We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs. Learn more ›
Published May 17, 2023 7:01 PM
What features do the best lightweight tents for camping have? First, an ultralight tent is one that, as the name suggests, is extremely lightweight. Most ultralight tents for 1-2 people only weigh 2-3 lbs, but larger ultralight tents for 3-4 people may be closer to 3-5 lbs. Regardless, the draw to an ultralightweight tent is to cut pack weight. You don’t need to be an ultralight backpacker to enjoy the benefits of a lightweight tent. What used to be a somewhat fringe following, lightweight backpacking gear is now mainstream and almost standard.
Many of our top picks for tents in this category are manufactured by the best tent brands and each one offers something a little bit different than the other so you can find the perfect tent to fit your needs. Besides being light and highly portable, the best ultralight tents must be durable, weather-resistant, and easy to set up.
How We Picked the Best Ultralight Tents
In choosing the best ultralight tents, I evaluated weight, portability, durability, and overall performance in various weather conditions. Since ultralight tents are targeted toward backpackers, I tested select tents in backpacking settings. I looked at the ease of setup and the functionality from the time I put it in the pack until I got home off the trail. The category selection is a way to distinguish between the many amazing backpacking tents available and align them with the best-intended use.
Other features we considered when choosing the best ultralight tents included the following:
- Portability: What is the pack size of the tent, including the footprint? How much does the tent weigh? Is it easy to repack?
- Durability: What is the product lifespan? Is there a product warranty or company repair policy? Does the tent come with a repair kit? Is the tent made from durable materials?
- Comfort: Is the tent interior comfortable for the intended use and number of people? Is there gear storage inside the tent and at least one vestibule? Are there additional features that enhance comfort? Is there adequate ventilation?
- Weather Resistance: What is the tent rated for regarding season and weather exposure? How does it stand up to high winds? Are the materials completely waterproof? Is the waterproofing PFC-free and nontoxic? Does waterproofing need to be reapplied?
General industry knowledge, interviews with product developers, and verified customer reviews also influenced our final product rankings. All product choices are subject to change and updates as more testing occurs and new products enter the market.
The Best Ultralight Tents: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Nemo Dragonfly OSMO
- Materials: 10D Nylon Ripstop, No-See-Um Mesh
- Floor Area: 29 sq ft
- Peak Height: 41 in
- Packed Size: 19.5 x 5.5 x 3.5 in
- Weight: 2 lb 10 oz
- Two large vestibules
- Ample interior organization
- Lightweight and highly portable
- Straightforward setup
- Bluesign-approved fly & floor materials
- Footprint not included
Our top pick for the best 2-person backpacking tent, the Nemo Dragonfly OSMO, won out as our favorite ultralight tent. This particular Nemo tent model is unique because it is made from the brand’s proprietary PFAS-free OSMO fabric made from 100% recycled yarn. The OSMO fabric is a poly-nylon ripstop blend with a high level of water repellency. One thing that really sets it apart from other similar materials is the stretch resistance when wet.
Thanks to the straightforward design, I only needed to use the provided tent set-up instructions the first time I set it up, which took me around eight minutes. The second time—without using instructions—it took me less than five minutes. Both times I was able to set it up completely alone. The color coding of the tent poles, clips, and corners made assembly even easier, which I appreciated.
While the Nemo Dragonfly OSMO is available in 1-, 2-, and 3-person sizing, we tested the ultralight 2-person tent. Inside, I had plenty of headspace when sitting up (I’m 5-foot-7, for reference), and there was plenty of space for me and two large breed dogs, which makes me believe there’d be ample space for two average adults and their gear. The tent’s floor is tapered to save on weight and, even with that design, there is still enough room for a 20-inch sleeping pad.
I recommend using a footprint with this tent, primarily because of the ultralight fabric. Even though the fabric is quality and relatively durable, the light weight alone may impact longevity. Since the materials are thinner and potentially more prone to rips or tears, I also recommend using some kind of mat if packing with dogs. While durability is always a top priority for me when looking at backpacking equipment, so is the product warranty. Nemo has a stellar warranty and repair program, so you can utilize its lifetime warranty if needed.
