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The Best Ultralight Tents and Shelters of 2020

Tuesday March 3, 2020
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Our experts have tested over 50 of the best ultralight tents and shelters in the last 8 years. This review covers 19 models weighing under two pounds, keeping your load light and your pack small. We've carried these tents on numerous adventurous that have taken us across the world. From climbing in the Himalayas to ski touring in Alaska, to fastpacking steep thru-trails in mountains of Colorado. We've battled out storms and seen what each can do through all types of weather. To complement our hands-on testing, we evaluate key metrics to rate each product. This comprehensive review offers unbiased recommendations to keep your load light without completely emptying your wallet.


Top 19 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 19
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Best Overall Ultralight Tent


ZPacks Duplex Flex Upgrade


The Zpacks Duplex is composed of DCF fabric  offering great weather protection and durability.
Editors' Choice Award

$600 List
List Price
See It

81
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Livability - 30% 9
  • Weight - 25% 7
  • Weather Resistance - 25% 9
  • Adaptability - 10% 7
  • Ease of Set-Up - 10% 7
Weight of tent, fly, poles: 1 lb 5 oz | Floor dimensions: 45 x 90 in
Double-wall construction for ventilation and bug protection
Available with poles for freestanding setup
Zipperless closure system
Expensive
Vestibules smaller than those on the StratoSpire
The vestibule is hard to close
Lacks privacy

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, liveable, and offers two doors with a covered vestibule. Unlike many other contenders that shed weight with protection, it still comes with sewn-in bug protection and a floor. It packs down to the size of a water bottle and weighs only 21 ounces. Compared to other two-person ultralight tents, its 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 a few 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. Speaking of cost, this model is not the friendliest on your wallet. 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. If you are still convinced you love it, make sure you order it 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


Editors' Choice Award

$365.00
at Hyperlite Mountain Gear
See It

72
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Livability - 30% 6
  • Weight - 25% 10
  • Weather Resistance - 25% 5
  • Adaptability - 10% 10
  • Ease of Set-Up - 10% 6
Weight of tent, fly, poles: 11 oz | Floor dimensions: Depends on configuration
The lightest tarp in our review
Made with top quality DCF fabric ensuring durability and waterproofness
Can be set up in multiple configurations
No protection from insects

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


Black Diamond Beta Light


Black Diamond Beta Light
Best Buy Award

$164.96
(25% off)
at Backcountry
See It

71
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Livability - 30% 7
  • Weight - 25% 5
  • Weather Resistance - 25% 8
  • Adaptability - 10% 8
  • Ease of Set-Up - 10% 9
Weight of tent, fly, poles: 1 lb 3 oz | Floor dimensions: 98 x 80 in
Very easy to set up
Compact
Stable in high winds
Trekking poles are necessary for set up
Support poles are in the center of the living space

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 (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! For 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


Best Buy Award

$277.46
(25% off)
at Backcountry
See It

64
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Livability - 30% 7
  • Weight - 25% 5
  • Weather Resistance - 25% 6
  • Adaptability - 10% 7
  • Ease of Set-Up - 10% 8
Weight of tent, fly, poles: 2 lbs | Floor dimensions: 85 x 51 in
Lightweight at a great price
Great weather and wind protection
A little tight for two
One of the heaviest tents in its category

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, 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'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


63
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Livability - 30% 4
  • Weight - 25% 10
  • Weather Resistance - 25% 4
  • Adaptability - 10% 10
  • Ease of Set-Up - 10% 6
Weight of tarp & stakes: 0.84 lb| Tarp dimensions: 132 x 88 inches
Most high-value shelter in this review
Super light and the most compact shelter
Stable in weather
Super adaptable for all-terrain
Easy to change shape and tension in poor weather
Need to carry at least six stakes, four are provided
Not 100% weather-proof
No floor or bug-netting

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's 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 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 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

