With so many backpacking tents on the market, where do you begin? We sifted through over 80 models before deciding to purchase 17 of the top contenders. Our fifth year reviewing the best of the best revealed some new, innovative designs and award winners. Our extensive hands-on tests also confirmed that many of our old favorites are still on top. We exhaustively tested each model, rating each one on a series of metrics, like comfort or weather resistance. A couple of the tents we tested are overall standouts, but we also make recommendations that consider the best application for a particular product, as well as our satisfaction with what we got for our money. No matter if you're a budget shopper, you want the cream of the crop, or you're a luxury car camper, we have something for you.
The Best Backpacking Tents of 2018
Analysis and Award Winners
We just finished testing the 2018 REI Half Dome 2 Plus and it continues to impress. REI made a handful of small, but thoughtful changes to the design. The tent now has even more headroom, color-coded clips for easier setup, and some additional mesh for better stargazing, all while shaving a few ounces off of its total weight. You can read the full review below for complete details. The NEMO Galaxi, The North Face Triarch, and Eureka! Midori tents have also all been updated for 2108. We also added a couple new backpacking tents to the category: the Sierra Designs Summer Moon is a lightweight option for those on a budget, while the Kelty TN2 offers up stargazing luxury, great for a weekend of car camping.
Best Overall with a Bit More Comfort
NEMO Dagger 2
This tent finds a great balance between comfort and weight. It performs beautifully in a variety of situations, but we recommend it for those who want to travel light without sacrificing the creature comforts that a larger footprint provides. The fabric is both lightweight and durable. The 15D ripstop nylon rain fly stays relatively quiet in windy conditions, which is a surprisingly difficult feature to come by. With an interior width of 50 inches, this tent falls in the middle of the pack, but its extended 90-inch length means that 6-foot sleepers don't have to worry about ending up with the bottom of their sleeping bag pressed up against the tent. Two ample side doors, fine-gauge mesh, and wind-resistant lower sidewalls add to this tent's allure. The large vestibules provide enough space for cooking and gear storage as well.
While the other Editors' Choice award winner from Big Agnes weighs 11 oz. less, the Dagger is 50 dollars cheaper and has two more square feet of floor space. We love the design, features, and utility of this tent. If you enjoy light done right, this is an excellent option. For those looking for a little more room, check out the Dagger 3P, the 3-person version of this lightweight backpacking tent.
Read review: NEMO Dagger 2
Best Overall with a Bit Less Weight
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2
Big Agnes continues improving an incredible product in the Copper Spur HV UL2. Still a champion in our tent review, it embodies what many backpackers are looking for; it's comfortable, lightweight, has a low packed volume, and is high quality. It's resilient in windy conditions, providing crucial protection when the clouds roll in. It has two doors and roomy vestibules but manages a weight just over 3 pounds.
It's not as durable as the Hilleberg Anjan 2 GT in torrential downpours, but we would be hardpressed to find a tent that is. Our experts took this tent everywhere, from high alpine climbing to multi-week backpacking trips. Thru-hikers and frequent backpackers will get the most utility out of this tent. You can get this model equipped with integrated LED lights in the Copper Spur UL2 mtnGLO for an additional $50.
Read review: Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2
Best On a Tight Budget
Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight 2
This tent offers up a comfortable car camping option but is also light enough for taking deeper into the backcountry. Though it doesn't crack our top 10 overall, the Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight 2 incorporates several features we enjoy for both. We came to love the high sidewalls and the bathtub floor during a rainy spring night, and the peak height is comfortable enough for a 6-foot adult to sit up and move around. The interior storage space was adequate, and you can keep the fly's "wings" deployed for excellent ventilation and star gazing on mild nights.
Weighing in at 3 lbs 14 oz, the Clip Flashlight falls in the middle of the pack for weight and compresses small enough that we would consider carrying it on longer trips as well.
Read review: Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight 2
Best for Luxury Car Camping on a Budget
REI Half Dome 2 Plus
The most livable and comfortable tent in our review, the REI Half Dome 2 Plus has an extra spacious interior and thoughtful construction. It's a good choice for taller folks or anyone with pets or a lot of gear. It provides the most bang for the buck of any tent in this review, beating out other spacious models like the NEMO Galaxi 2. The Half Dome 2 Plus earns our Best Buy Award for its exceptional comfort, excellent space-to-weight ratio, great ventilation, and a wide array of interior storage pockets. The 2018 upgrades made this tent lighter and taller but reduced the overall square footage. It now has better rain fly stability.
The primary drawback of the Half Dome 2 Plus is that it is a behemoth. At a little over 5 lbs, it's more than double the weight of the lightest tent in this review. Over short distances, it may be inconsequential, but for longer trips, we would look elsewhere. It's best suited for weekend adventures and car camping. Overall, it's a real rock star that REI continues to upgrade, and it comes at a comparatively affordable price.