Another concern I often have with a tent when I’m done using it is how easy it is to pack up and fit back into the bag provided. Luckily, this is not the case here. The tent is just as easy to take down as it is to set up. It folds up neatly and fits snuggly in the bag provided. The materials needed to be rolled tightly to fit in the bag, but it wasn’t hard to achieve.
Best Backpacking: Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL
- Materials: Double ripstop mixed denier nylon, polyester mesh, polyurethane coating
- Floor Area: 29 sq ft
- Peak Height: 40 in
- Packed Size: 19.5″ x 6″
- Weight: 3lb 2oz
- Excellent size-to-weight ratio
- Two vestibules
- Color-coded poles/clips for easy setup
- Secure in high winds
- Ample ventilation for warm-weather camping
- Rainfly doors could align with tent doors better
- Footprint not included
The most similar design on our list to the Nemo Dragonfly OSMO is the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2. These two went head to head in our testing of the best 2-person backpacking tents and they’re ranked similarly here. The main differences are that this one is slightly heavier with less interior space than the Nemo Dragonfly. Regardless, the Big Agnes Copper Spur is a top contender because of the well-thought-out design and space-to-weight ratio large enough for two people. Having two large vestibules helps to distribute gear opening up more space inside the tent.
One thing that this tent may have done better than the Nemo tent is the rainfly. Although the alignment with the doors is a bit awkward, it provided more coverage to the tent’s body overall than other tents I tested. The high level of weather resistance is a top selling point and makes it ideal for backpacking. When the tent is set up correctly, you’ll have minimal issues in high, gusting winds or rain storms.
Much like the Nemo tent, this Big Agnes tent has a color-coded design to help you easily and efficiently align the poles and clips. I love the color coding, especially if you’re backpacking and must set up quickly in the dark. You aren’t scrambling around having to readjust or change the setup once or twice; you can look at the corners and line them up with the correct end of the poles and be on your way.
Best 1 Person: Six Moon Designs Skyscape Trekker
- Materials: Polyester, Silicone
- Floor Area: 23 sq ft
- Peak Height: 45 in
- Packed Size: 11″ x 4.5″
- Weight: 1.6 lbs
- Limited lifetime warranty
- Trekking poles double as tent poles
- Technically a double-walled tent
- Two doors and vestibules
- Excellent ventilation
- Does not include stakes
- Takes some practice for an easy setup
- Seams do not come sealed unless service requested
Six Moon Designs is an ultralight tent brand we’ve covered before, and among some of their most popular designs is the Skyscape Trekker. This solo backpacking tent suits one person (and a dog). You’d be hard-pressed to fit more than one adult in this tent, but the thoughtful design provides plenty of headspace and storage for gear. Even though it is meant for an individual, I appreciate the two-door and two-vestibule design. Two options for exiting and entering the tent make setup easier, and the additional vestibule provides even more storage space so the tent’s interior isn’t crowded.
This Six Moon Designs tent is one of the lightest tents featured on our list, partially because it is a one-person tent, but also because it lacks tent poles. Take note that the tent does not come stock with stakes, so you’ll need to purchase those separately, and unless requested, the tent seams do not come sealed either. Sealing the tent seams isn’t necessary, but if you camp in areas with high precipitation levels, sealed seams increase moisture resistance.
The first time setting up the Skyscape Trekker was an experience for me. I don’t use this tent style often, so there was a bit of a learning curve. The instructions provided are straightforward, but the tent shape and the combination of the rainfly and tent body made orienting the tent correctly right out of the bag somewhat confusing. Once I had the orientation down, setup took me around 10 minutes. Much of that time was spent adjusting my trekking poles to the correct height to function as the tent poles and then adjusting the guylines to keep the tent all upright. During this process, I also battled the wind, which, while annoying, gave me a good idea of the difficulty level in less-than-ideal conditions.
