7 Best Backpacking Tents: The Ultimate Guide For 2020

Backpacking tents are one of the biggest gear decisions for hikers, campers, canoe trippers and travelers.

Tents are super important for your comfort and safety and are also one of the more expensive purchases on our hiking gear checklist.

Understanding all your options before making a decision is a good idea. There are quite a lot of factors and features to consider.

Our ultimate guide to backpacking tents will help walk you through everything you need to know to make the best choice for your needs.

Read on to review all the most important considerations, the top features to look for, the common materials and fabrics that are used, and the various structures and types of tents. And, of course, the top picks that we think are the best backpacking tents for most people.

The best backpacking tents and hiking tents

The Best Tents For Backpacking + Hiking Trips

Let’s get right into the nitty-gritty. We think these are the best backpacking tents for each common category.

Best overall backpacking tent (for most people)

Big Agnes Salt Creek SL2

This is an incredible tent that has some fantastic features all for a great price. Big Agnes is a Colorado-based company and so they definitely know what should be included in a great backpacking tent. Note, the Salt Creek SL series also comes in a 3-person tent if you are looking for more space.

  • 3-door tent makes for easy entry and exit
  • Double vestibule, plus awning style roof and entrance
  • Steep walls provide extra shoulder space
  • 3-D bin pocket at feet for extra storage
  • Incredible ventilation with multiple windows, doors, vestibule vents, and fly vent
  • Polyester rip-stop breathable fabric with 1500mm waterproof polyurethane coating
  • All seams taped with waterproof, solvent-free polyurethane tape
  • Multiple interior loops for attaching gear lofts
  • 44-inch head height
  • 28 square feet floor space
  • Minimum trail weight is 3lb 11oz or 1.67kg

Best budget backpacking tent

REI Co-op Half Dome 2 Plus Tent

This is the most popular tent sold by REI including other brands. It is a great first backpacking tent because it isn’t too expensive or overly heavy in weight.

  • New pole architecture provides a good amount of livable space
  • Upper mesh panels for good ventilation
  • 2 large doors and vestibules
  • Simple set up with 1 hubbed pole set
  • Zipped open doors can be stashed in pockets
  • 4 ceiling vents help reduce condensation
  • Several interior pockets and hooks to keep interior organized
  • 44-inch head height
  • 35.8 square feet
  • 3-season tent
  • Minimum trail weight is 4 lbs. 14 oz.

Best lightweight / ultralight backpacking tent

Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2

This tent offers a great combination of being light in weight, strong, and roomy. It has been upgraded and redesigned this backpacking/hiking season. It is also easy to set up.

  • 2 doors and 2 vestibules
  • Awning-style vestibules with double-zippers offers quick and easy interior access
  • Features incredible storage space: elevated storage at feet, oversized pocket at your head, media storage with easy cord-routing
  • Superior air flow with multiple vestibule vents and fly vent
  • High quality smooth easy closing dual zipper doors
  • Several interior loops for extra lofts and storage
  • Fly and floor are silicone treated proprietary ultralight double rip-stop mixed denier nylon with 1200mm waterproof polyurethane coating
  • All seams taped with waterproof, solvent-free polyurethane tape
  • 29 square feet living space
  • 40-inch head height
  • Trail weight is 2lb 11oz / 1.22kg

Best superlight backpacking tent

What do you know, another Big Agnes tent wins the prize. I can assure you there is no favoritism. They just make better tents and have somewhat disrupted this product category with some innovation.

Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 Platinum

The Tiger Wall is a super light packing backpacking tent that does not reduce the interior space a whole lot. It is a two door, two vestibule, double-wall construction tent that weighs in at under 2 pounds. Ideal for the long distance hikers that want to travel fast and far.

