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Going to a more lightweight backpacking mindset has liberated me in more ways than I ever thought!
(More on my lightweight setup here)
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. Three years later I was still using it on the High Sierra Trail, but I think it’s time for a new lightweight tent.
Looking at the Best Ultralight Backpacking Tents
NEMO Gogo Elite – Inflatable 1 Person Tent
The 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.
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 Moosejaw for $337.46.
NEMO Spike – Minimal Shelter
If 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.
NEMO Hornet & Hornet Elite – Double-Walled & Light Weight
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 keeps 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.
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.
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
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.
Which of these ultralight tents do you like? Or do you have a different preference?
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.
Saturday 21st of September 2019
The fact that the Marmot Bolt has a polyester floor and fly puts it miles ahead. I'm at this moment hiking across the Pyrennes and using a TT Stratospire 2. Sliding all over the sil-nylon floors at night is a real problem. Woah I had my Marmot Vapor with me, but it's too heavy. Can't have it all I guess, but Marmot are getting close!
Monday 23rd of September 2019
Sounds like an awesome trip! Yeah, for all the times I've woken up only to find I've slid all the way to the foot of my tent in the middle of the night...I'm sure a function of my rolling around as well...
Monday 4th of December 2017
Prices in dollars so I guess I have wandered onto an American website. The tents look fine, with reservations, but I don't know anyone who could afford such lightweight luxury.
It is an age since I have been backpacking and now I am past that sort of thing. A bivvy is the best option for backpacking but very limiting and claustrophobic for spending a stormy day inside. Most modern tents are designed to be aerodynamic but mostly a streamlined tent in a downpour usually suffers a wet groundsheet if the door is opened during a downpour. The business of cooking should not be carried on inside a closed tent and preferably done outside but that is impossible in even moderate wind and rain so a tent really should have a sheltered entrance. The traditional ridge tent and perhaps a few tunnel tents remain the most practical designs for spending a stormy day and it is unfortunate they mostly hardly qualify as lightweight and completely missed the boat in the ultra-lightweight stakes. All other designs contain compromises and anyone considering buying a tent would be well advised to imagine that stormy day when little or no hiking would be done, imagine preparing a meal and making hot drinks in an energetic breeze - or in the teeth of a full-throated squall. Imagine popping out to answer a nature call in a downpour.
Saving a few ounces at the cost of practical usability can be a very expensive trade - far better to go 2-man and share the extra weight with a friend.
I am the proud owner of Saunders Jetpacker that ticks most of the boxes, light enough for one to carry, packs to the size of a 1 litre Coke bottle, is quick to get up and down and is streamlined enough and so roomy for one it is sufficient for two very good friends. For one, that stormy day isn't be the damp uncomfortable experience of many ultra-lightweight tents.
Monday 3rd of April 2017
John, have you used all these tents?
Monday 3rd of April 2017
Great question - not all of them. I've demo'd the Gogo Elite and have been on some backpacking trips with people who have used the Nemo Hornet and Big Agnes Copper Spur so I got to play around with those a little. I was impressed enough to put them on my list of replacements! Which ultralights have you used on your adventures?