Are you looking for a way to lighten your load on this year's slate of backpacking trips? To bring you the most comprehensive comparative review, we researched over 50 of the best and most popular models available today, purchasing 14 of the most promising options for testing. Our group of testers put each model through the ringer on treks in the Himalayas, overnight trips in the California Sierras and Colorado Rockies, and in the canyon country of southern Utah. We assessed each ultralight tent for performance in critical performance areas, enabling us to make the best recommendations for you. In this ultralight review, all genres are represented, from simple tarps to solo shelters, sub two-pound free-standing tents to square mids, and great options for the budget conscious. Whether your next journey is for one night in the neighboring backcountry or over 100 on the Appalachian Trail, you're sure to find the perfect option below.
The Best Ultralight Tents and Shelters of 2018
Spring is in the air, which means its time to pack up the backpack and hit the trail. While the hordes of PCT and AT thru-hikers have likely already departed on their months-long journeys, for the rest of us the snow is melting, and the temperatures are rising, signaling the beginning of backpacking season. Whether you are planning a thru-hike of the Colorado or John Muir Trails, or simply looking to upgrade the kit by ditching some pounds for the annual week in the wilderness, you have come to the right place. Replacing your old tent with a state of the art ultralight model is a great way to do so, and we can help! In May we added reviews of four new tents, including recognizing Gossamer Gear's The One as the best ultralight option for solo hikers. Also new to the review are the Zpacks Hexamid Solo, Sea to Summit Specialist Duo, and the Tarp Tent MoTrail. We also recently had the chance to test and add the Nemo Hornet Elite, our new favorite ultralight option that is freestanding and comes with dedicated poles and stakes. We made sure all the other reviews are up-to-date for the summer season, and for the especially weight conscious (or just gear geeks), we have changed the way we assessed our weight scores, so check that section out below if interested.
Best Overall Ultralight Tent
Zpacks Duplex 2
In 2016, Zpacks replaced their Hexamid Twin tent with the new Duplex, which remains the best overall ultralight tent that we have tested. The Duplex offers fantastic weather protection on all four sides, with its super wind-stable tarp design and the addition of twin doors and covered vestibules. Unlike most of the similar tents in this review, it has sewn in bug protection and a floor, while still weighing in at a mere 21 ounces. What we loved was how much room there was inside, as there's plenty for two people with packs and then some. The sewn in bug netting keeps you protected from creatures that want to bite you in the night, while also providing plenty of ventilation to prevent condensation buildup on the inside of the single wall. Compared to the often tiny two-person tents that we compared it to, this tent 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. That makes this tent even more expensive, as it's already $600. DCF or Dyneema Composite Fiber (formerly Cuben) which this tent is made out of is in our opinion the best tent material your money could buy, but certainly does come at a higher price. Zpacks is a small company which often makes products to order, so you might have to wait a while for it — give yourself ample lead time, particularly during the busy season. That aside, this was the most "livable" shelter that we tested, was the most weather protective, and was easily one of the lightest for two people, making it a clear standout winner for our Editors' Choice award.
Read review: Zpacks Duplex
Best Freestanding UL Option
NEMO Hornet Elite
The Nemo Hornet Elite is the best dedicated-pole tent in this review (it doesn't require trekking poles for setup). We liked it so much that we felt compelled to give out a second Editors' Choice award. 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 the 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. From the pole attachment points on the corners of the tent to the little clips that hold the inner mesh tent further apart, it is evident that Nemo designed every part with attention to detail and to optimize the comfort of the user. It's also 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. This is the first dedicated pole tent to win an Editors' Choice award in our ultralight category — and we can't think of one that deserved it more.
Read review: Nemo Hornet Elite
Best Bang for the Buck
Black Diamond Beta Light
If you don't need bug netting, the Black Diamond Beta Light is the best possible option at a greatly reduced price. It is a classic "do everything well" shelter, scoring highly in each of the metrics we assessed. It has plenty of room inside for two people and their packs, plus a dog, and it is tall enough that you can sit up inside of it. We also like its adaptability; you can pitch it off the ground a bit for better air flow, or lower it to close off the gaps when it's windy or storming. Best of all, it packs down into a stuff sack far smaller than any other in this review, even the tarps. This was especially appreciated by those of us who only backpack with a 40L 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 lb 13 oz) and costs $170, 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, and love its fantastic price!
