Where do you imagine yourself on your next adventure? Over the past 9 years, our experts have tested 98+ of the best backpacking tents. After extensive research, we purchased 16 of the top tents of 2020 to accommodate us on a series of awe-inspiring treks. We stay closely connected to the market and realize that a reliable tent is a key staple. From Nepal to the Sierra, each model's performance is ranked based on a series of metrics. No matter if you want the best money can buy, prefer luxury digs, or are after a budget model, we have an offering for you.
The Best Backpacking Tents of 2020
Best Overall — Excellent Space for the Weight
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2
The Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 is an excellent tent. It offers the best space for the weight, and embodies what many backpackers are looking for; it's comfortable, lightweight, and packs down small. It is resilient in windy conditions, providing crucial protection when the clouds roll in. It has two side doors and roomy vestibules and still maintains a weight of just over three pounds.
In torrential downpours, it is not as hearty as the Hilleberg Anjan 2 GT, but we would be hard-pressed to find a tent that is. Our experts took this tent everywhere, from high alpine climbing to multi-week backpacking trips. Long-distance hikers and frequent backpackers will get big utility out of this tent. It takes top honors for the all-around super experience it offers.
Read review: Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2
Best Overall — Balance of Features and Weight
NEMO Dragonfly 2
The NEMO Dragonfly 2 strikes a prime balance between comfort and weight. It performs beautifully in a variety of situations, but we recommend it for those who want to travel on the lighter side without sacrificing the creature comforts that a larger footprint provides. The fabric is durable, and the 15D ripstop nylon rainfly stays taut (and quiet) in the wind, which turns out to be a surprisingly rare feature. Its exceptional design means that six foot tall sleepers have enough head-to-toe length and headroom. Two ample side doors, two-tone mesh, and wind-resistant lower sidewalls add to this tent's allure, while the massive vestibules provide enough space for cooking and gear storage.
If we were forced to come up with some drawbacks, we would point out that the interior width of 50" tapering to 45" puts it in the middle of the pack. And though it comes with an impressive array of storage pockets, they do require a long reach from a lying down position. All things considered, this tent is exceptional for its balance of performance and weight — a combination that we would take with us on almost any adventure.
Read review: NEMO Dragonfly 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 is a good choice for taller folks or anyone with pets or a lot of gear, and provides the most bang for the buck of any tent in this review, beating out other spacious models. The Half Dome 2 Plus earns our Best Buy Award for its exceptional comfort, luxurious dimensions, great ventilation, and a wide array of interior storage pockets.
As the old saying goes, our strengths are our weaknesses; the primary drawback of this model is that it is a behemoth. Tipping the scales at over five pounds, it's more than double the weight of the lightest models in the category. 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
Best Lightweight Option
Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2
If you like the idea of going ultralight, but can't quite ditch the comfort that typically comes with dedicated poles, the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 is a great option to consider. Its weight makes it a true competitor in the semi-freestanding subcategory, but it is notably the most comfortable because of its inclusion of a cross pole at its peak height. It also offers two large side doors.
The biggest head-scratcher is the orientation of the zippers on the doors and fly, which make the tent more challenging than we feel it should be to open and enter. It's a little pricey but comparable to its close competitors. If you treat it nicely, it should offer you many years of lightweight, comfortable camping.
Read review: Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2
Best for Weather Resistance
Hilleberg Anjan 2 GT
Our testers tote the Hilleberg Anjan 2 GT when they know harsh weather could be in the forecast. This is the best option 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 internationally or car camping at the local park, the Anjan 2 GT provides exceptional weather resistance, comfort, strength, and durability at a manageable weight. We used it 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.
For everything it offers, expect to pay top dollar for this tent. You will also definitely want to practice pitching it once or twice before taking it out for real. Though it is very expensive, its durable construction makes it a long-term value if you use it frequently.
Read review: Hilleberg Anjan 2 GT
Best for a 3-Person Version
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3
Much like its smaller sibling, the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3 is an award winner. It maintains the same features, but with room for one more. It can mostly accommodate three, but it's also light enough for two people to carry a very reasonable load, with room left over for a canine companion. With its high-volume design, there is plenty of headroom, and the large gear storage pockets are a nice perk with a full tent.
We don't think that the tapered footprint serves it quite as well in this larger configuration. It feels like a squeeze for three people, however, we like it because of the flexibility it offers to adventure light in either a pair or triplet.
Read review: Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3
Notable for Comfort Camping on a Shoestring Budget
REI Co-op Passage 2
The REI Passage 2 combines space, comfort, and affordability in a way few others do. For those who are looking to get outside on the cheap, it is worth a strong look. We love its double doors, and its two-pole set up is just about as straightforward as it comes. It is also one of the few budget tents that executes well on its fly geometry, making it easy to get it taut.
Its primary drawback is that its price point limits the quality of the materials that can go into it. It's a great value, but it is worth noting that much of the body of the tent, as well as the fly, is coated polyester, which makes for a heavy carry. However, if you are new to camping or just want a simple and solid tent that will offer you a good night's sleep, this model is a true contender.
