Best Backpacking Tent of 2020
Best Overall Space for the Weight
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2
The Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 is an excellent tent. A top overall option in our review, it embodies what many backpackers are looking for; it is comfortable, lightweight, and packs down small. It has two side doors and roomy vestibules that convert into useful awnings with a set of trekking poles. It only weighs just over three pounds and holds its own in windy conditions, providing crucial protection when the weather turns for the worst.
The taper at the foot can make it seem a little on the small side, and the fly and tent doors are somewhat oddly aligned. However, our experts took this tent everywhere, from high alpine climbing to multi-week backpacking trips. Long-distance hikers and frequent backpackers will get significant utility from this tent (as long as they treat it well). It takes top honors for the super all-around experience it offers.
Read review: Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2
Best Balance of Features and Weight
NEMO Dragonfly 2
The NEMO Dragonfly 2 strikes a prime balance between comfort and weight. It performs beautifully in various situations, but we recommend it for those who want to travel on the lighter side without selling out on livability. The fabric is durable, and the trapezoidal rainfly stays taut (and quiet) in the wind, which turns out to be a surprisingly rare feature. 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. Its exceptional design means that six-foot-tall sleepers have enough head-to-toe length and headroom.
The interior width of 50" tapering to 45" leaves some foot end pinching. Though it comes with an impressive array of storage pockets, they do require a long reach from a lying down position. 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 REI Half Dome 2 Plus is a livable and comfortable tent. With a spacious interior and thoughtful construction, it is 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 the category. We love it for its exceptional comfort, luxurious dimensions, great ventilation, and a wide array of interior storage pockets.
All that interior space comes with a weight penalty — 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 is best suited for weekend adventures and car camping. Overall, this tent is a real rock star that comes at a comparatively affordable price.
Read review: REI Half Dome 2 Plus
Best Lightweight Option
Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2
The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 is a great option to consider if you like going ultralight, but can't entirely ditch the comfort that typically comes with dedicated poles. Its weight makes it a real competitor in the semi-freestanding subcategory. Still, it is notably the most comfortable of the sub-three-pound models primarily because the design includes a cross pole at its peak height, which creates a lot of headroom. It also offers two large side doors.
The biggest head-scratcher is the orientation of the zippers on the doors and fly, which makes 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
The Hilleberg Anjan 2 GT is what our crew reaches for when harsh weather is in the forecast. It performs at its best in the shoulder seasons: the early thaw of spring and the first autumn or winter snowstorm. Whether bike touring or car camping at the local park, this tent provides exceptional weather resistance, comfort, strength, and durability at a manageable weight.
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 Three People
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 is designed to accommodate three, but it is 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 massive gear storage pockets are a nice perk with a full tent.
We don't think that the tapered footprint serves it as well in this larger configuration. It feels like a squeeze for three people; however, we like it because of the flexibility it offers, allowing a group of three to travel light.
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. We think for those who are looking to get outside on the cheap, it is worth a strong look. It has won awards in other categories, and is best for the budget savvy. We love its double doors, and two-pole set up that is about as straightforward as they come.
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. With large storage pockets, there is plenty of room to stash small items that you want to keep close at hand. It also comes with a flexible vestibule configuration so you can balance ventilation and weather protection in a lot of different ways.
The bummer is you get what you pay for; it's sturdy, but its polyurethane coated polyester fly and floor make for a hefty load. On the other hand, if the 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
Our backpacking tent team members have spent their fair share of nights under the stars. 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.
We tested the models in this review with a focus on comfort, weight, and weather resistance with some additional attention on ease of setup, durability, and packed size. For comfort, we look at floor dimensions, but we also assess 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. Weight is a crucial component as well, and we take these tents for every ounce they are worth. Most tents are pretty easy to set up, but we look at different connection points between poles, tent body, and fly. Weather resistance tests these flies and floors abilities to protect tent dwellers from whipping wind and pouring rain. In terms of durability, we don't intentionally try to break our tents, but sometimes things happen, and we take note of delicate fabrics and brittle clips.
Related: How We Tested Backpacking Tents
Analysis and Test Results
This review features a wide diversity of backpacking tents and the best that we've found currently on the market. We take the time to rigorously test each tent by actually bringing them with us on missions in the backcountry. This review does not include ultralight tents (weighing under 2-lbs) as we have an entirely different category for those that don't mind paying a little extra to shed some weight. We evaluate each tent on comfort, ease of set-up, weather resistance, durability, weight, and packed size.
