The Best Ultralight Tent Shelters of 2017
Tired of carrying around your heavy and bulky tent? We researched over 50 ultralight models and purchased 10 of the best, testing them side-by-side over the course of five months. Our expert testers spent countless nights using the tarps, pyramids, and feather light double wall tents in order to help you choose what is ideal for your adventure. Through our extensive testing in the Himalaya of Nepal, the deserts of southwest Utah, and the Rockies of Colorado and Wyoming, we have come to understand the advantages and disadvantages, which we happily share here with you. Whether you are shopping for a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, or simply want to make your annual backpacking journey less painful, we've got something for you.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated August 2017
Over the course of the spring and summer, our expert testers pushed these tents to their limits in all sorts of adventures, discovering which ones are worth your hard earned dough. What's the verdict? A new Editors' Choice award winner emerged, the Zpacks Duplex, while the Black Diamond First Light stole the show as our Best Bang for the Buck. The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp remains our Top Pick for a tarp shelter for the second year in a row and the Nemo Hornet snags a new Top Pick Award as a dedicated pole contender. Last but not least, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2 wins for offering an excellent combination of comfort and space.
Best Overall UL Contender
Zpacks Duplex 2
In 2016, Zpacks replaced their Hexamid Twin tent with the new Duplex, which remained the best overall ultralight tent that we have tested. The Duplex offers fantastic weather protection on all four sides, with its super wind-stable tarp design and the addition of twin doors and covered vestibules. Unlike most of the similar tents in this review, it has sewn in bug protection and a floor, while still weighing in at a mere 21 ounces. What we loved was how much room there was inside, as there's plenty for two people with packs and then some. While it doesn't come cheap, we think that this is the most "livable" ultralight shelter that we have tested, and because it was the top scorer in our review, have no problem calling it the Best Overall. We think you will agree.
Only 21 ounces with built in bug protection and floor
Spacious and roomy inside
Great four-sided weather protection
Requires the use of trekking poles or an extra purchase of custom poles
Not as adaptable as a tarp
Read Full Review: Zpacks Duplex
Best Bang for the Buck
Black Diamond Beta Light
Scoring similarly to our Editors' Choice winner but costing only $200 retail, the Black Diamond Beta Light is the ultimate in high performance for low cost. For this reason, it was a no-brainer to recognize it as our Best Bang for the Buck. It is a classic "do everything well" shelter, scoring highly in each of the metrics we assessed. It has plenty of room inside for two people and their packs, plus a dog, and is tall enough to sit up in. We also liked its adaptability, which we experienced while pitching it up off the ground a bit for better air flow, or lower to close off the gaps when it was windy or storming. While it doesn't have built in bug protection, Black Diamond does sell a bug netting insert for those that want to extend its usage during the buggiest months. The final advantage to this tent is that it packs down into a stuff sack far smaller than any other in this review, even the tarps, ensuring that you will be able to find a way to bring it along without being encumbered. Bottom line: this is one of the best ultralight options available today, at a bargain bin price.
Straightforward and easy to set up
Packs down super small
Exceptionally stable in the wind
Two-pole interior design limits inside arrangements
Requires adjustable trekking poles for setup
Read Full Review: Black Diamond Beta Light
Top Pick for Ultralight Tarp
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp
For true ultralight aficionados and die-hard thru-hikers, no form of shelter burdens you less than a tarp. While they may have a few drawbacks compared to regular enclosed tents, proponents of tarps will always argue that the benefits outweigh the hindrances. While we only tested two stand-alone tarps in this year's review, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp was once again the best of the best. The perfectly square design makes it slightly harder to achieve a drum-tight pitch in A-frame mode, but also allows for endless adaptability when it comes to pitching options and locations. At only 10.9 ounces - including the copious amounts of tie-out cordage that is included - this tarp is far and away the lightest shelter in this review. That weight comes with a minor caveat, however, in that you will likely want to bring along a ground cloth to sleep on, and depending on the season and weather, may also need a bivy sack for added weather and bug protection, which ups the overall shelter system weight and cost a bit. Regardless, if you are in the market for a tarp and want the best one we have ever used, look no further than this excellent design.
