Camping Gear

Gear Review: The 5 Best Backpacking Tents

Posted On March 9, 2016 at 12:58 pm by / Comments Off on Gear Review: The 5 Best Backpacking Tents

Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL2 mtnGLO tent

Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL2 mtnGLO tent

By Michael Lanza

Looking back on many of the backpacking tents I’ve tested and reviewed at this blog, I realized this: They’re all weird. But I mean that in a good way. That is, none resemble the kind of tent most of us pitched in the backcountry even five or 10 years ago. The main reason is that the goal of making gear more lightweight isn’t “the new thing” anymore—it’s how everyone thinks, and it has transformed the world of backcountry gear, especially tents.

The other reason is that, in the very competitive marketplace of backpacking shelters, designers are innovating fast to find ways to distinguish their products from the constellation of choices out there. You’ll see that trend in each of the five singularly outstanding tents listed below.

I’ve picked out five favorite backpacking shelters I’ve tested and reviewed at The Big Outside. Each is different enough from the others to give you clear choices. The comparison chart offers a quick look at features that distinguish these tents from one another.

 

Model Price Weight Floor Area Peak Height Doors Features
Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL2 mtnGLO $350 3 lbs. 9 oz. 27 sq. ft. 40 ins. 2 LED lights; 2 vestibules; 88-inch length
Exped Mira II Hyperlite $379 2 lbs. 14 oz. 29 sq. ft. 43 ins. 2 2 vestibules; quick to pitch; pitches with poles but lightweight
MSR FlyLite $350 1 lb. 9 oz. 29 sq. ft. 44 ins. 1 Pitches with trekking poles; single-wall design; great space-to-weight ratio; good ventilation
Sierra Designs Tensegrity 2 FL $390 2 lbs. 10 oz. 29 sq. ft. 41 ins. 3 retractable awning/vestibule; pitches with trekking poles; single-wall design; 88-inch length
Sierra Designs Flash 3 $400 4 lbs. 15 oz. 41 sq. ft. 44 ins. 2 Cavernous interior; pitch in rain and keep inside dry; good ventilation

 

Click on the name or photo of each tent below to read its complete review at The Big Outside.

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Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL2 mtnGLO

Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL2 mtnGLO

Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL2 mtnGLO
$350, 3 lbs. 9 oz.

Introducing LED lights built into a tent’s seams was hands down the coolest innovation to emerge in tents this year. Big Agnes offers a line of mtnGLO tents, and the Rattlesnake SL2 strikes a nice balance between space and the convenience of two doors and vestibules while keeping the weight to three-and-a-half pounds. Without lights, the Rattlesnake SL2 is a smart choice; with the lights, it literally changes how we see the act of sleeping in the backcountry.

BUY IT NOW: You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase this at backcountry.com.

 

Exped Mira II Hyperlite

Exped Mira II Hyperlite

Exped Mira II Hyperlite
$379, 2 lbs. 14 oz.

The least “weird” tent on this list, the Mira II Hyperlite earns a spot here for a partly freestanding design that finds a sweet spot for weight and convenience: staying under three pounds without requiring the use of trekking poles (as is the case with two tents below), and while maintaining a two-door design that’s sturdy and easy and intuitive to pitch quickly. Plus, interior space is respectable for a shelter in this weight class.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to buy this product at backcountry.com.

 

MRS FlyLite

MRS FlyLite

MSR FlyLite
$350, 1 lb. 9 oz.

A dark horse pick for a favorite new tent, the FlyLite delivers an incredible space-to-weight ratio—big enough for two, light enough to use solo—while detouring from tradition with design sacrifices that seem like minor tradeoffs in light of the gains achieved. Pitching using two trekking poles, it ventilates well enough to avoid the bane of many single-wall shelters: condensation. If having a tent with traditional poles that’s freestanding isn’t important to you, and low weight is, it’s hard to find a better choice.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to buy this product at backcountry.com.

 

Sierra Designs Tensegrity 2 FL

Sierra Designs Tensegrity 2 FL

Sierra Designs Tensegrity 2 FL
$390, 2 lbs. 10 oz.

With its new Tensegrity line, SD threw out the playbook on backcountry tents and hewed to a focused goal: crafting a shelter that’s not only lighter, but more functional. Gone are poles, rainfly, traditional vestibules, and inward-sloping walls, replaced with trekking poles, a single-wall design, an awning for storing gear, and more headroom. On clear nights, you can roll up the awning and solid panels on the side doors for great ventilation and star viewing.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to buy this product at CampSaver.com.

 

Sierra Designs Flash 3

Sierra Designs Flash 3

Sierra Designs Flash 2 or 3
$400, 4 lbs. 15 oz. (Flash 3)

SD’s hybrid, part single- and part double-wall Flash 2 and 3 tents incorporate smart design elements, including a pole geometry that provides excellent headroom and floor space for the weight; integrating the interior canopy and rainfly so that you can pitch it in the rain without the inside getting wet; and two doors plus an all-mesh interior canopy that deliver excellent ventilation. At under five pounds, the Flash 3 is roomy for three people and cavernous (but light enough) for two people who need extra space.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to buy this product at backcountry.com.

See my “5 Tips For Buying a Backpacking Tent,” all of my reviews of backpacking tents and backpacking gear, and “My 10 Most-Read Gear Reviews,” “Best New Gear of the Year: My Top 10 Favorites,” “The Simple Equation of Ultralight Backpacking: Less Weight = More Fun,” “Buying Gear? Read This First,” “5 Tips For Spending Less on Hiking and Backpacking Gear,” and “Ask Me: How Do We Begin Lightening Up Our Backpacking Gear?

Exclusive for The Big Outside readers: Take 15% off any purchase at Outdoorplay.com using code Big15. Some restrictions apply.

NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on the Gear Reviews category at left or in the main menu.

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