Looking for the best backpacking, ultralight backpacking, camping or stargazing tent for your next adventure? You’ve come to the right place. The Active Junky team put backpacking and car camping tents through the ringer in Utah and Colorado. Models included well-known and established backcountry brands, such as MSR and Big Agnes tents, along with Cabela's and Coleman tents, both new and time-tested models.
Over several weeks of sustained tent testing and additional one-off testing, Active Junky pitched tents both in the desert and mountains. We also car camped, providing opportunity to compare and evaluated tents side-by-side. Use our experience and this Buyer's Guide to help lead you to purchasing the best camping tent for your adventures and activities, as well as your budget. And don’t forget to sign up for Active Junky for exclusive deals and cashback on your gear purchases.
Tent Brands Reviewed
- Big Agnes
- Mountain Hardwear
- My Trail Co
- The North Face
Where to Start?
3 Questions to Consider to Choose the Best Tent
Even if you’ve decided on a specific brand and model, selecting a tent can be a bit tricky. With options ranging from cheap car camping castles that fit a family of eight to ultralight, 1-person tents (costing more than some used cars), getting lost in the gear vortex is easy. Here are a few key questions to ask yourself to narrow down your search:
1. How many people will be using the tent?
How many people are going on the outing? Your whole family? A scouting group? You plus one trusty partner? Or are you rolling solo? A quick way to narrow your tent options is to know how many people you need it to fit. Keep in mind, some backpacking tents set out to minimize weight, so some 2-person tent models will be less roomy to cut down on weight and bulk.
Pro tip: Always compare the square footage and floor plans of tents. As our 6’5” gear testers noted, some tents are more tuned to the needs of the big, tall and broad than others. Other models work best as family tents where more and bulkier gear is stored inside.
2. Do you go car camping or backpacking more frequently?
Do you want a lightweight backpacking tent that will cut weight from your pack? Or will you always be car camping so weight isn’t as important as comfort and livability? Maybe some blend of the two? A 4-person tent might work for both if the components are light enough and can be shared among several backpackers when taken on the trail.
3. How much do you want to spend?
This might be the most important question. Gear that lasts requires an investment. What’s the point in having a premium setup if you can’t afford to hit the road and actually use it? Car camping tents are noticeably cheaper (like the Mountainsmith Genesee and the Slumberjack Daybreak) while ultralight backpacking tents (Mountain Hardwear Ghost UL 2 and MSR FreeLite 2) are pricier.
Come to the table with a budget in mind and keep your eyes on Active Junky’s top value picks, like the Cabela's Orion 2-Person in the Backpacking Tents category and Mountainsmith Genesee 4-person tent in the Car Camping category. With well-earned positive reputations, all of Active Junky’s choices offer solid warranties from established outdoor brands.
How We Selected the Top Tents to Review
Obviously, we couldn’t bring every tent on the market along for a two-week testing trip. Our tester vehicles were stuffed to the brim, almost dangerously so, with gear threatening to explode windows and suffocate unfortunate souls stuck in the back seat. That said, we worked hard to include a sampling of tents from the best brands in the business at a range of price points.
We focused primarily on 2-person backpacking tents and 4-person car camping tents, as these are among the most frequently purchased categories, though we included one 6-person and one 3-person if those sizes better fit your needs. That said, if you’re looking for a slight variation to what’s shown here (e.g., a 1-person backpacking tent or a 3-person car camping tent), this guide helps as brands often sell several configurations of the same tent model.
Editor's Picks for Best Tents
Best Ultralight 2-Door Backpacking Tent: Big Agnes TigerWall UL2
Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL 2 $343.96 - $379.96 Our team’s favorite lightweight tent is the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2. It’s incredibly light, has multiple pitch options, a sweet mesh body, and a reliable rain fly. From warm nights to frigid, freezing epics, this lightweight 3-season option is an excellent call.
Most Liveable, Lightweight Backpacking Tent: Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 2
Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 $310.47 - $386.96 While not the lightest tent tested, the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 2 was picked as the best 2-person backpacking tent thanks to its relatively enormous livable space, generous vestibules, mtnGLO lighting technology, reliable design and ease of use.
Best Ski Touring Tent: MSR Access 2
MSR Access 2 $551.96 - $563.96 The MSR Access 2 stands out as a 4-season winter tent that’s light enough to backpack with on cold fall days, and then come those long-awaited storms, it’s ready for human-powered missions into the mountains.
Best 4-Person Backpacking Tent: MSR Papa Hubba NX
MSR Papa Hubba NX $515.96 - $563.96 MSR Papa Hubba NX is a 4-person tent that’s comfortable when car-camping, yet it shines in a backpacking scenario when broken down into multiple packs. Despite being lightweight, the construction of the tent is burly and it does extremely well in the wind.
Best Single-Door 2-Person Backpacking Tent: Mountain Hardwear Ghost UL 2
Mountain Hardwear Ghost UL2 $246.24 - $305.65 The lightest tent tested was the Mountain Hardwear Ghost UL 2, which is only a hop, skip, a few ounces and a tent pole away from a bivy sack. Though the single door design isn’t ideal for some duos, our testers loved the tiny packable size and 2 lb. 9 oz. trail weight. If you occasionally camp by yourself as well, the Ghost is a workable 1-person tent. When camping alone in the Ghost, the 27 square foot floor plan goes from cramped to kingly.
Best Car Camping Tents
The North Face North Star 4, while among the most expensive 4-person car camping tents tested, was the burliest, most weatherproof tent of the bunch: it’s a perfect basecamp-style geodesic dome
The Mountainsmith Genesee earned praise from testers as it was both the easiest to set up and offered the best value.
