8 best backpacking tents that are light enough to carry even on the hardest treks
Whether you’re walking the South Downs of a weekend or hiking across Kyrgyzstan, your nights sleeping at the side of the trail should be as enjoyable as your days on it
A good backpacking tent needs to be dependable, light, sturdy and small, one you can put up in a hurry when the rain comes and take down while the coffee boils in the morning.
Every kilo counts for a backpacker, which is why weight and pack size were our reviewers’ main factors. We reviewed a mix of one- and (slightly heavier) two- person tents: the general rule is to always size up for comfort, but with backpacking, weight can be more of a priority. Two kilos is about the maximum packweight you want to sacrifice to a tent if you’re walking far – a bit more if there are two of you because you can split the poles and the canvas.
But you don’t need the kind of stripped back, thousand-pound shelter designed for perching on mountain ridges; little comforts like mesh windows, a porch and vents will make it easier to get comfortable and won’t add much weight.
Weight has to be saved somewhere, so many ultralight tents are small and narrow, which can feel cramped. Little things that help include generous vestibules – on both sides, if possible – and plenty of pockets (to keep your stuff off the floor and away from you), which will help you feel less like you’re sleeping in a canvas coffin.
This is as practical as it is comfortable: backpacking usually involves a lot of kit, even in good weather, and if you’re thru-hiking you’ll have even more, so generous, waterproof storage space is a must. All the tents we tested could fit a fully loaded, 60l backpack in a porch or vestibule.
Finally a backpacking tent needs to be durable: ideally it will fit inside your pack, but most likely it will end up strapped to the outside at the mercy of the elements.
Because you can’t always cherry-pick the kind of terrain you will be camping on – a long hike might find you pitched on gravel, in dim light or anywhere you can’t be bothered to fastidiously clear the ground – we looked for tents with a tough groundsheet that won’t be bothered by a few thorns or stones. A proper backpacking tent also needs to be able to withstand some variable tent hygiene. In an ideal world you’d stop somewhere during the day to thoroughly dry it out after every rainy night, but in practice, that’s the last thing you want to do on a quick lunch break so it may end up a little damp when you re-pitch.
Here are eight of the best backpacking tents that won’t weigh – or let – you down after a tough day in the hills.
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Robens Verdin two-man tent: £625, Robens
With one of the best height-to-weight ratios we tested, this tunnel tent from Robens sleeps two comfortably at a really impressive full weight of just over 1.8kg. For one person it feels palatial, with plenty of room to manoeuvre around an inflated air mattress. It was also one of the most liveable tents we tried, with plenty of hooks and pockets for your gear – all this, and it packs down small enough to fit into a 30l-40l rucksack. As well as the generous sleeping space, the tent has a fantastic porch that more than fitted our test pack, plus boots: at a pinch, you could get changed in here if the weather was bad (Robens’ tests indicate this redoubtable little tent would survive in winds up to 170km/h). The ideal tent for a longer trip, if you want a bit of comfort, or you’re ready to splash out for a good all-rounder.
MSR Zoic 1: £255, Outdoor Gear
Surprisingly spacious for a one person tent, the Zoic is a new lightweight model from popular US brand MSR. It pitches easily and without fuss – a cross pole keeps the tent up and a cross beam widens the top, and you’re done. Best of all is that it’s freestanding – although you have to peg out the rainfly to stop it flapping around. Without the fly on, the mesh walls and roof give you a wonderful view of the stars, and if you felt really confident about the weather you could even travel without the fly, bringing the overall weight down to 1.5kg (1.7kg with the fly). Packs down small enough to fit inside a 35l backpack, but still has a small gear loft and (with the fly on) a porch big enough to fit a tall backpack and kit.
Jack Wolfskin Exolight 1: £350, Jack Wolfskin
Extremely light and pitching quickly with the fly and inner tent attached, the Jack Wolfskin is a perfect choice for travelling fast and light, weighing in at a featherlite 1435g. There are compromises at that weight – the sleeping area did feel narrow, even with both the vestibules pegged out, and while it fitted a narrow sleeping mat – we tried it with a mummy shaped Thermarest NeoAir XLite, one of the narrowest mats we had – it didn’t leave much room at the sides. It was, though, one of the best looking tents we tried: dark blue with fluorescent green details and guy ropes, and colour-coded poles that made setting up the tent quick and intuitive.
