Ultralight hiking has been increasing in popularity over the last decade or so. Hikers have realized that they can cover more ground, see more of the trail, and are less exhausted if they are carrying lighter weights.
Along with the backpack and sleeping bag, the shelter is one of the heaviest pieces of equipment (these three pieces of gear are actually called “the big three”). So cutting weight on the shelter is one of the best ways to reduce overall pack weight.
While there are a number of options for ultralight hiking shelters, ultralight tents remain the most popular of the ultralight shelter options.
Trying to find the best tent to fit your needs should be easy with all the choices available, as long as you are aware of what features you require from an ultralight tent. Here are a few tips in what options to look for, and a few reviews to help you start shopping as you look for the best ultralight tent.
Our Top List: The Best Ultralight Tents
- Best Overall Ultralight Tent: Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 Tent
- Best 1 Person Ultralight Tent: MSR Hubba NZ-1-Person Tent
- Best 2 Person Ultralight Tent: Mountainsmith Morrison 2 Person 3 Season Tent
- Best Ultralight Tent Under $100: ALPS Mountaineering Lynx 1 Tent
Scroll down to read our detailed reviews on each of these items, but you can check out the current prices and read customer reviews on Amazon by clicking the links above.
Features to Consider in an Ultralight Tent
When looking for an ultra lightweight tent, weight is obviously the most important thing to consider. While there are extremely lightweight tents, you pay for it with your wallet. As tent weights go down, prices go up – sometimes way up. You’ll need to find the right balance for reducing weight and the hit to your wallet.
Along with your tent, reducing your backpack weight is another way to cut overall weight. What does your backpack have to do with your tent? Your tent is likely the largest thing in your pack. So if you can reduce your tent packed size, you might be able to cut your pack size and save some overall weight.
You also need to make sure the tent will be able to protect your from the weather. A cheap tent may not be such a great bargain when it is storming out and the wind is trying to tear the tent apart. Not only can it be dangerous, it can become a very uncomfortable trip very quickly.
Most ultralight hikers aren’t sharing a tent, even with their spouse. So it’ll likely only be one person to a tent, but even still, one person tents tend to be very cramped for anyone above average height or weight. This will likely push about half of hikers into two person tents. Once again, this added comfort comes at a cost of more weight.
Be sure to look at the size of tent footprint and realize that the tent walls come up at an angle, so the footprint size is often much smaller a foot off the ground where a majority of your body will be.
How much interior space a tent has will also add to the weight of the tent, but it may give you more comfort at the campsite. You need to find a good balance between the two, and try and find a tent that will give you the most space while still providing a lightweight tent.
Check the season rating for the tent before you purchase it. 3-season tents are very popular as a backpacking tent as they are created to be used in the fall, spring, and summer, so you can keep out bad weather but still promote air circulation.
But obviously if you are planning on a winter hike, you’ll want to look at 4 season tents.
You want to look for a tent that has simple design elements, as it is easy for a design flaw to ruin a great camping trip. Look for simple design elements like adequate entrance space, lots of headroom, multiple doors, air vents, and storage pockets inside the tent. These are all things to consider, but every hiker will need to find their own preferences.
Ease of Setup
Freestanding tents usually win over non-freestanding tents as they are simpler and faster to set up. They work with a fixed pole system that you can put up anywhere, including on top of solid rock. Though freestanding tents typically weigh more than non-freestanding tents
Setup for non-freestanding tents use stakes, trekking poles, and guy lines, and they take more time and practice to set up. They do save weight by cutting out the lengthy poles, but they do take some creativity to set up on hard ground.
Most tents have between 2 and 6 poles. Tent poles are one of the largest contributors to tent weight. They are also one of the largest contributors to a tent’s packed size.
Most tent poles are either fiberglass or aluminum, with aluminum being the most popular.
Aluminum poles are typically lighter weight and more durable, but they cost more.
Tent stakes contribute a fair amount to the overall weight of a tent. Check to see how many stakes are required for your tent since most modern tents don’t come with stakes. Most tents take between 4 and 8. Keep in mind you’ll likely want to bring along a few extras just in case.
The material of your tent stake is critical for both a durability and weight standpoint. While plastic tent stakes are cheap and readily available, they are bulky and extremely prone to breaking especially in winter (hard ground), and in areas with lots of rocks.
Aluminum tent stakes tend to be lightweight, durable, and a reasonably priced.
While titanium stakes are the lightest, most durable, but also the most expensive.
Depending on how much you want to deal with interior condensation will help you decide between a double-wall tent and a single-wall tent. Double-wall tents have two different parts – the tent body and a rainfly.
The mesh inner-tent helps to create a barrier against condensation that will form on the inside layer of the rainfly. Single-wall tents weigh less by combining the two layers which promotes airflow to lessen condensation. It doesn’t eliminate it completely though, and not everybody likes rubbing against wall condensation.
If you don’t mind a little dampness, then the lighter weight single-tent should work for you. If you prefer more comfort, then you will prefer the double-wall tent.
It should be noted that dampness and moisture inside a tent in very cold weather can be a recipe for hypothermia. So plan accordingly.
