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Shed the Weight with One of These Seven Backpacking Tents

Backpacking is perhaps one of the last remaining endeavors that allow us to connect more deeply with the natural surroundings around us while also being somewhat accessible — that is, there is a wide range of areas you can enjoy and you don’t even need to commit to a lengthy trek.

Before you head out, though, you’re going to need some basic gear, including a tent. Backpacking tents come in a range of shapes and sizes, but what you purchase really comes down to the need and level of performance you need for your next adventure. If you expect to only venture out a couple of times a season, you can probably sacrifice weight-saving technology for a bit more comfort (and perhaps one that will pull double-duty for car camping). If you’re planning on retracing John Muir’s steps in excruciating detail, then you’re going to want to get the best lightweight shelter to shed every possible ounce.


The Basics of Backpacking Tents

Backpacking tents aren’t all that different from car camping or backyard tents, however, you’ll find an emphasis on technology and weight-saving that you may not have with the latter options.

In short, there are a few things to look out for:

  • Tent poles: Poles create the structure of the tent, and come in several different materials such as aluminum, steel, carbon fiber and more. Again, lighter materials tend to cost more.
  • Tent pegs: Pegs hold the tent down to keep your structure secure despite wind and rain. A curved or notched peg is likely best to keep things in place during any shift in weather.
  • Footprint: This is the actual space the tent takes up. The size you’ll need depends on how many are in your camping party, how comfortable you are sharing a space with them and how much weight you want to carry. Personal preference reigns supreme here.
  • Body: This is the actual tent itself. Each gear manufacturer has a different take on what is the best interior layout, so your best bet is to go to your favorite outdoor shop and look at a few setup options (literally, go into them and understand if the setup is actually easy) to see how you like the layout and which meets your needs.

Some tents may also come with a “vestibule,” which is an area to set muddy shoes or wet gear before you head inside your tent. Many have a rainfly, which by name protects the actual tent body (and you) from rain and potential condensation buildup (a nemesis of tents).

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Other Things to Know About Backpacking Tents

Like a lot of other outdoor gear, it’s important to look at brands and stick with ones you know and trust. Don’t confuse this for buying the most expensive, capable option, but really take the time to look at features and think about what you actually need to fully enjoy your backpacking excursion.

Again, this is a great opportunity to visit your local, friendly outdoor store and have someone with lots of experience walk you through features and performance. All of the name brands have different levels of performance available and you can likely get into a great tent without spending a fortune. Don’t be fooled by prices and fancy features.

Many of these features are folded into classified “season” tents with the standard being “three-season” (not winter) and some “four-season” options. As you might expect, “four-season” tents are sturdier and more durable, but also cost more for that performance. If you’re not doing cold-weather, heart-of-December camping, you may not need to spend for the additional seasonal capability.

With all of that in mind, here are seven of our favorite backpacking tents currently on the market. They all come from known brands and will deliver on performance, but we’ve broken it down further based on potential needs.


1. Mountain Hardwear Nimbus UL


If you’re going solo, Mountain Hardwear’s newest backpacking offering is a fantastic choice. Yes, it’s expensive, but it has a ton of technology built-in, including super light poles, an easy setup and a triangular interior that offers a bit more space than the average one-person tent. It weighs under two pounds and fits nicely into the side compartment of your backpack. It might just become your go-to for car camps, too.

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Courtesy of REI

2. Eureka! Suma 3


While Eureka! is known for their car camping and more family-oriented products, they also make a great range of lighter camping gear. The minimalist Suma 3 is quite literally a basic interior with enough space for three cozy campers. That space is created through a simple, two-pole design, but also note there’s no vestibule or exterior area to get out of dirty gear before hopping inside.

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Courtesy of Amazon


3. Marmot Fortress


“Igloo” tents are a sort of cult favorite for backpackers who want total protection in a highly functional (and some would say, hardier) setup. The unique angular structure also allows for more headroom while also acting as padded wind protection. One thing to note is that this tent doesn’t not come with a separate vestibule, but the cover can be rigged to provide shelter and a dedicated space to remove gear before stepping inside. This falls into the “four-season” category with high-rated water resistance and durability to last at mountain basecamps — or further up.

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Courtesy of Amazon

4. Kelty Grand Mesa


Basic backpackers should do just fine with this option from Kelty. It’s not the lightest option (weighing in above 4 lbs.), but it is sensible enough to take overnight or for a couple of days on a five to 10-mile trek. It comes in two- and four-person sizing (the latter pushing backpacking weight limits) with decent material build — this is not your crummy weather tent, but a good option for warmer, drier months. It also has a small outdoor vestibule, which is a nice add-on at this price point.

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Courtesy of Amazon

5. MSR Expedition Tent


Do you need something to combat the most difficult elements? There is a small range of high-grade tents meant to deal with snow, ice and other cold, harsh conditions. MSR’s “expedition-grade” two-person tent is actually quite sensible on its own, but specialized poles and an ultra-durable snow cover elevate it to a level for those that need full-scale protection. Plenty of storage is built into the interior and exterior for all of your mountaineering needs, too.

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Courtesy of Backcountry

6. NEMO Equipment Co. Aurora


If you’re looking for a bit more room in a backpacking tent, the Aurora offers that and more. The layout puts an emphasis on length, so taller campers may find more comfort in this interior (or those who just want more room to stash gear). It’s a sensible three-season choice.

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Courtesy of REI

7. The North Face Stormbreak 1


The Stombreak 1 is another minimalist choice ideal for three seasons and/or solo camping ambitions. The North Face integrated a number of mechanisms to make it quick and easy to pitch while not sacrificing mid-level waterproofing and functionality. It’s not going to stand up to the toughest conditions, but it should do just fine in most seasons and the full-cover rainfly should offer peace of mind in unexpected inclement weather.

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Courtesy of Backcountry

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