The Best Backpacking Tents of 2017
Our 2017 review of the best backpacking tents includes new award winners and recommendations. We analyzed 50 models and then bought 15 for hands-on testing. Next, we hit the backcountry of Montana and the Sierra Nevada for a few months to see how these tents performed in side-by-side tests. We selected the lightest free-standing tents available as well as more comfortable and spacious ones. Whether your budget is $150 or $450, we have a selection for you. This review covers the tents most backpackers will want. We have separate reviews for two others popular categories: camping tents for family outings and ultralight tents for those that want to shave every last ounce from their pack.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
May 2017 Update
This spring we completely updated our review with new models and side-by-side tests. We have a new Editors' Choice winner, Best Buy Winner and a few new picks for specific applications.
Best Overall Backpacking Tent
NEMO Dagger 2
Extra-long 90" length
"Divvy Sack" dual-stage drawstring stuff sack
Sturdy in wind
Slim 50" width
18.3 ounces heavier than lightest tent review
The NEMO Dagger 2 is targeted to the ultralight, feature-loving backpackers seeking both performance and creature comforts in their equipment. Pulling the tent from the stuff sack, we were immediately impressed with the durable yet lightweight fabric, and the make-your-life-easier features just kept coming. While the interior width of 50" was smaller than many of the other tents we reviewed (the REI Half Dome 2 Plus measured a whopping 56" across) a longer-than-average length of 90" made up for it. Big doors and airy mesh paired with wind-blocking lower sidewalls made this tent an easy selection for the Editors' Choice Award. Our other Editors' Choice Award winner, the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL, costs $50 more than the Dagger 2 but weighs 11 oz. less (and features 2 sq. ft. less of floor space). At 19" x 5" (Dagger) and 19.5" x 4" (Copper Spur), the two tents feature a nearly identical pack size. If you're looking for a little more room, check out the Dagger 3P, the 3-person version of this ultralight tent.
Read full review: NEMO Dagger 2
Best Overall Backpacking Tent
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2
While 2017 brings many new tent models, a classic sits on the top of our ratings once more. The Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 still fits most backpacker's goals for comfort, weight, and quality. It's a resilient, dependable, comfortable and lightweight tent that offers reliable storm protection. It has a great balance of comfortable features, including two doors, roomy vestibules, and many interior pockets, but weighs just 52.6 oz. Our testers found the Copper Spur UL2 fit for a variety of adventures, from high alpine climbing to long distance backpacking trips. It is not as durable as the Hilleberg Anjan 2 GT and we believe it would not stand up to storms as well, but we stayed dry through many blustery rainstorms. It is less weight and less expensive than the Anjan, and therefore an excellent choice for two people who want to go on longer distance backpacking trips. This tent optionally comes with integrated LED lights in the Copper Spur UL2 mtnGLO for an additional $50. Fresh on the market this spring is the Copper Spur HV, boasting 20% more volume than its predecessor.
Above average space-to-weight ratio, with increased 20% more volume than original Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2
Comfortable for two people
Stable in winds
Delicate fabrics require special treatment
10.9 ounces heavier than lightest tent review
Read full review: Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2
Best On a Tight Budget
Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight 2
Looking for a comfortable option for car-camping and something light enough for time in the mountains? The Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight 2 brings several features that we would enjoy in the mountains as well as in the neighborhood park with friends or kids. We fell in love with the high sidewalls on the bathtub floor during a rainy spring night, and the peak height was comfortable for a 5'10" person to sit and move about. Interior storage space was adequate, as was the fact that you could keep the fly's "wings" deployed for excellent ventilation and star gazing on mild nights. Weighing in at 3 lb 14 oz, the Tarptent hit in the middle of our testing pack for weight, and packs down small enough we'd easily consider carrying it into the backcountry. Traveling solo? Check out the 1-person version of this tent, the Light Year 1.
