The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

How We Tested Backpacking Tents

By Ben Applebaum-Bauch ⋅ Review Editor
Monday October 28, 2019

We are continually updating this review and testing new tents. We have traveled and camped all over the United States, Canada, Mexico, Turkey, India, and Nepal, using these shelters. We have taken tents on the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, John Muir Trail, in Alaska's Brooks Range, and many places in between.

We slept through torrential downpours, high winds, snow, sleet, hail the size of nickels, and sandstorms. We hiked ultra-fast and ultralight with some tents, and, with others, we camped from our cars and loaded our gear on horses and mules. Every single tent, we staked them, pitched them, weighed them, and tossed and turned in them.

The Demo Dagger 2P  Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2 and Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL2 mtnGLO stood up to windy  wet spring conditions in Montana.
The Demo Dagger 2P, Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2 and Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL2 mtnGLO stood up to windy, wet spring conditions in Montana.

Comfort


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)


Ease of Set Up


This primarily involves how much time it takes and how intuitive it is to set up a tent. We time set up for each model fresh out of the bag, noting pole structure, overall symmetry, and any features that make it a faster, simpler process like color-coded clips and poles or 'easy snap' hubs.


Durability


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.

The NEMO Hornet Elite scores highly for its low weight and packed size.
The NEMO Hornet Elite scores highly for its low weight and packed size.

Weather Resistance


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.


Weight & Packed Size


We take our measured packed weight, which is essentially the weight of everything that comes in the tent bag. We also look at the manufacturer's packed size as well as our estimation of how well each model stuffs in and around other gear.