Finding the best backpacking tent isn't easy in such a crowded market, but fear not, the backpacking tent niche has some big red flags to help weed out the pretenders with ease. The best tent for general camping is not the same as the best backpacking tent. Here, the key things to keep front of mind are weight, followed by packsize and durability.
That's not to say you'll need to compromise on any of those things to get an awesome tent, but heavier tents will seem to weigh more and more with each extra mile you carry them, so swerve the extra weight where possible. Packsize is also important for longer trips, especially in more rugged country, where keeping a streamlined and well-packed hiking backpack is an essential survival skill in itself. For example the huge disc of a packed popup tent is fairly impractical for hiking anyway, but downright dangerous on a airy ridge or exposed crest, while a neatly packed tent inside a rucksack is much less susceptible to damage from rock abrasion, as well as being less of a windsock.
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Finally, internal space and durability are both considerations, most importantly the number of sleepers you'll be squeezing in – remember that splitting heavier tents between 3 or 4 can reduce the load enormously. While you'll generally want to maximise weight savings over internal space, room inside can be a vital personal sanity factor on longer trips, so keeping a balance between comfort and weight here is key...
Choosing the best backpacking tent for you
When you're spending long days on the trail, a good night’s sleep is important for helping you to rest and recover. A rugged, weatherproof and lightweight backpacking tent provides the shelter and warmth you need to get that kind of sleep. The best backpacking tents go up quickly and come down in a jiffy. Some of our favourites have mesh windows and mini porches, which are a lifesaver for creating the illusion of extra living space when there's more than one of you in the tent. In-tent pockets are also a godsend, as you can stash your gear and keep the floor space clear. This is itself will help your living space look neater and more spacious.
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You may have to sacrifice some of these creature comforts to keep the weight down, but, depending on the tent’s design, you could split it up between you and your backpacking buddies. This way, you won't be carrying the entire tent yourself.
Most importantly, your backpacking tent needs to be waterproof. Ideally you can fit it (either whole or split it up with your mates) into your backpack, but usually you’ll find that backpackers strap them to the outside of their backpacks. That means the tent you choose needs to be waterproof, just in case you’re caught out in bad weather.
The best backpacking tents to buy now
The Wild Country Zephyros Compact 2 won a T3 Award 2020 for this ingenious package. Fast to pitch thanks to the pitch-as-one inner and outer, minimalist poles (one big, two small) and lightweight come together in a brilliant backpacking tent. Weighing in at well under a kilo per person, and packing down incredibly short, this is a tent for carting serious distances in pretty much any weather (technically rated at three season), while still enjoying the process a little.
Good ventilation thanks to huge vents and simple to take down in a hurry (remove poles, roll into bag, thrust in bag), this is a classic-in-the making. There's pretty much no compromise here at all on materials, durability or weight, which is quite an achievement.
The Vango F10 Project Hydrogen deserves an inclusion here for two key reasons – technical innovation, and ludicrous lightness. That last metric is pretty essential when carrying tents on your back, and Project Hydrogen's 680gram trail weight is as light as they come. Admittedly it isn't a large tent, and inflating it in a gathering storm will undoubtedly be Type II fun at best, but there are plenty of heavier sleeping mats.
That said, Vango hasn't skimped on the details here, serving up a twin-skin build (important to fend off condensation), as well as a Yunan carbon fibre singular pole which sits at the foot-end of the tent. Cotton thread that expands to seal gaps when wet means there's no seam tape here, shaving a few more grams, while a 7D nylon with double silicone flysheet should keep the wet stuff outside in all but the worst weather.
There are a lot of good points about the Robens Arrow head, price being a key one, as well as the solid build quality. That solid build does push the official weight up somewhat, but ingenious packing can cut several hundred grams off that. The big selling point here is literally a big one – the internal space is positively palatial for a solo hiker, providing excellent sleeping space even for the tall, full side access and maximum storage space in the offset porch.
The low-profile shape means it'll shrug off the most intense winds, up to a pretty epic 154km/h before damage occurs, while the poles are designed to be fast pitching, thanks to single-ended sleeves and a minimalist two-pole setup.
We could write for days about the Big Agnes Copper Spur backpacking tent, but if you're even remotely interested in backpacking, you're probably aware of this mythical beast already. It's easily one of the most popular and best backpacking tents in the world, acting as an ultra-light shelter to keep you safe, dry and warm at night… or during the day if there’s a downpour. So yes, the Copper Spur HV UL2 is quick to pitch and break down. This could make all the difference if there's a storm rolling in and you need cover, fast.
Considering its lightweight design, there are plenty of features here to help you feel like you’re chilling in a more spacious tent. These include steep ‘near vertical’ walls and generous headroom, plus large dual zipper doors that you can fling open on sunnier days to let the outdoors in.
Couple all that with two decent sized porches, and you have space for two to spread out, plus kit. Big Agnes’ free-standing backpacking tent is made from double rip-stop nylon, so it’ll withstand a bit of rough and ready action on the trail. Every seam has also been taped with waterproof, solvent-free PU tape, so there'll be no nasties running off your tent and into the ground during a rain shower.
Despite the cheeky name, this award-winning MSR backpacking tent is all business. The hub pole design cleverly maximises the usable space inside the tent, including head and elbow room, while ensuring it stays stable. There’s also a breathable mesh canopy offering up unrestricted views of the scenery surrounding you. That combined with a cross-ventilating flysheet works to a) keep condensation at bay and b) boost airflow. That’s ideal for taking the edge off hot, sticky nights during summer backpacking trips.
Built-in rain gutters are a god-send during wet weather trips, though compared to the more waterproof backpacking tents in this guide (see the Mountain Hardwear Ghost UL 3), we’d recommend the Hubba Hubba for warm weather trips.
Lightweight and easy to pitch, the Bryce backpacking tent is a no-frills shelter for three-season adventuring, and it offers big features for the small price. It’s waterproof and comes with a rain fly with vestibule area, a one-piece collapsible pole set, 12 aluminium alloy Y-stakes, reflective guy line, aluminium alloy line tensioners and pole repair splints.
Considering the price, that’s impressive enough on its own. But there’s more here… Three stuff sacks are included for the Dyneema guy lines, the poles and the stakes. The brightly coloured tent itself has factory taped seams and has a 3,000mm PU coating on the rain fly. There’s 20D rip-stop silnylon on the rain fly, and 70D for the tent floor and footprint. The Bryce comes in 1-man and 2-man (shown) versions, and comes with everything you need to pitch it. This includes 12 Y-stakes, Dyneema guy lines and a pole repair splint. Just fasten it to the back of your backpacking rucksack and hit the trail.
Lone wolves need look no further for the best one-man tent for their backpacking adventures. This one from Terra Nova looks simple, sure, but it squeezes in a surprising amount of functionality to suit three-season travel without overcomplicating things. The flysheet and inner can be pitched as one and, according to Terra Nova, in under five minutes. Those strong but featherlight end poles are small to maximise space, too. It’s also very compact when broken down and, most importantly, it stands up in wind and rain.
This two-man backpacking tent is also great for a spot of wild camping, even if it's pouring down and the wind is blowing hard. It's spacious enough to sleep you and a buddy, as well as leaving room for you to keep your kit in the tent with you. Coleman's entry-level backpacking tent is perfect for beginners and casual adventurers who won't subject their tent to heavy, year-round use. The wedged tunnel construction is easy to crawl in and out of, with a wide entry that you can fling your gear into. Best of all, it packs down small so you'll have no issues getting it inside your backpacking backpack.
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