Easy to pitch
Lacks 2-door convenience
Door at head
Read full review: Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight 2
Best Bang for the Buck for Lightweight Backpacking
Tarptent Double Rainbow
Finding a sub-three pound tent with a low price is often as elusive as a unicorn. Most tents in that weight range cost more than many people want to spend, and inexpensive tents tend to weigh much more than most backpackers want to carry. The Tarptent Double Rainbow is the tent that strikes the best balance of cost and weight. More than just lightweight and relatively inexpensive, it has high-quality, durable materials and the highest space-to-weight ratio of all the tents we tested. It is quite comfortable for two people, with enough space for a six-foot-tall person to stretch out. It has a rectangular shape, which means space at your feet to stash your gear, as well as large vestibules for extra gear. The Tarptent is simple to set up with a single middle pole. It is not free-standing, so it can take some creativity to make it work when dealing with bedrock or hard ground. We suggest reading the setup directions to ensure the tent is properly pitched and weatherproof. If you're traveling solo, check out the single-occupancy version of this tent, the Tarptent Rainbow.
Comfortable for its weight
Strong in high winds
Can be pitched in freestanding mode
Low condensation resistance
Splashback can hit mesh walls in some situations
Door and vestibule closures could be better
Read full review: Tarptent Double Rainbow
Best Bang for the Buck for Comfortable Camping
REI Half Dome 2 Plus
The most livable and comfortable tent in our review, the REI Half Dome 2 Plus has an extra spacious interior and thoughtful construction for tall individuals and people with pets or extra stuff. It provides the most bang for your buck in this review, even over other luxury models like the NEMO Galaxi 2. Thus, we bestow the Half Dome 2 Plus with our Best Buy Award. This tent is exceptionally comfortable with an excellent space-to-weight ratio, great ventilation, and interior storage. At 93 ounces, this tent is best suited for weekend backpacking trips or to be split up among two people's packs. If you're looking for one tent for both car camping and backpacking, and want to bring that extra item like your dog or a very tall partner, the Half Dome 2 Plus takes the cake. This is a real rock star tent and it's inexpensive to boot.
Lots of room for its weight
Heavy for backpacking
Hard to get the fly vestibules taut
Not enough stakes or guy lines
Read full review: REI Half Dome 2 Plus
Top Pick for Stretching the 3 Seasons and Weather Resistance
Hilleberg Anjan 2 GT
Our testers reach for the Hilleberg Anjan GT when they expect to encounter some harsh weather conditions. This is the best choice if you need a tent that will stretch from the very earliest thaw of Spring to the first Winter squall. Whether backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail, bike touring around the world, or car camping at the local park, the Hilleberg Anjan 2 provides the ultimate balance of low weight, complete weather resistance, generous comfort, and exceptional strength and durability. This is also the highest performance light-duty winter tent we tested. Our testers used the Anjan on multi-day trips from Maine to Washington State, and they carried it along on a bicycle tour down the Baja peninsula and through India and Nepal. At 4 pounds 10 ounces, the Anjan GT is not the lightest tent available but makes up for it in storm protection, comfort, and durability. Although on the expensive side, it's the most durable tent we tested, which makes it a great long-term value. For more wiggle room, check out the Anjan 3 GT, perfect for waiting out storms in the tent.
Withstands extreme weather conditions
Poor quality stakes
Read full review: Hilleberg Anjan GT
Analysis and Test Results
We started with dozens of popular tent models, before narrowing down to the 15 best tents which we purchased and put through extensive testing over a two month period. We rated each tent on the most important factors for finding a quality backpacking tent: comfort, weather resistance, weight and packed size, ease of setup, and durability. The cumulative score of these metrics provided us with each tent's overall performance score, which is shown in descending order in the rating table above.
For this metric, we assessed how comfortable we felt in each tent. Two-door tents like the REI Half Dome 2 Plus and the NEMO Galaxi 2 are by far the most luxurious, because each person has their own entry and exit. Tents with a single side door are the least comfortable because one person has to climb over the other person to get in or out. Our ratings consider door and vestibule design, solid or mesh walls, the number and size of pockets, peak height, floor area, and vestibule area.
We also include other important factors in our assessment, such as does the tent get wet from falling rain when someone enters? Can a six-foot-tall person sit up inside or lie down without their feet touching the walls? Does the fly protect the inner tent from splashback and spindrift? Many of the models tending towards luxury on the spectrum will have little extra features like pockets for storing door when open or fancy magnet clasps to tie back flaps. We love lots of storage options and pockets in our luxury models — weight savings is usually not a consideration in these tents although we love the generous pockets of the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 for such a lightweight backpacking tent.