The lightest shelter in our review
Endlessly adaptable to different situations or desires
Made with top quality DCF fabric ensuring durability and waterproofness
Does not have bug protection or a floor
May need to be paired with a bivy sack for optimal weather protection
Read Full Review: Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp
Top Pick for Dedicated Pole UL Tent
Nemo Hornet 2P
Three of the tents we chose for our fleet are dedicated-pole double wall designs that don't require the use of trekking poles for setup. Of those three, we found that the Nemo Hornet 2P was easily the best and most comfortable. To come in with a super light weight, while still including stakes and poles in the package, double wall dedicated pole tents tend to be on the small and cramped side. While the Hornet 2P is indeed a bit tight for two, it is the only model that has two vestibules and doors, one on each side, which significantly increases the livability with the extra storage space, and increases the tent's stability in the wind by acting as extra guy-out points on the broad sides. From the pole attachment points on the corners of the tent to the little clips that hold the inner mesh tent further apart, it is evident that every little detail of this tent has been designed with attention and care to the comfort of the user. If you are looking for a lightweight tent, but don't commonly carry trekking poles, this is likely the best choice for you.
Double vestibules means more space and more stability in the wind
Designed for easy setup by one person
Comes with stakes and poles included, no extra components needed!
The heaviest tent in this review
A tight interior for two people
Read Full Review: Nemo Hornet 2P
Top Pick for Most Spacious
Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2
The ultralight shelters that manage to save you by weighing so little often seem to cost you in comfort. Many of the two person tents we tested significantly compromised on enclosed interior space in their efforts to weigh as little as possible, something we often lamented. For that reason, we wanted to recognize the shelter which offered by far the most space of any ultralight tent we tested, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2. This four-sided pyramid is fully enclosed in top-quality DCF material, ranking it right up there with the very best for weather protection. But even better, its tall, steep side walls and huge footprint mean that there is enough space for two people to sleep, a dog, gear, and then still some room left over for a kitchen or simply spreading out. It does have a couple of notable downsides — its high cost, and the fact that it's so tall that it needs a center pole longer than a trekking pole (we usually stacked rocks to make a higher platform for our pole). That said, if you want a very adaptable, super weather-resistant, fully enclosed shelter that will never have you lamenting the trade-off in space or comfort, then this is the tent for you.
Stable in the wind and super water resistant
An enormous amount of floor space; tall, steep walls make it super spacious
Can be set up with an airflow gap, or flush to the ground
By far the most expensive shelter in this review
Needs a single center pole longer than the average trekking pole
Read Full Review: Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2
Analysis and Test Results
For this 2017 review, we built on the knowledge gained from five years of previous ultralight tent and shelter testing, as well as a lifetime of adventuring in the wilderness, by spending five months using these tents and shelters in the field. We tested each of these shelters in conditions ranging from snowstorms to rain to wind to pleasant, hot, and buggy, and we took copious notes on how they performed in each scenario, noting relative strengths and weaknesses. While all these shelters are incredibly light, not all of them are perfectly adaptable to the environment, offer bombproof protection from the weather, or offer the conveniences and comfort that you may expect.
Eventually, we formulated our assessments based upon five separate metrics — weather protection, livability, weight, adaptability, and ease of setup — that we found to be fully representative of the best function of an ultralight tent. For each metric, we gave the product a score of 1-10, and in each case the score received was compared to the performance of the other tents. We then weighted the rankings of each metric to account for their particular importance to the function of the tent — for instance, weather protection accounted for 30% of a product's final score. Adding the scores for each metric together gave us a product's final score. Worth noting is that we picked what we believe are the best ten shelters to test for this review, so while a product may have received a low score, that does not mean that it isn't still a great product.
The tents and shelters represented in this review fall into three broad design categories — tarps, pyramids, and double wall tents. Every model was designed to be as light as possible, but in many ways that is the only thing these shelters have in common. With such a broad spectrum of unique designs, it often felt like we were trying to compare apples to oranges to peaches. It should be obvious that tarps and double wall tents are going to have drastically different strengths and weaknesses, so it is important that you identify which grading metrics are most important for your needs as a starting point to choosing the right shelter, rather than looking only at the overall score. If you would like to delve deeper into the pros and cons of each design, which design is likely to best suit various purposes and climates, or for a discussion of materials used, we encourage you to check out our How to Choose the Best Ultralight Tent article. In the sections below we thoroughly discuss each grading metric, including the most important aspects, how we tested, and the best performing products for that metric. Detailed information about individual products and how they performed can be found on that product's particular page.