Best for Best Weather Protection


Tarptent StratoSpire Li


Top Pick Award

$689 List
List Price
See It

80
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Livability - 30% 10
  • Weight - 25% 6
  • Weather Resistance - 25% 10
  • Adaptability - 10% 4
  • Ease of Set-Up - 10% 6
Weight of tent, fly, poles: 1.58 lbs | Floor dimensions: 86 x 45 inches
Room for two, luxurious for one
Very stable in high winds
Two huge vestibules keep your gear out of the rain
Awesome ventilation
Expensive
No freestanding option

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

Best for Freestanding Double Walled Construction


NEMO Hornet Elite


Top Pick Award

$374.96
(25% off)
at Backcountry
See It

70
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Livability - 30% 7
  • Weight - 25% 7
  • Weather Resistance - 25% 7
  • Adaptability - 10% 7
  • Ease of Set-Up - 10% 7
Weight of tent, fly, poles: 2.06 lbs | Floor dimensions: 85 x 50 in
Sets up easily
Light for a tent that sets up without trekking poles
Poor ventilation when the fly is set up
Expensive

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 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. 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.

Read review: Nemo Hornet Elite

Best for Solo Travel


Tarptent Aeon Li


Top Pick Award

$535 List
List Price
See It

74
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Livability - 30% 8
  • Weight - 25% 9
  • Weather Resistance - 25% 7
  • Adaptability - 10% 4
  • Ease of Set-Up - 10% 6
Weight of tent, fly, poles: 0.98 lb | Floor dimensions: 88 x 30 inches
Room for folks up to seven feet tall
Large vestibule for wet gear and boots
Under one pound
Needs a little practice to perfect a bombproof set up

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

Best for Most Spacious Shelter


Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2


Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2
Top Pick Award

$715.00
at Backcountry
See It

76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Livability - 30% 9
  • Weight - 25% 4
  • Weather Resistance - 25% 9
  • Adaptability - 10% 8
  • Ease of Set-Up - 10% 8
Weight of tent, fly, poles: 1 lb | Floor dimensions: 83 x 107 in
An enormous amount of floor space; tall, steep walls make it super spacious
Holds up well in high winds
Can be set up with an airflow gap, or flush to the ground
Needs a single center pole longer than the average trekking pole
One of the most expensive shelters in the review.

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


One of the Editors' Choice in all its glory  the Duplex Flex Upgrade.
One of the Editors' Choice in all its glory, the Duplex Flex Upgrade.

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 is out over 300 days of the year. Often, she can be found in places that don't get reception, with an ultralightweight set-up in town.

In addition to our three experts, we give out tents to friends and family that are about to embark on trips and expeditions. Living in mountain towns, we typically ask opinions from guides and athletes with high performance levels. We've taken each on many adventures, including big backcountry ski missions, bike tours, and backpacking adventures in the summer. We've looked at how they hold up in hail storms and high winds. From Canada to Nepal to Iceland and back, we've even explored the world with then in tow. After festering in these tents for hours, sleeping in them in our backyard, and trucking them along while running point to point, we've got more than just "an idea" of which are the best.

This is not car camping... Here are two Megamid shelters from Black Diamond used for kitchen shelters on the Gulkana Glacier in Alaska.

Related: How We Tested Ultralight Shelters

Analysis and Test Results


We've tested tents and shelters for over eight years that fall into the ultralight category. While we have many other reviews on tents on our OutdoorGearlab site, this one focuses on options that are two pounds or less. These tents and shelters are more specific for three-season use, with some having the ability to be used all year round. We focus on four categories that include tarps, tarp tents, pyramid tents, and double-wall tents. Each is designed for packability and lightweight design. To comparatively assess each one, we look at five key metrics, which include liveability, packability, weather protection, adaptability, and ease of set-up.

Related: Buying Advice for Ultralight Shelters

Related: The Best Four Season Tents

Testing our Editors' Choice Award winning Zpacks Duplex in the lower reaches of the Dark Canyon in the newly created Bears Ears National Monument  Utah.
Testing our Editors' Choice Award winning Zpacks Duplex in the lower reaches of the Dark Canyon in the newly created Bears Ears National Monument, Utah.

