In the market for a new budget backpacking tent? Over three years, we've researched 40+ different models. For 2020, we've purchased 13 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 Zs, played a few games of cards, and got closer with friends in close quarters. If you're a thrifty camping enthusiast looking to save a buck without compromising quality, you've got to check out this review.Related: Best Backpacking Tent of 2020
Best Budget Backpacking Tent of 2020
|Price||$139.00 at REI||$159 List||$158.95 at Backcountry||$200 List||$199.95 at Backcountry|
|Pros||Lots of headroom, large vestibule, easy to pitch||Two side doors, easy to pitch, large vestibules||Headroom, large tent doors, ventilation||Lightweight, easy to pitch||Easy to set-up, lots of features, roomy|
|Cons||Poles pinch together under fly tension||Heavy, not so stable in high wind||Heavy, unsteady in high wind, cheap stakes||Small interior, single door and vestibule||Heavy, flappy vestibules|
|Bottom Line||This tent carries over its best features to the 1P version||A straightforward tent with good comfort features||This tent offers a lot of headroom, comfort, and ventilation||This tent is cramped quarters for two people but will keep your load light if you are on a budget||This workhorse of a tent is ideal for weekend backpackers, campers, and paddlers|
|Rating Categories||REI Co-op Passage 1||REI Co-op Passage 2||The North Face Stormbreak 2||Big Agnes C Bar 2||Mountainsmith Morrison Evo 2|
|Weather Resistance (20%)|
|Ease Of Set Up (10%)|
|Packed Size (10%)|
|Specs||REI Co-op Passage 1||REI Co-op Passage 2||The North Face...||Big Agnes C Bar 2||Mountainsmith...|
|Measured Packaged Weight||4.21 lbs||5.23 lbs||5.89 lbs||3.96 lbs||5.47 lbs|
|Floor Area||20 sq ft||31 sq ft||30.5 sq ft||28 sq ft||36 sq ft|
|Packed Size||7.5 x 17 in||18 x 8 in||7 x 22 in||6 x 19 in||8 x 17 in|
|Dimensions||88 x 36 in||88 x 52 in||87 x 50 x 43 in||86 x (52 x 42) x 41 in||92 × 56 × 43 in|
|Vestibule Area (Total, Sq Ft)||9.5||19||19||7||19|
|Peak Height||40 in||40 in||43 in||41 in||45 in|
|Number of Doors||1||2||2||1||2|
|Number of Poles||2||2||4||2||2|
|Pole Diameter||8.5 mm||8.5 mm||Not provided||Not provided||Not provided|
|Number of Pockets||1||2||4||3||4 + gear loft|
|Pole Material||Aluminum||Aluminum||Aluminum||DAC pressfit aluminum||7000 Series Aluminum Alloy|
|Rain Fly Material||Polyester||Polyester||68D lightweight polyester taffeta, 1200 mm PU||Polyester taffeta||68D polyester|
|Inner Tent Material||Polyester||Polyester||68D polyester taffeta, 1500 mm PU coating||Polyester & mesh||68D polyester|
|Type||Freestanding||Freestanding||Two door, freestanding||Freestanding||Freestanding|
Best Overall Budget Backpacking Tent
REI Co-op Passage 2
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. Its two large side doors make it easy to use with two people. It comes with a mesh canopy for stargazing but also higher sidewall fabric for privacy.
We don't have a whole lot to complain about with this tent. It could use another large storage pocket to really up the livability. We also think that the fly stability in high wind could be improved if it went from a triangle geometry to a trapezoid (with two stakes instead of one). 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
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 in foul weather. It offers some of the best protection from the elements 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 primary drawback of this model is that it has to be pitched with the fly, so if stargazing is high on your priority list, this model 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 this tent is worth a strong look.
Read review: Slumberjack Nightfall 2
Best Use of Space and Headroom
The North Face Stormbreak 2
The North Face Storm Break 2 is one of our favorite budget tents for its combination of solid comfort and smart design. It has excellent headroom, and if you are taking it car camping or on a quick overnight, 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
This tent is for the frugal backpacker who still wants to travel light. Coming in at just below 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.
On the downside, the weight savings come with a 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 limits the shoulder room. However, if you are about covering miles more than living in your tent, this lightweight budget beauty is right up your alley.
Read review: Big Agnes C Bar 2
Best for Stability and Durability
MSR Elixir 2
The MSR Elixir 2 is a top choice for its durable construction and stability in poor weather. It has two side doors which are easy to open with one hand (nice when you are in your sleeping bag). The unique pole structure makes for a sturdy shelter, and the hearty 70D floor fabric and included footprint will resist abrasion from sandy soil. We love the two trapezoidal vestibules that are both spacious and effective for gear storage and protection.
What we miss in this tent is an accumulation of the small things. It has a short total length, meaning it isn't great for tall sleepers. The downside of the pole structure is that it is also slightly more gangly for one person to pitch. There is also significant full fabric paneling over the canopy, which minimizes stargazing potential. Even so, if you need a budget backpacking tent that will stand up to the elements, we would pick this one over any other.
Read review: MSR Elixir 2
Best 1-Person Option
REI Co-op Passage 1
The REI Co-Op Passage 1 is a top option 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 lofty 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, 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 campsite selection and positioning require a little extra attention. All in all though, for weekend trips for one, the price is right, and the experience is comfortable.
