My Top Three Ultralight TentsPublished on 07/28/2022 · 8 min readCamping & Hiking Expert Reece Kothe shares his top three ultralight tent picks to help make your next backpacking trip the best one yet.
Photo by Hendrik Morkel
When it comes to backpacking, every ounce of equipment adds up quickly. Especially on longer excursions into the wilderness, careful gear selection makes a difference. The items you choose to cram into your pack will dictate the quality of your experience, both on and off the trail. One of the most effective ways to keep your pack light and your back happy for miles to come is to choose the best tent for you.
Since a tent is one of the heftiest, most cumbersome, and necessary pieces of gear, tent selection is key to a successful and enjoyable trek into nature. Heavy tents can throw off your center of gravity and disrupt an otherwise perfectly organized backpack. This dilemma leaves members of a hiking group dodging who has to carry the tent like a hot potato. Even if you have the luxury of divvying out different components of the tent to fellow trekkers, it is still less than ideal and more weight than necessary.
Enhancements in technology in recent years have created the ultimate catch-all solution for the old, bulky tent predicament — ultralight tents. New ultralight materials make overloaded packs and aching backs a thing of the past. Ultralight tents are a great solution for more efficient backpacking and a profoundly higher quality experience. Weighing in at three pounds or less, ultralight tents serve as a quantum leap in the backpacking world and they do this without sacrificing protection or performance. This new evolution in tent technology means a whole lot for backpackers who are seeking to push themselves further and harder without compromising their experience.
I used to be a victim of a six-pound backpacking tent that was my trusty companion for many years until I used a friend’s ultralight tent. What a game-changer! To help you transform your backpacking experience and guide you through the plethora of new ultralight tent options, I have chosen my top three picks to make your next trip the best yet. If you have any questions about them or want me or another Curated Expert to help narrow down your choices, reach out to us and we'll make sure we find the best ultralight tent for your needs.
Best in Comfort and Performance: Slingfin Portal Tent
Who Is This For?
Seasoned backpackers and novices alike who are seeking every ounce of comfort in an ultralight, freestanding package will cherish the Slingfin Portal Tent. Note that it is a two-person tent only.
What is often sacrificed in ultralight tents is the space and comfort that is provided by larger freestanding tents. As a result, companies will often gut internal components of the tent as a means to save weight; however, this maneuver can produce a cramped living environment, especially if you are seeking something larger than a one-person bivy. On a similar note, the structural integrity of the tent could take a hit when internal components are removed, making your shelter potentially less storm-worthy.
The Slingfin Portal Tent is an exceptional ultralight tent that does it all, proving that comfort, performance, and weight savings can exist together in harmony in an incredibly well-built, thoughtful package. Weighing in at a trail weight of two pounds and seven ounces, the Slingfin Portal is a freestanding fortress that maintains many of the creature comforts that were once thought exclusive to its heavier cousins. That’s right, the Portal has two generously designed doors, two vestibules, and numerous internal pockets that make gear organization a breeze. Imagine all of this design for less than three pounds of weight!
One of the most innovative facets of the Portal lies in the use of internal guy lines, which can be adjusted to accommodate extra blustery nights on the ridgeline or allow the gentle sounds of nature to filter inside, uninhibited from the dreaded sound of nylon twitching in the breeze. For those extra violent weather events, external guy lines can be used in conjunction with the internal guy lines for unrivaled stability. The Portal truly is a three-season tent that can easily cross into four seasons of use, making it one of the most versatile ultralight tents currently available. While the Portal is designed to go the distance in harsher weather, it still maintains a free and abundant airflow when the environment calls for it, thanks to its robust KickStand vents. When things get steamy, no longer will you have to worry about vents shutting unintentionally in the breeze or having the Velcro wear away.
The Portal might sound complex with its plethora of features, but it is a joy to set up. Aligning the rainfly does not require extra effort and frustration after a long day on the trail due to the helpful matching tabs on both the tent body and the rainfly, which ensures the perfect placement every time. Protected by silicon on both sides of the material and mildew-resistant properties, the Portal will last for a lifetime’s worth of nature-enriching adventures.