The most comfortable tent we tested was the REI Half Dome 2 Plus, a roomy palace with a large floor area and two gigantic vestibules, which earned a perfect 10 out of 10. The Plus version features an extra 10 inches in length and four inches in width over the standard REI Half Dome 2, and it makes for a more spacious and comfortable tent. It also has four kick-stand vents in the top of the fly to keep air flowing inside but keep the rain out. We absolutely loved this tent for rainy days when we were spending more time indoors — especially with the camp dogs!
The Tarptent Double Rainbow scored the lowest in the comfort category, sacrificing creature comforts for light weight (the tent comes in at an impressively minimal weight of 2 lb. 15 oz. The tent felt small and cramped, with a single front door and vestibule. While several other tents actually boasted lower interior square footage, the Tarptent Double Rainbow performed poorly in wind and wet weather, making it one of least favorite tents in the review.
Other top scorers in the comfort metric include the NEMO Dagger 2, Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL2 mtnGLO, The North Face Triarch 2, and the NEMO Galaxi 2, which all scored near perfect scores of 9 out of 10 for their abilities to bring comfort to the table.
Trailing closely behind and earning 8 out of 10s, you'll find the Hilleberg Anjan 2 GT, Alps Lynx, and the MSR Hubba Hubba NX.
For this metric, we assess the amount of protection each tent provides against vertically falling and horizontally blown precipitation, and the strength of the pole design, which is important during high winds. We considered factors such as pole design, pole diameter, the number of pole intersections, the mechanism for attaching the body to the fly, the mechanism for attaching the fly to the poles, and construction quality, as well as the number and quality of guy points.
The Hilleberg Anjan 2 GT takes first place for overall weather resistance with details such as reinforced vestibule zippers, a bathtub floor that protects from splashback and spindrift, and an inner tent made primarily of a solid nylon that blocks blowing sand and snow and better sheds condensation that drips from the roof — a significant advantage over tents that have mesh inner tent walls like the MSR Hubba Hubba NX.
Our testing determined that the Tarptent Double Rainbow and the ALPS Mountaineering Lynx 2 were among the weakest in our fleet, both earning bottom of the totem pole scores. Both have tall peak heights that don't do well in winds and relatively cheap, small diameter poles in which weak spots were indicated. The Big Agnes Copper Spur, REI Half Dome 2 Plus, and NEMO Dagger 2 scored well in this metric, offering superior
Although several tents tested here are capable of enduring serious three-season storms, we've found that many ultralight tents are stronger and safer in high winds because trekking poles don't break, Cuban Fiber is stronger than even the strongest Silnylon used in these tents, and shelters can be pitched lower to the ground - but many of them are floor-less, which makes campsite selection very important.
Other weather-resistant top scorers include the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2, for its geometry, guy points, and fly material, and the Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL2 mtnGLO.
Our weight variable ranks each tent on its packed weight, which we measured with each tent's included poles, inner tent, outer tent, stakes, and guylines. See the chart below for the weight of each product.
At 2 pounds 15 ounces, the Tarptent Double Rainbow is the lightest tent tested, along with the Big Agnes Fly Creek which weighed in at 2 pounds 5.6 ounces.
At 5 lbs 13 oz, the ALPS Mountaineering Lynx 2 is the heaviest tent tested, along with the REI Half Dome 2 Plus (5 lbs 7 oz) and NEMO Galaxi 2 (5 lbs 8 oz). For comparison, two-person ultralight shelters weigh an average of 16 ounces and as little as seven ounces.
However, if you go on a trip with one other person and you both split up the tent and poles, the tent's weight is then cut in half, making a heavier tent suddenly more manageable.
For those weight weenies out there, other top scorers include the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 (3 lbs 1 oz), NEMO Dagger 2 (3 lbs 12 oz), The North Face Triarch 2 (3 lbs 12 oz), MSR Hubba Hubba NX (3 lbs 13 oz), and the Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight 2 (3 lbs 14 oz). If you're keen on saving even more weight for your next adventure, perhaps an ultralight tent is your best bet.
We've found that packed size strongly correlates with weight. However, some tents have lots of features, like pockets and gear lofts or complicated plastic pole hubs, that add more bulk than weight, or simply don't collapse well. Remember, tents don't necessarily have to be packed in their stuff sacks. We also considered how compressible versus bulky the materials are and if we could easily squeeze or stuff them into our backpacks around other gear.
