A good tent is the most serious investment most hikers make. Unlike footwear, you won't be replacing them every year or two, and unlike a sleeping bag or a backpack, you'll be sharing them with friends. Luckily, you don't need to spend a lot to get a lot with these budget palaces.
Best All-Around: Sierra Designs Meteor 2
4.5/5: Spend a little more to get a lot more with the Meteor 2. It’s the priciest tent in the test, but it’s also spacious, livable, and protective—all for a reasonably low weight. To boot, it boasts double doors and two 9-square-foot vestibules. Our 6’6” and 6’2” testers found those features, plus the 30-square-foot floor and 41-inch peak height, more than adequate. “I often feel cramped in lightweight tents,” says the taller of the duo. “But I could fully stretch out with the 84-inch length.”
4.6/5: “We had 40-mph gusts and frog-drowning rain all night, but the only interior moisture I saw came from bullet-like drops that bounced off the ground and underneath the fly,” said one tester after a storm in Mississippi’s Buccaneer State Park. With all six guylines deployed, the Meteor maintained a stable pitch. Ding: The single roof vent can’t be adjusted from inside.
3.7/5: Four corner mesh pockets offer easy organization, but one California tester’s favorite feature was the roll-back fly (the only one in the test). “Staring at the Milky Way while safe in my sleeping bag—without worrying about scrambling to pitch the fly if a storm rolled in—was a highlight of the trip,” she says.
3.8/5: The 68-denier poly-taffeta floor and fly held up over 22 nights, four testers, and plenty of pitches on rocks and gravel. There were some kinks, though: The zippers snagged often, and the Meteor’s cheap aluminum stakes bent easily.
Specs: $250; 3 lbs. 15 oz.
*The Scale: 5.0 = Hall of Fame Gear; 1.0 = Save your $$
Most Liveable: Mountainsmith Morrison EVO 2
4.8/5: This tent is for hikers who can stand to sweat in the name of luxury: The Morrison is exceptionally heavy and exceptionally roomy, meaning our testers were willing to carry it, though mostly on short trips. The 36-square-foot floor is the largest in the test, as is the colossal, 45-inch peak height. “With a 93-inch-long floor, there was more than enough space to stretch out,” said our tester after a trip in New Mexico’s Santa Fe National Forest. Bonus: It’s rare to find double doors for $200, and these unzip nearly all the way around.
3.0/5: The center crossbow slides through a sleeve rather than clips, creating a taut pitch that shed water easily. But ventilation was a problem: “Barely half of the tent body is mesh, so it got stuffy inside, especially with the fly on,” said one Colorado tester after a 60°F evening in Rocky Mountain National Park. Although testers never saw temps lower than 40°F, condensation was an issue.
4.0/5: “I’m a type-A person, so this organization system is for me,” says one of our New Mexico testers. The tent has six side pockets and a gear loft with two additional pockets, plus a slot for a lantern hook.
4.0/5: The tent body and fly are a sturdy, 68-denier polyester, standard for the category. The reduced-mesh design also increases durability, but adds weight.
Specs: $200; 5 lbs. 9 oz.
Days on Trail: 128
Highest Camp: 10,276 ft., Cameron Pass, CO
Highest Wind Speed: 40 mph, Buccaneer State Park, MS
Coldest Temp: 22° F, Adirondacks, NY
Best Value: Eureka! Suma 2
3.7/5: The Suma’s 31-square-foot floor is average, but it’s a fair trade for the basement price and weight of under 2 pounds per person. However, sloped ceilings put the squeeze on campers 5’7” and taller, despite a 42-inch peak height. “I had to lean into my partner’s personal space to get changed,” one New Mexico tester says. There’s only one door, but a 10-square-foot vestibule means you don’t have to climb over your gear when you enter and exit.
3.9/5: Condensation was nil, even during a 25°F evening in New Mexico’s San Antonio National Forest. Credit the single roof vent and partial mesh walls (full mesh on the door side) for the ample airflow. Ding: The drip line allows a little moisture inside when the fly is open.
3.5/5: The no-frills price does not mean no frills. The Suma has three storage pockets and a large gear loft. “We stashed a couple pairs of pants, a T-shirt, two headlamps, a pair of glasses, a camera, and some snacks in the loft. Moving the clutter up high made the tent feel more spacious,” one tester says.
4.0/5: This tent bounced across four states, and survived looking no worse for the wear. “The 68-denier polyester floor held up well when we pitched it directly on sandstone and gravel,” said one tester after a night in Arizona’s Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness.
Specs: $140; 3 lbs. 13 oz.
