior and vestibule space than the comparable BA Tiger Wall (which many users already consider cramped), and will feel tight with two people after extended use.

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Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo (Best Budget Ultralight Tent)

best backpacking tents

Best backpacking tents: Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo.

MSRP: $230
Weight: 1 pound, 10 ounces
Category: Trekking-pole tent
Interior space: 26 square feet
Doors / Vestibules: 1 door, 1 vestibule (8.5 square feet)
Best For: Ultralight solo hikers looking for a low-maintenance, durable shelter with a fast pitch

Why We Love This Tent

“$230 is cheap for a backpacking tent. Cheap cheap. And yet the quality of the Lunar Solo feels anything but. This tent is optimized for maximum ventilation: plenty of mesh throughout the structure and a gap between the fly and the ground promote airflow. It only requires one trekking pole to set up and has a generous 49 inches of headroom at the peak. The steeply angled pitch of this tent helps it to shed wind and snow effectively, making it feel surprisingly stable for a structure that’s only propped up by one pole. SMD updated the design at the end of last year to include corner cord guyouts for easy tension adjustment.”—Kelly Floro

Features

  • Center pole pitch: This increases the stability of the tent in high winds and allows it to shed water more easily
  • (Almost) entirely mesh side wall: Ounce-saving mesh increases breathability from the bathtub floor to the peak (an additional 360˚ mesh strip just above the bathtub adds to the tent’s breezy appeal.
  • 6-inch floating bathtub floor: 40D silicone-coated polyester and the tent’s floating floor design maximize puncture resistance
  • Internal mesh storage pocket: You know the drill. Organize your small items for easy nighttime access.

Nobody’s Perfect

The steep walls of this shelter and single-pole setup mean less shoulder room. Users will need to seal the seams themselves, which isn’t a common practice these days but helps keeps the price lower. Six Moon Designs will seal the tent for $30 before shipping if you don’t want to do it yourself. Stakes aren’t included, so if you don’t have some already you’ll need to factor that into the purchase price.

Read our review of the Lunar Solo here.

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TarpTent Protrail Li (Roomiest Vestibule)

best backpacking tents

Best backpacking tents: Tarptent Protrail Li. Image via Tarptent.

MSRP: $499+
Weight: 17.2 ounces incl. stakes
Category:
Trekking pole tent
Interior space: 21 square feet
Doors / Vestibules: 1 door, 1 vestibule (11.2 square feet)
Best For: Ounce-counting solo hikers

Why We Love This Tent

The traditional and ever-popular silnylon Protrail got a DCF update in 2020, shaving nine ounces. This A-frame shelter has a front entrance and a generous overhang to prevent items in the gargantuan vestibule from getting wet. This is a single-piece shelter with an integrated fly and tent body, making a fast pitch once you get the hang of it. It has a 45-inch peak height at the front of the tent, with a steep pitch on the sides and down toward the back.

You will need two trekking poles for this setup, with the tallest one at the front entry, and just four stakes. We recommend pitching the front pole at an angle to make entry/exit easier. It has a ring of 360-degree mesh and a rear mesh window for increased airflow and views. The rugged floating bathtub means you theoretically don’t need a groundcloth with the Protrail Li, sparing you from further weight and setup difficulty.

Check out the heavier-but-50%-cheaper silnylon Protrail here and the two-person  Motrail here.

Features

  • Reinforced pole caps: A lot of pressure is put on the hubs for trekking poles. These are reinforced for extended durability
  • Large vestibule: The vestibule, or “beak” area is 11 square feet, plenty big for gear organization and maneuvering
  • Fast pitch: Like all trekking-pole shelters, it takes a few tries to dial in the system, but once you have it, the pitch is fast. The tent will sag overnight. That’s just a fact of life for silnylon shelters, but using the guylines correctly will help keep it as tight as possible.
  • Smart ventilation design: It’s a constant battle to combat condensation in shelters like this, but storm flaps can be opened and rolled up to allow maximum airflow.
  • Bathtub floor: The floating bathtub floor is rugged and tall enough to protect from splashing rain.

Nobody’s Perfect

Given the price and weight (in line with roomier two-person shelters), it would be nice to have a bit more square footage. It takes two trekking poles to set up compared to just one for the comparable SMD Lunar Solo. Finally, there’s a lot of wide, flat surface area in this design that increases wind resistance: pitch with the foot end facing into the wind to mitigate this.

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Zpacks Free Duo (Easiest Pitch / Lightest Freestanding Tent)

best backpacking tents

Best backpacking tents: Zpacks Free Duo.

