What are the best ultralight tents for thru hiking and backpacking 2021?
The Best Backpacking tents of 2021 seem to be getting better. This year see some of the big companies such as Nemo, Big Agnes, Zpacks and Hyperlite Mountain Gear have awesome extra light versions of their popular backpacking tents.
The best backpacking tent in 2021 is getting lighter and better than previous years.
Backpacking tents have come a long way in the last 20 years. When I was young I remember the time when I was so proud to have the latest light weight tent which weighed 2.5kg (5.5lb) nowadays there are so many great tents on the market that weight less than 3lb (1.36kg).
In 2021 there is no need to look at tents that are heavier than this unless you plan on mountaineering or visiting the windy high latitudes.
If you are in the market for a new tent there are many options. A good quality tent will be a compromise on cost, weight, durability and size but it’s primary function is to keep you dry and comfortable.
A great tent for the desert may not provide enough comfort in cold weather, the reverse is also true.
The Nemo Hornet is my favourite backpacking tent. It has served me well over thousands of miles of hiking trail. I have used the regular 1 person backpacking tent and the 2 person Backpacking Tent.
I must admit I prefer the Hornet 2P version with the two doors and two vestibules, when solo. I consider it one of the best lightweight 2 person tents.
It has interior space of the 1 person double wall tent is good enough to fit all but the biggest hiker but most of the backpacking gear will need to be stored outside in the single vestibule.
The Interior space of the 2 person tent is a tight squeeze for two people. In fact I would say if you want to use this tent for two people then consider the slightly larger Nemo Dagger or similar.
Having used these backpacking tents for over 400 nights of camping I can report these are some of the best two person backpacking tents around at the moment.
The only issue is the inside mesh near the pole connection loop is prone to ripping over a long period of time.
Overall, it is one of the best lightweight hiking tents on the market. There is a reason you will see this tent on so many backpacking trails at the moment. It is a good solid choice. I prefer the lightweight 2 Person tent which has more interior space for gear storage and is my favourite choice.
The Nemo Hornet Elite is essentially a lighter specification version of the Nemo Hornet. It uses lighter Denier Fabric on the tent body and it uses more mesh than the regular Hornet to reduce the packed weight by 5oz to 2lb 1 oz / 933 grams.
The result is that this is one of the lightest semi freestanding double wall tents. The 2P version has two doors and two vestibules that are quite roomy.
Like it’s slightly heavier version it also is a bit of a tight squeeze for two people. there will not be too much room for backpacking gear inside the tent.
The Nemo Hornet Elite is more expensive than the normal Nemo Hornet. Is it worth the extra price for this ultralight tent? If you are looking at going ultra light then I would say yes.
Overall, the Nemo Hornet Elite is one of the lightest semi freestanding tent that would be the best backpacking tent for a solo hiker wanting more interior space than a one person tent in one ultra light package. I think this will be my next tent, will it be yours too.
Packaged Weight – 2lb 1 oz / 933 grams
one of the best lightweight semi freestanding tent
Solid in bad weather
Ultra Lightweight Tent
Great warranty and after sales service
The tent pegs bend easy if you use a rock on hard ground
In very heavy rain water can splash through the mesh
I used Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 while hiking parts of the Pacific Crest Trail and BikePacking through Mexico. I loved the backpacking tent.
The Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 has a large interior space for a two person lightweight backpacking tent. There are two doors and two vestibules that are big enough to cook in if the weather is bad. The one person has only one door and vestibule.
Many people report that the tents are slightly less waterproof than Nemo but as I have used both I believe they are equal in their waterproofness.
Overall this is one of the best freestanding tents, in fact it is one of the best backpacking tents at the moment. A good balance between the interior size, cost and light packed weight. Recommended for a couple wanting a lightweight two person backpacking tent.
Good value for money for the UL version
one of the best lightweight freestanding tent
Solid in bad weather
Lightweight, the platinum version is the best ultralight freestanding tent.
The Copper Spur Platinum is an ultralight version of the normal Copper Spur. At 2lb 10oz it is ultralight two person backpacking tent would be a perfect 3 season tent.
