11 Best Ultralight Tents for Backpacking & Thru-Hiking

Camo Zpacks Duplex ultralight tent pitched in a high-alpine field in front of a mountain range
Top Ultralight Tents for Backpacking & Thru-Hiking (Pictured: Zpacks Duplex)

Gone are the days of toting bulky six-pound Eureka tents around the woods — backpacking shelters today save hikers every possible ounce.

But with so many options on the market, it can be tough to decide on the best ultralight tent for your next backpacking or thru-hiking trip.

Your tent is one of your most essential pieces of gear, and I know from experience how tedious it can be to make the right choice.

While preparing to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, I pored over the weight and sizes of different shelters for months before making my pick.

And I wasn’t alone — I’ve geeked out over tents with countless other hikers who have gone through the same tedious process.

We gear nerds are forever searching for the perfect shelter to keep us safe and shave precious ounces off of our base weight.

Well-known ultralight brands like Zpacks, Big Agnes, and Hyperlite Mountain Gear sell a variety of freestanding and trekking pole tents weighing under three pounds.

Whether you’re ultralight backpacking on a quick overnight or planning to thru-hike the PCT, you have plenty of options.

Table of Contents

Best Ultralight Tents

Best Overall Trekking Pole Tent
Zpacks Duplex

Zpacks Duplex UL trekking pole shelter

MSRP: $669
Weight: 1 lb 3 oz | 525 g
Floor Dimensions: 90” x 45”
Capacity: 2-person
Main Material: DCF
Weather Resistance: 3-season
Pros: Extremely light, great weather resistance, easily upgraded
Cons: Can be drafty, expensive

Popularized by thru-hikers long and far, Zpacks’ Duplex tops ‘best of’ lists year after year.

You’re almost guaranteed to see at least a few of these while you’re out backpacking, whether in the Sierra Nevadas or the Appalachians.

At a minuscule 18.5 ounces, the DCF Duplex has four storm doors and stands up well to inclement weather.

Some users say it can be drafty, but I’ve heard only glowing reviews from thru-hikers with the Duplex.

One friend notes that it can be pitched even in “horrendously unideal” conditions.

With some pitching practice to eliminate unwanted drafts, the Duplex could be the tent of your dreams.

Well-built and relatively spacious, it can handle tricky conditions while keeping your base weight to an absolute minimum.

BUY ON ZPACKS

Best Overall Freestanding Tent
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL

Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL backpacking tent

MSRP: $550
Weight: 3 lb 2 oz | 1.42 kg
Floor Dimensions: 88″ x 52″/42″
Capacity: 2-person
Main Material: Silnylon
Weather Resistance: 3-season
Pros: Sturdy, lots of extra features, large vestibules
Cons: Small for two people

If you’d like a few extra frills from your backpacking tent, take a peek at Big Agnes’ fan-favorite Copper Spur HV UL.

As an added bonus over the Duplex, there’s no need to fiddle with trekking poles during setup.

I know several backpackers who swear by the Copper Spur for its abundant extra features, including an overhead gear pocket and large vestibules that double as awnings.

However, most prefer the Copper Spur for solo hikes, as its 52-inch-wide floor (and 42 inches at the feet) only goes so far.

On the bright side, you can pitch this ultra-durable tent anywhere and everywhere.

So, for those planning a trip on rough terrain or anyone who dislikes the finicky nature of a trekking pole tent, consider adding the Copper Spur to your pack.

BUY ON REI

Unstoppable High-End Pyramid
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid DCF pyramid

MSRP: $825
Weight: 1 lb 3 oz | 541 g
Floor Dimensions: 107” x 83”
Capacity: 2-person
Main Material: DCF
Weather Resistance: 4-season
Pros: Spacious, easy to pack, great airflow
Cons: Expensive, no bug net or floor

Known for their high-end Dyneema craftsmanship, Hyperlite Mountain Gear products run on the costly side — but those high price tags reflect cutting-edge designs and low weight.

Just take a look at the top-notch Hyperlite Ultamid, built to withstand all four seasons.

The Ultamid ranks as the roomiest tent on our list, at more than eight feet long, nearly seven feet wide, and over five feet tall at the peak.

But don’t forget that weight savings have to come from somewhere.

Unfortunately, those 19.1 ounces don’t include a floor or bug net.

If price is no object, the Ultamid will provide unmatched weather resistance, effortlessly shedding rain, wind, and snow.

Before you hit the trail, read the setup instruction PDF (yes, there’s a PDF) and consider buying a ground tarp to protect your sleeping pad.

