The Best Backpacking Tents of 2018

Your tent is one of the most important—if not the most important—piece of gear for your long-distance hike. It’s literally your home away from home. You’ll have to figure out what matters most to you: livable space, weight, or a compromise between the two. It can be tempting to jump on board the ultralight wagon and buy the latest featherweight tarp-tent everyone is raving about, or perhaps you’ve decided to adamantly refuse the trend and strap your six-pound, three-person mansion to the outside of your pack. There are things to understand about both of these extremes. If you go ultralight, be aware that your shelter will be less durable than a heftier option, and offer somewhat less protection than a bathtub floor shelter. It will also require more finesse and time to set up each night. On the other hand, carrying a six-pound tent is going to get old fast, and could find yourself looking to trade it in at the first outfitter you come to.

Most thru-hikers will fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, and should look for a lightweight, durable tent with enough livable space and features to stay comfortable for the duration of weeks (or months) on the trail.

Important Considerations

-Can you live in this tent night after night, for weeks or months at a time?

It’s helpful to have an understanding of your size and feature preferences.  Most one-person tents don’t allow for much extra space. If tight confines incite claustrophobia, it might be worth the extra ounces to size up to a two-person model.

-Can you set it up quickly in the dark or rain? Both?

Trekking pole tents require more skill to set up than freestanding tents do.  It’s wise to be well versed in setting up your tent in a variety of conditions before leaving for a long trip.

-Is there enough room to comfortably sit up without brushing the sides of the tent with your shoulders? Does your sleeping bag hit the wall of the tent?

If you’re especially tall, you may need a tent with a higher ceiling. All the more reason to closely inspect a shelter’s specs before purchasing, and be sure to take your tent on several shakedown hikes before embarking on a thru-hike.

-Can you crawl in and out of the tent without getting the floor soaked?

A bathtub floor may be a make-or-break feature for you.  Similarly, you may prefer a tent with side as opposed to front entry.

-If there is enough room in the vestibule to comfortably stash your gear?

You’ll want enough free space between the inside of your tent and under your vestibule to ensure your gear stays dry during a downpour.

-If you’re hiking with a partner, do you want two doors for entry/exit?

If you’re not an especially deep sleeper, be prepared to wake up when your partner needs to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night without a separate side entry.

Now that we’ve given you some things to think about, here are our favorite choices for this year’s backpacking tents, in no particular order.

Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2

Weight: Min. trail weight: 2.2 pounds; packaged: 2.5 pounds
MSRP: $400
Capacity: Two-person
Category: Semi-freestanding

Best for

Backpackers who don’t want to compromise weight to livable space.

Notable Features

One of the lightest freestanding two-person tents on the market, interior pockets, single-pole hub, two doors, two vestibules for easy entry/exit.

Description

New for 2018, Big Agnes has introduced a tent with the best space-to-weight ratio yet. This spacious, well-designed shelter weighs in at just over two pounds fully set up, raising the standard for backpacking tents that don’t compromise livable space with weight. Their “dry-entry” door keeps the interior of your tent dry while you crawl in and out, and the media pockets above the sleeping area are designed to route earbud cords to prevent tangling. The tent space itself is a roomy 28 square feet, plenty of room for one person plus gear (or a dog), or two people happy to ditch ounces. The single-hub pole is a Big Agnes standard, making for easy, intuitive pitching. The corners of the tent are built up, creating necessary distance between the end of your sleeping bag and any condensation collected overnight.

