Looking to lighten your pack this year? We've raked through 50 of the best sub-two-pound ultralight tents of 2019 and bought 16 compelling models for head-to-head tests. We brought these tents and tarps along on adventures in the Colorado Rockies, Utah's canyon country, the High Sierra, and even the Himalaya. After rigorous evaluation, each model is assessed based on what we feel are the most critical aspects of a shelter. We've spotlighted the best choices for weather resistance, livability, and even identified the best model for going solo. If you're looking to upgrade your kit or someone you love is bound for PCT glory next year, read on so you can shop like an expert.
The Best Ultralight Tents and Shelters of 2019
|Price||$600 List||$700 List||$535 List||$300 List||$650.00 at Hyperlite Mountain Gear|
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|Pros||Only 21 ounces with included bug protection and flooring, four-sided weather protection, ample space for two, double doors||Great weather protection, lightweight, adaptable||Under a pound, bombproof dyneema construction, ultralight stakes included||Roomy, easy to setup, fully enclosed, affordable||DCF construction is lightweight and waterproof, has the most enclosed interior space of any tent we tested, great for four season use|
|Cons||Expensive, doesn’t include necessary stakes||Expensive||Expensive, single pole set-up takes a little practice||A tad heavy to be considered ultralight for one, design not quite as wind stable as double vestibule options||Requires lashing two poles together for setup, very expensive, no floor or bug protection built in|
|Bottom Line||The best combination of weather and bug protection, ample space for two people, and light weight makes it our Editors’ Choice winner.||This is one of the best, most liveable ultralight shelters money can buy.||Our favorite ultralight shelter for strictly solo adventures.||The One is the best fully enclosed single person shelter that we have tested.||A super high-quality and spacious single wall pyramid made of DCF, with a price tag to match its materials and craftsmanship.|
|Rating Categories||ZPacks Duplex Flex Upgrade||Tarptent StratoSpire Li||Tarptent Aeon Li||Gossamer Gear The One||UltaMid 2|
|Weather Resistance (25%)|
|Ease Of Set Up (10%)|
|Specs||ZPacks Duplex Flex...||Tarptent...||Tarptent Aeon Li||Gossamer Gear The...||UltaMid 2|
|Trail Weight: fly/tarp, tent/optional bug net, poles||1.76 lb w/ Flex upgrade||1.75 lb (w/o poles)||.98 lb||1.68 lb||2.32 lb (w/o poles)|
|Shelter/ FastFly Weight (tarp and minimum guy lines or fly and poles)||1.06 lb (w/o poles)||1.06 lb||.98 lb||1.32 lb (w/o poles)||1.48 lb (w/o poles)|
|Weight of Components||Tent with bathtub floor: 19.7 oz, Flex upgrade: 11oz, Guy lines and clips: 1.2 oz, Stuff sack: .3 oz||Tent with bathtub floor: 25.6 oz, Floor and bug net: 11.5 oz, Fly: 14.1 oz||Tent with Bathtub floor and bug net: 15.8 oz Stakes: 1.7 oz||Total: 1 lb. 6 oz., Tent: 1 lb. 5.1 oz., Extra tie outs: 0.5 oz., Stuff sack: 0.4 oz., Optional aluminum poles: 5.7 oz.||Mid: 1 lb. 7.7 oz. (bug insert with floor = 22 oz, bug insert w/o floor = 13.4 oz.)|
|Max Floor Dimensions (inches)||45" x 90"||86" x 45"||88" x 30"||88" x 34"||83" x 107"|
|Peak Height (inches)||48"||45"||47"||46"||64"|
|Type||Tarp Tent||Tarp Tent||Tarp Tent||Tarp Tent||Floorless Pyramid|
|Fabric||.51 oz/sqyd DCF Fabric||Dyneema||Dyneema||7D high tenacity nylon-blended sil/pu coating||DCF8 Dyneema Composite Fabrics|
|Capacity||2 person||2 person||1 person||1 person||2 person|
|Packed Size (inches)||7" x 13"||16" x 4"||14" x 4"||6" x 9"||8.5" x 6" x 5.5"|
|Floor Area||28.13 sq ft||26.88 sq ft||18.3 sq ft||19.55 sq ft||63 sq ft|
|Number of Poles||4||2 trekking poles||1 trekking pole||2 trekking poles||2 trekking poles|
|Number of Tie Outs||8||8||7||10||8|
Best Overall Ultralight Tent
ZPacks Duplex Flex Upgrade
In 2016, Zpacks replaced their Hexamid Twin tent with the new Duplex, which remains the best overall ultralight tent that we have tested. The Duplex offers fantastic weather protection on all four sides, with its super wind-stable tarp design and the addition of twin doors and covered vestibules. Unlike most of the similar tents in this review, it has sewn in bug protection and a floor, while still weighing in at a mere 21 ounces. What we loved was how much room there was inside, as there's plenty for two people with packs and then some. The sewn in bug netting keeps you protected from creatures that want to bite you in the night, while also providing plenty of ventilation to prevent condensation buildup on the inside of the single wall. Compared to the often tiny two-person tents that we compared it to, this tent is legitimately large enough for two people to be comfortable, with room to spare!
