The following article is a compilation of trail-tested lightweight tents, recommended by some of the most accomplished long distance hikers from the US, Australia and the UK. All of the shelters listed weigh three pounds (1.36 kg) or less, and each model has proven itself over thousands of miles in a wide variety of conditions.
Note: For those that prefer to sleep in the air rather than on the ground, see Hammocks for Thru-Hiking. For tarp users, stay tuned for an upcoming piece on tarp options for long distance ramblers.
Five Points to Consider
When it comes to selecting an on-trail home, we all want something that meets our needs both environmentally (i.e. keeps you dry and holds up well in a storm) as well as individually (i.e. space and privacy). In regards to thru-hiking, here are five points to consider when choosing a tent:
- Weight – For three season conditions, look for a model that tips the scales at less than three pounds (1.36 kg). There are plenty of tent options in this weight category that sacrifice nothing in terms of functionality and safety. Remember that thru-hiking is not a weekend camping trip with friends. If you are serious about finishing your thru-hike in single season, time spent on trail (rather than in camp) has to be the priority. That being the case, a lighter load is more comfortable to carry, healthier for your body, and enables you to cover more ground with no extra effort. And where will your biggest weight savings most likely be found? Your “Big Three” items – namely backpack, sleeping bag and shelter.
- Durability – Go for a tent that has a proven track record. Starting your thru-hike with a shelter that you know will hold up to the rigours of the environment into which you are venturing, means one less thing to worry about out in the field.
- Preparation – Over the course of a multi-month thru-hike, chances are you will encounter a wide range of meteorological conditions. Before beginning your journey, take your chosen shelter on multiple test runs in different types of weather. It’s one thing hearing from other hikers that “X or Y shelter holds up great in a storm“, and another thing knowing it from personal experience (Tip: I know it’s a pain in the bum, but make the effort to practice setting up and taking down your shelter in the rain before beginning your thru-hike. Not only will it give you the confidence that you can do so during your hike, but it will also enable you to do so quicker and more efficiently when the time comes).
- Comfort – By any criteria, three to six months is a long time to go backpacking. Roughly a third of that time will be spent inside your shelter. Choose one that is light and functional, but that also meets your individual needs in regards to comfort. Ideally you want to feel relatively comfortable both on trail and in camp, irrespective of the conditions.
- Horses for Courses: All shelters aren’t necessarily suitable for all thru-hikes. For example, on the densely forested Appalachian Trail, tents with large footprints such as the MLD Trailstar are not ideal. However, this same model excels like few others when journeying through exposed landscapes prone to heavy wind and rain, such as the Scottish Highlands. Before selecting a shelter, think about what sort of environments you will be doing most of your hiking in, and then choose a model that is appropriate for the conditions you are most likely to face.
The Usual Suspects
As with other articles in my Thru-Hiker Gear series, in putting together this post I wanted to create a resource that was relevant to a wide range of aspiring long distance hikers. With that goal in mind, the recommendations below are derived from a diverse group of very experienced ramblers, ranging between 27 and 69 years of age. Though the chronological spectrum may be sizeable, all of them backpack in an ultralight to lightweight fashion and have multiple long distance hikes (i.e. 200 miles plus) under their belts.
The usual suspects include: Justin “Trauma” Lichter, Heather “Anish” Anderson, Nancy “Why Not” Huber, Mike “The Gambler” Towne, Steven “Twinkle” Shattuck, Grace Shattuck, Matt “Worldwide” Signore, Jackie “Yogi” McDonnell, Lauren “Neon” Reed, Bethany “Fidgit” Hughes, Christy “Rockin” Rosander, Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa, Brad “Shepherd” McCartney, Renee “SheRa” Kirkpatrick, Liz “Snorkel” Thomas, Ryan “Dirtmonger” Sylva, Brett “Blisterfree” Tucker, Alex “Naeboots” Roddie, Paul “Mags” Magnanti, Andrew Skurka and Chris Townsend.
Note: For more information on each of the hikers, click on the names and check out their websites and/or social media pages.
The list below is not a compilation of “best” tents. In my opinion, there are no “best” tents, just as there are no “best” backpacks, sleeping bags or trail runners. What follows is simply the tents that are used by a group of very experienced hikers on a wide range of long distance treks.
Click here for more information in regards to the hows, whys and wherefores behind tents (e.g. tips for minimizing condensation and whether to go with a single or double wall tent):
One Person Models (in alphabetical order)
- Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL 1 – 27 oz – Justin “Trauma” Lichter, Mike “The Gambler” Towne
- Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL1 – 34 oz – Matt “Worldwide” Signore, Jackie “Yogi” McDonnell
- Gossamer Gear The One – 22 oz – Heather “Anish” Anderson, Christy “Rockin” Rosander
- Mountain Laurel Designs Solomid / Solomid XL – 13 oz DCF / 18 oz Silnylon – Andrew Skurka, Liz “Snorkel” Thomas, Cam “Swami” Honan.
