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Best Backpacking Tent: Choosing the Ideal Shelter for Your Backpacking Needs

backpacking-tent
Bradley Page
Written by Bradley Page

Prospective buyers of backpacking tent will want to keep in mind that, like most pieces of outdoor gear, all backpacking tents are not created equal. As the saying goes, “you get what you pay for,” however, you do not want to pay for more than you need and end up with features that are not important to you, which could even end up adding weight to the tent.

There is no shortage of options when it comes to backpacking tents, and choosing the best one for you is a personal decision that is subjective to when, where, and how you plan to use it. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the vast number of choices, but we have done the hard part for you and our goal is to help make your selection process easier.

tarptent double rainbow backpacking tent

In this article, we will give out some comprehensive tips for selecting the best backpacking tent by describing the key features to look for and reviewing several top-rated products. If you are in the market to purchase a backpacking tent, your goal should be to purchase the best tent available at the highest quality level you can afford.

Continue reading along below for what we consider to be some of the most important features to consider when selecting a backpacking tent and an in-depth review of the top rated ones.

Product nameWeightCapacity MaterialsPrice
Big Agnes Fly Creek UL23 pounds2 personsCanopy, breathable nylon Ripstop & polyester meshCheck price on Amazon
Sierra Flashlight 24.2 pounds2 personsCanopy, 15D nylon meshCheck price on Amazon
Mountain SuperMega UL 12 poundsSoloCanopy, 10D nylon meshCheck price on Amazon
Black Diamond Mesa5.2 pounds2 personsCanopy, 40D nylon meshCheck price on Amazon
Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL3.9 pounds2 personsCanopy, nylon/polyester meshCheck price on Amazon
Kelty Trailogic TN23.4 pounds2 personsCanopy, nylon meshCheck price on Amazon
Kelty Salida 5.86 pounds2 personsCanopy, 68D polyester/ 40D meshCheck price on Amazon
Sierra Lightning 2 FL3.31 pounds2 personsCanopy, 20D nylon ultralight meshCheck price on Amazon

Features to Consider When Buying

Purchasing a tent is similar to home purchase: there are dozens of designs, styles, features to consider and sizes. While this can be overwhelming, we’ve put together some key factors (discussed below) to consider as you shop for a backpacking tent making your selection way easier.

Capacity

The most common backpacking tents offer a capacity designed to accommodate one to four persons. As you will notice in the tent products reviewed below, most brands of tents have named their product according to its capacity, such as Sierra Designs – Flashlight 2 Tent – which is a tent designed for two people.

backpacking tent capacity

Keep in mind that backpacking tents are designed to be efficient and lightweight, so the capacity a tent offers is normally factoring tight, side by side quarters.

There are not specific dimensions that all manufacturers follow, so some brands may be snugger than others. For this reason, some single campers prefer to use a two-person tent in order to have a little more room, especially if they happen to be on the larger side. There are also plus size tents on the market, which offers larger dimensions.

Weight

The weight of your tent is one of the most important components of the weight of your overall load. You may expect that a heavier tent would offer more sturdiness, but with modern materials and construction some of the new lightweight products can be even stronger, therefore do not consider the weight of the tent as an indicator of its strength or durability. Following are the weight specifications of tents:

  • Minimum trail weight: Includes the weight of only the body, fly and poles. Although you will likely pack other tent gear, this weight is a good one to consider when doing comparisons between brands and models.
  • Packaged weight: This is the weight of everything listed under the minimum trail weight plus accessories and everything else included with the purchase of the tent.
  • Packed size: The amount of space the tent takes up while it is being carried. Some tent components could be split up and carried among two or more persons.

backpacking tent weight

Generally, tent weights are looked at in terms of how many pounds they weigh per person they are designed to accommodate.  Lightweight tents may weigh around 3 pounds per person, and ultralight tents may weigh little more than one pound per person. This is a factor which varies greatly by brand and you will want to give it serious consideration.

As mentioned above under size, one helpful tip may be to consider a tent that is designed for one more person than the number of people in your group.  That will allow for slightly less snug quarters and more room for gear.

Comfort

It used to be that tents designed for backpacking were very austere and lightweight, but not comfortable. The constant development of lighter and stronger materials has now enabled designs that allow for more open and airy spaces without added weight.

Other key comfort factors include doors (style and number), vestibules, and ventilation.