It's not a freestanding model, so you'll have to use trekking poles to set it up, or purchase a custom set of poles if you prefer not to hike with them. We bought the Freestanding Flex upgrade that eliminates the need for trekking poles and makes the Duplex more adaptable. That makes this tent even more expensive. DCF or Dyneema Composite Fiber (formerly Cuben) which this tent is made out of is in our opinion the best tent material your money could buy, but certainly does come at a higher price. Zpacks is a small company that makes your product when you order it, so you might have to wait a while for it; give yourself ample lead time, particularly during the busy season. That aside, this tent easily one of the lightest for two people, earning it our Editors' Choice award.
Read review: Zpacks Duplex Flex Upgrade
Best Bang for the Buck
Black Diamond Beta Light
If you don't need bug netting, the Black Diamond Beta Light is the best possible option at a greatly reduced price. It is a classic "do everything well" shelter, scoring highly in each of the metrics we assessed. It has plenty of room inside for two people and their packs, plus a dog, and it is tall enough that you can sit up inside of it. We also like its adaptability; you can pitch it off the ground a bit for better air flow, or lower it to close off the gaps when it's windy or storming. Best of all, it packs down into a stuff sack far smaller than any other in this review, even the tarps. This aspect was especially appreciated by those of us who only backpack with a 40L pack.
While it doesn't have built-in bug protection, Black Diamond sells a bug netting insert for those that want to extend its usage during the buggiest months. However, the bug netting is heavy (1 lb 13 oz) and expensive, which ends up negating some of the cost savings of this mid. The two interior trekking poles provide a stable design, especially in the wind, but they set up in the middle of the tent, rather than on the edges like most other trekking pole tents, a possible issue if you plan to snuggle up with your partner. If you are planning an adventure where the lack of bug netting will not be a problem, then we recommend the Beta Light as the best value ultralight option, and love its fantastic price! Need even more room? The Beta Light's Cousin, the Black Diamond Mega Light, has space for four people and is still exceptionally light and reasonably affordable.
Read review: Black Diamond Beta Light
Best Value with Bug Netting and Floor
Nemo Hornet 2P
While the Black Diamond Beta Light wins our Best Bang for the Buck Award for the best value, it might not appeal to folks that want a floor, bug netting, and don't want to deal with wrangling trekking poles and guylines (if that sounds like you, check out the Nemo Hornet). Similar to the Elite, there are two doors and vestibules, which is great for some extra storage space and also so that you don't have to crawl over your companion to get out of the tent. It was among the most stable tents that we tested in the wind, which we attribute to the extra stake out points at the point of each vestibule, and also did fine in the rain. It scored higher overall than its direct (free standing) competitors and was easier to set up.
On the downside, we found it to be a tight squeeze for two people. With two inflatable sleeping pads, there was some necessary overlap around the feet. It still isn't cheap; however, it's nearly half the cost of most of the models in this review when you factor in the additional cost of modular bug nets. It is also the "heaviest" model in this review, but let's be real — two lbs might be hefty when compared to this UL line-up, but it's still lighter than 99% of the other backpacking tents on the market (especially if split up between two people). Compared to the Black Diamond Beta Light with the optional bug netting accessory, it's a half pound lighter and about the same cost.