- Nemo Hornet Elite 1 Person – 23 oz – Brad “Shepherd” McCartney
- Sierra Designs High Route 1 FL – 37 oz – Andrew Skurka
- Six Moon Designs Deschutes– 8 oz DCF / 13 oz Silnylon – Renee “SheRa” Kirkpatrick
- Six Moon Designs Skyscrape Trekker – 28 oz – Paul “Mags” Magnanti
- Tarptent Notch – 19 oz DCF / 27 oz Silnylon – Alex Roddie
- Tarptent ProTrail – 26 oz – Cam Honan
- Tarptent Moment DW – 34 oz – Kristin “Lost” Gates
- Yama Mountain Gear Cirriform – 21 oz – Ryan “Dirtmonger” Sylva
- Zpacks Solplex – 15 oz – Christy “Rockin” Rosander, Nancy “Why Not” Huber, Heather “Anish” Anderson.
Two Person Models
- Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 – 44 oz – Mike “The Gambler” Towne
- Gossamer Gear The Two – 29 oz – Steve “Twinkle” Shattuck, Grace Shattuck.
- Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid – 19 oz – Bethany “Fidgit” Hughes and Laura “Neon” Reed
- MLD Duomid – 14 oz DCF / 18 oz Silnylon – Trauma, Shawn “Pepper” Forry, Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa, Cam Honan.
- MLD Trailstar – 12 oz DCF / 18 oz Silnylon – Chris Townsend, Alex Roddie
- Zpacks Duplex – 19 oz – Brett “Blisterfree” Tucker, Christy “Rockin” Rosander.
Mini-Reviews & Commentaries
Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 1 & 2: 27 oz – 31 oz – Justin “Trauma” Lichter and Mike “The Gambler” Towne are both fans of the Big Agnes Fly Creek. The Fly Creek is one of the lightest, double-wall, semi-freestanding models on the market. Reasonably priced, holds up well in a storm, and as with other Big Agnes models, you can usually pick one up at your local REI (i.e. no wait time, and a good return policy if something goes wrong).
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2– 44 oz – Double-wall, freestanding and spacious, the Copper Spur consistently rates as one of the most popular shelters among thru-hiking couples. It’s heavier than the Fly Creek, but offers more in the way of liveability and comfort. Two doors and vestibules means easy access and plenty of ventilation. As with all Big Agnes models, when the skies are clear it’s easy just to pitch the inner for a night of star gazing.
Gossamer Gear “The One” &“The Two” – 22 oz / 29 oz – These competitively priced single-walled shelters from Gossamer Gear, have roomy interiors, good ventilation, pack up small and utilise a dual trekking pole setup. Heather “Anish” Anderson took “The One” on her thru-hike of the Oregon Desert Trail in 2017. Over the past year, Steven (aka Twinkle) and Grace Shattuck have used “The Two” on multiple long distance trails around the world including the Hayduke Trail in the US, the Alta Via 2 in Italy, and the Haute Route in the Swiss and French Alps. Twinkle describes it as the “perfect shelter for a backpacking couple.” (Note: If you aren’t already following him, check out Twinkle’s instagram account. In addition to being a very accomplished hiker, the guy takes some of the best hiking photos you are ever likely to see).
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid– 19 oz – As with all HMG shelters, the Ultamid sports solid construction, high-end materials, loads of guyout points and is made in the US. It represents a good option for couples that like a lot of space to spread out their gear, and for whom price is not an issue. Two ladies that have extensive experience with the Ultamid are Bethany “Fidgit” Hughes and Laura “Neon” Reed, who are currently three years into a five year hike of the Americas. Fidgit had the following to say about the HMG Ultamid: “We are two long torso women who appreciated being able to control the height of the tent and move about freely inside. It is also a design which does not collapse under heavy snow, holds up to strong wind, and allows both of us the space to sleep comfortably with all our kit inside.”
Mountain Laurel Designs Solomid XL – 14 oz (DCF) / 18 oz (silnylon) – I’ve been using the Solomid XL in a wide variety of environments since 2015 (e.g. Bolivia’s Altiplano and Cordillera Real, multiple trips in Tasmania’s rugged Southwest Wilderness, Wyoming’s Wind River range, and Colorado’s Rocky mountains). The materials, design and workmanship are all top notch, and in regards to storm worthiness-to-weight ratio, I don’t think there are many shelters to match it. For winter excursions and/or extended trips in cold and wet environments such as the Scottish Highlands, I’d recommend upsizing to the more spacious Duomid.