Read review: REI Passage 2
Notable for Superior Headroom
The North Face Stormbreak 2
The North Face Stormbreak 2 offers something that many other far more expensive backpacking tents don't: headroom. Its structure includes cross poles that expand the area at peak height, meaning that two adults can easily sit up comfortably at the same time. It also comes with a flexible vestibule configuration so you can balance ventilation and coverage in a lot of different ways. With large storage pockets, there is plenty of room to stash small items that you want to keep close at hand.
The bummer with this tent is that you sort of get what you pay for. It's sturdy, but its polyurethane coated polyester fly and floor make for a hefty tent. On the other hand, if weight doesn't matter so much for your adventures, then we would strongly recommend this one for the folks who like to sit up and live in their tent.
Read review: The North Face Stormbreak 2
Why You Should Trust Us
A good tent is at the heart of any outdoor adventure, and our backpacking tent team has some adventures under its belt. Lead reviewer, Ben Applebaum-Bauch, got his start in the outdoor industry maintaining gear (tents included) for guided group backpacking trips. A couple of years later, he became a guide himself, leading multi-week adventures on the Appalachian Trail, cycling through Nova Scotia, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, and paddling down the Androscoggin and Magalloway rivers, deepening his understanding of what does (and doesn't) make for a good night's sleep in a tent. With a decade of professional experience and many thru-hikes of some of America's great long trails behind him, he sleeps easy knowing that the world is filled with exceptional tents.
Our testing has focused on ensuring each model is tested across a wide range of metrics. We've included weather resistance, weight, and comfort; we've also measured floor dimensions, and assessed each model on its livability, asking the question, what can we actually do in this tent? Certain features like double side doors and ample pockets also make for a cushy shelter. Most tents are pretty easy to set up, but we look at different connection points between poles, tent body, and fly. Weather resistance requires these flies and floors to get soaked in the rain and whipped around by the wind. We don't intentionally try to break our tents, but sometimes things happen, and we take note of delicate fabrics and brittle clips. Weight is a crucial component as well, and we take these tents for every ounce they are worth.
Related: How We Tested Backpacking Tents
Analysis and Test Results
Over the years, we have used the same tried-and-true process in our backpacking tent review; we evaluate dozens of the best options on the market and rigorously test our top picks in the field. We rate each model on a handful of metrics: comfort, ease of set up, weather resistance, durability, weight, and packed size.
Finding the right tent is about tradeoffs: for example, interior space versus total weight or ease of setup versus weather resistance. We strive to find tents that match the varying needs of outdoor enthusiasts. If you are not willing to break the bank, but still want a product that will last well into the future, you will want to pay special attention to the value of each model. Though not part of a product's overall score, it can be important to quantify value. To do that, we compare the price of each product relative to its overall score to see which ones offer the best bang for the buck. If value is a primary consideration for you when making your purchase, the NEMO Dragonfly 2 and the REI Half Dome 2 Plus are a couple of the best.
Comfort is the hominess of a tent. Do you have enough space to get a goodnight's sleep? Or will your shoulders be pressed up against a wet wall all night? Can you slip in and out easily, or do you need to climb over your camping partner to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night? We also talk about a tent as livable, which refers specifically to the ability to do things other than sleep (e.g., sit up to eat dinner or spread out and read a book).
Award-winners like the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 and NEMO Dragonfly 2 both do a nice job of balancing comfort against other considerations. The REI Half Dome 2 Plus goes all-in on maximizing space and other important features like double doors, large dual vestibules, and storage pockets (and consequently, it weighs quite a bit more than the very top tents). Single doors (like those found on the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV 2 Carbon) at the head of a tent are okay, but they can be awkward to get in and out of, especially in inclement weather.
The most comfortable two-person backpacking tent we tested is the REI Half Dome 2 Plus 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 love it on stormy days when we spend more time hunkered down. Other top scorers in comfort include the NEMO Dagger 2, Marmot Tungsten UL2, and Marmot Limelight.
Despite being otherwise solid tents, the Hornet Elite 2 and Tarptent Double Rainbow both score lower in this metric, with both models heavily prioritizing weight-savings over interior floor space. Certain tents like the Marmot Limelight also do tall sleepers a big favor by including steep (rather than gently inclined) walls at the head and foot, reducing the possibility that the ends of your sleeping bag will end up wet if they are pressed against the tent.
Ease of Set Up
Ease of set up refers to how quick and intuitive it is to pitch a tent. The models in this review generally come in two slightly different flavors. The majority are self-supported, also known as free-standing. When most people envision a tent, they are thinking of a free-standing model. These shelters have a set of dedicated poles that provide a "skeleton" that the tent clips to. An increasingly common variation on this is the semi-freestanding tent, which has poles but also requires stakes to maximize its volume. Both types are relatively simple to set up.
A classic X-pole design (2 identical poles that cross in the middle) is rarely used anymore in its most straightforward form — it just doesn't offer the stability. But many models like the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2, REI Half Dome 2 Plus, Marmot Limelight, Kelty Dirt Motel 2, and Marmot Tungsten UL 2 are variations on this basic structure that include an additional cross pole that increases interior volume and rigidity. They are all easy to set up.
