The Best Backpacking Tents of 2017
To find the best backpacking tent of 2017, we researched 65 models and took the top 14 on two months of backcountry adventures, mainly in the Sierra Nevada Wilderness. We selected the lightest free-standing tents available as well as more comfortable and spacious ones. Whether your budget is $90 or $300, we have a selection for you. This review covers the tents most backpackers want. We have separate reviews for two others popular categories: camping tents for family outings and ultralight tents for those that want to shave ounces from their pack.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Spring 2017 Update
For April 2017, we add the lower-budget Alps Lynx-2 for folks that want space and comfort and don't mind a few extra pounds. The Lynx is back by popular demand for budget backpackers or people new to the sport that want to toe-dip before committing to more costly gear. We also confirm all the recent color changes and updates for the summer 2017 backpacking season.
Best Overall Backpacking Tent
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2
While 2017 brings many new tent models, a classic still tops our ratings. The Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 still fits most backpacker's goals for comfort, weight, and quality. It's a resilient, dependable, comfortable and lightweight tent that offers reliable storm protection. It has a balance of comfortable features, including two doors, roomy vestibules, and many interior pockets, weighing just over three pounds. Our testers found the Copper Spur HV UL2 fit for a variety of adventures, from alpine climbing to long distance backpacking trips. It is not as durable as the Hilleberg Anjan 2, and we believe it would not stand up to storms as well, but we stayed dry through blustery rainstorms. It is less expensive and lighter than the Anjan, an excellent choice for two people who want to go on longer distance backpacking trips. This tent comes with integrated lights, the Copper Spur HV UL2 mtnGLO, for an additional $50. Big Agnes released the HV tent in 2017 as a replacement to the previous Copper Spur UL2. Fresh on the market this Spring, the HV features 20% more volume than its predecessor, with a new ripstop fabric and even lower weight, too. We highlight the main differences between these two tents siblings in the individual review.
Above average space-to-weight ratio
Comfortable for two people
Stable in winds
Delicate fabrics require special treatment
17.2 ounces heavier than lightest tent review
Read full review: Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2
Best On a Tight Budget
REI Half Dome 2 Plus
Only go on a few trips a year or don't mind carrying a few extra pounds? The Alps Lynx-2 may be for you. It's similar to but heavier than the Half Dome 2, with best-in-class headroom, floor area, and easy setup. It doesn't perform as well as the Half Dome, but it's less than half the cost. Is it out first choice? No. Is it a tremendous value? Yes. It's ideal for new backpackers who aren't ready to commit to expensive equipment.
Easy to pitch
Lack of privacy
Lower-quality stakes and guy lines
Read full review: Alps Mountaineering Lynx-2
Best Bang for the Buck for Lightweight Backpacking
Tarptent Double Rainbow
Finding a sub-three pound tent with a low price is elusive. Most tents in that weight range cost more than many want to spend, and inexpensive tents tend to weigh more than most backpackers want to carry. The Tarptent Double Rainbow is the tent that strikes the best balance of cost and weight. More than just lightweight and relatively inexpensive, it has high-quality, durable materials and the highest space-to-weight ratio of all the tents tested. It is comfortable for two people, with enough space for a six-foot-tall person to stretch. It has a rectangular shape, which means space at your feet to stash your gear; it also has large vestibules for extra gear. The Tarptent is simple to set up with a single middle pole. It is not free-standing, so it takes creativity to make it work when dealing with bedrock or hard ground. We suggest reading the setup directions to ensure the tent is properly pitched and weatherproof. If you're traveling solo, check out the single-occupancy version of this tent, the Tarptent Rainbow.
Incredibly comfortable for its weight
Strong in high winds
Can be pitched in freestanding mode
Low condensation resistance
Splashback can hit mesh walls in some situations
Door and vestibule closures could be better
Read full review: Tarptent Double Rainbow
Best Bang for the Buck for Comfortable Camping
REI Half Dome 2 Plus
The most livable and comfortable tent reviewed, the REI Half Dome 2 Plus has a spacious interior and thoughtful construction for tall individuals and people with pets or extra stuff. It provides the most bang for your buck in this review, even over other luxury models, like the NEMO Galaxi 2. We bestow the Half Dome 2 Plus with our Best Buy Award. This tent is comfortable with an excellent space-to-weight ratio, ventilation, and interior storage. At 93 ounces, we believe this is best-suited, primarily for car camping and short backpacking trips. If you're looking for one tent for both car camping and occasional backpacking, and want to bring your dog or a tall partner, the Half Dome 2 Plus takes the cake. This is a rock star tent and is inexpensive to boot. If you're looking to shave ounces from your kit, check out the similar Quarter Dome 2.
Lots of room for its weight
Heavy for backpacking
Hard to get the fly vestibules taut
Not enough stakes or guy lines
Read full review: REI Half Dome 2 Plus
Top Pick for Lightweight Backpacking
NEMO Blaze 2P Ultralight
If you're serious about shaving weight, you can get a tent that is right behind the Double Rainbow in space-to-weight ratio: the NEMO Blaze. This is the tent all our weight-conscious testers chose for backpacking or alpine climbing. It is also comfortable. NEMO has engineered a clever single pole design that crosses the body of the tent diagonally and anchors at opposite corners; the other corners are staked out. This means the tent is not entirely freestanding and takes a bit of figuring out to set up the first time, but the weight savings are huge. There is a lot of headroom, plus two doors, which is outstanding for a tent this light. With the extra storage space in the two vestibules, the Blaze feels luxurious for a tent in its weight category. If you're into solo adventures, the Blaze 1P Ultralight weighs 4 oz. less and is $130 cheaper.