MLD Duomid – 14 oz (DCF) / 20 oz (Silnylon) – I used the Duomid on my recent trips in Scotland Highlands and Norway. It held up well in stormy conditions on the Isle of Skye, Cape Wrath Trail and a loop around Cairngorm National Park. Justin Trauma Lichter and Shawn “Pepper” Forry used the Duomid on both the Great Himalaya Trail in 2011 and the winter traverse of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014/15. Trauma had the following to say about the Duomid: “We have used the Duomid for thousands of miles, and have complete confidence in this tarp in all conditions. It works well in the snow in conjunction with deadmen for our stake-out points.”
MLD Trailstar – 12 oz DCF / 18 oz Silnylon – A five-sided aerodynamic shelter that has developed a devoted following among serial ramblers in the United Kingdom. One such gentleman is Chris Townsend, prolific long distance hiker, author and gear editor at TGO Magazine, who had the following to say about the Trailstar:
“It’s amazingly wind resistant – far better than most lightweight tents – when pitched with a low profile and the sides down to the ground. Last year it stood up to the big winds and torrential rain on the TGO Challenge better than, I think, any backpacking tent would have done. If the wind isn’t very strong it can be pitched with a higher profile for more headroom and a bigger door that gives better views of the outside world.”
Nemo Hornet Elite 1 Person – 23 oz – The Hornet is a well priced, lightweight, double-walled tent. Fellow Aussie and triple crowner, Brad “Shepherd” McCartney, used the Nemo Hornet on the CDT and AT in 2016 and 2017. According to Shepherd, “the Nemo Hornet is one of my favourite items of gear. It is a small one person tent but big enough to allow me to bring all my gear inside. I loved the side entry and the light weight, also great to just erect the mesh on those buggy nights for star gazing.”
Six Moon Designs Deschutes– 13 oz Silnylon -The newly re-released (December, 2018) DCF version weights 8oz and provides 360-degree protection from the elements. When coupled with the Serentity Net Tent (11 oz), users have a modular double wall shelter that weighs less than 20 oz. The six-stake, one-trekking pole set-up can be done in less than two minutes, and the shelter height can be varied according to the prevailing conditions.
Tarptent Notch – 19 oz DCF / 27 oz Silnylon (including stakes, guylines, struts and stuff sack). Two walls, two entries, two vestibules and two poles. This well-regarded, spacious-for-one shelter is one of the lightest double-walled tents on the market. Alex Roddie, online editor of TGO Magazine, used the Notch on his thru-hike of Scotland’s Cape Wrath Trail in 2015.
Tarptent Moment DW – 34 oz – A three season plus shelter, which performs better in high winds and moderate snow than the lighter Notch (see above). This was the tent that Kristin “Lost” Gates took on her 2013 solo traverse of Alaska’s Brooks Range: “It completely took the stress out of bad weather. With its removable interior, I knew that even if it rained for weeks, I would be able to keep the important things, like my sleeping bag, dry. On rainy days, I would pack the interior of the shelter away separately from the rain fly so that it would stay dry and I would always have a dry shelter to climb into every night.”
Tarptent ProTrail – 26 oz – (including stakes, guylines & stuff sacks). I took the prototype for this three season/one trekking pole shelter on the first ever traverse of Peru’s Cordillera Blanca range in 2014. Quick set up, packs down next to nothing, solid in inclement conditions, and for $225 (December, 2018), it represents one of the best value lightweight shelters on the market.
Yama Mountain Gear Cirriform – 21 oz – Ryan “Dirtmonger” Sylva has put more than 13,000 miles on this modular, aerodynamic shelter over the past six years in a wide variety of conditions ranging from the Four Corners in the American Southwest to Bolivia’s Cordillera Real. Along with his beloved GG Kumo and Katabatic quilt, it rates as his favourite piece of gear: “The Cirriform is easy to pitch, dries within minutes, can be pitched low to avoid wind, and at 6’5″ has ample space for me to sit straight up.”
Zpacks Duplex – 21 oz – One of the lightest two person shelters on the market, the Duplex consistently rates among the most popular lightweight shelters on America’s Triple Crown Trails. Snug for two and spacious for one, the Duplex has a bathtub floor, two doors, two vestibules and a high middle ceiling. As with the similarly designed Gossamer Gear shelters mentioned above, it performs adequately in inclement conditions, but design-wise isn’t ideal for extended trips above tree line.
Lightweight Tent Awards
Heavy Wind & Rain – MLD Trailstar
Snow – MLD Duomid and HMG Ultamid
Space-to-Weight Ratio – Gossamer Gear “The Two”, ZPacks Duplex.
Quick Set-up – MLD Solomid.
Ventilation – Big Agnes Copper Spur & Tarptent Notch
Modularity – Yama Cirriform
Value for Money – Anything in silnylon from Tarptent.
Note: For more information on the gear that some of the most accomplished thru-hikers in the world carry, see the following articles: The Thru-Hikers Gear List, The Thru-hikers Gear List Vol.2, Backpacks for Thru-Hiking and Sleeping Bags for Thru-hiking.
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