Read review: Nemo Hornet 2P
Top Pick for Best Weather Protection
Tarptent StratoSpire Li
The Tarptent StratoSpire Li is light so you can move fast, but what distinguishes it from the Zpacks Duplex are its two large vestibules, multiple ventilation points, and its zippers that have storm flaps. If you're stuck waiting out days of bad weather (like our unlucky testers), the StratoSpire is the tent you want to be stuck in, as the two vestibules provide ample space for dry storage and cooking. Being able to boil water for a cup of coffee and stay dry on a cold and rainy morning will be more than worth the extra ounces that come from the waterproof zippers and corner ventilation flaps. This tent features waterproof Dyneema that doesn't stretch or sag when it gets wet, plus a durable floor and bug net that's easily removable. While the Duplex is the lightest of the pack, there's a lot to love about the StratoSpire.
Like other tents and tarps made from Dyneema, the StratoSpire is expensive. This ultralight palace is costly; some will find that the weather protection, at such a low weight, makes it worth every penny. This tent requires two trekking poles and eight stakes (ultralight and included) for setting up, limiting where you can set up. If you don't like carrying trekking poles or one a ski or river trip, Tarptent offers a pair of support poles for an additional cost.
Read review: Tarptent StratoSpire Li
Top Pick for Freestanding UL Option
NEMO Hornet Elite
The Nemo Hornet Elite is the best dedicated-pole tent in this review (it doesn't require trekking poles for setup). If you're looking for a lightweight tent, but don't commonly carry trekking poles or don't want to have to carry adjustable poles, this is the best option. There are two vestibules and doors (one on each side), which significantly increases the livability and the extra storage space. It also increases the tent's stability in the wind by acting as extra guy-out points on the sides.
The Hornet is a bit tight for two, but the vestibules do give you some storage space for your gear. With the fly on, we noticed a distinct lack of ventilation, but again, those double doors help air things out. It's also expensive and not that much lighter than the Nemo Hornet 2P, so if you want to save a bit of money, check out that one instead. We can tell what the extra dough is going for though; it's the best option for rocky sites commonly found above 10,000 feet, where it can be a challenge to find the six or so great stake spots that the Duplex or most tarps and non-freestanding tents require.
Read review: Nemo Hornet Elite
Top Pick for Best Ultralight Tent for One Person
Tarptent Aeon Li
The Tarptent Aeon Li is a full three-season tent with bug-netting, tons of headroom, and spacious vestibule all under a pound. It fits one person, large or small, with ample sleeping space, while preserving a narrow footprint thanks to its innovative strut system. Tripods of carbon fiber struts on two corners of the tent plus an additional one on the back wall add stability so when properly rigged, the Aeon is bombproof, even with its one pole set-up. Did we mention there's enough headroom for a seven-foot-tall person (or Sasquatch) to fully sit up? The whole strut system looks complicated, and we were scratching our heads at how this shelter could be one of the lightest and have additional features not seen on any other tent…but the Tarptent folks pull it off.
The Aeon is an expensive tent; the serious fastpacker will get their money's worth if a three-season shelter is what they need, but the casual user will spend over $500 on a tent they may only use a few nights a year. If you're not out on the trail for a significant part of the year, the heavier but less expensive Gossamer Gear One might be more up your alley. For those who want the best lightweight tent for one, the Aeon Li gets the green light.
Read review: Tarptent Aeon Li
Top Pick for an Ultralight Tarp
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp
For true ultralight aficionados and die-hard thru-hikers, no form of shelter burdens you less than a tarp. While they may have a few drawbacks compared to regular enclosed tents, proponents of tarps will always argue that the benefits outweigh the hindrances. While we only tested two stand-alone tarps in this year's review, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp was once again the best of the best. The perfectly square design makes it slightly harder to achieve a drum-tight pitch in A-frame mode, but also allows for endless adaptability when it comes to pitching options and locations. At only 10.9 ounces, including the copious amounts of tie-out cordage, this tarp is far and away the lightest shelter in this review.