Read review: REI Co-Op Passage 1
Best 3-Person Option
REI Co-op Passage 3
The REI Co-Op Passage 3 earns a spot at the top as the best 3-person budget tent. Like its award-winning siblings, it is super easy to set up. It comes with just two poles that cross in the middle. The peak height accommodates even tall campers, and the included footprint keeps the already durable tent floor even more protected from rocks and roots. The roomy dual vestibules also provide enough space for the packs and boots of all three sleepers.
We still love this tent, but we also aren't sure that it is quite as extraordinary in a 3-person version. Its length is sufficient, but not ultra-roomy like we would expect. It also doesn't have an easily accessible storage pocket for the third person. There are more minor details, too, like a set of stakes that bend like paper clips. Despite these flaws, we still think that for paddling or car camping on the weekend, this value-packed 3P is your best bet.
Read review: REI Co-Op Passage 3
Why You Should Trust Us
Our experts have spent many nights on trail, so they know the value of a good budget backpacking tent. What's even more, they pride themselves on finding a good deal. 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 himself, leading multi-week backpacking, cycling, and canoeing trips throughout northern New England and maritime Canada. 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 with dozens of different tents, he knows how to spot a high-value budget buy.
We test our budget tents much the same way that we do our regular backpacking tents. We start by researching top models on the market and sift through dozens of options to select the most promising for hands-on testing. Then we take them to the trail. We assess each one based on a handful of metrics: comfort, ease of set up, weather resistance, durability, weight, and packed size.
Analysis and Test Results
We use a handful of metrics to assess each budget tent. Below, we define each one and highlight top performers. One important note is that each metric is weighted. 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.
This particular category is all about finding value. However, even amongst the group, there are a few standouts. It doesn't contribute to a product's overall score, but it can still be a make-or-break factor in a purchasing decision. When we talk about value in this review, we are actually 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 and The North Face Stormbreak 2 offer more than what you pay for.
There are a lot of different things that we consider when we assess comfort. This metric is about the amount of space you have to sleep (especially when there is another person in the tent); it is the availability of headroom available to sit up and eat; it is the amount and accessibility of storage space, the ease with which you can 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 also offers exceptional comfort. The North Face Eco Trail 2 is somewhat of a surprise in that its listed dimensions actually don't do it justice when it comes to the experience of sleeping in it. Though it lacks substantial storage pockets, the interior volume is more substantial than we would have expected.
In general, we found that models with single doors and single vestibules, either at the head or just on one side, make for a more challenging entry and exit. These types of doors usually mean that you have to negotiate your way around the other person to get out. The single door 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.
We also took a look at a couple of 1-person tents to see if there was even greater value to be had in 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 North Face Stormbreak 1 slashes some of the things we liked most about its award-winning 2P version, namely, nine whole inches off of its own peak height — a difference that is noticeable and much less comfortable.
Ease of Set-up
We like tents that are easy to set up. Here we mean 'ease' 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. Predictably, tents with fewer poles and an asymmetrical set up (where the pole and fly orientations don't matter) 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.
Though most freestanding tents follow the same basic sequence, some offer slight advantages. We found that 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 Big Agnes C Bar 2 and Eureka Suma 2. They are each also reasonably straightforward but take just a little more time to pitch.
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). There are a couple of models, like The North Face Eco Trail 2 that look simple for one person to pitch but prove to be slightly more challenging. In the case of the Eco Trail, it is because of its unwieldy pole structure.
Included in weather resistance are performance in 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 MSR Elixir 2 provides some of the best weather resistance in this budget category. Its eight stake points anchor it firmly to the ground, and pre-attached guy cord (and enough included stakes!) add even more stability. 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 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 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. 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 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, so we want to be sure to differentiate between models that are worth the investment and those that have parts that are more likely to fail on trail.
Taking top honors for durability is the MSR Elixir 2. It comes with a durable floor, included footprint, sturdy pole structure, trapezoidal vestibules, and (at least) eight stake points. Following behind are the REI Passage 2 and The North Face Stormbreak 2. They both remained sturdy allies in inclement weather, which reduces overall wear and tear (as opposed to a model that is constantly being whipped by the wind). 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 head-to-head, the simpler two-pole design of the REI Passage 1 proves to 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 (but it is always worth considering for your particular situation the tradeoff between slightly decreased weather resistance and increased comfort).
Weight and Packed Size
Weight and packed size are measurements that don't really matter at all once you are using the tent. However, 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 like high-denier polyester, it can still be essential to reduce the amount of space that it takes up in your pack.
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.
Most models are in the four to five and a half pound range, including the Eureka Suma 2, Kelty Late Start 2, REI Passage 2, and Mountainsmith Morrison 2. On the heftier end of the spectrum are those like The North Face Stormbreak 2, Slumberjack Nightfall 2, and The North Face Eco Trail 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 are also volume hogs.
Our one person contenders, like the REI Co-Op Passage 1 and The North Face Stormbreak 1, are both sub-four pound model. 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.
You don't have to compromise performance on the things that are most important to you to find a tent that won't break the bank. Though these models are often heavier than their more expensive counterparts, there are a handful of benefits as well. By and large, the added weight comes with extra room, which can be sorely needed after a day of hiking. You may also find additional features and increased fabric durability with many of these models. 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 when buying a budget backpacking tent. Happy trails!
— Ben Applebaum-Bauch