Our fastpacking, ultralight experts have tested over 25 of the best ultralight tents over the last 10 years. This 2021 update features 15 of the best options you can find on the market — under two pounds. We've tested across the globe, from Iceland to Europe, to Canada, and through Asia. They've been erected in storms, windy weather, icy conditions, and hot heat, just to decipher which are best in different conditions. After years of testing each with our diverse team in various scenarios, we provide you with our experiences to help take the guesswork out of what works and what doesn't, all with your budget in mind.Related: Best Backpacking Tent of 2021
Best Ultralight Tent of 2021
|Price||$600 List||$689 List||$735.00 at Hyperlite Mountain Gear||$220 List||$1,000 List|
Check Price at REI
|Pros||Amazingly light, four-sided weather protection, ample space for two, double doors||Great weather protection, lightweight, adaptable||DCF construction is lightweight and waterproof, super spacious, four season use||Affordable, durable materials, removable inner, double doors||Exceptional weather protection, very comfortable and livable, easy to set-up, adaptable, ability to modularize|
|Cons||Expensive, doesn’t include necessary stakes||Expensive||Requires lashing two poles together for setup, very expensive, no floor or bug protection built in||Heavy for ultralight, guy lines can be difficult to tighten||Extremely expensive, ripped after two uses, careful use is required, need to buy ground sheet, poor value|
|Bottom Line||Amazing weather and bug protection makes this one of the most popular thru-hiking options and our first choice||This is the comfortable shelter you want when waiting out a storm||A spacious, expensive, and high quality single-wall pyramid tent||Lightweight, affordable, comfortable, adaptable, and built to last||While the price is incredibly high, we appreciate its semi-freestanding superior performance in weather and on long hikes|
|Rating Categories||ZPacks Duplex Flex Upgrade||Tarptent StratoSpire Li||UltaMid 2||Durston X-Mid 1P||Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 Carbon|
|Weather Resistance (25%)|
|Ease Of Set Up (10%)|
|Specs||ZPacks Duplex Flex...||Tarptent...||UltaMid 2||Durston X-Mid 1P||Big Agnes Tiger...|
|Type||Single wall tent w/ sewn in bug mesh and floor||Double wall tent w/ removable floor and bug netting||Floorless pyramid||Twin pole structure w/ removable bug netting||Double wall semi- free standing tent w/ fly|
|Weight With All Components||1.80 lbs||1.60 lbs||2.32 lbs||1.90 lbs||1.70 lbs|
|Measured Weight of All Included Shelter Parts||Total: 1 lb, 5 oz Tent: 19.7 oz, Guy lines and clips: 1.2 oz, Stuff sack: .3 oz. (Flex upgrade: 11 oz)||Total: 1 lb, 10 oz, floor and bug net: 11.5 oz, fly: 14.1 oz||Mid: 1 lb, 7.7 oz (bug insert with floor = 22 oz, bug insert w/o floor = 13.4 oz)||Total: 1 lb, 14.5 oz, fly: 18 oz, inner: 9.5 oz, stakes: 2.5 oz, stuff sack: 0.5 oz, stake sack: 0.2 oz||Total: 1 lb, 11.50 oz, tent body: 9.30 oz, tent fly: 6.65 oz, stakes (9): 3.45 oz, stake bag: 0.05 oz, poles: 7.20 oz, pole bag: 0.15 oz, repair kit: 0.40 oz, tent bag: 0.25 oz|
|Poles Needed for Set-up?||Yes w/o flex kit
No w/ flex kit
|Yes||Yes, unless suspended from the peak||Yes||Yes|
|Capacity||2 person||2 person||2 person||1 person||2 person|
|Max Floor Dimensions||45" x 90 in||86" x 45 in||83" x 107 in||87" x 28 in||86" x 52 in|
|Peak Height||48 in||45 in||64 in||46 in||39 in|
|Fabric||.51 oz/sqyd DCF Fabric||Dyneema Composite Fabrics||DCF8 Dyneema Composite Fabrics||20 denier 420 thread-count 100-percent polyester||Dyneema Composite|
|Packed Size||7" x 13 in||16" x 4 in||8.5" x 6" x 5.5 in||12" x 5 in||6" x 17.5 in|
|Floor Area||28.13 sq ft||26.88 sq ft||63 sq ft||17 sq ft||27 sq ft|
|Number of Poles||4||2||2||2||2|
|One person version?||No||No||No||Yes||No|
Best Overall Single-Wall Ultralight Tent
ZPacks Duplex Flex Upgrade
The Zpacks Duplex Flex easily outperforms the competition with the lavish comforts of a full tent construction at a ridiculously light weight. Living in it affords the ability to sit up straight and actually be comfortable. It comes with two vestibules, which conveniently function as a cooking spot in blustery storms or a small gear storage. In windy or stormy conditions, it holds its shape, even on an exposed ridge or open field. With a built-in bug net and full-floor, summer nights will have you safe from bugs, while the Dyneema fabrics wick and shed water without any absorption, even after hours in a downpour. We've tested it while fast-packing in Canada, climbing in the desert, and hiking to high lakes in the mountains, and it's still going strong after five years. While the investment is a big one, it's worth the cost.
