The 6 Best Ultralight Backpacking Tents

Published on 01/14/2024 · 11 min readTravel light, camp right! Explore the best ultralight backpacking tents, designed for easy portability, durability, and comfort in the great outdoors.
Hunter Reed, Camping Expert
By Camping Expert Hunter Reed

Photo by Cavan Images

Backpacking is a great way to get outside and explore new, less crowded camping spots. However, when you’re carrying all your gear on your back (as opposed to, for example, in your car), you’re going to be paying a lot of extra attention to the weight of your gear—and that’s where ultralight gear comes into play!

Backpacking-specific tents, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads are designed to be lightweight and compact to make it easier to carry your gear long distances through the backcountry. But some find that even traditional backpacking gear feels a bit heavy, meaning that ultralight gear is a great next step. Although ultralight tents are a bit pricier than classic backpacking tents, the payoff of having much less weight to carry over far distances is usually worth it!

In this article, I’ll go over some of the key features to look for in an ultralight backpacking tent, and list the top 6 ultralight backpacking tent options, so you can prepare for your next trip without stressing about the weight of your pack!

Features to Look For in Ultralight Backpacking Tents

Here are the main things to look for when picking an ultralight tent for your next backpacking trip:

Weight

Photo by Aleksandr Grechanyuk

The most obvious feature to look for in an ultralight tent is the weight! Most tents considered ‘ultralight’ are under 4 lbs, usually weighing in closer to 2-3 lbs. Though any backpacker will appreciate carrying less weight on their trek, it’s particularly important to keep your weight low if you’re doing extra long routes, or hiking over technical terrain, as it will ensure you don’t get too sore during the first part of your journey, and give you better stability and balance.

Material

Photo by Moniek Camp

Like with any category of tent, there are quite a few different design options for ultralight tents. Most ultralight tents focus on simplicity and efficiency, with fewer bells and whistles than other tents. Some are incredibly small and cramped inside, which is great for weight saving and stability in wind, but not great if you like to spend a lot of time in your tent and want room to move around comfortably. Other tents maximize interior space with vertical walls. This is nice for staying comfy inside, but with the less robust pole and body structure on ultralight tents, it can also mean they are going to move around a lot more in windy conditions. Consider what kind of conditions you’re going to be camping in, and how much time you like to spend in your tent to determine what kind of design is best for you.

Size and Capacity

Photo courtesy of Big Agnes

Lastly, think about the size and capacity you need in your ultralight tent. Are you using it for solo trips? Or are you planning on camping in your ultralight tent with more than one person? Since ultralight tents are smaller than any other kind of tent, you might want to size up and get a 3-person if you want to comfortably sleep more than one person. Even if you’re planning on camping alone, you might want to look at 2-person tents if you want some extra room.

I personally have tried to camp in an 1-person ultralight tent with my 40 lb dog (who has never had issues with tents), but it was so cramped that she just stood up all night panting. Not a great situation for waking up feeling well rested! Be sure to pitch your tent at home first before taking it out on a trip to make sure you and your tent mates know what you’re getting yourselves into.

Top Ultralight Tents for Backpacking

Now that you understand the basics, let’s take a look at the 6 best ultralight tents I recommend for your next backpacking adventure.

1. Nemo Hornet Elite Osmo 2P

We’ll start off our list with the Nemo Hornet. New in 2023, the Hornet Elite OSMO is a redesign of the original Hornet Elite model (which was also a great tent). This new model is even more durable and lighter weight than the original—just under 2lbs. The main difference in the OSMO is the use of Nemo’s new OSMO fabric, a high-tech poly-nylon ripstop fabric, which has 4x better water repellency and 3x less stretch when compared to the original nylon fabric on the classic Hornet Elite. Nemo also added a Flybar pole clip to the ceiling of the tent, which gives you more headroom inside the tent.

The inside design includes a gear loft on the ceiling, and pockets along the side for keeping valuables organized. The new model also provides more space around the foot area of the tent, preventing your sleeping bag from rubbing up against the walls of the tent while you’re sleeping. This rubbing often leads to condensation accumulating on your sleeping bag, meaning you wake up with cold, wet feet! Not only can that be an annoyance, but a wet sleeping bag is also heavier to carry in your pack to your next campsite.

Overall, the structure of this tent makes it really stable in high winds or heavy rain, without compromising on comfortability inside the tent for the sake of lower weight.

  • Weight: 1 pound, 13 ounces
  • Size: 2-person
  • Other Size Options: 1-person
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2. Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL3 Solution Dye

The Big Agnes Tiger Wall has been a fan favorite for the last several years among ultralight backpackers. It’s an especially great option if you mostly camp in warmer climates, or need some extra ventilation inside the tent, thanks to its fully-vented vestibule and mesh tent walls. Most vestibules and rain flys don’t have vents, which can lead you to waking up covered in condensation, or getting a restless night of sleep because you’re too warm. The fabric of this tent is made from a silicone-treated nylon ripstop, which also ensures you stay dry if you do encounter any storms.

The Tiger Wall has a really easy setup, with color-coded clips and poles and quick pitch clips on the body of the tent. Though it is a bit tight inside for three people, it’s doable if you store your gear outside under one of the two vestibules. However, it would be more comfortable to treat this 3-person tent as a 2-person tent—with only two people inside, you’ll have room to move around and stretch out a bit more when you sleep.