MSRP: $699
Weight: 30 ounces (stakes not included)
Category:
Trekking pole tent
Interior space: 26.25 square feet
Doors / Vestibules: 2 doors, 2 vestibules (4.8 square feet each)
Best For: Ultralight tenters who don’t want a fussy setup

Why We Love This Tent

“The Free Duo combines the best features of Zpacks’ DCF shelter line with the practicality of a traditional freestanding tent. It requires zero stakes to pitch (though two for the vestibules are recommended), which means it can go where trekking pole shelters can’t; bare rock, deep sand, tent platforms, a parking lot, or other stake-rejecting ground. The single-wall construction makes setup quick and easy—no fly or footprint needed.

“With the help of two unique ‘H’ carbon poles, the waterproof DCF canopy pitches taught every time, which reduces wind noise and increases living space. Two vestibules provide ample storage for gear, and fully-enclosed mesh keeps out the bugs even on nice nights when the storm doors are furled. Despite being both easy to use and supremely livable for two hikers, the Free Duo weighs in at under two pounds. Not only is it the lightest freestanding tent available, it’s also one of the best.”—Owen Eigenbrot

Features

  • ‘H’ shaped poles: The pole structure uses two ‘H’ sections to give the tent shape.  The poles are a bit unwieldy to handle solo, but minimal attachment points makes setup quick.
  • Two rainbow doors: With no trekking poles in the way, the full-wall doors on either side of the tent make entry and exit easy no matter which side you’re on.  Good for a quick getaway when nature calls.
  • Vestibules: The vestibules are classic Zpacks with two storm doors on each side.  Close them all up for warmth or rain protection, or open them up after eating beans for dinner to improve ventilation.
  • Small footprint: With no stakes or guy lines, the Free Duo nestles well into smaller camp spots that might reject trekking pole shelters.

Nobody’s Perfect

“The big downside to the Free Duo, and all semi- or freestanding tent, is its weight. While it is extremely lightweight for that shelter type, the poles alone weigh 13 ounces. Trekking pole shelters remain the lightest option for thru-hikers willing to sacrifice ease of use for weight savings. The poles are also bulky and serve only one purpose, whereas trekking poles are useful all day and don’t add to pack weight. As with other single-wall tents, condensation can be an issue with the Free Duo, but the concave interior makes it easier to avoid brushing against the damp interior, and huge doors provide ample ventilation when the weather allows. Finally, the Free Duo is expensive. Arguably, it’s a fair price, but budget-conscious hikers may need to look elsewhere for their trail abode.” —Owen Eigenbrot

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Durston X-Mid 1P (Fan Favorite)

Best backpacking tents: Durston X-Mid 1P.

MSRP: $220
Weight: 31.4 ounces (including 8 stakes; minimum 4 required for setup)
Category:
Trekking pole tent
Interior space: 17 square feet
Doors / Vestibules: 2 doors, 2 vestibules (4.8 square feet each)
Best For: Solo hikers who want an affordable, double-wall + trekking pole setup

Why We Love This Tent

It’s easy to see why the X-Mid a fan favorite. It’s reasonably lightweight, simple to pitch, and has plenty of space, including two doors and vestibules—a luxurious touch for a one-person shelter. A laundry list of well-thought-out details makes this tent exceptional in rough weather: factory-taped seams polyester doesn’t sag or absorb water, the steep roof panels shed snow easily, the double-wall design and large mesh storm vents minimize condensation impacts, the polyester fly and bathtub won’t sag or absorb water, and the fly sets up first to keep the tent interior dry.

Dan Durston, who is perhaps the ultimate backpacking gear wonk, has thought through every aspect of the design, and you can read a thorough explanation of his thought process over on his site. And on top of it all, it’s the cheapest tent on this list (especially considering the fact that the X-Mid comes with eight titanium stakes and factory-taped seams).

Features

  • Polyester-based design: In a market dominated by silnylon and Dyneema, Durston made the semi-unusual choice to opt for silicone-coated polyester (silpoly). Why? It’s cheaper than Dyneema, and it won’t sag or absorb water like nylon.
  • Fly pitches first: …and gets taken down last. That means the interior of the tent will stay dry and cozy in rainy weather.
  • Double-wall: For hikers who want the weight savings and simplicity of a trekking pole setup with the ventilation advantages of a double-wall, the X-Mid is one of just a handful of options. Large mesh vents further enhance airflow.
  • Dual side doors and vestibules: Thanks to the X-Mid’s eponymous X-shaped layout, where the tent floor is oriented diagonally to that of the fly, even the single-wall version offers ample vestibules and doors on both sides.
  • Double-sewn seams: Increase the tent’s durability and speak to the overall quality and attention to detail of this design. The X-Mid is also designed to minimize the total number of seams, which improves waterproofness, durability, and weight efficiency.

