You’ve spent a small fortune on the best hiking boots to keep your feet from blistering. You have a gorgeous new camping grill and lightweight camping stove for searing up meats and giving your palette a trip to flavor country. Your camp knife is in your pocket, now all you need is one thing: A halfway decent backpacking tent so that you don’t die of exposure on the trail. In the rule of threes, shelter is the one thing you won’t last a few hours without.
There’s nothing more important than having the right tent, and we’re not going to lie, that isn’t going to come cheap. You need it to be made of lightweight materials that you can lug around, since your pack mule won’t be making this trip with you. It has to be able to retain heat, fight off sudden storms, stand up to repeated packing and unpacking without breaking down, and give you enough space that your bits aren’t left to fly in the wind or freeze off when the mercury drops. For the sweet spot of weight, space, price, and protection, we rounded up the 7 best backpacking tents.
Mountain Hardwear Optic 2.5
Pro: 37 square feet when setup
Con: Velcro fasteners make opening and closing the door annoying
Rookie Refuge: Beware of the cheap tent, for it shall lure you in with promises and lies, then leave you high and dry – or more commonly, low and wet – when you need it most. For a reasonable price, you shouldn’t go lower than the Optic 2.5. It’s the entry-grade cover for the amateur that can provide three seasons worth of adventures on the trail. You can throw it together alone in less than 5 minutes. The interior is spacious with lots of pockets and hidey-holes for stowing all your gear for the night. The outer flaps can be rolled back for a 180-degree panoramic view that lets you truly see all of the purple mountains majesty.
Six Moon Designs Lunar Duo
Pro: Just 15″ X 6″ when packed
Con: Seam seals are not fully waterproof out of the box
Light, Right, and Tight: Can a decent tent weigh a scant 2.5 pounds? It can if it is the Lunar Duo. There’s 34 square feet of space inside with dual doors so there’s no climbing over your camping companion to answer nature’s call. Constructed of 30D silicon nylon there’s a lot to love about this tent. At its zenith, the tent reaches 45 inches in height for a domed feel that is fine for sitting upright or for moving around. It has a single wall construction that suffers from some condensation issues, but lots of venting keep the wetness to a minimum. Setup is simple, using a trekking poles and stakes style arrangement.
Nemo Equipment Blaze
Pro: Uses a traditional, classic construction
Con: Is not freestanding
Solo Sojourner: Most of the really good backpacking tents are made with two people in mind, as if you know anyone who can keep up with your rigorous trail excursions. You don’t need love and companionship, you need a tent that is rugged, light, and action ready. For you lone wolves out there, the Blaze is the way to go. At just 2-pounds and offering no more than 18 square feet of floor space, this employs a semi-traditional x-pole design to maximum effect. Instead of a true X, you just have one pole with stakes creating the other axis. Fewer poles means less bulk and a simpler setup. Still able to give you a 40-inch height on the 7D PeU ripstop nylon, it’s all the company you need.
Easton Kinetic Carbon 3-Person
Pro: Double wall construction
Con: One door
Triple Decker: If you’re the sucker on a hiking trip who’s carrying the 3-person backpacking tent, you’re going to want it to be this one. At just 3.5 pounds, it’s actually smaller and lighter than most dual and single tents, yet still can fit everyone comfortably once you set it up. Carbon fiber poles are used to create the spacious interior which stretches out admirably to give you sufficient room for a whole family. At 43 square feet, you’ll never want for space and the 20D ripstop nylon with PU coating means you won’t want for comfort during any outing during the three usable seasons.
The North Face Mountain 25
Pro: “Front porch” snow flaps
Con: 9 pounds trail weight
Year Round: If your trips include packing an ice axe “just in case” then you’re going to want a 4-season tent that can really hold its own when the temperature heads south for the winter. Alpine backpackers and mountaineers will find the Mountain 25 from North Face to be up to the challenge. Kevlar guylines and reinforced pole crosses make this sturdy in the face of high winds and snow. Inside is a load of mesh pockets and gear stowage space for tucking away your winter wonders. Extended flaps give you an awning for boots and other wet pieces that aren’t allowed inside.
ZPacks Duplex Tent
Pro: Weighs less than 2 pounds
Con: Small yet costly
Wetness Protection: Let the little people have their ripstop nylon, you crave a finer fabric. For the discerning backpacker, there’s Cuben Fiber, a costly but extremely effective alternative to nylon or canvas when considering a your next tent. It is entirely waterproof yet light as gossamer for easy carrying. It repels water so well that it never sags or droops when wet or cold. The Duplex is a single wall, poles and stakes arrangement, so setup is easy, but condensation can be a problem. You can cram two people in here, but it’s better for lonesome rangers.
Hilleberg Anjan 2
Pro: Inner and outer tent sections can be used independently
Con: Tunnel design takes time to learn
One Tent to Rule Them All: Year after year the Anjan 2 is the cream that rises to the top of the market. The tunnel design shrugs off wind, rain, and snow for a camping experience that is magnificent no matter what nature throws at you. Bike camping, car camping, motorcycle camping, and standard backpacking are all easier and better with the Anjan 2. It creates a 14 square foot vestibule for stashing your gear while the sleeping area is extensive, though streamlined for sleeping rather than standing, since it’s 38-inches or so at the door, which is the highest point. Use the rain fly as a shelter or cover for your camping hammock, or just take the inner tent for hot summer nights.