  • An incredibly low trail weight of 1lb 15oz or 878g
  • 2 dual zipper doors
  • 2 vestibules with storm flaps
  • 28 square feet of floor space
  • Fly and floor are silicone treated nylon rip-stop with 1200mm waterproof polyurethane coating
  • DAC poles deliver strong light structure
  • Hub pole design for easy setup
  • Oversized ceiling pocket provides plenty of storage space
  • Tent vestibule can be vented at the top or bottom using double sliders
  • Easy grip zipper pulls
  • Multiple interior loops for extra gear lofts

Want more space? Get the Tiger Wall 3 Platinum 3-person tent.

Best 1-person backpacking tent

Some people like to travel solo, pack light and move fast. We have a couple great options if this is you.

Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL1

Our first recommendation is the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL1. It is a good combination of being an ultralight backpacking tent, and also offers great features.

  • Trail weight is 1lb 14oz / 850g
  • Minimalist hub pole design, single pole architecture
  • Strong DAC Featherlite NFL pole system 
  • Features 1 door and 1 vestibule with storm flaps
  • Double sliders on vestibule allow for top or bottom venting
  • Large ceiling pocket storage space
  • Fly and floor are silicone treated nylon rip-stop with 1200mm waterproof polyurethane coating
  • All seams taped with waterproof, solvent-free polyurethane tape
  • Tent constructed of breathable nylon rip-stop and polyester mesh
  • Ultralight plastic clips attach tent body to pole frame

Big Agnes Scout 1 Platinum

This is a super ultralight backpacking tent option for one person.

  • Trail weight of 13oz / 369g – So light!
  • Single wall tent construction
  • Requires two 45 inch / 114cm poles trekking poles set up tent
  • Tent body is silicone treated nylon rip-stop with 1200mm waterproof polyurethane coating
  • 16 square feet of floor space, 41 inch head height
  • 3-season tent
  • Double slider zippers for top or bottom venting

Best 4-season backpacking tent

If you are planning backpacking or mountaineering trips where you will encounter frosty wintery weather, you will need a 4-season backpacking tent. A 4-season tent is built for extreme wind and weather. They are more durable and provide full protection against the elements and harsh high alpine conditions.

Big Agnes Battle Mountain 2

Another win for Big Agnes. We like the Battle Mountain 2 (or 3 for extra space) because it appears way easier to assemble compared to the competitors. Nobody wants to struggle in tough weather conditions. We also like the sleek design which is important in high wind and stormy circumstances.

  • Two dual zipper doors
  • Two vestibules offering 3.5 square feet of space
  • Two dual-zipper doors, windows that can be unzipped open for ventilation, or closed
  • Durable polyester high-tenacity ripstop with exceptional tear strength
  • Increased UV resistance
  • Fly is silicone-treated with 1200mm waterproof polyurethane coating
  • Floor is nylon taffeta with a 10,000mm waterproof polyurethane coating
  • Trail weight is 6lb 10oz / 3kg
  • 31 square feet of floor space

So there you have it, our top recommendations for top quality functional tents.

Now, read on to fully understand the various considerations to make, the available features, construction types, and other important factors that will play into choosing your tent.

Considerations When Choosing A Backpacking Tent

There are a number of things that you should consider to ensure that you pick the best backpacking tent for your overall needs.

Environmental and weather conditions

The first and most important thing you need to think about when it comes to picking out a hiking tent is what kind of environment you’re going to be in for most of your adventures.

While you can’t predict or know the weather for your entire trip (depending on its length), you can prepare to the best of your ability.

Some of the top elements you’ll need to consider are wind, rain, snow, and bug protection.

Seasonality

This goes along with the weather, but it’s important to note what type of season tent you want to buy.

A three-season tent is perfect for most types of weather. They have a double-wall, meaning the tent body and the rainfly, and they usually have some mesh paneling to help increase ventilation.

Four-season backpacking tents can be used at any point in the year, but they’re designed for winter hikes. They’re built to endure the harsher elements, but keep in mind that the extra layers can make them heavier to carry. Each one is built solid and usually has less mesh and is made out of thicker material. Four-season tents also usually have a layer that reaches to the ground to keep out snow. Some even have an internal pole so you can set them up even in the middle of a harsh snowstorm.

