As your home away from home, a tent is an essential piece of gear to pack when going backpacking or hiking. However, your tent will be one of the heaviest items in your backpack. If your goal is to keep your pack as light as possible but you still want the livability of a tent, an ultralight tent is a way to go.
The best ultralight backpacking tent will allow you to travel light but still provide a sturdy and protective shelter that can stand up to whatever mother nature can throw at it. To help you find the best ultralight backpacking tents, our ultralight tent reviews break down the best ultralight backpacking tents with the best combination of weight, interior space, weather protection, and ease-of-use.
Why do you buy an “ultralight” tent? Because you want it to weigh as little as possible while carrying it of course! Therein lies a clue to the most common use for these tent models - backpacking, bike packing, wild camping; any activity where you want to cover the miles on foot during the day, but have a shelter ready to deploy for a comfortable night.
Because many companies make specialist ultralight tent stakes/pegs, ultralight guy lines, ultralight compression sacks etc, some campers choose to really customise their ultralight setup by counting every gram they can loose from their gear. This can be really good fun, but absolutely addictive to the point of obsession if you’re not careful!
Make sure you fully research the intended function of your ultralight tent model. Some are intended as 2-3 season tents and have great venting and catenary cuts to allow air flow, others are cut much lower to the ground with vents higher up the tent body - these are the 4-season models and usually weigh a little more, but offer greater weather protection for those water camping sessions.
How To Choose An Ultralight Tent – Buying Guide
Weight and Packed Size
When evaluating ultralight backpacking tents, the first thing to look at is the weight. For the sake of packing in a hiking backpack, ultralight tents should also pack down small. Ultralight tent weights range from slightly under 1 pound to under 4 pounds and have two weight specifications.
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The packaged weight refers to the total weight of all parts of the tent plus any accessories it comes with including the stuff-sack and repair kit. On the other hand, the minimum trail weight takes into account just the essential components — tent body, rainfly, and poles.
Besides the packed size, it’s also important to find out what kind of floor space and height clearance the tent offers once setup. Ultralight tents come in one, two, or three-person capacities. The dimensions and the floor size of the tent when set up will tell you whether the tent will accommodate your sleeping pad and sleeping bag.
It will also tell you how many sleepers it can host comfortably. Another aspect of size to consider is headroom. To ensure the tent stands high enough for you to sit comfortably while inside, a height of 36 inches and above is ideal.
To keep the weight down, ultralight backpacking tents are made of thin and lightweight materials, however, this shouldn’t be at the expense of strength and durability. Nylon and polyester are great materials for the rainfly and floor, as they are lightweight yet highly resistant to tearing. The higher the denier rating, the tougher and more resistant to ripping and puncturing the material will be.
Since the floor will be set up on rough camping grounds, it should be made of a thicker and tougher material. The canopy and mesh panels should also be made of a heavy-denier nylon/polyester mesh that won’t rip easily. Aluminum or fiberglass are superb materials for the poles. They are amazingly lightweight while still being incredibly strong.
The nylon and polyester materials tent rainfly and floors are made only water-resistant. To make them waterproof, manufacturers apply a “Durable Water Repellent” (DWR) treatment or coat them with silicone or polyurethane. The seams should be taped or sealed, and the doorways, zippers, and vents covered to prevent the ingress of rainwater.
To ensure that any outside groundwater doesn’t find its way into the tent, the tent floor should have a bathtub floor design. A bathtub floor means that the tent floor material extends a few inches up the walls.
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When camping in the great outdoors, your home away from home should be sturdy enough to handle the elements. Even when your goal is to minimize pack weight and make tent backpacking trips more enjoyable, it’s still important to ensure you have a properly secured shelter so it can hold up to strong winds and rainstorms. This means that you will have to lug along stakes.
The stakes an ultralight tent comes with should be strong enough to keep your tent taut but lightweight enough so they do not negatively impact you on the trails. Most ultralight tents use aluminum stakes that don’t weigh too much but provide a very strong hold when hammered into the ground.
The frame design determines how ultralight a tent will be, and how easy it’ll be to pitch and take down. Tents with a freestanding design are the easiest to set up, as they can stand on their own without being staked down. Non-freestanding tents use stakes, guylines, and poles for pitching. Some lightweight tents have a semi-freestanding frame design that requires stakes at two or more corners.