We like the compressible materials and compact pole sections of the Hilleberg Anjan GT, NEMO Dagger 2 and the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2 with the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2 being the most compact of the three.
We found we were able to effectively stuff and compress these tents into our bag with ease, thus earning a 7, 8, and 8 out of 10, as shown in the chart above.
Our testing determined that the Marmot Catalyst 2, Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight 2, NEMO Galaxi 2, MSR Hubba Hubba NX, and Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL2 mtnGLO were able to compress down to respectable sizes.
The ALPS Mountaineering Lynx 2 , Kelty Salida 2, and Eureka Midori 2 are the least compressible, earning a 3, 3, and 5 out of 10, respectively.
Ease of Set-Up
The majority of tents tested here are self-supporting, meaning they stand up, to some degree, by themselves and have components such as a vestibule that must be guyed out for a proper pitch. Self-supporting tents are the most dummy-proof type of shelter; an eight-year-old child can easily pitch one in a few minutes. Tunnel tents — those with two hoop-shaped poles — require more skill and experience to pitch because they, like all ultralight shelters, are supported entirely by tension from guylines.
An example of a tunnel tent is the Hilleberg Anjan 2 GT. Though this tent requires some knowledge to set up, we don't think it is particularly difficult to pitch, thus earning a 7 out of 10.
The NEMO Galaxi, Eureka Midori 2, and other two-pole designed tents are the simplest and easiest to pitch. At first, the Tarptent Double Rainbow seems to be incredibly easy to pitch with its one-pole design, but we soon discovered that it takes a lot more attention to detail to make sure this shelter is weatherproof.
No tent tested is incredibly hard to pitch, and we don't believe that ease of setup is the most important attribute for a backpacking tent. This variable assumes a small percent of each tent's total score. Higher scorers for this metric include the REI Half Dome 2 Plus, taking the cake with a near perfect 9 out of 10, along with the NEMO Galaxi 2, Eureka Midori 2 , MSR Hubba Hubba NX, Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2, and NEMO Dagger 2.
This variable is based on our experiences field testing these products and our best estimate at the long-term durability of each tent. Though we have used these tents long and hard, we have yet to use all of the tents to complete failure. Our ratings in this category take into account any defects or broken parts we encountered as well as the manufacturer's fabric specifications. In general, we've determined that nylon is more durable than polyester, and silicone-coated fabrics are stronger and more durable than polyurethane-coated fabrics. (See our Buying Advice Article for more info on fabrics.)
Many of the lighter tents tested here are not designed to endure lots of use and abuse. For example, roughly half the models tested skip basic strength enhancing features like clips that relieve stress from vestibule zippers. We believe the least durable tent tested is the ALPS Mountaineering Lynx 2 — 75D 185T polyester, though heavy underhand, showed wear and tear in one day of foul-weather camping with a large dog. This is not to say that the tent can not and will not withstand a serious storm - just that it scores a lower durability score than some of the other competitors in our fleet. The Hilleberg Anjan has a host of features commonly found on four-season tents and is by far the most durable, earning a 9 out of 10. We've found that the importance of durability increases with trip duration. Repairs take time, and serious damage or failure has larger consequences and cost in more remote areas and on long-distance hikes.
We were impressed with the durability of the NEMO Galaxi 2 — even though it weighed in heavy at 5 lbs. 8 oz., with the 68D PU Polyester Ripstop rainfly, it was a tent we'd trust in harsh, abrasive conditions and still feel confident we'd get a good night's sleep. The Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL2 mtnGLO also scored a 9 for durability; the overall quality of the tent was exceptional and this is one purchase we would expect (with proper care) to last for years to come.
Other top competitors in this category include the NEMO Dagger 2, Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2, REI Half Dome 2 Plus, and Marmot Catalyst 2P. Again, these scores are our best estimate, as we have not tested these tents to the point of failure. It is important to note that our scores are comparisons of all products included in our fleet and thus are scored accordingly.
