Ready to invest in an ultralight tent or shelter? We explored over 50+ models in 2019 before purchasing 19 of the best to put through hundreds of hours of testing. In eight years of testing, we've hiked, ran, biked, and canoed across the world. From the high Himalaya to the deserts of the SouthWest, we've hunkered down in stormy weather and laid out in the sun. We've stuffed these shelters into the tiniest of fastpacks while lightly moving over technical terrain. With each product weighing in just around or under two pounds, you'll be saving some weight (and time) by checking out this well-researched and thorough overview of the best products on the market.
The Best Ultralight Tents and Shelters of 2019
|Price||$600 List||$700 List||$715.00 at Backcountry|
Compare at 2 sellers
|$300 List||$535 List|
|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||Roomy, easy to setup, fully enclosed, affordable||Under a pound, bombproof dyneema construction, ultralight stakes included|
|Cons||Expensive, doesn’t include necessary stakes||Expensive||Requires lashing two poles together for setup, very expensive, no floor or bug protection built in||Heavier, design not quite as wind stable as double vestibule options||Expensive, single pole set-up takes a little practice|
|Bottom Line||Ample space and exceptional performance in all metrics makes this our favorite ultralight shelter.||This is the shelter you want when waiting out a storm.||A super high-quality and spacious single wall pyramid with a high price tag to match its quality.||An affordable fully enclosed single person shelter that we love.||Our favorite ultralight shelter for strictly solo adventures.|
|Rating Categories||ZPacks Duplex Flex Upgrade||Tarptent StratoSpire Li||UltaMid 2||Gossamer Gear The One||Tarptent Aeon Li|
|Weather Resistance (25%)|
|Ease Of Set Up (10%)|
|Specs||ZPacks Duplex Flex...||Tarptent...||UltaMid 2||Gossamer Gear The...||Tarptent Aeon Li|
|Type||Single wall tent w/ sewn in bug mesh and floor||Single wall tent w/ removable floor and bug netting||Floorless Pyramid||Single wall tent w/ sewn in bug mesh and floor||Single wall tent w/ sewn in bug mesh and floor|
|Weight with all components||1.8 lbs||1.60 lbs||2.32 lbs||1.68 lbs||1.09 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: 11oz)||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. 6 oz., Tent: 1 lb. 5.1 oz., Extra tie outs: 0.5 oz., Stuff sack: 0.4 oz., Optional aluminum poles: 5.7 oz.||Total: 1 lb. 1 oz., Tent with Bathtub floor and bug net: 15.8 oz., Stakes: 1.7 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||1 person|
|Max Floor Dimensions (inches)||45" x 90"||86" x 45"||83" x 107"||88" x 34"||88" x 30"|
|Peak Height (inches)||48"||45"||64"||46"||47"|
|Fabric||.51 oz/sqyd DCF Fabric||Dyneema Composite Fabrics||DCF8 Dyneema Composite Fabrics||7D high tenacity nylon-blended sil/pu coating||Dyneema Composite Fabrics|
|Packed Size (inches)||7" x 13"||16" x 4"||8.5" x 6" x 5.5"||6" x 9"||14" x 4"|
|Floor Area||28.13 sq ft||26.88 sq ft||63 sq ft||19.55 sq ft||18.3 sq ft|
|Number of Poles||4||2 trekking poles||2 trekking poles||2 trekking poles||1 trekking pole|
|Number of Tie Outs||8||8||8||10||7|
Best Overall Ultralight Tent
ZPacks Duplex Flex Upgrade
The Zpacks Duplex Flex is our favorite ultralight tent and has won this award for the past few years, and still, no other competition has outranked it. It offers fantastic weather protection on all four sides, with its super wind-stable tarp design and the addition of twin doors and covered vestibule. Unlike most of the similar tents in this review, it has sewn-in bug protection and a floor, with a weight of just 21 ounces. The sewn-in bug netting keeps you protected from creatures that want to bite you in the night while providing plenty of ventilation to prevent condensation buildup within its single wall designed. Compared to other ultralight "2-person tents", this one is legitimately large enough for two people to be comfortable, with room to spare!
It's not a freestanding model, so you'll have to use trekking poles to set it up, or purchase a custom set of poles if you prefer not to hike with them. We bought the Freestanding Flex upgrade that eliminates the need for trekking poles, which makes it much more adaptable. Constructed of Dyneema Composite Fiber (DCF), some of the best tent material your money could buy, it also comes at a very hefty cost. Add in the upgrade, and your ultralight tent becomes an ultra-expensive investment. Zpacks is a small company that makes your product when you order it if they don't have any extra on hand. While our experience has been timely, give yourself ample lead time, particularly during the busy season, to ensure you can get it.
