The Best Budget Backpacking Tents In 2020

Backpacking tents can be expensive. Read on to find one that fits your budget, some tent background, and buying tips.

Looking for the best budget backpacking tent on the market?

We’ve got you covered (with more than a rainfly)!

Table of Contents:

Backpacking tents can be extremely expensive, but they don’t have to be.

This article helps you find a high-quality tent that is still light enough for multi-day trips without going over budget.

For the most part, the biggest difference between a budget backpacking tent and a high end tent (other than price), is weight.

So if carrying an extra pound or two isn’t a big deal, chances are one of these less expensive budget tents will work perfectly for you.

And regardless of your budget or weight limit, these backpacking tents are still worlds lighter and much stronger than a basic car camping tent you might get at a big box store.

Meaning, they will last longer and protect you better when the weather turns nasty–worth the investment.

Read on to find the best budget backpacking tents in each category based on weight, size, construction, and of course price.

For more background and buying tips (why some tents cost more, terminology explained, what to look for) keep reading after the top picks.

Or, read our full article about how to choose the right tent.

Once you’ve decided on the best tent for you, be sure and plug the name into our deal finder to check for any sales before you buy.

Note: All tent weights and prices listed below are for the 2-person version of the featured tent (excluding the best family-sized tent section). Inside the listing, we specify the available capacities/sizes for that particular tent model. All tents listed are 3-season tents (excluding the best 4-season tent section).

Best Budget Backpacking Tent Under $200

Big Agnes C Bar 2

Our top pick for best budget backpacking tent under $200, the Big Agnes C Bar, is a true underdog of the outdoor arena.

Hidden in the shadows of its flashier ultralight siblings (the Tiger Wall and the Copper Spur) the C Bar is still the lightest and strongest tent you will find under $200 anywhere.

The Big Agnes C Bar isn’t much to look at and can be a challenge to find, but it is still one heck of a tent with an uncommonly affordable price tag.

The C Bar is a front entry style tent with one large door and vestibule.

Both the tent body and rainfly are polyester with high sidewall material for better wind and weatherproofing. As a result, the C Bar gets slightly less ventilation, making it a warmer tent overall.

While the vestibule is small compared to other tents, the rainfly sides come almost to the ground and stake out easily for fast-fly camping.

Almost all of Big Agnes’ tents feature DAC tent poles, and despite its lower price point the C Bar is no exception.

A pressfit DAC pole system with lightweight hubs makes set up quick and easy while giving extra strength to the structure of your tent for camping in high winds or heavy downpours.

DAC Pressfit Tent Poles for Big Agnes C Bar Backpacking Tent
Image source: BigAgnes.com

Overall, the Big Agnes C Bar is an extremely capable 3-season tent at a fair price point whose strengths will really shine in poor conditions.

The only negatives we found with the C Bar is that the vestibule is a bit cramped and the tapered or ‘mummy’ style floor shape can feel tight for people with wide shoulders or who like to sprawl out when sleeping.

Big Agnes C Bar 2

Max/Trail weight: 4 lbs./3 lbs. 9 oz.
Floor size/area: 86″ x 52″/28 sq. ft.
Vestibule area: 7 sq. ft.
Material: Polyester
Freestanding: Yes
Peak height: 41″
Seasons: 3
Capacity: 2, 3 person
Price: $199
Sold by MooseJaw, Amazon, available soon at bigagnes.com

Big Agnes C Bar Backpacking Tent Under $200

The North Face Stormbreak

The North Face Stormbreak is one of the best quality tents you can get for the price and is available in 1-3 person configurations (the Stormbreak 1 is our top pick for the best 1-person tent under $200).

Made of 68-75 denier polyester, this tent provides durable moisture protection in a moderately lightweight package.

Featuring a 43-inch peak height with two full-zip doors and two-twin zip vestibules, the Stormbreak makes camp life a breeze.

The North Face Stormbreak

Max/Trail weight: 5 lbs. 14.2 oz./5 lbs. 4 oz.
Floor size/area: 87″ x 50″/30.6 sq. ft.
Vestibule area: 9.78 sq. ft.
Material: 68-75D Polyester
Freestanding: Yes
Peak height: 43″
Seasons: 3
Capacity: 1, 2, 3 person
Price: $159
Sold by REI, North Face

The North Face Strombreak 2 Backpacking Tent

Equally sized vestibules provide ample coverage on both sides of the tent during poor weather while creating an open-air option for ventilation or cooking on clear days.

Steeper side walls make the tent feel roomier inside but also make it less stable in high winds.

The Stormbreak is consistently one of the most affordable high performance backpacking tents on the market.

