9 Best Ultralight Tarps & Tents of 2019

A backpacking tent will be among the heaviest items you carry on wilderness adventures, so it’s a good place to cut down on weight. If you’re an ultralight backpacker, a long distance thru-hiker, or just someone that likes to keep weight to a minimum, an ultralight tent can be a great choice.

Ultralight tents do have some downsides as well though, and they tend to be more specialized than our favorite lightweight freestanding tents, so we generally don’t recommend them for casual backpackers. There are pros and cons with any gear choice, so make sure to read through our “critical tent considerations” section below before making a final decision. If your main goal is keeping weight to a minimum and you’re willing to accept a few tradeoffs, an ultralight tents can be an excellent choice.

CRITICAL TENT CONSIDERATIONS

PRICE – You shouldn’t have to spend a fortune to get a great backpacking tent, but ultralight tents do tend to be the most expensive options. If you backpack a lot, it may make sense to spend more on a quality product that will get many years of use.

WEIGHT – A few ounces here and there might not seem like a big deal, but keeping pack weight down is critical for enjoying backpacking trips. Lightweight tents make hiking more fun, and that’s what it’s all about. Your tent will be one of the four heaviest items you carry (shelter, backpack, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad), so it’s a great place to keep weight to a minimum.

PROTECTION – A backpacking tent that doesn’t protect against the elements is worse than worthless, it’s dangerous. So be careful about extreme budget tents you’ll find elsewhere. Every tent on this list will provide excellent storm protection to keep you safe, dry, and warm when properly used.

INTERIOR SPACE – Backpacking tents keep weight to a minimum by limiting interior space (and thus, use less material). Most two-person tents have room for two sleepers and a few stuff sacks, with backpacks and extra gear stored in the vestibules. If you want more interior space for camping comfort, you may want to bump up one size in your tent (for example, buy a 3-person tent to fit 2 hikers). Just remember, interior tent space is a tradeoff between comfort and weight. If you prefer hiking light and crushing miles, stick with a 2-person model for two hikers. If you’re willing to carry more weight for camping comfort, you may want to bump up one tent size.

CAPACITY – 1-Person tents are great for dedicated solo adventurers looking to hike fast and light. 2-Person tents tend to be the most popular, because they strike a good balance between weight and interior space, just don’t expect the interior to be palatial. 3 & 4-Person tents tend to get crowded and impractical, though they can be a good fit for 2 or 3 hikers wanting more interior space for gear storage and extended hangouts.

SEASON RATING – 3-season shelters are the most popular backpacking tents and the style we focus on in this guide. They’re built for spring, summer, and fall trips where you’ll need to keep bad weather out while promoting air circulation. 3-Season tents can usually handle a little snow, but they’re not made for heavy snow and winter conditions.

DESIGN – A single design flaw can easily ruin an otherwise solid backpacking tent. Great tents keep design elements simple and include multiple doors, adequate vestibule space, lots of headroom, air vents to reduce condensation, and interior pockets for gear storage.

SETUP – Freestanding tents are generally prefered because they’re easier to use and quicker to pitch. They come with a fixed pole system that can be set up almost anywhere, even on solid rock. Non-freestanding tents (like the ultralight tents listed below) use stakes, guylines, and trekking poles for pitching. They save weight by cutting out tent poles, but require more time and space to pitch, and will take more practice to master.

WALL CONSTRUCTION – Double-wall tents come with two separate parts – a mesh tent body and a rainfly. The mesh inner-tent acts as a barrier from any condensation that forms on the inside of the rainfly. Single-wall tents reduce weight by ditching the mesh inner-tent, but that leaves hikers vulnerable to interior condensation in wet and cold conditions. Rubbing up against a wet tent interior is the pits, so that’s why we mostly recommend double-wall tents, unless you generally backpack in dry climates.

DOORS & VESTIBULES – If you plan on sleeping two people in your tent, it’s more comfortable to have two doors and vestibules. Having separate entrances will ensure that you’re not climbing over a tentmate and two sets of gear every time you want to get in or out of your tent. That’s a huge benefit, and it’s why almost every tent on this list has two doors/vestibules.

DURABILITY – The main tradeoff with ultralight tents is that they’re built using thinner materials that tend to be less durable than heavy-duty shelters. That said, ultralight tents will last for thousands of miles if treated with a little care. It’s also important to remember that a sharp stick will go through just about any kind of tent fabric.

FOOTPRINT – Most tents don’t come with a footprint these days and many lightweight backpackers view them as unnecessary. The main benefit of a footprint is adding durability to the floor of your tent. A footprint will protect your tent floor from abrasion, so it will last longer and need fewer repairs. If you’re willing to carry some extra weight to extend the life of your tent, consider picking up a footprint.

BUYING ONLINE – Check the seller’s return policy before you buy, but you can almost always return an unused tent within a certain timeframe after purchasing. We recommend buying your top choice, testing it at home, and returning or exchanging if it doesn’t feel quite right. We’ve been buying lightweight tents online for years and We’ve yet to have a single problem.

TARPS

Tarps are great tools for lightweight backpackers. A skilled tarp user can save a lot of weight in their pack and still have a very flexible, comfortable shelter. Tarps are also a great way to create dry hangout space for your group during a wet trip.

Many backpackers pair their tarps with bivy sacks, bug bivys, or net tents to add weather and mosquito protection. Many tarp manufacturers build net tents that are designed specifically to fit their tarps. Choosing a tarp and net tent can maximize your shelters flexibility while still providing great rain and bug protection.

The tarps listed below are great choices for hikers that are willing to sacrifice a little comfort to travel fast and light. That said, the weight gap between tarps and ultralight tents has greatly reduced in the past couple of years.

TARPS WITH INNER NETS

These are non-freestanding tarps that come with inner nets. That means they can function like a double-wall tent, or you can leave the inner net at home to reduce weight. These tarps essentially function like non-freestanding double-wall tents, so you might want to compare their weights and costs to some of the selections on my Best Tents Page.

SINGLE-WALL TENTS

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