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One pound, ten ounces per person: That’s the most that any of these eight perfect shelters will add to your pack. (The least? Eight and a half ounces.) But that doesn’t mean that you’ll sacrifice a good night’s sleep by carrying one of these ultralight tents. By swapping poles for trekking poles, burly nylon for thinner fabric, and occasionally ditching the floor, these eight models kept us protected on the trail without weighing us down.
|Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo||1||1 lb. 10 oz.||$200|
|ZPacks Duplex||2||1 lb. 3.4 oz||$599|
|Big Agnes Scout 2 Platinum||2||1 lb. 1 oz.||$450|
|Gossamer Gear The Two||2||1 lb. 13 oz.||$389|
|Black Diamond Distance||2||1 lb. 9 oz.||$250|
|Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2||2||2 lbs. 3 oz.||$400|
|My Trail UL 3||3||3 lbs.||$339|
|Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 4||4||5 lb. 3 oz.||$650|
Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo
Boutique ultralight usually costs a mint—and for good reason. Shaving ounces gets harder and harder the lighter you go and at some point, materials cross what we’ll call the “Dyneema Line,” sending prices to the stratosphere. So it’s with great pleasure that we discovered the Lunar Solo, which uses workaday materials (20-denier, siliconized polyester on the fly; 40-denier in the floor) and a clever-but-not-too-clever pitch with a trekking pole—and still has more floor space (26 square feet) than pretty much all other tents in its class. And it’s cheaper to boot.
Ventilation is superb for a single-wall. Credit the 4-inch-tall band of mesh that wraps around the canopy just above ground level and the vestibule design, which leaves a 12-inch gap between the bottom of the fly and the ground (pitch the door on the lee, pull your boots close to the canopy in heavy rain, and you’ll be fine). “I saw a lot of precip and 20-mph winds in Mississippi’s Buccaneer State Park and, beyond a little splash-up water on the perimeter mesh, I was totally fine,” one tester says. A 48-inch-tall peak height was good enough for our 6’2” tester to change shirt layers without brushing the walls, and there’s space inside for all the gear you don’t want to store in the 8.5-square-foot vestibule. Roll back both sides of the vestibule for that inside-out feeling on nice nights. Note: Seam sealing costs $30 extra. Do it yourself and be sure to dab any loose threads on the floor while you’re at it.
$200; 1 lb. 10 oz. Buy Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo Now
If you’re already carrying trekking poles, this gossamer shelter can cut down your pack weight while keeping creepy crawlies out of your sleeping space. A bathtub floor keeps moisture from creeping in during wet weather, while the four storms doors open up to provide superior ventilation in good weather.
“It feels flimsy, but the Dyneema Composite Fabric on the Duplex is tougher than it looks,” said our tester after taking the tent backpacking in Arizona’s Saguaro National Park. “We set it up straight on the ground night after night, and the rocks and prickers didn’t leave a scratch.”
$599; 1 lb. 3.4 oz. Buy ZPacks Duplex Now
Big Agnes Scout 2 Platinum
There was a time when carrying a pound per person for a tent made us feel like ultralight rock stars. The new Scout 2 Platinum cuts that number in half. The big weight savers: single-wall construction, trekking-pole support, siliconized nylon, and no vestibules. It packs so small it stows more like a jacket than a tent. The result is a minimalist shelter that will appeal to backpackers who accept the livability tradeoffs. “On a hike on the CDT in Colorado, the Scout repelled a summer thunderstorm,” says a tester. “My partner and I were a bit cramped, but we slept fine.”
The headroom toward the front of this single-door tent is adequate, but the narrow, 27-square-foot floor tapers to 38 inches wide at the feet, so rectangular pads will overlap. Vents along the sides provide some airflow, but we still experienced significant condensation (not surprising for a single-wall).
“Some tents this shape can’t handle much wind, but gusts up to 30 mph didn’t knock this one down,” one tester reports.
$450; 1 lb. 1 oz. Buy Big Agnes Scout 2 Platinum Now
Gossamer Gear The Two
If you want low weight and large vestibules, this is your tent. Trekking-pole support and single-wall design cut ounces, but designers didn’t cut gear storage. A 29-square-foot-floor is average for a two-person shelter, but The Two’s double doors and enormous vestibules (16 square feet each) offer more than enough storage for packs and boots as well as cooking space; your biggest problem will be finding a piece of real estate big enough for throwing down. The entire tent rolls up smaller than a water bottle.
Gossamer Gear achieves the featherweight specs with light materials: 7-denier nylon walls and a 10-denier nylon floor. Condensation is an issue, but the larger vestibules and ability to completely roll back the fly gave some airflow to our testers during a particular muggy evening in Louisiana’s Bogue Chitto State Park.
“We could sit up and play cards during a rainstorm without feeling cramped,” says one tester of the above-average, 46-inch peak height.