The average outdoor recreationists don'tneed an ultralight tent and are fine with a simple backpacking tent (which are also quite light). Be sure to check out these reviews if you are willing to carry a few ounces more and save some serious cash.

Value


It's always strange that less typically always costs more. When it comes to ultralight gear, you're going to run into really high prices. Dyneema, a high quality, light, and durable fiber used in our Top Scorers, like the ZPacks brand, is incredibly expensive and pricy. Hence the high prices. If you're looking to save some money, look for tents made with either Nylon, Polyester, or Silnylon. While this material isn't as waterproof, it'll do the trick for most seasons. New technology and construction tactics are making these tents lighter, still, at a great price.

Our Best Buy award winners are ones to hone in on if you're seeking a deal. The Nemo Hornet 2P is a solid double-walled tent constructed of Nylon ripstop. While it's a little heavier (2.3 pounds with all parts), it can be parred down for lighter construction. The Black Diamond Beta Light is a floorless pyramid tent with a versatile range of uses, but needs to be erected with a pole, and has no bug protection. The Kammock Kuhli UL is probably the most bare-bones option and is ultra-affordable. While none of these are top scorers, they'll certainly offer you protection if you're willing to trade off some performance features.


Related: The Best Budget Backpacking Tents of 2020

Livability


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.

The Tarptent Stratospire Li is one of the most liveable options out there. We love the voluminous vestibules that make it easy to wait out a storm.
The Tarptent Stratospire Li is one of the most liveable options out there. We love the voluminous vestibules that make it easy to wait out a storm.

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.

The Aeon Li is one of our favorite solo tents; one of the reasons being that you've got plenty of headroom with built-in bug protection.
The Aeon Li is one of our favorite solo tents; one of the reasons being that you've got plenty of headroom with built-in bug protection.

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 of 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.

Elizabeth demonstrating the ample amount of room inside the Beta Light  and also how both front door flaps can be fastened back for greater airflow. With two interior poles  there are few options for adjusting the layout inside  but we didn't find this to be a problem.
Elizabeth demonstrating the ample amount of room inside the Beta Light, and also how both front door flaps can be fastened back for greater airflow. With two interior poles, there are few options for adjusting the layout inside, but we didn't find this to be a problem.

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 offers a tremendous amount of space to cook, sleep, play cards, write, read, or even play music.

When set-up as an A-frame  the Kammok Kuhli offers great space and airflow  but in storm mode  you're stuck laying down.
When set-up as an A-frame, the Kammok Kuhli offers great space and airflow, but in storm mode, you're stuck laying down.

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.

The Nemo Hornet (pictured here) and the Hornet Elite are the dedicated pole tents we tested that have two doors and two vestibules. This makes them easier to fit two people and their gear compared to the Fly Creek Platinum. Here set up just above treeline in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.
The Nemo Hornet (pictured here) and the Hornet Elite are the dedicated pole tents we tested that have two doors and two vestibules. This makes them easier to fit two people and their gear compared to the Fly Creek Platinum. Here set up just above treeline in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.

Weight


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.

At an incredibly light and most packable shelter option at a reasonable price.
At an incredibly light and most packable shelter option at a reasonable price.

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).

When traveling with a tarp, be sure to account for the weight of extra paracord and a few extra stakes. This provides the opportunity to make your shelter more adaptable to any type of terrain.

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.

The relative packability of the Black Diamond Beta Light. Just a little larger than a water bottle!
The relative packability of the Black Diamond Beta Light. Just a little larger than a water bottle!

If a built-in floor is your preference, Tarptent StratoSpire Li (1.60 pounds, stakes included) is your best bet. The ZPacks Duplex 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.

A comparison of the packability a few shelters added in this 2019 update. Top: MSR Reflex 2. Left to right: Black Diamond Distance Adaptor  Black Diamond Beta Light  Ultimate Direction FK Tarp  Kammock Kuhli. Above: Zpacks Duplex.
A comparison of the packability a few shelters added in this 2019 update. Top: MSR Reflex 2. Left to right: Black Diamond Distance Adaptor, Black Diamond Beta Light, Ultimate Direction FK Tarp, Kammock Kuhli. Above: Zpacks Duplex.