Read review: Black Diamond Beta Light
Best Ultralight Tent for One Person
Gossamer Gear The One
While many people love backpacking with family or friends, it seems to us that just as many enjoy embarking on backcountry missions solo. But traveling alone means, there is nobody to split the weight with, one reason that so many solo thru-hikers eventually end up falling in love with tarps for shelters: because they are so incredibly light. That said when extra protection from bugs is needed, or privacy is desired, nothing matches the efficiency and simplicity of a one-person tent. In spring of 2018, we made an effort to test some quality single person tents, and are happy to recommend Gossamer Gear's The One as the best ultralight option. It subscribes to the tried and true catenary cut "tarp tent" design also used in our Editors' Choice winning Zpacks Duplex but saves a little weight by using a solid vertical wall opposite its very spacious double door vestibule. We loved this tent because it was relatively affordable, easy to set up, and had tons of room for both our body and all of our gear. Sewn-in bug netting with a well-ventilated silNylon bathtub floor offers the needed protection without having to add on ground tarps or costly and heavy inserts. Little features like a built-in clothesline, high headroom for sitting, and optimal length stakeouts with line-locks attached made this tent easy to use, and to love!
We found few things to complain about after testing this tent, but the major one would be that choosing a sheltered site and orienting the tent correctly is necessary to avoid winds and rain from hitting the vertical wall broadside. Simply put, this design, which still has a shorter eave to protect the vertical wall, is not as solid in a heavy wind as similar designs with double vestibules, such as the Six Moons Designs Haven Tarp. It also suffers from the same drawback as all non-freestanding tents — many solid stake out points are needed to keep this tent upright, mildly limiting its usage on rock or other hard surfaces. If you are looking for an ultralight single person tent that is not only roomy but also offers privacy and bug protection at no extra cost in money or weight, we think The One is your best bet. Gossamer Gear also makes The Two, using a similar design for those who bring their friends, which features double doors and vestibules at a low price of only $389.
Read Review: Gossamer Gear The One
Top Pick for Ultralight 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 was 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 the copious amounts of tie-out cordage — this tarp is far and away 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. Also 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 needed 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 with Bug Netting and Floor
Nemo Hornet 2P
While the BD Beta Light wins our Best Bang for the Buck Award for the best value, it might not appeal to folks that want a floor, bug netting, and don't want to deal with wrangling trekking poles and guylines. If that sounds like you, check out the Nemo Hornet. While not as light as it's fancy sibling, the Hornet Elite, it gets the job done for $130 less. Similar to the Elite, there are two doors and vestibules, which is great for some extra storage space and also so that you don't have to crawl over your companion to get out of the tent. It was among the most stable tents that we tested in the wind, which we attribute to the extra stake out points at the point of each vestibule, and also did fine in the rain. It scored higher overall than it's direct (free standing) competitors and was easier to set up.
On the downside, we found it to be a tight squeeze for two people. It helps if both of you are small (two women?), or if you don't mind sharing some personal space. With two inflatable sleeping pads, there was some necessary overlap around the feet. At $370, it still isn't cheap; however, 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 — 2 lbs might be heavy when compared to this UL line-up, but it's still lighter than 99% of the other backpacking tents on the market. Compared to the Black Diamond Beta Light with the optional $170 bug netting accessory, it's a half pound lighter and about the same cost.
Read review: Nemo Hornet 2P
Top Pick for Most Spacious
Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2
To save you a few ounces of weight, most ultralight shelters will end up costing you a bit in comfort. Many of the two-person tents we tested significantly compromised on enclosed interior space in their efforts to weigh as little as possible, something we often lamented. In our view, it doesn't do much good to weigh four ounces less if that also means it is impossible to fit all your gear — where is the practicality in that? For that reason, we wanted to recognize the shelter which offered by far the most space of any ultralight tent 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 (we usually stacked rocks to make a higher platform for our pole, while Hyperlite Mountain Gear recommends you bring along a couple of straps and lash two trekking poles together). 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.