$389; 1 lb. 13 oz. Buy Gossamer Gear The Two Now
Black Diamond Distance
Way light, and also affordable—that’s a combination we can get behind. Black Diamond uses a single-wall design and trekking-pole support to shave ounces. The tent pitches in two ways: with Z Poles (Black Diamond’s trekking poles that can screw directly into the tent’s brow pole; $150 extra) or with your own poles using the adapter (included). The pitch is intuitive thanks to the integrated spreader bar: “I put it up in less than five minutes by myself on my first try,” said one tester after an evening on Virginia’s 5,729-foot Mt. Rogers.
The Distance’s 30-denier polyester fabric remains taught in rainy conditions, but the 41-inch peak height and steep walls aren’t exactly aerodynamic. (The walls flapped in 30-mph wind, but three guylines held the tent up.) A 26-square-foot floor is below-average for this category, but the 95-inch length helps for gear storage. Two sleepers have a snug fit, and a single door (with no vestibule) can make entry and exit a game of Twister. The tent has two vents, but condensation was a constant problem.
“I spent a rain-filled evening cooped up inside with my dog, and the tent’s materials held up well to his pacing and scratching,” our Virginia tester says.
$250; 1 lb. 9 oz. Buy Black Diamond Distance Now
Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2
If you want an easy pitch, two doors, and freestanding convenience for a hair over a pound per person, this is your tent. Big Agnes has long been a dominant player in the ultralight category with the single-door Fly Creek (we gave it an Editors’ Choice Award in 2010), and the Tiger Wall adds another entrance for only 4 ounces more. Our tester was initially skeptical of the Tiger Wall’s space—the 28-square-foot floor is tight—but a few nights in Colorado’s Sawatch Range won her over. “My 6’4” boyfriend had no issues ducking into either of the two huge doors, and the 39-inch peak height let him sit (almost) all the way up,” she says. Two 8-square-foot vestibules fit packs, boots, and extra clothes, with room for her to struggle into some pants in the morning. The Tiger Wall sets up fast thanks to a hubbed pole system (it’s all but freestanding; the corners at the foot need to be staked out).
You’ll want to treat the 15-denier nylon fabrics with care, but the Tiger Wall survived our initial forays just fine. After camping in the high desert near Fruita, Colorado, our tester said, “There was no place for a clear pitch, but this tent handled the rocks and sticks without any snags.”
“On a chilly night in the Sawatch, we awoke to frost on the outside of our tent but no significant moisture inside,” our tester says.
$400; 2 lbs. 3 oz. Buy Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 Now
My Trail UL 3
In the dollars-spent-to-ounces-saved competition, the UL 3 wins, hands down. It’s so light we carried it as a two-person shelter, but it’s still big enough for three (as long as no one uses a pad wider than 20 inches). And, it costs some 25 percent less than similar ultralights. Testers were impressed in moderate conditions, from downpours in the Washington Cascades to light snow in the Colorado Rockies. But there is a discount tradeoff: The structure doesn’t offer adequate support in high winds, and when we staked and guyed the UL 3 out in 35-mph winds on New Zealand’s Mt. Taranaki, its aluminum poles bent (they didn’t break, though).
The UL 3 breathes extremely well, with no interior moisture even when temps dropped to 20°F outside Aspen, Colorado. The one-pole setup is easy, but the interior walls sag unless they’re staked out perfectly, a bummer if the tent is filled to capacity. Livability is what you’d expect from a tent at this weight and price: Only true minimalists will like a single door at the head and an 8-square-foot vestibule for three people.
“With careful site selection, the 10-denier nylon fly and 20-denier nylon floor withstood a summer of backpacking around the Mountain West without suffering any damage,” our tester says.
$339; 3 lbs. Buy MyTrail UL3 Now
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 4
Set up enough lightweight group tents and you’ll find yourself asking the same question: How are four people supposed to fit in there? The answer is usually “uncomfortably.” But the Copper Spur HV UL 4 fits four, full stop. Even testers up to 6’2” had the space they needed on our trip. But that’s not enough to be a category-leading tent for five years.
We’ve been using the original since it came out—the backpacker’s take on the 100,000-mile test—and slept everywhere from forest to slickrock, meadows, swamps, and sand, and the ultralight floor is still intact and waterproof. In fact, with the exception of a few snags in the mesh and a tiny hole in the fly, this tent hasn’t required much beyond routine maintenance.
The pole structure is simple and expansive, and color coding on this year’s model takes the final bit of guesswork out of the pitch. Weatherproofing is superb: With the mostly mesh canopy, condensation never builds up, and the tent has proven its strength again and again against light to gusty winds, heavy rain, and the occasional snow storm. And if that wasn’t enough to make it the best in class, consider the dimensions: 57-square-foot floor, 50-inch head height, 14-square-foot vestibules, and it weighs only a few tent stakes over 5 pounds. That’s less than 1.5 pounds per person. Luxury rarely comes this light, so when it does, make your move.
$650; 5 lb. 3 oz. Buy Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 4 Now