The freestanding tent would be great to use in hot environments like deserts or the tropics and the inner tent can be pitched without the tent fly and allow lots of ventilation through the tent.
On the downside the material on the Big Agnes Copper Spur Platinum is very thin. Backpackers should be careful not to rip or tear the tent due to carelessness. And it will let in some water during extremely wet weather but is still very stormproof.
Overall, this is a super light backpacking tent that would be perfectly suited for a couple wanting the best ultralight tent with enough room to move.
Packaged Weight – 2lb 10oz / 1090grams
one of the best lightweight freestanding tent
Solid in bad weather
One of the best ultralight freestanding tent.
The material on the Copper Spur Platinum is very light and almost see through
The Big Agnes Fly Creek backpacking tent is one of the most popular lightweight semi freestanding tents on the long distance hiking trails of the world.
I thru hiked half the Pacific Crest Trail with this tent. It is very easy to set up and works quite well at keeping the bad weather outside.
I must admit that I am not the biggest fan of tunnel style tents. It fells like crawling into a cave. I much prefer side entry tents so while the style of the tent does not work for me, everything else works great.
Having said that, there are many fans of this tent for good reason. This is one of the lightest freestanding tents on the market at 29oz /822 grams for the 1P and 32oz / 907 grams for the 2P.
If you want an ultralight freestanding tent this might be your tent. Not too many bad things to say about it, well, except that it is not a side entry tent. When it comes to an ultralight double walled tent, this is one of the better ones out there.
Semi free standing
Reasonable Price considering how light it is
Tunnel style tent can feel like crawling into a cave
Made from Dyneema fabric (previously known as Cuban Fibre), this represents a quantum leap in lightweight free standing tents. But let me make one thing very clear. These backpacking tents are not only super lightweight but much more delicate than other tents. Let me explain.
The poles are made from Carbon Fibre which is not only very strong and lightweight. They are stronger and more expensive than other tent poles but like on all tents, tent poles do break. When that happens with carbon fibre, they will splinter and shatter.
Overall, this tent is seriously for the very niche ultralight thru hiker who understands that this tent must be cared for and only really used by experienced people. While it is a promising alternative the ultralight Dyneema Tents from Hyperlight Mountain Gear and ZPacks I am willing to wait a while to see how this tent evolves in the coming years.
Semi free standing
best as a thru hiking tent for hikers who are very careful with their gear
Tunnel style tent can feel like crawling into a cave
The ZPacks Duplex is made with Dyneema (Cuben Fiber) this is a great ultralight backpacking tent.
This ultralight backpacking tent is also one of the most waterproof in bad weather offering superior weather protection.
The Dyneema does not sag when it gets cold and wet nor does it hold or absorb water as it is naturally water repellent.
The disadvantage of the Zpacks Duplex tent is it is non freestanding tents and needs trekking poles or poles from Zpacks that are not included in either the weight or cost of the tent 2.5 oz (71 grams).
8 tent pegs are needed to hold all the guy lines and they are also not included in the cost or packaged weight, add between 1.75oz (50 grams) and 3oz (85 grams) to the packaged weight to get the total trail weight of the complete backpacking tent setup.
The trail weight of the tent with pegs is between 20.75oz (588 grams) and 23.75oz (673 grams) with pegs, tent poles and guy lines. There is a learning curve when it comes to pitching this tent so pitch it at home before heading to the trail.
The Zpacks Plexamid is the 1 person version and has most of the features of the Duplex but weighs 14.8 oz (420 grams) and only needs one trekking pole to set up.
Overall this is an ultra lightweight Thru Hiking tent that will serve anyone who wants to lighten the weight in the packs. They are high quality, waterproof and very popular on the long distance hiking trails for good reason.
Micheal ‘Grizzly’ Ivey uses this thru hiker tent with his trekking poles and loves it. When it comes to 1 person tent reviews Grizzly reports that you need to be a bit more picky when selecting a campsite.
At 6’4″ he is a tall hiker and fits two hikers in the tent without too much problem. His head does rub up against the end of the sloping walls when stretched out but he says it’s not an issue.