Unless you are always camping in high gust areas, you will be happy with the space and versatility the Stormbreak offers.

Its biggest drawback, the Stormbreak is on the heavier side for 2-person backpacking tents. Not a big deal if you can split the weight between two people.

Compared to the Big Agnes C Bar the Stormbreak feels much roomier, but again it is also ~1.5 pounds heavier.

Backpackers used to high-performance tents may find the Stormbreak a bit clunky or too ‘car-campy.’

In that case, for slightly lighter-higher performance options, see the Tungsten and Passage tents below or the C Bar above for the best overall performance.

Marmot Tungsten

The Marmot Tungsten is a rugged yet affordable 2-person budget backpacking tent.

Similar to the Stormbreak and REI Passage, the Tungsten is made of heavy-duty 68 denier polyester. This means improved water protection during inclement weather.

Related: Learn more about polyester vs nylon for water resistance.

Marmot Tungsten

Max/Trail weight: 5 lbs. 4 oz./4 lbs. 13 oz.
Floor size/area: 88″ x 54″/32 sq. ft.
Vestibule area: 9.8 sq. ft.
Material: 68D Polyester
Freestanding: Yes
Peak height: 42″
Seasons: 3
Capacity: 1, 2, 3 person
Price: $149-200
Sold by Backcountry, MooseJaw

Best Budget Backpacking Tent Under $200 - Marmot Tungsten

With a slightly lighter trail weight than the Stormbreak of 4 lbs. 13 oz., the Tungsten is a better bet for the weight-conscious hiker.

Additionally, the Tungsten has a lower profile than the Stormbreak, making it a much stronger tent overall.

While REI’s Passage comes in with a trail weight a few ounces below the Tungsten, the Passage’s poles are lower quality and therefore less likely to stand up to strong winds and rain.

Almost all of Marmot’s backpacking tents come with high quality 7000 series aluminum poles with a footprint included in the price.

For a slightly more rugged, 3-pole version of the Tungsten, check out the hard to find Marmot Catalyst.

The Catalyst’s third pole helps give the vestibule better structure and this tent has an extra 2 inches of clearance, giving it a peak height of 44 inches for a roomier, more livable feel.

On average, the Catalyst has a higher price point than the Tungsten, however, as of writing the Catalyst 2 is on sale for $137 from REI and $201 at Backcountry.com.

REI Passage

The REI Passage provides an incredibly well priced tent in a performance package for the occasional backpacker.

REI Passage

Max/Trail weight: 5 lbs. 10 oz./4 lbs. 2 oz.
Floor size/area: 88″ x 52″/31 sq. ft.
Vestibule area: 19 sq. ft.
Material: Polyester
Freestanding: Yes
Peak height: 40″
Seasons: 3
Capacity: 1, 2 person
Price: $112-159
Sold by REI

REI Passage 2 Person Budget Backpacking Tent

At Crux Range, many of us have had and been satisfied with REI tents. However, overall, we feel they lack the ruggedness that other high performance tents like the Stormbreak and Tungsten possess.

The Passage uses a similar design to the Tungsten but with a slightly lower peak height (maybe to compensate for lower tensile strength poles).

In general, we found the pole clips and zippers to be slightly less secure and lower quality than the Marmot or North Face tents; and once freestanding the Passage does feel a little more ‘flimsy.’

In their product listing, REI shows the Passage with a vestibule area of 19 square feet. This must be a typo as the Stormbreak and Tungsten whose vestibules feel spacious, are only 9-10 square feet in area.

In actuality, the Passage’s vestibule feels closer to a similar 9-10 square feet.

Still, if you only go backpacking once in a while and are looking for moderately lightweight-high performing backpacking tent at a budget price, the Passage is a fantastic choice.

Best Budget Backpacking Tent Under $300

If your budget has some wiggle room there a number of great budget backpacking tent options that still come in under $300.

In most cases the difference in price is due to the more advanced materials used to make the tent lighter and stronger.

However, some of the slightly more expensive tents are heavier than their budget counterparts above. This is mostly due to the size of the tent; bigger uses more materials, so it costs more.

For example, the Nemo Aurora has a trail weight of 4 pounds 9 ounces and retails for $249. One pound heavier than the Big Agnes C Bar and a bit more expensive.

But the Aurora has a floor area of 31.5 square feet and a peak height of 44 inches. Compared to the C Bar with a floor area of 28 square feet and a peak height of 41 inches, the Aurora is a roomier shelter.

Like a hotel room or a condo, you pay more for more space.