“It’s not often you get to test a tent’s flight characteristics, but that’s exactly what I did with the Sierra Designs Meteor 2. While camping in Death Valley, my partner and I took a quick break between putting up the tent and staking it out. One strong gust later, and the tent went flying 200 feet away. No damage was done, but my ego was dented, especially since I had to enlist a fellow camper to help me chase the rogue tent down.”
Lightest: Big Agnes C-Bar 2
2.1/5: With a tent this light and affordable, something has to give. In this case, it’s living space: The 28-square-foot floor and 7-square-foot single vestibule are small for the category. “My wife and I had to overlap our standard sleeping pads at the foot to make them lay flat,” said one tester after a trip in the Adirondacks. On paper, the 41-inch peak height should be plenty, but our 6’ testers bumped their heads against the sloped ceiling. At least a single door at the head means campers don’t have to climb over each other.
4.5/5: “In a 48-hour period, we saw high winds, sleet, rain, graupel, and even a bit of frost, but the tent never faltered thanks to its low profile and sturdy pole placement,” says one New York tester. Adequate ventilation requires a taut pitch: “There’s only one vent, so we had to stake the fly out well to prevent stuffiness,” our tester says.
3.3/5: Three interior mesh pockets at the corners reduce clutter. Additional loops are available to hang a gear loft, but it’s sold separately ($22). After a late arrival to their campsite by Lake Colden, our testers deemed the hubbed pole system idiot-proof, even after dark.
4.3/5: An entire summer in the rooty-and-rocky Adirondacks did no damage to the C-Bar’s 68-denier fly and floor. “We slept in a scree field for two nights, but the tent took it like a champ,” one tester reports.
$200; 3 lbs. 9 oz.
Best Pitch: Slumberjack Nightfall 2
3.8/5: The 31-square-foot Nightfall is roomier than its dimensions suggest. “The near-vertical walls made me feel like the 40-inch peak height is undersold,” said one Colorado tester after three nights in Mayflower Gulch. Like the Big Agnes, the single door is at the head, and a 9-square-foot vestibule fits two packs. Caveat: It’s heavy for a single-door tent. However, the vestibule door converts to an awning when staked out with trekking poles or sticks.
3.1/5: We didn’t face major weather with the Nightfall, but the three-pole design, four guyout points, and tension ribbon underneath the door look like they’ll hold fast in strong wind. Ding: Zero external vents mean notable condensation.
4.2/5: The highlight of this tent is the external pitch, which means the poles are on the outside of the fly: “The inside stayed dry even when I set it up during a downpour in the Gore Range,” reports our Colorado tester. Bonus: The tent body easily disconnects for a fly-only pitch.
3.0/5: The 68-denier polyester floor and fly performed fine, but we had problems with the off-brand aluminum poles. After 19 outings, they were bent (cause unknown), but still functional.
$140; 5 lbs. 2 oz.
Best Space-to-Price: Cabela’s Orion 2
3.0/5: This tent has a split personality. A large, 35-square-foot floor and 42-inch peak height make it plenty roomy. “We rode out a storm while playing cards, and the two of us—plus our dog—had enough space that we didn’t go stir crazy,” said one tester after a nasty bout of weather near Silverton, Colorado. But that’s the inside. A single side door and one of the tiniest vestibules we tested (7.6 square feet) had our testers struggling to exit the tent while climbing over their gear.
4.4/5: Our testers easily rode out a storm on Colorado’s 10,276-foot Cameron Pass. “The sloping walls and crossed pole structure made for a sturdy pitch in high winds, and the tent never sagged even though we got pelted with 2 inches of hail,” one says. Thanks to two fly vents and a mesh canopy, the Orion ventilates well: There was only minor condensation after a snowy night with two people and a dog jammed inside.
3.0/5: You get two small storage pockets (one on each side) and an average gear loft, but that’s it. Minimalist design is the tradeoff at this rock-bottom price.
2.9/5: The Orion’s 40-denier no-see-um mesh began to pill after just nine nights of camping. “The pilling diminished the mesh’s see-through quality, which is a bummer when it makes up so much of the tent body,” reports our Colorado team.
$120; 5 lbs. 8 oz.
How to Repair Tent Poles
Don’t let a broken tent pole ruin your trip. First, you’ll need a pole repair sleeve (probably included, but sold at most outdoor gear shops for around $5). Use pliers to remove the metal shreds on the raw edges, and squeeze the flattened ends of the pole until they fit into the sleeve. Slide the sleeve over the broken section, keeping it centered over the break, and then duct tape it in place.