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The Best Budget Backpacking Tents of 2020

We like tents with doors that open up all the way to let in the morning breeze and sunshine.
By Ben Applebaum-Bauch ⋅ Review Editor
Sunday March 1, 2020
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In the market for a new budget backpacking tent? Over three years, we've researched 40+ different models. For 2020, we've purchased 11 of the top options side-by-side to help you find the right tent for your next adventure. From car camping to pitching in alpine fields, next to lakes, and nestling down in the brush, in the summer heat, and cold, driving rain of spring, we caught some Z's, played a few games of cards, and got closer with friends in close quarters. As a result, we know the ins and outs of each product. If you're a thrifty camping enthusiast looking to save a buck without compromising quality, you've got to check out this review.

Related: The Best Backpacking Tents of 2020


Top 11 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 11
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Best Overall Budget Backpacking Tent


REI Co-op Passage 2


Best Buy Award

$159.00
at REI
See It

73
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 8
  • Weight - 25% 6
  • Weather Resistance - 20% 8
  • Ease of Set-up - 10% 9
  • Durability - 10% 8
  • Packed Size - 10% 5
Weight: 5 lbs. 6 oz. | Dimensions (L x W x H): 87 x 50 x 43in
Comfortable
Easy to set up
Excellent value
Flip-up doors are sometimes annoying
Heavy

The REI Passage 2 is ideal for the committed car camper that takes the occasional weekend backpacking trip. Its classic and straightforward X-pole design pitches in an instant. The interior is spacious and comfortable, and it comes with roomy, trapezoidal vestibules that tension well. It has solid storage pockets and comes with a mesh canopy for stargazing but also higher sidewall fabric for privacy.

We aren't in love with the door design of this model. It can feel like a curtain that you have to brush aside, which is especially annoying in the rain if you are also contending with peeling back the fly opening. This budget backpacking tent also comes with budget stakes — the kind that bend easily against moderate resistance from the soil. However, the pros far outweigh the cons for us, and we would pick this one for our next camping adventure if we were looking to camp big and spend small.

Read review: REI Passage 2

Best Combination of Budget and Performance


Slumberjack Nightfall 2


Best Buy Award

$159 List
List Price
See It

64
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 7
  • Weight - 25% 5
  • Weather Resistance - 20% 8
  • Ease of Set-up - 10% 6
  • Durability - 10% 7
  • Packed Size - 10% 5
Weight: 5 lbs. 10 oz. | Dimensions (L x W x H): 85 x 52 x 39.5in
Extended vestibule
Good weather resistance
Pitches with fly protecting the tent
Limited interior pockets
Heavy
Single door

The Slumberjack Nightfall 2 is one of the more fascinating models in this review. It feels like it is meant for folks who want to pitch a tent and stay out there for a while. Its vestibule extends with trekking poles to create an awesome awning. It offers some of the best weather protection of any budget backpacking tent that we tested and has a pole structure that goes outside of the fly so it can be pitched in the rain without getting the interior wet.

The main bummer of this model is that you can't pitch it without the fly, so if stargazing is your primary objective, this isn't for you. The single door can also be challenging to get in and out of if you have a camping partner. The vestibule, when closed, is also quite small — not large enough for two packs. However, if you find yourself hunkering down in wet weather often, we think that this tent is worth a strong look.

Read review: Slumberjack Nightfall 2

The Absolute Thriftiest Option


REI Co-op Camp Dome 2


Best Buy Award

$99.95
at REI
See It

58
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 7
  • Weight - 25% 7
  • Weather Resistance - 20% 3
  • Ease of Set-up - 10% 8
  • Durability - 10% 6
  • Packed Size - 10% 3
Weight: 5 lbs. 0 oz. | Dimensions (L x W x H): 84 x 54 x 43in
Inexpensive
Comfortable and easy to set up
No vestibules; fly offers limited coverage
Low-quality stakes

The REI Camp Dome 2 puts the budget in budget backpacking tent. It maintains solid dimensions and a weight that is just slightly above average for this review. Its two large side doors offer more livability than a handful of other more expensive options, and its simple X-pole design makes it easy to pitch.