To make a tent for adaptable for different seasons, modular add-ons are quite common. Many shelters allow you to add in bug netting, floors, or other components. Keep in mind that when shopping, you need to look at the weight of these extras if that's something you're interested in and add it into your packed trail weight.

Traveling ultralight? When packing for a week-long stay on an Alaskan Glacier we needed to seriously consider the weight we took along the way. Bringing these shelters made for a great kitchen  sleeping area  with the ability to bring more food for more conveniences when remote and cold.
Traveling ultralight? When packing for a week-long stay on an Alaskan Glacier we needed to seriously consider the weight we took along the way. Bringing these shelters made for a great kitchen, sleeping area, with the ability to bring more food for more conveniences when remote and cold.

Weather Resistance


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.

A look at the very weather-resistant Tarptent StratoSpire Li that is ultra liveable and does well in poor weather.
A look at the very weather-resistant Tarptent StratoSpire Li that is ultra liveable and does well in poor weather.

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.

DCF fabric  formerly known as Cuben Fiber  is completely water proof  and will not absorb water either  meaning it won't stretch or sag when it gets wet. It is also tough  durable  and doesn't degrade with exposure to UV light. Did we mention its also lighter than SilNylon? What's not to love? Except for the cost...
DCF fabric, formerly known as Cuben Fiber, is completely water proof, and will not absorb water either, meaning it won't stretch or sag when it gets wet. It is also tough, durable, and doesn't degrade with exposure to UV light. Did we mention its also lighter than SilNylon? What's not to love? Except for the cost...

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.

After about an hour of snowfall  the SilNylon Beta Light has begun to absorb a bit of moisture and the fabric is stretching and sagging a bit  a drawback of SilNylon. Even if we hadn't put these rocks in place  there are few options for re-tensioning this tent except adjusting the location of the stakes.
After about an hour of snowfall, the SilNylon Beta Light has begun to absorb a bit of moisture and the fabric is stretching and sagging a bit, a drawback of SilNylon. Even if we hadn't put these rocks in place, there are few options for re-tensioning this tent except adjusting the location of the stakes.

Extra Stakes and Cord Often Not Included
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


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 Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp pitched in super low storm mode without stakes. (Extra long guylines wrap around rocks.) North Cascades  WA.
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp pitched in super low storm mode without stakes. (Extra long guylines wrap around rocks.) North Cascades, WA.

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.

Jared sets up this floorless pyramid on the snow  digging out a kitchen to easily stand up. This makes for a great base camp tent on this glacier in Alaska!
Jared sets up this floorless pyramid on the snow, digging out a kitchen to easily stand up. This makes for a great base camp tent on this glacier in Alaska!

Other designs with a fixed modality for set-up didn't do as well in this category. Most require the need to sink stakes, which need to be in a specific place relative to the installed guy lines. Those with more adaptable systems have more tie-off points that you can add-in. You can also make any tent more adaptable by bringing a little extra cordage to use when the terrain gets harder to hammer stakes into the ground.

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.

The BD Beta Light is simple to set-up  no matter what the mission!
The BD Beta Light is simple to set-up, no matter what the mission!

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.

Setting up the ultra-stable Zpacks Duplex Flex Upgrade on rockier terrain.
Setting up the ultra-stable Zpacks Duplex Flex Upgrade on rockier terrain.

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.

A look at the pole compatible grommets and tensioners found on all sides of the tarp.

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.

Conclusion


While the UltaMid 2 makes a great basecamp tent  and is adaptable for use on snow (try digging down in the snow to create a far taller covered room to hang out in!)  that simply wasn't going to happen in the Weminuche Wilderness if there was even a hint of flat enough bare ground (there barely was).
While the UltaMid 2 makes a great basecamp tent, and is adaptable for use on snow (try digging down in the snow to create a far taller covered room to hang out in!), that simply wasn't going to happen in the Weminuche Wilderness if there was even a hint of flat enough bare ground (there barely was).

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