Best Backpacking Tent of 2021
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|Pros||Excellent balance between weight and features, many storage pockets, large vestibules||Two large double doors, good headroom, excellent balance of interior space and weight||Lightweight, good lateral headroom, large side doors, large overhead pocket||Generous dimensions, large vestibules, good balance between weight and durability||Lightweight, good headroom for its size, double side doors, massive storage pocket|
|Cons||Tapered foot, pockets are high up||Expensive, delicate materials||Small vestibules, tapered footprint reduces interior space||Small doors, expensive, zippers don't always open smoothly||Odd door configuration, delicate materials, expensive|
|Bottom Line||A superior tent that balances light weight with excellent features||Our favorite tent for all your backpacking needs||A comfortable, lightweight tent for up to three people, that's great for a weekend or a week||A high-quality tent that strikes a solid balance between weight and comfort features||This is a lightweight tent for a long-distance backpacking duo that still wants the comfort of a double-wall shelter|
|Rating Categories||NEMO Dragonfly 2||Big Agnes Copper Sp...||Big Agnes Copper Sp...||NEMO Dagger 2||Big Agnes Tiger Wal...|
|Weather Resistance (25%)|
|Ease Of Set Up (10%)|
|Packed Size (10%)|
|Specs||NEMO Dragonfly 2||Big Agnes Copper Sp...||Big Agnes Copper Sp...||NEMO Dagger 2||Big Agnes Tiger Wal...|
|Packaged Weight||3.16 lbs||3.09 lbs||3.88 lbs||3.76 lbs||2.50 lbs|
|Floor Area||29 sq ft||29 sq ft||41 sq ft||31 sq ft||28 sq ft|
|Packed Size||19.5 x 4.5 in||19.5 x 6 in||21 x 6 in||19.5 x 6.5 in||18 x 5.5 in|
|Dimensions||88 x 50 x 41 in||88 x 52 x 40 in||90 x 70 x 43 in||90 x 50 x 42 in||86 x 52/42 x 39 in|
|Vestibule Area (Total)||20 sq ft||18 sq. ft||18 sq ft||22.8 sq ft||16 sq ft|
|Peak Height||41 in||40 in||43 in||42 in||39 in|
|Number of Doors||2||2||2||2||2|
|Number of Poles||3||1||3||2||3|
|Pole Diameter||8.7 mm||8.7 mm||8.7 mm||8.5/9/9.6 mm||8.7 mm|
|Number of Pockets||3||3||5||2||4|
|Gear Loft||No||No||No||Sold separately||No|
|Pole Material||DAC featherlite NFL||DAC featherlite NFL||Aluminum||DAC featherlight NSL||DAC featherlight NFL aluminum|
|Rain Fly Material||20D nylon ripstop||15D 1200mm silicone nylon ripStop||proprietary patterned random rip-stop nylon with 1200mm waterproof polyurethane coating||15D Sil / PU nylon ripstop (1200mm)||Ripstop nylon, PU coating (1200 mm)|
|Inner Tent Material||15D nylon ripstop||[Body] 10D polyester mesh, [Floor] 20D nylon ripStop||proprietary patterned random rip-stop nylon with 1200mm waterproof polyurethane coating||[Body] 15D nylon ripstop / No see um mesh, [Floor] 30D PU Nylon Ripstop (3000mm)||Ripstop nylon, PU coating (1200 mm), polyester mesh|
|Type||Two door freestanding||Two door freestanding||Two door freestanding||Two door freestanding||Two door semi freestanding|
Best Overall Backpacking Tent
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2
The Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 strikes a superb balance between competing factors. It is spacious enough for two people to sleep comfortably but remains lightweight and packs down small. As a top overall option in our review, it embodies what many backpackers are looking for in a backpacking tent. It is also resilient in windy conditions, providing crucial protection when the weather turns grey. It has two large side doors and roomy vestibules that convert into useful awnings with a set of trekking poles. This is a versatile option, great for backpacking or car camping.
