(The Gear Loop) - Having one of the best backpacking tents makes a huge difference to any wild camping adventure. Whether you’re seeking out a secret cove or a sensational summit viewpoint for sunset, you need to be able to pitch safe in the knowledge that your shelter can cope with whatever the elements can – and undoubtedly will – throw at it.
The best backpacking tents not only give you ample protection, they also pack down small and weigh surprisingly little in your pack. Say goodbye to cumbersome and uncomfortable walks-ins, as modern backpacking tents are engineered to within an inch of their life, with every conceivable gram shaved off, from their poles to their guy lines.
So, here we present the best backpacking tents for 3-season adventures, shelters that won’t weigh you down on the trail or let you down in a rainstorm.
If you’re after a warm fortress of fabric for the winter months, these aren’t the tents for you. But we do have a guide to some pretty high-tech winter tents here.
These are five of the very finest shelters around. Each has built a solid reputation in the outdoor world, from the excellent value of Wild Country’s Zephyros Compact 2 to the ultralight qualities of Big Agnes' Tiger Wall UL series.
The best lightweight backpacking tents
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL1
- Great for bike-packing
- Really light
- Easy to set up
- Very small
- Carry sack designed for bikes
Granted, this tent is designed to loop onto the handlebars of bikes - or around the frame - but it actually make a fantastic backpacking tent all the same. This is thanks to the fact that it uses 12-inch Shortstik Poles, which save a massive amount of space in any pack.
It’s also a very clever little tent, boasting reflective guylines and colour-coded webbing on tent corners, making it easy to set-up both during the day and in low light conditions.
Although there’s only really room for one inside, Big Agnes throws in a 3D shelf, which utilises dead space above your feet and elastic webbing that allows for things like jackets and other lightweight pieces of kit to hang.
It’s a 3 Season tent, which means ti can handle the worst of most weather bar the horrendous depths of winter, but we love all of the clever touches. Stash pockets, holes of trailing wired headphones out of said pockets and the way it packs down into a unit that can be carried in multiple ways.
Sea to Summit Alto TR2
- Spacious vestibules and high ceiling
- Packed weight can be shared with others
- Multiple set-up options
- Gear loft sold separately
Aussie brand Sea to Summit has leapt into the tent market with its new range of lightweight, semi-freestanding Alto and freestanding Telos tents, creating plenty of buzz in the process.
The Alto TR2 is their ultra-lightweight 2-person backpacking tent and we’ve been thoroughly impressed with this innovative, 3-season expedition shelter.
The TR2 features Sea to Summit’s patent-pending Tension Ridge Architecture pole system, which creates an upturned frame that the inner tent attaches to. This allows for a gloriously roomy inner, especially for a backpacking tent, and gives you two large vestibules too – perfect for storing soggy gear and boots or for cooking up an expedition meal.
Ventilation also benefits from the tent’s unique architecture and the mesh inner is extremely breathable. When it comes to adding the outer tent, there are five different set-up configurations to choose from depending on the weather.
There are some lovely innovative features too, such as the way the TR2 is stored. The tent packs down into two stuff sacks and a longer bar for the poles, allowing you to distribute the load within your own pack or with your hiking buddies.
These stuff sacks double-up as storage that you can clip into the tent when assembled, while the pole bar becomes an illuminating, overhead light bar when combined with your head torch. In addition to this, the TR2 only weighs 1.16 kg, making it one of the lightest 2-person backpacking tents out there. A superb option.
The Alto TR1 1-person tent is also available for those looking to travel even lighter.
Nemo Dragonfly 2
- Spacious vestibules
- Plenty of storage
- Easy, intuitive setup
- Slightly heavier than others at this price point
Nemo’s Dragonfly 2 hits the sweet spot, combining durability, performance, great features and lightweight qualities to give you a backpacking tent that really does have it all. Its freestanding design and high-arching main pole makes the inner tent wonderfully spacious, while the outer tent is pitched in such a way to give you ample vestibule space.
Speaking of pitching, colour-coded poles and attachments make it extremely intuitive and quick to assemble.
The Dragonfly’s interior benefits from ample storage pockets, including a large gear loft, as well as light diffuser pockets that combine with your head torch to give pleasant illumination for reading. On warm summer nights, you can forego the flysheet and gaze at the stars thanks to the inner’s thin white mesh.
Weighing in at 1.43 kg, it’s not the lightest tent here but it is probably the most liveable in our selection, and its storage options are superb. The trail weight can be shared between two, thanks to the included “Divvy Sack”, which is also handy for distributing within your own backpack.
All in all, a seriously solid performer that won’t let you down, one of the best backpacking tents around. There are also 1-person and 3-person versions available.
MSR Hubba Hubba NX
- Spacious inner for a backpacking tent
- Excellent durability and performance
- Heavier than direct competition
- No way of distributing packed weight
- Seams stitched rather than sealed
MSR, which stands for Mountain Safety Research, have been producing high-quality gear from its Seattle base for over half a century and its backpacking tents are highly regarded in the outdoor world. The Hubba Hubba NX is the leading 2-person backpacking shelter and ticks many boxes in our opinion.
