Going to a more lightweight backpacking mindset has liberated me in more ways than I ever thought!  Except my wallet.  My wallet has not been liberated.  Well, the money inside of it was definitely liberated.

Anyways, a few years ago I took the new REI Dash 2 ultralight backpacking tent on the John Muir Trail and it performed amazingly well.  It’s still in one piece and serving me in the great outdoors!

But like any other gearhead I’ve started looking for something new even though there’s nothing wrong with the tent I’ve used the past two years.  I wouldn’t mind trying to get a little lighter than what I’m carrying now.  So without further ado…

My Picks for the Best Ultralight Backpacking Tents

NEMO Gogo Elite – Inflatable 1 Person Tent

nemo gogo eliteThe NEMO Gogo Elite is more like a bivvy than a tent.  It has no poles and can fit into a Nalgene bottle, and the floor is robust enough you won’t need a ground footprint (there is none).  Instead of poles, the Gogo Elite has an inflatable arch at the shoulder.  NEMO advertises that this tent can be pitched in 15 seconds and taken down in 5.  How’s that for speed!  This can all be done while you’re in the shelter, keeping you dry while you set it up in a downpour.  It’s the lightest backpacking tent on this page at only 20 ounces.  The Gogo Elite has been around for a few years and has very high marks among users.

nemo gogo elite

The Nemo Gogo Elite comes in a waterproof sack.

This tent is probably best in warm, stable climates.  The single-wall design could lead to some condensation.  First-generation models didn’t breathe very well but subsequent incarnations have improved on that.  It’s not freestanding either and will need to be staked or guyed out.  The tent does come with a repair kit.

You may see this tent advertised as a “2-person tent” at some retailers, but that might be tight as it’s only 3′ wide at the shoulder and 27″ high.

Find the best deal at SunnySports for $429.95.

NEMO Spike – Minimal Shelter

nemo spikenemo spikeIf you don’t need a completely enclosed sleeping space then check out the NEMO Spike.  This 1-person shelter is just that – a floorless shelter.  Your trekking poles will be used to support this shelter, and that keeps the trail weight of this shelter under one pound.  If it’s not obvious, this shelter will also need to be spiked our guyed out.

The Spike does also have a vestibule space for keeping your gear dry as well and has almost 4′ of headroom.  This lightweight shelter can fit in your pocket.  This shelter also comes in a 2-person model.

Available at REI for $229.95.


NEMO Hornet & Hornet Elite – Double-Walled & Light Weight

Nemo Hornet

NEMO Hornet without fly

Unlike the previous two shelters, the Hornet is a semi-freestanding double-walled ultralight backpacking tent.  By semi-freestanding I mean you’ll need to stake or guy out the rainfly and the feet of the tent.  It always seems like the word “freestanding” is misleading. The two-walled construction improves breathability and keep condensation to a minimum for a little extra comfort.

The Hornet is the base model with 40″ of headroom, a maximum weight of 2 pounds, and a minimum weight of 1 pound 11 ounces.  The vestibule area is 8 square feet.  You can get the best deal at SunnySports for $319.95.

For those counting ounces and willing to spend $130 more than the base model, NEMO offers the Hornet Elite.  The material is lighter, there’s 38″ of headroom, and a vestibule area of 7 square feet.  Your weight savings will be 4 ounces for that extra $130.  You can find this tent at REI for $449.95.

nemo hornet elite

The NEMO Hornet Elite with rainfly

Marmot Bolt – The Most Headroom

Are none of these ultralight backpacking tents listed so far big enough for you?  Check out the Marmot Bolt – this 2-person tent is less than three pounds with a minimum trail weight of 2 pounds 5 ounces.  The floor space is 28 square feet and you’ll have 7 square feet of vestibule area for both of your gear.  Setup is quick, and this tent is truly much more “freestanding” than the rest.

marmot bolt

The large oval door is at the head of the tent; my personal preference in 2-person tents is a door on each side but that’s just me.  You won’t find a 2-person tent much lighter than this one with Marmot’s quality reputation.

You can find the Marmot Bolt at Moosejaw at a clearance price of $276.71.

Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 – Improving an Already Popular Tent

copper spur hv ul2

The Big Agnes Copper Spur is a legendary line of ultralight tents.  The HV UL2 is an improvement of their original 2-person tent, with those letters standing for “high volume ultralight”.  This tent features a 20% increase in volume over the original Copper Spur without increasing weight.  The Copper Spur HV UL2 has a trail weight of 2 pounds 12 ounces and a packed weight of 3 pounds 1 ounce.

The Copper Spur 2 really is freestanding and features the two doors I prefer in a 2-person tent.  This tent has 40″ of headroom with 29 square feet of floor space.  The vestibule area is much larger than the Marmot Bolt, with a 9 square foot vestibule on each side.

The Copper Spur HV UL2 is sold at REI for $449.95.
Choosing the right tent can be a big debate topic amongst backpackers, but I’d be more than happy to moderate it below.  So if your criterion are different or if you’ve found something better, please leave it in the comments and I’ll get right back to you.

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