The Best Ultralight Tents and Shelters of 2020
Best Overall Ultralight Tent
ZPacks Duplex Flex Upgrade
The Zpacks Duplex Flex is our favorite for its packable and ultralightweight and superior protection, outranking the rest of the competition by a long shot. Its wind stable with lots of headroom and two covered vestibules. Unlike many other contenders that shed weight but lack protection, it doesn't skimp. It comes with sewn-in bug netting and a floor. It packs down to the size of a water bottle and weighs only 21 ounces. Also, its durability is superior to other competitors that feature Dyneema fabrics in its construction. Compared to other two-person ultralight tents, it's quite liveable, with room to spare. Take it with you while backpacking, ski touring, or on a through-mission.
While we do love this tent, we have our caveats. It needs to be put up with two poles, so it's not an excellent option for those who don't use them. The Flex upgrade eliminates the need for the poles but is more expensive. The light material lacks privacy at night (people can see inside if you have a light on), and the vestibule is hard to close with one hand. Be sure you make an order early in the season, as Zpacks can take some time getting it to you when they sell out (and they do, for a good reason).
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 ultralight 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 Shelter
Black Diamond Beta Light
If you don't need bug netting, the Black Diamond Beta Light is a versatile option offered at an excellent price. It's a classic "do everything well" pyramid shelter, scoring high in each metric assessed. It has plenty of room for two people, packs, plus a dog, and it's tall enough to sit up in comfortably. 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 (one 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!
Read review: Black Diamond Beta Light
Best Value for a Trekking Pole Tent
Gossamer Gear The Two
The Gossamer Gear The Two is a fully enclosed single-wall tent with sewn-in bug netting with enormous vestibules. It can be erected using two adjustable trekking poles or poles that you can buy from Gossamer Gear. It stands out for its hoards of interior space and headroom, making it a good choice for both backpacking trips and base camps. The vestibules providing storage for gear and easily transform into a kitchen when the rain starts to fall. This tent offers excellent protection through all conditions and is stable in windy conditions. Enjoy it on quick overnight adventures, multi-day treks, or simply pitching in the backyard, through most seasons of the year.
Unfortunately, this tent isn't the most adaptable, nor does it have modular components to make it lighter. Its weight isn't the lightest of all tents, and you need to carry a set of poles to make sure it's erected. These poles must be at least 120 cm for full headroom; otherwise, you're looking at a tent that'll sag and won't perform well. It's the biggest downfall is ventilation. The single wall Nylon construction on the main walls doesn't allow much venting, despite the mesh doors, so condensation can be a problem.
Read review: Gossamer Gear The Two
Best Value Double Wall Enclosed Tent
Nemo Hornet 2P
The Nemo Hornet 2P is a highly recommended semi-freestanding pole tent with a double-wall construction. It features two doors and two large vestibules, offering gear storage and a space for 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. It also manages moisture very well, so condensation is not a problem. If you are seeking a versatile tent with good ventilation at an unbeatable price in the ultralight world, this is one we wholeheartedly recommend.
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. While it does offer some stability in the wind, we didn't appreciate how much it flexes out and bows when in a storm, which kept us up (or woke us up) at night. It still isn't cheap. 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).
Read review: Nemo Hornet 2P
Best Double Wall Semi-Freestanding Tent
Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 Carbon
The Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 Carbon features double-wall construction that is suited to ride out any storm. The materials retain their shape, even in the face of torrential downpours, while the tent shape sheds any unwanted moisture and snow. While it's not a four-season tent, it does just fine in snow with its fully enclosed structure. The interior tent body doesn't use mesh but a superiorly breathable material that protects and actually water-resistant. Living inside one of these beauties is comfortable. Wait out a storm, wind or rain, in comfort.
While this tent and stable and reliable in poor weather, it has some serious flaws. The construction (as Big Agnes points out on their website) is incredibly fragile. Fabrics puncture and rip easily if you thrash the tent. It's not suited for super rugged terrain. Plus, it's highly recommended to use and buy a footprint, which costs another big chunk of change. Speaking of which, this tent is ridiculously expensive and one that only a few people will see the value in. It's hard to justify the emptying of the wallet for such a fragile design that might just cost more to repair after long, hard trips.
Read review: Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 Carbon
Best for a Solo Backpacker
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 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
Notable for 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 tent for you.
Read review: Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2
Notable 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.
Read review: Kammok Kuhli UL
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 avid trail runner, fast packer, backpacker, and explorer. She reviews gear full-time and uses a tent almost every week on her adventures. She has traveled throughout the world, going light and fast over high mountain passes, into low valleys, and across high desert terrain - with only what she carries in tow.
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
The ultralight backpacking tents and shelters in this category cover options that weigh in at two pounds or less. It's important to note that with ultralight tents, you get less for more money. For those that are looking to lighten the load of your backcountry ski, get ready to drop a chunk of change because these tents aren't cheap. They are typically suited for three-season use, with some offering capable protection in cold temperatures. Best for fast packers, runners, bike packers, and backpackers, you'll find some of the market's most interesting ultralight tent technology in this review. We compare each below and assess comparative performance using five important metrics.
Related: The Best Backpacking Tents of 2020
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. Be ready to drop hundreds of dollars for a good ultralight tent, and much less for a tarp shelter or mid. Most high priced contenders, like the Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 Carbon don't offer the best value because its costs a lot and the fabrics aren't very durable. However, our best buy award winners present the best value that we've found on the market.
All of our winners are composed of less expensive Nylon materials, which makes them more durable but a teensy tiny bit more expensive. The weight difference between these and other super expensive tents is minuscule. The Nemo Hornet 2P (2.34 lbs) is made of super-thin Nylon material, utilizing a double-wall tent construction. The Gossamer Gear The Two(1.96 lbs) is a trekking pole erected tent made of a thicker material that is more durable, but it doesn't vent as well (but provides a lot more space in its design). The Black Diamond Beta Light (1.35 lbs) is the least expensive (at retail price) but lacks a floor and bug netting, so it's not fully enclosed. All these are the best value options out there. Alternately, if you don't need a tent and prefer just a cover to keep you out of the rain, look for a UL tarp! The Kammok Kuhli is ridiculously light (0.80 lbs). The Black Diamond Distance Adaptor (1.99 lbs) tent is one of the least expensive fully-enclosed single wall tents on the market and worth checking out as well.
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 favorite (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 The Two are 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 score well due to their huge footprints to provides 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 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 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.
While tarps offer great adaptability, living in one for a long 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 guyline 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, 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 tested are light and packable. You can assume that for each provided. 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 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 lbs) are at the top of the list. The Scout 1 Platinum uses less durable material that the Tarptent Aeon Li and has much less headroom. This is another reason the Aeon Li wins our Top Pick for Solo use. 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 lbs, stakes, and poles included), and Zpacks Duplex (1.8 lbs, 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, and Nemo Hornet 2P (2.34 lbs, 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 is the most versatile. If you buy its 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 both.
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 be able 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 Himalaya (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 6-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 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 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 two pyramids — the Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2 and the Black Diamond Beta Light. Both 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 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. Both we were able to set up in under four minutes, even in the wind, with one person.
Dedicated pole tents are the second easiest category to set-up. The easiest? 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 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 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.
— Amber King, Matt Bento, Andy Wellman