That weight comes with a minor caveat, however, in that you will likely want to bring along a ground cloth to sleep on, and depending on the season and weather, may also need a bivy sack for added weather and bug protection, which ups the overall shelter system weight and cost a bit. Also keep in mind that both the price and the weight are for the tarp without the trekking poles needed to set it up, or the stakes required to keep it affixed to the ground, so you will have to figure in the money and weight attributed to both. Regardless, if you are in the market for a tarp and want the best one we have ever used, look no further than this excellent design.
Read review: Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp
Top Pick for Most Spacious
Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2
Most ultralight shelters will end up costing you a bit in comfort to save a few ounces in weight. Many of the two-person tents we tested significantly compromised on enclosed interior space in their efforts to weigh as little as possible, something we often lamented. In our view, it doesn't do much good to weigh four ounces less if that also means it is impossible to fit all your gear — where is the practicality in that? For that reason, we wanted to recognize the shelter which offered by far the most space of any ultralight tent we tested, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2. This four-sided pyramid is fully enclosed in top-quality DCF material, ranking it right up there with the very best for weather protection. But even better, its tall, steep sidewalls and huge footprint mean that there is enough space for two people to sleep, plus a dog, gear, and then still some room left over for a kitchen or simply spreading out.
It does have a couple of notable downsides; the high cost for one, and the fact that it's so tall that it needs a center pole longer than a single trekking pole. That said, if you want a very adaptable, super weather-resistant, fully enclosed shelter that will never have you lamenting the trade-off in space or comfort, then this is the tent for you. For a similar, cheaper, but less weather resistant model, check out the Black Diamond Mega Light. The Mega Light is silnylon, so it stretches when it absorbs water and weighs a bit more, but we feel it's still an excellent value.
Read review: Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is expertly tailored by Andy Wellman and Matt Bento. Andy has spent countless days rambling through the backcountry in the Pacific Northwest, a region that puts ultralight shelters to the test like no other. Between torrential rains and swarms of insects, this is a perfect, unforgiving environment for our comparative testing. Matt is a Yosemite Search and Rescue veteran who knows the importance of going fast and light. While he isn't necessarily afraid of a heavy pack, he's willing to go to great lengths to carry as little as possible on backcountry adventures.
These two have put these tents through their paces on bike tours, SAR missions, alpine traverses, backpacking trips in the southwest and plenty of wandering around the High Sierra, getting to know the ends and outs of each model, setting them up in hail storms and high winds. Sometimes bad weather had our testers festering in these tents for days at a time, giving them time to really think about the awesome and not-so-awesome aspects of each model. More often than not, we were surprised and impressed with the innovative designs form mostly small manufacturers.
Analysis and Test Results
The tents and shelters represented in this review fall into four broad design categories — tarps, tarp tents, pyramids, and double wall tents. Every model was designed to be as light as possible, but in many ways, that is the only thing these shelters have in common. It is not a stretch to call ultralight tents the most innovative genre of outdoor gear, as the many solutions to the over-riding problem — weight — often left us in awe of designers originality. With such a broad spectrum of unique designs, it often felt like we were trying to compare apples to oranges to bananas. It should be obvious that tarps and double wall tents are going to have drastically different strengths and weaknesses, so it is important that you identify which grading metrics are most important for your needs as a starting point to choosing the right shelter, rather than looking only at the overall score.
We rated each model based on five criteria to come up with an overall performance score. We considered their livability, weight, weather protection, adaptability, and ease of setup, all of which we think are important when selecting an ultralight tent. We also considered some of the metrics to be more important than others, with livability being the most important (30% of the overall score), and adaptability a little less (only 10%). Note that we scored these models compared to each other, and not the tent market in general, so even though some of the models have high weather resistance scores, we're considering them against each other and in mostly three-season conditions.
Related: The Best Four Season Tents
The lightest most durable materials are costly, no getting around it. The ultralight tents in our review that use Dyneema all cost over $600. While they are also the top scoring models because of their liveability and awesome designs, we understand that there are folks that want ultralight options on a budget. The less expensive options are silnylon, a material that is heavier and not as water resistant. When considering price, you'll likely be forking over more cash for less weight in your pack. Long distance hikers do the kind of math all the time. If you spend $600 on a tent and spend four months on the trail, that's around $5 a night. Save money and purchase a less expensive tent that weighs 10 oz more you're carrying down the trail with every step. The lesson here is that if you're going to use your tent often, a lighter, more expensive tent is likely more valuable to you and your knees. Only using your tent a few nights a year? Then budget options will be easier to swallow.