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Tarptent Notch

Weight: 1.7 pounds
MSRP: $285
Capacity: One-person
Category: Tarp-tent, two trekking poles required

Best for

Lighter-weight thru-hikers looking for different assembly options included in one shelter

Notable Features

Two vestibules and doors, rainfly can be pitched alone, openings for ventilation

Description

Fresh updates on this popular tarp-tent include a higher waterproofing rating for the fly and door, plus zipper-free entry. The ends of the tarp have triangular sections—leveled out with struts—that allow the edge of the tarp to be raised off the ground, which creates a less drastic pitch to the walls and increases living space. Bear in mind that the struts mean it’s not as packable as other options, but for many hikers that’s totally worth it. End ports can be opened with a flap to increase ventilation, and it has large vestibules for gear storage, and the bathtub floor (a type of floor that extends up the sides of the tent) protects users from ground moisture and inclement weather. The inner tent clips to the fly, and hangs a few inches below the material which also helps with ventilation and the resulting misery of condensation. Weight-saving clips on the interior can be finicky and difficult to maneuver, especially with cold fingers.

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Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2

Weight: Min. trail weight: 2.8 pounds; packaged: 3.1 pounds
MSRP: $450
Capacity: Two-person
Category: Freestanding

Best for

Solo hikers looking for extra space; hiking pairs looking for a tent that gives them room to both sit up and change without hitting the walls.

Notable Features

Single-pole hub for easy setup, increased living space, interior pockets, two doors, large vestibule, seam-taped

Description

This has been one of the most popular freestanding tents on the market for several years. It’s reasonable for a single hiker to carry, and roomy enough for two people to share and not want to kill each other. The pole system allows for some of the best use of square footage we’ve seen in a shelter of this weight. As with any lightweight tent, you’ll need to watch the fly and body material so it doesn’t snag and tear, but with some extra care, UL tents perform as well as burlier beasts. Setup is a breeze, with a single-pole system and a horizontal spreader across the top to widen the dome. The vestibules are a good size, with two entrances so hikers don’t have to crawl over each other for midnight outings. Color-coded grommets on the body of the tent correspond to the jakes feet, which makes this one of the easiest tents to set up. Have some extra cash and looking for the lighter version? Check out the Copper Spur Platinum.

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Mountain Laurel Designs Solomid

Weight: 12.5 ounces
MSRP: $255
Capacity: One-person
Category: Trekking pole tent

Best for

Solo thru-hikers looking for a (relatively) budget-friendly, well-designed pyramid shelter.

Notable Features

Nearly 40 square feet of living space, can handle snow up to a moderate load

Description

The low profile of this shelter means it’s highly stable and wind-resistant, bonuses for hikers who plan to set up in wintery conditions or on exposed sites. Pyramid shelters aren’t for everyone, the deep slant of the walls reduces the livable space. This shelter does give more room than others, but taller hikers will still end up with their faces close to potentially frosty or damp walls, and condensation is an issue with this shelter. We highly recommend adding the bug netting and bathtub floor combo. The bathtub floor protects against damp ground and precipitation, and the tarp overhang is more than adequate for keeping the elements away from the mesh netting. The listed weight is without additional modifications, and there are plenty of options for this particular shelter.

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Big Agnes Fly Creek 2

Weight: Min. trail weight 1.9 pounds; packaged: 2.3 pounds
MSRP: $350
Capacity: Two-person
Category: Semi-freestanding

Best for

Solo hikers looking for more space without the weight; UL hiking partners

Notable Features

Fast pitch time, interior pockets, single-hub pole design, single entry / vestibule

Description

This thru-hiker favorite has been updated for 2018, resulting in more space without compromising weight. This tent is perfect for solo thru-hikers who want the luxury of a two-person tent, or for pairs who really want to trim the ounces. The newly designed “dry-entry brow” above the vestibule helps gear and tent interior dry as you enter and exit. The single-hub pole has only three extensions, which makes this tent lightning fast to set up, but the single-door design might be frustrating for hiking partners who have to crawl over each other to get in and out. This tent is on the tight side for two people, but the redesign has done wonders for head and shoulder room. It’s ideal for one-person-plus-gear, or for hiker-plus-dog. The single-person version is also popular, and the even lighter (and slightly pricier) Fly Creek Platinum can be found here.