- The Slumberjack Daybreak, though bulky and heavy, is a top choice for families looking to spend time outside, as the full mesh construction is perfect for stargazing.
Each tent was evaluated in several categories. These crucial attributes are as follows:
Performance: How well does the tent accomplish its intended mission? This encompasses everything from livability to waterproofness.
Intuitive: How easy is this tent to set up? Tents shouldn’t require 30-page user manuals but be easy to pitch the first time and easier every subsequent time.
Weight: How light is this tent? Weight compared to the other tents in the category?
Durability: Does the fabric tear? Do the poles bend? Durability is a key factor as the tent you purchase should last for years even in rough weather.
Versatility: Can this tent handle multiple scenarios? Does it have fast pitch options? Is it a backpacking tent that’s comfortable when car camping? A versatile tent gets points for eliminating the need to buy an additional tent.
Innovation: Does the tent push the boundaries of design? Are the construction and tech unique?
2-Person Backpacking Tents Review
Best 2-Person Backpacking Tent: Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL 2
Last time the Active Junky team did a full-blown comparative backpacking tent review, Big Agnes’ Copper Spur UL2 was our top pick based on its perfect balance between liveability and packability. The Tiger Wall UL2 boasts significant weight-savings over the previous winner, although this does come at a tiny cost to liveability. Unlike the Copper Spur UL2, the Tiger Wall UL2 has a more directional single-pole design—rather than having the pole have six attachment points, there are only five. By architecting the Tiger Wall to have a more angular and defined foot of the tent, Big Agnes shaved weight while still maintaining comfortable liveability in the more open head of the tent. It’s also lighter than the MSR Free Lite 2, our previous favorite tent in the ultralight category. The lightweight Tiger Wall 2 is almost negligible when packed—it has a packed weight of 2 lb 8 oz, a trail weight of 2lb 3 oz, and a 1lb 11 oz fast fly weight—but its still comfortable for two backpackers, and as such earned our team’s vote as the “Best 2-person Backpacking Tent” for 2018.
Pros: Setup is a breeze—even in windy weather. The single-piece pole connects in seconds, and it’s easy to figure out where the pole tips match up to the tent body since one side of the pole has two prongs and the other only has one. On clear, moonless nights in the Utah backcountry, testers loved setting up the Tiger Wall UL2 without a rainfly—the top mesh is see-through and you can scope the constellations from the comfort of your sleeping bag. Should weather roll in, the silicone-treated nylon rip-stop fly is easy to set up and the 1200mm waterproof polyurethane coating is reliable in downpours. Best of all, the fly provides two generous, well-protected vestibules for gear, pack, and boot storage.
Also, rather than relying on a single curved zipper to sweep (and snag) all the way around the door, Big Agnes equipped the Tiger Wall UL2 with dual zippers: one operates on the straight x-axis, the other on the curved y-axis, which makes for stress-free pitch-black trips to a pee tree. The mesh tent body is breathable, while the floor is made of the same durable material as the fly—even without a footprint, testers didn’t note wear and tear after weeks of use.
Cons: At 39-inches high, the headspace is decent at the top half of the tent, but the bottom is tighter as it juts down at a diagonal angle. Folks over 6’2” can expect to have brush-ins with the lower mesh—not a problem in good weather, but definitely a bummer if there’s condensation or moisture on the rain fly. Also, the gap between tent and rain fly could be larger. Lastly, Big Agnes added headphone-compatible pockets to the interior of the tent: we’re not usually bumping beats in the backcountry, so this seemed overkill, and we’d have rather seen larger pockets for storage, especially since when you use the tent with two full-grown adults, space can be cramped.
Favorite Feature: The dual-zip tent doors. They open smoothly and can be operated one-handed.
Tester Comments: “Big Agnes continues backpacking tent dominance with the Tiger Wall UL2. There are weight weenies who will prefer a piece of tinfoil tied to a tree with a string, but for your everyday backpacker who wants the best lightweight freestanding tent available, the Tiger Wall UL2’s weight, large vestibules, easy setup, and inclement weather performance make it an ideal option.”
Key Attribute: Weight
Bottom Line: A lightweight backpacking tent that balances an unbelievable weight with decent liveability.
Best for: 2-person backpacking across 3 seasons
Best Ski Touring Tent: MSR Access 2
Field Notes: Tested on an extensive splitboarding trip around the Rockies, the Access 2 earned a high score from our test team as well as the accolade “Best 2-Person Ski Touring Tent.” That said, camping solo in the Access 2 is definitely preferable for larger skiers and splitboarders; with two adults and winter gear, the Access 2 can be cramped.
If camping with a partner, however, and you divide the Access 2 up into your packs, each person is looking at approximately 2 lbs extra weight. That’s nothing on the skintrack, especially when compared to your average winter camping tent in this price range. The Access is also burly enough for stormy conditions, and spacious enough to sleep comfortably (so long as you stash gear in the vestibule and you’re both under 6’ tall), making it ideal for multi-day backcountry skiing missions.
Pros: The Access 2 is heavier than ultralight 3-season tents, but only by a pound or two; the fact that this 4-season, 2-wall tent comes in at 4 lbs and 1 oz is nothing short of mindblowing. Not only is the tent lightweight, but it’s also warm—an essential element when searching for a winter-ready tent. The design itself is minimalist: there are no extra vents, pockets, or zippers—every aspect of the Access is engineered to be small without sacrificing strength or function. A car camper might crave more internal pockets, but one tester found the two inner pockets sufficient for headlamp and a book when winter camping.