Of course, for this price, you have to sacrifice something. In this case, it's the rain fly. It covers only the top of the tent with some modest 'wings' that extend over the doors. If the skies open up, anything that you haven't pulled into the tent with you is going to get soaked, and you might too, depending on how hard the wind is blowing. We can't say we are in love with it, but if you are looking for something to take on a car camping overnight on a nice summer weekend or pitch in the backyard for the kids, the price point of this model is top-notch in our book.

Read review: REI Camp Dome 2

Best Use of Space and Headroom


The North Face Stormbreak 2


Best Buy Award

$119.19
(25% off)
at REI
See It

71
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 9
  • Weight - 25% 5
  • Weather Resistance - 20% 7
  • Ease of Set-up - 10% 9
  • Durability - 10% 8
  • Packed Size - 10% 5
Weight: 5 lbs. 14 oz. | Dimensions (L x W x H): 87 x 50 x 43in
Excellent headroom
Large vestibules
Well ventilated
Heavy

The North Face Storm Break 2 is one of our favorite budget tents and wins an award for its headroom, combining solid comfort with smart design. In fact, depending on its primary use, it can deliver a better experience than more expensive and lighter tents that are far more cramped. It has versatile vestibules and plenty of storage pockets for gear that you want to keep close at hand.

It is by no means lightweight. Toting almost six pounds worth of tent is a big commitment. However, if you're not hiking that far, or are fine with carrying a little more weight to get way more comfort, this tent can't be beaten for the price point.

Read review: The North Face Storm Break 2

Best Lightweight Option


Big Agnes C Bar 2


Top Pick Award

$196.99
at Amazon
See It

70
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 4
  • Weight - 25% 9
  • Weather Resistance - 20% 7
  • Ease of Set-up - 10% 8
  • Durability - 10% 7
  • Packed Size - 10% 8
Weight: 4 lbs. 0 oz. | Dimensions (L x W x H): 86 x (52 x 42) x 41in
One of the lightest freestanding tents in the fleet
Solid weather resistance for budget tent
Narrow space at shoulder height
Single door and vestibule less convenient

This tent is for the frugal backpacker who still wants to travel light. Coming in at four pounds, the Big Agnes C Bar won't weigh you down. It sets up relatively easily, and we are also pleasantly surprised by its weather resistance and stability.

Of course, what you gain in weight savings, you sacrifice in comfort. This tent is much better as a roomy one person than a true 2P. It tapers dramatically from floor to ceiling in a way that really limits the shoulder room. However, if you are about covering miles more than living in your tent, you can't go wrong with this lightweight budget beauty.

Read review: Big Agnes C Bar 2

Best 1-Person Option


REI Co-op Passage 1


Top Pick Award

$139.00
at REI
See It

72
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 9
  • Weight - 25% 6
  • Weather Resistance - 20% 7
  • Ease of Set-up - 10% 9
  • Durability - 10% 7
  • Packed Size - 10% 4
Weight: 3 lbs. 14 oz. | Dimensions (L x W x H): 88 x 36.5 x 40in
Excellent headroom
Large vestibule
Easy to pitch
Doesn't handle strong wind well
Heavy and bulky

The REI Co-Op Passage 1 is our Top Pick for a 1-person tent on a budget. It offers many of the same great comfort features found in its award-winning big sibling. We love the peak height; it has plenty of room to sit up and move around. With just two identical poles, it is easy to set-up for one person. It comes with a nice complement of storage pockets, and its vestibule is large enough for a full-size backpack and hiking boots.

Our biggest issue with this model is its heft. At almost four pounds, some budget 2P options come close, so if you are on the fence about tent capacity, consider sizing up. It can also get caught up in the wind, so it requires extra attention when choosing a campsite and positioning it. Otherwise, for weekend trips for one, the price is right, and the experience is comfortable.

