February 8, 2021

Best Backpacking Tents

Scott Kimball

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Scott Kimball

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When backpacking, you need a very light and portable tent that fits in your backpack with the rest of your gear. Your tent must also be durable.

If you are hiking in a warm and dry area, you might want a tent that is as light as possible, even if it is less waterproof. You might need a bigger tent in colder and wetter conditions, even if it weighs more than a little. We can help you pick the right tent for your budget and for the conditions in your area.

If you want a particularly light tent, the Nemo Hornet Elite is the best tent I have tried. If you are looking for durability and use trekking poles, the Hilleberg Anaris is the best choice. If you are looking for a cheaper tent, try the Marmot Catalyst.

I have been hiking, backpacking, and camping for decades, and I have tried many different tents. I can tell the difference between a good tent and a shoddy one. I know what types of material work the best and what companies make the best tents, plus what durability you can reasonably expect if you buy a very light tent.

Best Backpacking Tents | Today I'm Outside

Table of Contents:

The best backpacking tents you can buy in 2021

Nemo Hornet Elite

If you want the lightest, smallest tent that will still withstand the weather, the NEMO Hornet Elite is a great, although somewhat expensive, choice. The Nemo Hornet Elite is not durable enough if you are worried about sharp rocks - it is an ultralight tent that aims for portability before anything else.

However, I have been out in heavy rain with this tent before, and it is strong enough to keep the rain out. It cannot be as durable as a heavier tent, but it works well for an ultralight tent.

The Nemo Hornet Elite weighs about as little as any tent you can easily find at the same size. At only 2 lbs 1 oz, the Nemo Hornet Elite deserves to be called an ultralight.

While the Nemo Hornet Elite might be a bit crowded with two people in it, you can still fit two adults and their gear. 27.3 square feet is not tiny. You may want to try the tent to see how comfortable it is for two people before you head to the wilderness.

Since the Nemo Hornet Elite is only durable for an ultralight tent, you might not want to take it car camping. If you put things like mattresses in this tent, you may rip it. Save it for real backpacking trips where you travel lightly and do not put anything heavy in this tent.

Hilleberg Anaris

The Hillegerg Anaris is my personal favorite. It is a bit expensive, and at 3 lbs 1 oz, it is heavier than most other backpacking tents I recommend. However, it is light relative to tents I would never recommend for backpackers, and it is as durable as it gets.

Sometimes, one of these tents will last for decades. Sometimes they wear out faster than that, especially if you use them often, but they are some of the longest-lasting backpackers' tents you can find. At best, you can hand these tents down to your children.

On a dry and warm night, you want ventilation and don't need protection from the rain. The Anaris has an adjustable rainfly that you can pull up on nights when you don't need it.

You can also pull up only one side of the rainfly if you want. The outer section of the tent is detachable, so you can use it as a tarp.

The Hilleberg Anaris uses trekking poles, not regular tent poles. Trekking poles are pointed walking sticks you can take with you when hiking. With the Hillegerg Anaris, you use the trekking poles as tent poles.

Not everyone uses trekking poles, so a tent that requires two trekking poles to set up is not an option for everyone. However, I love these tents. Using trekking poles as tent poles saves weight, so the Anaris is a great choice for anyone who brings trekking poles with them.

The durability of the Anaris comes from the excellent material. The Anaris is made out of Kerlon 1000, which is very strong for its weight. Kerlon 1000 also lets the air move through while keeping the rain out.

Marmot Catalyst

While the Marmot Catalyst is not the cheapest tent you can find, it is one of the cheapest good ones. You can get the Marmot Catalyst for a third of the cost of the Hilleberg Anaris.

The cheaper Marmot Catalyst's main disadvantage is that it is heavier than most other tents for backpackers. Companies that offer impressively light tents offer them at higher prices.

While it is relatively heavy, it still packs up small enough to fit into a backpack. Despite being relatively heavy (4 pounds, 11 ounces), this is clearly still a backpacking tent and not a car camping tent. Usually, the weight is fine, unless you really need to minimize weight.

The Marmot Catalyst may be the best choice for new campers. As well as being cheap enough for those just starting out, it is easy to set up even for newbies. The tent poles are color-coded, which makes the setup process simpler.

The Marmot Catalyst is also roomier than many more expensive backpacking tents are. At 32.5 square feet, you can fit two people and their gear, though not more than two. The Marmot Catalyst also has two doors and uses three poles to set up.

The Mormon Catalyst comes with a footprint, which is a sheet you can put under the tent to prevent damage. You can leave the footprint behind if you really need to save space, but I usually take it with me. If you don't use a footprint, your tent may not last as long.