He also noted that the Access 2’s pole setup and overall architecture makes it strong and steadfast in storms. “It held up perfectly in a windstorm that rattled me all night and strew trees all over the road,” he said. The pole-to-tent attachment system is easy to setup with gloves on, and the attachment points are super secure. He also noted that the tent’s stuff sack is similarly simple to pack with gloves on, and there’s room to spare in order to include a footprint.
The vestibules are the crown jewels of this tent: they are roomy enough for boots, pack, Jetboil, and french press, according to our splitboarding tester. The diagonal zippers passed his unofficial “one-handed-I-have-to-go-pee-and-it’s-dark-and-freezing-outside” test.
Cons: While the Access 2 has adjustable guy lines, they’re a little short for deadman snow anchors. Size of the Access 2 is the main concern, especially if you’re looking to use this tent with two large males. If you’re over 6’0”, the sharp angles at the head and foot of the tent are likely to see fabric come into contact with your sleeping bag—a potential deal breaker if there’s condensation, which can definitely happen with two campers sleeping in the Access.
Favorite Feature: The intended purpose of this tent. The lightweight Access isn’t necessarily our first choice for extended winter camping missions, but the weight makes it extremely attractive for human-powered trips.
Tester Comments: “Even in a howling windstorm, the structure resisted drafts. When I overdressed and woke up sweaty on a different night, the walls had breathed out the moisture, with no condensation dropping on my face.”
Key Attribute: Innovation
Bottom Line: For ski touring, you want a tent that won’t break your back on the approach, and will provide ample shelter when you hunker down at basecamp. The Access 2 meets both of these requirements.
Best For: Bringing a lightweight 4-season tent backpacking in cold weather; ski touring and splitboarding
The North Face Fusion 2
The North Face Fusion 2 was a close second behind the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 in our test. It’s heavier (2 lb 13 oz trail weight compared to 2 lb 3 oz of the Tiger Wall UL2), $30 more expensive, has smaller vestibules, and an inch less headroom. On the other hand, the Fusion 2 has two pole attachment points at the base of the tent, making it easier to get more room at the base of the tent, though it’s not spacious at the base either (few tents in this weight class are—those looking for a spacious yet still lightweight tent, we recommend the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2).
An important distinction: the Fusion 2 includes a footprint and the Tiger Wall UL2 does not, and the Fusion 2 ends up being cheaper if you do end up buying a footprint for the Big Agnes model. All in all, the Fusion 2 is very comparable to our winner, and anyone who would be happy with the Big Agnes would be stoked on this TNF model as well—mainly it will come down to a matter of brand preference.
Pros: The tent packs down well (6” x 19”), and whether testers shoved it in their packs or strapped it to the bottom of their backpacks with compression straps, it wasn’t too bulky. It’s a lightweight and compact purpose-built, 3-season tent with 2-doors—essentially The North Face’s best rendition on a design that every tent manufacturer wants to nail but few do.
Testers agreed that the Fusion 2 is right on the money in terms of performance. Setup is quick and easy. The pole sections are two colors—orange and gray—to help identify which prongs go where. Also, our favorite aspect of this tent is that it includes a footprint, so while the price is steep, there are no hidden costs down the line.
Cons: Like many tents in this lightweight category, the Fusion 2 has a sharp angle at the feet which makes storing anything at the bottom of the tent somewhat inconvenient. This is made more pronounced in the Fusion 2 by the 10” taper from head to foot of the tent. Also, testers noted that the zippers were a bit dainty, as was the nylon floor, which necessitates the use of the footprint if the ground is sharp or uneven (i.e. if you are camping outside of your living room). Superlight tech only gets you so far if the durability is suspect, so more often than not, we’d use a footprint with this model.
Favorite Feature: The mesh tent body. Not only is it perfect for checking out the stars, but the faded gray to yellow looks awesome—it’s a unique take on tent design and makes the Fusion 2 both easy to spot from afar and extra photogenic!”
Key Attribute: Versatility
Bottom Line: Easy setup, classic TNF quality, and a sleek design—in our opinion, this is one of the best 2-person tents The North Face has ever released.
Tester Comments: “Adds virtually no weight to your trip. Well-designed and versatile. Compact, lightweight, easy set-up, what more can you ask for!?”
Best for: 2-person backpacking across 3-seasons, backpacking on rough, rocky terrain thanks to the included footprint.
4-Person Car Camping and Backpacking Tents
Best Tent for Stargazing: Slumberjack Daybreak 4
The most affordable 4-person tent in this guide, the Slumberjack Daybreak 4-person tent is a smart choice for families camping on a budget. The single-door design, heavy materials, and lack of bells and whistles help keep the price down, but testers absolutely loved the full mesh body of the tent when set up without the rainfly, earning the Slumberjack Daybreak the playful accolade, “Best 4-Person Tent for Stargazing.”
Pros: Price is the most magnetic factor of the Slumberjack—the Daybreak won’t break the bank. Slumberjack specializes in bringing outdoor gear like sleeping bags, packs, and even camp furniture to the everyday outdoor enthusiasts—folks who can’t justify spending $400 for a featherweight tent—and in that sense, the Daybreak is a smart buy.
The multi-diameter fiberglass poles can take a bit of muscling to line up into place, but after that, setup is easy and the build itself is sturdy and secure. The Slumberjack’s rain fly is 66 D polyester 1200mm—waterproof and sure to keep you dry in the rain. Testers were stoked that the door is designed to be propped up into an awning with the use of trekking poles.