  • Doors: The number of doors comes into question when a tent is designed for more than one person. It is most convenient for all to have their own doors. Of course, one door will keep both cost and weight lower. Many good two person tents feature one door that is designed to be wide enough for two persons to sit in it side by side, which is a nice feature.
  • Vestibules: These are extended areas of the tent separate from the sleeping area which serves as sheltered storage for boots and gear. Of course, the larger the vestibule the heavier the tent and the higher the cost. Therefore, consider how much space you will really need for gear and try to avoid purchasing a tent with a larger space than you require.
  • Ventilation: All tents need to be ventilated to prevent condensation from building up. The solution many tent manufacturers have come up with often meshes in the form of windows or other panels which can be zipped closed. If they cannot be zipped closed, they will allow too much cold air or moisture in. Some tents also have fly vents that can be left open or zipped closed from inside the tent, and these allow for ventilation as well as stargazing.

backpacking tent comfort

Ease of setup and breakdown

As with any important piece of outdoor gear, it is essential to first test out your tent at home before you take it with you on an adventure in the wilderness.  That way you can figure out all the tricks and seek guidance for any problems or questions you might come up with.

There are freestanding tents and non-freestanding tents. Freestanding tents are those which do not use stakes. Therefore, these types are speedier to set up and can be more easily moved. This is often the case with backpacking tents. Non-freestanding tents often have lighter poles, because they also have stakes to keep them in place so the pole structure doesn’t have to support the tent completely on its own.

backpacking tent ease of setup

Many backpacking tents also offer color coding in order to help you connect the right pieces without any guesswork, and this is a great feature which also gives you peace of mind in knowing that you are setting the tent up correctly.

Materials

Poles: Tents designed for backpacking are designed with lightweight aluminum poles which are very strong. Over time, these have been greatly reduced in terms of weight and thickness, but they are just as strong if not stronger than their heavier counterparts. The world’s largest pole maker is Dongah Aluminum Corporation and for that reason many specifications site DAC poles.

Tent Fabrics: The most commonly used fabrics are specially designed nylon and polyester. Just as with aluminum, the quality, weight, and durability of these fabrics have evolved quite a bit over time to perform to even higher standards while weighing less.  You will want to take a closer look at the specific fabric used and its rating for strength and water resistance, as there are a variety of grades and quality levels among these common fabrics.

backpacking tent materials

Now that we have described a few of the features which matter most to us, we will take a look at how these affect the product and review eight of our top choices below in terms of these features and a few others as well.

Best Products on Today’s Market

Camping, backpacking, long-hour hiking etc. are all great activities to break the monotony that come from daily life routines. Nevertheless, if you’re interested in making memories in your pursuits, purpose to select the best tent for your needs and budget. Luckily, if research and comparison are too much of a hustle for you, below is an in-depth review of experts’ top tents recommendations.

Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 TentBig Agnes Fly Creek UL2

Price: Approx. $ 250

Weight: 3 pounds

Dimensions: 20 x 8 x 8 inches

Specific features: Free standing, DAC Featherlite NFL pole system, silicone treated nylon rip stop fly the body is made of breathable nylon rip-stop and polyester mesh, single hub/ pole design, single door, and vestibule, mesh pocket included, reflective guyline and webbing for nighttime visibility

Best use: Backpacking, camping

Like all tents in the Fly Creek UL Series, the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 Tent was custom designed and made to be a lightweight alternative to the common bivouac sack. This particular model is designed to sleep two occupants and is ideal for backpackers who want a freestanding tent that will not take up too much space in their pack.

This tent is quick, efficient, and made for adventure.  Poles are made from one of the latest technologies in aluminum, so they are very lightweight yet ultra durable.

It also features an outside vestibule area which users really like because it gives them a great place to store boots and other essentials in order to free up space in the sleeping area.

The most frequent complaint from users is that the stakes which are included in this tent are not the type with hooks, making it easier for the grommets to slip off the stakes, which causes the tent not to stay on the ground. Otherwise, this is a handy and solidly built tent that will not disappoint.

PROS:

  • Small packed size
  • Very lightweight yet durable and strong
  • Includes attached guy lines
  • Decent ventilation

CONS:

  • Collapses in high wind
  • Hard to set up
  • Delicate materials
  • Too cramped for two big bodied adults

Related: If you’re content with features present in the aforementioned tent but are in need of a smaller one with maximized interior space, two doors and a 2 person capacity, the Big Agnes Copper Spur Backpacking Tent is an ideal choice.

Check the price on Amazon

Sierra Designs Flashlight 2 TentSierra Designs Flashlight 2 Tent

Price: Approx. $175

Weight: 4.2 pounds

Dimensions: 46 x 50 x 90 inches

Specific features: Aluminum poles, awning design instead of a vestibule, hybrid design, one piece pitching, wide drop door design, mesh hybrid walls

Best use: Backpacking, camping

This Sierra Designs Flashlight 2 Tent is an ultra-lightweight 2 person tent that is simple and quick to setup and has plenty of room. It also offers great ventilation, thanks to its unique hybrid wall design which also helps keep it lightweight and increases the amount of usable space.

