Best Backpacking Tents

Updated April 2020
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

35 Models Considered
8 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
670 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best backpacking tents

Last Updated April 2020

There’s nothing like camping as a way to explore the great outdoors, whether that’s close to home or in far-flung lands. If you want the freedom to go where you like, when you like, you’ll want to minimize your pack weight as much as possible, and a backpacking tent is a great way to do that. The tent’s compact dimensions also make it popular with long-distance cyclists.

A quick look through your options will return hundreds of choices. Different materials, single or double walls, internal or external poles, accommodation for varying numbers of people, and, of course, a variety of prices. Making the wrong decision can have a negative impact on your experience when you ought to be unwinding and enjoying nature.

BestReviews has been on the case, checking out all the latest models and most recent developments in backpacking tents. The models we recommend provide a range of solutions to suit different budgets. Our comprehensive backpacking tent buying guide looks at the important features in more detail.

It’s a good idea to practice pitching your new tent in the yard at night. Doing it in the cold and dark might not seem like a lot of fun, but it will teach you how to do it quickly, so you’re prepared if you need to do it for real.

Key considerations

There are three main questions you need to answer when choosing a backpacking tent, and , to a large extent, the first two questions are interrelated:

  • Who is going to use it?
  • How far do you need to carry it?
  • In what weather conditions will you be using it?

Size

Obviously one-person tents are the lightest and most compact, but a good two-person tent isn’t much heavier and is probably what you want if you’re traveling with a partner. Four- and even six-person backpacking tents are available for larger groups. Physical size when packed is also worth checking.

We all have our physical differences, so it’s important to check the specifications of the pitched tent. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to stand inside it, but unless you’re going very minimal, you’ll probably want to sit, so internal height needs to be looked at. Tall or large campers might struggle with some one-person tents, particularly the low-profile type.

Judging tent size based on pictures and dimensions you see online can be a bit of a challenge, but there are a couple of easy things you can do to get a real-world visualization.

Mark out the area. For tent size, mark out the area with string on your floor or out in the yard. Lie down inside the area (don’t forget that your pack needs to go in there, too). Do you fit inside reasonably easily? Don’t forget that the tent’s sides slope inward.

Simulate the size. For pack size, get a cushion, pillow, or folded bed sheet and, using the string again, tie it up to compress it into roughly the size of the folded tent described online.

Weight

This is another major consideration, though it’s not hard to find tents that are very portable. Ultralight tents might weigh under 2 pounds, and even large tents are often not much more than 10 pounds. That’s a noticeable difference, but if you’re traveling in a group, the weight of a large tent can be offset by distributing components among other backpackers.

You’ll often see two weights quoted: trail weight and packed weight.

Trail weight: This is the bare minimum, including the canopy, rainfly, and poles.

Packed weight: This includes ground cloth, stakes, carry sack, instruction sheet, in fact everything that comes with your tent. You’ll probably leave some of the original contents at home, so the real backpacking weight will therefore be somewhere between the trail weight and packed weight.

Protection

Various materials are used to make backpacking tents: polyester, nylon, and composites like Cuben fiber (light but very expensive), but the real indicator of strength in backpacking tents is what’s described as “seasonality, rated as either three-season or four-season.

Three-season: These tents are often waterproof and provide decent protection from the wind, but they aren’t designed for winter use. However, they are usually lighter than four-season tents.

Four-season: These tents have greater weather resistance, particularly for heavy snowfall, which can build up to such an extent that it can bend or even crush a three-season tent. Not surprisingly, these tents are often heavier. To some extent, this can be overcome by increasing your budget. There are some very light backpacking tents designed for extreme conditions — if you want to spend the money — though all but the most adventurous backpackers will probably be fine with a high-quality three-season model.

Walls: Another consideration is whether the tent has single or double walls. Double walls are more popular and include the main tent enclosure plus a rainproof fly. This gives the greatest protection in bad weather, and the fly can be left off if it’s warm and sunny. Single-wall backpacking tents (also known as tarp tents) are lighter, but if the conditions turn, you and your gear could get wet!

DID YOU KNOW?

The conditions for which the tent is designed can have a big impact on its weight. Ultralight models can weigh little more than a pound. Winter tents can weigh ten times that much.

Features

There are a few other features to look for in a backpacking tent, depending on your needs.

Vestibule: It can be useful to have a separate section (vestibule) for changing or storing gear outside the sleeping area.

Ventilation: Tents can get stuffy, and condensation can be a problem, so you need adequate ventilation. Mesh panels are a popular solution. They let air in but keep bugs out.