While there are many positives, this tent is not perfect. First, it needs to be put up with two poles, so if you don't use them, you'll want to check out the Flex (which costs more money). Second, set-up requires a tutorial and isn't very intuitive. Third, the light material is see-through at night, so make sure you're okay with that. Fourth, condensation can be a problem in humid places. Finally, it's expensive. While we think the performance is worth the cost, not all people may feel that way. What's for sure is if you want the best of the best and you're willing to throw down, this tent has everything you've ever wanted in an ultralight construction. It packs down small, is durable, and offers incredible protection in nasty weather.
Read review: Zpacks Duplex Flex Upgrade
Best Double Wall Semi-Freestanding Tent
Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 Carbon
The Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 Carbon is a superior double-wall semi-freestanding tent, complete with tent poles and modular elements. The Dyneema fabric is incredibly waterproof and will stand up in high winds and rain. The materials retain their shape, with the tent shedding any unwanted moisture and snow. Livability is complete with plenty of headroom. Modularization is a huge feature. If you want to just bring the tarp and set it up without the interior tent, you can make it even lighter and easy to pack. What's more, it's lighter than most ultralight tents and will pack into a small backpack, running pack, or event fanny pack (depending on what you bring).
While this shelter is stable and reliable in poor weather, it has some serious flaws. The construction (as Big Agnes points out on their website) is fragile, and the fabrics puncture and rip easily. This tent is ridiculously expensive and one that only a few people will see the value. The internal space and vestibule are decent for two smaller people and gear, but tall or wide folks may find it a bit tight. While many may not be able to or want to afford its high price tag, the uber-light design is unparalleled. It's best for those seeking a double-wall construction that can control condensation, with the need for a very packable, non-hiking pole-based construction.
Read review: Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 Carbon
Best for Solo Bargain Hunters
Durston X-Mid 1P
If you're looking for an affordable, high-quality, fully-featured, and adaptable shelter, look no further. The Durston X-Mid 1P is absolutely amazing. The minimalist design, premium materials, functionality, and comparatively low price make it one of our highest-rated ultralight shelters. At full deployment (with the fly and the inner together), the X-Mid is a double-wall shelter that weighs in at under two pounds, including stakes. We also love that you can strip it down to its bare essentials, removing the protective inner to create a floorless pyramid that still protects well in harsh weather thanks to walls that extend all the way to the ground.
Our favorite design feature of this tent, however, is that the removable inner can be detached and stowed in your pack while you are still inside the fly. Being able to keep your sleep system dry during a stretch of a few rainy days in a row is a huge morale boost. The same goes for set-up since the X-Mid pitches fly-first. We love the dual doors that give you the luxury of choosing your entry, as well as plenty of airflow if the forecast does not call for rainstorms. It's fast, it's light, it's durable — it's everything you need in a shelter and nothing you don't. Intuitive to use and adaptable to the seasons, we recommend this tent to anyone and everyone.