Useable space further enhanced by walls that are nearly vertical. Another unique and convenient feature is the fact that this tent has two doors and two vestibules/gear closets for stashing extra gear.

Also, it was designed so that users have the option to substitute two trekking poles for the main support poles. Seams are factory-sealed and designed to keep out weather, although some users have experienced trouble with condensation building up on the outside of the tent to the point that it drips when touched, but this can be alleviated by leaving the door flaps open half way.

The poles are made of DAC shock corded aluminum for easy setup of the non-freestanding design, and the door windows have storm flaps. All in all, this is a great tent that is appreciated by many for its light weight and well thought out layout.

PROS:

  • Lightweight including trekking poles
  • Highly waterproof
  • Quick to dry
  • Easy & quick to set up when dry

CONS:

  • Heavy tent pegs
  • Condensation is a headache
  • Front guy lines require trekking poles

Related: Most individuals go for Sierra Designs Night Watch 2 Three Season Tent as alternative thanks to its light weight. The tent has similar features as flashlight 2 except for the slightly high price.

Check the price on Amazon

Mountain Hardware SuperMega UL 1 TentMountain Hardwear SuperMega UL 1 Tent

Price: Approx. $475

Weight: 2 pounds

Dimensions: 4.1 x 5.5 x 17.7 inches

Specific features: DAC “Featherlight” NSL Poles, Lightweight weather resistant fabric, guaranteed watertight construction with fully taped fly, taped perimeter seam, welded corners, welded guy clip anchors, dry entry vestibule. Includes two poles, truly free-standing

Best Use: Backpacking

One well designed and sleek looking tent, this Mountain Hardware SuperMega UL 1 Tent truly lives up to its name. The NSL poles are light as a feather and industry leading for their construction and design.

The specially designed fabrics were made to be as lightweight as they could possibly be while still delivering reliable protection from the elements. People who use this tent really like the guaranteed watertight construction which is tried and true, thanks to the extra attention to details like a fly that is fully taped, taped perimeter seam, and welded corners and guy clip anchors.

Users also really appreciate the dry entry vestibule for added gear storage. This is an excellent tent that lives up to Mountain Hardwear’s standards and reputation.

PROS:

  • Include a bathtub construction
  • Very lightweight yet durable and quality
  • Drip free entrance

CONS:

  • Limited foot room
  • Pricey
  • Make use of taped seam that is prone to wear
  • Dark fabric block sun ray making the interior dark

Related: The Mountain Hardwear Ghost UL 2 Person Tent is the expert alternative choice to the aforementioned tent. Why? It’s cheaper, larger, 2 persons tent and though relatively heavier, it boasts similar features as the hardware SuperMega UL 1.

Check the price on Amazon

Black Diamond Mesa ShelterBlack Diamond Mesa Shelter

Price: Approx. $344.95

Weight: 5.2 pounds

Dimensions: 44 x 58 x 92 inches

Specific features: Double wall design, 360 degrees mesh views, fast pitch hub, double doors with two integrated vestibules, 1800 mm polyester fly and 2000 mm nylon floor

Best use: Backpacking, weekend trips

Known for their highly reputable standards in outdoor products, Black Diamond has designed the Black Diamond Mesa Shelter to be spacious and sturdy with enough room to accommodate two people. It is very easy to setup (even in strong winds) and takes most people who own it ten minutes or less to do so.

The design is unique, as it has a central pole up which is what give it its dome like shape.  Not only does this simplify the setup process, but it also adds extra roominess and allows enough room for the occupants to sit up.

Owners of this tent also enjoy the exceptional customer service provided by Black Diamond and find them to be very responsive and willing to stand behind their products. This tent will not disappoint as a lightweight, functional, and weatherproof camping shelter, perfect for your outdoor adventures or weekend getaways.

PROS:

  • Highly portable
  • Quick to set up

CONS:

  • Limited vestibule space
  • Relatively heavy

Related: It’s advisable for you to purchase the tent together with Black Diamond Mesa Tent Ground Cloth for protection purposes. The cloth is affordable, lightweight, durable and a necessary accessory that prolongs the life of your Mesa tent.

Check the price on Amazon

Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL Backpacking TentBig Agnes - Rattlesnake SL mtnGLO

Price: Approx. $319.95

Weight: 3.9 pounds

Dimensions: 20 x 7 x 7 inches

Specific features: Breathable nylon and polyester mesh construction, LED lights integrated into the seams, steep wall construction, waterproof

Best use: Backpacking

The most celebrated feature of this Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL Tent is the inclusion of LED lights which are integrated into the seams of the tent itself.