While the Zpacks Duplex led the pack in performance but also price. High-value budget models include the Six Moons Design Haven Tarp and our Best Buy winner, the Black Diamond Beta Light. Our Best Buy for a dedicated-pole tent, the Nemo Hornet 2P, is a little more expensive than those options, but still less than other dedicated-pole tents and a good value for the performance.
While weather protection may be the primary reason for carrying a shelter on your adventures versus just sleeping out under the stars, the fact is that livability is the attribute that accounts for your happiness the most. We define livability as how comfortable it is to live in a tent: sleeping, sorting and storing gear, and waiting out storms. In an ideal world, the shelter would be long and wide enough for two regular sized sleeping pads if it's a two-person tent, with a little extra room left over. While space requirements are the most important and notable aspect of livability, a few other things contribute as well — insect protection, condensation management, privacy, and whether a tent has a floor or not. We consider livability to be the single most important aspect of a tent, because if your tent is too uncomfortable to enjoy using it, then it isn't going to be a worthwhile purchase. As such, Livability accounts for 30% of a product's final score.
Condensation management can also be an issue for some single-wall tents. In general, double wall tents do a decent enough job of keeping condensation away from your body and sleeping bag, as do tarps that have excellent ventilation, which means condensation doesn't build up as quickly. In our experience, enclosed, single wall tents like the "tarp tents" and pyramids had the worst condensation issues. For single-wall tents, we much preferred designs that were spacious enough to both lie down and sit up in without automatically rubbing against the walls, which could be wet in the morning. We also appreciated designs that could still be considered ultralight and included a floor. While you can make up for the lack of a floor by bringing a ground cloth or Tyvek, or simply multi-purposing a raincoat or poncho, and in some situations could be regarded as an advantage, floors are helpful for the protection they offer, especially if the ground is already wet or muddy before you set up the tent.
While sleeping space, vestibule space, and tent height are rather self-explanatory, some of the other factors deserve a few words. Depending on the season you are backpacking, bug protection can be a significant issue. Those tents that included built-in bug netting or protection were preferable to our testers, as we often camped in Colorado and Wyoming during spring and summer. We gave a pass to those shelters that allow for modular bug protection when needed, and like the fact that we don't have to carry it when it's not necessary. However, it is worth noting that when adding bug protection to many models, the weight and packed size, as well as the cost, tend to balloon a bit, and are not accounted for in our specs table. We considered tents with built-in bug netting that still weighed less than two pounds to present the most versatility and the best value.
The ultralight tent with the highest score for Livability is the Tarptent StratoSpire Li. This two-person tent has two large storage vestibules for storage and cooking, two mesh pockets for staying organized and four points for ventilation. Tarptent's ultralight single-person Aeon Li also sets the bar high with a single pole setup featuring a generously sized vestibule and enough headroom for hikers up to seven feet tall. (Imagine the gate of a seven-foot-tall hiker. This giant will break speed records). The Pyramid style Black Diamond Mega Light, BD Beta Light, and the Hyperlight Mountain Gear UltaMid 2 all score well in livability due to their huge footprint, offering loads of space for gear, cooking, and hanging out.
You might think that as an ultralight tent review, the weight would be the most important metric in the grading scale. This time we took a different approach and decided that since these tents are all light, it was more important to focus first on the things that differentiate them. Now don't get us wrong, we still think weight is a critical measure of the functionality of an ultralight shelter, and we recognize that there is a notable difference between a shelter that is 10.9 ounces and one that is nearly 2.5 lbs. The Zpacks Duplex and the Tarptent StratoSpire have similar scores, but the Duplex comes out ahead because it's 6.4oz lighter. As a compromise, we settled on 25% as the amount that weight contributes to a product's final score.
Due to the differences in what comes with each tent or shelter, comparing weight sometimes felt like comparing apples to peaches. For instance, most of the shelters included here do not come with poles, and are designed instead to be pitched using adjustable trekking poles. So, understandably, those shelters are going to weigh less in general than the dedicated pole tents that did come with poles needed for setup. However, to use one of these lighter models, you will need to carry trekking poles and will have to account for that weight somewhere in your overall backpacking load.
