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Published Mar. 16, 2022

Protecting yourself—and your gear—from the elements is core to the backpacking experience, and that starts with choosing the best backpacking tent for your needs. From mosquitoes, to downpours, to surprise summer snow and windstorms, finding a tent that you can sleep soundly in is pivotal. Our picks are some of the best backpacking tents on the market today, engineered to protect you from the elements with only a few pounds of nylon and aluminum. 

Things to Consider Before Buying a Backpacking Tent

Purpose 

Backpackers can expect to face a variety of conditions depending on the time of year and the part of the country they are exploring, so knowing the extremes of your climate is essential to choosing a tent. The tents in this selection are primarily three-season tents, although the Nemo Kenai pick is appropriate for mild winter conditions, and we’d stick to the summer months with our budget pick. First-time tent buyers should know that four-season tents are generally built to hold heat in, and are not an appropriate choice if the primary season you plan to backpack in is summer. 

Freestanding vs. Not Freestanding

The majority of backpacking tents on the market are freestanding, meaning that once you snap poles into their grommets, you’ll have a reasonable approximation of what the final structure will look like. Freestanding tents are a great choice for first-time backpackers, as there tends to be less guesswork during the initial set up. The advantage of non-freestanding tents is that they are typically lighter than their freestanding counterparts (some even do away with separate poles as well by incorporating trekking poles into the design), but they usually take some practice to get used to. 

Single Wall vs. Double Wall

The three-person tent on our list is an example of a classic single-wall design, meaning that the main body of the tent is waterproof, rather than a separate rainproof shell that attaches to the exterior side of the poles. Single-wall tents tend to work best for backpackers in climates with minimal bugs and a tendency for rain—their main advantage is that the interior of your tent will stay dry during setup (they are usually also a bit lighter in weight), but they tend to collect condensation more rapidly on the interior and run hotter at the height of summer. Double-wall tents, which have a mesh body with a waterproof layer thrown over top, tend to breathe better and work best for backpackers exploring climes with substantial mosquitoes or other bugs. 

Weight

Car camping tents are bulky, with even the lightest models weighing upwards of five pounds per person. Backpacking tents are much lighter, typically weighing less than three pounds per person, with some ultralight (UL) models approaching one pound or less. There is usually a tradeoff with weight savings for durability and price with backpacking tents. Backpackers focused on short trips may prefer a heavier option while those that plan on high-mileage days would do better with a lightweight model. 

Size

Over the years, many backpackers have found that a one-person tent is a tight squeeze for anyone over five foot ten—forget about squeezing in your pack and the rest of your gear. It’s not uncommon to see larger backpackers opt for two-person, or even three-person, tents to get enough leg room. The picks below have all been tested with a 6-foot-3-inch individual, and we’re confident that their length will accommodate most people. 

A brown one-person best backpacking tent in the woods
Grabbing the Quarter Dome SL 1 is a no-brainer for solo weekend-warrior treks. Laura Lancaster

Best 1-Person Backpacking Tent: REI Co-op Quarter Dome SL 1 Tent

REI Co-op

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Key Features

  • Trail weight: 1 pound, 15 ounces 
  • Floor dimensions: 88 inches x 35 inches with a tapered foot
  • Peak height: 38 inches 
  • Number of poles: 1
  • Double wall
  • Mostly freestanding

Why It Made the Cut

The Quarter Dome SL 1 had plenty of headroom and leg space for even our tallest testers. I also found that its single pole made for a surprisingly fast and easy setup. 

Pros

  • A true 1-person tent
  • Fast and easy setup
  • Large entry 

Cons

  • Water tends to drip into the tent when the fly is opened haphazardly

Product Description

Whenever I’m setting up a new tent for the first time, I’m braced for frustration. Will the poles be too loose when they’re first snapped into place, or will I be struggling with the tent’s tension? Will I throw the rainfly on in the right direction on the first go-around or the third? Will the stakes be easy to get in the ground, or am I going to hit a rock? But my initial stab at setting up the Quarter Dome SL 1 was a breeze, thanks to thoughtful design features like color-coding on the pole and tent body and wide loops that pull taut with minimal effort. 

An orange and mesh best backpacking tent in the woods
Testing out an older version of the Copper Spur to see how this tent had stood up to years of trail abuse. Laura Lancaster

The interior is surprisingly roomy for its weight and size, with plenty of room for odds and ends, but unless you plan to stash your bag underneath your feet at night, it’ll have to go into your vestibule. While this tent is sufficiently freestanding to be used on wooden platforms, the 28-inch width at the foot of the tent vanishes if the corresponding loops aren’t staked out (although jimmying some ropes works well in a pinch). 

This tent’s weatherproofing is just fine for summer adventures, but, like all single-person tents in this style, there is a tendency for any moisture that’s collected on the fly to rain down when I open it too quickly. But giving the door a couple of firm shakes before you open it was more than sufficient to keep ourselves and our gear when it was time to pack up in the morning. 