BUY ON HYPERLITE MOUNTAIN GEAR

Best on a Budget
Lanshan 2 3F UL Gear

Lanshan 2 UL Gear budget silnylon backpacking gear

MSRP: $156-$174 (depending on the weather resistance)
Weight: 2 lb 11 oz | 1.22 kg
Floor Dimensions: 86.6” x 43.3”
Capacity: 2-person
Main Material: Nylon and silnylon
Weather Resistance: 3-4 season
Pros: Great price, durable, excellent weather resistance
Cons: Lower quality, small interior

We imagine you might be feeling some sticker shock by now, and that’s where 3F UL Gear comes in.

This budget brand has moved up gear rankings in recent years by selling less expensive alternatives to the costly equipment on REI shelves.

Besides an unbeatable price, the Lanshan 2 boasts seam sealing and a simple setup that makes pitching a breeze.

The tent body has a durable nylon composition, although reviewers note that some other parts — like the cords and tent stakes — could have a shorter shelf life.

If you’re on a strict budget or simply dipping your toes in the ultralight waters, give the Lanshan 2 a shot.

It may not be a showstopper in terms of weight or looks, but it does offer reliable shelter at a fraction of the price of most other ultralight tents on this list.

BUY ON AMAZON

Tried-and-True (for One or Two)
Gossamer Gear The One or Two

Gossamer Gear The Two

MSRP: $299 | $375
Weight: 1 lb 2 oz (503 g) | 1 lb 8 oz (667 g)
Floor Dimensions: 84” x 33”/21” | 84” x 48”/42”
Capacity: 1-person | 2-person
Main Material: Silnylon
Weather Resistance: 3-season
Pros: Lightweight, good price, packs down small
Cons: Needs a perfect pitch, fabric sags

DCF might be the shiny or (relatively) new tent fabric these days, but it’s not the only material in the ultralight tent scene.

Silnylon tents like the Gossamer Gear One and Two will save you both money and pack space.

The One and Two both pack down to less than 12 inches long.

But some backpackers say these tents may leave you a little damp in the morning—a PCT hiker with The One recently told me that despite head and foot vents, the ceiling sags and drops condensation, especially in the rain.

To get the most out of The One or The Two, be choosy about your campsites and perfect your pitch, which might take some practice for a tent that uses up to 10 stakes.

Once you know how to make these tents work, you’ll be rewarded with their comfort, style, and savings in short order.

BUY THE ONE

BUY THE TWO

Ultra-Popular & Ultra-Reliable
Durston X-Mid

Durston X-Mid 2-person shelter

MSRP: $300
Weight: 2 lb 3 oz / 1 kg
Floor Dimensions: 92” x 52”
Capacity: 2-person
Main Material: Polyester
Weather Resistance: 4-season
Pros: Spacious, great weather protection, adjustable condensation vents
Cons: Famously difficult to pitch

The Durston X-Mid 2 is giving the Zpacks Duplex a run for its money in terms of popularity — and speaking of money, the polyester X-Mid 2 rings in at half the price of the Duplex.

But how does the X-Mid measure up in other ways?

To start, it’s very spacious, with a peak height of four feet and a massive floor space.

It also handles wind, rain, and snow with ease.

But many users note that pitching the geometrically confusing X-Mid can be fiddly at best and headache-inducing at worst.

For instance, if you’re trying to throw this thing together in a storm, the X-Mid may be too temperamental.

But for those who prioritize sleeping and storage space, this should be one of your top choices.

Keep in mind, you can upgrade to the Dyneema X-Mid Pro 2 to shed valuable ounces.

BUY ON AMAZON

Tarp + Net Bundle for Ultimate Versatility
Six Moons Designs Haven

Six Moons Designs Haven ultralight bug net and tarp

MSRP: $375
Weight: 2 lb 2 oz | 963 g
Floor Dimensions: 88” x 44”
Capacity: 2-person
Main Material: Silnylon
Weather Resistance: 3-season
Pros: Easy to set up, well-ventilated, versatile
Cons: Needs large campsite, heavy

Six Moon Designs’ Haven tent offers unmatched versatility; it consists of a separate tarp and bug netting that can be used independently of each other.

And don’t be fooled by its several guylines; both parts of the Haven are very simple to set up.

The well-ventilated tent and tarp will keep you free from condensation throughout the night, and the slightly off-set roof peak allows hikers to sit up inside comfortably.

But the Haven’s larger-than-average footprint means you’ll need to find larger campsites.

Although it may be a little heavy for true ultralight fanatics, the Haven’s extra ounces significantly improve its livability.

And if you’re spending night after night in this tent — say, on a thru-hike — the extra liveability could be precisely what you need.