Read review: Zpacks Duplex Flex Upgrade
Best Overall 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 they may have a few drawbacks compared to regular enclosed tents, proponents of tarps will always argue that the benefits outweigh the hindrances. While we only tested two stand-alone tarps in this year's review, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp is once again the best of the best. The perfectly square design makes it slightly harder to achieve a drum-tight pitch in A-frame mode, but also 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.
That weight comes with a minor caveat, however, in that you will likely want to bring along a ground cloth to sleep on, and depending on the season and weather, may also need a bivy sack for added weather and bug protection, which 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 Value Floorless Pyramid
Black Diamond Beta Light
If you don't need bug netting, the Black Diamond Beta Light is an amazing option at a greatly reduced price. It is a classic "do everything well" pyramid shelter, scoring high in each metric assessed. It has plenty of room for two people, their packs, plus a dog, and it's tall enough to sit up inside. We love its adaptability; you can pitch it off the ground a bit for better airflow, or lower it to close off the gaps when it's windy or storming. It's a common option for glacier camping or backcountry ski trips, as you can 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, even the tarps. This aspect is especially appreciated by those of us who only backpack with a 40-liter pack.
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 (1 pound, 13 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, a possible issue if you plan to snuggle up with your partner. If you are planning an adventure where the lack of bug netting will not be a problem, then we recommend the Beta Light as the best value ultralight option! Need even more room? The Beta Light's Cousin, the Black Diamond Mega Light, has space for four people and is still exceptionally light and reasonably affordable.
Read review: Black Diamond Beta Light
Best Value Enclosed Tent
Nemo Hornet 2P
The Nemo Hornet is an awesome semi-freestanding pole tent with a double-wall design. Similar to the Elite (the Hornet's prettier cousin), there are two doors and vestibules, which is great for extra storage and a place to cook when the weather gets bad. For such a thin nylon exterior, we are surprised at how well it performs in the rain and holds its own in a big wind storm. It scores higher overall than its direct (freestanding) competitors with a super easy and intuitive set-up that can be pitched with one person in foul weather. It also manages moisture very well, so condensation is not a problem. It's a great option for those seeking a good deal on a fully-enclosed double-wall tent.
On the downside, we found it to be 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. While it does offer some stability in the wind, we don't appreciate how much it flexes out and bows when in a storm. It will surely keep you up (or wake you) at night. It still isn't cheap; it's nearly half the cost of most of the models in this review when you factor in the additional cost of modular bug nets. It is also the "heaviest" model in this review, but let's be real — two pounds might be hefty when compared to this UL line-up, but it's still lighter than 99% of the other backpacking tents on the market (especially if split up between two people). Compared to the Black Diamond Beta Light with the optional bug netting accessory, it's a half-pound lighter and about the same cost.
Read review: Nemo Hornet 2P
Best Value Tarp
Kammok Kuhli UL
If you're ready to upgrade to a tarp system that is incredibly adaptable at a reasonable price, this may be exactly what you're looking for. It has been manufactured with a flat-face design with little wings to give it more lateral room and features six pole-compatible high-quality grommets around the edge, allowing you to build a tarp set-up in any configuration. If you don't travel with poles, simply use a stick or find a tree. 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-season use through any kind of weather and fits two people pretty comfortably. It's an amazing option for tarp-lovers, ultralight thru-hikers, and desert hammock dwellers that need a reprieve from the sun.
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 really poor 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 can get saturated and stretched out. This means if the storm is going through the night, you need to tension it. It's also not our first choice for snowy weather for this reason, and as is true with all tarps, when you set it up to stay super protected from the elements, you resort to a napping position that allows you just enough room to play cards.
Read Review: Kammok Kuhli UL
Top Pick for Best 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 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 one a ski or river trip, Tarptent offers a pair of support poles for an additional cost.
Read review: Tarptent StratoSpire Li
Top Pick for Freestanding Double Walled Construction
NEMO Hornet Elite
The Nemo Hornet Elite is the best dedicated-pole tent with a double construction in this review (it doesn't require trekking poles for setup). If you're looking for a lightweight tent, but don't commonly carry trekking poles or don't want to have to carry adjustable poles, this is a good best option. There are two vestibules and doors (one on each side), which significantly increases the livability and the extra storage space. It also increases the tent's stability in the wind by acting as extra guy-out points on the sides.