Screens: On the subject of bugs, you might want to think about whether there are mosquito screens for the doorway. Some sleeping bags also offer mosquito hoods.

Access: This isn’t a big issue when you’re keeping things basic, but it can be convenient if you can get in or out from either side.

Poles: Some backpacking tents use trekking poles as part of the structure. It’s a great weight-saving feature if you already own a pair! If you don’t, and they’re not your thing, you’ll want to check the tent’s specifications.

EXPERT TIP

If you like to watch the night sky when the weather is fine, look for a tent with a removable rainfly and mesh roof.


Staff  | BestReviews

Accessories

Sleeping pad: Ecotek Hybern8 Sleeping Pad
Even when it’s nice outdoors, you probably don’t want to be sleeping on your ground cloth. The Ecotek gives you comfortable padding that conforms to your body. It packs down to the size of a 1-liter water bottle and weighs just 18 ounces.

Sleeping bag: Winner Outfitters Mummy Sleeping Bag
When the weather’s not so good, you need warmth to rest and recuperate. This compact, lightweight model is waterproof, superbly insulated, and rated for three- or four-season use. It’s machine washable, too.

Light: Suaoki Camping Lantern
Camping lights can be bulky, and they usually need gas or batteries. Not the compact Suaoki! Light is generated by hand-cranking, so it’s environmentally friendly. It can be used as a lamp or flashlight, and it has a USB port so you can charge other devices, too.

DID YOU KNOW?

Ultralight shelters are a consideration when conditions are good, but they may not have a floor or sides. If it rains, you and your gear will get wet.

Backpacking tent prices

Inexpensive: The cheapest backpacking tents cost as little as $50. These are usually relatively lightweight and capable of sleeping one or two. Many require trekking poles, which can add anything from $25 to $85 to the cost if you don’t already have them.

Mid-range: Between $90 and $180 there’s huge choice in weight, construction, and capacity. We expect most weekend and vacation backpackers can find what they’re looking for in this bracket.

Expensive: Serious adventurers make greater demands on their equipment. It’s not difficult to spend $300 and more for a one-person, low-profile ultralight tent, $600 or more for a two-person tent, and over $1,000 for a four-person model. It’s a lot of money, but these tents do offer exceptional specifications in terms of weight and/or weather protection.

Other products we considered

If you don’t see what you need in our matrix, we found a few more options for you. The one-person Snugpak Ionosphere Dome Tent is very popular with those who like to travel solo, and at around 3 pounds, it won’t add much to your pack weight. It’s a low-profile two-pole design with a mosquito net for good weather and a waterproof fly for bad.

At just 2.8 pounds, the three-season MIER Ultralight Backpacking Tent packs down small for easy carrying yet has enough space for two people. It’s versatile, with optional bathtub floor, but you do need trekking poles, which are not included.

If you want to sleep more than two, the four-person Kelty Grand Mesa Backpacking Tent is a three-season model with external poles for rapid assembly. There’s a separate vestibule as well as the main area, and at 7 pounds, it’s reasonably light for its size.

Tents made from silicone-coated nylon (silnylon) may not have taped rainproof seams, and aftermarket seam tape often won’t adhere to them. The answer is a brush-on waterproofing, but it’s a messy job!

FAQ

Q. What’s the best weight for a backpacking tent?
A.
Obviously, you want to minimize the load you need to carry, but with such a wide range of tents available — and enormous variety in the size and fitness of users — it’s tough to give a definitive answer. What we can say is that experts recommend that your backpack when fully loaded not exceed 20% of your body weight. If you carry less gear, you can take a heavier tent, or vice versa.
 

Q. Should I choose a backpacking tent with internal or external poles?
A.
It’s a subject of much debate! Internal poles are mostly in contact with the tent walls, so they add strength to the structure. They’re often lighter but more complicated to put up. With external poles, you set them up first, then attach the tent, so it’s easier and faster. You also typically get more room inside. However, there are always exceptions to both sides of the argument, so it’s important to look at all the performance factors.
 

Q. Can I cook inside my tent?
A.
It’s not recommended. Gas canister stoves give off carbon monoxide, which is poisonous but invisible and odorless. Use a separate, open-sided shelter, or, if the weather’s really bad, use high-energy foods that don’t require cooking, such as ready-to-eat packets and nutrition bars.

Other Products We Considered
The BestReviews editorial team researches hundreds of products based on consumer reviews, brand quality, and value. We then choose a shorter list for in-depth research and testing before finalizing our top picks. These are the products we considered that ultimately didn't make our top 5.
The team that worked on this review
  • Bob
    Bob
    Writer
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer

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