Campsite compatibility

The next thing you need to consider is what kind of terrain you’ll be camping on throughout your journey.

Will you be sleeping on rocky or flat surfaces? Are there a lot of trees (which provide shade but also usually produce tree roots that stick out)? Is your camping area small or is it more of an open campsite?

Portability

Once you have the conditions written down and know exactly what you need, the next thing you need to consider is how easy it is to move around.

You don’t want to pick just any tent that’ll work for the conditions you’ll be in because you might end up with one that’s far too heavy, which can be a nightmare for a long trip.

First, think about capacity and sizing, aka how many people need to fit into your backpacking tent. If you’re considering something like a hammock tent, you’ll also need to keep your own body weight in mind so you can pick the right tent.

Second, you’ll need to think about the weight of the actual tent. There are lightweight options and medium weight. One of the big factors between the two is the number of tent poles that are included, which can quickly add much more weight.

Adaptability

Since you are buying a hiking/backpacking tent, you’ll probably want to take it on multiple trips so you do want to keep in mind how adaptable it is.

On a trip, you might also come across a ton of different weather conditions, especially considering how long your trip might be. In that case, you’ll want to keep in mind how each tent can adapt to a variety of conditions.

You’ll want to consider the different ways some of these hiking tents can be pitched as well. For example, if you’re stuck in the middle of a snowstorm, you’ll want a tent that can be pitched from the inside so you can stay warm and out of the elements while you set it up.

Condensation Resistance + Ventilation

Keeping the inside of your backpacking tent dry and ventilated are other factors you’ll want to consider. The more ventilation you have, the cooler the inside of your tent will be. This is best for dry, warm climates and certainly not ideal for cold temperatures.

Depending on the type of climate you’re in, you’ll also want to think of ways you can keep condensation out of your tent. Keep in mind if you typically hike in more humid conditions (depending on where you live/travel) or if it’s more of a dry area.

Single-wall backpacking tents usually have condensation appear on the inside, especially in humid temperatures, due to there being no rain fly for ventilation.

Usable space requirements

Depending on how much space you’ll have and how much protection you need, you’ll want to look at the space requirements for the tent when it’s fully set up.

If you know you’ll only have a small, narrow amount of space, you don’t want to pick a tent that’s tall and wide to bring with you.

To calculate how much space you’ll need for the floor, the standard is 25 inches of width per person. If you’re hiking with multiple people or bringing your dog, you’ll want to factor them in as well. Length-wise, backpacking tents around 80 inches (about 6.5 feet) will usually accommodate any height.

Ease of tent setup

If you know you’ll have time before setting up camp, you might not worry too much about how easy a tent is to set up. However, if you might get caught in the rain or snow or will be dealing with varying weather conditions, you’ll want to have a tent that’s fast and easy to set up.

Weight

A good rule of thumb is that you want your tent to weigh 2.5 lbs for each person that will be sleeping in the tent.

On the tent box, you should see something that says “packaged weight” and that’s the total of everything combined together. Keep in mind that you can spread out the materials amongst everyone going on the trip together, depending on the tent size.

Features To Consider

Tent doors + zippers

Tent doors are the next factors you want to keep in mind. The more doors there are, the more weight there will be due to the extra material and zippers. However, more doors could be more functional. It’s up to you how many doors you want that may depend on how many people will be sleeping in your tent and its overall size. Look for doors that are dual zippers with windows

Interior features of backpacking and hiking tents

Tents come with all kinds of customization options. For the interior, some have loops, pockets, places for lights, etc.

Each feature will add more weight, but some are worth it depending on what you need or want.

Rain flys

The rainfly is the second layer that comes with your tent that essentially helps keep out moisture and prevents wind from blowing through your tent.

If you’re camping in hot weather without any rain, then the fly is debatable. Not putting it on will keep your tent ventilated and cooler for those hot nights. On cooler nights you’ll want to put the rain fly on to make sure you stay warm inside.