The Marmot Catalyst also has a well-designed system of internal pockets. There is plenty of room to store your gear in pockets on the walls of this tent. You can also hang a lamp from the roof of this tent.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2 Dyneema Tent

This is another great choice if you want a high-end tent that uses trekking poles as tent poles. You may like trekking poles if you try them, so don't dismiss either the Hilleberg Anaris or the Mountain Gear just because you have never tried trekking poles before.

The Mountain Gear is an exceptionally high-end tent, one of the best you can find. While the tent is excellent, it is also expensive, even more than the Anaris is.

The Mountain Gear is both light and durable. It is made out of Dyneema, a high-end synthetic fabric. Dyneema is a great material because it repels rather than absorbs all of the water that touches it. Other fabrics can slowly absorb water if they are out in the rain for long enough.

Dyneema also resists UV radiation, which can gradually break down some lower-end fabrics. You can count on a Dyneema tent to last for a long time, especially if it is as well made as this one.

Since the Mountain Gear is both as good as and significantly lighter than the Anaris, the Mountain Gear might be the best tent you can get. However, its only advantage over the Anaris is that it is lighter. It may not be worth the significantly higher price.

SlingFin Portal

Most backpacking tents are three-season tents, which means that they are not good in the winter. Winter tents usually do not pack up small enough for backpacking.

The SlingFin Portal is an exception and one of your few options if you want to go backpacking in the winter. The SlingFin Portal is sometimes categorized as a three-season or three and a half-season tent, but it works well enough in the winter in my experience.

The SlingFin Portal is cheaper than the Anaris but significantly more expensive than the Marmot Catalyst. The not very low price is worth it, as the SlingFin is durable regardless of what season you use it. Everything in the construction is sturdy - the zippers are not fragile, the fabric can tolerate UV, and the tent resists mildew.

Kelty Late Start 2

This is another good choice if you are looking for a cheaper option. It is even cheaper than the Marmot Catalyst, and it will still last for many seasons. It is surprising how long one of these tents will last for how cheap it is.

Because it uses only two poles, it is easy to set up and is a good choice for beginners. Very bad weather is too much for this tent, but the Kelty Late Start 2 is good enough outside of the worst weather conditions.

The main drawback is that it is not very light and it does not pack up very small. It is not light or small enough for everyone. Depending on how much room you have in your backpack and how far you are walking, it might be small and light enough.

Different backpackers need different tents

Since buying a tent is more of an investment than purchasing a sleeping bag, you should put some thought into it before purchasing anything. No tent is great for everyone.

A great tent for a summer-only camper may not be good for someone who goes camping in the winter. Some people need bigger tents than others; other people need light tents that pack up as small as possible.

Size and capacity

While backpackers need to travel light, they might still bring big enough tents for more than one person. You can save space in your packs if you bring larger tents, as not everyone needs their own tent that way.

However, many people prefer to have their own tents and not have to share. You and your friends might prefer everyone to take their own tent even if it takes up more space.

Don't underestimate how much room you need in a tent. You do not want to set off on a trip and then find it is uncomfortable to sleep in a small tent with two people and their gear. You should test whether or not your tent is big enough before you go backpacking.

Weight and portability

The trade-off of buying a bigger and more durable tent is that it is usually heavier and takes up more room. You may find a surprisingly light tent for its size, but you can't have everything. Put some thought into how much weight you are willing to carry and what gear you might not truly need to take with you.

If you have money, more expensive tents tend to be lighter. An expensive tent may weigh very little without being flimsy. A both heavier and more expensive tent may be necessary if you are backpacking in harsh conditions.

Different companies measure weight differently

Many companies may understate how much their tent weighs. They may not count certain parts of the tent to make it seem lighter than it actually is.

You can count on companies to count the tent, the tent poles, and the rainfly - but they might not even count the tent stakes! A company might consider some parts of the tent to not really be essential, and therefore not include them in the weight they list.

Understand the difference between packaged weight and minimum trail weight. Packaged weight includes everything you buy. Minimum trail weight does not include everything as it assumes that you might not bring parts of the tent with you.

Durability

I've been in a storm with a flimsy backpacking tent before, and it's surely not an experience I want to repeat. Very bad weather can make a flimsy tent collapse with you inside it.

I always buy durable tents even if they can be heavier or more expensive. Even if bad weather seems unlikely, you might still encounter it. You should be on the safe side.

Double VS single wall tents

Double-wall tents have a rainfly that is separate from the main tent wall. A rainfly works very well to keep the inside of your tent dry, including from condensation. If neither rain nor condensation is likely in your hot and dry area, you are better off with a lighter single-wall tent.

Best Backpacking Tents

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About THE AUTHOR

Scott Kimball

From a young age I was introduced to fishing, hiking, camping, snowboarding and more through family, friends, and scouting. After 20 years of learning and participating in these outdoor activities, I share what i've learned (and continue learning) with you.

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