Once the tent is set up and secured, it is quite stable. It’s important to pay attention to the orientation of the tent because the shape functions best with the head of the tent facing into the wind. The stakes and guylines are a big part of stabilizing this tent design because it is not freestanding, so it’s essential to have options for securing the tent, and setting up in areas with a lot of rocky or hard-packed ground may be more challenging.
Best 4-Season: MSR Access 2
- Materials: 20D ripstop nylon & DWR, Xtreme Shield polyurethane & silicone, 10D polyester micro-mesh
- Floor Area: 29 sq. ft
- Peak Height: 42 in
- Packed Size: 18″ x 6″
- Weight: 4 lbs 1 oz
- Double wall design for adequate weather resistance
- Ventilation to minimize condensation
- Straightforward setup
- Lightweight for a 4-season tent
- Highly weather resistant
- Pack size could be smaller
Undoubtedly the heaviest tent option on our list is the MSR Access 2. The tent’s weight is largely due to the 4-season design, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a tent lighter than this with as high of a level of performance. If you’re looking for a backpacking tent suitable for winter or alpine camping, this MSR tent is a lightweight 2-person option. (After all, MSR tents are some of the best tents we’ve ever tested.) The double wall tent design provides ideal weather protection and heat retention and the ventilation—which allows for adjustability—is adequate for most people’s needs.
Although this tent thrives in heavy rains and moderate winds, it performs best in mild winter conditions. It’s a tent that works well for the average backpacker or ski tourer and can handle light snow loads, but if you’re heading out into an intense expedition, a stronger and more technical mountaineering tent may be of value. The lighter weight of this 4-season tent makes it less durable and less sturdy in intense winter storms, but that’s what makes it optimal for anyone looking to camp at higher elevations during shoulder seasons and some winter camping treks.
Most Spacious: Black Diamond Mega Light 4P Tent
- Materials: 30d polyester
- Floor Area: 50.7 sq ft
- Peak Height: 57 in
- Packed Size: 5″ x 12″
- Weight: 2 lb 13 oz
- New design with reduced fabric stretch
- Extremely roomy interior
- Can use included pole or trekking/ski poles for center support
- Works especially well for snow camping
- Seams sealed for optimal moisture resistance
- Excellent ventilation due to the lack of a floor
- Mega Bug inner tent and Ground Cloth are not included
- May not be suitable for all weather conditions
Whether you want to cut weight on a group rafting trip or seek a lightweight tent for camping in the snow, the Black Diamond Mega Light 4-person tent is an outstanding choice. The single-wall pyramid design cuts down on weight, especially since it doesn’t come with a floor. There is the option to add the compatible Mega Bug inner tent and a Ground Cloth, but these are not included in the initial price of the tent and would bump the weight up quite a bit. The included carbon fiber center pole is exceptionally lightweight. Still, if you’d like to cut weight even more in your gear setup, the tent can also be supported with trekking or ski poles and using the pole connectors included with the tent.
Setting up this roomy Black Diamond tent is relatively simple but requires secure staking along each side of the tent. Once the tent is staked out, all that is left to do is erect the center pole and tighten up any edges and guylines. The floorless design isn’t optimal for all weather conditions, and the tent is likely to experience flooding in areas that have a lot of rain. Using the compatible interior tent is an option since that comes with a tub-style floor, but otherwise, this tent is best used with a careful eye on the weather. The lack of a floor does improve ventilation, though. It is a popular tent option for setting up a basecamp in the snow to create a cozy interior by digging out benches and a sleeping area below the tent floor line.
Previously, user complaints regarding fabric stretch and that the tent didn’t come seam sealed appear to be corrected on newer models of this tent. Now, the tent has a higher level of resistance to moisture, and the fabric performs better in wet conditions. It still isn’t going to be as strong or lightweight as a tent made from Dyneema, but its overall performance is stellar for what it is.