Read review: Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2
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 countless solutions to the over-riding problem — weight — often left us in awe of designers originality. With such a broad spectrum of unique designs, it often felt like we were trying to compare apples to oranges to peaches. It should be obvious that tarps and double wall tents are going to have drastically different strengths and weaknesses, so it is important that you identify which grading metrics are most important for your needs as a starting point to choosing the right shelter, rather than looking only at the overall score.
We tested each of these shelters in the field during an initial five-month testing period, and have added many more in the intervening year as we have had the opportunity to do so. Our testing conditions have ranged from snowstorms to pouring rain, gale force winds to hot and buggy conditions. Of course, most of the nights we spent out were quite pleasant, as who wants to sleep out in a storm intentionally? Through all of our experiences, we took copious notes on how the tents performed in each scenario, noting relative strengths and weaknesses. While all of these shelters are incredibly light, not all of them are perfectly adaptable to any environment, offer bombproof protection from the weather, or have the conveniences and comfort that you've come to expect for a "regular" tent. More than once we learned this the hard way.
We rated each model based on five criteria to come up with an overall performance score. We considered their livability, weight, weather protection, adaptability, and ease of setup, all of which we think are important when selecting an ultralight tent. We also considered some of the metrics to be more important than others, with livability being the most important (30% of the overall score), and adaptability a little less (only 10%). Note that we scored these models compared to each other, and not the tent market in general, so even though some of the models have high weather resistance scores, we're considering them against each other and in mostly three-season conditions. If you need something for your next expedition to Denali, check out our 4 Season Tent review instead. It's also worth noting that we picked what we believe are already the best shelters for this review, so while a product may have received a low score, that doesn't mean that it isn't still a great option.
If you would like to delve deeper into the pros and cons of each design, which design is likely to best suit various purposes and climates, or for a discussion of materials used, we encourage you to check out our How to Choose the Best Ultralight Tent article. In the sections below we thoroughly discuss each grading metric, including the most important aspects, how we tested, and the best performing products for that metric. Detailed information about individual products and how they performed is in the product's review.
If you're a backpacking enthusiast that recently got bit by the ultralight bug, you probably already have a garage full of gear that has cost you a lot of money. Do you need to spend more? That depends on your objectives and your bank account! If you do have a big mission in mind where the number of miles you plan to hike is more than two digits, or where you want to cover a lot of ground in as little time possible, then investing in ultralight gear is a smart choice. Your knees will thank you! We don't score the models for their value, but we do offer alternatives at different price points to give you several best options to consider regardless of your budget.
We also have the Price vs. Performance chart (see below), which graphs the total score of each model relative to its price. While the Zpacks Duplex led the pack in performance (and almost price at $600!), this chart helps you find budget options that still performed well. Check out the models that lie to the right of the X-axis (higher score), but not too far up the Y-axis (less expensive). Those include the Six Moons Design Haven Tarp ($210) and our Best Buy winner, the Black Diamond Beta Light ($200). Our Best Buy for a dedicated-pole tent, the Neo Hornet 2P ($370), is a little more expensive than those options, but still less than other dedicated-pole tents and a good value for the performance.
While weather protection may be the primary reason for carrying a shelter on your adventures versus just sleeping out under the stars, the fact is that livability is the attribute that accounts for your happiness the most. We define livability as how comfortable it is to live in a tent: sleeping, sorting and storing gear, and waiting out storms. In an ideal world, the shelter would be long and wide enough for two regular sized sleeping pads if it's a two-person tent, with a little extra room left over. We also want it to be tall enough to sit up inside comfortably, and for there to be enough space either inside or in the vestibule to store gear and shoes, possibly a dog, or to cook if the weather is terrible (not recommended by manufacturers, but we have done it with an eye toward good ventilation). 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 of a tent, because if your tent is too uncomfortable to enjoy using it, then it isn't going to be a worthwhile purchase. As such, Livability accounts for 30% of a product's final score.