Rain fly’s are available on both lightweight and heavier tents.

Vestibules

Most tents come with vestibules which give you extra space to store things.

This allows you to store things like gear or shoes outside of your tent.

You will find your typical sloped vestibules on most tents. Some tents offer awning vestibules that are easier to get in and out of and also provide you with a nice window view from inside.

Tent Fabrics/Materials

Uncoated

It’s optional to find tent material that is uncoated, meaning it hasn’t had waterproof layering put onto it.

Coated

As you might guess, coated tents are more waterproof. Most tents come with this already applied.

You can also re-apply a waterproof coating each season or more frequently based on the number of trips you do each year, or how long your tent has been stored unused.

Bug mesh features

If you’re camping somewhere with a lot of bugs, sometimes you want to have good ventilation but without letting all the bugs in the area as well. That’s why you should take a look at the bug mesh that’s installed to make sure it’s the right shape and size for the bugs you’ll be encountering.

There are also some bug shelters that are purely just to keep bugs out, which is an option depending on what you’ll encounter on your hikes.

Waterproof/breathable membranes

Different layers of your tent will have either waterproof or breathable membranes. Once you’ve analyzed the type of environment and weather you’ll be in, you’ll be able to pick a tent with different features.

Cuben Fiber

You’ll find that a large majority of ultralight tents are made out of Cuben fiber. Often, this material will be more expensive than other materials, but depending on how much you camp and what kind of experience you want, it might be worth considering.

Cuben fiber also tends to dry faster than other types of materials, giving you the ability to pack up and go sooner after adverse weather.

Backpacking Tent Construction/Types

Lightweight tents

There are a wide variety of lightweight backpacking tent options. Some double tents have the layers combined to take some of the weight out. You’ll want to keep both weight and durability in mind when it comes to each tent.

Cabin Style tents

Cabin style tents are some of the biggest tents on the market. They usually have multiple doors, high ceilings, and sometimes separate rooms. They are often not built for backpacking due to the massive size and are best suited for car camping.

Dome tents

Similar to cabin style tents, dome tents offer a wide variety of options.

Some are big, come with partial or full-coverage rain flys, have multiple rooms, offer windows, and so on.

Dome tents are some of the more popular backpacking tents available and often have the two top crossing poles, that create that“dome” look.

If you want more storage and space inside, a dome tent is most likely what you should buy.

Double-wall

A double-wall tent has two layers: the tent body and the fly. The fly usually comes separate so you can adjust your tent depending on the weather you’re in. Leaving the fly on helps keep your tent dry and warm, and taking it off cools it down inside.

Single-wall

Single-wall tents have both the tent body and the fly combined into one fabric, and as you can imagine they’re usually much lighter than other types of tents.

Bivy sacks

For short hiking trips, solo hiking, or small camping spaces, bivy sacks are a great option. They’re small, so they won’t take up much weight in your bag. Imagine a sleeping bag, but with good enough protection to sleep in and take with you on the go. Bivy sacks are usually easy to set up and only take a few minutes to take apart.

Tarp Systems/Shelters

Tarp systems and shelters are a great option when it comes to protecting your camping area from the elements. You can use them regardless of what type of backpacking tent you choose to use (dome, hammock, etc) or even just for quick cover so you can cook or take a break.

Flats

Flat tarps are some of the easiest to transport and are usually the least expensive compared to other types. Generally, they don’t come with extra features so it’s just a flat surface to use as you need.

A-Frames

With a tarp, it’s possible to form an A-frame over your tent/bivy sack/etc. They’re not always easy to pitch, so be sure to practice before you’re out in the dark trying to figure it out. A-frames aren’t always perfect when it comes to keeping out wind, but they can make a good shelter.

Mids

Mids are a great option if you’re looking to camp in questionable weather. They usually have two poles and can handle a lot of weather options, including snow.