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He reports that the tent has excellent ventilation and offers a couple of options to allow more or less ventilation depending on the weather. Grizzly loves and recommends the lightweight tent and used it on his recent thru hike of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Also, the mesh insert is solid and does not require the use of a ground sheet to protect the fabric. It is tough.
The Ultramid 2 costs $715 and the Full Mesh Inner costs $395. That is a huge outlay for a lightweight tent. It is good to know it is covered by a good warranty. But it is expensive. Is it worth the price? I asked a couple of seasoned adventurers.
Bethany ‘Fidget’ Hughes and Lauren ‘Neon’ Reed used this backpacking tent in Patagonia on their epic journey thru hiking the whole length of South America. We were impressed with the interior space inside the tent, as we both have tall torsos and prefer a fair amount of personal space.
The double trekking pole/tent pole middle created an easy marker as to whose side was which and were able to sleep comfortably with our gear lining the edge of the tent.
We opted for the floorless mesh insert which provided protection from the biting flies. As with almost all outdoor gear I have used, the first thing to fail was the zipper, so maintenance and periodically lubricating the zipper is advisable.
The Dyneema fabric was durable, extremely light, and the vents at the top as well as controlling the amount of space between the base of the tent and the ground allowed for good ventilation and could be adjusted to prioritise warmth.
It was quick to set up and has good weather resistance be ing able to withstood gale force winds, hail, snow, and driving rain. All in all, the best ultralight tent I have ever used.
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear is one of the best overall backpacking tent this year. The combination of a light tent weight, great weather resistance and a quite large floor area make this the best 2 person backpacking tent at the moment.
It survived everything from the Atacama heat and sand to high altitude Huayhuash snowstorms.
It is a versatile and sturdy shelter. The Echo 2 is best used as a single person tent, or a person and a dog. The Dyneema composite fabric which makes HMG excel in the field held up wonderfully to adverse conditions.
The variety of set up options also means getting to know your shelter and familiarising yourself with different methods before heading into heavy weather.
The following tents are not on the main list but not because they were not good enough but because the ones above were awesome and some of them I have not had a chance to test personally yet.
Nemo Dagger – The Nemo Dagger is a freestanding version of the very popular Nemo Hornet. It has a better pole configuration that gives a bit more interior space for two people sharing this backpacking tent.
Big Agnes Tiger Wall – Like the tent above the Big Agnes Tiger Wall is kind of an in-between version of both the Copper Spur and Fly Creek. Overall it is a good design and the Big Agnes Tiger Wall is best suited for someone who wants a tent with the best features of both tents.
Macpac Duolight – On the heavy side the Macpac Duolight is only available in Australia and New Zealand. The Macpac Duolight 2 person backpacking tent has a larger interior space than all the other tents in this review and is the only tent with a true bathtub floor that is more waterproof than most rain jackets with a hydrostatic head of a massive 10000! Going into really wet areas and don’t mind your tent being twice as heavy then this could be the tent for you.
REI Co op Quarter Dome SL – The REI Co Op Quarter Dome is one of the best budget backpacking tents. It is a good compromise between cost, lightweight and good functionality. As a quality budget option it is a worthy contendor.
MSR Hubba Hubba NX – I previously owned the older MSR Hubba Hubba and loved the interior space, dual doors and vestibules but it was a heavy tent in comparison to all the others in this review. The MSR Hubba Hubba NX is light but not ultralight, good but not great but it very functional. It is a good choice for couples wanting a good quality larger 2 person tent at a reasonable price.
When it comes to Backpacking Tents price is important and you don’t need to spend a fortune on a tent. Most of the tents in this review are not cheap, they are all the best lightweight tents available at the moment. With that high price comes good quality, a good warranty and many nights of use in the backcountry.
Overall, when it comes to value for money and a lightweight backpacking tent the money is well spent and a tent will be considered one of the biggest purchases you will make.
Packaged Weight vs Trail Weight
Packaged Weight refers to the weight of the tent including all the tent pegs and tent bag, Tent poles and pole bag, guy ropes, tent bag and repair kit.
Trail Weight is sometimes called the minimum trail weight and usually refers the weight of the tent inner, fly and poles only. It rarely includes things such as stuff sacks or tent pegs.