Best Budget: Naturehike Ultralight 1-Person Tent
- Materials: SilNylon, Aluminum, Polyurethane
- Peak Height: 43.3 in
- Packed Size: 15.7″ x 5.9″
- Weight: 3.63 lbs
- Affordable price
- Easy to setup
- Decent ventilation
- Packs down easily in the provided bag
- Adequate weather resistance
- Questionable durability
- Not very roomy interior or vestibules
- Inconsistency in manufacturing and alignment of tent poles with fabric
- Could have a better size-to-weight ratio
If you only camp a few times a year and want an ultralight 1-person tent, you don’t want to spend upwards of $300 on a tent. While Kelty tents are often our first pick for durable and affordable tents, none of their designs qualify for the ultralight category. Instead, we landed on the Naturehike 1-Person tent. The size-to-weight ratio isn’t as light as higher-end options, but even with the stakes and poles included, it’s still under 4 pounds. For most budget camping gear, having realistic expectations is a good idea. This tent isn’t going to perform as well or be as durable as something like the Nemo Dragonfly OSMO or Big Agnes Copper Spur, but it does get the job done.
Setting the tent up is straightforward and it packs down easily in the provided carrying bag. It isn’t the roomiest as a one-person tent, but there is still plenty of space for an average adult if their gear is primarily stored in the vestibule. An issue you may run into depending on the size of your backpack is that the pack touches the vestibule fabric. This is only really an issue if it rains because the contact with the bag against the fabric allows moisture to leak through.
Overall, the weather resistance of this tent isn’t the best, and we recommend sealing seams and applying a waterproof coating of your own for a higher level of performance. For the average backpacker, especially someone who only needs a tent occasionally, this tent works just fine. It only performs well in some conditions and may not last as long as others, but it’s a reasonably affordable tent that provides a decent performance value.
What to Consider When Choosing an Ultralight Tent
Ultralight tents already have a narrower focus regarding the intended use, but they are becoming far more mainstream for most backpackers. The type of ultralight tent you decide to get may depend more heavily on how you plan to use it. Ultralight hikers vary in discipline and gear selection. Some may prefer a more traditional freestanding tent design and are okay with the additional weight of tent poles. Others may opt for a smaller tent that utilizes trekking poles to help cut weight even more. For the most ultralight design, some hikers use tarp-style designs to cut back on the number of accessories and the overall ounces.
Regardless of the application, it is up to you, and it helps to know how and when the tent will be used, along with the frequency of use. Although tent designs and materials have come a long way, ultralight designs are still often less durable than more traditional tent designs. So special care and attention should be taken when choosing the best ultralight tents to ensure they reflect the intended use.
A few key questions that may help you narrow down the best ultralight tent for your needs include:
- What time of year do you camp most often? Are there bugs? High winds? Rain?
- Do you need a 1-person tent or a larger one?
- Is weight the most important factor when buying a tent?
- What is your budget?
- Is this your only tent/shelter, or is this just one option for specific purposes?
The time of year and terrain may also impact the type of tent needed. For instance, if you need a 4-season tent for winter or alpine camping, it may be possible to get an ultralight version. Still, ultralight 4-season tents across the board weigh more than 3-season tents due to the necessary protection built in against the elements.
Various tent shapes are available for backpacking tents, but ultralight tents thrive with a few specific designs. The most common ultralight tent types include:
- Tarp Tents (Single Wall): Tarp tents and single wall tents can be the same within the ultralight tent categories. A tarp tent is a tent with a single wall and floor. Some designs have a permanent enclosure attached to the tarp covering or are removable to add variation to setup options. Usually, these combine the tent body and rainfly, so they are much lighter than double-wall designs. Tarp tents generally utilize trekking poles instead of standard tent poles with a combination of guylines for tensioning the walls.
- Tarp: Among the most popular ultralight tent designs is a stand-alone tarp. A tarp is the lightest and often cheapest shelter option but is only used for more experienced hikers and campers. Tarps are highly adaptable and provide the user with several options for setup and use. A-frame and flat tarps are the two most common tarp setups we’ve seen, and each option has its own advantages and price differences.