BUY ON SIX MOON DESIGNS

Optimal for Tall Hikers & Backpackers
Zpacks Altaplex

Zpacks Altaplex shelter for tall backpackers

MSRP: $669
Weight: 15.4 oz | 437 g
Floor Dimensions: 90” x 36”
Capacity: 1-person
Main Material: DCF
Weather Resistance: 3-season
Pros: Spacious, lightweight, easy to pitch
Cons: It may require a trekking pole upgrade

Given its high headroom and simple setup, the Altaplex is a favorite tent choice for tall solo hikers.

It has nearly all the advantages of the Duplex, with much of the interior space and three fewer ounces to boot.

Zpacks specifically designed this tent for taller hikers up to 6’6”, so the Altaplex delivers a peak height of nearly five feet.

This means you may need to upgrade your trekking poles if your current ones can’t reach a minimum of 56 inches, but Zpacks does address this issue by offering trekking pole jacks.

The Altaplex should be a no-brainer if you’re a taller, solo hiker. Lightweight without cutting comfort or space, this shelter is perfect for anyone struggling to fit inside the cramped confines of a standard-sized shelter.

BUY ON ZPACKS

Roomy, Spacious & Widely Recommended
Tarptent Double Rainbow Li

Tarptent Double Rainbow Li

MSRP: $724
Weight: 1 lb 13 oz | 822 g
Floor Dimensions: 88” x 50”
Capacity: 2-person
Main Material: DCF
Weather Resistance: 3+-season
Pros: Simple setup, can become freestanding, large bathtub floor
Cons: Small vestibules, low vertical height

Full disclosure: I used the Double Rainbow Li on my AT thru-hike and am a huge fan.

With its super easy setup, I could pitch it in under three minutes; plus, it converts to a freestanding shelter that can be picked up and moved with ease.

In the interest of fairness, though, I should note the Double Rainbow’s downsides.

The narrow vestibules can’t fully cover backpacks, so you’ll have to sleep with your gear inside on rainy nights.

The arch shape also lacks vertical space at the head and foot.

Although you should take the same precautions with the Double Rainbow as with any Dyneema gear, this tent handles just about anything you — or nature — can throw at it.

For the budget-conscious, Tarptent sells a slightly heavier silnylon version that’s even more durable.

BUY ON TARPTENT

Semi-Freestanding UL Haven
MSR FreeLite

MSR FreeLite semi-freestanding tent

MSRP: $450
Weight: 2 lbs | 910 g
Floor Dimensions: 84” x 50”
Capacity: 2-person
Main Material: Silnylon and polyester
Weather Resistance: 3-season
Pros: Easy to set up, extra gear storage features
Cons: Low vertical height

Fans of MSR’s Hubba Hubba tents will love the FreeLite, which comfortably fits two people side-by-side with room to spare.

Because it’s semi-freestanding and symmetrical, you can pitch it on any site in just about any conditions.

The FreeLite does have a bit of extra heft but makes up for it with bells and whistles like overhead gear lofts, interior pockets with cable ports, and oversized vestibules.

However, taller hikers beware: you’ll have trouble sitting up straight due to its 36-inch vertical height.

If you’re on the shorter side, that low roof could be a bonus, helping retain warmth on chilly nights.

The FreeLite’s silnylon and polyester construction also means that it packs down small and can go anywhere you can.

BUY ON REI

Freestanding Luxury for 1, 2, or 3
NEMO Hornet OSMO

NEMO Hornet OSMO

MSRP: $400-$550
Weight: 2 lb 4 oz (1.02 kg) | 2 lb 8 oz (1.14 kg) | 3 lb 5 oz (1.49 kg)
Floor Dimensions: 87” x 43/31” | 85” x 51”/43” | 88” x 68”/62”
Capacity: 1-3 person
Main Material: Ripstop nylon
Weather Resistance: 3-season
Pros: Great wind and rain protection, decent interior space, easy to break down
Cons: Fabric prone to abrasion

The NEMO Hornet OSMO is a freestanding shelter that’s light enough that you might forget you’re carrying it, but tough enough to stand up to downpours and high winds.

The Hornet also boasts an ultra-intuitive design that’s a godsend for anyone who hates poring over tent setup instructions.

And, unlike many other ultralight tents, the Hornet includes all materials, like poles and stakes, with your purchase.

Its ripstop nylon construction will lighten your load without compromising space, but can also be prone to abrasion on tough ground.

That aside, the Hornet OSMO is an exceptionally practical freestanding tent, and it seems as though nearly every measure has been taken to make it as comfortable as possible.

With such a quick and easy pitch, you’ll be safe from the elements with minimal effort on your part.