Best 2-Person Backpacking Tent: Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2

Big Agnes

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Key Features

  • Weight: 2 pounds, 11 ounces
  • Floor dimensions: 88 inches x 52 inches with a tapered foot
  • Peak height: 40 inches
  • Number of poles: 2
  • Double wall
  • Freestanding

Why It Made the Cut

The Copper Spur is both light enough to impress ultralight thru-hikers and durable enough for first-time backpackers. Dual-door entry makes it easy to share this tent.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Packs down small
  • Fast and easy setup

Cons

  • Tapered foot makes it difficult to sleep in opposite directions

Product Description

This tent has become a mainstay of the lightweight backpacking community for good reason. It perfectly balances low weight with long-term durability and an intuitive setup—two people exhausted by a big day on trail can easily erect this tent in a couple of minutes. I’ve seen backpackers take the Copper Spur everywhere from thru-hikes of the John Muir Trail to casual trips on the Olympic Coast, and it’s performed equally well in all environments.

Like many lightweight tents, treating this one with some TLC will extend its lifespan over the long haul—I recommend taking along the 5 ounce accompanying ground sheet and choosing tent sites free of branches or burrs that could snag on the rainfly. 

This has long been one of the top choices for couples heading out on longer adventures into the backcountry, but some men have found that it’s a bit cozier than they’d like when a friend squeezes in. A longer version of this tent is coming out in 2022 that should make it easier to sleep facing opposite directions, as well as stash bags inside, if necessary. 

Best 3-Person Backpacking Tent: Tarptent Cloudburst 3

Tarptent

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Key Features

  • Weight: 3 pounds, 5 ounces
  • Floor dimensions: 86 inches x 62 inches
  • Peak height: 40 inches
  • Number of poles: 2
  • Single wall
  • Not freestanding

Why It Made the Cut

At just over a pound per person, the Cloudburst 3 is one of the best weight-to-size tents I’ve tried. 

Pros

  • Simpler setup than most non-freestanding tents
  • Fits three people easily, with extra gear going into the vestibules
  • Maximum height extending down the spine of the tent means multiple people can sit up at once
  • Optional third pole can be added for shoulder-season adventures

Cons

  • More prone to condensation than double-wall tents
  • Performs poorly in high winds without the third pole
  • Large footprint can make it difficult to find a spot to set up

Product Description

Despite its unusual profile, this tent is faster to set up than many double-wall freestanding tents. Once the two poles have been slung into their sleeves and attached to the grommets on either side of the door opening, all that’s left to do is thread the four stakes through the three loops that pull the door, roof, and bathtub floor taut, and stake them out to create tension across the tent. It took a few tries to get this right the first few times I set this tent up, but before long I could get it up with another person in under a minute (useful during a surprise rainstorm in the southern Oregon Cascades). 

A green dome best backpacking tent in a field
The Cloudburst 3 might pick up its fair share of condensation, but the roomy interior made it easy to avoid touching the side walls during a trek on The Colorado Trail. Laura Lancaster

Unlike double-wall tents, the interior of the Cloudburst 3 stays dry during setup, and its substantial bathtub floor keeps you dry even when your tent site collects water underneath. My go-to is to skip the groundsheet with this tent, but for rockier climes or treks off the beaten path, I’d recommend a groundsheet to increase its longevity. 

It would be hard to find a tent with more usable interior space than the Cloudburst 3, which can be a gamechanger when you need to take a break from the elements for an hour (or a day), and its dual-entry design make it easy to duck out for bathroom break in the middle of the night without waking your backpacking partners. 

Most Versatile Backpacking Tent: NEMO Kunai 3–4 Season Backpacking Tent

Nemo Equipment

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Key Features

  • Weight: 3 pounds, 14 ounces
  • Floor dimensions: 82 inches x 50 inches with a tapered foot
  • Peak height: 44 inches tapered
  • Number of poles: 2
  • Double wall
  • Freestanding

Why It Made the Cut

This tent performs at the outer edges of the three seasons while still being a solid option for summer adventures. The Kunai is the best tent for backpackers facing uncertain weather. 

Pros

  • Taut, structurally sound design
  • Double-wall design breathes well 
  • Lightweight for a four-season tent

Cons

  • Tougher setup than a three-season tent
  • A tight squeeze for two people

Product Description 

This might not be a true four-season tent, but if your concern is being hit by a shoulder season snowstorm or high winds above treeline, the Nemo Kunai offers the most security of any pick on our list. And, unlike a true four-season tent, the mesh windows on the interior provide enough ventilation for use in average summer conditions. 

Unlike other three-season tents, this tent was tough to set up during an early spring test trip to the Tenmile Range of Colorado. But in this case, that’s a feature, not a bug. While the basic setup is similar to other standard backpacking tents, tension in the Kunai’s poles that make them a chore to secure in the grommets is exactly what makes this tent so taut and stiff when fully erected—ready to handle high winds or a sudden snowstorm. 