Read review: Durston X-Mid 1P
Excellent Value Floorless Pyramid Shelter
Black Diamond Beta Light
If you don't need bug netting, the Black Diamond Beta Light is a versatile shelter that won't completely unload your wallet. It's a classic "do everything well" pyramid shelter, with the ability to be pitched almost anywhere. It has plenty of room for two people, gear, and a dog, and is tall enough to sit up in comfortably. We love its adaptability, easily pitching off the ground for added airflow or right to the ground when wind and rain is a problem. For winter camping, it has added versatility. You can easily dig underneath it to make a kitchen. Best of all, it packs down into a stuff sack far smaller than any other in this review. If you're out with a smaller backpack and you want a reliable, but ultralight shelter, this is one to consider.
While it doesn't have built-in bug protection, Black Diamond sells a bug netting insert for those that want to extend its usage during the buggiest months. However, the bug netting is heavy (one pound, thirteen ounces) and expensive, which ends up negating some of the cost savings of this mid. The two interior trekking poles provide a stable design, especially in the wind, but they set up in the middle of the tent, rather than on the edges like most other trekking pole tents (which presents an issue if you like to cuddle your partner). This is best for those seeking a floorless pyramid tent with many applications across all seasons and environments.
Read review: Black Diamond Beta Light
Excellent Value Tarp
Kammok Kuhli UL
If you're ready to purchase an adaptable tarp system at a reasonable price, the Kammok Kuhli may be exactly what you're looking for. It's manufactured with a flat-face design with wings to provide more lateral room. It also has six pole-compatible high-quality grommets around the edge. You can build using this tarp in several configurations. With easy-to-use tensioners on each grommet, you can re-tension and loosen it with ease. We also appreciate that the 15D ripstop fabric is quite durable to abrasion. Based on the design you choose to set up with, this tarp can be used easily for three seasons through any kind of weather and fits two people comfortably.
Not as intuitive as a pole tent, it took a little time to figure out how to set it up with a set of ski poles. In abysmal weather, we appreciate that it doesn't make a whole lot of sound and is pretty stable; however, when set up in a flatter configuration where the walls aren't as steep, the fabric got saturated and stretched out. This means if a storm is going through the night, you'll need to re-tension it. It's also not recommended for snowy weather for this reason. For nicer weather that isn't the worst you can imagine, this tarp option is thin and easy to pitch wherever you explore.
Read review: Kammok Kuhli UL
Best Protective Tarp
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp
For true ultralight aficionados and die-hard thru-hikers, no form of shelter burdens you less than a tarp. While we only tested two stand-alone tarps in this year's review, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp is by far the most protective. The perfectly square design allows for endless adaptability when it comes to pitching options and locations. At only 10.9 ounces, including copious amounts of tie-out cordage, this tarp is the lightest shelter in this review. If you don't like carrying a lot of weight and you're willing to skimp on the comforts of a traditional fully covered shelter, this ultra-bomber and a durable tarp is our best recommendation.
That weight comes with a minor caveat in that you will likely want to bring along a ground cloth to sleep on, and depending on the season and weather, you may also need a bivy sack for added weather and bug protection in addition to extra stakes and cord. This ups the overall shelter system weight and cost a bit. Keep in mind that both the price and the weight are for the tarp without the trekking poles needed to set it up or the stakes required to keep it affixed to the ground, so you will have to figure in the money and weight attributed to both. Regardless, if you are in the market for a tarp and want the best one we have ever used, look no further than this excellent design.
Read review: Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp
Best Lightweight, Solo Option
Tarptent Aeon Li
The Tarptent Aeon Li is a single-layer three-season tent with bug-netting, tons of headroom, and a spacious vestibule — all weighing in under a pound! It fits one person, large or small, with ample sleeping space while preserving a narrow footprint thanks to its innovative strut system. Tripods of carbon-fiber struts on two corners of the tent plus an additional one on the back wall add stability, so when properly rigged, the Aeon is bombproof, even with its one pole set-up. Did we mention there's enough headroom for a seven-foot-tall person (or Sasquatch) to fully sit up? The whole strut system looks complicated, and we were scratching our heads at how this shelter could be one of the lightest and have additional features not seen on any other tent, but the Tarptent folks pull it off.
The Aeon is an expensive tent; the serious fast packer will get their money's worth if a three-season shelter is what they need, but the casual user will spend a lot on a tent that they may only use a few nights a year. For those who want the best lightweight tent for one, this gets the green light.