Cons: Single-door designs can be pretty annoying when you have four people sharing a tent. Also, a single vestibule, unless enormous, is insufficient. The tent is heavy—unsurprising given the price and the purpose. The poles are long and hefty; they could easily be considered jousting lances. Lastly, testers were concerned with floor durability, and recommended the use of a footprint.
Favorite Feature: Testers were fans of the full mesh body—it made for excellent stargazing while car camping in the Utah desert—and this would be an excellent choice for anyone who camps exclusively in warm weather when bugs are a bigger concern than the weather.
Tester Comments: “The full mesh design really helps take the focus away from the tent, and lets you focus on appreciating where you are. There is no better way to fall asleep; getting to fully take in the night sky without the worry of a mosquito in your ear or a spider in your sleeping bag.”
“Definitely versatile, straightforward, and well-designed. The interior space allows for easy movement and access to all corners of the tent. The rainfly offers a decent vestibule with access zippers on either side, convenient for keeping gear out of the elements.”
Key Attribute: Affordability
Bottom Line: A cheap and almost industrial design makes this Slumberjack a fine choice for casual car campers who want to fall asleep to the twinkling of constellations.
Best for: Car camping on a budget, especially in warm weather.
Best Basecamp Tent: The North Face North Star 4-Person
The North Face has been manufacturing geodesic North Star dome tents for nearly 40 years. In 1979, the design was a revelation, and they’ve since become go-to basecamp tents thanks to their maximization of liveable space and ability to withstand high winds. The updated North Star 4-person makes use of durable materials: bombproof 150D polyester flooring, a 75D polyester ripstop fly with a 1500 mm PU coating, and burly aluminum poles. Use it as a comfortable basecamp, in any season, any weather.
While we tested the tent in the desert of Utah and the snowfields of Colorado, our dream trip in this thing would be a bushplane flight into some faraway glacier to set up a camp, and then ski lines in the backyard for a week straight. We’ll keep you posted as we try to make that happen in the not-so-distant future...
Pros: There’s a reason the North Star is one of the longest-running tent models in existence. A great idea—updated with high-quality materials and tech—is destined to stick around. Shorter testers loved the ability to stand up in the tent: this thing tops out at 68”. Despite that height, it’s not top-heavy: the three main aluminum poles give the tent a solid curvature, while the additional lateral poles buttress the sidewalls.
Setup can be tricky without instructions for the first time, but just pay attention to the color-coded sections and you’ll be fine: golden poles go through golden fabric openings, etc. Also, another cool bonus is that if you’re in a pinch, you can set the tent up with only three poles, hunker down to get out of the rain, and add the rest later (assuming it’s not too windy to do so).
The single vestibule is 20 square feet, the size of a small tent—perfect for storing gear or cooking out of the weather. Our testers’ favorite feature was the ventilation system: between the doors and the triangular windows that wrap around the dome, the tent has an excellent cross-breeze, and could likely be used as a cooking tent for a smaller 2- or 3-person expedition, though we didn’t test it as such.
Cons: This tent is enormous, which, again, is to be expected given the fact that you’re lugging around the equivalent of a small cabin in a duffle bag. Still, at 13 lbs and 12 oz, you might want to rethink carrying this even a quarter mile to a campsite. For sled-, heli-, or plane-accessed backcountry basecamps, though, this mobile dojo is a dream come true.
Favorite Feature: The vents are accessible from both inside and outside of the tent. Should snow block the vents, you’re able to open the vents from the interior of the tent and knock the snow off in the middle of the night if you don’t fancy a 0-degree shovel session.
Tester Comments: “We talk about liveability with tent reviews—how comfortable you would be in that tent for an extended period of time. This is the only tent in this buyer’s guide that I’d actually live in. Truth be told, you could probably rent this thing out on Airbnb!”
Key Attribute: Performance
Bottom Line: The North Face’s classic geodesic basecamp, updated with modern tech.
Best for: winter camping, 3- or 4-season car camping use, smaller expedition-style basecamps
MSR Papa Hubba NX
The big daddy version of MSR’s award-winning Hubba line of lightweight, freestanding backpacking tents, the Papa Hubba NX is a 4-person backcountry B&B that’s spacious, luxurious, and light enough to bring on extended forays into the forest. The Hubba Hubba line has fast and light pitch options, so you can shave weight down to 5 lbs if pitching the fly with the footprint. Packed weight is 6 lbs 8 oz. Either way, split between four backpackers, the divided weight is less than most ultralight 2-person tents.
Pros: Setup is straightforward: attach the red poles to the red clips, and the gray poles to the gray clips, and boom—your backcountry shelter is freestanding and ready to be staked down with MSR’s lightweight, bright red (hard but not impossible to lose) stakes. One person setup isn’t difficult, and with two people it’s a piece of cake. Setup of the rainfly is easy as well, and once positioned and made taut with either stakes or tied guy lines, the Papa Hubba becomes a veritable weatherproof fortress.
The 3 DAC Featherlite poles, especially the twin buttressing gray poles that run perpendicularly to the doors, give the Papa Hubba NX a sleek yet sturdy curvature that does well in high-winds. Interior peak height is 44 inches—purposefully comfortable without being cavernous. Floor area comes in at 53 square feet: it’s going to be a little tight with 4 full-grown adults, but definitely doable, especially when considering the spacious vestibules. For three backpackers and a dog, for instance, the tent is perfect: one person takes the tent body and foot print, one person takes the poles, and one person takes the rainfly. For two campers and a dog or two, this tent is palatial.
Testers suggested the lightweight tent for both backpacking and car camping: unlike car camping tents that you’d never take on a backpacking trip, this MSR 4-person tent can handle double duty.
