A good tent can make or break any overnight outdoor adventure. Over the years, we've researched hundreds of models; for this cycle, we purchased the top 20 models, putting them head to head through a series of tests year after year. Our most recent round of testing revealed some new, innovative designs and award winners. We also confirmed that many of our reliable favorites are still on top. Based on our findings, we score each model on a series of metrics, such as comfort and weather resistance. A few of the backpacking tents we tested are all-around 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. Whether you are a budget shopper, a luxury car camper, or you want the cream of the crop, there is a tent in this review for you.
The Best Backpacking Tents of 2018
We just finished testing the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 and this new model impressed us right off the bat. It is a new Top Pick for its balance between interior space and weight. You can read the full review below for complete details. We also have updates on the tried-and-true Tarptent Double Rainbow and NEMO Galaxi. This fall we also went big! For those who prioritize comfort above all else, or like to bring along a furry, four-legged friend in the great outdoors there may be a three-person tent for you. The NEMO Dagger 3 has all of the same creature comforts as its superb smaller sibling. The Marmot Limelight 3 is hefty, but comfortable and spacious. The Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL is not only an Editors' Choice Award winner, but it is also our new Top Pick for a 3-person version.
Best Overall with a Bit More Comfort
NEMO Dagger 2
The NEMO Dagger 2 strikes a solid 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 rain fly stays relatively quiet in the wind, which proved to be a surprisingly rare feature. 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 tall 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 Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 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 being able to spread out at night without weighing yourself down during the day, this is an excellent option. For those looking for even 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 a terrific tent in the Copper Spur HV UL2. Still one of the top options in our review, it embodies what many backpackers are looking for; it's comfortable, lightweight, and packs down small. It's resilient in windy conditions, providing crucial protection when the clouds roll in. It has two side doors and roomy vestibules while maintaining a weight of just over 3 pounds.
It's not as durable as the Hilleberg Anjan 2 GT in torrential downpours, 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 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 is light enough to take into the backcountry, but can also be a decent car camping option. 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 rainy spring nights, 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 stargazing on mild nights.
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 also has improved rain fly stability over its predecessor.
The primary drawback of the Half Dome 2 Plus is that it is a behemoth. Tipping the scales at over 5 pounds, it's more than double the weight of the NEMO Hornet Elite. 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 just over half the weight of either of the other Editors' Choice models 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 guylines. We also like its sibling, the NEMO Hornet which is $140 less expensive and only 5 ounces heavier. The original 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 very tight for two people and is not nearly as comfortable for two people as the other Editors' 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 model that many OutdoorGearLab editors use when not testing.
Read review: Nemo Hornet Elite
The Best Combination of Lightweight and Comfort
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 Tiger Wall could be for you. In 2018, it was the tent that had many PCT thru-hikers buzzing. Its weight makes it a true competitor to the original NEMO Hornet but is notably more comfortable. It offers two large side doors and is configured to have a significant amount of headroom for a tent its size.
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. At $400, it is 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
Top Pick for Weather Resistance and Stretching "3 Seasons"
Hilleberg Anjan 2 GT
Our testers tote the Hilleberg Anjan 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 around the world or car camping at the local park, the Hilleberg Anjan 2 provides exceptional weather resistance, comfort, strength and durability at a manageable weight. 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.
Expect to pay top dollar for this tent. Though it is very expensive, its durable construction makes it a long-term value if you use it frequently. 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
Top Pick 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 accommodate three, but it's also light enough for two people to carry a very reasonable load while providing ample space 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 as in this larger configuration — it certainly 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
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.
Finding the right tent is about tradeoffs: for example, space for weight or ease-of-setup for weather resistance. However, the nitty-gritty details of each review may not be as important as the price tag. At OutdoorGearLab, we have high hopes that regardless of your hobbies, there is a tent for every outdoor enthusiast. If you are not willing to break the bank, but still want a product that will last well into the future, we still have you covered. The chart below is our effort to quantify value. Mapping the price of each product relative to its overall score, the goal is to see at a glance which models offer the best bang for your buck. If value is a primary consideration for you when making your purchase, 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. You may also see us talk about a tent as livable, which refers specifically to the ability to do things inside of it (e.g., sit up and eat dinner, spread out and read a book, etc.) 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 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, wall material, the number and size of storage pockets, peak height and the uniformity of that height across the width of the tent, floor area (including whether or not it tapers from head to toe), and vestibule area, as well as other details specific to each model.