The same thing applies to stakes. Many don't include stakes with the shelter; it again means that on paper, a particular shelter may look lighter than it will be in practice. Other instances of potentially necessary added weight to a shelter are ground cloths for floorless shelters, a lightweight bivy sack for weather protection while using a tarp, and adding on modular bug netting if it is needed.
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp and Zpacks Hexamid Solo were far and away the weight winners. The Square Flat Tarp weighed only 10.9 ounces for the tarp and the included tie-off cordage but will need trekking poles and at least six stakes. We tested an 8.5'x 8.5' version of this tarp, but it also comes in 6'x 8' and 8'x 10' rectangular versions. Third lightest was predictably the SilNylon Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Tarp Duo, which is catenary cut, meaning that it is shaped for setup in A-frame mode only, so isn't as adaptable as a flat tarp. Our version weighed only 15.1 ounces, again including the tie-off cordage, but without stakes or poles. For an extra cost, this tarp can be purchased with DCF fiber construction, making it a shade lighter than the SilNylon version. Even without the stakes included in the reckoning, the double-wall tents that came with included poles were the heaviest.
If weight is the single most important criteria for your shelter selection, we firmly advise you to delve deeply into the specs for each product. To compare these products and assign scores for weight, and to be as fair as possible, we weighed the individual components that came with each shelter.
The most important reason for having a tent with you on your backcountry adventures is for weather protection. After all, if the weather was always perfect, why wouldn't you sleep beneath the stars every night, cowboy style? Your tent or tarp should be able to adequately protect you from rain, wind, hail, and light snow. While the pyramid designs are versatile enough to be able to bear the load of heavy snow, most of these shelters are for three-season use, and in general, lack the structure necessary to withstand the weight of a severe snow storm. While we did get snowed on pretty heavily a couple of nights while testing these shelters in the Himalaya (with very mixed results), we didn't assess for how well an ultralight shelter handles snow. Because it is so important, we weighted Weather Resistance as 25% of a product's overall score.
The models we tested for this review only consist of a couple of different materials. Ripstop SilNylon, which is nylon permeated with Silicon, is the most commonly used and most affordable. Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF), formerly known as Cuben Fiber, is less common but has some very worthy attributes. It is lighter than SilNylon, is functionally pretty much waterproof, doesn't absorb water or stretch when wet, doesn't degrade from exposure to UV rays, and is easy to repair in the field. It is also considerably more expensive, and thus the shelters made from DCF are far more costly than their SilNylon counterparts. A couple of the tents tested use Ripstop Nylon coated with a Polyurethane coating other than Silicon.
We determined that one of the most stable designs for resisting the wind was the "tarp tent," or A-frame tarp design that includes "beaks" or protective vestibules on each open end. Five tents in this review fit this design, the Tarptent StratoSpire Li the Zpacks Duplex, Six Moon Designs Haven Tarp, Sea to Summit Specialist Duo, and The One. The Tarptent StratoSpire Li came on top in this metric thanks to its huge vestibules. The vestibules create a large area out of the rain, but not in your tent; this allows you to sit in the waterproof Dyneema tub-style tent and stay dry, while you take off your wet shoes and rain jacket and leave them in the vestibule. The vestibules feature storm flaps secured in place with tiny magnets. Very close behind is the Zpacks Duplex, which features a similar design, but has smaller vestibules and a hook and loop closure instead of zippers. iOn the other hand, the Haven Tarp is made out of SilNylon and doesn't have a built-in bathtub floor, so scored slightly lower despite still being one of the most protective.
For maximum weather protection, you often need 10+ stakes to use all the guy point options fully. Most of these tents come without included stakes, and some others only come with 6-8 stakes. You can buy more 6-gram carbon stakes, use rocks or go with these cheaper stakes if you are looking for a deal. Ten or so feet of p-cord can also come in handy when securing your tent to natural anchors like trees or boulders, or to make additional guy lines.
