13 Best Ultralight Backpacking Tents for Thru-Hiking in 2018

Here are the best ultralight backpacking tents on the market. Tested and written by Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers.

1. Ultra-Lightweight: Keeping your backpacking tent lightweight is extremely important. It is one of the biggest items in your pack and therefore, one of the biggest opportunities to save weight. A light load will minimize the impact on your knees and your back. You also want to enjoy your hike without the heavy moaning and groaning. The term “ultralight” is somewhat novel to first-time backpackers and might seem like the extreme end of the spectrum. adventure trips travel safety tips planning an epic adventure

Ultralight is becoming the new standard for ALL backpackers though. You don’t have to sacrifice comfort, space and durability for a compact and ultralight backpacking tent anymore. The small technical brands have grown into industry leaders and the former industry leaders have desperately adapted to shave their gear weight. As a rule of thumb… adventure trips travel safety tips planning an epic adventure

A 1-person tent should be around 2 pounds.

A 2-person tent should be below 3 pounds.

2. Clean Design: This can be broken down into two things:

●   Minimal guylines and stakes. Tents with more complex designs are great for maximizing space, especially in those one-off corners and the ceiling. However, a complex design means more poles and guylines, more things to manage and more things with the potential to break. I vote for simplicity.adventure trips travel safety tips planning an epic adventure

●  Stable layout. Simple designs are not only faster and easier to setup, but are generally more durable. The more awkward and less aerodynamic your tent is, the less likely it is to handle a heavy storm or fast winds. adventure trips travel safety tips planning an epic adventure

3. Easy Entry and Exit: Some tents are shaped like a tee-pee pyramid, others more like half-spherical igloos, and some like rectangular prisms. Mostly a matter of personal preference. adventure trips travel safety tips planning an epic adventure

My big thing is pole location. I find side panel doors are usually easier to roll in and out of than front panel doors. Some tent designs have the pole sticking straight up in the middle of the tent. I specifically chose NOT to include any shelters like that on this list. Just keep in mind where the support frame for your tent is located. adventure trips travel safety tips planning an epic adventure

4. Adequate Headspace: You are going to be outside hiking around most of the time so don’t stress too much about getting a luxurious tent palace. However, you don’t want the dreaded coffin bivy-like tent. Waiting all day for a storm to pass in a tiny cocoon can be miserable. You want a tent large enough to comfortably lay down in with a few inches above your head and below your feet. You also want a ceiling height with at least a couple feet above your face to read or (semi) sit up inside.  adventure trips travel safety tips planning an epic adventure

Length: A 6 foot man (72 inches) needs at least 78 inches.

Height: Nothing below 30 inches. Ideally above 36 inches.

CONSIDERATIONS

Freestanding vs Non-Freestanding: Should I get a freestanding or non-freestanding tent? 

Freestanding tents come with a framework of poles specifically designed for that model of tent. These help the tent stand 100% (or mostly) upright – or be “freestanding”. They still use stakes and guylines for stability, but are not reliant on them to stand. The advantages: adventure trips travel safety tips planning an epic adventure

●  Setup Anywhere. Soft surfaces (ex: a loose, sandy beach) or on hard surfaces (ex: a rocky summit) where stakes are ineffective. adventure trips travel safety tips planning an epic adventure

●  Very Stable. More metal means more stability against strong wind, heavy snow, etc.

●  Easy and Fast Setup. The metal frame is usually very fast and easy to setup. They do not require intricate webbings of guylines to adjust nor numerous stakes to tie down. adventure trips travel safety tips planning an epic adventure

Non-freestanding tents are generally sold only with the tent and tarp and require an additional support structure, usually your own trekking poles. In additiona to your trekking poles, tension provided from guylines and stakes are required for it to stand (instead of poles designed exclusively for the tent). This means you must carry trekking poles. Not a problem for most hikers, but worth considering. The advantages: adventure trips travel safety tips planning an epic adventure

●  Lightweight. Without tent poles, these puppies can almost get down to a scant pound.

●  Compact. Again, without tent poles, you will have more space in your pack.

●  Affordable. Non-freestanding tents usually cost less. After all, those poles cost money honey.

Single vs Double Wall: What are the advantages of a single walled vs a double walled tent?  adventure trips travel safety tips planning an epic adventure

As mentioned, there are two types of wall fabrics: 1) a tarp-like rain fly used as a barrier and 2) a mesh-like wall used as an enclosure to keep out bugs. A single walled shelter is usually only the tarp-like wall. A double walled shelter is usually the combination of both the tarp-like wall AND the mesh-like wall. adventure trips travel safety tips planning an epic adventure

●  Single walled tents are light, fast and compact. Without that extra wall, these can get reeeally light. adventure trips travel safety tips planning an epic adventure

●  Double walled tents are usually 100% dry because their extra wall shields that condensation build up from dripping inside the interior… and on you… and on your precious gear. adventure trips travel safety tips planning an epic adventure

1-Person vs 2-Person Tent: How much space do I need? 

If you are hiking with a partner, you will need a 2 person tent. You can efficiently split up the weight of the shelter with each other. Also, you can always still go solo with a 2 person tent if need be. adventure trips travel safety tips planning an epic adventure

1 person tents are ideal for long-distance backpacking where shaving every little ounce counts. My tent from the Appalachian Trail was a 1 person tent and I would recommend the same for anyone thru-hiking. I have squeezed 2 people in it, but would not recommend that much congestion. adventure trips travel safety tips planning an epic adventure

Bathtub Floor: Your tent will have two types of fabrics: a tarp-like fabric used to repel water and a mesh-like fabric used to block out bugs and enable ventilation. A bathtub floor means the tarp-like fabric lines the floor and at least a few inches above the ground before it meets the mesh walls. This mini tarp-like ‘bathtub’ can be helpful to prevent heavy rains from pouring in. Fortunately, bathtub floors have become standard in the best backpacking tents. adventure trips travel safety tips planning an epic adventure

Material: What is the difference between Nylon and Dyneema (formerly ‘Cuben Fiber’) material?

Silnylon and Dyneema are the most common types of materials used for backpacking tent fabrics. Both are great for their intended function – repelling the elements. There are some differences to note though. adventure trips travel safety tips planning an epic adventure

●  Dyneema (Cuben Fiber) is a high-tech fabric that looks (and feels) like it was meant for space exploration. It is great for it’s strength-to-weight ratio. It will weigh less and be a little stronger than it’s silnylon rival. adventure trips travel safety tips planning an epic adventure

●  Silnylon is much, much MUCH more affordable. Generally, a rip-stop nylon tent will cost half as much as a Dyneema tent. adventure trips travel safety tips planning an epic adventure

dyneema and cuben fiber mate adventure trips travel safety tips planning an epic adventure

Silnylon (left) and Dyneema (right) adventure trips travel safety tips planning an epic adventure

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