Read review: REI Co-Op Passage 1


Why You Should Trust Us


Our experts spend a lot of nights on trail, and they know the value of a good budget backpacking tent. Our lead reviewer, Ben Applebaum-Bauch has been catching Zzzs in the wilderness for 25 years. Spending his first nights under the stars in a classic Eureka A-frame, his knowledge of budget tents has only increased from there. He got his professional start in the outdoor industry purchasing and maintaining gear for guided backpacking trips, including a fleet of hundreds of tents. He later became a trip guide, leading multi-week backpacking, cycling, and canoeing trips throughout northern New England and maritime Canada, toting tents with him the whole way. He has hiked and re-hiked the Appalachian Trail's 100-mile wilderness, as well as hundreds of more miles of the AT. He has also completed thru-hikes of the Pacific Crest, Long, Oregon Coast, and Colorado trails. Now having spent hundreds of nights in at least five dozen different tent models, he knows how to spot a high-value budget buy.

We test our budget tents much the same way that we do for the models in our regular backpacking tent review. We start by researching top models on the market, sifting through dozens of options to select the most promising for hands-on testing. Then we take them to the trail. We assess each model based on a handful of metrics: comfort, ease of set up, weather resistance, durability, weight, and packed size.

Related: How We Tested Budget Backpacking Tents

Sitting up isn't terribly comfortable  or even possible without rubbing your head up against the top.
Tents with two side doors and plenty of headroom top our list of most comfortable.
This inexpensive  livable tent is a great choice for the thrifty backpacker.

Analysis and Test Results


We've divided up our assessment of each budget tent into various rating metrics. Below, we define each one and share our favorite models for each metric according to how the tents scored in our testing. One important note is that the overall score for each model is weighted based on our metrics. For example, comfort is worth 25% of the overall score while ease of set up is worth 10%. With that in mind, as you make your purchasing decisions, consider which factors are most important to you and weigh them accordingly.

Related: Buying Advice for Budget Backpacking Tents

Different door configurations dramatically change the overall comfort of a tent. Pictured here is the Suma 2 from Eureka.
Different door configurations dramatically change the overall comfort of a tent. Pictured here is the Suma 2 from Eureka.

Value


This particular category is all about finding value. However, even amongst the group, there are a few standouts. Value is not just about price point. It's also not a metric that goes toward the overall score of a product. However, we recognize that it is an important part of most purchasing decisions, so it is worth discussing here. When we talk about value in this review, we are comparing a tent's price to its overall score. Models with higher scores and lower prices will have greater value than those with lower scores and higher prices. We think that the REI Passage 2, The North Face Stormbreak 2, and the bargain basement REI Camp Dome 2 each offer more than what you pay for.


Comfort


There are a handful of factors that go into comfort for us. Comfort is the amount of space we have to sleep (especially when there is another person in the tent with us). It is the availability of headroom when we eat (again, sitting up side-by-side with another person). It is the convenience of storage space, the ease with which we get in and out, and dozens of other details. In short, it is the sum of all of the features of a tent that make it better to live in. It is not just the quantitative dimensions of the product, but the quality of the experience that those dimensions offer.


From our hands-on testing, we learned that the MountainSmith Morrison 2 and The North Face Stormbreak 2 are the most comfortable in the fleet. Both offer two large side doors and generous headroom. The included gear lofts are also a nice touch that increases these models' livability. The REI Passage 2 and Marmot Catalyst 2 also offer exceptional comfort, though we found that they don't quite make the same use of their dimensions as the top scorers.

The large door and generous peak height are a couple of the primary features that make the Passage 1 so comfortable.
The large door and generous peak height are a couple of the primary features that make the Passage 1 so comfortable.

We found in general that models with single doors (and single vestibules), either at the head or just one side make for a more challenging entry/exit. The Big Agnes C Bar is very tight around shoulder height, and the Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight 2 really had our taller testers ducking down just to sit up.

Choosing a smaller 2P for solo trips may make more sense for some than opting for a 1-person. Pictured here is the C Bar 2  from Big Agnes.
Choosing a smaller 2P for solo trips may make more sense for some than opting for a 1-person. Pictured here is the C Bar 2, from Big Agnes.

We also took a look at a couple of 1-person tents to see if there was even greater value to be had from this thrift-focused category. The REI Co-Op Passage 1 does the best job maintaining the comfort features of its larger sibling, primarily the excellent peak height. On the other side of the equation, a budget tent model like the The North Face Stormbreak 1, slashes some of the things we liked most about its award-winning 2P version, namely, 9 whole inches off of its own peak height — a difference that is extremely noticeable and much less comfortable.