- Pyramids (Mids): Pyramid tents may have a center pole or require trekking or ski poles to set it up. The tent body is a single layer of waterproof material. Some pyramid tents have a floor, but most ultralight pyramid tent models have no floor; depending on the company may have add-ons like floors and bug mesh. While it isn’t favorable for all users, the ability to add pieces of the shelter makes the weight easier to customize. Pyramids are popular in alpine basecamps but can be used in various settings.
- Double Wall: Double wall tents may be the type of backpack tent that most campers are family using. These have a standard tent body with mesh ventilation, waterproof materials, and a floor. Then, the secondary wall is a rainfly separated from the body and attached to the outside of the tent poles. Double wall tents help minimize condensation inside the tent due to better ventilation, and the rainfly provides room for more gear storage within a vestibule. The combination of the tent body, rainfly, tent poles, and stakes made these less popular among ultralight hikers, but in recent years, many double wall tents have cut down on their weight and gained more of an edge over the competition.
Hammocks are also a popular ultralight shelter option and may be better for use in certain climates than a tent that requires sleeping on the ground. The tent types described above are not the only options, but they are the ones we’ve seen most often.
Weight and Portability
The weight and portability of ultralight tents are among the most vital considerations because they are largely the reason we want them in the first place. On average, a 1- or 2-person ultralight tent should weigh less than 3 pounds. Larger capacity tents can still be considered ultralight if they are over 3 pounds because it reflects the size of the tent.
Other than the direct size of the tent, the overall design and additional pieces may influence the weight. Some tents may have parts left behind to cut when needed or features that can be added if extra weight isn’t a concern. Items like tent poles, stakes, footprints, rainfly, and guylines can all add weight. For most ultralight hikers, every ounce counts, so if parts of the tent can be dropped, they will be.
The packed size may also be of concern, especially if carrying a smaller ultralight backpack. The tent hopefully packs down well and is compact. That way, it isn’t taking up much pack space. Tents with no poles tend to be lighter and easier to pack, but you may sacrifice some comfort and functionality depending on the design.
Durability and Materials
It has long been thought that ultralight gear isn’t as strong or durable as traditional backpacking gear. In recent years, new developments in material composition and proprietary synthetic blends have improved ultralight tent durability.
While a variety of fabrics and fabric combinations can be used, there are four most commonly used for ultralight tents.
- Polyester: Polyester is the cheapest and least durable of ultralight tent fabrics. It is relatively lightweight but less light than other options, making it less common in ultralight tent construction. Polyester is better for tents that are not intended for backpacking.
- RipStop Nylon: Potentially, the most common or at least one that most readers will be familiar with is RipsStop Nylon. Nylon is a solid fabric choice that offers water resistance. RipStop Nylon differs from standard nylon because of the type of weave. RipStop weaving is when the yarn is interwoven in a crosshatch pattern, typically every 5-8 millimeters. That weave is what makes it more resistant to ripping or tearing. It has a far better weight-to-strength ratio than polyester but is nowhere near as strong as Dyneema. Nylon is susceptible to stretch and damage from moisture and sun, but the RipStop design does make it more tear and abrasion resistant.
- SilNylon: As the name suggests, SilNylon combines silicone and nylon materials. It is made by injecting thin woven nylon with silicone on both sides, and the intention is to create a more water-resistant fabric with higher durability. The injection of silicone makes it stronger for the weight of the material in comparison to traditional nylon, and it should improve tear strength. SilNylon is more affordable than Dyneema but less durable or long-lasting.
- Dyneema Composite Fiber (DCF): the strongest tent material on this list, DCF is also the most expensive. The fabric is constructed from a sheet of ultra-high-molecurlar-weight polyethylene laminated between two sheets of polyester fabric. Tents made from these materials are incredibly lightweight, expensive, and durable. It was initially developed for high-performance sails and has since been adopted by backpacking tents and other outdoor companies dealing in textiles. Dyneema tents have superior strength and weather resistance and hold their shape quite well, even with frequent use.
Many tents utilize a blend of materials, and the tent body is often made from a different denier or blend than the rainfly. For example, the Nemo Dragonfly OSMO fabric is a blend of synthetics such as polyester and nylon strategically chosen as a proprietary blend to enhance performance. Rainflys should be completely waterproof, while the tent body is likely a mix of mesh and other fabrics, providing the necessary ventilation.
