Are you ready to slash your pack weight? Get a head start with our Master Ultralight Backpacking course, where our experts will teach you to pick the best gear and avoid common pitfalls in your pursuit of featherweight perfection. Sign up now, and access the classes on your own schedule.
One pound, five ounces per person: That’s the most that any of these 9 perfect shelters will add to your pack. But that doesn’t mean that you’ll sacrifice a good night’s sleep by carrying one of these ultralight tents. By swapping poles for trekking poles, burly nylon for thinner fabric, and occasionally ditching the floor, these nine models kept us protected on the trail without weighing us down.
ZPacks Hexamid Solo
Use it on the trail, and it’s easy to see why this ultralight tent is a favorite of thru-hikers. If you’re already carrying trekking poles, you can use them to pitch this one-person shelter and save the weight of tent poles. It’s just under a pound, which is ridiculous, so you get the weight savings of a tarp but still have bug netting.
Gossamer Gear The One
For once in the ultralight tent category, more is better. This single-wall trekking pole tent is 2 ounces heavier than the previous version, but the new construction makes it a lot more livable. By moving the poles from the center of the shelter to the head, designers made The One 2 inches wider and 5 inches taller (up to 46 inches if your pole extends that high). “I’m 6’2” and I could sit up and read while trapped inside during pouring rain in Alaska’s Chugach National Forest,” our tester said, praising the tent’s peak height and 19.6 square feet of floor space. “Take a big gulp from your water bottle before you head out and you’ll have made up the weight difference from the original.”
The One’s 16-square-foot vestibule easily swallows a pack, boots, and wet gear. A secure pitch takes a minimum of four guylines and 10 stakeout points, and our Alaska tester reported no problems in 15-mph winds. Although wispy, the tent’s 7-denier body and 10-denier floor—both with sil/PU coating, and seam-sealed—stood up to rocky campsites in the Chugach with no signs of damage. Two floor vents (one at the head and one at the foot) offer some cross breeze but are easily blocked by gear, and our tester reports that The One’s subpar breathability resulted in a shower of dew after chilly nights.
“Zippers can be finicky on some ultralights, but The One is easy to open and close without any snags,” one tester says.
$300; 1 lb. 5 oz.
Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2
If you want an easy pitch, two doors, and freestanding convenience for a hair over a pound per person, this is your tent. Big Agnes has long been a dominant player in the ultralight category with the single-door Fly Creek (we gave it an Editors’ Choice Award in 2010), and the Tiger Wall adds another entrance for only 4 ounces more. Our tester was initially skeptical of the Tiger Wall’s space—the 28-square-foot floor is tight—but a few nights in Colorado’s Sawatch Range won her over. “My 6’4” boyfriend had no issues ducking into either of the two huge doors, and the 39-inch peak height let him sit (almost) all the way up,” she says. Two 8-square-foot vestibules fit packs, boots, and extra clothes, with room for her to struggle into some pants in the morning. The Tiger Wall sets up fast thanks to a hubbed pole system (it’s all but freestanding; the corners at the foot need to be staked out). While it’s not as big as the Tarptent, it’s an easier pitch and handles wind better.
You’ll want to treat the 15-denier nylon fabrics with care, but the Tiger Wall survived our initial forays just fine. After camping in the high desert near Fruita, Colorado, our tester said, “There was no place for a clear pitch, but this tent handled the rocks and sticks without any snags.”
“On a chilly night in the Sawatch, we awoke to frost on the outside of our tent but no significant moisture inside,” our tester says.
$400; 2 lbs. 3 oz.
Tarptent Saddle 2
To flirt with 2 pounds for a two-person shelter, you usually have to spend more for the lightest materials or settle for less space. The double-wall Saddle requires neither by using a trekking-pole pitch to create a 29.2-square-foot floor that’s on the spacious end for a two-person tent this light. Its 84-inch length and 41-inch peak height let our testers stretch out and play cards after 15-mile days on Vermont’s Long Trail. Double doors boost livability even more. (“Just don’t knock your poles down,” our tester says.) For hikers who don’t want to use trekking poles, tent poles can be purchased separately ($42; 10 oz.). There is a tradeoff: Pitching this shelter is a pain (with practice, our tester brought his PR down to six minutes).
Thanks to the full mesh walls on the inner tent, condensation was never a problem, even during a 35°F night. (For more insulation, an option with partially solid walls is available for $20 more.) Rain protection was no issue, but our tester was wary of the Saddle’s performance in particularly gusty weather. “In 15-mph winds, 6-inch strips of hook-and-loop closures at the base of the door came unstuck,” he says. “Pitch this tent in a sheltered spot.”
“We had a warm autumn in New England, and the ability to break the Saddle down was great on toasty trips with clear weather and no bugs,” our tester says of the fly-only pitch, which brings total weight down to 1 pound 4 ounces.