Read review: Tarptent Aeon Li
Notable for Weather Protection
Tarptent StratoSpire Li
The Tarptent StratoSpire Li is distinguished from the Zpacks Duplex by its two large vestibules, multiple ventilation points, and its zippers that have storm flaps. If you're stuck waiting out days of bad weather (like our unlucky testers), this is the tent you want to be stuck in, as the two vestibules provide ample space for dry storage and cooking. Being able to boil water for a cup of coffee and stay dry on a cold and rainy morning will be more than worth the extra ounces that come from the waterproof zippers and corner ventilation flaps. This ultralight tent features waterproof Dyneema that doesn't stretch or sag when it gets wet, plus a durable floor and bug net that's easily removable.
Like other tents and tarps made from Dyneema, the StratoSpire is expensive. This ultralight palace is costly; some will find that the weather protection, at such a low weight, makes it worth every penny. This tent requires two trekking poles and eight stakes (ultralight and included) for setting up, limiting where you can set up. If you don't like carrying trekking poles or are on a ski or river trip, Tarptent offers a pair of support poles for an additional cost.
Read review: Tarptent StratoSpire Li
Excellence, Spacious Living
Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2
We want to recognize the shelter that offers, by far, the most space of any option we tested, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2. This four-sided pyramid is fully enclosed in top-quality DCF material, ranking it right up there with the very best for weather protection. But even better, its tall, steep sidewalls and huge footprint mean that there is enough space for two people to sleep, plus a dog, gear, and then still some room left over for a kitchen or simply spreading out.
It does have a couple of notable downsides; the high cost for one and the fact that it's so tall that it needs a center pole longer than a single trekking pole. That said, if you want a very adaptable, super weather-resistant, fully enclosed shelter that will never have you lamenting the trade-off in space or comfort, then this is the ultralight tent for you.
Read review: Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2
Excellent Value Free-Standing Tent
Nemo Hornet 2P
The Nemo Hornet 2P is a highly recommended semi-freestanding pole tent with double-wall construction. If you're sick of condensation building on the interior fabrics, you'll be happy with this purchase. The double-wall construction features two doors and large vestibules with space for both gear storage and a small kitchen. For such a thin nylon exterior, we are surprised at its level of durability and protection during storms. It scores higher overall than its competitors for its super easy and intuitive set-up that can be pitched with one person in foul weather.
On the downside, it's a bit of a tight squeeze for two people. With two inflatable sleeping pads, there is some necessary overlap around the feet. Luckily gear can be kept outside in the spacious vestibules. While it does offer some stability in the wind, we don't appreciate how much the poles flex and bow in a heavy storm. When camping in windy Nevada, this kept us up at night with the tent poles bending and the fabric hitting us in the head! If you are seeking a versatile tent with good ventilation and all-around good performance, this is an excellent value option that you won't be disappointed in.
Read review: Nemo Hornet 2P
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is expertly tailored with a collaboration between Andy Wellman, Matt Bento, Amber King, and Chris Greer. Andy has spent countless days rambling through the backcountry in the Pacific Northwest, a region that puts ultralight shelters to the test like no other. Between torrential rains and swarms of insects, this is a perfect, unforgiving environment for our comparative testing. Matt is a Yosemite Search and Rescue veteran who knows the importance of going fast and light. While he isn't necessarily afraid of a heavy pack, he's willing to go to great lengths to carry as little as possible on backcountry adventures. Amber is an avid trail runner, fastpacker, backpacker, and explorer. She reviews gear part-time and currently runs outdoor programs with Treeline Education daily. She uses a tent almost every other week in her adventures. She has traveled throughout the world, going light and fast over high mountain passes, into low valleys, and across high desert terrain, ideally with a light load. Chris is a gear junkie who is constantly tinkering with his kit, making choices based on freedom of movement above all else. He is a thru-hiker, cyclist, and runner, logging thousands of miles on trails and roads over his lifetime. Endlessly curious and reflective, he is invigorated by the beauty, the challenges, and the rewards that come with traversing wild landscapes.
Our testing is objective and based on well-founded unbiased and hands-on research. After taking over 10 hours to research products online and read reviews, we select only the best potential ultralight tents. We even update four times a year! After purchasing and buying each, we take them out on adventures. We camp with our friends, set them up in our backyards (when travel isn't an option), and take them to a variety of climates around the world. These tents have seen backcountry overnight ski missions in the Northwest, bike tours in the desert, and backpacking adventures throughout the USA. We've taken them to Canada, Nepal, Iceland, and more while living out of each one. After festering in these tents for hours, we've been able to identify key differences and the best uses for each one.