All of the factors described above went into our accounting for livability and are described in further detail in a product's review. While sleeping space, vestibule space, and tent height are rather self-explanatory, some of the other factors deserve a few words. Depending on the season you are backpacking, bug protection can be a significant issue. Those tents that included built-in bug netting or protection were preferable to our testers, as we often camped in Colorado and Wyoming during spring and summer. We gave a pass to those shelters that allow for modular bug protection when needed, and like the fact that we don't have to carry it when it's not necessary. However, it is worth noting that when adding bug protection to many models, the weight and packed size, as well as the cost, tend to balloon a bit, and are not accounted for in our specs table. A couple of the tarps have no method of protecting one from bugs and must be used in conjunction with a head net or bivy sack if the bugs are bad. For both of the above reasons, we considered tents with built-in bug netting that still weighed less than two pounds to present the most versatility and the best value.
Condensation management can also be an issue for some single-wall tents. In general, double wall tents do a decent enough job of keeping condensation away from your body and sleeping bag, as do tarps that have excellent ventilation, which means condensation doesn't build up as quickly. In our experience, enclosed, single wall tents like the "tarp tents" and pyramids had the worst condensation issues. For single wall tents, we much preferred designs that were spacious enough to both lie down and sit up without automatically rubbing against the walls, which could be wet in the morning. Privacy is a bit of a matter of preference, but we have found that for females it tends to be a higher priority, making tarps a bit less appealing. We also appreciated designs that could still be considered ultralight and included a floor. While the lack of a floor is overcome by bringing a ground cloth or Tyvek, or simply multi-purposing a raincoat or poncho, and in some situations could be regarded as an advantage, floors are nice for the protection they offer, especially if the ground is already wet or muddy before you set up the tent.
The ultralight tent with the highest score for Livability was our Editors' Choice award-winning Zpacks Duplex. It is plenty spacious for two people side by side with room to spare, has two doors and vestibules, is tall enough to sit up in easily, and comes with bug netting and floor in place, all weighing only 21 ounces. Simply put, no other tent gave us everything we needed to be comfortable as well as this one did. Using a very similar design was Gossamer Gear's The One, our Top Pick for Solo adventurers. It is more than spacious enough for extra tall or wide people and has a ton of space for storage and gear sorting, including a built-in clothesline. Distant third place consideration goes to the Six Moons Designs Haven Tarp and the Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2. The Haven Tarp has the same design and interior space as the Duplex but without the built-in bug protection and floor. However, for an extra $150, the modular Haven Net Tent can be added to the inside, thereby providing bug protection and SilNylon flooring. The UltaMid 2, on the other hand, is the most spacious fully enclosed shelter in this review, with plenty of room inside for two, a dog, and lots of gear. It is also the tallest shelter and was so roomy that we decided to award it a Top Pick for how spacious it is. It doesn't come with bug protection, although if the mosquitos are light, then the edges can be dropped to the ground. Otherwise, modular bug netting, both without a floor (lighter) and with a floor, can be purchased and used when needed.
You might think that as an ultralight tent review, the weight would be the most important metric in the grading scale. Well, this time we took a different approach and decided that since these tents are all light, it was more important to focus first on the things that differentiate them. Now don't get us wrong, we still think weight is a critical measure of the functionality of an ultralight shelter, and we recognize that there is a notable difference between a shelter that is 10.9 ounces and one that is nearly 2.5 lbs. So, as a compromise, we settled on 25% as the amount that weight contributes to a product's final score.
The overall weights of each product can be found in the specs table at the top of this article. But once again, due to the differences in what comes with each tent or shelter, comparing weight sometimes felt like comparing apples to peaches. For instance, most of the shelters included here do not come with poles, and are designed instead to be pitched using adjustable trekking poles. So, understandably, those shelters are going to weigh less in general than the dedicated pole tents that did come with poles needed for setup. However, to use one of these lighter models, you will need to carry trekking poles and will have to account for that weight somewhere in your overall backpacking load. The same thing applies to stakes. Many don't include stakes with the shelter, meaning that you get to choose what type, durability, weight, and number of stakes you will carry with you. While this gives you greater freedom of choice over your own system and removes the onus of having to provide the ultimate lightweight stakes from the manufacturer, it yet again means that on paper, a certain shelter may look lighter than it will be in practice. Other instances of potentially necessary added weight to a shelter are ground cloths for floorless shelters, a lightweight bivy sack for weather protection while using a tarp, and adding on modular bug netting if it is needed.