This model's drawbacks are comparatively minor. If we had to choose something, we would point out that the taper at the foot makes it feel a little on the small side. We have also found that the fly and tent doors are somewhat oddly aligned, so entry and exit take a little bit longer. However, on the whole, long-distance hikers and frequent backpackers will get significant utility out of this tent. It takes top honors for the super all-around experience it offers.
Read review: Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2
Excellent Balance of Features and Weight
NEMO Dragonfly 2
The NEMO Dragonfly 2 strikes a prime balance between comfort and weight. Two substantial side doors, two-tone mesh for increased privacy at a busy campsite, and wind-resistant lower sidewalls add to this tent's allure. The fabric is durable, and the trapezoidal rainfly stays taut (and quiet) in the wind, which turns out to be a surprisingly rare feature in a tent. The massive vestibules provide plenty of space for gear storage. Its exceptional design means that six-foot-tall sleepers have enough head-to-toe length when lying down and enough vertical headroom for sitting up.
This tent is great, but the interior width of 50" tapering to 45" leaves some foot-end pinching. Though it comes with an impressive array of storage pockets, they aren't super conveniently located and require a long reach from a lying-down position. All things considered, this tent is exceptional for its balance of performance and weight — a combination that we would take with us on almost any adventure.
Read review: NEMO Dragonfly 2
Best for Luxury Car Camping on a Budget
REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+
The REI Half Dome SL 2+ is one of the most livable and comfortable tents in this review. It provides the most bang for the buck of any model in the category. With a spacious interior and thoughtful construction, it is a good choice for taller folks or anyone who opts to bring their pet on the adventure. We love it for its exceptional comfort, luxurious dimensions, and good ventilation, as well as its wide array of interior storage pockets.
All that interior space comes with additional weight. As one of the heaviest tents in our fleet, it is more than double the weight of the lightest models in the category. It may be inconsequential over short distances, especially split between two people, but for longer trips, we would look elsewhere. It is best suited for weekend backpacking, canoe trips, and car camping. Overall, this tent is a real rock star that comes at a comparatively affordable price.
Read review: REI Half Dome SL 2+
Best Lightweight Option
Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 Solution Dye
The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 Solution Dye is a great option to consider if you like the idea of going ultralight but can't quite bring yourself to ditch the comfort and ease of setup that comes with dedicated poles. Its light weight makes it a true competitor in the semi-freestanding subcategory; we found it to be the most comfortable of the sub-three-pound models because of its exceptional headroom and two large side doors. The fabric's solution dye also makes for a more environmentally-friendly production process.
The biggest head-scratcher is the orientation of the zippers on the doors and fly; our testers found that it is just more challenging than it should be to open and enter, especially in the rain. It's a little pricey but comparable to its close competitors. If you treat it nicely, it should offer you many years of lightweight, comfortable camping.
Read review: Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 Solution Dye
Best for Weather Resistance
Hilleberg Anjan 2 GT
The Hilleberg Anjan 2 GT is what we reach for when harsh weather is in the forecast. It performs at its best in the shoulder seasons: the early thaw of spring and the first autumn or winter snowstorm. It has a massive vestibule to protect gear and thoughtful design elements that improve its performance in tough weather, as well as several guy points for stability. The floor is super durable and waterproof.
For everything it offers, expect to pay top dollar for this model. In addition, it takes significantly longer to pitch than a traditional 3-season tent. Its heft makes it better suited for biking trips or backpacking adventures where gear weight is not a primary consideration. Though it is very expensive, its durable construction makes it a long-term value if you use it frequently.
Read review: Hilleberg Anjan 2 GT
Best Three Person Version
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3
Much like its smaller sibling, the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3 is an excellent backcountry companion. It maintains the same features but with room for one more. It is designed to accommodate three, but it is also light enough for two people to carry a very reasonable load, with room left over for extra gear storage. It has double side doors, and its high-volume design provides plenty of headroom. The massive gear storage pockets are a nice perk as well.