BUY ON NEMO

Factors We Considered When Picking Products

Ultralight one-person DCT shelter sitting atop a lookout point at 12,000 feet in Colorado
Backpacking along the CDT (Pictured: Zpacks Plex Solo)

With countless ultralight tents on the market today, the 11 shelters we picked out stood out based on seven key factors: weight, floor, dimensions, capacity, materials, weather resistance, setup, and price.

Analyzing these details will help you select your next UL home away from home.

Weight

Even if you’re not an ultralight convert (yet), you can still save yourself tons of pack weight by picking the lightest possible shelter.

No matter how far you’re backpacking, lightening your load will help you hike faster and protect your joints.

But before you throw hundreds of dollars at the first ultralight tent you see, find a shelter that fits the rest of your preferences, especially your budget.

Ideally, your tent should strike a balance between weight and personal comfort.

Floor Dimensions

Though floor space may seem meaningless from the comfort of your bed at home, this is a critical factor for any ultralight shelter.

Measure each tent’s unique floor dimensions against your height and sleeping pad to see what works best for you.

To visually display floor dimensions, you can use pieces of string to lay out each tent’s approximate area.

You may also want to consider whether you plan to store your gear inside or outside your tent.

Capacity

While perusing the tents above, you likely noticed that even shelters with the same capacity can vary in size.

You should base your purchase mostly on floor dimensions rather than how many people the manufacturer thinks you can cram into one tent.

If you’re a taller hiker or simply prefer more space, size up from a one-person to a two-person tent. Paired hikers who find two-person tents too tight should also upgrade to a three-person tent, dividing the parts between two packs to split the extra weight.

Main Material

Tarptent Double Rainbow Li backpacking tent in front of a tree as the sun shines through the branches
Home for the evening while backpacking the Sierras (Pictured: DCF Tarptent Double Rainbow Li)

With few exceptions, ultralight tents are usually made of one of three materials: polyester, silnylon, or Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF).

Each material has its own advantages and disadvantages, so keep your backpacking goals in mind as you decide on your tent.

Heavy but long-lasting polyester and silnylon will be your most affordable options, though they may stretch out and sag in wind and rain.

Meanwhile, DCF is more prone to abrasion but beloved by ultralight hikers for its durability, weather resistance, and featherlight weight.

Weather Resistance

Unless you can predict the future, chances are you’ll encounter unexpected harsh weather at some point in your (hopefully long and enjoyable) backpacking career.

For that reason, it’s best to be prepared and know exactly what your tent can handle.

Our selected tents fall under three- or four-season ratings.

Four-season tents will shelter you even in snow, high winds, and low temperatures.

On the other hand, three-season tents can withstand wind and rain but function best in non-winter conditions.

Freestanding vs. Trekking Pole

The modes of tent setup are fairly self-explanatory.

Freestanding tents rely on aluminum or carbon-fiber poles to keep their shape, while trekking pole tents require only the help of your trusty hiking sticks (plus guylines and tent stakes).

With all the different parts you must carry, freestanding tents are almost always heavier but usually sturdier and easier to pitch.

If you want to “go light or go home,” you’ll likely prefer a trekking pole tent — just be aware of potential drawbacks like complex setups and condensation.

Price

We know prices on ultralight gear can be steep, but you don’t have to take out a loan to afford a great tent.

Lighter doesn’t always equal more expensive—there are plenty of ways to hit your goal base weight without breaking the bank.

As you set your tent budget, take note of the factors and features most important to you.

Then, balance that against each tent’s price tag.

Your wallet (and, more importantly, your future self out on the trail) will thank you down the road.

Which UL Tent is Calling Your Name?

Four ultralight backpacking tents being set up along a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail
Which shelter will you call home along the trail?

No matter where you’re backpacking or thru-hiking, the best ultralight tent for your needs will make your trip memorable for all the right reasons.

With a variety of freestanding and trekking pole tents on this list, there’s something here for just about everyone.

Shelters from trusted names like Durston, Six Moon Designs, and Gossamer Gear can all help keep your base weight down and maximize ultralight performance.

But if nothing on our list stands out to you, don’t give up — your dream ultralight tent is out there waiting for you to come find it.

And if you’re unsure about a piece of gear, chat with hikers who have used it before (and trust me, backpackers love to talk gear).

Any tent is an investment for your future self, so keep your desired features and base weight in mind as you brainstorm.

The goal here is to find the best ultralight tent for you.

Once you have that tent in your pack, it’s time for the best part: hitting the trail and sleeping under the stars.

Last Updated on July 1, 2024

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Cu Fleshman

Cu Fleshman is a writer, editor, and hiker originally from the backwoods of South Carolina. She now resides in Southern California where she hikes, backpacks, and always has an eye out for her next adventure.

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