The Best Backpacking Tent
What's the best backpacking tent? In a multi-year backpacking bonanza, we tested 14 of the best two-person tents on the market. We used these tents everywhere from Maine to the High Sierra and to Alaska. With feedback from over 50 testers, we compared all types of tents side-by-side and ranked each on its comfort, ease of set up, weather resistance, durability, weight, and packed size. We've tested them to their limits and some fared better than others. Read on to find out which tents came out on top.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
The competition for this award was fierce this year, with the time-tested Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 beating back all competitors. The Copper Spur is a sturdy, reliable, comfortable and relatively lightweight tent that will keep the storms at bay in this little refuge. It has a decent space-to-weight ratio and our testers are more inclined to take it with us on our two-person backpacking trips when compared to all the other tents in this review. It has a great balance of comfortable features, including two doors, roomy vestibules, and many interior pockets, but it still comes in a lightweight, 52.6 oz package. Our testers found themselves reaching for the Copper Spur UL2 for all sorts of adventures, from climbing in the high alpine to long distance backpacking trips. It is not as durable as the Hilleberg Anjan and we believe it would not stand up to storms as well, but we sat out many blustery rainstorms in this tent, and it kept us dry. It is slightly lighter weight and less expensive than the Anjan, and therefore a great choice for two people who want to go on longer distance backpacking trips. This tent also comes with integrated lights in the Copper Spur HV UL2 mtnGLO.
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Analysis and Test Results
A quality tent is arguably the single most important component of building a multi-day gear kit. The 14 tents included in this review are all fully enclosed two-person backpacking tents that pitch with traditional tent poles included with purchase. Our Ultralight Tent Review compares 10 cutting edge, non-traditional tents and shelters that push the boundaries of lightweight materials and offer the greatest performance for ultralight backpacking. We separate the tents in this way to make it easier to compare specific types of shelters and because ultralight shelters require that you commit to a different style of backpacking.
One way to think about your backpacking gear choices is to decide if your trip is more hiking focused or camping focused. Is your objective to cover the miles with the relative ease of a light pack or to spend lots of comfortable time in camp with added luxury? Both styles are enjoyable, but different people gravitate to different types of trips.
Times when we like to have a fully enclosed, traditional tent are when we are expecting a lot of weather. We like to be ensconced in a tent with high sidewalls and a nice sturdy fly above us, so if the heavens open up and we end up sitting in a pool of water, the bathtub floor will protect our gear. Sometimes floorless shelters do not afford that luxury. We also like an enclosed tent when it's bug season. Backpacking or canoeing in Minnesota's Boundary Waters? There's no messing around with those black flies, and we want a fully enclosed Fort Knox of a tent. We also want an enclosed tent when there is a lot of wind and blowing dust or snow - some backpacking tents like the Hilleberg Anjan 2 have breathable solid interior walls that protect you from small particles blowing in more than do mesh walls.
We encourage you to consider both tents and shelters, and urge you to look at our Backpacking Tent Buying Advice article, which describes the pros and cons of tents and shelters in greater depth. Traditional tents, such as those included in this review, with dedicated poles that support the tent, are generally more comfortable than trekking-pole-supported ultralight tents. The models in this review are ideal for both multi-day human-powered trips such as bike touring, backpacking, remote basecamps, kayaking, etc. and for car camping. In that sense, they are an excellent value; one tent may serve all of your three-season needs.
Types of Backpacking Tents
Many of the two-person tents in this review are also available in one, three or four-person versions with similar features. As far as two-person backpacking tents, the number and location of doors is one of the most common design variations:
Two-Door Tents We found that tents with two doors offer the most comfort, have the most vestibule space, and are the heaviest; they're best for car camping and luxurious backpacking. Some of our favorite two-door tents are the REI Half Dome 2 Plus and the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2.
Single Side Door Tents These are typically the least expensive and least comfortable. We did not test any side door tents this round.
Single Front Door Tents Like the Hilleberg Anjan 2 and the Mountain Hardwear Ghost UL 2 offer the best balance of low weight and comfort.
Criteria For Evaluation
After soliciting feedback from over 50 people over the course of several years, here are what we have found to be the most important factors for finding a quality backpacking tent.
For this metric we assessed how comfortable we felt in each tent. Two-door tents like the REI Half Dome 2 Plus and the NEMO Galaxi 2 are by far the most luxurious, because each person has their own entry and exit. Tents with a single side door are the least comfortable because one person has to climb over the other person in order to get in or out. Our ratings consider door and vestibule design, solid or mesh walls, the number and size of pockets, peak height, floor area, and vestibule area. We include other important factors in our assessment such as does the tent get wet from falling rain when someone enters? Can a six-foot-tall person sit up inside or lie down without their feet touching the walls? Does the fly protect the inner tent from splashback and spindrift? Many of the models tending towards luxury on the spectrum will have little extra features like pockets for storing door when open or fancy magnet clasps to tie back flaps. We love lots of storage options and pockets in our luxury models weight savings is usually not a consideration in these tents although we love the generous pockets of the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 for such a light weight backpacking tent.