$329; 2 lbs. 5 oz.
If you want to carry less than a pound each for a two-person tent, you have to ditch the floor. Like other floorless shelters, this one lacks bug protection, and you’ll want to be careful to pitch it away from pooling water. Unlike others, it solves one of our common complaints about going floorless: rain and snow splashing or blowing under the sides. Built-in skirts, up to 18 inches tall, around the perimeter prevent moisture from sneaking in and the 30-denier silnylon walls shrugged off rain and 20-mph winds without issue. A pair of trekking poles holds up the two 47-inch peak corners, while an optional second set can be used to prop up the vestibule door that doubles as an awning. The 41-square-foot interior is plenty big for two campers and their gear.
Six stake-out points make the Spike’s setup similar to a tarp’s, although testers reported a learning curve to find the proper angles with the guylines. Two vents help with airflow, but the shelter gathered some condensation when pitched on a snowfield during a chilly (high 30s) evening. Tip: Pop that awning up with trekking poles for ventilation or views.
“This tent went through a lot with me: sharp rocks, a shower of glacial silt, and a High Wind Advisory with sustained winds in the 30s and gusts around 55 mph,” says our Alaska tester. “It still looks as good as new.”
$300; 1 lbs, 10 oz. Buy Nemo Spike 2P Now
My Trail UL 3
In the dollars-spent-to-ounces-saved competition, the UL 3 wins, hands down. It’s so light we carried it as a two-person shelter, but it’s still big enough for three (as long as no one uses a pad wider than 20 inches). And, it costs some 25 percent less than similar ultralights. Testers were impressed in moderate conditions, from downpours in the Washington Cascades to light snow in the Colorado Rockies. But there is a discount tradeoff: The structure doesn’t offer adequate support in high winds, and when we staked and guyed the UL 3 out in 35-mph winds on New Zealand’s Mt. Taranaki, its aluminum poles bent (they didn’t break, though).
The UL 3 breathes extremely well, with no interior moisture even when temps dropped to 20°F outside Aspen, Colorado. The one-pole setup is easy, but the interior walls sag unless they’re staked out perfectly, a bummer if the tent is filled to capacity. Livability is what you’d expect from a tent at this weight and price: Only true minimalists will like a single door at the head and an 8-square-foot vestibule for three people.
“With careful site selection, the 10-denier nylon fly and 20-denier nylon floor withstood a summer of backpacking around the Mountain West without suffering any damage,” our tester says.
At only 11 ounces per person, this shelter earns the title “ultralight”. With a peak height of 58 inches and a 56.6-square-foot floor, the Apollo can accommodate three people (sans packs), or it’s a palace for two plus gear. The pyramidal shape calls for creative sleeping arrangements: “We all had to sleep against the walls. No one wanted to be the guy who kicked over the center pole,” says our New York tester.
Floorless tents have fewer high-wear areas. The 15-denier nylon walls suffered no damage during our testers’ thru-hike of the 133-mile Northville-Placid Trail.
This one-pole, single-wall shelter is a cinch to assemble, but finnicky to get taut. Note: The tent has a huge, pentagon-shaped footprint that’s 90 inches at its widest and 108 inches at its longest. Plan sites accordingly.
It compresses to the size of a cantaloupe, or if you want it to pack even smaller, ditch the 9-ounce pole and tie the pyramid under a tree. Bonus: It’s light enough to bring as a basecamp kitchen or hangout shelter.
$250; 2 lbs. 1 oz.
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 4
Set up enough lightweight group tents and you’ll find yourself asking the same question: How are four people supposed to fit in there? The answer is usually “uncomfortably.” But the Copper Spur HV UL 4 fits four, full stop. Even testers up to 6’2” had the space they needed on our trip. But that’s not enough to be a category-leading tent for five years.
We’ve been using the original since it came out—the backpacker’s take on the 100,000-mile test—and slept everywhere from forest to slickrock, meadows, swamps, and sand, and the ultralight floor is still intact and waterproof. In fact, with the exception of a few snags in the mesh and a tiny hole in the fly, this tent hasn’t required much beyond routine maintenance.
The pole structure is simple and expansive, and color coding on this year’s model takes the final bit of guesswork out of the pitch. Weatherproofing is superb: With the mostly mesh canopy, condensation never builds up, and the tent has proven its strength again and again against light to gusty winds, heavy rain, and the occasional snow storm. And if that wasn’t enough to make it the best in class, consider the dimensions: 57-square-foot floor, 50-inch head height, 14-square-foot vestibules, and it weighs only a few tent stakes over 5 pounds. That’s less than 1.5 pounds per person. Luxury rarely comes this light, so when it does, make your move.