High space-to-weight ratio
Read full review: NEMO Blaze
Top Pick for Stretching the 3 Seasons and Weather Resistance
Hilleberg Anjan 2
Our testers reach for the Hilleberg Anjan when they expect harsh weather conditions. It's best if you need a tent that will stretch from the earliest thaw of Spring to the first Winter squall. Whether backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail, bike touring the world, or car camping at the local park, the Hilleberg Anjan 2 provides the ultimate balance of low weight, weather resistance, comfort, and strength and durability. This is also the highest performance light-duty winter tent tested. Our testers used the Anjan on multi-day trips from Maine to Washington State, and they carried it on a bicycle tour down the Baja peninsula and through India and Nepal. At 57 ounces, the Anjan is not the lightest tent available but makes up for it in storm protection, comfort, and durability. Although on the expensive side, the Anjan is the most durable tent tested, which makes it a great long-term value. Hilleberg has just confirmed with us that they have updated this model since we reviewed it, redesigning the poles, cut, and tent entrance. More details on the updates are in the individual review. Additionally, the Anjan is also available in the Anjan 2 GT, which touts a large 74" vestibule and weighs just 10 oz. more.
Somewhat heavy for backpacking
Poor quality stakes
Withstands extreme weather conditions
Read full review: Hilleberg Anjan 2
Analysis and Test Results
We started with 65 popular tent models, before narrowing down to the 14 best tents which we purchased and put through extensive testing over a two month period. We rated each tent on the most important factors for finding a quality backpacking tent: comfort, weather resistance, weight and packed size, ease of setup, and durability. The cumulative score of these metrics provided us with each tent's overall performance score, which is shown in descending order in the rating table above.
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 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 to get in or out. Our ratings consider door and vestibule design, wall type, number and size of pockets, peak height, floor area, and vestibule area.
We include other important factors in our assessment. Does the tent get wet when someone enters? Can a tall person sit inside or lie down without their feet touching the walls? Does the fly protect the inner tent from splashback? Many of the models tending towards luxury will have few extra features, like pockets for storing the door when open or magnet clasps to tie back flaps. We love lots of storage options and pockets in luxury models — weight savings is usually not a consideration in these tents, although we love the generous pockets of the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 for such a lightweight backpacking tent.
The most comfortable tent 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, making 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 while keeping rain out.
Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 and the Mountain Ghost UL 2 were the least comfortable because they sacrificed comfort for weight savings. 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 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 sheds condensation dripping 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 do poorly in winds and cheap, small diameter poles that we suspect will bend and snap in 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 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. Keep in mind that many of them are floor-less, which makes campsite selection 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 the chart below for the weight of each product.
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. 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 correlated with weight. However, some tents have lots of features, like pockets and gear lofts, 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. The Half Dome 2 Plus, NEMO Galaxi and Stormbreak are the least compressible.
Ease of Setup
The majority of tents tested are self-supporting, meaning they stand up by themselves and have components such as a vestibule that must be guyed out for proper pitching. Self-supporting tents are the most dummy-proof 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 knowledge to set up, we don't think it is difficult to pitch. The REI Passage 2, Galaxi and other two-pole designed tents are the simplest to pitch. At first, the Tarptent Double Rainbow seems to be easy to pitch with its one-pole design, but we soon discovered that it takes 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 estimate at the long-term durability of each. Though we have used these tents long and hard, we have yet to use all of the tents to failure. Our ratings in this category take into account any defects or broken parts encountered as well as the manufacturer's fabric specifications. In general, nylon is more durable than polyester, and silicone-coated fabrics are more durable than polyurethane-coated fabrics. (See our Buying Advice Article for more info on fabrics.)
Many of the lighter tents tested 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 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 the most durable. We've found that the importance of durability increases with trip duration. Repairs take time, and serious damage or failure has consequences and costs in remote areas and on long-distance hikes.
Other Considerations for a Backpacking Tent
What you require from a tent varies with location and weather. One night you might need protection from falling rain. Another night you might need protection from strong winds and horizontally blown rain. Another night the skies may be clear with no wind…all you need is bug protection. Tents that can adapt to varying conditions or that can be used in locations not requiring 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 weather. Ultralight shelters, in contrast, are more capable of adapting, but proper campsite selection is important for these shelters.
The MSR Hubba Hubba NX and Hilleberg Anjan are the only tents tested that have noticeable adaptability. Their inner tents can be removed to create a pole-supported floorless shelter that is stronger, more comfortable, and lighter than fast-pitching a tent with a footprint, poles, and fly. We like the adaptable features of both of these tents, which lets you bring only part of the tent with you, saving weight if you know the weather will be good.
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 nothing. Extensive camping on rocky ground or in the desert where punctures are possible might be reasons to consider a footprint. The only tent reviewed 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 7 oz, which is not particularly lightweight. But if you're primarily car camping and occasionally going 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 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. An attention-grabbing color can help others find you if you're in trouble. For three-season applications like backpacking, a bright tent is a handicap when you want to camp stealthily or act in accordance with Leave No Trace principles. Dark green or moderate gray 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 your expensive gear. Moderate green and gray are our preferred colors for three-season tents, like 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 you may want something like the Half Dome's new red color or the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2.
Consider Upgrading Stakes and Guylines
Of all the tents tested, 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 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. The MSR Tent Pole Repair Kit is a good option. Many of the tents 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 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, the weight and packed size metric will become important. We like the NEMO Blaze and the Tarptent Double Rainbow, which are the best in the weight category. If you're most concerned about durability and weather resistance, consider the Hilleberg Anjan 2. If you want a comfortable model for your family and all of your stuff, we like the REI Half Dome 2 Plus best. There is a tent out there for everyone, 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 best suits your needs.
— Jessica Haist
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