The Hornet is a bit tight for two, but the vestibules do give you some storage space for your gear. With the fly on, we noticed a distinct lack of ventilation, but again, those double doors help air things out. It's also expensive and not that much lighter than the Nemo Hornet 2P, so if you want to save a bit of money, check out that one instead. We can tell what the extra dough is going for though; it's the best option for rocky sites commonly found above 10,000 feet, where it can be a challenge to find the six or so great stake spots that the Duplex or most tarps and non-freestanding tents require.
Read review: Nemo Hornet Elite
Top Pick for Solo Travel
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 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. If you're not out on the trail for a significant part of the year, the heavier but less expensive Gossamer Gear One might be more up your alley. For those who want the best lightweight tent for one, the Aeon Li gets the green light.
Read review: Tarptent Aeon Li
Top Pick for Most Spacious Shelter
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 tent for you. For a similar, cheaper, but less weather resistant model, check out the Black Diamond Mega Light. The Mega Light is SilNylon, so it stretches when it absorbs water and weighs a bit more, but we feel it's still an excellent value.
Read review: Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is expertly tailored with a collaboration between Andy Wellman, Matt Bento, and Amber King. 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 outdoor educator that spends weeks on the trail with the next generation of youth. She is an enthusiastic long-distance runner, taking these tents on plenty of ultralight missions throughout the United States.
These three have put these ultralight tents through their paces on bike tours, SAR missions, alpine traverses, backpacking trips in the southwest and plenty of wandering around the High Sierra, getting to know the ends and outs of each model, setting them up in hail storms and high winds. They've made their way, internationally, to Canada and the far reaches of Nepal and Alaska. Sometimes bad weather had our testers festering in these tents for days at a time, giving them time to really think about the awesome and not-so-awesome aspects of each model. More often than not, we were surprised and impressed with the innovative designs form mostly small manufacturers.
Related: How We Tested Ultralight Shelters
Analysis and Test Results
The tents and shelters represented in this review fall into four broad design categories — tarps, tarp tents, pyramids, and double-wall tents. Every model was designed to be as light as possible, but in many ways, that is the only thing these shelters have in common. It is not a stretch to call ultralight tents the most innovative genre of outdoor gear, as the many solutions to the overriding problem — weight — often left us in awe of designers originality. Each product in this review was selected because of an advertised weight just above or below two pounds. We rated each based on five criteria including; livability, weight, weather protection, adaptability, and ease of setup. Take note of our comparisons and award winners to help you find your next ultralight tent.
The lightest most durable materials are costly, no getting around it. While they are also the top-scoring models because of their liveability and awesome designs, we understand that there are folks that want ultralight options on a budget. The less expensive options are constructed with either Nylon, Polyester, or Silnylon. While these materials work great, they aren't as water-resistant or lightweight. Some great high-budget options that we've honed in on include the Six Moons Design Haven Tarp and our Best Buy winners. In this review, we chose three. The Black Diamond Beta Light, a floorless pyramid, the Nemo Hornet 2P, a dedicated pole tent with double-wall construction, and the Kammok Kuhli UL, an ultra-affordable tarp. In this category, investment is always needed. We recommend you only purchase an expensive option if you can either afford it or use it many times throughout the year.
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.
In an ideal world for the couple campers, the shelter would be long and wide enough for two regular sized sleeping pads, with a little extra room left over. While space requirements are the most important and notable aspect of livability, a few other things contribute as well — insect protection, condensation management, privacy, and whether a tent has a floor or not. We consider livability to be the single most important aspect, because if your tent is too uncomfortable to enjoy using it, then it isn't going to be a worthwhile purchase.
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.
Taking the cake is the Tarptent StratoSpire Li, which has all these attributes. This Top Pick (and almost an Editors' Choice award) 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 Six Moons Design Haven Tarp and Gossamer Gear are also tall and wide, but not as tall as the Aeon.
Of the floorless pyramid shelters, it's not surprising that the Black Diamond Mega Light, BD Beta Light, and the Hyperlight Mountain Gear UltaMid 2 all score well due to their huge footprints, offering loads of space for gear, cooking, and hanging out. The floorless design provides excellent airflow, which prevents condensation build-up. Of these models, the Hyperlite does a better job making conditions more liveable, as it offers 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 bunker down the tent, ensuring it's entirely windproof. Condensation from sleeping at night will easily escape, whereas it won't in the Black Diamond models.
While tarps offer great adaptability, living in one for a long period can be interesting. If they aren't tarp tents (with a zip-up opening) and a traditional style instead, you will always have at least one end open to the world without bug netting. They are, however, great breathers so condensation is not a problem. Set-up is vital here. In nice weather without insects, living under a tarp is pretty luxurious. It offer a huge 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 guyline attachment points, like our Editors' Choice winner, 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, our Best Buy winner, 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 in this review are incredibly light and packable. To test this metric, we physically weighed each component that is provided by the manufacturer on our scale at home. We then looked to see which set-ups could be taken out with just what was provided. The weight scores in this section reflect the actual weight of the product provided by the manufacturer. We provide an outline of what's included and what you need to add to make your shelter functional. We also note and compare packed size so you can see what volume it takes up in your backpack.