The decision to buy one of the budget backpacking tents under $200 or one of these slightly pricier options really depends on how much space you need to be comfortable and how much weight you are willing to carry.

Regardless of which tent you choose, all the tents listed are made by high quality manufacturers and they all perform well in the field under a variety of conditions.

Big Agnes Seedhouse SL

The Seedhouse is almost the exact same tent design as the C Bar listed above, except Big Agnes made it slightly lighter and added some interesting features.

Big Agnes Seed House SL

Max/Trail weight: 3 lbs. 12 oz./3 lbs. 6 oz.
Floor size/area: 86″ x 42″/28 sq. ft.
Vestibule area: 7 sq. ft.
Material: Polyester floor, nylon rainfly
Freestanding: Yes
Peak height: 41″
Seasons: 3
Capacity: 1, 2, 3 person
Price: $299
Sold by Backcountry, Outdoor Gear Xchange, BigAgnes.com

Best Ultralight Backpacking Tent on a Budget - Big Agnes Seedhouse

The Seedhouse’s floor is still polyester but the mesh comes down lower, give it more ventilation and reducing weight.

The polyester rainfly of the C Bar is replaced with a silicone treated nylon rip-stop with 1200mm waterproof polyurethane coating–a stronger and lighter material.

Additionally, the Seedhouse gives you two extra “Sidecar Vestibules” on either side of the tent which can be accessed through side zippers from inside the tent.

These mini-vestibules are 12 inches in depth, perfect for keeping your dirty shoes outside or a small pack protected and accessible.

Overall, if you like front entry tents, the Seedhouse is a flawlessly designed tent that is ready for just about anything.

Marmot Limelight

With a floor area of 33 square feet, the Marmot Limelight is an extremely spacious backpacking tent that can still keep you comfortable in foul weather.

Due to its DAC pressfit pole construction, flat sidewalls, and wide ceiling, the Limelight is a great tent for backpackers who like a little extra space or expect to keep their gear inside the tent most nights.

The only downside, the Limelight only features a single door and vestibule.

Marmot Limelight

Max/Trail weight: 5 lbs. 10 oz./5 lbs. 2 oz.
Floor size/area: 88″ x 54″/33 sq. ft.
Vestibule area: 9.5 sq. ft.
Material: Polyester
Freestanding: Yes
Peak height: 43″
Seasons: 3
Capacity: 2, 3, 4 person
Price: $269
Sold by REI, Marmot, Amazon

Marmot Limelight Backpacking Tent

While it is on the heavier side for a backpacking tent, it is near impossible to find a well made 2-person backpacking tent that feels this spacious inside.

The only other tent that comes close in terms of space is the Nemo Aurora.

Nemo Aurora

The Aurora by Nemo is technically smaller than the Limelight, with a floor area of 31.8 square feet and a width of 52 inches compared to the Limelight’s 33 square feet and width of 34 inches.

However, the Aurora feels much roomier inside. Maybe it’s the steeper sidewalls or double doors each with their own vestibule, but the Aurora is definitely the more livable tent.

The Aurora is also one of only a handful of tents with a vented rainfly and features a hubbed pole system for added structural strength and easy setup.

Nemo Aurora

Max/Trail weight: 5 lbs. 7 oz./4 lbs. 9 oz.
Floor size/area: 88″ x 52″/31.8 sq. ft.
Vestibule area: 9.2 sq. ft. x 2
Material: Polyester
Freestanding: Yes
Peak height: 44″
Seasons: 3
Capacity: 2, 3 person
Price: $249, footprint & repair kit included
Sold by REI, EVO, Backcountry.com

Nemo Aurora Budget Backpacking Tent Under $300

Kelty Dirt Motel

Kelty has been a solid name in the outdoor industry for a long time.

Even though they are usually associated with backpacks, the Kelty Dirt Motel was a surprisingly well performing budget backpacking tent with some nice features and a reasonable price tag.

The Dirt Motel’s star feature is their star gazing rainfly that can be rolled back during clear weather then easily deployed from inside the tent if it gets too cold or starts to rain in the middle of the night.

Like most of the other high quality backpacking tents we’ve listed, the Dirt Motel uses a DAC pressfit pole system to make set up easy and give the structure added strength.

The dirt motel features steep sidewalls to give it a roomy feel. With a few less square feet of floor space than the Aurora or Limelight, the Dirt Motel still feels spacious inside.

It is also one of the easiest tents to set up and take down thanks to Kelty’s color coded pole and corner system.

The only drawback of the Dirt Motel is that both the rainfly and floor are made of nylon rather than polyester.

While this makes it a lighter tent and nylon is slightly more durable than polyester, it is also a less water resistant material.