Cons: The tent doesn’t come with a footprint (pretty standard), and you’re going to want to get one. The 30d nylon floor might not last long without one if you are camping with four adultes (or especially three adults and a pooch) on rocky terrain. Also, and this is a small quibble, but we’re fans of how some of MSR’s other tents (like the Freelite) have full mesh wraps on the tent roof. The Papa Hubba NX has a light nylon ceiling, but realistically, taking into account the gaps on the curved walls above the doors, you’d want a rainfly in any precipitation event anyways, so why not gaze out at the stars in the mean time?
Favorite Feature: The vestibules of this tent are extremely spacious, but they also help streamline the tent to minimize the effects of wind events.
Tester Comments: “I usually would prefer backpacking with two 2-person tents than a single 4-person tent, but the Papa Hubba NX has changed my opinion. For multiple folks who want to save a bit of weight, bring along a pooch, or even just have an ultra-spacious backcountry castle, the MSR Papa Hubba NX is a sweet and versatile deal.
Key Attribute: Versatility
Bottom Line: MSR’s expanded upon their popular Hubba line, and made a true 4-person backpacking tent that our testers loved.
Best for: getting one tent to take between backpacking and car-camping; backpacking with families and/or dogs; splitting the load between 3 or 4 adults.
Big Agnes’ Titan 4 mtnGLO
This beast of a 4-person tent is designed with car-camping, base-camping, beach-livin’, and festival season in mind. The most notable feature of the Titan 4 is that the “exoskeleton” poles are set up outside the rainfly. Essentially, once the exoskeleton poles are set up, the tent can be customized to your needs.
To set the tent up normally, you attach the rain fly and put the poles together. The tent body, which is secured to the bottom of the rainfly by rows of buckles, is automatically erected as well. This setup system has pros and cons: the tent can be setup with just the rainfly, and the interior tent can be easily removed, and suddenly you have a sweet open air shelter perfect for the beach and festivals. On the other hand, this means that the tent must be setup with a rainfly—in hotter weather or when skies are clear, this comes at a cost to ventilation and visibility.
Pros: The ability to use the tent fly on its own as a shelter makes the Titan 4 a great option for people who want it for shade from the sun or shelter from the rain during the day—it’s a spacious setting for a game of cards or a place to get out of the sun and vibe out at a music festival. The poles themselves are DAC DA17 poles—they’re thick, burly, and they’re not about to bend in a windstorm.
While you can’t stand up in the tent (it’s 60 inches high in the center), the interior is very spacious. Due to the design of the structure, the tent walls are near vertical, so there’s minimal space lost to angles. Our testers agreed that you can actually fit 4 adults comfortably in the tent—not always the case with 4-person tents.
Cons: Some testers were unsold on the removable tent design. “I’d rather be able to set up the tent without a rain fly and have better ventilation and a view of the stars,” said one. Velcro on the outside of the tent door made for catchy zipping. The tent is extremely heavy, though that’s not a dealbreaker, as you won’t be lugging this far from the car. Also, while tent setup is straightforward, that’s only the case if the inner tent is clipped into the rainfly. If the tent and rainfly are unclipped, it becomes a much longer and more frustrating task.
The biggest complaint testers had is that the tent doesn’t come with a vestibule—leaving no place for storing wet shoes and muddy boots, protecting gear from the rain, or cooking out of the wind and weather. We were unable to test the accessory vestibule, and while it does look pretty rad, it also tacks on an extra $130 to the price.
Favorite Feature: The mtnGlo system, which one tester called “party lights,” is a removable strand of LED lights is powered by three triple A batteries. An unobtrusive switch allows campers to flash through three settings: on, off, and dimmed. The lighting feature is ideal when hanging out in the tent, setting up sleeping bags in the dark, etc., though it’s not really bright enough to read with.
Tester Comments: “This tent is going to work wondrously for some people and be a bummer for others—most of that depends on whether or not you like an exoskeleton setup that must be used with a rainfly. The thing is, at least for me, the times when you’d want to have a shaded open structure—shade in hot weather, a place to hang during the day, etc.—you’d also want to have the ability to set up a tent without a rainfly at night (more ventilation, clear skies, etc).”
Key Attribute: Innovation
Bottom Line: The Titan 4 isn’t your average 4-person tent. The versatile, innovative style will be perfect for some families, and less so for others.
Best for: Festivals and beach camping on one side of the spectrum; group camping in wet and windy locales on the other
Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2
Field Notes: One night, we pitched this tent on the canyon rim and opted against the fly, choosing instead to watch the moon slowly trek across the sky. On another, we relied on this best-in-class tent in a classic Moab storm, a delightful blend of sleet and sand.
Pros: Even if you’re completely against the idea of having lights integrated into the body of your ultralight tent (we’re out to enjoy nature, after all), Big Agnes mtnGLO tech has saved many an eyeball from the scarring blaze of a headlamp. Dual lines of LED lights follow the ceiling of the tent, making reading a joy.
Beyond the lights some purists may downplay, Big Agnes Copper Spur offers up the most livable lightweight tent tested. A high ceiling, ample headroom and enormous vestibules made this tent the definitive tester favorite. Even when two of our male testers shared this tent, one our 6’5” photographer, the tent felt remarkably spacious.
The Copper Spur UL2 is also sturdy: in high winds, it performed well, perhaps only trumped in this category by the more angular MSR FreeLite 2 and the tapered Mountain Hardwear Ghost UL 2.
