How to choose a lightweight hiking tent
When hiking with the intention of camping out you will be carrying everything you need on your back, so your gear needs to weigh as little as possible – while still being fit for purpose and reliable. The best lightweight hiking tents are specially designed to take up little space when packed, but to still be tough enough for the trail or the mountain. They can also be used in other sports where weight is important, such as cycle touring or ski touring. As keen hikers and campers we have carried and used many, many tents, so here are our thoughts and some guidance.
What is a lightweight tent?
Traditional tents with standard aluminum poles, rain fly and vestibules would weigh approximately:
1 person tent – 4 pounds
2 person tent – 4.5 pounds
3 person tent – 5.5 pounds
So lightweight tents would ideally weigh less than these values. Manufacturers of superior lightweight tents achieve this lower weight by using lighter materials (for example, 40 denier nylon for the inner fabric,or even 20 denier nylon), and by providing alloy tent stakes and thinner tent poles. Often the tent will have a reduction in the overall sizing of the interior space to the minimum comfortable space – these are some times called ‘compact backpacking tents’. However, if you are looking for a two-person tent, but don’t mind carrying an extra half pound, a three person tent will give you a lot of useful extra space.
Some manufacturers also offer ‘footprints’, which are ground cloths or groundsheets which can be laid on rough ground to protect the (often thin) tent floor: these are optional extras, and not using them reduces the carry weight. Be aware that the thin materials modern lightweight tents are made of can be punctured or abraded, for example by sharp stony ground, which is why footprints are often carried.
Most lightweight trekking tents will feature ‘double walls’ – an inner mesh wall and an outer flysheet or ‘fly’ which is more waterproof; the tent construction ensures the two layers do not touch, meaning that you stay dry inside.
A typical lightweight hiking / backpacking tent such as this one person Cliffhanger 3 season tent weighs 3lbs 8oz and has a floor area of 6’7” x 2’5”, so just large enough for an average-sized hiker.
Choosing a lightweight hiking tent
You will notice that lightweight tents vary tremendously in price, from about $60 through to $800 or more. That is because the market covers those wanting a cheap tent for occasional family summer camping, to hikers who are on the trail for three seasons in spring, summer and autumn, and finally through to mountaineers who need a reliable tent for high altitude expeditions subject to snow and strong winds at any time of year. Most of the tents featured on this site are 3 season tents, which the majority of hikers need.
The best tent brands cost more because of their manufacturing quality, the strength and watertightness of the seams, and even the build of the tent poles. If you have camped, you will know that tent poles which break in windy conditions are the main source of tent failure. The best quality alloy tent poles are made by DAC, a Japanese company, and its poles are used in tents made by top outdoor equipment companies like MSR, Marmot, North Face, Terra Nova, Nemo, Mountain Hardware, Berghaus, Coleman, Big Agnes, Eastern Mountain Sports and Black Diamond.
However, some tents priced under $100 have developed very good reputations and reviews, and have similar build quality to better known brands. As an example of this, check these tents and user feedback:
Features of lightweight hiking tents
Another important tent feature how vertical the walls are – the move away from the old fashioned inverted ‘V’ ridgepole cub tents came when hikers realized most of the space inside was too low to be useful. Modern tents are mostly designed to enhance the usable space inside by having the internal walls as near vertical as possible, and tent brands like Nemo use digital modeling to ensure their tents maximize the space which can be used. See our featured Nemo tents here.
Some top of the range tents
Remember that a quality tent will give you good service for many years, while a low-cost tent may only give you one or two seasons of use. If you intend to do a lot of camping a purchasing a quality tent makes good sense.
Inexpensive for a quality tent, lightweight and roomy, with vertical interior walls and a vented fully taped fly.
Not really ‘ultralight’ but very innovative tent designed to be suspended for a unique and comfortable camping experience. Don’t suspend it too high, though they also call it a ‘portable treehouse’.
This durable tent which can resist high winds comes in one, two and three person sizes. Not the lightest tents available, but but very popular and reliable, with good space.
A truly lightweight double wall tent, which comes in two-person and three-person sizes. A bonus is its large double vestibules. Uses DAC poles.