Related: How We Tested Ultralight Shelters
Analysis and Test Results
We highlight ultralight tents that weigh under two pounds with a myriad of designs and options. From simple value tarps to expensive Dyneema fully enclosed designs, we aim to choose and compare the best options on the market. Across the board, we feel that livability, weight, weather resistance, adaptability, and ease of set-up are the most important factors to consider while camping, which all equates to reliability and mitigating risk in the backcountry. While some options don't score high, they certainly fulfill a certain niche. So while perusing first determine what features are most important to you, then search those metrics to find your answers to which you should buy.
In the world of ultralight gear, you get less material, costing you more money. New materials, like Dyneema, are being used in more tents, driving up the cost. While you might find yourself dropping a wad of cash on your next ultralight tent, some come at a higher value than others. Specifically, those that have better performance and a lower cost. To be frank, the lowest cost is ultimately buying a tarp and rolling it into your pack. However, that bulky item may not be as packable as you'd like. So, we have a few other recommendations.
The first on the list is the Durston X-Mid 1P (1.9 pounds), a very affordable double-wall pyramid shelter whose bug net is removable, optionally converting it into a floorless pyramid for weight savings and less bulk. The Nemo Hornet 2P (2.34 pounds), another double-wall tent that does a great job at managing moisture, offers good protection and packs down to a small size. The Black Diamond Beta Light (1.35 pounds, pyramid tent) and the BD Distance Adaptor (1.99 pounds, semi-freestanding) are both the least expensive. The Beta Light comes without a floor or bug net, while the Distance Adaptor is a fully enclosed option that sets up with trekking poles. If you want a super inexpensive option and looking to upgrade from a traditional tarp, the Kammock Kuhli (0.80 pounds) is an excellent option that packs small and fits into small spaces of your bag.
Related: Best Budget Backpacking Tent of 2021
The livability that your shelter offers is the main attribute that accounts for your happiness the most on the trail. We define livability as how comfortable it is to live in an ultralight tent: sleeping, sorting and storing gear, and waiting out storms. A few other attributes we consider to be important also include insect protection, condensation management, privacy, and whether a tent has a floor or not. We consider livability to be one of the most important considerations, because if it's not comfortable, it's not a worthwhile purchase. That said, you can skimp on livability to opt for the lightest or the most packable, but it's important to know what conveniences you're giving up.
The tents scoring highest here are those with large storage vestibules, good ventilation, and additional storage. Of the crowd, tarp tent options with thoughtful ventilation do well here. We also took to models that allow you to sit up while inside with enough lateral room that you're not pressed up against the fabric wall. Having enough breathing room is important not only for comfort but for keeping your sleeping bag and the rest of your gear as dry as possible too. A certain amount of wetness and discomfort is to be expected on trail, but the more you can mitigate it, the better.
Taking the cake is the Tarptent StratoSpire Li, which has all these attributes. This favorite offers four points for ventilation and two large vestibules with lots of storage. Like the Zpacks Duplex (which doesn't have the same space but offers many of the same features), it has built-in bug netting, making travel through insect-ridden areas a little easier.
We are also impressed by Tarptent's ultralight single-person Aeon Li, which offers a generously sized vestibule and enough headroom for hikers up to seven feet tall. (Imagine the gait of a seven-foot-tall hiker. This giant will break speed records). The Gossamer Gear The Two is also tall and wide, but not as tall as the Aeon. One of the stand-out features of the Gossamer Gear is the adjustable peak height, which can be made larger with a taller trekking pole.
Of the floorless pyramid shelters (or mid-shelters), it's not surprising that the BD Beta Light, and Hyperlight Mountain Gear UltaMid 2 and the Durston X-Mid 1P score well due to their considerable footprints that provide loads of space for gear, cooking, and hanging out. The floorless design offers excellent airflow, preventing condensation build-up. Of these models, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear does the best job of making conditions most liveable. It provides the most area for living and has ventilation in the ceiling. This is helpful if you find yourself in a storm and need to seriously button down the tent, ensuring it's entirely windproof. Condensation from sleeping at night will easily escape, whereas the Black Diamond Beta Light struggles with this. The Durston, however, offers protection from potential condensation issues in the form of its double-wall design, thanks to its removable inner.