The most important reason for having a tent with you on your backcountry adventures is for weather protection. After all, if the weather was always perfect, why wouldn't you simply sleep beneath the stars every night, cowboy style? To feel like it's offering an effective shelter, your tent or tarp should be able to adequately protect you from rain, wind, hail, and light snow. While the pyramid designs are versatile enough to be able to bear the load of heavy snow, most of these shelters are designed for three-season use in mind, and in general, lack the structure necessary to withstand the weight of a severe snow storm. While we did get snowed on pretty heavily a couple of nights while testing these shelters in the Himalaya (with very mixed results), we didn't assess for how well an ultralight shelter handles snow. Because it is so important, we weighted Weather Resistance as 30% of a product's overall score.
Rain and the wind, on the other hand, are the nemesis of every backcountry traveler. Rain can soak you and everything you own, rendering you uncomfortable at best, and dangerously hypothermic at worst. The wind, while less severe of an issue, can cause troubles by blowing away your things, keeping you awake all night, or working in conjunction with rain or hail to make a potentially dangerous situation even worse. Through lots of testing in rough weather, we can say that the design of your shelter in conjunction with the materials used are the deciding factors when it comes to rain and wind protection.
The models we tested for this review are only made out of a couple of different materials. Ripstop SilNylon, which is nylon permeated with Silicon, is the most used and most affordable. Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF), formerly known as Cuben Fiber, is less common but has some very worthy attributes. It is lighter than SilNylon, is functionally pretty much waterproof, doesn't absorb water or stretch when wet, doesn't degrade from exposure to UV rays, and is easy to repair in the field. It is also considerably more expensive, and thus the shelters made from DCF are far more costly than their SilNylon counterparts. A couple of the tents use Ripstop Nylon coated with a Polyurethane coating other than Silicon. More information about these fabrics can be found in our Buying Advice Article, as well as on a product's page.
We determined that one of the most stable designs for resisting the wind was the "tarp tent", or A-frame tarp design that includes "beaks" or protective vestibules on each open end. Two tents in this review fit this design, the Zpacks Duplex and the Six Moon Designs Haven Tarp. The Zpacks Duplex was ranked up there as the best tent in this review for weather protection, both due to its design, and the fact that it uses DCF for both the overhead tarp and for its built in bathtub-style floor. On the other hand, the Haven Tarp is made out of SilNylon and doesn't have a built in bathtub floor, so scored slightly lower despite still being one of the most protective. Pyramid style tents are also very effective at repelling the wind and rain, and the Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2, with its DCF fabric, also ranked right up there as the best. Just as stable in the wind, but not quite as water resistant with its SilNylon construction, was the Black Diamond Beta Light, a two-poled pyramid design. While they offer adequate protection, the double-wall ultralight tents we tested struggle to handle a strong wind as well as the products above, and need some serious guying out in heavy weather. Likewise, standard A-frame or square tarps, while offering adequate protection from the rain, need a sheltered site and an experienced camper to handle high winds well.
We define livability as how comfortable it is for two people to live in the tent: sleeping, sorting gear, and waiting out storms. In an ideal world, the shelter would be long and wide enough for two regular sized sleeping pads, with a little extra room left over. We also want it to be tall enough to sit up inside comfortably, and for there to be enough space either inside or in the vestibule to store gear and shoes, possibly a dog, or to cook if the weather is terrible. While space requirements are the most important and notable aspect of livability, a few other things contribute as well — insect protection, condensation management, privacy, and whether a tent has a floor or not. We consider livability to be just as important as weather protection, because if you can't fit in or stand to use your tent, then it won't be a sufficient shelter or purchase. As such, Livability accounts for 30% of a product's final score.
All of the factors described above that went into our accounting for livability are described in further detail in a product's individual review. While sleeping space, vestibule space, and tent height are rather self-explanatory, some of the other factors deserve a few words. Depending on the season you are backpacking, bug protection can be a major issue. Those tents that included built in bug netting or protection were preferable to our testers, as we were in Colorado and Wyoming during spring and summer. We gave a pass to those shelters that allow for modular bug protection when needed, and like the fact that we don't have to carry it when it's not necessary. However, it is worth noting that when adding bug protection to many models, the weight and packed size, as well as the cost, tend to balloon a bit, and are not accounted for in our specs table. A couple of the tarps have no method of protecting one from bugs and must be used in conjunction with a head net or bivy sack if the bugs are bad.