Big Agnes has their design dialed, and testers valued everything from the fundamental elements (easy-to-use snaps that lock the tent body to the featherweight poles) to the extra features (the internal organization pockets were perfectly designed).
Cons: While this tent is far from heavy or bulky, it is heavier than the Mountain Hardwear Ghost UL 2 and the MSR Free Lite 2 to pack bulkier than the Brooks Range Foray 2. A sliver of this weight accrues to the mtnGLO system, which consists of a small 3-battery pack and the integrated LEDs. However, if you’re in the dark about the mtnGLO system’s benefits, we recommend shaving ounces with the MSR FreeLite 2. The only other con our testers noted was the door threshold, which seemed excessively elevated and made it cumbersome to move in and out.
Favorite Feature: When erecting the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 during momentary ceasefires between 45 mph gusts, the intuitive, quick-snapping setup earned major points from testers. Still, the overarching winner among team members team was the high ceiling. Backpackers over 6’2” will eagerly trade the extra weight for bonus height (when compared to the cozy confines of the Ghost).
Tester Quote: “Why was this our top pick? Namely because of the livable space. You don’t feel cramped—it’s more like a car camping tent that packs down to a size that pleases most backpackers. The vestibules were amazing, too. I would pick the MSR FreeLite or the Mountain Hardwear Ghost if I was really trying to cut weight for ultralight backpacking or wasn’t stoked on the mtnGLO lighting system. Otherwise, if I’m going to pick one tent to take anywhere, from cushy car camping road trips to mid-range backpacking trips, this is the one.”
Bottom Line: Loved by testers for a million reasons, this tent is a top pick. Its livability will surprise you.
Best For: Lightweight backpacking to car camping; trips from 1-7 nights.
Cabela’s Orion 2-Person Backpacking Tent
Field Notes: While Active Junky testers used this tent for car camping, the Orion 2-person is rated as backpacking tent. As with most tents of this size, it was easy for one person to set up with its standard two-pole system so we could hit the road and hit the trail quicker.
Pros: The cost of this tent maybe a deciding factor for those on a budget. It is made of the same materials as more expensive tents, and provides similar volume and floor space.
Cons: With a tent this small, we like to see doors and vestibules on both sides, otherwise the camper in the back has to crawl over the one near the door. That was our experience. The vestibule itself was also smaller than other two-person tents we reviewed.
Favorite Feature: The price tag, though not an official feature. Its comparable design and material with a bit more weight but at a much lower cost make this a great value.
Tester Quote: “This was a cinch to set up. A single tester took only a few minutes to pitch the tent, which was great so we could go play but still have shelter ready for us when the storm clouds in the distance reached our site. It’s an affordable tent, but that meant sacrificing some nice features like dual doors.”
Key Attribute: Intuitiveness
Bottom Line: If you’re on a budget and looking for a tent that has all the basic features of a backpacking tent, this is a good starting point.
Best For: A first-time backpacking tent that you may consider replacing after a season or two.
My Trail Co Pyramid 3 Shelter
Field Notes: Testers attempted to set this tent up in the dark and in a downpour. The next morning in daylight, we realized we were over complicating a setup: a single interior pole and exterior guy lines.
Pros: Although it’s named a shelter, you can easily pack this along as a lightweight backpacking tent. It’s customizable in its use depending on your needs. Take only the fly, pole and stakes for a simple shelter for three, or bring the whole setup include in the mesh nest for full tent for three. The whole set weights under five pounds, so split between three on the trail makes for nearly negligible weight.
Cons: The design of the Pyramid Shelter leaves no room for vestibules, so any gear you want out of the elements has to share the floor space with you.
Favorite Feature: Single-pole design is incredibly simple. Just extend the telescoping pole until the tent is taught.
Tester Quote: “This is a new design for me, and I love it. After we had some light to set it up, it was really easy. I have concern about sleeping next to the only pole that is holding it up, but it seems sturdy enough. Lightweight and spacious, I would take this shelter camping or backpacking.”
Key Attribute: Versatility
Bottom Line: The weight and space provided with the Pyramid 3 make it a great choice for backpacking tent, especially with how easy it is to setup.
Best For: Light and fast backpacking with the weight and pieces spread amongst three campers.
MSR FreeLite 2
Field Notes: We pitched this tent in a few different scenarios over the testing trip, ranging from canyon flats to riverbeds. Each time, testers were impressed by the sleek single-pole design, expansive vestibules and relatively spacious livability.
Pros: When Active Junky gear testers popped open the climbing rope bag-style stuff sack and unleashed this MSR tent, there was a murmur of delight. “It’s smaller than the Hubba Hubba,” noted two of our testers who work for the National Park Service. While working for Olympic National Park, these two female gear testers relied exclusively on MSR’s sturdy, lightweight and bombproof Hubba Hubba for weeks on end in relentless PNW rain. Obviously, they were stoked when a smaller, lighter version of their beloved backcountry shelter came to Lite.
MSR didn’t disappoint. While a few ounces heavier than the Mountain Hardwear Ghost and less livable than the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 (four inches shorter ceiling height and more tapered at the ends of the tent), the FreeLite 2 was one tester’s favorite because of the vestibules, bomber construction and performance in inclement weather.
Cons: While scraping through a canyon with the FreeLite 2 strapped to the outside of her pack, one disappointed tester reported the stuff sack was shredded in several places by encroaching sandstone walls. Despite stuff sack trauma, we didn’t question the actual tent’s durability. Nervous backpackers should snag a footprint to dramatically reduce abrasion concerns.