Other Considerations for a Backpacking Tent
What you require from a tent varies with location and weather conditions. One night you might need protection from vertically falling rain. Another night you might need protection from strong winds and horizontally blown rain. And another night the skies may be clear with no wind…all you need is bug protection. Tents that can adapt to varying conditions or can be used in locations that don't permit a perfect pitch can save time, money, and energy. In general, double-wall tents that pitch with dedicated poles are the least adaptable; they must be pitched in the same way regardless of the campsite or the weather. Ultralight shelters, in contrast, are much more capable of adapting to environmental variation, but proper campsite selection is very important for these shelters.
The MSR Hubba Hubba NX and Hilleberg Anjan are the only tents tested in this review that have noticeable adaptability. Their inner tents can be removed to create a pole-supported floorless shelter that is significantly stronger, more comfortable, and lighter than fast-pitching a tent with a footprint, poles, and fly. We like these adaptable features of both of these tents, which lets you bring only part of the tent with you and thus save weight if you know the weather will be good on your trip.
Forget the Footprint
Footprints, or waterproof fabrics cut to match a tent bottom, are overpriced accessories that are unnecessary for backpacking. Choosing a good campsite is an easier option that weighs less (nothing!). Extensive camping on pointy, rocky ground or in the desert where punctures are possible might be reasons to consider one. The only tents in our review that come with a footprint included are the the North Face Triarch, NEMO Galaxi 2, and the Marmot Catalyst 2P.
If you choose to experiment with a footprint, we don't recommend purchasing one from a tent manufacturer because they are often overpriced and of moderate-to-low quality. Instead, consider cutting your own out of Tyvek Home Wrap or polypro plastic. The weight of a sleeping pad and bag keeps a custom footprint in place- there's no need for grommets. Tyvek is the most durable and puncture resistant footprint material we've used. A typical tent-sized piece weighs around seven oz, which is not particularly lightweight. But if you're looking for one footprint primarily for car camping that occasionally joins you on puncture prone backpacking trips, this is our top pick. You can buy Tyvek at hardware stores or click here to purchase off Amazon: Tyvek. Polycro is a lighter and less durable option that ultralight backpackers tend to favor; it may be all you need. Buy it from Gossamer Gear or Mountain Laurel Designs.
A brightly colored tent is ideal for expedition mountaineering and alpine climbing because it allows you to find your tent easier than a less visible color would. An attention grabbing color can also help others find you if you need to get picked up or rescued. For three-season applications like backpacking, a brightly colored tent is a handicap when you want to camp stealthily or act in accordance with Leave No Trace principles. Dark green or moderate gray colors blend in well in most non-snow covered environments and draw less attention from wildlife and people.
Color can become a safety issue when camping near urban areas where you don't want to be noticed by people that might be interested in you and/or all of the expensive gear you're carrying. Moderate green and gray are our preferred colors for three-season tents, such as the colors found on the NEMO Galaxi.. Conversely, if you're camping in a zone affected by hunting season, you may want to choose a bright colored tent, or if you want a tent with a cheery interior to brighten your mood you may want something like the Half Dome's new red color or the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2.
Consider Upgrading Stakes and Guylines
Of all the tents tested here, only the Hilleberg model comes with enough guyline to achieve a proper pitch. Hilleberg and Big Agnes are also the only companies that include enough stakes for each guy point. Pretty lame, right? Easton Nano Tent Stakes and Kelty TripTease LightLine are very good accessories you may need to purchase.
Tent pole repair - Poles can break, and when they do it is a good idea to have a repair kit handy. The MSR Tent Pole Repair Kit is a good option. Many of the tents we tested this year come with included pole splints.
Consider an Ultralight Shelter
If ultralight backpacking is your objective, or may be in your future, we highly recommend using trekking poles to support one of the tents found in our Ultralight Tent Review. Floorless shelters are ideal for pushing the ultralight performance envelope.
The world is your oyster when shopping for a new backpacking tent. If you plan to travel long distances with your tent on your back, the weight and packed size metric will become the most important one to you. We like the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2 and the Tarptent Double Rainbow, which are the best in the weight category. If you're most concerned about durability and weather resistance, consider the Hilleberg Anjan GT. If you want a luxurious comfortable model for your family and all of your stuff, the REI Half Dome 2 Plus absolutely tops our list. There is a tent out there for all of you and we think you can find it in one of the models we've tested.
— Jessica Haist and Jess McGlothlin
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