People who own this tent love the convenience of not having to also worry about carrying a lantern or other light source with them as the lights are built right into the tent and can be turned off or dimmed at the touch of a button, they are bright enough to illuminate your camp, but not too bright to be a nuisance.

This is also a spacious tent (for a backpacking tent) which can accommodate two persons and is suitable for three seasons and is waterproofed by tape lining all seams of the tent.

Some people who use this tent prefer it as a roomy one person tent as opposed to a more cramped two person tent. It is capable of withstanding heavy winds, rain, or snow and hold up extremely well, although some users have reported that it can be a little loud under certain extreme weather conditions. Overall, this is a great tent which provides comfort and convenience along with all of the other features you would expect from a good backpacking tent.

PROS:

  • Easy to set up
  • Relatively lightweight
  • Comfortable & durable

CONS:

  • Moderately expensive

Related: If you’re interested in a tent with similar features as the Rattlesnake SL 2 but more breathable and waterproof, the Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 Platinum Tent is a perfect choice. However, it’s relatively heavy and pricey as compared to the aforementioned item but definitely more comfortable and dry.

Check the price on Amazon

Kelty Trailogic TN2 TentKelty Trailogic TN2 Tent

Price: Approx. $ 204.95

Weight: 3.4 pounds

Dimensions: 83 x 42 x 50 inches

Specific features: Fabric and nylon, stargazer fly, tent cube storage system, oversized door with noiseless zipper, snap-clip technology, taped floor and fly seams, internal storage pockets, fly vents, welded clear windows, DAC Aluminum poles

Best use: Backpacking, camping, weekend trips

Easy to carry on any adventure, the Kelty Trailogic TN2 Tent packs up square for added packing convenience and efficiency. The “Stargazer fly” rainfly feature allows visibility of the night sky, yet can be easily secured from inside the tent for weatherproofing, and it does not flap in the wind at all.

Other similar tents have been known to have problems with condensation buildup on the exterior, but thanks to the mesh design and ventilation, Kelty seems to have eliminated this problem where this tent is concerned. The door is oversized, with noiseless zipper pulls. The color coded clip system greatly simplifies the setup and makes it nearly foolproof.

The DAC Aluminum poles are very durable and easy to pack away as well, and they carry their own lifetime warranty separate from the warranty of the tent.

People over six feet tall may want to choose a different tent, as the length of this tent will likely be an issue. Also, those who have a need for internal storage in the tent will also want to find a different product, as this tent has smaller pockets. All in all, the concerns are minor and this is a great tent for the price that could not be simpler to carry or use.

PROS:

  • Lightweight
  • Great ventilation
  • Easy setup
  • Highly packable

CONS:

  • Possibility of water splash into the tent if the fly is not sealed properly
  • Difficult to find footprint
  • Relatively short

Related: The Kelty TN 2 Footprint is usually bought together with the aforementioned tent for added protection and increased durability. The footprint is affordable, lightweight and is water resistant up to 1800 mm.

Check the price on Amazon

Kelty Salida TentKelty Salida 2 Tent

Price: Approx. $115

Weight: 5.86 pounds

Dimensions: 55 x 43 x 88 inches

Specific features: Foldable poles, gear loft loops, color coded clip and fly attachment, roll top cube carry bag, internal storage pockets, fully seam taped constructions

Best use: Backpacking

The Kelty Salida Tent is a light, two people and side entry tent designed for backpacking. It offers one vestibule where gear can be stored and has excellent ventilation thanks to the use of mesh. Mesh also helps reduce condensation and is fine enough to keep the bugs out.

However, some owners of this tent would prefer it to have windows as opposed to so many mesh panels. This tent is of the dome variety and is a freestanding structure with just two poles for simple setup.  The poles (which fold up for a more compact carry) are made of DAC Press fit Aluminum and used in conjunction with Kelty’s specially designed hug pole clips and color coded system for fast, foolproof setup.

Another complaint by owners of this tent is that the poles are heavier than some other tents and that the quality may not be as good either. The seams are factory taped to protect you from the elements, and the fly is made of UV resistant polyester.

The tent conveniently rolls up into a roll top cue storage bag that is one small, flat package that is easy to carry. It also features flashlight and gear loft loops on the tent’s ceiling. For the most part, people seem to really like this tent and it is a great choice for the more budget-minded backpacker.