A bathtub floor refers to the heavy duty floor that lines the underneath side of the inner tent. It is waterproof and usually covers enough of the floor before it rises up to the mesh section of the doors. The bathtub floor is super important in keeping the rain and moisture from entering from under the floor of the tent.
Best Material for Tents
The most common material used in tent construction is Silnylon and Dyneema which most of know as Cuban Fiber.
Silnylon is a cheap and lightweight rip stop nylon that is impregnated with silicon and made to be waterproof. It is made in different thicknesses which is often referred to as denier. 20 denier fabric is considered ultralight.
Dyneema is super expensive but has superior strength to weight. It also performs well as a tent material as it will not sag when it gets wet, unlike silnylon.
Tunnel Tent vs Side Entry Tent
When Tunnel Tents are Better
Tunnel Tents have either one or two entry locations at either end of the tent. When sleeping inside the tent the head is at the entry of the tent. These tents generally have superior protection against storms and strong wind. They are generally have much better weather protection.
On the down side, it can feel like the hiker is entering and exiting a cave as they crawl inside and pivot around into the sleep position.
Why are Side Entry Tents Better
Side entry tents are so much easier to live with. The hiker can enter and exit the tent a lot easier. There is often more storage space in the vestibule on these tents. In bad weather they are usually not as strong but can make cooking in the vestibule easier on most of these style of tents.
Which is Better a Tunnel Tent or Side Entry Tent?
Having used and tents both styles of these tents over the years I have a personal preference for side entry tents and believe that the best backpacking tents are side entry tents. They just work better for most people including myself.
Interior space is divided into 3 sections, the interior floor dimensions, the height if the tent also known as the peak height and the slope of the tent.
Interior Floor Dimensions are a compromise between having the largest amount of space for the minimum amount of weight yet making the design strong enough to withstand bad weather. The tent should be large enough for tall hikers and if it is a 2 person backpacking tent there should be enough room for both hikers inside the tent. But it is a compromise, more interior floor area equals more weight and for a tent to be ultralight it will be a tight squeeze for most couples. Often couples prefer a 3 person tent for the sole purpose of having more interior floor area.
Peak Height is essentially how tall the tent is. Most people want to be able to sit up inside the tent without their heads hitting the roof. Lower tents offer better weather resistance at the cost of comfort. Like most people I prefer a tent I can sit up in.
Slope refers the how steep the angle of the walls of the tent are. Steep walls means the tent will shed water easier but that comes at the cost of the ability to give good weather resistance in very windy weather.
A footprint is the small layer of material that goes inbetween the ground and the floor of the tent. The purpose is to give additional protection to the floor of the tent. In most cases this is not needed and is a waist of money and only adds extra weight.
There are times when a footprint can be a good idea such as when camping in deserts or areas with sharp thorns or muddy conditions when the extra layer of protection can assist.
Most manufacturers make their own custom footprints but most are heavy and expensive. A cheaper option is to get a hold of some Tyvek which is used in buildings for control of moisture. Ultralight ground sheets can be made by using polycryo which is used by painters as a drop sheet.
Overall, the use of a footprint will be up to you. I have used them on numerous ocassions and personally I don’t like them. But when hiking through areas with sharp thorns and appreciate the added protection for my inflatable sleeping mat.
1P Tent vs 2P Tent vs 3P tent
A 2 person backpacking tent is more popular that the 1 person ultralight tent. A solo hiker can benefit from the additional space and ability to hike with another person from time to time.
1P Tent – A 1 person tent is usually ultralight but is a tight squeeze for the backpacker and their gear. With most of these small tents the gear needs to be stored outside the inner tent in the vestibule. They should be long enough and tall enough so even big hikers can fit inside without touching the walls of the tent. Most 1 person tents come with only one vestibule and one door.
2P Tent – 2 person tents are the most popular as both solo hikers and couples can fit inside. But let’s be honest most 2 person tents are a tight squeeze and there is little room inside for two people and certainly not their gear which must be stored outside. Most two person tents come with two doors and two vestibules.