The Stormbreak 2 is meant for relaxing.
The Stormbreak 2 is meant for relaxing.

Ease of Setup


We like tents that are easy to set up. Here we mean that in terms of the amount of time it takes and how intuitive it is to pitch a tent. From grommets to clips, snaps, hooks, and velcro, we look at all of the ways that a tent comes together and how easy it is to pitch it. Predictably, tents with fewer poles and a symmetrical set up tend to go up faster.


The variation between models is slight, but it could mean the difference between a no-hassle set up at the end of a long day, and not quite beating out the late afternoon storm clouds.

We like tents that can be pitched easily by just one person. Pictured here is the Passage 1.
We like tents that can be pitched easily by just one person. Pictured here is the Passage 1.

Though most freestanding tents follow the same basic sequence, some offer slight advantages. We found that the The North Face Stormbreak 2 and REI Passage 2 are the easiest to pitch. The former has a structure made of a basic X-pole design plus two cross poles that expand headroom; the latter just has a basic X-pole design. Close behind are the REI Camp Dome 2, Big Agnes C Bar 2, and Eureka Suma 2. They are each also reasonably straightforward but take just a little more time to pitch.

The pole design of the Stormbreak 1 is as basic as it gets for a freestanding tent.
The pole design of the Stormbreak 1 is as basic as it gets for a freestanding tent.

For example, the fly on the REI Camp Dome 2 has a set of bulky grommets (as opposed to clips) that need to attach to the end of the poles in the same way the body of the tent does, which just makes for a slightly clunkier experience. Tents in the bottom half of this metric were trickier because the fly geometry is difficult to tension correctly or they have a unique setup (as is the case with the Slumberjack Nightfall 2), or both (as with the Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight 2).

Most tents have a color-coded corner to signal how the tent and fly should be oriented. Budget tents usually combine grommets to attach the poles to the tent and either another set of grommets or clips to connect the fly to the tent. Pictured here is the Catalyst 2.
Most tents have a color-coded corner to signal how the tent and fly should be oriented. Budget tents usually combine grommets to attach the poles to the tent and either another set of grommets or clips to connect the fly to the tent. Pictured here is the Catalyst 2.

Weather Resistance


Included here are the obvious factors of precipitation and wind. For all of the creature comforts that a tent can offer, they aren't worth much if you end up soaking wet, or wake up tangled in a collapsed canopy. Another, maybe less obvious consideration is interior ventilation and a tent's ability to release condensation.


When you sleep in a waterproof tent, that also means that the moisture in the air and the moisture in your breath can't escape as easily and often condense on the underside of your rain fly. Though there are ways to mitigate this by paying attention to campsite selection , tent and fly design can also play an important role.

The broad  low-pitching vestibule of the Passage 1 offers excellent protection from the elements.
The broad, low-pitching vestibule of the Passage 1 offers excellent protection from the elements.

Offering equally solid weather resistance are the Slumberjack Nightfall 2, and the REI Passage 2. Both have flies that tension nicely and offer ample space between the fly and tent body to avoid moisture from transferring from one to the other. In the middle, we have tents like the The North Face Stormbreak 2 and Big Agnes C Bar 2 which do an admirable job as well but we experienced just a little more moisture in the inside of our tents, either because it got in from the outside, or we couldn't vent it as effectively.

The Nightfall 2 really lets you set up shop and hunker down.
The Nightfall 2 really lets you set up shop and hunker down.

The tents in the bottom half of the metric either continue to suffer from issues with fly tension, as is the case with the Mountainsmith Morrison 2 and the Marmot Catalyst 2. A couple of models, like the Eureka Suma 2 and Kelty Late Start have a unique issue in that once we are satisfied with the fly tension, the two primary poles are squished together in an odd way that makes the tent canopy sag.

We prefer tents that come with a variety of vestibule configurations that can help strike the right balance between weather protection and ventilation. Pictured here is the Stormbreak 2.
We prefer tents that come with a variety of vestibule configurations that can help strike the right balance between weather protection and ventilation. Pictured here is the Stormbreak 2.