While tarps offer great adaptability, living in one for an extended period can be cumbersome. If they aren't tarp tents (with a zip-up opening), you will always have at least one end open to the world without bug netting. That said, the condensation build-up isn't a problem. Set-up is vital here to make the tarp more liveable. In nice weather without insects, living under a tarp can be luxurious. It offers a tremendous amount of space to cook, sleep, play cards, write, read, or even play music.
However, when in storm mode, it usually needs to be set super low to the ground with all three sides pinned off in "dart" mode. This offers one big space for living but forces you to stay lying down. A larger tarp area with more guy line attachment points, like the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp, adds versatility to the set-up, allowing you to make more room underneath it for living even when it's storming. The Kammok Kuhli is a much higher value but doesn't offer the same living space.
When selecting products for this review, our selection criteria had one very important detail. All ultralight tents included are around or under two pounds. As such, all the products tested are light and packable. For each, we took the time to weigh each total product and its components. We also look at the packed size and how each fits inside a backpack. It's important to note that for any tent that requires trekking poles for set up, this weight is not factored in. So when determining how much you want to carry on the trail, be sure to add that to the total weight of all the components.
If you're searching for the lightest possible shelter, tarps are the lightest and most packable option you're going to find. Heralded by veteran thru-hikers, these tarps aren't just adaptable but fit flawlessly inside your pack. Of the three tested, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp is the lightest advertised shelter weighing only 0.64 pounds (no stakes or extra cord included).
The Kammok Kuhli is much less expensive and only weighs 0.84 pounds (four stakes included). The Ultimate Direction FK Tarp offers a fixed design and does not come with all eight stakes you need, weighing 0.80 pounds with a profile just a tiny bit smaller than the Kuhli Kammok UL. All tarps are a great option. The Ultimate direction design is a bit easier to set up than others and offers a bit more protection than square and catenary cut tarp set-ups.
While tarps certainly skimp on creature comforts like having a full enclosure and don't provide the best protection from the rain or bugs, there are also amazingly light single-walled full-enclosed tents. Of them, it's not surprising that solo options with less material are lightest. Those built with Dyneema offer the best lightweight protection. Of these, the Tarptent Aeon Li (1.09 pounds with stakes) and the Big Agnes Scout 1 Platinum (1.1 pounds) are at the top of the list. The Scout 1 Platinum uses less durable material than the Tarptent Aeon Li and has much less headroom. Both require you to carry two additional poles for set-up, which adds a little weight.
Of the two person tents, the Black Diamond Beta Light (1.35 pounds, stakes included) once again shines. The floorless pyramid design offers lightweight travel with a packed size just larger than a Nalgene bottle. If you want to add in bug netting, it'll cost you 13 ounces of weight. Plus, you need a set of poles to put this tent up.
If you want protection and lightweight performance, the Tarptent StratoSpire Li (1.60 pounds, stakes included), Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 Carbon (1.7 pounds, stakes, and poles included), and Zpacks Duplex (1.8 pounds, stakes, and poles included) are your best bet. The StratoSpire Li is the lightest but requires you to carry some additional poles. Plus, like the Zpacks Duplex, it doesn't pack down to a compact size as small as the Tiger Wall 2 Carbon. This tent has everything you need (including poles) at a super low weight. It also features the most protective vestibule and interior tent for all four seasons (as opposed to just bug netting).
The Zpacks Duplex, Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 Carbon, Nemo Hornet 2P, and Durston X-Mid 1P (2.34 pounds, includes poles and stakes) all have a double-wall construction. These can easily be modularized to carry only the body of the tent if you want to eliminate even more weight. Of them, the Tiger Wall 2 and the X-Mid are the most versatile. If you buy the Tiger Wall's footprint, you can take just that and the tarp to make for a super lightweight bivy with the poles and stakes. The Tiger Wall 2 Carbon is the most packable but also the least durable of the group. The X-Mid, on the other hand, presents itself as the most able to withstand heavy use.