Modular Components For Backpacking Tents

Groundsheets/cloths

Groundsheets are a great option for anyone who wants to focus on making their carrying load even lighter. Most of them are relatively cheap and incredibly small for carrying on the go. Some are made with more cloth-like materials that are there to prevent flooding and let the ground underneath it breathe.

Tent footprints

Tent footprints are similar to groundsheets, but are usually thicker and can handle more wear and tear.

A tent footprint is an extra layer to protect your tent against sharp rocks or gravel under your tent, extending the life of your tent.

Bug prevention gear

Keeping bugs out of your tent and off your body can make your experience so much better. You have a few options to keep them away:

  • Head nets – you wear these around your head to keep bugs off your face
  • Bug skirts – bug skirts are an extra layer to keep bugs out of your camp
  • Bug nests – go around your tent for extra bug prevention
  • Bug bivies – if you camp bivies, you might want to add an extra layer of mesh that keeps bugs off of you while you sleep

Hammocks / Hammock Backpacking Tents

If you choose to go with a hammock, you’ll come across two main varieties of tents. We’ll break down what each one is and the pros and cons of each.

Gathered-end hammocks

Gathered-end hammocks are much lighter than bridge hammocks, due to there being no bridge. They’re also usually cheaper and fit into small bags for easy carrying. Generally, they only take a few minutes to set up.

Bridge hammocks

Bridge hammocks are much heavier due to the poles, but they provide a different type of sleeping surface and usually are made out of stronger materials. Depending on how you like to sleep and how much room you need, you’ll have to choose between the two. If you prefer to sleep on your side, a bridge hammock will be much more comfortable than a gathered-end hammock.

How To Care For And Maintain Backpacking Tents

After you finally make your choice and pick a tent or hammock you want to make sure you get the most out of it with proper care. Here are some tips you’ll want to keep in mind so you can do your best to prevent any damage.

Choose established campsites first

By choosing an established campsite, you’re more likely to avoid sharp rocks and have smoother ground for sleeping. This will help you avoid wear and tear plus will help you avoid damaging any nature.

Use a tent footprint or groundsheet

A footprint or groundsheet will help save the bottom of your tent. They’re almost always light and worth the investment.

Avoid long term sun exposure

Keeping your tent out of direct sunlight will help keep the material together and strong for years to come.

Set up slowly and be slow with zippers

Every time you put your tent up and down, you should focus on making sure you are careful with the fabric. You don’t want anything to happen to the tent fabric or the poles which can easily happen if you’re rushing. The same goes for your zippers. If they get caught, just go slow and try to unstick it without forcing them.

Leave boots and food outside

Leaving your shoes and food outside will prevent crumbs and mud from getting all throughout the inside of your tent. Even if you do this, be sure to shake out your tent after your adventures to make sure all debris comes out.

Keep tent dry

If you get caught in some rain or tough weather, make sure you give your tent time to dry out or do as soon as you can.

How To Clean Hiking + Backpacking Tents

One easy way to clean your tent is to simply set it up and wipe it down with a mild soap. Then, wash it off and let it dry completely. Make sure you do not use detergent or put it in your washer since that can hurt your tent and take off the waterproof layer.

Waterproofing of tents

Most tents will come with waterproof layering already added, but you can also add more or redo the layer if it has worn off from your various adventures.

Tent repairs and patching

Even with all of your extra care, you’re still sure to have some rips and tears here and there. There are some cheap kits online you can buy to carry on the go for quick repairs or put them on when you’re back home.

Seam sealer is cheap for fixing any open leaks throughout your tent.

A pole repair sleeve is one of the fastest ways to fix your broken or damaged poles.

The Top Brands Of Hiking And Backpacking Tents

  • REI
  • Big Agnes
  • MSR
  • Nemo
  • MEC (Canada)
  • Marmot
  • Mountain Hardwear
  • Sierra Designs
  • The North Face
  • Kelty
  • Eureka

Where To Buy Hiking And Backpacking Tents

  • REI
  • MEC (Canada)
  • Backcountry
  • Bass Pro Shops
  • Amazon
  • Local camping and outdoors store

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