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3. Hyperlite Mountain Gear Unbound 2P

Hyperlite Mountain Gear is a brand entirely dedicated to ultralight gear, from backpacks, to tents, to so much more. Their tents are primarily made out of Dyneema, which as mentioned in the ‘materials’ section above, is a high quality polymer fabric. The downfall of this fabric is that it is quite a bit pricier than other ultralight backpacking materials, so the Unbound is not a great option if your budget is on the lower side. The Unbound 2P tent comes with stakes, but can be set up using only two trekking poles instead of classic tent poles, further increasing weight savings since you don’t need to carry tent poles in your pack. It has an A-Frame shape, with one door on the side of the tent, and a vestibule outside of the door for gear storage (the vestibule can easily be stored away if you don’t want to use it or don’t want it to flap around in windy conditions).

The Unbound is a great option for those who are serious about cutting weight from their pack, and want the strongest tent at the lowest weight, regardless of price. If you’re looking to spend a bit less money, and don’t want the commitment of taking extra special care of the Dyneema fabric (hand washing and air drying after every backpacking trip to ensure no abrasions to the fabric), this might not be the best option for you.

  • Weight: 1 lb, 8 oz
  • Size: 2-person
  • Other Size Options: No

4. MSR FreeLite 2

For budget campers who want to keep their pack weight low without making their bank account equally low, the MSR Freelite 2 is a great choice. It was remodeled in 2023 to shave some extra weight off, while maintaining its durability. It has a roomy interior, with two doors and vestibules on either side of the tent, and plenty of interior pockets and gear lofts to store your valuables. The tent body is mostly a thin mesh, which gives ample airflow and good ventilation, while the rainfly is made from a DuraShield coated nylon ripstop, keeping you dry and protected even in heavier rains. The rainfly also has “rain gutters,” which ensures that rain drips off the side of the tent, away from your gear and from you when you’re getting in and out of the tent.

The FreeLite has an easy setup and an ultra-compact stuff sack to make setting up and taking down your campsite a breeze. The only downsides of this tent are the lack of ventilation options when the rainfly is in use, and that it does move around a bit more in heavy wind compared to the other options on this list. That being said, it’s still a great tent for ultralight backpackers who want something that’s going to last a long time, but don’t want to spend a ton of cash.

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5. Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2

Another super affordable option (compared to other tents in the ultralight category) is the Fly Creek HV UL2. It’s a pretty minimalistic tent, with only one door and one vestibule, and has an entirely mesh body, which is awesome for breathability. It has a bathtub-style floor which extends slightly into the body of the tent, preventing any pooling water from seeping into the tent and soaking your gear. Whereas most tents have separate connection points for pole sockets, rainfly attachments, and stakeout loops, the Fly Creek combines all three of these into one hub on each corner of the tent. This serves a dual purpose: keeping the weight lower by preventing more attachments to the body of the tent, and making it easy and simple to set the tent up quickly.

On the interior of this tent, there are plenty of pockets, and steeper walls than you’d generally find on ultralight tents, meaning you have more headroom to comfortably hang out inside. The only downfall to this tent is that the more vertical-style walls do make the tent more susceptible to moving around in windier conditions, so if you typically find yourself camping in windy conditions, go with a tent that’s a bit more aerodynamic and stable. Other than that, this is a super easy-to-use tent that keeps the weight low without compromising on durability.

  • Weight: 2 lb, 4 oz
  • Size: 2-person
  • Other Size Options: 1-person
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  • Returnable

6. Black Diamond Distance Tent

Last but not least, we have the Black Diamond Distance Tent. Designed to sleep only one person, this is a superlight tent that’s meant for the most hardcore backpackers who want to be well prepared for any kind of weather. Though it’s technically a 3-season tent, the Black Diamond Distance can handle some serious storms while keeping you safe and warm inside. It’s specifically designed to be narrow and streamlined so it can be set up in tighter areas, such as bivy ledges. Although it does come with tent poles, it can also be set up using two trekking poles if you’re trying to keep weight low and already plan on bringing trekking poles on your backpacking adventure. The tent is a bit cramped inside, so if you haven’t used a bivy-style tent before, or like the comfort of being able to move around a bit inside your tent, this option might leave you a bit claustrophobic. However, in terms of versatility for serious treks, it’s a great option.

  • Weight: 1 lb, 10 oz
  • Size: 1-person
  • Other Size Options: No
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Find the Best Ultralight Backpacking Tent for You

Photo by AstroStar

I hope that this article helped you narrow down exactly what you need in an ultralight backpacking tent! Narrowing down your exact budget, the type of backpacking you’re planning on doing, and how many people are going to sleep in your tent will give you a great starting point in figuring out which of these tents is the best option for you.

However, if you’re still not sure which tent is right for you, or want to chat about other ultralight backpacking gear, no worries! Chat with me or another Curated Camping Expert for free, personalized advice on the perfect gear for your needs. We’d be more than happy to assist you!

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Written by:
Hunter Reed, Camping Expert
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Hunter Reed
Camping Expert
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