The most comfortable tent we tested was the REI Half Dome 2 Plus, a roomy palace with a large floor area and two gigantic vestibules. The Plus version features an extra 10 inches in length and four inches in width over the standard REI Half Dome 2, and it makes for a more spacious and comfortable tent. It also has four kick-stand vents in the top of the fly to keep air flowing inside but keep the rain out.
Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 and the Mountain Ghost UL 2 were the least comfortable because they sacrificed comfort for low weight. They both have small, cramped interiors with a single front door and vestibule. The lower weight does make them more comfortable to carry in your pack all day, but it reduces some of the living comfort at camp. However, note that most tents tested here are significantly more comfortable to spend extended amounts of time in than ultralight shelters.
For this metric we assess the amount of protection each tent provides against vertically falling and horizontally blown precipitation, and the strength of the pole design, which is important during high winds. We considered factors such as pole design, pole diameter, the number of pole intersections, the mechanism for attaching the body to the fly, the mechanism for attaching the fly to the poles, and construction quality, as well as the number and quality of guy points. The Hilleberg Anjan 2 takes first place for overall weather resistance with details such as reinforced vestibule zippers, a bathtub floor that protects from splashback and spindrift, and an inner tent made primarily of a solid nylon that blocks blowing sand and snow and better sheds condensation that drips from the roof a significant advantage over tents that have mesh inner tent walls like the MSR Hubba Hubba NX.
The weakest tents are North Face Stormbreak 2 and the REI Passage 2 that both have tall peak heights that don't do well in winds and cheap, small diameter poles that we suspect will bend and snap if exposed to high winds. We were also disappointed in the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2, which is not completely freestanding and its single center pole is susceptible to collapsing in high winds.
Although several tents tested here are very capable of enduring serious three-season storms, we've found that many ultralight tents are stronger and safer in high winds because trekking poles don't break, cuben fiber is stronger than even the strongest silnylon used in these tents, and shelters can be pitched lower to the ground - but many of them are floor-less, which makes campsite selection very important.
Weight and Packed Size
Our weight variable ranks each tent on its packed weight, which we measured with each tent's included poles, inner tent, outer tent, stakes, and guylines. See individual product reviews for the weight of each component. At 33.4 ounces, the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 is the lightest tent tested. At 94.2 ounces The North Face Stormbreak is the heaviest tent tested. For comparison, two-person ultralight shelters weigh an average of 16 ounces and as little as seven ounces. We list a space-to-weight ratio (sum of vestibule and floor area / ounces) in our specification table above. The average score is 0.78 with a range from 1.09 to 0.53. The Tarptent Double Rainbow has the best space-to-weight ratio with its rectangular-shaped interior and large vestibules, followed by the NEMO Blaze 2P.
Packed size is strongly correlated with weight. However, some tents have lots of features, like pockets and gear lofts or complicated plastic pole hubs, that add more bulk than weight, or simply don't collapse well. Remember, tents don't necessarily have to be packed in their stuff sacks. We also considered how compressible versus bulky the materials are and if we could easily squeeze or stuff them into our backpacks around other gear. We like the compressible materials and compact pole sections of the Anjan and the NEMO Blaze, but the Fly Creek is the most compact tent tested here. The Half Dome 2 Plus, NEMO Galaxi and Stormbreak are the least compressible.
Ease of Setup
The majority of tents tested here are self-supporting, meaning they stand up, to some degree, by themselves and have components such as a vestibule that must be guyed out for a proper pitch. Self-supporting tents are the most dummy-proof type of shelter; an eight-year-old child can easily pitch one in a few minutes. Tunnel tents those with two hoop-shaped poles require more skill and experience to pitch because they, like all ultralight shelters, are supported entirely by tension from guylines. An example of a tunnel tent is the Hilleberg Anjan 2. Though this tent requires some knowledge to set up, we don't think it is particularly difficult to pitch. The REI Passage 2, Galaxi and other two-pole designed tents are the simplest and easiest to pitch. At first the Tarptent Double Rainbow seems to be incredibly easy to pitch with its one-pole design, but we soon discovered that it takes a lot more attention to detail to make sure this shelter is weatherproof. No tent tested is incredibly hard to pitch, and we don't believe that ease of setup is the most important attribute for a backpacking tent. This variable assumes a small percent of each tent's total score.
This variable is based on our experiences field testing these products and our best estimate at the long-term durability of each tent. Though we have used these tents long and hard, we have yet to use all of the tents to complete failure. Our ratings in this category take into account any defects or broken parts we encountered as well as the manufacturer's fabric specifications. In general, nylon is more durable than polyester and silicone-coated fabrics are stronger and more durable than polyurethane-coated fabrics. (See our Buying Advice Article for more info on fabrics.) Many of the lighter tents tested here are not designed to endure lots of use and abuse. For example, roughly half the models tested skip basic strength enhancing features like clips that relieve stress from vestibule zippers. We believe the least durable tent tested is the Nemo Blaze its skimpy seven Denier weight fly material abraded quickly and feels paper thin. This year Mountain Hardwear beefed up its new tent, the Ghost UL2 with 15D weight fly materials, The Hilleberg Anjan has a host of features commonly found on four-season tents and is by far the most durable. We've found that the importance of durability increases with trip duration. Repairs take time, and serious damage or failure has larger consequences and cost in more remote areas and on long-distance hikes.