So why don't you just cowboy camp without a shelter? Weather (and bugs), of course! As a standard, your shelter needs to protect well from rain and wind and the occasional light snowfall. While pyramid designs are versatile enough to bear the load of heavy snow, most of these shelters are for three season use, and typically lack the structure necessary to withstand the weight of a severe snowstorm. While we did get snowed on pretty heavily a couple of nights while testing these shelters in the Himalayas (with very mixed results) and the Colorado mountains, some ultralight shelters provide more protection than others.
After hours of testing, we've learned that tents that use Dyneema Composite Fibers (DCF), with a "tarp tent," or A-frame tarp design utilizing "beaks" or protective vestibules on each side offers the best protection from the elements. This material retains its shape when it's wet, so it doesn't stretch and need re-tensioning, even after hours of sitting through a storm.
The Tarptent StratoSpire Li, our favorite for Weather Protection crushed in this category, as it integrates all these characteristics and an exceptional livability score as well. Its large vestibules create a large area out of the rain, but not in your tent; this allows you to sit in the waterproof Dyneema tub-style tent and stay dry while you take off your wet shoes and rain jacket and leave them in the vestibule. The vestibules feature storm flaps secured in place with tiny magnets.
The Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 Carbon is another highly protective tent with zippered vestibule enclosures. This one stands out as the interior tent is a continuous fabric (not bug netting), which makes the interior tent weather-resistant as well (even without the vestibule). So it can be transformed from a double-wall construction into a single wall.
The Zpacks Duplex is another protective design but has smaller vestibules and a hook and loop closure instead of zippers, which doesn't protect as well from the wind as a full zipper enclosure. The structure, though, is ultrastable in high winds and one you can easily ride a storm out in.
The steep slopes of pyramid-style ultralight tents are also very effective at repelling the wind and rain, and the Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2, with its DCF fabric, also ranked right up there as the best. Just as stable in the wind but not quite as water-resistant with its SilNylon construction was the Black Diamond Beta Light, a two-poled pyramid design. While both offer adequate protection, the double-wall ultralight tents we tested struggle to handle a strong wind as well as the products above and need some serious guying out in heavy weather. Likewise, standard A-frame or square tarps, while offering adequate protection from the rain, need a sheltered site and an experienced camper to handle high winds well.
For maximum weather protection, you often need 10+ stakes to use all the guy point options fully. Most of these tents come without included stakes, and some others only come with 6-8 stakes. You can buy more six gram carbon stakes, or simply use rocks. Ten or so feet of p-cord can also come in handy when securing your tent to natural anchors like trees or boulders or to make additional guy lines.
Adaptability may be more or less important to you based on where you often end up camping. If you often find yourself off trail sleeping on uneven surfaces or in rapidly changing weather conditions, adaptability will be necessary. Generally, the tarp-style shelters do well in this metric. Snowy? Make a steep-sided shelter or a lean-to with your tarp. Or you could string up your tarp to be as wide as possible to hide from the desert sun. The ability to add or remove floors or bug nets also added points to a shelter's adaptability.
Flat tarps earn high points in this category. The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp and the Kammok Kuhli may seem pretty simple but offer a huge array of ways to set it up for changing weather conditions. Since both are flat, they can deploy easily in a low to the ground storm mode and do a significantly better job of protecting against both rain and wind than in A-frame mode. The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Tarp uses 16 perimeter tie-outs and four more found on the face of the tarp; there are many options for tailoring this tarp to the environment in which you'll be spending time. It has a rectangular shape.
The Kammok Kuhli UL also offers remarkable adaptability with its eight different guy lines with trekking compatible grommets; there's no need to tie the string off to your poles. This made it super easy to set up and change configurations if wind direction changed, without having to un-stake the tarp! Bonus! Another reason why the Kuhli wins a notable mention for its great value as a tarp.
The second most adaptable designs were the three pyramids — the Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2, the Durston X-Mid 1P, and the Black Diamond Beta Light. All three can be set up high for added airflow or low to the ground for more bomber protection from the wind. They are incredibly weather-resistant, and even though this review is about three-season shelters, Mids are almost ideally suited as either cook or sleeping tents in the snow or on expeditions, making them genuine four-season options. We also appreciate the adaptability of the double-wall designs that allow for sleeping under only mesh netting on perfect nights, and since they are mostly free-standing models, they often don't need soft ground to set up successfully.