Durability


We test each tent thoroughly and use our experience and knowledge of materials and design to assess how we think models will hold up over time. We look at floors, canopies, poles, clips, zips, stakes, hubs, and toggles. Budget tents are not the same as cheaply made tents, but we want to be sure to differentiate between models that are worth the investment and those that have parts that might fail on trail.


Taking top honors for durability are the REI Passage 2 and The North Face Stormbreak 2. They both stayed steady in inclement weather, which helps to reduce overall wear and tear (as opposed to a model that is constantly being whipped by the wind).

The clips and other hardware on this tent are not premium parts but they are still solid. Pictured here is the Passage 2.
The clips and other hardware on this tent are not premium parts but they are still solid. Pictured here is the Passage 2.

The clips, grommets, seals, and materials all seem solid as well. The middle group in the metric is also pretty solid, but there are a couple of minor concerns that we have. For example, when we took down the Slumberjack Nightfall 2, the 'foot' of the pole would pull out from the rest of the pole body. This happened multiple times on different poles. Toward the bottom are budget tents that we have broader concerns about; for example, when taking down the Eureka Suma 2, without applying a lot of force, we inadvertently tore the stitching that secures the vent kickstand to the fly. It not only rendered the kickstand useless, but it also meant rain could find its way in from the top of the tent.


In the 1-person runoff, the simpler two-pole design of the REI Passage 1 can be a liability. It has less rigidity than the lower-profile The North Face Stormbreak 1, and its greater peak height makes it more likely to get broadsided and damaged in the wind.

Weight and Packed Size


Weight and size are those lowkey important measurements. It doesn't matter how much a tent weighs when you are in it, but the reality is that you can spend as much (or more!) time with it on your back as you do inside of it, so this is an important consideration for us. Similarly, though budget tents, on the whole, tend to use bulkier fabrics than higher-end ones, it can still be important to reduce the amount of space that it takes up in your pack.


We like that the vestibule runs low to the ground for weather protection but a stiff breeze makes it flap quite a bit. The Flashlight 2 is one of the lightest tents in our budget category.
We like that the vestibule runs low to the ground for weather protection but a stiff breeze makes it flap quite a bit. The Flashlight 2 is one of the lightest tents in our budget category.

Just dipping below four pounds, the Big Agnes C Bar 2, and the Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight 2 are comparable to some of the tents in our backpacking tent review. They could go on longer adventures, especially if the weight is split between two people.

The C Bar 2 is close quarters on the inside  especially around shoulder height  right around where the mesh begins. However  it's also one of the lightest options in our budget category.
The C Bar 2 is close quarters on the inside, especially around shoulder height, right around where the mesh begins. However, it's also one of the lightest options in our budget category.

Most models are in the four to five and a half pound range, including the Eureka Suma 2, Kelty Late Start 2, Marmot Catalyst 2, REI Passage 2, and Mountainsmith Morrison 2. On the heftier end of the spectrum are those like the The North Face Stormbreak 2 and the Slumberjack Nightfall 2 that push six pounds and take up quite a bit of space in a backpack.


Unsurprisingly, lighter contenders, like the Big Agnes C Bar 2 and Eureka Suma 2 tend to take up less space. Heavier models, like the ones mentioned above, in addition to the REI Camp Dome 2, are also volume hogs.

The Passage 2 (middle) beside the Big Agnes C Bar and Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight.
The Passage 2 (middle) beside the Big Agnes C Bar and Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight.

Our 1P contenders, like the REI Co-Op Passage 1 and The North Face Stormbreak 1 are both sub-four pound models, so if traveling lighter on a budget is a top priority, and going solo is your preferred method, then you may want to consider downsizing as well.

Conclusion


Just because a tent is inexpensive doesn't mean you have to compromise performance on the things that are most important to you. Though these tents are often heavier than their more expensive counterparts, there are a couple of exceptions. By and large, that added weight comes with extra room, which can be sorely needed after a day of hiking. In any case, we hope that this review illustrates that there are excellent inexpensive options out there and offers you the information you need to make a more informed decision about what to look for when buying a budget backpacking tent.


Ben Applebaum-Bauch