Nobody’s Perfect

One reason silpoly isn’t as popular as silnylon for tents is that it isn’t as strong. Durston points out that polyester is more UV-resistant than nylon and that nylon absorbs water and sags when wet, weakening the material significantly, so that polyester may prove to be the more durable choice in the long run. Still, be aware that you might need to baby your brand new polyester tent more than an equivalent (dry) nylon setup. Also, the X-Mid has a pretty large footprint (46.5 square feet under the fly), which can make campsite selection more challenging.

Check out our interview with Dan Durston on Backpacker Radio.

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The Best Backpacking Tents for Thru-Hikers: FAQs

What’s the difference between freestanding and trekking pole tents?

The Zpacks Duplex is a classic example of a trekking pole shelter. Photo courtesy Owen Eigenbrot.

Traditional tents have dedicated poles to give the shelter structure and body. These tents will hold their shape without the need for stakes, so they’re referred to as freestanding. (Note: even for freestanding tents, one or two stakes are typically required for the vestibule(s), and the use of additional stakes will improve your tent’s stormworthiness).  The MSR Hubba Hubba is a good example of a true freestanding tent. These shelters are simple to pitch, but the poles add both weight and bulk and are always at risk of bending or snapping.

Trekking pole tents are instead supported, obviously, by the user’s trekking poles. These tents are non-freestanding because they require stakes to hold their shape. The Zpacks Duplex is a good example. Trekking pole tents are much harder to set up than their freestanding brethren, but by ditching the tent poles, you’ll save a massive amount of weight and space in your pack. If you’re camping on bedrock, snow, or another medium that won’t readily take stakes, you’re in trouble. Deadman anchors, large rocks, tree trunks, and other objects can be used in place of stakes in a pinch.

Some tents, like the Big Agnes Tiger Wall, are semi-freestanding: they have dedicated poles that mostly support the tent, but they require stakes to give the footbox structure. This hybrid approach helps shave some ounces by simplifying the tent pole architecture while retaining the easy setup advantage of true freestanding tents.

The Zpacks Free Duo is a rare example of a single-wall, DCF, freestanding tent. Photo courtesy Owen Eigenbrot.

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What’s the difference between single-wall and double-wall tents?

Single-wall tents, like the Zpacks Duplex, shave weight by eliminating the separate bug mesh. Single-wall designs are lighter and faster to set up once you get the hang of it. There’s no separate rainfly to fuss with, because the whole tent is waterproof: the rainfly is the tent. This also makes it way easier and drier to set up and take down camp in wet weather. On the other hand, they’re poorly ventilated compared to their double-wall friends. Condensation is one of the biggest issues with these shelters, though good campsite selection can help to mitigate this.

Most single-walled tents are also trekking pole setups, while most double-walled designs are freestanding, but this isn’t set in stone. Double-wall trekking pole shelters like the Six Moon Designs Haven Tarp + NetTent combo and single-wall freestanding tents like the Zpacks Free Duo do exist. Which style/combination of styles makes for the best backpacking tents? It’s largely a matter of personal preference.

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What should I look for in the best backpacking tents?

The Big Agnes Tiger Wall has a good blend of space and weight savings, plus it has an idiot-proof pitch. Photo via Maggie Slepian.

Livable Space: A one-person tent is fine for people counting ounces, but some hikers will appreciate a lightweight two-person tent for just themselves. It will allow you to spread out, stay away from the tent walls, and keep your gear inside the tent with you. For two people on a thru-hike, some two-person models will work fine, but often pairs of hikers end up getting larger models after a few hundred miles of bumping into each other when sitting up or changing. Consider interior space, vestibule space, and peak height.

General Conveniences: Consider that this is your home for months at a time. What features do you want in your portable house? Two doors and two vestibules for multi-person tents will alleviate any crawling over each other during midnight cathole excursions, and interior side pockets are nice for small items. The best backpacking tents strike a fine balance between functionality and weight.

Ease of Pitch: Test your setup before you leave. The last thing you want to be doing after an excruciating day on trail is fighting with your guylines to get the fly taut before the rain comes in. Or pitching your tent in the mud just to have it collapse on you a few hours later.