If weight is the single most important criteria for your shelter selection, we firmly advise you to delve deeply into the individual product pages, where we will discuss what comes with a shelter vs. what is needed to make it complete. To compare these products and assign scores for weight, and to be as fair as possible, we weighed the individual components that came with each shelter. Note that in most cases, the weight of everything needed to pitch one of these shelters is going to be more than the number given out by the manufacturer, or the one listed in this review. The three dedicated pole double wall tents are the exception, as they each came with everything needed; you may be able to make them even lighter by trimming components you decide are unnecessary.
We gave 50% to the weight score to the Shelter or FastFly Weight. For a tarp, this is the weight of the tarp and the minimum guylines needed to set it up. For a tent, this is the FastFly weight or weight of just the fly and poles. The other 50% went to the Trail Weight which we define for tents as the weight of the tent, fly, and poles and for tarps as the tarp, optional bug netting, and minimum guylines. We never factored the weight of stakes into the weight scoring, regardless of whether they were included or not. Likewise, poles were not factored in to the weight of tents when they were not included, but we noted that in the specs table and individual reviews, and gave extra points to the tents that did include poles. It's a little complicated, but we feel like it provides the best apples to apples comparison.
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp and Zpacks Hexamid Solo were far and away the weight winners. The Square Flat Tarp weighed only 10.9 ounces for the tarp itself and the included tie-off cordage but will need trekking poles and at least six stakes. We tested an 8.5'x 8.5' version of this tarp, but it also comes in 6'x 8' and 8'x 10' rectangular versions. The Zpacks Hexamid Solo was also incredibly light, weighing in at a mere 11.1 ounces for a solo shelter that does include sewn-in bug netting, far and away the lightest shelter to include this protection. It likewise does not include the weight of the single trekking pole needed for setup, or the mandatory eight stakes, but can be purchased without any bug netting at a weight of only 5.9 ounces!! Now that is light! Third lightest was predictably the SilNylon Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Tarp Duo, which is catenary cut, meaning that it is shaped for setup in A-frame mode only, so isn't as adaptable as a flat tarp. Our version weighed only 15.1 ounces, again including the tie-off cordage, but without stakes or poles. For an extra $130, this tarp can be purchased with DCF fiber construction, making it a shade lighter than the SilNylon version. Even without the stakes included in the reckoning, the double-wall tents that came with included poles were the heaviest tents.
The most important reason for having a tent with you on your backcountry adventures is for weather protection. After all, if the weather was always perfect, why wouldn't you simply 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 designed for three-season use in mind, and in general, lack the structure necessary to withstand the weight of a severe snow storm. While we did get snowed on pretty heavily a couple of nights while testing these shelters in the Himalaya (with very mixed results), we didn't assess for how well an ultralight shelter handles snow. Because it is so important, we weighted Weather Resistance as 25% of a product's overall score.
Rain and wind are the nemeses of every backcountry traveler. Rain can soak you and everything you own, rendering you uncomfortable at best, and dangerously hypothermic at worst. The wind, while less severe of an issue, can cause troubles by blowing away your things, keeping you awake all night, or working in conjunction with rain or hail to make a potentially dangerous situation even worse. Through lots of testing in rough weather, we can say that the design of your shelter in conjunction with the materials used are the deciding factors when it comes to rain and wind protection.
The models we tested for this review are only made out of a couple of different materials. Ripstop SilNylon, which is nylon permeated with Silicon, is the most commonly used and most affordable. Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF), formerly known as Cuben Fiber, is less common but has some very worthy attributes. It is lighter than SilNylon, is functionally pretty much waterproof, doesn't absorb water or stretch when wet, doesn't degrade from exposure to UV rays, and is easy to repair in the field. It is also considerably more expensive, and thus the shelters made from DCF are far more costly than their SilNylon counterparts. A couple of the tents tested use Ripstop Nylon coated with a Polyurethane coating other than Silicon. More information about these fabrics can be found in our Buying Advice Article, as well as on a product's page.