3P Tents – 3 Person tents are the favorites of couples and friends who go backpacking together due to the extra interior room. Some couples go hiking with their dogs and love the extra room of the 3 P tents. Often the 2 doors and vestibules are not needed to store too much gear as there is enough inside. The 3 person tent is also enjoyed by young families wanting to take a young child on short overnight backpacking trips.
Doors and Vestibules
The doors and vestibules of tents are almost as important as other interior floor space. Having 2 doors and 2 vestibules makes the living arrangements for people sharing a tent so much better. Solo hikers only need a single door and vestibule for all their gear and need it to be big enough to live comfortably in even the worst weather.
Like most people I prefer 2 doors and vestibules but not for the same reason as most people. An added benefit of having two vestibules and two doors has more to do with the weather. When you set up a tent at night perfectly to have protection from the wind and rain only to have it change direction overnight. The ability to use the other door and vestibule for cooking or getting in and out of the tent when it is raining or very windy is an added benefit.
Single Wall vs Double Wall
Single wall tents are usually much lighter and are usually non frestanding tents that require the use of trekking poles to set up. When combined with fabrics such as dyneema they make for a very lightweight backpacking tent.
Double wall tents usually have an interior tent with lots of mesh for ventilation and can often be set up without the outer tent fly making this a great option for hot weather travel in the tropics or on those warm summer nights. These tents are better at dealing with internal condensation as the inner tent has the ability to protect against drips.
Being able to reduce condensation on cold wet nights is equally important and allowing breeze to cool the inside of the tent when it is super hot. Double walled tents are better when it comes to ventilation and have the added benefit of having the inner section of the tent that can be pitched without the fly.
When it is set up it is important that the tent is designed to be able to catch whatever cross breeze there is to reduce the internal humidity and reduce condensation.
Most of the tents in this review will withstand the sort of elements that the environment will throw at you during 3 season backpacking trips. They will withstand a good amount of wind, light dustings of snow and heavy rain. They will all work well in the tropics as they have good ventilation and will insulate in all but the coldest temperatures below freezing.
Tent Pegs and Poles
Tent pegs come in all shapes, sizes and weights.
Tent Pegs – The ultralight hiker will prefer to pay for some super lightweight pegs made form titanium. These are strong, light and expensive but for the gram counting thru hiker they are worth the money. Most of us will be satisfied with the aluminum tent pegs provided by the manufacturer.
Tent Poles – Tents poles are so much better now than they were 20 years ago. The light aluminum poles withstand strong wind before they break. All manufacturers can send out sections of poles if they break. the most common way pf breaking a pole is not having the male and female section of the pole seated together correctly.
Carbon Fiber Tent Poles – Carbon Fiber tent poles are the latest development in the effort of saving weight. These poles are still in their first years of use and will certainly get better with time. Just note that carbon poles have a horrible side effect of shattering when they break. So is the extra weight saving worth it just yet!
When looking to buy a tent it is important to know exactly what the intended use will be. Some people will want the best tent for thru hiking, others will want the tent for car camping, others love to go canoeing and some will want the tent to be used for bikepacking or bicycle touring or any other outdoor actively. When searching for a tent try to have the end use in mind and find a tent that will adapt to whatever use you intent.
Tent Care and Repairing Zips
Tents need to be washed regularly and zips need to be clean and regularly maintained. With a little bit of regular maintenance your tent will last for 100s if not 1000s of nights before needing to be replaced.
Cleaning a tent
A tent should be washed in mild soap when needed and only ever stored when it is completely dry. Failure to store a tent when it is dry will cause mold and other nasties to destroy the tent fabric.
Looking after Zips
Zips are a part that will eventually wear out. Keep the teeth of the zipper clean and lubricate from time to time with a dry lubricant only. My preference is to run a candle along the teeth to allow the wax to sit on the teeth and act as a dry lubricant. There are other options such as ?
How to Fix Zipper Slides
Zipper slides will eventually wear out and need to be replaced. Usually the whole tent has been used and abused by then and completely worn out and needs to be replaced. If a zipper slide fails to close the tent as in the photo above it can be easily solved by using pliers to crimp the edges of the slider ever so slightly so the slide grips the teeth better. Don’t overdo this or you will not be able to open or close the tent.