Weight-to-Space Ratio: Sure you have 31 square feet of space, but your tent also weighs six pounds. Is this worth it? It might be, and that’s OK. On the other hand, you could prefer a 14-ounce, single-person trekking pole shelter and forgo the headroom. That’s fine too. More than likely you’ll wind up somewhere in the middle—many of the listed shelters have 27-29 square feet of interior space and weigh 2.5-3.5 pounds.

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What’s the difference between “packaged weight” and “trail weight?”

The packaged weight is the weight of the tent plus everything that comes with it, including instructions, repair kits, stuff sacks, extra stakes, extra guyline… you get the picture.

In contrast, the trail weight (or minimum trail weight) is the combined weight of the tent body, rain fly, and poles (if applicable). It does not include the weight of the stakes, footprint, or any extra guyline you might choose to carry.

As you can see, both numbers give an incomplete idea of the weight of your tent. This true weight will likely be somewhere in between the packaged and trail weights. Some cottage brands, like Zpacks and Gossamer Gear, will give you an itemized breakdown of the individual weights of each tent component, down to the smallest stuff sack, adding much-needed clarity to the tent buying experience.

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Do I really need a footprint with my tent?

In general, yes. The footprint, or groundcloth, will prolong the life of your tent by protecting the floor from moisture and abrasive, puncture-making stuff like rocks, sand, and twigs. Annoyingly, most tent purchases don’t include the footprint: after shelling out hundreds of dollars for the tent, you then have to fork over an additional $50 or $60 (plus several ounces of base weight) for the groundcloth. Meh.

As an alternative, you can make or buy an inexpensive, lightweight Tyvek or Polycro groundcloth. Some tents, like the Tarptent Protrail,  have rugged, puncture-resistant bathtub floors and don’t require a separate footprint.

The Lunar Solo doesn’t require a separate footprint (though it’s probably still a good idea on abrasive media like sand).

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What’s the difference between silnylon and DCF?

Silnylon: Most traditional tents are made of silicone-coated ripstop nylon, or silnylon. Silnylon is popular because it’s inexpensive, waterproof, reasonably puncture-resistant, reasonably lightweight, and packs up small.  It has a tendency to stretch out and sag when wet, making it tough to get a taut pitch.

Silnylon is available in different weights, which are measured in units of deniers (d). The larger the number, the tougher (and heavier) the material. The ultralight Big Agnes Tiger Wall uses thin 15d silnylon, the SMD Lunar Solo uses 20D, and the burlier MSR Hubba Hubba uses 30d. A ripstop nylon backpack, in contrast, might use 500d silnylon.

DCF: DCF (Dyneema Cuben Fiber) is the cutting edge of ultralight fabrics. Originally designed for use in sailboats, DCF is an extremely lightweight and strong nonwoven fabric and the darling of the cottage gear trade. It’s completely waterproof and resistant to both tears and stretching, though it can still be punctured fairly easily. It’s easy to repair with a simple patch job, though. It also won’t sag or absorb water when wet.

The DCF One is Gossamer Gear’s update on the original silnylon version of The One. Photo courtesy Carl Stanfield.

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Do I need to seam seal my tent?

Depends on the brand. Most big brand tents—Big Agnes, REI, etc.—have factory taped seams and don’t require initial seam sealing. The factory treatment can wear out after extensive use, so you’ll eventually have to reseal them. Some cottage industry tents, like the Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo, don’t come seam sealed to keep the price lower. You can pay a little extra for seam sealing service or save money and do it yourself.

Fortunately, seam sealer is widely available at camping and hardware stores and is easy to use. Just set up your tent (in a dry, non-dusty, non-windy place), ensure that the seams are clean and dry, and paint seam sealer over all seams that don’t adjoin mesh paneling. Leave the tent set up for several hours until the sealant has dried completely.

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More of the Best Thru-Hiking Gear of 2021

Original article by Maggie Slepian.

Featured image: Graphic design by Chris Helm (@chris.helm).

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Comments 17

  • pearwood : Feb 11th

    What a wealth of options, especially if one is wealthy.

    I’m reminded of advice I received over four decades ago, “Once you make your decision and purchase your tent, put away the catalogs for six months because as soon as you buy a tent, someone will come along with a better one for less money.”

    Steve / pearwood

    Reply
    • Boomerang : Feb 12th

      Big Agnes Scout UL2 beats all of these.

      Reply
    • LBJJ : Feb 12th

      Put away the catalogues for 3-5 years, lest you’re haunted by buyer’s remorse!