Read review: REI Half Dome 2 Plus
The Best Lightweight Option
NEMO Hornet Elite
If weight is your primary consideration, this is your tent. During initial testing, we were only partly joking that the Hornet Elite must be missing some parts. It's about half the weight of either Editor's Choice model and begs the question: with this tent on the market, is an ultralight tarp even worth it? We also found that the Hornet Elite is surprisingly wind and weather resistant as a result of its balanced shape and many guylines. We also like it's sibling, the Nemo Hornet which is $140 less expensive and only 5 ounces heavier. The Hornet is the better value, but if you want the ultimate in ultralight, the Hornet Elite is a clear favorite.
The catch, other than the $500 price tag, is that it's pretty tight for two people and is not nearly as comfortable as the Editor's Choice winners. With that in mind, if your top priorities are weight and ease of set up, it's hard to beat this tent. It's the tent many OutdoorGearLab editors use when not testing.
Read review: Nemo Hornet Elite
Top Pick for Weather Resistance and Stretching "3 Seasons"
Hilleberg Anjan 2 GT
Our testers reach for the Hilleberg Anjan GT when they expect to encounter harsh weather. This is the best choice if you need a tent that will do the job from the very earliest thaw of spring to the first winter squall. Whether bike touring around the world, or car camping at the local park, the Hilleberg Anjan 2 provides the ultimate balance of low weight, complete weather resistance, generous comfort, and exceptional strength and durability. We used the Anjan on multi-day trips from Maine to Washington state, carried it along on a bicycle tour down the Baja peninsula, and took it through India and Nepal.
At 4 pounds 10 ounces, the Anjan GT is not the lightest tent by a long shot, but it makes up for it with awesome storm protection, comfort, and durability. It's more expensive than several other options, but it's the most durable tent we tested, which makes it a great long-term value. For more wiggle room, check out the Hilleberg Anjan 3 GT, which provides a little more space for waiting out storms.
Read review: Hilleberg Anjan GT
Favorite 3-Person Option
REI Quarter Dome 3
The Quarter Dome 3 is "one tent to do it all". It's roomy enough for two on shorter backcountry trips or luxury car camping, but still comfortable enough for three adults. If you go with the fast fly set up (fly, poles, and footprint), it's an ultralight, free-standing option that weighs less than 1 pound per person. At $399 ($40 less with REI member dividend), it's a good value.
Read review: REI Quarter Dome 3
Analysis and Test Results
We've now been buying and testing backpacking tents for five years. We still use the same process: evaluate dozens of the best options on the market and rigorously test our top picks in the field.
Finding the right tent is about tradeoffs: for example, space for weight or ease-of-setup for weather resistance. For some though, it may ultimately come down to "what do I get for the price I am paying?". At OutdoorGearLab, we have high hopes to find the best model for every backpacker or car camper. For some of you, that might entail the best model that your Benjamins can buy. Some of you may not want to break the bank with your purchase, yet still want an excellent value. We've got all of you covered. Our price to value chart below highlights each model in our fleet and pinpoints its value, making it easy to see which tents scored the highest relative to their cost. You'll want to have your eye out for models on the right side of the graph, which represent higher overall scores in our tests. You'll also want to make sure you aren't heading too far up the graph when it comes to cost. In this case, the NEMO Dagger 2P and the REI Half Dome 2 Plus are a couple of the best.
We assess how comfortable we feel in each tent. Tents like the REI Half Dome 2 Plus and the NEMO Galaxi 2 are the most luxurious because of their double side-door designs and spacious dimensions. Tents with a single side door like the Sierra Designs Summer Moon 2 tend to be the least comfortable because one person has to climb over another to get in or out. Single doors at the head of a tent are ok, they can just be a little awkward to get in and out of. Another drawback to the single door design is that it can restrict campsite views, which is a bummer when you want to take in the sunrise on a frosty morning from the comfort of your sleeping bag.
Our ratings consider door and vestibule design, tent wall material, the number and size of storage pockets, peak height, floor area (including whether or not the tent tapers from head to toe), and vestibule area.
We also include other essential, but less obvious factors in our assessment including the maximum height someone can be and still count on getting a good night's sleep. Many of the luxury models have some nice extra features, like pockets for storing the door when it's open, or fancy magnet clasps to tie back flaps. We love lots of storage options and pockets — weight savings is usually not a consideration in these tents, though we do love the generous pockets of the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 considering its light weight.
The most comfortable tent we tested was the REI Half Dome 2 Plus, which earned a perfect 10 out of 10 in that category for its palatial interior and two large vestibules. The top of the fly also has four kick-stand vents to keep air flowing while keeping the rain out. We loved it on stormy days when we were spending more time indoors — especially with the dogs!