The North Face Assault 2: £570, The North Face
Marketed as a mountaineers’ tent, this impressive lightweight model from The North Face would make an ideal tent for serious hiking. The two person model is a little heavy, at 2.24kg, but bear in mind you would only need to carry half that if you split the load with a partner. For that weight you get a super rugged tent that would survive being scraped around on scree and unswept wild campsites, as at home on mountain ledges as it is alpine fields. The vestibule is removable – leaving you with a sturdy dome-shaped tent – if you’re short on space or time, but even pitched like this there are loops galore in the main tent for stoves and gear.
Vango F10 Helium UL 1: £240, Vango
A great all-rounder tent that would be as at home on a mountain walk as a countryside campsite, the F10 Helium is an impressive 1.2kg (1.42kg for the two person tent). For the price, you get some excellent tech – a fly with a 3,000mm hydrostatic head (HH) level of water resistance, for example, and a groundsheet with a HH of 6,000mm, as well as sensibly placed mesh to give you a bit of breathability. Best of all, though, is the generous stuff sack: another pitfall of the super lightweight tent is that it insists you wrap it into a tiny tight roll. Vango is a bit more sympathetic to those of us who start with good intentions but end up cramming everything into the bag in a bundle after oversleeping. The oversized entry on its stuff sack is forgiving, and the compression straps mean you can just crunch everything down to the pack size you need anyway.
Coleman Cobra 2: £93.95, OutdoorGear
A perfect tent for a Duke of Edinburgh expedition or casual weekend walk, the Cobra 2 is – for a two person tent – a remarkably lightweight package at 2.05kg. It took us a couple of goes to pitch it properly: although the inner and the fly are attached, it’s best to peg out the inner first to make the process easier. It feels really roomy, with two enormous vestibules on the side, two inner doors (one matching the external door on the fly and one that gives you access to the second vestibule) and a second pole across the foot of the tunnel to give you plenty of legroom. It also feels surprisingly strong for a tent that retails around the £100 mark, and has very respectable waterproofing – 3,000mm HH on the fly and 5,000mm on the groundsheet. It also came with a generous stuff sack that would comfortably hold a rollmat or travel sheet as well.
Vaude Taurus UL 2P: £465, Vaude
One of the lightest two person tents we tested was Vaude’s Taurus, which would made a brilliantly generous one man tent or a comfy 2-man at just over 1.9kg. Its innovative shape means it has some of the best head-clearance of any of the tents we tested: a long spine runs beyond the arch at the front of the tent to create a kind of hood, giving you a little external porch to sit in and enjoy a cuppa, or watch the rain. Two extra small poles built into the foot of the tent pop up when pegged out to create a box-shape around the feet, a really nice luxury if there are two of you inside. It pitches together very quickly, with little room for error or getting your stuff soaked.
Fjällräven Abisko Light 1: £490, Fjällräven
This super lightweight tent by Swedish outdoors expert Fjällräven was one of our favourite designs, with a single arch pole creating height supported by four corner poles to add space around the feet and in the porch. There are additional pole ends and room inside the sleeves for an additional pole if the weather looks really bad, making this already tough tent basically indestructible: it’s treated with four layers of silicone to improve durability and waterproofing. The large porch has plenty of room to store kit, or sit and wait out a rainstorm. A serious hikers’ and mountaineers’ tent, but with all of Fjällräven’s characteristic, effortless style.
The verdict: Backpacking tents
Robens is one of the best companies for consistent, all-rounder tents, with every detail thought out, and the Verdin tent is no different, with little innovations making for a really spacious tent at a perfect weight for backpacking. But we also really rated the cheapest tent we reviewed, the Coleman Cobra 2, a durable and comfortable tent at a really reasonable price that you could happily leave staked out during a festival without too much anxiety.
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