We don't think that the tapered footprint serves it as well in this larger configuration; it feels like a squeeze for three people. However, we like it because of its flexibility, allowing a group of three to travel light.
Read review: Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3
Notable for Comfort Camping on a Shoestring Budget
REI Co-op Passage 2
The REI Passage 2 combines space, comfort, and affordability in a way few others do. This tent takes a top spot in the Budget Backpacking Tent category, and for those looking to get outside on the cheap, it is worth a strong look. We love its double doors, and its two-pole setup is just about as straightforward as it comes.
Its primary drawback is that its price point limits the quality of the materials that can go into it. It's a great value, but it is worth noting that much of the body of the tent, as well as the fly, is coated polyester (as opposed to nylon), which makes for a heavy carry. However, if you are new to camping or just want a simple and solid tent that will offer you a good night's sleep, this model is a true contender.
Read review: REI Passage 2
Notable for Superior Headroom
The North Face Stormbreak 2
The North Face Stormbreak 2 offers something that many other far more expensive backpacking tents don't: plenty of headroom. This is another carryover from our budget tent category. Two adults can easily sit up comfortably at the same time. It comes with a flexible vestibule configuration, so you can balance ventilation and weather protection in many different ways. There is also plenty of space to stash small items that you want to keep close at hand with large storage pockets.
The bummer with this tent is that you sort of get what you pay for. It's sturdy, but its polyurethane-coated polyester fly and floor make for a heavy final product. On the other hand, if the weight doesn't matter so much for your adventures, we would strongly recommend this one for the folks who like to sit up and live in their tent.
Read review: The North Face Stormbreak 2
Why You Should Trust Us
Our backpacking tent testers have spent hundreds of nights under the stars. Lead reviewer, Ben Applebaum-Bauch, has been testing tents for GearLab for almost four years. He got his start in the outdoor industry, maintaining gear (plenty of tents included) for guided group backpacking trips. A couple of years later, he became a guide himself, leading multi-week adventures on the Appalachian Trail, cycling through Nova Scotia, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, and paddling down the Androscoggin and Magalloway rivers, pitching plenty of tents along the way. With a decade of professional experience and several thru-hikes of some of America's great long trails behind him, he sleeps easy knowing that the world is filled with exceptional tents.
We tested the models in this review with a focus on comfort, weight, and weather resistance, with some additional attention on ease of setup, durability, and packed size. For comfort, we look at floor dimensions, but we also assess each model on its livability, asking the question, what can we actually do in this tent? Certain features like double side doors and ample pockets also make for a cushy shelter. Weight is a crucial consideration as well — generally, the lighter, the better. Most tents are pretty easy to set up, but we look at different connection points between poles, tent body, and fly. Weather resistance tests each fly and floors' abilities to protect sleepers from whipping wind and pouring rain. In terms of durability, we don't intentionally try to break our tents, but sometimes things happen, and we take note of delicate fabrics and brittle clips.
Related: How We Tested Backpacking Tents
Analysis and Test Results
We evaluate dozens of the best options on the market and rigorously test our top picks in the field. The following analysis summarizes our findings, and we point out models that excel in each metric. Metrics are weighted according to their relative importance.
We don't count value as part of a product's overall score, but we recognize that it is at the heart of many people's purchasing decisions, so we do our best to quantify it here. To assess value, we compare the price of each product and its overall score, essentially answering the question, "how many points per dollar do you get with any given model?". If the value is a primary consideration when making your purchase, the Big Agnes Copper Spur (two- and three-person) and NEMO Dragonfly 2 are pricey, but they score highly. The REI Half Dome SL 2+ doesn't perform quite as well, but it is comparatively inexpensive.
Comfort is the hominess of a backpacking tent. Dimensions are key; is there enough space to get a good night's sleep, or do sleepers end up pressed against a wet wall all night? Is it easy to enter and exit, or is climbing over a camping partner in the dark part of the experience? We also talk about a tent as livable, which refers to the ability to do things other than sleep (e.g., sit up to eat dinner or spread out and read a book).