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REI Quarter Dome I

Weight: Min. trail weight: 2.5 pounds; packaged: 2.9 pounds
MSRP: $279
Capacity:
One-person
Category: Freestanding

Best for

Thru-hikers looking for a comfortable, sturdy freestanding tent with plenty of features

Notable Features

Large vestibule, increased head/shoulder room and larger footbox, pockets and hooks for interior organizing

Description

REI completely redesigned their signature shelter last year, and it proved to be a winner. At nearly 19 square feet of space in the tent and just under 10 square feet in the vestibule, this is one-person luxury. They’ve increased the interior space by nearly half by developing a more space-effective pole system that increases space without adding weight. Hikers can easily sit up and shuffle around, and the large entrances on the tent body and vestibule mean you won’t look like a baby ostrich trying to climb out of it in the morning. This durable tent is made with 20-denier ripstop nylon, and the fly is made with a lightweight 15-denier ripstop nylon. The poles are color-coded to help assembly, and for those looking to shed ounces, the fly-pitch option lets you sleep under the fly and leave the tent body at home.

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Gossamer Gear The One

Weight: 1.2 pounds
MSRP: $299
Capacity:
One-person
Category: Tarp-tent, two trekking poles required

Best for

Ultralight thru-hikers looking for an all-around tarp tent with a bathtub floor

Notable Features

Fully enclosed floor, improved ventilation system over previous models, spacious vestibule

Description

This is one of the ultimate UL shelters, somehow managing to minimize compromise between comfort and weight. From the front, The One resembles the typical pyramid-shaped non-freestanding tent. From the side and back of the tent though, the rear extends out from the sleeping area, providing a large venting area that prevents condensation. The rear pole is pitched at an angle to achieve this, so we recommend practicing setup before your first excursion. Staking this shelter can require up to 10 stakes—6 for the canopy and 4 (optional) for the bathtub floor. The shelter boasts more livable space and headroom than many other one-person trekking-pole shelters, which makes the extra staking worth it. The dual trekking pole setup is becoming more popular, as it allows for ample shoulder room and comfort when dressing, and you can purchase an optional pole setup as well. The seam-taped, nylon-blend walls are durable for their weight, but as with all UL gear, they won’t be quite as rugged as a heftier shelter.

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NEMO Hornet 1p Elite

Weight: Min. trail weight: 1.7 lb.; packaged: 1 lb. 14 oz
MSRP: $450
Capacity:
One-person
Category: Semi-freestanding

Best For

Thru-hikers looking for an easily assembled tent, and who plan on camping where staking is an option

Notable Features

Single-hub pole system, 8-square-foot vestibule, single entry, interior storage pocket

Description

This single-person tent goes up in a flash, thanks to one of the simplest pole systems you’ll see out there. If set up correctly, hikers will have enough space between the mesh and the fly for adequate venting. These poles do not include horizontal spreaders, which takes away some width and shoulder room. Important to note that this model has a single-based pole at the head end of the tent, which means staking it is not really optional… it will need the stability.  It has one entry and a single-side vestibule. When fully staked, the profile of this tent will easily bear wind, rain, and moderate snow.

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ZPacks Solplex

Weight: 15.5 ounces
MSRP: $555
Capacity: One-person
Category: Trekking-pole tent

Best For

Extremely ultralight thru-hikers who want to shave ounces and don’t mind a smaller shelter

Notable Features

The rainbow zipper allows you to flip orientation (i.e. you can’t pitch it the wrong way on a slight slope), two mesh interior pockets, one at either end of the floor

Description

ZPacks is one of the leaders in ultralight gear, and this single-person shelter is one of the most popular UL trekking pole tents on the market. The Solplex is what Zach “Badger” Davis used during his PCT thru-hike, and it held up for the duration without any notable wear or tear. The tent requires eight stakes to set up and two trekking poles at the front and back for height and stability. The tarp has a five-inch overhang over the bathtub floor, which protects from blowing rain. There are roomier shelters, but if you’re looking for a fully enclosed tent at a minimal weight, hikers will be hard pressed to beat the Solplex, although the price tag might be a stopper for some. Though the tent is waterproof, care should be taken with the lightweight cuben fiber material. For hikers who want a bit more space or are sharing a tent with a partner, check out the ZPacks Duplex.