The tent design can influence weather resistance, so consider the overall climate and potential weather conditions when using an ultralight tent. Weather resistance often refers to the materials’ waterproofing and moisture resistance, but things like high wind and snow should also be considered.
Many tents utilize some fabric coating to waterproof the materials. The outdoor industry is leaning towards PFC-free solutions to manufacture more environmentally friendly gear, so looking for PFC-free and water-based coatings on tent materials is ideal. These coatings may also help with UV protection leading to a longer lifespan of the tent fabric.
Other tent construction features like zipper coverings, sealed seams, and tub-style floors can improve water resistance. Looking at the included guylines and stakes and how well they secure can give you an idea of how the tent stands up to the wind. Even if the tent doesn’t have the highest quality stakes, these can easily be replaced. If the tent relies heavily on stakes and guylines to secure and stabilize the tent, you may run into issues on terrain that don’t have ample staking opportunities (i.e., lots of rocks or roots).
Q: How much should an ultralight backpacking tent weigh?
How much an ultralight tent should weigh depends on personal preferences, but generally, a 1- or 2-person ultralight tent is around 2 to 3 pounds or less in some cases. For a larger capacity tent, it may be closer to 3 to 4 pounds.
Q: What is the best material for ultralight tents?
Lightweight tents are often made from Dyneema composite fabrics (DCF) and may eliminate poles by integrating trekking poles or ski pole supports into the design. The Nemo Dragonfly OSMO tent that won the best overall is made from OSMO Ripstop fabric, a unique proprietary blend of synthetic materials to enhance water resistance and durability.
Q: How do I store an ultralight tent?
The recommended way to store an ultralight tent (or any tent for that matter) is outside of the stuff sack loosely rolled or hung up. However you choose to store the tent, it should be in a dry place away from exposure to UV light.
Q: Is a tarp better than a tent for ultralight backpacking?
A tarp is better than an ultralight tent for backpacking if you are strictly looking for the lightest possible option. Even the most lightweight tents take up more space than a standard tent, and features like zippers and poles increase the weight in most cases. The benefits of a tent may outweigh the portability of a tarp, though. Tents allow for complete closure and protection from insects and may offer better weather protection.
Q: Can I pack my tent away when wet?
Avoid packing your tent away when it is wet. If a tent is packed while wet, mold quickly develops on the fabric and can degrade the material. Always allow tents to dry thoroughly before storing them, and if you are backpacking and need to pack a wet tent, attempt to remove as much moisture as possible before packing. Then, when you arrive home or at the new camp, take it out as soon as possible, allowing it to dry.
Q: Do tents lose waterproofing over time?
Yes, most tents lose some waterproofing with time, use, and exposure to UV light. Higher quality tents with more advanced fabric blends and waterproof coatings are likely to last longer, and it is possible to re-waterproof tent materials as needed. The Nemo Dragonfly OSMO tent featured utilizes the OSMO fabrics designed to be more water repellent for longer than the standard tent fabric. The combination of hydroponic yarns, hydrophobic coatings, and weave construction enhances performance and longevity.
Final Thoughts on the Best Ultralight Tents
The best ultralight tents not only help you cut weight in your pack but should also be highly durable, weather resistant, and easy to use. Our top pick for best overall ultralight tent and best 2-person backpacking tent is the Nemo Dragonfly OSMO. While we stand behind all of our gear selections on this list, the Nemo tent goes far beyond simple tent design and integrates new fabric technology for a higher level of comfort and performance.
Why Trust Us
For more than 125 years, Field & Stream has been providing readers with honest and authentic coverage of outdoor gear. Our writers and editors eat, sleep, and breathe the outdoors, and that passion comes through in our product reviews. You can count on F&S to keep you up to date on the best new gear. And when we write about a product—whether it’s a bass lure or a backpack—we cover the good and the bad, so you know exactly what to expect before you decide to make a purchase.