Condensation management can also be an issue for some single-wall tents. In general, double wall tents do a decent enough job of keeping condensation away from your body and sleeping bag, as do tarps that have excellent ventilation, which means condensation doesn't build up as quickly. In our experience, enclosed, single wall tents like the "tarp tents" and pyramids had the worst condensation issues. Privacy is a bit of a matter of preference, but we have found that for females it tends to be a higher priority, making tarps a bit less appealing. We also appreciated designs that could still be considered ultralight and included a floor. While the lack of a floor is overcome by bringing a ground cloth, and in some situations could be regarded as an advantage, floors are nice for the protection they offer. Such protection could include wet ground, sharp objects like pine needles, dirt or mud in general, and bugs, spiders, scorpions, or snakes that are active at night.
The ultralight tent with the highest score for Livability was once again our Editors' Choice award winning Zpacks Duplex. It was plenty spacious for two people side by side with room to spare, has two doors and vestibules, was tall enough to sit up in easily, and came with bug netting and floor in place, all weighing only 21 ounces. Simply put, no other tent gave us everything we needed to be comfortable as well as this one did. Somewhat of a distant second were the Six Moons Designs Haven Tarp and the Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2. The Haven Tarp has the same design and interior space as the Duplex but without the built in bug protection and floor. However, for an extra $150, the modular Haven Net Tent can be added to the inside, thereby providing bug protection and SilNylon flooring. The UltaMid 2, on the other hand, is the most spacious fully enclosed shelter in this review, with plenty of room inside for two, a dog, and lots of gear. It is also the tallest shelter and was so roomy that we decided to award it a Top Pick for how spacious it is. It doesn't come with bug protection, although if the mosquitos are light, then the edges can be dropped to the ground. Otherwise, modular bug netting, both without a floor (lighter) and with a floor, can be purchased and used when needed.
You might think that as an ultralight tent review, weight would be the most important metric in the grading scale. Well, this time we took a different approach and decided that since these tents are all light, it was more important to focus first on the things that differentiate them. Now don't get us wrong, we still think weight is a critical measure of the functionality of an ultralight shelter, and we recognize that there is a notable difference between a shelter that is 10.9 ounces and one that is nearly 2.5 lbs. So, as a compromise, we settled on 20% as the amount that weight contributes to a product's final score.
The overall weights of each product can be found in the specs table at the top of this article. But once again, due to the differences in what comes with each tent or shelter, comparing weight sometimes felt like comparing apples to peaches. For instance, most of the shelters included here do not come with poles, and are designed instead to be pitched using adjustable trekking poles. So, understandably, those shelters are going to weigh less in general than the three dedicated pole tents that did come with poles needed for setup. However, in order to use one of these lighter models, you will need to carry trekking poles, and will have to account for that weight somewhere in your overall backpacking load. The same thing applies to stakes. Many don't include stakes with the shelter, meaning that you get to choose what type, durability, weight, and number of stakes you will carry with you. While this gives you greater freedom of choice over your own system, and removes the onus of having to provide the ultimate lightweight stakes from the manufacturer, it yet again means that on paper, a certain shelter may look lighter than it will be in practice. Other instances of potentially necessary added weight to a shelter are ground cloths for floorless shelters, a lightweight bivy sack for weather protection while using a tarp, and adding on modular bug netting if it is needed.
If weight is the single most important criteria for your shelter selection, we firmly advise you to delve deeply into the individual product pages, where we will discuss what comes with a shelter vs. what is needed to make it complete. To compare these products and assign scores for weight, and to be as fair as possible, we weighed the individual components that came with each shelter. We then assigned weight scores without stakes that may have been included in the purchase, to level the playing field with those shelters that had no stakes. Note that in most cases, the weight of everything needed to pitch one of these shelters is going to be more than the number given out by the manufacturer, or the one listed in this review. The three dedicated pole double wall tents are the exception, as they each came with everything needed; you may be able to make them even lighter by trimming components you decide are unnecessary.