Ease of Set-Up
No smart backpacker will ever head out into the wilderness without first practicing setting up their shelter at home first. With practice, almost all of these ultralight tents and shelters become easy to use. That said, being able to set it up in less than a minute or two, alone, in gusting wind that often precedes inclement weather may ultimately make a difference in your comfort level for the night, especially if the inclement weather lingers for a while. To decide these scores, we busted out a stopwatch and timed ourselves after a couple of practice rounds first. We also took advantage of windy weather and practiced set-up to see which were the easiest and which felt impossible.
Floorless pyramid construction with a single-pole set-up is by far the easiest when storming weather is upon you. The Black Diamond Beta Light is super simple. Just peg out the edges and insert a pole (or two) inside. This makes it very easy to set up during high winds or even storms. The Gossamer Gear The Two is similar but requires two poles for set-up, which takes just a touch longer. The Durston X-Mid 1P also requires two poles, but its rectangular design and clever ventilation access points for the poles make it a quick and easy set-up. We were able to set up all three in under four minutes, even in the wind, with one person.
Of the three, however, the Durston X-Mid 1P stands out in that it is transformable while remaining under the two pound threshold for ultralight shelters. This is unique in comparison to the Beta Light (which doesn't come with bug netting and whose bug net add-on weighs too much to justify its use) and The Two (which is constructed as one piece, with the fly and the net sewn together). The price of the Black Diamond and the Durston are almost identical, but the X-Mid is far more luxurious. And if you're looking for extra space, Durston does sell a two person version of this shelter as well.
Dedicated pole tents are the second easiest category to set up. The easiest of this category? The Nemo Hornet 2P and the Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 Carbon. Between them, most of our testers found the Tiger Wall 2 Carbon to be the easiest to set up without consulting directions. The Hornet fell shortly behind. For both, simply stake the tents on all corners, and assemble the poles. The Tiger Wall 2 Carbon uses a cross-pole at the top that needs to be inserted (which can be finicky), while the Nemo Hornet just needs to be clipped in. Both can be set up in the wind, but make sure you secure the lightweight tent bags before attempting!
Tarp tents like the Tarptent StratoSpire Li, Aeon Li, and the Zpacks Duplex include adjustable guy lines with easy-to-use cords locks but take a little time to figure out. This feature makes it much easier to make micro-adjustments in the middle of the night. If you wake up to snow or heavy rain and didn't correctly tension your tent before you went to sleep, the ability to easily tighten down the guy lines is much faster than having to reposition your stakes as you would with the Black Diamond Beta Light. Of all three, the Zpacks Duplex Flex package (that uses poles) was probably the least intuitive. It took several attempts to figure out this package before we had to look it up online to see how it worked. One tester just opted not to use it and use trekking poles instead. Once we figured it out, set-up takes only a few minutes.
Tarps are the hardest and most time-consuming to set up, especially in wind or rainstorms. However, amongst them rises the Kammok Kuhli UL. With pole-compatible grommets on six sides, all you have to do is stake down all sides loosely, then insert your poles. The adjustable attached guy lines make it simple to tension and release where needed. This is revolutionary in comparison to other tarp shelters where, when setting up with poles, you need to clove-hitch the poles or a stick, which can be cumbersome, annoying, and requiring the knowledge of knots.
That being said, the weight savings of a tarp cannot be ignored. Though there may be a learning curve to properly pitching them in inclement weather, acquiring the skills to read the wind and the slope of the earth and direction of the storm is an invaluable process. With enough time and practice, anyone can enjoy the versatility and freedom that comes with tarp shelters.
How did it come to this? Humans have been walking the earth for thousands of years without SilNylon, Dyneema, or bug netting. Now, we might argue we need to go farther (and faster). Bonafide engineers are putting their time, effort, and intellect into designing the strongest and lightest shelters ever known. What a time to be a human-powered adventurer. Even with all the ounce-counting, hair-splitting, and nit-picking, we've had a fantastic time testing out ultralight shelters and hope that our efforts and evaluations lead you to a shelter with which you're satisfied.
— Chris Greer, Amber King, Matt Bento, & Andy Wellman