Looking for the best backpacking for the money? While experienced backpackers feel spending a bit more on a top performing backpacking tent is worth it, and in general, we agree, that rule doesn't apply to everyone. For those who just backpack occasionally or only backpack shorter trails, one of the less expensive tents can be just the ticket. We surveyed over 50 tent options and present our top value recommendations. If you go the ultralight route, some of the lightest tent shelters are also some of the least expensive. We can help you find a quality tent that meets your budget. Below is our list of favorite budget tents, ranked in order, along with advice to help you find the one that is right for you.
The Best Backpacking Tents under $200
The Half Dome 2 Plus and it's retired sibling the Half Dome 2 has won more awards than any other tent we've tested (and we've tested hundreds of tents!). It combines comfort with high-quality materials. It's one of the most durable tents we have seen a single tent survive more than five seasons of heavy use on guided trips.
Many entry-level backpackers find the Half Dome light and it is lighter than a hefty camping tent. It's not that light by modern standards where a tent can weigh less than two pounds (see some options below). However, if you're not hiking that far, or just are glad to trade a little more weight for comfort, the Half Dome can't be beat. It may deliver a better experience than more expensive and lighter tents that are often more cramped and tricky to set up. The Half Dome is only available through REI. Keep in mind, that REI members get 10 percent back on their purchase and will get $20 back. It's one of our more expensive budget tents, but we think every dollar is worth it.
Read Review: REI Half Dome 2 Plus
This is our top recommendation for the frugal backpacker who travels light but still wants a tent floor and protection from bugs. The Flashlight 2 is one of the few sub four-pound tents under $200. Most other free-standing sub 4-pound tents cost $400 or more. Also, it has excellent headroom and ventilation, making it one of the more comfortable budget tents tested.
Some of the accessories, like the tent stakes, are not our favorite. However, these are easily upgraded (we recommend Kungix Tent Stakes which are 10 for $10. The Beta Light and Grace Tarp below are lighter. However, they don't have a floor, bug netting, and require trekking poles to set up and usually a large flat area with extra rocks or soil that is easy to stake. If you don't want to commit to the truly ultralight experience and the compromises in comfort that entails, the Flashlight 2 is the best bet for combining lightweight, comfort and budget.
Read Review: Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight 2
If you have the ultralight bug and are on a budget, the value of the Beta Light is hard to beat. The only tent that scored higher in our Ultralight Tent Review costs $500. At less than 1.5 pounds, it's drastically lighter than almost every tent in this list. It's also very roomy and comfortable.
As with many truly ultralight tents, there are compromises for shaving pounds. There is no floor, so you need to bring a ground-cover and even then, in a heavy rain, you may get wet along the edges. There is no bug netting. You need trekking poles and a large flat area with plenty or rocks or good soil for stakes. But if you are an ultralight backpacker, you are okay with all those compromises. And overall, there is no better lighter tent for the money.
Read Review: Black Diamond Beta Light
This tent usually has a street price of under $140, making it a screaming deal. It has similar dimensions and weight to the Half Dome 2, but can be half the price. It's heavier weight comes from comfortable features like two doors with mesh and nylon panels (most tents choose either mesh or nylon to save weight). The doors almost complete zip off, making it easy to ventilate and get the "indoor/outdoor" living experience. This is one of the easiest tents to set up with just two color-coded poles.
At 5.5 lbs, it's one of the heavier backpacking tents. It also doesn't vent quite as well as competing tents. The pocket and door designs are set up for if you sleep head to toe with your tent mate — which is not ideal. But other than those small downsides, this is one of the best values out there.
Read Review: Mountainsmith Morrison 2
The Passage 2 is ideal for the person that mainly car camps but wants to occasionally backpack. We have never set up a tent faster. The design is spacious and comfortable. It's the ideal tent for bridging the gap between backyard excursions to your first backpacking trips.
Compared the Half Dome 2, the Passage uses much less sturdy poles. We would not recommend this tent in high winds - stick to camping in more sheltered locations. The stakes are also not that great. For more dedicated backpackers, we would go with the Half Dome 2. But if you want a tent that is roomy, pitches fast, and saves you $40+ over the Half Dome 2, the Passage is a good bet.
Read Review: REI Passage 2
The Stormbreak has the some of the most headroom of any tent tested. The extra side poles give it a spacious feel that most traditional dome tents lack. The large doors and mesh panels provide great ventilation and access.
Like many budget tents, the poles are not the most sturdy. The stakes are also pretty flimsy (although a cheap upgrade is available). This is not the lightest tent and we recommend it more for shorter backpacking trips or car camping. Overall, this is one of the vertically roomier tents available and comes with an easy to swallow price.
Read Review: The North Face Stormbreak 2
At only 15oz (with options to make it lighter), this is the lightest shelter under $200 we have tested. It can also double as a sun shade when not camping. Two people can comfortably sleep under it. The setup is about as simple as it gets.
Note that we call this a shelter — not a tent. It's open on two sides, does not have a floor or bug netting. It will keep you dry in all but windiest rain storms. However, it won't keep out the bugs or retain much body heat. It can be fast to set up, or take a while depending on how easy the ground is to stake and the availability of rocks to use as anchors. For the ultralight backpacker on a budget, it's hard to find a lighter option for your dollar.