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Comments 6

  • TicTac : Mar 26th

    I appreciate your wanting to introduce your readers to popular light weight backpacking tents, but I take exception with your labeling three of these tents as “free-standing”. The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2, the Big Agnes Fly Creek 2, and the Nemo Hornet 1P Elite are clearly NOT free-standing, as they do not have poles extending to each corner, thus requiring stakes to pull out the foot end corners to pitch.

    The generally accepted definition of a “free-standing” tent is that it can, while erected, be picked up and moved, without losing it’s shape or functionality. Any tent that because of it’s design, requires the use of ground stakes to attain it’s full shape, volume, and functionality is simply NOT free standing. Or have you unilaterally changed the definition of “free-standing” while no one was looking???

    One last note. I am disappointed that you did not include the Lightheart Gear FireFly (26.8 sq ft, 29 ounces) or the Lightheart Gear Duo (38.2 sq ft, 36 ounces).

    Reply
  • Splendid Monkey King : Mar 27th

    I’m unsure why North Face tents are always overlooked by these gear comparisons/lists.

    In ’16 my (then-fiance) and I hiked the AT using the Talus 3.

    Is it ultralight? No.

    But it was strong, kept us dry when Fly Creek-ers were soaked, and very roomy/comfortable. It’s sturdy–we still use it to this day.

    So for anybody reading, I’d encourage looking into other brands that aren’t as hyped up. We love Big Agnes products, but we absolutely loved our North Face tent!

    Reply
  • Steve Houtchings : Mar 27th

    I would like to see trekking poles removed from hikers have to have. I saw more trek pole pieces on the trail than any other litter. It shouldn’t be promoted, so to relate this to post, more trek pole free tents please

    Reply
  • Miles Supertramp (AT '99 & '12) : Mar 30th

    Who in h-hh-hiking sticks pays $300-$400+ for a tent?! Much more, one that weighs over 1, 2 and 3+ lbs per person?? That is, without a doubt, ludicrous. Though, the award for criminally insane goes to ZPacks; they’ve obviously gone ’round the bend and cater exclusively to the loaded but catatonic foot traveller. Maybe with inflation in the the year 2525, or now if it hovers behind you, carrying the rest of your load, and is fueled by absorbing the CO2 gases you expell, then okay, that’s a reasonable price. Otherwise, no.

    Unless you really hate yourself – and by that I mean a level of self-flagellation that compells you to carry needlessly elephantine loads for thousands of miles – or unless you’re trying to launder dirty money à la Walter White, then do not – let me say that again for the people in the back – DO NOT spend more to carry more. There are plenty of ‹1 lb to 1 lb (max) shelter options out there that are durable, full coverage/3 season, and very homey for under $300 (and that’s tax and shipping included).

    If, however, you’re dead set on carrying the most weight you can possibly jam into your jumbo XXXL pack, then at least go to Walmart for your tent; they’re just as heavy (though sometimes lighter), they’re more bombproof than the name brands, and they have enough superfluous bells and whistles included to boggle the already trail weary mind – but the best part is you’ll save roughly $300 going with a Walmart tent (that’s a lot of trail-town ice cream and AYCE meals).

    [Comment to the author of this website: I love your website. It keeps me on the trail even when I’m off the trail. Thank you.]

    Reply
    • Phil McPhilson : Apr 9th

      Ridiculous comment. Please tell us where we can find these sub-1lb tents for under $300 that only you know about.

      Reply
  • Luke Mills : Apr 3rd

    Is there any reason the Mountain Hardware Ghost UL tents aren’t on here? They’re definitely ultralight, coming in around the same weight as the Fly Creek, but offer more room and are completely freestanding. Don’t know where you could go wrong going with the Ghost UL over the Fly Creek.

    Reply

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