The most comfortable two-person backpacking tent we tested is the REI Half Dome SL 2+, which has a palatial interior and two large vestibules. The top of the fly also has four kickstand vents to keep air flowing while keeping the rain out. We love it on stormy days when we plan to spend more time hunkered down at basecamp rather than out on the trail. It goes all-in on maximizing space and other vital features like double doors, large dual vestibules, and storage pockets (and consequently, it weighs a bit more than the overall top tents).
Award winners like the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 and NEMO Dragonfly 2 do a nice job of balancing comfort against other considerations. The former offers a pre-bent pole structure that maximizes interior volume. The NEMO Dagger 2 also scores well here.
The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 Solution Dye takes the cake as far as sub-three-pound tents go. It includes a pole segment that extends from door to door, which increases the lateral peak height of this model. Despite being otherwise well-designed tents, the NEMO Hornet Elite 2 and Tarptent Double Rainbow score lower in this metric, with both models heavily prioritizing weight-savings over interior floor space.
For this metric, we assess the protection that each tent provides against precipitation and wind. We are interested in any design features that impact a tent's ability to resist sagging and keep water from dripping through zippers and vents. We are also interested in structural rigidity and features like ventilation points and fly door configuration, which reduces condensation on the inside.
The Hilleberg Anjan 2 GT takes first place for overall weather resistance, partly for its reinforced vestibule zippers, a bathtub floor that protects against seepage from soggy soil, and a massive vestibule that allows you to organize and protect gear without storing it in the tent itself. It also effectively sheds condensation that drips from the roof. In this case, it offers an advantage over tents that have mesh walls.
Other weather-resistant top scorers are the NEMO Dragonfly 2 and NEMO Dagger 2 for their trapezoidal fly geometry and easy tensioning. They not only do an admirable job of shedding water but are relatively quiet in stiff wind. The Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 also scores well in this metric, offering above-average protection and an adaptable fly setup that can be pitched traditionally but can also convert into an overhead awning when propped up with a couple of trekking poles. The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 Solution Dye is a top contender for semi-freestanding tents.
The Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 and REI Co-Op Flash Air 2 are among the weaker models in our fleet for weather resistance. Perhaps surprisingly, it is the wind that undoes them faster than precipitation. However, we also found in the case of the first two that unusual fly geometry makes them a challenge to set up and increases their susceptibility to blowing rain.
Our weight metric ranks each tent on its measured packed weight, which includes poles, tent body, fly, stakes, and guylines — basically, everything that comes with a tent when you pull it off the shelf. Many manufacturers will also include a trail weight in their product specifications; this typically refers to the weight of the minimum pieces required for setup — usually tent, fly, and poles. Models that include the feature also refer to a fastpitch weight, that is, the footprint (usually sold separately), the fly, and the poles.
A handful of tents in this review are at or around two pounds, including the NEMO Hornet Elite 2, Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 Solution Dye, and REI Co-Op Flash Air 2. These models go all-in on reducing weight, usually at the expense of comfort and, to an extent, durability. We would be pleased to split a three to four-pound tent with our hiking buddy for most typical overnights and backpacking trips. On the other end of the spectrum, the REI Half Dome SL 2+ and the Hilleberg Anjan 2 GT are a couple of the heaviest tents that we tested. The former is a great option for car camping, and the latter is a specialty, harsh-weather tent.
If you want to maximize space and reduce weight, we would also strongly suggest looking at a three-person version of a lightweight model. The Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3 is under four pounds, and of course, offers tons of space for two people. The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL3 is under three pounds. Of course, its dimensions are slightly smaller than the Copper Spur, but it still provides ample space for two people.
This variable is based on our experiences field testing these products and involves our best estimate of the long-term durability of each tent. Though we use our tents long and hard, our goal isn't to get them to the point of catastrophic failure. We consider the quality and type of materials, overall design, and results during field testing.