We also include other essential, but less apparent factors in our assessment including the maximum person-height the tent can accommodate (you probably don't want your toes touching the bottom in a rainstorm, or your head reaching the top every time you sit up). 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 the manufacture of these tents, though we love the generous pockets of the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 given its light weight.
The most comfortable backpacking tent we tested was the REI Half Dome 2 Plus, which earns a perfect 10 out of 10 in this 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 love it on stormy days when we tend to spend 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 received 9 out of 10 points. 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, both models heavily prioritizing weight-savings over floor space.
For this metric, we assess the protection that each tent provides against precipitation and wind. 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. These 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. These give it a significant advantage over tents that have mesh inner tent walls like the MSR Hubba Hubba NX.
Another weather-resistant top scorer is 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 score well in this metric, offering superior protection. Also noteworthy is the NEMO Hornet Elite which scores above average for weather resistance, and well above our expectations, given that it weighs in at a scant 2 pounds.
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 and come with relatively cheap, narrow-diameter poles, all of which contribute to poor performance in high winds. 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.
Our weight metric ranks each tent on its 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 2 pounds (less than NEMO advertises!), 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 a 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 typically weigh around 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 with its square 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 are.
We love the materials and compact pole sections of the NEMO Hornet Elite, Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2, and Hilleberg Anjan GT.
We stuffed and compressed these high-scoring tents into our bags with ease. Our testing revealed 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 the backpacking tents we 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 have a set of dedicated poles that provide a "skeleton" that the tent clips to. These tents are typically the fastest 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 and Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2, which require a couple of stakes to stand on their own at maximum volume but can reduce their total weight because they have fewer pole segments. 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 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 particularly challenging to set up, thus earning a 7 out of 10.
The NEMO Galaxi, Eureka Midori 2, and other two-pole designs that 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 to 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 the point of catastrophic failure. Our ratings take into account any defect, parts that break, 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 a ton of use and abuse. The least durable model tested is the ALPS Mountaineering Lynx 2 . The 75D 185T polyester, though heavy underhand, showed wear and tear in one day of foul-weather when one of our testers camped with their 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 both have more significant consequences in more remote areas and on long-distance hikes. We recommend reading how to repair a tent now, both to learn more about durability as well as how to fix a tent if it does fail.
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 packing it loosely (not in the stuff sack) before tucking it away in the offseason.
Other Considerations for a Backpacking Tent
What you will require from a tent varies with climate 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 think it is important to consider not only the environmental conditions that you will be using the tent in the most but its versatility as well.
Another consideration is how comfortable 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 adaptable.
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 — waterproof, durable fabrics cut to match a tent bottom — are accessories that we find are often unnecessary and overpriced. If you are concerned about the wellbeing of the bottom of your tent. Exceptions are if you have a tent that can pitch in 'fast fly mode' and you plan to use that feature regularly, or if you know that your go-to campsites have coarse gravel or rocks.
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 polycro plastic. The weight of a sleeping pad and bag keeps a custom footprint in place — there's no need for grommets. Tyvek is a highly durable and puncture resistant plastic sheet. 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 siding wrap at hardware stores or online. Polycro is a lighter and less durable option that ultralight backpackers favor. 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 locate 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, and the pale orange tent and gray fly of the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 also proved to be incredibly inconspicuous against the leafy forest floor. Conversely, if you're camping anywhere hunters might also be, a brightly colored tent like the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 or the yellow fly of the NEMO Hornet Elite 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
The Hilleberg Anjan GT is one of the only models to come with enough guyline to achieve a proper pitch in inclement weather. Most companies will include 6-10 stakes with a tent, depending on its configuration. If you know you'll need a few more, MSR Groundhog Stakes and Kelty TripTease LightLine are useful accessories you may want to check out. 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 the 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 Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2, 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.
— Jessica Haist, Jess McGlothlin, and Ben Applebaum-Bauch