      Reply
  • Pete Schiller : Feb 11th

    Tarptent Li series tents do not need to be seam-sealed.

    Reply
  • Todd : Feb 12th

    I can’t believe that you left out the Dan Durston X-Mid 2p from that list. It blows the doors off all of these tents for the weight to cost to feature ratio. Please take a look at it. We even did a video on it on our youtube channel, as have many others.

    Reply
    • Alex : Feb 12th

      +1, this is a solid list but I was quite surprised by the complete absence of the X-Mid 1p or 2p given it’s weight/cost/feature profile and popularity among owners.

      Reply
      • DismalDave : Feb 16th

        Yeah Baby
        Love my Durston 1P and wish I had the 2P instead of the $400 2P I have. Just got the 2P earlier.
        I started through the list and thought Wait a second, somethings missing here!

        Reply
      • Dan Durston : Feb 18th

        The X-Mid 1P did make the list. Maybe they added it later or something?

        Reply
  • Nancy : Feb 12th

    My husband and I have used a Hyperlite UltaMid 4 for about 5 years now on Vermont’s Long Trail and about half of the AT. I don’t see any tents here that I would prefer to the Hyperlite. It beats all of them in every category, except for price. Which we didn’t mind, since it is a lifetime purchase.
    Bonus: Made in Biddeford Maine!
    I can’t say enough good about Hyperlite’s packs either. I bought a 2400 Southwest in 2013. I use it for everything, 2 week backpack trips, dayhikes, long ski tours, and it is still going strong. I saw xc skiers training for the Canadian Ski Marathon in the Gatineau using this pack!

    Reply
  • Antoine : Feb 12th

    You seem to have gotten mixed up between the ProTrail and ProTrail Li. The Li line with Tarptent are DCF so they need to be seam-sealed and it won’t sag overnight for the same reason. Also as far as weight goes, it’s pretty similar to other solo tent when you don’t include the stakes in its weight.

    Reply
  • LBJ : Feb 12th

    Much is made of the condensation issues on single-wall tents. In my experience with double-wall tents, the inner almost always has substantial mesh on the roof. When condensation forms on the inside of the rain fly (which it does just like a single wall tent), the slightest movement of the fly sends condensation raining down onto the mesh and hence all over the contents of your tent. Having used both extensively, I see very little difference in the performance of single and double wall tents with regard to condensation management (the one exception being the “physically touching the tent wall” scenario). If you really want to manage condensation, try picking campsites with a breeze (and open your vestibule to allow the breeze to sweep your tent) and avoid valley bottoms where cold air settles – not always possible of course, and in stormy weather all bets are off, but there’s no miraculous difference between single and double wall tents for avoiding condensation.

    Reply
  • Supriya : Feb 24th

    Great detailed information! I’m upgrading to Tigerwall UL2 to get me into both, solo or hiking with my partner.
    But also curious to know abt Slingfin tents review. Though they are smaller company, they’ve great tents but not very popular.

    Reply
    • Blis : Mar 11th

      I wish they did a sub category for best UL tents for tall people. I’ve found listed dimensions differ than actual usable inside dimensions on some tents.

      Reply
  • Stephen : Apr 27th

    I find that a true 1p tent needs about 19-20 square feet and a true 2p really needs about 30 to work for most people for more than a week or two at a time.

    I’ve made do with less (my wife and I put about 1200 miles on our Copper Spur), especially with vertical sides which make the interior feel bigger, but the extra space is huge in making a tent livable.

    I’ve really noticed that since moving to a Triplex life has really been better when we tent.

    I see a similar dynamic with the Durston cult members. That is a 32 square foot 2p tent. People using it are often just much happier.

    I realize that some do ok with less space. There is that group of couples who hike while sharing a 1p tent. However, for us, for a 5’5” and 5’8” couple, I’ve found that 27-28 square feet is too little for long term use on a trail.

    It was great for short trips, but for month after month it started to feel cramped.

    37 square feet is grand, especially in the rain and keeping your gear inside the tent instead of the vestibule. And it is in line with what twice a 1p interior adds up to.

    The difference the extra space makes is subtle, but 20-30 days into a backpacking trip you will find yourself more likely to look forward to alternatives to your tent every night if it is “too small.”

    And I suspect how much rain you are getting makes a difference as well as to what is “too small.”

    With more space I’m suddenly much more willing to use the tent instead of a shelter or looking for a hostel as we finish the AT.

    Thought I’d bring that up. Curious what you think the right space numbers are and what factors into it.

    Reply

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