Other Considerations for a Backpacking Tent
What you require from a tent varies with location and weather conditions. One night you might need protection from vertically falling rain. Another night you might need protection from strong winds and horizontally blown rain. And another night the skies may be clear with no wind all you need is bug protection. Tents that can adapt to varying conditions or can be used in locations that don't permit a perfect pitch can save time, money, and energy. In general, double-wall tents that pitch with dedicated poles are the least adaptable; they must be pitched in the same way regardless of the campsite or the weather. Ultralight shelters, in contrast, are much more capable of adapting to environmental variation, but proper campsite selection is very important for these shelters.
The MSR Hubba Hubba NX and Hillberg Anjan are the only tents tested in this review that have noticeable adaptability. Their inner tents can be removed to create a pole-supported floorless shelter that is significantly stronger, more comfortable, and lighter than fast-pitching a tent with a footprint, poles, and fly. We like these adaptable features of both of these tents, which lets you bring only part of the tent with you and thus save weight, if you know the weather will be good on your trip.
Forget the Footprint
Footprints, or waterproof fabrics cut to match a tent bottom, are overpriced accessories that are unnecessary for backpacking. Choosing a good campsite is an easier option that weighs less (nothing!). Extensive camping on pointy, rocky ground or in the desert where punctures are possible might be reasons to consider one. The only tent that comes with a footprint included is the NEMO Galaxi 2.
If you choose to experiment with a footprint, we don't recommend purchasing one from a tent manufacturer because they are often overpriced and of moderate-to-low quality. Instead, consider cutting your own out of Tyvek Home Wrap or polycro plastic. The weight of a sleeping pad and bag keeps a custom footprint in place- there's no need for grommets. Tyvek is the most durable and puncture resistant footprint material we've used. A typical tent-sized piece weighs around seven oz, which is not particularly lightweight. But if you're looking for one footprint primarily for car camping that occasionally joins you on puncture prone backpacking trips, this is our top pick. You can buy Tyvek at hardware stores or click here to purchase off Amazon: Tyvek. Polycro is a lighter and less durable option that ultralight backpackers tend to favor; it may be all you need. Buy it from Gossamer Gear or Mountain Laurel Designs.
A brightly colored tent is ideal for expedition mountaineering and alpine climbing because it allows you to find your tent easier than a less visible color would. An attention grabbing color can also help others find you if you need to get picked up or rescued. For three-season applications like backpacking, a brightly colored tent is a handicap when you want to camp stealthily or act in accordance with Leave No Trace principles. Dark green or moderate grey colors blend in well in most non-snow covered environments and draw less attention from wildlife and people. Color can become a safety issue when camping near urban areas where you don't want to be noticed by people that might be interested in you and/or all of the expensive gear you're carrying. Moderate green and grey are our preferred colors for three-season tents, such as the colors found on the NEMO Galaxi or the Ghost UL2. Conversely, if you're camping in a zone affected by hunting season, you may want to choose a bright colored tent, or if you want a tent with a cheery interior feel to brighten your mood you may want something like the Half Dome's new red color or the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2.
Consider Upgrading Stakes and Guylines
Of all the tents tested here, only the Hilleberg model comes with enough guyline to achieve a proper pitch. Hilleberg and Big Agnes are also the only companies that include enough stakes for each guypoint. Pretty lame, right? Easton Nano Tent Stakes and Kelty TripTease LightLine are very good accessories you may need to purchase.
Tent pole repair-Poles can break, and when they do it is a good idea to have a repair kit handy. The MSR Tent Pole Repair Kit is a good option. Many of the tents we tested this year come with included pole splints.
Consider an Ultralight Shelter
If ultralight backpacking is your objective, or may be in your future, we highly recommend using trekking poles (see Ten Reasons for Trekking Poles) to support one of the tents found in our Ultralight Tent Review. Floorless shelters are ideal for pushing the ultralight performance envelope.
The world is your oyster when shopping for a new backpacking tent. If you plan to travel long distances with your tent on your back, the weight and packed size metric will become the most important one to you. We like the NEMO Blaze and the Tarptent Double Rainbow, which are the the best in the weight category. If you're most concerned about durability and weather resistance, consider the Hilleberg Anjan. If you want a luxurious comfortable model for your family and all of your stuff, we like the REI Half Dome 2 Plus best of all. There is a tent out there for all of you and we think you can find it in one of the models we've tested. If you're still on the fence, check out the buying advice to determine which model will best suit your needs.
— Jessica Haist
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