The Hilleberg Anjan 2 GT has a host of features common to four-season tents, and we found it highly durable. It includes sturdy zippers, tensioners with hefty webbing, and thick floor fabric. Other top overall performers like the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 still have thin materials but keep an eye on increasing their strength. We are also impressed with the durability of the REI Half Dome SL 2+ and the NEMO Dagger 2. The former has heavy, thick fabric, and the latter is a good compromise between strength and weight.
Many of the lighter tents tested here are not designed to endure a ton of abuse. The NEMO Hornet Elite 2 and Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 Solution Dye have thin materials that need to be treated with care. To increase durability, make sure you store your tent properly by cleaning and drying it thoroughly before packing it away in the offseason.
Ease of Setup
Ease of setup refers to how quick and intuitive it is to pitch a tent. The models in this review generally come in two slightly different flavors. The majority are self-supported, also known as free-standing. These shelters have a set of dedicated poles that provide a "skeleton" that the tent clips to. An increasingly common variation on this is the semi-freestanding tent, which has poles but also requires stakes to maximize its volume. Both types are relatively simple to set up.
A classic X-pole design (two identical poles that cross at the top and attach to the tent body across diagonal corners) is rarely used anymore in its most straightforward form — it just doesn't offer as much stability on its own. But many models like the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 and REI Half Dome SL 2+ are variations on this basic structure, including an additional cross pole. This modification increases interior volume and structural rigidity. These types of models are all easy to set up. Some tents, like the Copper Spur HV UL2, include special hardware at the tent corners to quickly and securely attach poles while pitching the tent alone.
There are also semi-freestanding tents, such as the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 Solution Dye and NEMO Hornet Elite. They are also very straightforward. These tents have pole segments connected with elastic cord, so the pole structure often snaps itself into place with a few shakes once you take it out of the bag. Almost universally, the ends of the poles click into grommets (or grommet-like holes) at the four corners of the tent. The variability largely comes with how the fly is attached and how many stakes it requires to pitch. The REI Half Dome SL 2+ is an example of a tent with a fly that attaches with clips, whereas the NEMO Hornet Elite relies on guyline to secure the fly. The REI Co-Op Flash Air 2 is an exception in the fleet. It is a non-freestanding tent; that is, it comes with a couple of poles but relies almost entirely on stakes and guylines to pitch, which we found makes it trickier to set up.
A distinct subcategory of tent pole configuration is the tunnel tent. This style uses poles that bend into semi-circles (resulting in a tent that looks like a caterpillar). These models usually require much more time to pitch because they rely on tension from guylines to take a livable form. An example of a tunnel tent is the Hilleberg Anjan 2 GT.
Since all of the tents we tested are relatively easy to pitch, this metric assumes a comparatively small percentage of the total score. However, there are times when it's critical to be able to set up camp and dive into your tent in a hurry. Higher scorers include the REI Half Dome SL 2+, NEMO Dragonfly 2, Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2, and NEMO Dagger 2.
Packed size strongly correlates with weight. Most of that number will be determined by the type and denier of the tent and fly fabric, but extra features like storage pockets, gear lofts, roomy vestibules, or chunky parts like pole hubs quickly increase the measurement.
We love the materials and compact pole sections of the Tarptent Double Rainbow, NEMO Hornet Elite 2, and Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 Solution Dye. We stuffed and compressed these high-scoring tents into our bags with ease. The REI Co-Op Flash Air 2 also performed well above average in this metric and could easily be carried by one person, especially if you use trekking poles instead of the included poles. One of the big surprises of this review is the NEMO Firefly, which is slightly heavier, but still packs down as small as the UL models listed above. On the flip side, the REI Half Dome SL 2+ is generally higher-performing but scores lower in this metric because of its thick fabric and beefy hardware.
Though the number of options out there can be overwhelming when shopping for a new backpacking tent, we hope that our expert reviews provide the confidence you need to make your right purchase. If you love spending nights in nature, there is a tent out there for you. Happy trails!
— Ben Applebaum-Bauch
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