We researched over 40 models of budget-minded backpacking tents and picked the 10 best of 2019 to test on trail. Through rain, shine and the muck that comes with an early spring thaw in the mountains, we pitched these tents and caught some Zs. We then scored each model on the most important metrics: comfort, ease of setup, weather resistance, durability, size, and weight. The natural world should be more accessible to more people more often. If you are a thrifty outdoor enthusiast (or aspire to be one!), this review will help you find a quality tent that doesn't break the bank.
The Best Budget Backpacking Tents of 2019
|Price||$159.00 at REI||$118.99 at REI|
Compare at 4 sellers
|$149.89 at REI|
Compare at 2 sellers
|$169.00 at REI|
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|$149.96 at Backcountry|
Compare at 3 sellers
|Pros||Two side doors, easy to pitch, large trapezoidal vestibules||Headroom, large tent doors, ventilation||Lightweight, easy to pitch||Roomy, two doors, included footprint||Easy to set-up, lots of features, roomy|
|Cons||Doors can be annoying, heavy||Heavy, unsteady in high wind, cheap stakes||Small interior, single door and vestibule||Smaller vestibules, small pockets, no top vents||Heavy, flappy vestibules|
|Bottom Line||This basic tent is easy to set up and provides comfortable nights of camping on a budget.||This spacious tent makes the most of its dimensions and offers plenty of features that will have you camping in comfort.||A budget tent for those who want to minimize weight and don't mind sacrificing a fair bit of comfort.||A comfortable camping tent that serves well in both the front and backcountry.||This tent includes a great feature set and a spacious interior to create a model worthy of car camping luxury.|
|Rating Categories||Passage 2||Stormbreak 2||Big Agnes C Bar 2||Marmot Catalyst 2||Morrison Evo 2|
|Weather Resistance (20%)|
|Ease Of Set Up (10%)|
|Packed Size (10%)|
|Specs||Passage 2||Stormbreak 2||Big Agnes C Bar 2||Marmot Catalyst 2||Morrison Evo 2|
|Measured Packaged Weight (pounds)||5.29||5.89||3.96||5.19||5.47|
|Floor Area (Sq ft)||33.75||30.5||28||32.5||36|
|Packed Size (inches)||7 x 22||7 x 22||6 x 19||7 x 21||8 x 17|
Best Overall Budget Backpacking Tent
REI Co-op Passage 2
The REI Passage 2 is ideal for the car camper that occasionally takes a weekend backpacking trip. Its straightforward, classic 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 side wall 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 the fly opening. This budget tent also comes with budget stakes — the kind that bend relatively easily. 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 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 tent 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 tent is that you can't pitch the tent without the fly, so if stargazing is your primary objective, this isn't for you. This single door model can also be difficult to get in and out of if you have a partner with you. 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
The REI Camp Dome 2 is truly a budget camper's dream. 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
The North Face Storm Break 2 is one of our favorite budget tents and wins an award for its headroom and comfort, as it combines 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 is by no means lightweight. Toting almost six pounds worth of tent is big weight commitment. However, if you're not hiking that far, or just are glad to trade a little more weight for 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 our Top Pick for the frugal backpacker who still wants to travel light. Coming in at right at four pounds, the Big Agnes C Bar won't weigh you down. We were also pleasantly surprised by its weather resistance.
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 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
Why You Should Trust Us
Our expert panel spends a lot of nights on trail and we know the value of a good budget tent. Our lead reviewer, Ben Applebaum-Bauch has been camping for 25 years. Spending his first nights under the stars in a classic Eureka A-frame, his knowledge of budget Zzzs has only increased from there. He got his professional start in the outdoor industry purchasing and maintaining gear, 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 5 dozen different tent models, he knows how to spot a high-value budget tent.
We test our budget tents much the same way that we test the models in our backpacking tent review. We start by researching what is 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, and weight/packed size.
Related Article: How We Test
Analysis and Test Results
We have divided up our assessment of each budget tent into five rating metrics: comfort, ease of setup, weather resistance, durability, and weight and packed size. Below, we define each one and share our favorites in each metric according to how the tents scored in our testing. One important note is that our metrics are 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 review is all about finding value. However, even amongst the group there are a few standouts that represent exceptional value. Value is not just about price point though. It's not a metric that goes to to the overall score of a product but we recognize that it is an important part of most purchasing decisions. 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.
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.
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 these models don't quite make the same use of their dimensions as the top scorers. We found in general that models with single doors (and single vestibules), either at the head or just one side made 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.
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.
Though most freestanding tents follow the same basic setup 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 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 fairly straightforward but take just a little more time to pitch. 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 set up. Tents in the bottom half of this metric were trickier because the fly geometry is more difficult to tension correctly or have a unique setup (as is the case with the Slumberjack Nightfall 2, or both (as with the Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight 2).
We include the obvious factors of precipitation and wind. Assessing how well each model stands up to storms and gusts. Another, maybe less obvious consideration is interior ventilation. 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.
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 the former to the latter. 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 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 had a unique issue in that once we were satisfied with the fly tension, we realized that the two X-poles had been squished together in an odd way.
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.
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, grommets, seals, and materials all seem solid as well. The middle group in the metric was mostly solid as well but there are one or two 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 tents that we have larger 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.
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.
Just dipping below four pounds, the Big Agnes C Bar 2, 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. On the other end of the spectrum are the models like the The North Face Stormbreak2 and the Slumberjack Nightfall 2 that push six pounds and take up quite a bit of space in a backpack.
Some Additional Thoughts
Budget tents save you money and don't necessarily require a loss in comfort and performance. While most budget tents are relatively heavy compared to their more expensive counterparts, they are also generally spacious with tall ceiling heights and generous floor areas. With that in mind, there are often still tradeoffs that might actually have a more obvious answer than you think, depending on how you plan to use your tent.
Is a Budget Backpacking Tent Best for You?
We recommend budget tents for three main users:
1) Just getting into backpacking and not ready to commit to more expensive gear
2) Car or backyard campers that want the flexibility to backpack occasionally
3) People who don't backpack too deep into the backcountry and don't mind a slightly heavier tent
Budget backpacking tents usually come with heavier, lower quality poles, stakes, and guylines. Stakes and guylines are a cheap and easy upgrade, like MSR Quality Stakes. Quality cord for tensioning the fly is strong, light and reflective and can be bought for a decent price. Upgrading tent poles is not as easy. That said if you're not camping in high winds, and properly stake out the tent and guy lines, even less durable poles can last for years.
If you just car camp or backyard camp, a camping tent may be a better option. Camping tents offer much more space, usually for less money than even budget backpacking tents. Backpacking tents usually will only accommodate backpacking sleeping pads, not deluxe pads like a favorite Exped MegaMat.
Polyurethane (PU) coatings vs. SilNylon
Most budget tents use PU coated polyester. This is an affordable way to make a waterproof rain fly. However, over time, the PU coating breaks down (by exposure to light and moisture). SilNylon is nylon that has been coated or impregnated with silicone, which turns out to be a much more durable and lightweight treatment method. Because most budget tents use PU coating, it's important to store the tents property and not expose them to more sun and weather than is necessary.
Sizing Your Tent
A tent that is marketed as a two-person tent generally fits two grown adults with not a lot of extra room to spare. The inside of the tent itself mostly does not include space for your pack, which needs to go outside under the vestibule. If you want extra space for gear or just a little separation from your tent mate, consider a three-person tent. In general, three-person tents will be about 10-20 percent heavier, and slightly more expensive but most importantly are wider than 2Ps.
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