We determined that one of the most stable designs for resisting the wind was the "tarp tent," or A-frame tarp design that includes "beaks" or protective vestibules on each open end. Four tents in this review fit this design, the Zpacks Duplex, Six Moon Designs Haven Tarp, Sea to Summit Specialist Duo, and The One. The Zpacks Duplex was ranked up there as the best tent in this review for weather protection, both due to its design, and the fact that it uses DCF for both the overhead tarp and for its built-in bathtub-style floor. On the other hand, the Haven Tarp is made out of SilNylon and doesn't have a built-in bathtub floor, so scored slightly lower despite still being one of the most protective. Likewise, The One compromised a bit by only having one vestibule beak. Pyramid style 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 they 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 fully use all the guy point options. 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 ($1 ea.) if you are looking for a deal. You also may need extra guyline, although most come with extras included, although not attached to the tent. In addition to weather protection, the benefit to using all the guy points is you often end up with more interior space.
Adaptability may be more or less important to you based on where you often end up camping. While most popular trails have some flat and sheltered established campsites that are suitable for any of the tents here, rougher and more exposed terrain lends itself to a more adaptable shelter. Simply put, the more different ways a shelter can be set up, or the more different situations for which it is applicable, led to a higher adaptability score. Depending on your adventure, adaptability may be crucial, but generally speaking, we found it to be a minor consideration compared to the three metrics above, and thus weighted it as 10% of a product's final score.
The top scorer for adaptability was once again the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp. With a wide breadth of experience as well as an understanding of weather dynamics and rigging, this tarp can be set up and used in a nearly unlimited amount of different ways. Since it is flat, rather than "cat" cut, it can be easily deployed in a low to the ground storm mode that does a significantly better job of protecting against both rain and wind than in A-frame mode. With 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 you'll be spending time in.
The second most adaptable designs were the two pyramids — the Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2 as well as 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 appreciated the adaptability of the double wall designs that allowed for sleeping under only mesh netting on perfect nights, and since they are mostly free-standing models, often don't need soft ground to set up successfully.
Ease of Set-up
The final metric on our overall scoring is Ease of Setup. No smart backpacker will ever head out into the wilderness without first practicing setting up his shelter at home some times, and with practice, almost all of these tents become easy to set up. That said, being able to set up a tent 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. Finally, we broke ties by assessing whether the components needed to set up a tent were included with the purchase and whether they worked well for their purpose. Ease of Setup accounted for 10% of a product's final score.
The winner of our Best Dedicated Pole Tent Award, the Nemo Hornet 2P, was one of the most intuitive tents to set up. Its pole-locking clips at the corners where the poles join the tent meant that it was much simpler 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. Even easier was the Black Diamond Beta Light, which simply needs to be staked out loosely at four corners, and then have the two center poles propped up inside.
Without adjustable line-locks for the stakeout points, however, it often needed minor staking adjustments after setup for a perfect pitch, but perhaps no other tent allows you to have a dry place to hide or throw your stuff in such a short amount of time. The Big Agnes Fly Creek HV2 Platinum, with a similar design to the Hornet 2P, was also relatively easy to set up quickly with one person. We found that tarps and tarp tents, which need to be adequately tensioned in many different directions (at least six!) to stay standing and be effective, were the most difficult shelters to set up quickly, especially alone. Better get practicing before you head out there!
For this review, we chose 14 of the best and most popular models of ultralight tents from a vast initial selection, to bring you the best information possible. Not only have our expert reviewers been using and testing ultralight gear for the last seven years, but we individually tested each of these shelters in a variety of conditions spanning close to a year and a half. While there are many different designs of ultralight shelters available today, we did our best to represent the widest breadth of options to better help you understand the positives and negatives of each design. In the end, we hope that this expert advice has helped you to choose the best ultralight tent for your needs, and we thank you for reading.
— Andy Wellman
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for tips.