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Since ultralight tents don’t come cheap, it’s important to pay attention to the quality of construction to ensure that you get a durable tent that will hold up well to the rigors of backpacking and hiking. First of all, the tent should be made of high-quality materials. Aluminum and heavy-denier nylon or polyester make for durable ultralight tents.
The kind of warranty can also give you an indication of the durability you can expect from a tent. Reading reviews and choosing a top-rated lightweight tent is also a great way to ensure you get a tent that will serve you for many years to come.
Ease of use
In addition to being easy to carry on the trails, the best backpack tents should also be easy to use once you select your campsite. Freestanding tents with a two-pole design are the easiest to put up. Most tents will require tethering and staking, but this shouldn’t be too complicated or time-consuming. A great way to find out how easy a tent is to put up is to go through the user reviews, where other campers give an honest assessment of the setup experience.
Once set up, the tent should offer a pleasant user experience. The number of doors and how they are designed will determine the ease of getting in and out. Extra features such as interior pockets, gear lofts, vestibules, and hanging loops are also nice to have and keep your kit off the floor.
A tent’s seasonal rating tells you the kind of weather protection it provides and what seasons it’s suitable for. For example, a two-season tent suits summer and spring camping only while a three-season is suitable for camping in the summer, spring, and fall. In the end, a 4-season tent is suitable for winter temperatures, snow, and in some cases, alpine conditions. Most ultralight and lightweight tents have a 3-season rating.
Because an ultralight tent is made of thin and delicate materials, a footprint is an essential component of this setup if you expect your tent to last for many years. It serves as the base of the tent, protecting the tent floor from puncturing by rocks and sticks. This helps extend the life of the tent. It also offers additional moisture protection. Some tents will come with a footprint as part of the package, while some will require you to purchase one separately.
Q: What is an Ultralight Tent?
What defines an ultralight tent is the weight. Weighing 1-3 pounds, ultralight tents are extremely lightweight — made from thin and light materials such as nylon, polyester, and aluminum. This type of tent is easy to carry in a backpack when hiking, backpacking, climbing, or bike-packing. It’s the go-to type of tent whenever you want to reduce pack weight to stay nimble and quick on the trails.
Q: Which Tent is Considered to be Ultralight?
For a tent to be considered ultralight, it should weigh under 4 pounds. This also depends on the tent’s capacity. For example, a 1-person tent should weigh about 1-pound for it to be considered ultralight. Three-person tents weighing 3 pounds are also considered ultralight.
Q: Who Benefits the Most from Ultralight Tents?
Backpackers, hikers, climbers, and bike-packers are the biggest beneficiaries of ultralight tents. These outdoor adventurers carry all their gear on their back and having a light tent cuts down their pack weight. This enables them to travel light, cover more distance, and enjoy their trek, hike, or climb even more. Even minimalist car campers appreciate the lightweight and compact packed size.
Q: How do I Find All the Specifications for My Tent?
When shopping online, the specifications for a tent will be on the description, features, and specification tabs. To find all the specs, you can also visit the tent’s page on the manufacturers’ website. Once you receive the tent, the specifications will also be listed on the package the tent comes with. Key specifications to look out for include the weight, the floor area, the ceiling height, the packed size, the seasonal rating, the waterproof rating, and the materials used in its construction.
Q: Are Tents the Lightest Shelter for Ultralight Backpackers?
No, even ultralight tents are not the lightest shelter for ultralight backpackers. There are extremely lightweight solutions out there such as a tarp tent or a bivy bag. These are the lightest ways to camp. The advantage of going with ultralight tents is that they offer more livability, comfort, and weather protection than tarp tents or bivy bags offer.
Q: How do I Make My Tent Lighter?
The best way to make your tent lighter is to ditch the heavier steel stakes your tent comes with and replace them with a set of lighter aluminum stakes. You can also shed weight by leaving some of the tent components at home. For example, you can do without the repair patch, pole and stake bags, and other extras your tent might come with. If you have a trekking poles tent, leaving the tent poles at home and using your trekking/hiking poles or suitable sticks to support the tent will also reduce the tent’s weight.
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A lighter pack on your back makes for more comfortable and enjoyable backpacking or hiking trip. Having the best budget ultralight tent can make your backpacking trips into the wilderness much more fun. The best ultralight tents are easier to carry around on the trails and still provide a comfortable shelter. We hope this guide on ultralight backpacking tents will help you find the best backpacking tent for your situation.
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