Lightweight Champion: Zpacks Duplex and Zpacks Pleximid or Altaplex
Who Is This For?
When long-distance pursuits are set in your sights, every ounce in your backpack becomes magnified and is translated to extra effort and work, which can ultimately make or break a bucket-list-worthy trek. Following the path of least resistance is essential for a successful long stent on the trail — this means making carefully calculated gear decisions and acquiring gear that will feel lightweight even when you are 100 miles into your journey.
The proper performance tent for this task is in a class of its own and is refined exclusively for this purpose. The Zpacks Duplex Tent is the manifestation of a thru-hiker's dream tent because it is perfectly akin to the necessary demands of long days, weeks, and months on the trail. Weighing in at an impossible 19.4 ounces, the Duplex was envisioned and perfected for the pinnacle of hiking feats, including the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail. Instead of lying useless in your tent's vestibule at night, the trekking poles in this (non-freestanding) tent can be used as key supports to ingeniously save weight and double down on the functionality of the gear you take into the woods. This means no more bulky tent poles taking up precious space in your backpack!
The four storm doors integrated into this tent can be adjusted independently to produce the desired effect. Whether there’s a slight drizzle or it’s a clear, summer night, the door design allows for the perfect manipulation of airflow and protection to enhance every night on the trail. The internal screen strategically slants away from the tent interior, promoting a dry, warm living space that’s free from pesky condensation. Many internal pockets can be found in the interior living space of the tent as well, which allows you to conveniently store important items that are needed on the fly. The Dyneema Composite Fabric is not only durable and waterproof, but most importantly, it achieves this balance without the use of added chemicals.
Zpacks is so confident in the design and longevity of its tents that it provides each new owner with a two-year limited warranty. For those aspiring to embark on a life-changing journey as impactful as a major thru-hike, don’t let gear hinder your experience and connection with nature — choose the Zpacks Duplex for uninhibited peace of mind, a lighter backpack, and an enhanced focus on the things that matter most.
Best for the Budget: Tarptent MoTrail and Tarptent ProTrail
Who Is This For?
Ultralight materials can cost a pretty penny. While the technology involved in this weight savings is often worth the price, for a slightly less sophisticated shelter you can get a tried-and-true tent for as low as 200 dollars that weighs a mere 34.3 ounces. For those on a budget who still desire the features of a high-grade, weight-saving ultralight tent, the Tarptent MoTrail or the ProTrail could be the tent for you.
The Tarptent MoTrail and its younger sibling, the ProTrail (the one-person version), defy other price points on the market while still providing a grade-A shelter you can trust. This shelter is a non-freestanding tent that requires the use of any adjustable trekking pole. Optional poles can also be purchased through Tarptent for setup. The design of the tent’s floor keeps moisture at bay, ensuring a comfortable, dry night’s sleep. A vestibule can be produced either in the front or the rear of the tent to protect gear and keep it dry.
Various points on the outside of the tent provide beneficial anchors to secure the tent, even in the most inclement weather. This shelter pitches incredibly quickly, which is especially helpful when you need to get out of the weather or are ready to call it a day. For a durable, affordable, no-nonsense tent, the Tarptent MoTrail or ProTrail is the tent for you.
Why Choose an Ultralight Tent?
Backpacking is all about maximizing our connection with nature. Selecting the proper gear can make this connection more effortless, leaving greater space for this connection to flourish. Finding the right gear that allows you to be present in nature enriches the time spent in the natural world, thereby producing greater peace and satisfaction, at least in my opinion! So, the next time you go shopping for a tent, remember that you don’t need to settle. Ultralight tent technology has transformed the tent industry. Whether you are comfort- and performance-focused, concerned about the weight for long-distance hikes, or watching your budget, there is an ultralight tent for you. Join the ultralight tent community and enjoy the beauty of nature even more as you hike with a lighter pack. Connect with a Curated expert to get the best ultralight tent for your needs. Happy trails!