Other top scorers in comfort include the NEMO Dagger 2, The North Face Triarch 2, and the NEMO Galaxi 2, which all scored 9 out of 10. Trailing closely behind earning 8 out of 10, you'll find the Hilleberg Anjan 2 GT, Kelty TrailLogic TN2, Alps Lynx, and the MSR Hubba Hubba NX.
The Hornet Elite and Tarptent Double Rainbow both scored lower in the comfort category, which sacrifice floor space for weight-savings.
For this metric, we assess the amount of protection each tent provides against precipitation and wind coming from all directions. We check the quality of the seals on the tent and fly. We consider 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, construction quality, number and quality of guy points, and overall tent and fly geometry, which can all impact a tent's ability to resist sagging and keep water from dripping through zippers and vents.
The Hilleberg Anjan 2 GT takes first place for overall weather resistance, in part for its reinforced vestibule zippers, a bathtub floor that protects from splashback and spindrift, and an inner tent made primarily of 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.
Our testing determined that the Tarptent Double Rainbow and the ALPS Mountaineering Lynx 2 were among the weakest in our fleet, earning low scores for weather resistance. Both have tall peak heights that don't do well in high wind and they come with relatively cheap, narrow-diameter poles. The Sierra Designs Summer Moon has an unusual fly geometry that makes it a challenge to set up and increases its susceptibility to blowing rain.
Another weather-resistant top scorer includes the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2, for its geometry, guy points, and fly material. The REI Half Dome 2 Plus, and NEMO Dagger 2 also scored well in this metric, offering superior protection. Also noteworthy is the NEMO Hornet Elite which scored above average for weather resistance, and well above our expectations, given that it weighs in at a scant 2 lbs.
Our weight metric ranks each tent on its packed weight, which includes poles, tent body, fly, stakes, and guylines.
At 2 pounds, the Nemo Hornet Elite is the lightest tent followed by the Big Agnes Fly Creek, which weighed in at 2 pounds 5.6 ounces. The Hornet Elite is lighter than some ultralight tarps that require more elaborate setup with trekking poles and often lack bug protection.
At 5 lbs 13 oz, the ALPS Mountaineering Lynx 2 is the heaviest tent we tested, along with the NEMO Galaxi 2 (5 lbs 8 oz) and REI Half Dome 2 Plus (5 lbs 5 oz). For comparison, two-person ultralight shelters weigh an average of 16 ounces and as little as seven ounces.
Packed size strongly correlates with weight. However, some tents have lots of features like pockets, gear lofts, and vestibules, or chunky parts such as pole hubs, which add more bulk than weight. We consider the dimensions of the stuff sack when assessing a tent's packed size. The Kelty TrailLogic TN2 is unusual in its rectangular stuff sack, but most of our testers ditch the bag when they hit the trail. Besides being a practical way to maximize space in our backpacks, this means we can gauge how compressible the materials really are.
We love the materials and compact pole sections of the Hornet Elite, Hilleberg Anjan GT, NEMO Dagger 2 and the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2.
We stuffed and compressed these tents into our bags with ease, earning high marks as illustrated in the chart above.
Our testing determined that the Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight 2, NEMO Galaxi 2 and MSR Hubba Hubba NX were able to compress down to respectable sizes as well.
The ALPS Mountaineering Lynx 2, Kelty Salida 2, and Marmot Catalyst 2 are the least compressible, earning the lowest scores.
Ease of Set Up
The majority of tents tested here are self-supported, also known as free-standing. When most people envision a tent, they are thinking of a free-standing model. These shelters are characterized by a set of dedicated poles that provide a "skeleton" that the tent clips to. These tents are typically the easiest and most intuitive to set up. The Sierra Designs Summer Moon 2 has a classic two-pole 'X' design. There are also semi-free-standing tents, such as the NEMO Hornet Elite, which require a couple of stakes to stand on their own at maximum volume. Another subcategory is tunnel tents — those with two hoop-shaped poles. These require more skill and experience to pitch because they rely on tension from guylines to take any sort of livable form.
An example of a tunnel tent is the Hilleberg Anjan 2 GT. Though this tent requires some knowledge to set up, we don't think it is particularly challenging to pitch, thus earning a 7 out of 10.
The NEMO Galaxi, Eureka Midori 2, and other two-pole designed tents are the simplest and easiest to set up. At first, the Tarptent Double Rainbow seems to be incredibly easy to pitch with its single-pole design, but we soon discovered that it takes a lot more attention to detail to make sure this shelter is weatherproof.
All of the tents we tested are relatively easy to set up — save for the fly of the Sierra Designs Summer Moon 2, which can be a real challenge for one person to secure by themselves, especially in windy conditions. Even though this metric assumes a small percentage of each tent's total score, there are times when it's critical to be able pitch it and dive in in a hurry. Higher scorers include the REI Half Dome 2 Plus, along with the NEMO Galaxi 2, Eureka Midori 2 , MSR Hubba Hubba NX, Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2, and NEMO Dagger 2.