Likewise, The One compromised a bit by only having one vestibule beak. Pyramid style tents are also very effective at repelling the wind and rain, and the Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2, with its DCF fabric, also ranked right up there as the best. Just as stable in the wind, but not quite as water resistant with its SilNylon construction, was the Black Diamond Beta Light, a two-poled pyramid design. While they offer adequate protection, the double-wall ultralight tents we tested struggle to handle a strong wind as well as the products above, and need some serious guying out in heavy weather. Likewise, standard A-frame or square tarps, while offering adequate protection from the rain, need a sheltered site and an experienced camper to handle high winds well.
Adaptability may be more or less important to you based on where you often end up camping. If you often find yourself off trail sleeping on uneven surfaces or in rapidly changing weather conditions, adaptability will be important. Generally, the tarp-style shelters do well in this metric. Snowy? Make a steep-sided shelter or a lean-to with your tarp. Or you could string up your tarp to be as wide possible to hide from the desert sun. The ability to add or remove floors or bug nets also added points to a shelters adaptability. Overall, we found adaptability to be a minor consideration compared to the three metrics above, and thus weighted it as 10% of a product's final score.
The top scorer for adaptability was once again the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp. With a wide breadth of experience as well as an understanding of weather dynamics and rigging, this tarp can be set up and used in a nearly unlimited amount of different ways. Since it is flat, rather than "cat" cut, it can deploy easily in a low to the ground storm mode that does a significantly better job of protecting against both rain and wind than in A-frame mode. With 16 perimeter tie-outs and four more found on the face of the tarp, there are many options for tailoring this tarp to the environment in which you'll be spending time.
The second most adaptable designs were the two pyramids — the Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2 as well as the Black Diamond Beta Light. Both of these tents can be set up high for added airflow or low to the ground for more bomber protection from the wind. They are incredibly weather resistant, and even though this review is about three-season shelters, Mids are almost ideally suited as either cook or sleeping tents in the snow or on expeditions, making them genuine four-season options. We also appreciated the adaptability of the double wall designs that allowed for sleeping under only mesh netting on perfect nights, and since they are mostly free-standing models, often don't need soft ground to set up successfully.
Ease of Set-up
The final metric on our overall scoring is Ease of Set-up. No smart backpacker will ever head out into the wilderness without first practicing setting up his shelter at home sometimes, and with practice, almost all of these tents become easy to set up. That said, being able to set up a tent in less than a minute or two, alone, in gusting wind that often precedes inclement weather may ultimately make a difference in your comfort level for the night, especially if the inclement weather lingers for a while. To decide these scores, we busted out a stopwatch and timed ourselves, after a couple of practice rounds first. We also made a note of how easy or difficult wind can make setup. Ease of Setup accounted for 10% of a product's final score.
The winner of our Best Dedicated Pole Tent Award, the Nemo Hornet Elite, was one of the most intuitive tents to set up. Its pole-locking clips at the corners where the poles join the tent meant that it was much more straightforward for one person to get all three ends of the poles into place than the other double wall designs, simply because once clipped in place, the pole tips had no chance to come unclipped. While it does require a minimum of four stakes (two on the bottom corners, two for the vestibules), this tent is intuitive and easy to set up in a hurry by one person. Even easier was the Black Diamond Beta Light, which needs to be staked out loosely at four corners, and then have the two center poles propped up inside.
The Tarptent StratoSpire Li, Aeon Li and the Zpacks Duplex include adjustable guy lines with easy to use cords locks. This feature makes it much easier to make micro adjustments in the middle of the night. If you wake up to snow or heavy rain and didn't correctly tension your tent before you went to sleep, the ability to easily tighten down the guy lines is much faster than having to reposition your stakes as you would with the Black Diamond Beta Light or the Mega Light.
How did it come to this? Humans have been walking the earth for thousands of years without silnylon, Dyneema, or bug netting. Now, we need to go farther, faster, without losing pints of blood from swarms of mosquitoes and blackflies. Bonafide engineers are putting their time, effort, and intellect into designing the strongest and lightest shelters ever known. What a time to be a human-powered adventurer! Even with all the ounce-counting, hair-splitting and nit-picking, we have an amazing time testing out ultralight shelters and hope that our efforts and evaluations lead you to a shelter with which you're satisfied.
— Andy Wellman & Matt Bento