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp was far and away the weight winner at only 10.9 ounces for the tarp itself and the included tie-off cordage, but it will need stakes and usually trekking poles for setup. We tested an 8.5'x8.5' version of this tarp, but it also comes in 6'x8' and 8'x10' rectangular versions. Second lightest was predictably the SilNylon Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Tarp Duo, which is catenary cut, meaning that it is shaped for setup in A-frame mode only, so isn't as adaptable as a flat tarp. Our version weighed only 15.1 ounces, again including the tie-off cordage, but without stakes or poles. For an extra $130, this tarp can be purchased with DCF fiber construction, making it a shade lighter than the SilNylon version. Coming in third was the Black Diamond Beta Light, our Best Buy Award winner, and the lightest enclosed shelter in this review. While it does come with stakes, we would probably opt to replace them with something lighter and more durable, and it also needs two trekking poles to set up. Even without the stakes included in the reckoning, the three double-wall tents that came with included poles were the three heaviest tents.
Adaptability may be more or less important to you based on where you often end up camping. While most popular trails have a number of flat and sheltered established campsites that are suitable for any of the tents here, rougher and more exposed terrain lends itself to a more adaptable shelter. Simply put, the more different ways a shelter can be set up, or the more different situations for which it is applicable, meaning that we scored it higher for adaptability. Depending on your adventure, adaptability may be crucial, but generally speaking, we found it to be a minor consideration compared to the three metrics above, and thus weighted it as 10% of a product's final score.
The top scorer for adaptability was once again the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp. With a wide breadth of experience as well as an understanding of weather dynamics and rigging, this tarp can be set up and used in a nearly unlimited amount of different ways. Since it is flat, rather than "cat" cut, it can be easily deployed in a low to the ground storm mode that does a significantly better job of protecting against both rain and wind than in A-frame mode. With 16 perimeter tie-outs and four more found on the face of the tarp, there are many options for tailoring this tarp to the environment you'll be spending time in.
The second most adaptable designs were the two pyramids — the Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2 as well as the Black Diamond Beta Light. Both of these tents can be set up high for added airflow or low to the ground for more bomber protection from the wind. They are incredibly weather resistant, and even though this review is about three-season shelters, Mids are almost ideally suited as either cook or sleeping tents in the snow or on expeditions, making them genuine four-season options. We also appreciated the adaptability of the double wall designs, that allowed for sleeping under only mesh netting on perfect nights, and since they are mostly free-standing models, often don't need soft ground to set up successfully.
Ease of Set-up
The final metric on our overall scoring is Ease of Setup. No smart backpacker will ever head out into the wilderness without first practicing setting up his shelter at home a number of times, and with practice, almost all of these tents become easy to set up. That said, being able to set up a tent in less than a minute or two, alone, in gusting wind that often precedes inclement weather may ultimately make a difference in your comfort level for the night, especially if the inclement weather lingers for a while. To decide these scores, we busted out a stopwatch and timed ourselves, after a couple of practice rounds first. We also made a note of how easy or difficult wind can make setup. Finally, we broke ties by assessing whether the components needed to set up a tent were included with the purchase, and whether they worked well for their purpose. Ease of Setup accounted for 10% of a product's final score.
The winner of our Best Dedicated Pole Tent Award, the Nemo Hornet 2P, was one of the most intuitive tents to set up. Its pole-locking clips at the corners where the poles join the tent meant that it was much simpler for one person to get all three ends of the poles into place than the other double wall designs, simply because once clipped in place, the pole tips had no chance to come unclipped. While it does require a minimum of four stakes (two on the bottom corners, two for the vestibules), this tent is intuitive and easy to set up in a hurry by one person. Even easier was the Black Diamond Beta Light, which simply needs to be staked out loosely at four corners, and then have the two center poles propped up inside.
Without adjustable line-locks for the stake out points, however, it often needed minor staking adjustments after setup for a perfect pitch, but perhaps no other tent allows you to have a dry place to hide or throw your stuff in such a short amount of time. The Big Agnes Fly Creek HV2 Platinum, with a similar design to the Hornet 2P, was also relatively easy to set up quickly with one person. We found that tarps and tarp tents, which need to be tensioned properly in many different directions (at least six!) to stay standing and be effective, were the most difficult shelters to set up quickly, especially alone. Better get practicing before you head out there!
For this review, we chose 10 of the best and most popular models of ultralight tents from a very wide initial selection, in order to bring you the best information possible. Not only have our expert reviewers been using and testing ultralight gear for the last six years, but we individually tested each of these shelters in a variety of conditions over five months in the spring and summer. While there are many different designs of ultralight shelters available today, we did our best to represent the widest breadth of options, in order to better help you understand the positives and negatives of each design. In the end, we hope that this expert advice has helped you to choose the best ultralight tent for your needs, and we thank you for reading.
— Andy Wellman
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