Favorite Feature: The vestibules were almost as big as those of Big Agnes Copper UL2 (17.5 square feet versus 18), but sleeker and less noisy when properly staked. Basic internal organizer pockets, a smart and easy-to-synch stuff sack and one of the fastest single-pole setups tested made it tougher to pick a favorite feature.
Tester Quote: “This tent has the perfect ratio of livability to weight for me. At the weight level, I wouldn’t hesitate to bring this tent on a solo trip. That said, bunking with a partner is relatively painless vis a vis the Ghost UL 2. The low, angular design of this MSR tent helps it stand up to heavy rain and wind. Plus, for how light it is, the vestibules are unreal.”
Bottom Line: Striking the balance between weight and livability.
Best For: Ultralight backpacking, especially when it’s absolutely essential to get all gear under cover.
Mountain Hardwear Ghost UL2
Field Notes: Ghost UL2 landed at the bottom of cold desert canyons deep in the backcountry and was pitched along warm river banks. A night of high winds (40-50 mph gusts) had testers nervous about the lightweight skeleton and paper-thin fly getting torn to bits. No need to fear as the Mountain Hardwear Ghost was as inconspicuous as its namesake in the thunderous storm.
Pros: Even if nothing else went right, our testers were impressed by the almost non-existent weight of this tent (the lightest tested). Performance was noteworthy as Ghost UL2 held its own in wicked winds. The design of the tent body has the floor’s waterproof fabric creeping almost halfway up the tapered end sidewalls to minimize the rainfly’s size and reduce overall weight.
Cons: Though bigger than the Brooks Range Foray’s 6-foot vestibule, the 7-foot vestibule of the Ghost UL2 is less useful. Peak height is 2 inches shorter than the Brooks Range Foray’s 39-inch ceiling. Having a single door is, for some backpacking duos, a deal breaker that shifts attention back to the MSR FreeLite 2. In addition, the Ghost’s odd fly design is somewhat tough to negotiate at the trip’s start, getting easier with each pitch.
Favorite Feature: It’s not so much a feature as a lack thereof as this tent is the lightest tested. End of story.
Tester Quote: “Super light! I’ll use it as a solo tent, too, and enjoy the extra room. It is tight with two pads, but did well in the wind. We didn’t get a super heavy rainfall when testing this tent but as long as Mountain Hardwear’s innovative fly design works well, this tent is going to be tough to top.”
Bottom Line: For the ultralight backpacker, this tent is amazing. Small size, incredible functionality and one of the most innovative tents we’ve seen in three years.
Best For: Ultralight backpacking, ideally for splitting trips between backpacking with a partner and soloing.
Marmot Limelight 2P
Field Notes: Given the tent’s weight, our testing team used the Limelight mainly when car camping in the high desert. Still, we pitched it in ruthless winds and it rapidly became our team’s favorite car camping tent.
Pros: When compared to its competitors, one of Limelight’s main draws is the price. The Limelight was the sturdiest of the sub-$300 tents, thanks to heavier but reliable DAC aluminum poles. Testers gave the Marmot tent fabric top marks in the durability category, too, as the fly repelled jagged rock and thorny brush as though they were gentle raindrops. Internal organizer pockets and floor space were rivaled only by the Kelty Trail Ridge 2, but the Marmot weighs less.
Cons: Setting up the Limelight was easy enough, although the oddly-bent, crisscrossing poles take practice. They also don’t pack tightly as they’re quite curved on the ends. In total, the main concern is the tent’s bulk.
Favorite Feature: The doors are beyond awesome. Almost 360-degrees around, the doors are enormous and easy to use—a great feature for those who pop in and out of the tent frequently.
Tester Quote: “My favorite car camping tent, by far. Plenty of space, quiet in the wind, and the door design is a thing of beauty.”
Bottom Line: Heavy for a backpacking tent, but if you’re mainly a car camper, this 2-person tent is spacious, strong, waterproof and user-friendly.
Best For: Car camping, first time backpackers, a couple looking for enough space to bring the dog along as well.
Kelty Trail Ridge 2
Field Notes: Kelty’s tent is one of the roomiest “2-person backpacking tents” we’ve tested. After pitching this tent in a few different scenarios, testers recommend it as a first backpacking tent or a comfortable car camping tent.
Pros: This thing is mammoth. Enormous. Room for three people, easy. Assembly was fairly simple, though testers struggled to secure and tighten the fly using Kelty’s unique ball-and-hook synch system. Aside from the corners of the fly, the Kelty pole snap system is secure and easy to use right out of the box—no directions required.
The Trail Ridge performed well in high winds, surprising given the luxurious height of the tent.
For campers who go nuts for organization, this Kelty tent had more interior organizing space (ranging from included pockets to detachable gear lofts) than any of its competitors.
Cons: Did we mention that this tent is mammoth? It’s honestly too big to backpack, unless you’re splitting up gear (one person takes poles and stakes, one person takes tent and fly, etc.). Opting for a lighter, albeit more expensvie model, may be a better choice. Dropping three pounds sounds optional if you’re a first-time backpacker. But once you get on the trail, every ounce counts.
Favorite Feature: Space and organization were on the lips of all our testers when trying out Kelty’s Trail Ridge 2. From the almost 8-foot length of the tent to the dual 10sq.ft. vestibules, the Trail Ridge’s roominess was unparalleled.
Tester Quote: “Sleeping in this tent, especially after spending a couple nights in the smaller backpacking tents like the Foray, or even the relatively spacious Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 2, was beyond luxurious. Of course, since Kelty’s Trail Ridge is twice the weight and double the packed size of these smaller tents. But if you car camp and occasionally go on weekend overnights, this is a good choice (not to mention the cheapest tent tested).