There are also semi-freestanding tents, such as the NEMO Hornet Elite, Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2, and Big Agnes Fly Creek HV2 Carbon. They are also very straightforward. Regardless of the individual pole structure, all of these tents have pole segments that are connected with elastic cord, so the pole structure often snaps itself into place with a few shakes once you take it out of the bag. Almost universally, the ends of the poles click into grommets at the corners of the tent. The variability largely comes with how the fly is attached, and how many stakes it requires to pitch. The REI Half Dome 2 Plus is an example of a tent with a fly that attaches with clips, whereas the NEMO Hornet Elite relies on guyline to secure the fly.
A distinct subcategory of tent pole configuration is the tunnel tent. This style comes with hoop-shaped poles. These models usually require more time to pitch because they rely on tension from guylines to take a livable form. An example of a tunnel tent is the Hilleberg Anjan 2 GT. Though this tent requires some pitching practice, we don't think it is excessively challenging to set up.
Since all of the tents we tested are relatively easy to pitch, this metric assumes a comparatively small percentage of each tent's total score. However, there are times when it's critical to be able to set up camp and dive into your tent in a hurry. Higher scorers include the REI Half Dome 2 Plus, NEMO Dragonfly 2, Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2, and NEMO Dagger 2.
For this metric, we assess the protection that each tent provides against precipitation and wind. We are interested in any design features that impact a tent's ability to resist sagging and keep water from dripping through zippers and vents. We are also interested in structural rigidity as well as features like vents and fly door configuration, which reduce condensation on the inside.
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 debris. It also effectively sheds condensation that drips from the roof. In this case, it offers an advantage over tents that have mesh walls.
Other weather-resistant top scorers are the NEMO Dragonfly 2 and NEMO Dagger 2 for their trapezoidal fly geometry, guy points, and easy tensioning. The Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 also scores well in this metric, offering superior protection.
The Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 and Marmot Tungsten UL2 are among the weaker models in our fleet for weather resistance. Perhaps surprisingly, it is the wind that undoes them faster than precipitation. However, we also found in the case of the first two that unusual fly geometry makes them a challenge to set up and increases their susceptibility to blowing rain.
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 the point of catastrophic failure. We take into account quality and type of materials, overall design, and results during field testing.
Many of the lighter tents tested here are not designed to endure a ton of abuse. The NEMO Hornet Elite 2 and Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 have thin materials that need to be treated with care. The Hilleberg Anjan 2 GT has a host of features common to four-season tents and is by far the most durable. The importance of durability increases with trip duration. Repairs take time, and severe damage or failure both have more significant consequences in more remote areas and on long-distance hikes.
We were also impressed with the durability of the REI Half Dome 2 Plus and the NEMO Dagger 2.
To increase durability, make sure you store your tent properly by cleaning and drying it completely before packing it away in the offseason.
Our weight metric ranks each tent on its measured packed weight, which includes poles, tent body, fly, stakes, and guylines — basically, everything that comes with a tent when you pull it off the shelf. Many manufacturers will also include a trail weight in their product specifications; this typically refers to the weight of the minimum pieces required for setup — usually tent, fly, and poles. Models that include the feature also refer to a fast pitch weight, that is, the footprint, which is usually sold separately, the fly, and the poles.
At a measured packed weight of under 1.5 pounds, the Dyneema (cuben fiber) wonder Big Agnes Fly Creek HV 2 Carbon is the lightest dedicated pole tent that we have ever tested. The NEMO Hornet Elite 2 is close behind, also sneaking in under two pounds. This is followed by the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 and Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2. On the other end of the spectrum, the Marmot Limelight and REI Half Dome 2 Plus are among the heaviest that we tested.
If you want to maximize space and reduce weight, we would also strongly suggest looking at a 3-person version of a lightweight model. The Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3 is under four pounds, and of course, offers tons of space for two people. The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL3 is under three pounds. Its dimensions are a little smaller than the Copper Spur, but would still provide ample space for two people.
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. Most of our testers ditch the actual tent bag to maximize backpack space when they hit the trail, but the amount of room a tent takes up in a pack is still important.
We love the materials and compact pole sections of the Tarptent Double Rainbow, NEMO Hornet Elite 2, and Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2. We stuffed and compressed these high-scoring tents into our bags with ease. The Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 Carbon can be compressed into an even comically smaller wad. On the flip side, the REI Half Dome 2 Plus is one of the generally higher-performing but lower scorer in this metric.
The number of options can be overwhelming when shopping for a new backpacking tent. If you are planning to carrying yours over long distances, weight and packed size are crucial considerations. In that case, we like the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2, NEMO Hornet Elite 2, and Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2. The Big Agnes Fly Creek HV 2 Carbon is almost as light as an ultralight shelter that doesn't come with poles, but we would only recommend it if you are traveling solo (which may negate some of its benefits).
If you're most concerned about durability and weather resistance, consider the Hilleberg Anjan 2 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. Happy trails!
— Ben Applebaum-Bauch