Ahhhh! That’s the sound of the body in relief after a backpacker makes the switch from that heavy, bulky camping tent to a more lightweight, shoulder friendly, backpacking equipment. Ultralight backpacking tents are a necessity for adventurers of any level. Not only do ultralight tents reduce the load on a backpacker’s body but it also conserves space inside his/her backpack. When choosing an ultralight backpacking tent there are a few things that the backpacker should keep in mind before purchasing for their next adventure.
Establish a Budget
Ultralight backpacking tents will vary in price range depending on space capacity, quality of material, weight, and design. Also, 4-season backpacking tents may cost more than a backpacking tent designed for the spring, summer and fall. More of that down below. A backpacker’s budget should be decided on whether backpacking is something they do on a seldom basis or on the regular. Aim for a lower price range if backpacking is something that is done 1 to 2 times a year. Establish a higher end budget for an ultralight tent if backpacking is something done more frequently.
The Weight of the Tent
A backpacker looking to invest in an ultralight tent will likely be keen on acquiring…well, you guessed it…a tent that is ultralight. These tents range in weight anywhere from a minimum trail weight of 1 pound to a maximum of 7 to 8 pounds, depending on the size or the amount of people the tent sleeps. Tents that are on the heavier side of the scale are not typically considered to have the status of “ultralight”. Take note that some tent descriptions lists the minimum weight but excludes the weight of the poles and footprint. Backpacking in pairs or in groups allows for tent gear to be split up which ultimately reduces load on the any given backpacker. One backpacker could take the tent and fly portion while the other carries the pole bag and footprint. Regardless, an ultralight tent in the 3 to 5 pound range (including poles and footprint) is a fraction of the weight of most traditional camping tents and can easily be carried by a solo backpacker.
Tent Space and Design
Are you solo-backpacker or do you prefer trekking with a companion/group? Backpacking tents come in all different shapes and sizes depending on the amount of people occupying it. A solo backpacker will be likely interested in a 1-person tent but may also opt for a 2-person tent for that desired additional space. Backpackers who travel together in pairs or in groups and choose to sleep all in one will be selecting a 3-person or 4-person tent depending on the size of the group. Remember, tent weight will increase the load the more hefty the tent size becomes due to added materials.
The fly of the tent (the cover or “roof” of the tent) will preferably include vestibules on the front or sides of the tent. Vestibules act as an additional storage room outside of the tent that allow backpackers to store gear and any other equipment without taking up interior space.
The structure of a backpacking tent should be one that is relatively simple to construct and take down when continuing on adventure. Free-standing tents with near-vertical walls are typically the most desired. These type of tents allow for backpackers to pitch their tents on just about any sort of terrain because they do not have to be staked to the ground. A free-standing tent is not truly free-standing if the tent fly needs to be staked. Keep this in mind. Free-standing tents provide the ease of mind even in the toughest of terrains.
Tents that are designed with near-vertical walls or a shape that allows for proper run-off from Earth’s elements will be a smart choice when the time comes to purchase. Although ultralight, most backpacking tents in today’s market provide stable designs and structures that will protect backpackers from all sorts of harsh weather. Make sure to look into backpacking tents that provide proper ventilation, as well. Beware that condensation build-up (i.e, wetness inside of the tent) may occur with tents that do not provide proper ventilation.
Tent Protection, Durability, and the Footprint
Protection and durability should be another focused factor when determining which backpacking tent to choose. In ultralight tents, durability and protection can be sacrificed due to the light materials used in the fabric of the tent. However, the ultralight weight of these backpacking tents compensates for the deficiency in durability and protection. Heavier tents will dictate the durability of the tent itself. The materials used in the design of heavier tents will likely be more durable than ultralight tents. Don’t let that persuade you into choosing a heavier option though. Ultralight tents do a fantastic job protecting backpackers from all elements.
If there is any worry of having the possibility of puncturing the material of an ultralight tent than it is suggested to resort to a heavier tent option. Sacrifice weight for durability. If lightening the load is more desired than an ultralight backpacking tent is right for you.
Protect the bottom of your backpacking tent by purchasing an additional footprint. Often times, the footprint is included with the set-up (i.e., the MSR Elixir 2 comes with a footprint). The footprint helps protect the bottom of the tent by providing an additional layer between the floor and the ground. The footprint also acts as an insulator layer that raises you up off the ground slightly, reducing heat loss. This will ultimately aid in the longevity or lifespan of your tent!
4-Seasoned vs. 3-Seasoned Tents
Is backpacking in a winter climate or a geographical area of high winds on the list of future treks? If so, purchasing a 4-season backpacking tent may be a step in the right direction. A 4-seasoned tent is designed to withstand extreme types of weather, such as high forceful winds and can endure heavier amounts of precipitation, such as snow, ice, freezing rain, and hail. 4-season tents are normally on the heavier side but provide more durability compared to a 3-season tent. The thicker pole systems in 4-season tents provide it with more grit and reliability. 4-season tents usually have some sort of ventilation system embedded within its design for use in the warmer seasons but does not have as much ventilation as a 3-season tent. Condensation is not normally an issue during the colder months.
Planning on backpacking during the warmer seasons of spring, summer and fall? If you answered yes, acquiring a 3-season tent is a great choice. As mentioned above in more detail, 3-season tents provide lighter options and are designed to withstand moderate elements and help ventilate possible condensation build-up.
All in all, you cannot go wrong in your final decision. It all depends on when and/or where you plan on backpacking!
ODR Backpacking’s Ultralight Backpacking Tent Suggestions
1. Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2: 1.42 in weight, the Copper Spur HV UL2 is one of the lightest 2-person backpacking tents on the market. This easy to set-up design includes 2 doors and 2 vestibules which provides its owner a spacious and comfortable backpacking experience. This tent retails for $598.95 CAD but it truly one of the lightest pieces of equipment out there. Footprint is sold separately.
2. NEMO Dagger 2P: Another ultralight tent on this list, the 1.43kg Dagger 2P, 3-season tent is reliable and dependable for any serious backpacker. The design on the Dagger 2P provides increased ventilation and its frame structure provides the backpacker with more headroom and interior space overall. The Dagger 2P retails for $537.99 CAD. Footprint is sold separately.
3. MSR Hubba Hubba NX: This 1.7kg, 3-season, free-standing backpacking tent is a dependable piece of equipment for any serious backpacker. The 2019 version retails for $519.99 CAD. Footprint is sold separately.
4. MSR Elixir 2: This free-standing, 2.77kg tent may be heavier than its fellow brotherly counterpart but its build is constructed with more durable materials. The MSR Elixir 2 retails for a budget friendly price of $319.99 CAD. Footprint is included within that price.
It’s Time to Go Ultralight!
All these factors stated throughout this article will hopefully be considered by any backpacker looking to make the leap of purchasing an ultralight tent. It truly does make all the difference in the world. Let’s bring an end to the days of lugging around that 10+ pound camping tent from here on out. All the best on your hunt to find the right backpacking tent for you!