Bottom Line: Not our first choice for backpacking, this 6lb 3oz tent is a sturdy car camping tent that fits the needs of big and tall backpackers, car campers and those on a budget.
Best For: Car camping, buying your first tent, 1-2 night trips when split between two packs.
Car Camping Tents Reviews
Cabela’s West Wind 6-Person Dome Tent
Field Notes: We took the Cabela’s West Wind to the Utah desert in early spring where we saw sun, rain and nearly freezing temperatures.
Pros: A color-coded poles and clips make setting up this Cabela’s tent even easier than just its simple intuitive design. It sleeps six, but can easily be setup and torn down by two people. Fiberglass poles support the 6-foot 3-inch tent height and over 83 square feet of floor space. An added perk for those who aren’t trying to be completely off the grid, an attachable entrainment mesh can hold a tablet for viewing or storage.
Cons: The main downside to this tent is the weight. Although it is a car camping tent, which are naturally lighter than backpacking tents, at over 22 pounds, it will still take some arm strength to move it from the car to your site.
Favorite Feature: At 19 square feet, the large vestibule provides protection for you gear without taking up floor space. The side location of the zipper adds more stability to the shape when the door is open and rolled away.
Tester Quote: “This Cabela’s tent was quick to pitch with color-coded parts. While it is not a complicated tent, setting up a tent for the first time often leads to poles in the wrong holes or a backwards rainfly. But not with this tent. And I loved the huge vestibule, especially after we got caught in some rain and wanted to leave our muddy boots outside.”
Key Attribute: Intuitiveness
Bottom Line: For a six-person tent, this is a good value. But that comes at the price of weight, so don’t plan on lugging this one very far.
Best For: Pull-up car camping where you aren’t covering much distance and require the room for six campers and gear.
Mountainsmith Genesee 4
Field Notes: A favorite car camping tent, this Mountainsmith tent was the easiest tent to set up—even in roaring winds.
Pros: There’s nothing crazy about this tent, and that’s why we dug it. Simple, affordable and intuitive, the Genesee represents all we love about Mountainsmith. While not as tall as some, this classic design has steep sidewalls to offer plenty of space with a family of four tucked inside. Plus, it was among the most packable tents which, even when car camping, is a blessing.
Cons: The Genesee’s vestibule isn’t as big as those of other tents tested such as the Coleman Darkroom. This added difficulty when entering and exiting the tent.
Favorite Feature: Simple and solid construction got our testing team stoked, as no one wants to spend their time in the woods rereading instruction manuals. This Mountainsmith was easily pitched in a few minutes and staked with the fly out in under five.
Tester Quote: “A no-fuss tent. Great pick if you’re looking for an affordable car camping tent. There’s not too much to say here, and in this case, that’s a good thing.”
Bottom Line: A top tent that offers value for car camping couples who like their space in addition to small families.
Best For: Car camping, saving money without sacrificing quality.
The North Face Talus 4
Field Notes: The Talus was, sadly, not pitched in talus. Instead, we set it up in mud and sand. Wherever erected, this TNF tent definitely rocked (pardon the pun). Impressive when the fly held in 45 mph winds, better than any of the other car camping tents tested.
Pros: Stability and longevity are the name of the game here. Coming from trusted gear designers at The North Face, this Talus tent can be your family’s darling car camping tent for years to come. Everything from the seams of the tent body to the fly material and the pole strength bested most of the other car camping tents tested.
Cons: This TNF tent costs more than other car camping tents under test as you’re definitely paying for increased quality. It is less ventilated than tents like the Slumberjack—preferred by four car campers striking out in the summer months—but it’s more equipped to handle inclement weather.
Favorite Feature: Every 4-person car camping tent should have double doors, but not all do. The North Face Talus has dual access points and testers appreciated this aspect of the design.
Tester Quote: “This could work for 4-person backpacking trips – if parts were divided and everyone brought a piece. Otherwise, it’s a stable basecamp tent for prolonged adventures and a trustworthy car camping tent. It does well in gnarly weather, that’s for sure.”
Bottom Line: While other tents tested are more affordable and designed for car camping families, this TNF tent is more expedition-grade to prevail in more brutal weather. A quality tent with smart features, noteworthy durability and a knack for standing its ground in stormy weather.
Best For: Basecamp use, long-term car camping, road trips.
Coleman Carlsbad 4-Person Darkroom
Field Notes: Pitched in several car camping scenarios. The first time we pitched this 4-person tent, it was in the dead of night. Daylight would have been appreciated.
Pros: This Coleman tent is spacious, and crafted from a light-resistant fabric ideal for those campers who don’t want to wake up with the rising sun (hence the name of the fabric, the “Darkroom”). The vestibule is large but wide open (so it should really be noted in the “con” section). Rename it an “open air porch” and Coleman has the best we’ve seen.
Cons: It’s heavier, less versatile, less durable and less intuitive than the Talus 4. Also, the lightproof coating appeared as if it was starting to scrape off. This needs to be monitored over time to avoid it becoming the “Semi-Dark Room,” which doesn’t have the same delightful ring to it.
Favorite Feature: The lightproof coating on the interior of the tent. If you’re looking to sleep in, this Coleman is probably your best choice.
Tester Quote: “A bit unnecessary in my book, though a family who is somewhat new to car camping might take to the roomy, dark space that is the Darkroom.”
Bottom Line: As spacious as it is purposeful, this Coleman is affordable and potentially practical for some car campers.
Best For: Car campers who prefer alarm clocks to the sunrise