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 use our tents long and hard, our goal isn't to get them to a point of catastrophic failure. Our ratings take into account any defects or broken parts that come with heavy use, or areas that wear faster than the rest of the tent, as well as the manufacturer's fabric specifications. In general, we've determined that nylon is more durable than polyester, and silicon-coated fabrics are stronger and more durable than polyurethane-coated ones. See our Buying Advice Article for more information 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 ALPS Mountaineering Lynx 2 . The 75D 185T polyester, though heavy underhand, showed wear and tear in one day of foul-weather camping with a large dog. The tent can withstand a severe storm, but it scores lower on durability than some of the other competitors in our fleet. The Hilleberg Anjan has a host of features common to four-season tents and is by far the most durable, earning a 9 out of 10. The importance of durability increases with trip duration. Repairs take time, and severe damage or failure has more significant consequences and costs in more remote areas and on long-distance hikes. We recommend reading how to repair a tent now, both to know how to do it and to understand the importance of durability and not needing to repair a tent in the first place.
We were impressed with the durability of the NEMO Galaxi 2 — even though it weighed in at a hefty 5 lbs. 8 oz., with the 68D PU Polyester Ripstop rainfly, it was a tent we would trust in harsh, abrasive conditions and still feel confident we'd get a good night's sleep.
Other top competitors in this category include the NEMO Dagger 2, Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2, REI Half Dome 2 Plus, and Marmot Catalyst 2P. To increase durability, make sure you store your tent properly by drying it and then storing it loosely (not in the stuff sack).
Other Considerations for a Backpacking Tent
What you will require from a tent varies with location and weather conditions. In the desert or on warm, windless, clear nights, you need a well-ventilated tent and bug protection-- that is, something with a lot of mesh. In the Pacific Northwest or the Northeast United States, heavy precipitation, including thunderstorms, can throw down heavy rain and hail in the summertime. We recommend considering the versatility of the tent as compared to the environmental conditions that you will be using it in most.
Another consideration is how livable the tent can be on uneven terrain. The reality of most campsites is that the ground is uneven, lumpy and covered with debris. 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 Hilleberg 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 accessories that we find are often unnecessary and overpriced. Exceptions are if you have a tent that can pitch in 'fast fly mode' and you plan to use it regularly, or if the areas you regularly camp have coarse gravel or rocky sites.
If you don't care for fast fly mode, and don't need the custom footprint that matches your tent, consider cutting your own out of Tyvek Home Wrap or polypro 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 ounces. It's not particularly lightweight, but if you're looking for a single, inexpensive footprint that will do the trick for both car camping and backpacking trips, this is our top pick. You can buy Tyvek at hardware stores or online. 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 it more easily. An attention-grabbing color can also help others find you if you need to get picked up or rescued. For three-season applications, a brightly colored tent tends to be a disadvantage when you want to camp stealthily or adhere more stringently to Leave No Trace principles. Dark green or moderate gray colors blend in well in most snow-free forest 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 gear you are carrying. The NEMO Galaxi and Kelty TrailLogic TN2 both come in fairly neutral colors. Conversely, if you're camping anywhere hunters might also be, a brightly colored tent like the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 can be a crucial safety precaution. The REI Half Dome 2 Plus now comes in four different color schemes, giving you the flexibility to match your style.
Making the Most of Your Tent
Of all the tents tested here, only the Hilleberg model comes with enough guyline to achieve a proper pitch. Hilleberg, Big Agnes, Sierra Designs and Kelty are among the companies that include enough stakes for each guy point. MSR Groundhog Stakes and Kelty TripTease LightLine are very good accessories you may need to purchase if your tent skimps on the stakes. If you're on a budget, get the Kungix Tent Stakes which are typically very affordable.
With enough use, even the best tent will show signs of wear and tear. Most tents come with a pole splint-- a metal tube that is slightly larger in diameter than the poles, which can be a quick fix on trail if one of them snaps on you. Just slide the splint over the break and secure with duct tape. Some tents will also come with an adhesive fabric patch or two for small rips or tears to the tent or fly.
The choices can be overwhelming when shopping for a new backpacking tent. If you are carrying yours over long distances, weight and packed size are critical considerations. In that case, we like the NEMO Hornet Elite, Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2 and the Tarptent Double Rainbow, which are the best for lightweight. If you're most concerned about durability and weather resistance, consider the Hilleberg Anjan GT. If you want a luxurious, comfortable model for your family and all of your stuff, the REI Half Dome 2 Plus tops our list. If you love spending nights in nature, there is a tent out there for you. We hope our testing and reviews provide the confidence you need to make your right purchase.
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.