This is tied back to the single-wall vs double-wall tents, but the amount of condensation depends a lot on where you will be hiking. If you hike in warm and dry climates, this shouldn’t be too much of a worry. But if you prefer wetter climates such as forests and mountains, a double-wall tent will make you more comfortable, and it will provide better protection. If you do have a single-wall tent, avoid camping near water in low-lying areas.
Doors and Vestibules
Large doors make getting in and out easier. And a vestibule makes for a perfect place to store your gear overnight or in rain. Like most of the other features mentioned here, vestibules come at a cost of additional weight.
Durability is a huge feature to look for in a tent. Three of the main things manufacturers do to reduce tent weight is to reduce tent poles, skimp on zippers, and reduce the thickness of the base of the tent (the part that touches the ground).
As long as you are gentle with your zippers, they typically aren’t an issue. You likely are only in and out a couple times a day on a hiking trip.
The bigger issue is the reduced base thickness. As you move overnight, it rubs against the ground and will slowly wear out. Also, if you are unfortunate enough to have to deal a tent site with rocks, they can tear right through.
The best way to solve this is with a tent footprint.
A footprint adds durability to your tent floor, and a lot of tents these days don’t come with one. Some backpackers don’t use them as they add weight, but they will protect the floor of your tent from abrasions making it last longer and requiring fewer repairs. It may add a little more weight, but it will extend the life of your tent. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether you carry one or not.
For those tents that don’t come with a footprint or don’t have one made specifically for them, a piece of tyvek will serve as a cheap and lightweight option.
A footprint can reduce the amount of tent cleaning you’ll have to do after your trip as the bottom of the tent is typically what’s the dirtiest.
Before you get into the reviews, be sure to check out our article on the best survival tent.
Best Overall Ultralight Tent
Weighing just 2 lbs and 12 oz, the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 Tent is a 2 person, 3 season, double-wall tent that includes two doors and entrances. This freestanding tent is great to use on hikes or for car camping, and it offers a great balance between interior space, weight, and functionality.
It is a lightweight tent with a trail weight of 3 lbs that will blend in well with the rest of the weight in your backpack, plus it is roomy enough to be comfortable with two people inside waiting out bad weather.
In additional to its other features, the near-vertical side wall and interior pockets will maximize your comfort, and make your camping trip a relaxing and fun trip. This is one of the best ultralight freestanding tents you will find on the market.
- Very durable, the tent can hold up under extremely strong winds and hail
- Super lightweight, and it packs small
- Very sturdy for a freestanding tent
- Dimensions are off from what is advertised
- Not very wide when two people are in it
Best 1 Person Ultralight Tent
The MSR Hubba NX 1-Person Tent is a one person tent with one door and larger vestibule that’s part of the rainfly. This tent is self supporting and has 1 tent pole.
The tent weighs 2 lbs 7 oz including screened tent bathtub portion and the exterior rainfly. The two pieces are separate which will give you the option to leave one of them at home. This is particularly nice if you know the weather you’ll be experiencing and want to trim a couple pounds.
The tent pole layout makes for a lot of headroom compared to most other backpacks of this size.
- Lots of headroom
- Can leave one “piece” at home for a lighter weight experience
- Some users report issues with the tent pole. It’s a bit overly complicated and not of the highest quality.
- Need to buy the footprint separately
Best 2 Person Ultralight Tent
Mountainsmith creates versatile and durable tents, and the Morrison 2 person is the newest addition to their line. It is a three season tent that has more than 35 square feet of space, plus plenty of light, and great ventilation from large mesh wall panels.
This freestanding design has two poles and color-coded fly attachments that allows you to set up the tent quickly and easily. Quick reference instructions are printed on the stuff sack, and the interior stays dry with bathtub floor taped seams.
An additional 14 square feet of dry storage space is found in the double vestibules, plus a removable canopy shelf gives you easy access to store small items.
- Very easy to set up
- You can’t find a better tent for the money
- Great tent that is perfect for tall people
- Vestibule size is limited
- Position of the fly makes it hard to reach the door zippers from the outside and blocks easy exit
Best Ultralight Tent Under $100
The Alps Lynx 1 is a single tent with a single door and vestibule that is perfect for those that want a lightweight tent, but also wants all the full features. You will be snug and safe with the polyester fly, and the attached vestibule will give you plenty of storage area while you sleep.
The aluminum frame is shock corded so it is quick and easy to put up, but still strong connecting to the tent with clips. It has waterproof end walls that extend halfway up the tent reducing the need for fly coverage, plus it saves weight. It includes tons of mesh for great ventilation and for storage pockets.
Fly vents can also be opened or closed for ventilation, and external guy out loops keep the tent stable in high winds. Included gear loft lets you store your things out of the way.
- Has vents on the top, and it has a lot of vestibule space
- Has see-through fly
- Has a small footprint
- Is heavy for a tent its size
- Is not entirely mesh in the inner tent which affects air flow
With all the choices on the market, it shouldn’t be difficult for you to find lots of ultralight tents to choose from. Just make sure you know what features you need, and also do a little research into different tent reviews to see what others have experienced with these tents. Once you have figured out what you want out of your ultralight tent, it will be easy to find the best ultralight tent for you.