PROS:

  • Affordable
  • Tough, strong and dependable
  • Lightweight poles
  • Simple, self standing design

CONS:

  • Small vestibule area
  • Small head room

Related: The Kelty TN 3 Person Tent is the best alternative for individuals in need of a 3 persons capacity tent. It has similar features as Salida but it’s relatively lighter and slightly expensive. It also includes a stargazing fly for a night entertainment.

Check the price on Amazon

Sierra Designs Lightning 2 FL TentSierra Designs Lightning 2 FL Tent

Price: Approx. $309.96

Weight: 3.31 pounds

Dimensions: 86 x 56 x 36 inches

Specific features: Nylon, zipper closure, freestanding tent design, integrated awning poles, two doors, three poles, 4 guy lines, 10 stakes, storage bag for tent and poles

Best use: Backpacking, camping

An ultra light tent, the Sierra Designs Lightning 2 FL Tent was designed to fit two people plus gear, and many find it to be roomier than many other two person tents. It is a freestanding structure that is more than just a tent, if offers many features for the utmost in comfort at the lowest possible weight.

It features hybrid single and double wall construction in order to reduce the weight and make it fast and easy to set up, even in the rain.

The single door is wider that what you would expect to find on similarly sized tents, with enough space for two to sit side by side.

In comparison to other tents of a similar size and weight, this one is likely one of the most functional and comfortable options available.  It offers simple setup with swivel hubs that form a single frame, and the fabric is nylon with ultra-light mesh. Owners of this tent appreciate how lightweight it is, and how easy it is to both set up and breakdown, and it comes highly recommended.

PROS:

  • Thick, supportive poles
  • Bathtub construction
  • Great livability (bright and light body fabric)
  • Easy to pitch

CONS:

  • Floor taped seam is prone to wear
  • Single walled section (can result in your contact with condensation)
  • Guylines lack reflective tapes

Related: The Sierra Designs Lightning 2 & 2 FL Footprint is usually bought together with the tent for its increased protection and durability. The footprint is affordable, light, highly waterproof and large to cover the whole tent’s floor area.

Check the price on Amazon

In Conclusion

Hopefully, this article has made you feel more confident when choosing the right backpacking tent for your outdoor trips. As we discussed above, it is easy to get overwhelmed by options but if you really break it down and look at features in contrast with your camping style, it is much easier to purchase the best possible outdoor shelter that meets your needs.

backpacking tent outdoor with a backpack

Take the time to practice setting up your tent and learning the features ahead of time so that you can prepare yourself for an optimal experience when the time comes to use it. Also, consider watching videos online to see the tent in action and to hear what other users’ experiences have been like.

We would love to hear about your experiences with backpacking tents! So what has been the best experience you had backpacking with a tent? And just what type of tent do you think is best? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bradley Page
Bradley Page

With several decades of experience as a backpacker and outdoor adventurer, Bradley is an open encyclopedia when it comes to gear, clothes, and other items that matter on the trail. He tested hundreds of shoes, pants, jackets, and backpacks in his long career and is always up to date with the new appearances in the niche. His experience makes him one of the authority figures in backpacking and he can help anyone to get prepared for a great adventure!

  • Wendy Fortin

    After researching some critical reviews of the products, I think I’ll trust the Kelty ones. For the Sierra Designs products, some users mentioned problems of condensation, like it leaks inside. The Big Agnes Fly Creek had problems on zipper defects. I haven’t experienced any of these tents yet so I’m curious about what other users may comment here.

    • Bradley Page

      Hi Wendy! Are you going backpacking or camping soon? Invest in a good tent since your choice is vital for comfort and survival. Always opt for brands that have been in the market for many years. Also look at their reputation and how others perceive the product.
      I’ve used the Big Agnes Fly Creek and I only have good reviews for that tent. The price may be high for some but this tent will be your best friend when you’re out on the mountains or just about anywhere. It’s also easy to set-up, too and that’s also very important.

  • Mark Lee

    The Black Diamond Mesa Shelter is a must buy. I would not regret purchasing it especially after learning about the central pole up which I really need for extra space. I need a tent where I and my companion can sit up inside. All other important features to consider in getting a tent are here: sturdy even in strong winds, vestibules which work well, and easy to set up. For this product, you get what you pay for.

  • Bradley Page

    Thanks for dropping by Mark! I agree with you, this tent is a must have! All the basic features you need are there and more. You get what you pay for and that’s very important. Always go for the known and trusted brands that won’t let you down .

  • Bradley Page

    Hi there Chad and thanks for your useful comments. I appreciate that you take the time to share your experience with the various camping gear.
    The Sierra Designs brand is really nice, right? They usually vary in price but the look is always stunning and the features are excellent.

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