Related: Buying Advice for Backpacking Tents
Related: Best Ultralight Tents of 2020
When considering value, it's important to look at which products offer a higher level of quality for each dollar. While these value winners aren't typically the 'highest end' or the 'best featured,' they'll do everything you need them to do on any backpacking trip. Our best buy award winners are our favorite value winners.
The REI Half Dome 2 Plus is incredibly spacious and inexpensive, coming at the cost of a larger packed size and higher weight. The Tarptent Double Rainbow is another low-cost option that's incredibly packable and lightweight, erecting simply with a set of poles. The Kelty Dirt Motel 2 is another low-cost option that's pretty spacious, but takes up more space in your backpack. If a budget backpacking tent is what you seek, be sure to check out other reviews we've written exactly for the penny pitchers out there.
Related: Best Budget Backpacking Tent of 2020
Comfort is the hominess of a tent. Do you have enough space to get a good night'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 dark? 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).
The most comfortable two-person backpacking tent we tested is the REI Half Dome 2 Plus, which has a 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, and Marmot Limelight.
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 former offers a pre-bent pole structure that maximizes interior volume. 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 HV2) at the head of a tent are okay, but they can be awkward to get in and out of, especially in inclement weather.
Despite being otherwise robust 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. Specific tents like the Marmot Limelight 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 (two identical poles that cross in the middle) is rarely used anymore in its most straightforward form — it just doesn't offer the stability that tents with additional pole segments do. But many models like the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2, REI Half Dome 2 Plus, Marmot Limelight, and Kelty Dirt Motel 2, are variations on this basic structure that include an additional cross pole. This modification increases interior volume and structural rigidity. These models are all easy to set up. Some tents, like the Copper Spur HV UL2, include special hardware at the tent corners to quickly and securely attach poles while pitching the tent alone.
There are also semi-freestanding tents, such as the NEMO Hornet Elite and Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2. 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 (or grommet-like hole) 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. The REI Co-Op Flash Air 2 is an exception in the fleet. It is a non-freestanding tent, that is, it comes with a couple of poles, but relies almost entirely on stakes and guylines to pitch. There is a learning curve with this type of tent if you have never pitched one before.
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 the 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 reduces 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 above-average protection and an adaptable fly set-up that can be pitched traditionally but can also convert into an overhead awning when propped up with a couple of trekking poles. The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 is a top contender for semi-freestanding tents.
The Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 and REI Co-Op Flash Air 2 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 involves 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 the quality and type of materials, overall design, and results during field testing.
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. Top overall performers like the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 still have thin materials but keep an eye toward increasing their strength. We are also impressed with the durability of the REI Half Dome 2 Plus and the NEMO Dagger 2. The former has heavy, thick fabric, and the latter is a good compromise between strength and weight.
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.
To increase durability, make sure you store your tent properly by cleaning and drying it thoroughly 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.
Ounces count, and there are a handful of tents in this review that are at or around 2 pounds, including the NEMO Hornet Elite 2, Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2, REI Co-Op Flash Air 2, and Marmot Bolt UL2. These models mostly go all-in on reducing weight at the expense of comfort and, to an extent, durability. On the other end of the spectrum, the Marmot Limelight 2 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 three-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. Of course, its dimensions are a little smaller than the Copper Spur, but it still provides ample space for two people.
Packed size strongly correlates with weight. Most of that number is going to be determined by the type and denier of the tent and fly fabric, but extra features like storage pockets, gear lofts, and roomy vestibules, or chunky parts like pole hubs can quickly increase the measurement.
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 REI Co-Op Flash Air 2 also performed well-above average in this metric and could easily be carried by one person, especially if you use trekking poles instead of the included poles. One of the big surprises of this review is the NEMO Firefly, which is slightly heavier, but still packs down as small as the UL models listed above. The Marmot Bolt UL2 also holds its own. On the flip side, the REI Half Dome 2 Plus is one of the generally higher-performing models, but scores lower in this metric because of its thick fabric and beefy hardware.
The number of options can be overwhelming when shopping for a new backpacking tent. However, 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