Like Sea to Summit’s Alto TR2 and Nemo’s Dragonfly, the Hubba Hubba NX benefits from a spacious inner thanks to its poled frame, while the symmetrical geometry of its flysheet maximises roominess and gives you airy vestibules. There are four gear pockets to hold items like your guidebooks and head torches too.
The outer is crafted from 20D ripstop nylon that’s equipped to repel the worst of the British rain and it performs well in most scenarios. However, the seams are not sealed as in most leading tents but are instead precision stitched, which raises eyebrows about how they would cope with a full-on Welsh downpour.
Other aspects to consider are that, while still comparatively light compared to most, the Hubba Hubbba NX is heavier than direct competitors. That packed weight also goes into one stuff sack, so there’s no opportunity to share it with others.
Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL1 Solution Dye
Great inner storage
Environmentally conscious manufacturing
Not as weather resistant as some rivals
Gear loft sold separately
For the ideal ultralight shelter for fast-packing adventures, look no further than the Big Agnes Tiger Wall Series. The UL1 is the obvious choice for the solo camper looking to go as light as possible in a tent, while the UL2 is a comparable model to the other 2-person tents in this guide. Here, we feature the UL1 as the ultimate solo shelter for long distance missions into the wild.
Crafted using a DAC Featherlite pole system and with a packed weight of just 964g, Big Agnes is clearly aiming squarely at gram-counting campers. It’s also a product for environmentally conscious consumers, as its solution dyed fabric drastically reduces energy consumption and water use during manufacturing, making it a greener choice than most.
The inner boasts elevated storage for your bits and bobs, while you can even route your headphone wire through ‘media pockets’ above the sleeping area. The UL1 features one modest vestibule for storing wet gear and one zippered door.
Its lightweight features mean that it is not quite as weather resistant as some of its rivals but it will still hold its own in all be the worst conditions.
Wild Country Zephyros Compact 2
- Great value
- Quick and easy setup and pack down
- Well-suited to challenging weather conditions
- Heavier than other leading options
- Less vestibule space than some
For those on a budget, the award-winning Wild Country’s Zephyros Compact 2 is a tried and trusted stalwart of the wild camping scene. Bells and whistles? Forget about it. This is a sturdy, robust tent that does its job efficiently, without fuss and at a fraction of the price of some of its competitors.
Set-up is a doddle, with one long magnetic pole that clicks into place and two shorter poles for either end. The inner is already clipped to the outer, meaning you can erect both at once and enjoy having your fortress of fabric up in no time at all. Its distinctively low-profile form sheds wind when it’s blowing a hoolie and the flysheet’s waterproof credentials have stood up to driech conditions time and time again.
The 'Compact' in the name is apt: this is a serious squeeze for two people and the vestibule is not as spacious as some either. At 1.85 kg, it’s also heavier than the more expensive options here, but it’s hard to pick fault at this price point.
All in all, this is an excellent 3-season backpacking shelter for those who don’t want to break the bank and if you’re looking for an even lighter option, there’s the Zephyros Compact 1 too.
What to look for when buying a backpacking tent
Portability vs performance
Backpacking tents have to dance along the tightrope of performance and portability. They have to repel the worst of the mountain elements, while still packing down small and light to stow away in your backpack.
This is the compromise that all the best backpacking tents make. Lighter materials are generally less weather resistant, which is why lightweight backpacking tents are usually only rated for 3-season use. Winter campers will want to look elsewhere.
If speed is your priority and you expect to be mostly camping in fair weather, then you’ll want an ultralight tent that won’t weigh you down on the trails. If you’re not too worried about Fastest Known Times or any kind of fast-packing pursuits, look for a tent that boasts excellent waterproof credentials, with a high hydrostatic head rating.
If you’re sharing your tent with a buddy, keep an eye out for shelters that stow away into multiple stuff sacks and therefore enable you to share the load on the trail.
Just as is the case with ultralight, packable waterproof jackets, backpacking tents prioritise minimalism, portability and low weight over having all the bells and whistles of a larger, heavier shelter. However, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t expect a few innovative features. We are talking about the very best backpacking tents here, after all.
Let’s start with the two vees: vestibules and vents. Vestibules, or porches, are essential on backpacking tents, as they are where you dump your wet, dirty gear and hiking boots to keep them out of the elements but also to keep them away from your cosy, dry inner.
A large vestibule is also beneficial for a bit of shelter when you want to get the camping stove on the go but the howling wind has other ideas. Vents are just as important, as they allow airflow and stop condensation building during the night.
You can also expect in-built pockets for storage of items like your phone or multitool. There is often some kind of alternative to the attachment for a camping lantern, which is quite a bulky item for backpackers to carry, at the apex of the inner tent. Sea to Summit’s Alto TR2 takes an innovative approach to this, allowing you to use the pole storage as a light-bar in conjunction with a head torch.
Unless you’re wild camping with your better half, or you’re on really good terms with your co-camper, you might want to go one tent size up from the number of people that are actually going to sleep in it.
A 2-person tent is usually a bit a squeeze for two, while a 4-person tent is great for a couple and their two kids but you probably wouldn’t want to sleep four fully grown adults in there.
Of course, if you’re on a seriously tough expedition, where every gram counts, you might choose to plump for a 2-person tent for two of you. This approach is especially beneficial if you’re expecting some cold nights, as the heat given off by two humans will warm the tent more efficiently than just one.