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 UL is the Best Buy Award Winner because of its low weight advertised around 0.84 pounds which includes four stakes, even though you need about 6-8 for adaptable set-up.
The Ultimate Direction FK Tarp offers a fixed design and does not come with the eight stakes you need, weighing 0.80 pounds with a profile just a tiny bit smaller than the Kuhli. The Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Tarp Duo is another lightweight A-frame tarp weighing just 0.9 pounds (without stakes included).
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 is the best (1.09 pounds with stakes). While its advertised weight is higher than the Zpacks Hexamid Solo (0.72 pounds without stakes) it comes with stakes, while the Hexamid has none. Both offer full enclosure, with the Aeon having a fully waterproof floor while the Hexamid is just a simple mesh on the bottom. The Gossamer Gear The One is heavier than either of these (1.68 pounds, without poles). All require trekking poles to set-up.
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.
If a built-in floor is your preference, Tarptent StratoSpire Li (1.60 pounds, stakes included) is your best bet. The ZPacks Duplex (our Editors' Choice) weighs just 0.80 pounds but does not come with included stakes. Both have a sewn-in floor with bug netting and vestibules, as well. All need poles to set up.
Double-walled ultralight tents (interior tent with rainfly) are highly preferred by those looking for a more traditional experience but come at an additional weight cost. These tents are typically dedicated pole tents so you don't need to carry trekking poles, which some might argue, make up for the extra weight. However, if you do carry trekking poles, that weight is not lost. Of the double-walled tents, there were three tested. Of the two Nemo tents, the Hornet Elite (2.0 pounds, all parts included) proves to be a ⅓ of a pound lighter (more expensive) than the Hornet 2P (2.34 pounds, all parts included). The MSR Reflex 2 is the heaviest, weighing 2.4 pounds. The same pattern is true also for the packability of each.
The most important reason for having an ultralight tent on your backcountry adventures is for the weather protection. After all, if the weather was always perfect, why wouldn't you sleep beneath the stars every night, cowboy style? Your tent or tarp should be able to adequately protect you from rain, wind, hail, and light snow. While the pyramid designs are versatile enough to be able to bear the load of heavy snow, most of these shelters are for three-season use, and in general, 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 Himalaya (with very mixed results), 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. The Tarptent StratoSpire Li, our Top Pick 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. Very close behind is the Zpacks Duplex, which features a similar design, but has smaller vestibules and a hook and loop closure instead of zippers. On the other hand, the Haven Tarp is made out of SilNylon and doesn't have a built-in bathtub floor, so it scored slightly lower despite still being one of the most protective.
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 6-gram carbon stakes, use rocks, or go with these cheaper stakes if you are looking for a deal. 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 important. 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 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 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 also offers amazing 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 unstake the tarp! Bonus! Another reason why the Kuhli wins our Best Buy Award.
The second most adaptable designs were the two pyramids — the Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2 and the Black Diamond Beta Light. Both of these tents 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 his shelter at home sometimes, and with practice, almost all of these ultralight tents and shelters become easy to set up. 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 made a note of how easy or difficult wind can make setup.
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 and Mega Lite are 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.
Dedicated pole tents are the second easiest category to set-up. Among them include the winner of our Best Dedicated Pole Tent Award, the Nemo Hornet Elite. Like the Hornet 2P, its pole-locking clips at the corners (where the poles join the tent) mean that it was much more straightforward for one person to get all three ends of the poles into place than the other double-wall designs, simply because once clipped in place, the pole tips had no chance to come unclipped. While it does require a minimum of four stakes (two on the bottom corners, two for the vestibules), this tent is intuitive and easy to set up in a hurry by one person. The MSR Reflex 2 is also super intuitive and easy to set-up with just two poles and stakes.
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 or Mega Light.
Tarps are the hardest and most time consuming to set-up, especially in wind or rainstorm. 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.
How did it come to this? Humans have been walking the earth for thousands of years without SilNylon, Dyneema, or bug netting. Now, we need to go farther (and faster), without losing pints of blood from swarms of mosquitoes and blackflies. 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 have a fantastic time testing out ultralight shelters and hope that our efforts and evaluations lead you to a shelter with which you're satisfied.
— Amber King, Matt Bento, Andy Wellman