Part of how this tent stayed lightweight while upping its performance is by using a thinner nylon, which can become an issue for the floor over time. I recommend purchasing the footprint if you plan to take this tent out on anything more substantial than fresh powder.

Best Budget Backpacking Tent: Ozark Trail 2-Person Backpacking Tent

Key Features

  • Weight: 7 pounds, 9 ounces
  • Floor dimensions: 90 inches x 54 inches
  • Peak height: 42 inches
  • Number of poles: 3
  • Double wall
  • Freestanding

Why It Made the Cut

Bargain basement price combined with basic functionality makes this a serviceable option for fair-weather summer adventures. I like to have this around as a loaner tent for friends thinking about getting into backpacking. 

Pros

  • Extremely low price
  • Durable floor that doesn’t need a groundsheet
  • True two person tent, including for larger men

Cons

  • Heavy
  • Not built for serious conditions

Product Description

Not all backpacking adventures have me counting ounces or facing the potential of a surprise snowstorm. Sometimes I’m just heading three miles down the trail to a cool lake on a hot day. The forecast is clear for miles and I’m already carrying a chair, a hardback, and some beer—I’m not fussed about having an ultralight bomber tent. 

Which is good, because this tent is not that. At over 3 pounds per person, it’s substantially heavier than our other picks (the stakes alone are heavier than some UL tarps). And there are some noticeable quality differences between this and our higher priced recs. The stitching of the fly of the floor is considerably thicker and looser, suggesting that this tent may let in some water in the wrong conditions. I’d trust it in a PNW drizzle or the fair weather nights of the southwest. Torrential downpours on the eastern seaboard, or pretty much any day in Colorado’s mercurial mountain ranges? Not so much. 

A blue best backpacking tent next to a river
The Ozark Trail 2 packs a lot of functionality into a tiny price tag. Laura Lancaster

But there are some pros to the Ozark Trail 2 (beyond that two-figure price tag). First off, it’s big. It easily fits both my husband and me and our gear without having to stash anything in the vestibule. The floor is quite substantial—no need for a separate tarp to go under it. It’s also a reasonably straightforward set up—newbie backpackers should try it out on the driveway before taking it out for an overnight, but if you’re familiar with car camping tents, this won’t pose any significant challenges. 

FAQs

Q: How much do backpacking tents cost?

The cost of a backpacking tent is almost always tied to weight—the lighter a tent is, the more you can expect to shell out for it. Our budget pick is easily the cheapest option available—most single-person backpacking tents run between $150 and $400, while backpacking tents for three or more people can run upwards $1,000. I recommend aiming to spend around $300 for a one-person tent, $400 for a two-person tent, or $500 for a three-person tent. 

Q: What’s the difference between a camping tent and a backpacking tent?

The key differences between backpacking tents and campings tents are weight and volume. Most camping tents are too large to fit inside of a backpacking backpack (although you can sometimes strap them to the outside) and they tend to weigh upwards of 5 pounds per person. That being said, if your camping tent is under 5 pounds per person, and you can securely strap it to your pack, then this can be a reasonable way to find out if you like backpacking enough to invest in lighter gear specifically for the trail. 

Read Next: The Best Family Tents

Q: What do backpacking tents weigh?

Backpacking tents typically weigh between 1 and 3 pounds per person, with some ultralight models (usually designated as such with the initials “UL”) weighing even less. Unless you are an experienced backpacker, I recommend staying away from tents with poles made from lightweight materials (such as carbon fiber), as these tend to be quite fragile. Dyneema is a popular lightweight fabric that is increasingly being used by tent manufacturers, but it comes with a substantial price bump (and tends to look, though not perform, worse for wear over time). 

A woman smiling in a tent
Glad to be in a four-season tent when waking up to a foot of snow in the North Cascades. Laura Lancaster

Methodology

I’ve tried, and watched others try, numerous backpacking tents over hundreds of nights during the last decade in nine different states, covering everything from alpine meadows to old-growth forests. I’ve had my fair share of mishaps in tents, from getting flooded out in Southern California to being blown off a sand dune outside of Death Valley, to bringing the wrong poles for my winter tent during a snowshoeing overnight in Olympic National Park. The picks in this article are the ones that I would recommend to anyone looking to make a first-time backpacking tent purchase, as they are a great balance between price, weight, and in-the-field functionality. 

Final Thoughts

There are great backpacking tents on the market today for every budget and backpacking style. The introduction of ultralight tents onto the market has led to a revolution in both weight-savings and engineering that today’s backpackers can benefit from, but first-time backpackers should shop cautiously, as many of the lightest tents on the market require special handling and have a shorter lifespan. Choose the best backpacking tent for the adventures that you are planning, rather than what is the latest and greatest.

Read Next: Best Backpacking Stoves

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