Read Review: Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Tarp Duo
The Catalyst is one of the more user-friendly tents tested. It's easy to set up and ideal for backpackers who dread rolling into camp late and struggling to set up a tent by headlamp. At over five pounds, it's on the heavier side. However, that weight goes into a durable design that should last for years. The weight also goes into a generous vestibule area, ideal for organizing gear when a storm rolls in. This tent is ideal for people who usually car camp and want space and durability but also want to occasionally go on short backpacking trips.
Read Review: Marmot Catalyst 2
This has the least expensive street price for a tent under five pounds. While the manufacturer lists a retail price of $219, it's usually available for under $110. For that price, you get a capable backpacking tent with two big doors and great ventilation. At 7'4" long, it gives plenty of room, lengthwise, for taller people. If you buy the ground cloth, you can use a "fast fly" set up: just use the fly, poles, and ground cloth and leave the tent body behind. This knocks the weight down to a little over 3lbs.
Like most Alps tents, the poles, stakes and guy lines are not the highest quality. While the tent is long enough for the tallest user, it's pretty narrow at the feet (it's about the same dimensions as our Backpacking Tent Editors' Choice, the Big Agnes Copper Spur). It's over a pound heavier than the Copper Spur. That said, the Copper Spur is over four times the price, which sums up the value that this tent offers anyone who doesn't mind a little extra weight.
While the list price is $159, this tent is almost always sold for under $140, which makes it one of the least expensive backpacking tents you can buy. It's a pound heavier than its sibling, the Zephyr, listed above. That said, it has a lot more interior space and headroom.
This is not a light tent. It's ideal for car camping or very short backpacking trips. It's the heavier, not quite as high-quality version of our favorite budget backpacking tent, the Half Dome 2. It's also half the (street) price.
Read Review: Alps Mountaineering Lynx-2
Budget Backpacking Tent Buying Advice
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. Read on to see if a budget tent is right for you and which model best suits your camping style.
Is a budget backpacking tent right 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 backpacking now and again
3) People who don't backpack that far and who don't mind a slightly heavier tentBudget backpacking tents usually come with less durable and lower quality poles, stakes and guylines. Stakes and guylines are a cheap and easy upgrade. Quality Stakes cost $2-3. Quality cord for tensioning the fly that is strong, light and reflective cost less than $15. 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 and cheaper poles can last for years.
a camping tent may be a better option. Camping tents offer much more space, usually for less money than even more budget backpacking tents. Backpacking tents usually will only accommodate backpacking sleeping pads, not deluxe pads like our favorite Exped MegaMat.
Polyurethane (PU) coatings vs. SilNylon
Most budget tents use PU coated nylon. This is an affordable way to make nylon waterproof. However, over time, the PU coating breaks down. SilNylon is a nylon coated in Silicone which provides a much more durable and lightweight coating. 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 two-person tent generally barely fits two grown adults. This does not include space for extra gear or 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 more expensive. Before buying a tent, make sure your sleeping pad is not too wide. Some of the more luxurious sleeping pads are too wide to be put side by side in some of the smaller tents we tested.
Sizing Your Vestibule
A roomy vestibule makes organizing gear and preparing food in the rain much easier. It also adds weight. Finding the right balance depends on whether you are likely to encounter. If backpacking in rainy areas like the Pacific Northwest, we recommend seeking out a bigger vestibule. If camping in the Sierra Nevada, a large vestibule is less of a priority.
Free-standing or not?
Many of the less expensive and lighter tents or shelters are not free-standing. You need to tension the tent with 6-12 cords or guy lines and usually use an adjustable trekking pole or two (fixed-length trekking poles can be hard to use). This design saves weight but it can make setup much more time-consuming and tricky. Not all camping spots are suitable for that many guy lines, especially if the soil is either sandy or rocky (California's Sierra Nevada has the maddening combo of both). Finding enough larger rocks to use can be tricky and time-consuming. Also, it can be hard to pitch a non-free standing tent right next to a rock wall or boulder (because there is not enough space for the guy lines). Often putting a tent near a boulder might be an ideal spot for wind protection. In general, all but the most weight-obsessed campers will prefer a freestanding tent which is easier and faster to set up.Below, you can see how much more pitching space is needed for a shelter like the Grace Tarp Duo (right) compared to the Half Dome 2 (left).
Some free-standing tents, allow you to forgo the inner tent and just use the poles with the fly. This gives you weather protection for about half the weight. For example, with a five-pound tent, you might be able to get the weight down to 2.5 pounds or less and still stay protected from the elements, just not the bugs.
Budget tents don't require you compromise performance. On one end of the spectrum, ultralight shelters are simple and lightweight and can keep you dry for under a pound. On the other end of the spectrum, the roomier models may weigh more than five pounds, but they offer a lot of comfort and versatility. And five pounds may not be that much if you are not hiking that far. So just because you are saving money, doesn't mean you necessarily are compromising your backcountry experience.
— Chris McNamara