Kelty Dirt Motel

Max/Trail weight: 4 lbs. 13 oz./4 lbs. 4 oz.
Floor size/area: 84″ x 50″/28 sq. ft.
Vestibule area: 8.9 sq. ft. x 2
Material: Polyester
Freestanding: Yes
Peak height: 42.5″
Seasons: 3
Capacity: 2, 3, 4 person
Price: $259
Sold by MooseJaw, CampSaver, Amazon

Kelty Dirt Motel Backpacking Tent

Best Budget Ultralight Tents

Ultralight and affordable aren’t two words you usually hear in the same sentence.

While the budget backpacking tents listed above are very light considering their size and durability, for weight conscious adventurers, only ultralight tents will do.

Once a tent gets its weight down to ~2.5 pounds or less, it’ll usually be listed as an ultralight tent.

Ultra-light materials cost more to manufacture and sew.

As a result, ultralight gear often has a price point significantly higher than regular ol’ lightweight outdoor gear.

One of the lightest freestanding tents on the market, the Big Agnes Tiger Wall Carbon 2-person, weighs in at a measly 1 pound 6 ounces with an average cost of $999.

For comparison, the Marmot Tungsten 2 or Big Agnes C Bar shown above, weigh about 2-3 times the Tiger Wall but will cost you a quarter of the price.

Does that mean there a no ultralight tents at reasonable prices? Absolutely not (relatively).

Here are a few of the best and most affordable ultralight tents available today.

Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2

Never to be outdone in the ultralight game, Big Agnes recently updated their Fly Creek series with steeper walls and a vertical door to maximize floor, vestibule, and head space.

The Fly Creek UL features all the features that make Big Agnes tents some of the best on the market.

And with a 1 pound 15 ounces trail weight this is the lightest 2 person tent you can get for the price.

Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2

Max/Trail weight: 2 lbs. 5 oz./1 lbs. 15 oz.
Floor size/area: 86″ x 42″/28 sq. ft.
Vestibule area: 8 sq. ft.
Material: Nylon
Freestanding: Yes
Peak height: 40″
Seasons: 3
Capacity: 1, 2, 3 person
Price: $349
Sold by REI, Backcountry.com, Amazon

Big Agnes Fly Creek Ultralight Backpacking Tent

Marmot Bolt

For being made of polyester, the Marmot Bolt manages to stay ultralight while providing a solid-roomy structure similar in design to the Big Agnes Fly Creek.

Marmot Bolt

Max/Trail weight: 2 lbs. 5 oz./2 lbs. 2 oz.
Floor size/area: 86″ x 42″/28.1 sq. ft.
Vestibule area: 6.9 sq. ft.
Material: Polyester
Freestanding: Yes
Peak height: 42″
Seasons: 3
Capacity: 2 person
Price: $359
Sold by MooseJaw, OutdoorGearExchange, Amazon

Marmot Bolt Ultralight Backpacking Tent

Nemo Hornet

Like its larger counterpart the Aurora, the Nemo Hornet features an innovative pole design, and full zip doors, each with their own side vestibule.

While it has slightly less head space and a less roomy feel, the double doors and vestibules more than make up for the lack of internal space.

Nemo Hornet

Max/Trail weight: 2 lbs. 6 oz./1 lbs. 15 oz.
Floor size/area: 85″ x 51″/27.5 sq. ft.
Vestibule area: 7.1 sq. ft.
Material: Nylon
Freestanding: Yes
Peak height: 39″
Seasons: 3
Capacity: 2 person
Price: $369
Sold by REI

Nemo Hornet Ultralight Backpackint Tent

Background & Buying Advice

When looking for the best budget backpacking tent the choices can get overwhelming.

Be sure to read below and inform yourself on some tent terminology and important parts of a tent so you don’t waste your money and time on a tent that isn’t right for you.

Mini Table of Contents:

For example, a tent with a 15 denier nylon floor might be super light and look nice, but it is going to be much less durable than another tent with a heavier 65 denier floor.

Try narrowing things down by defining what sort of backpacking or other camping activities you will be doing most, then you can focus on tents in that category.

The average outdoor adventurer on a budget will usually be happy with a quality 3-season tent.

Thru-hikers might want an ultra-light tarp style tent while mountaineers will likely need a single-walled 4 season tent.

Which tent is best for you depends on what activities you will be doing, the weather you are most likely to encounter, and the features that are most important to you in a tent.

Why Some Tents Cost More

When it comes to tent cost, there is a wide range.

A Hilleberg Nallo 2 person tent costs $800 while the classic MSR Hubba Hubba NX runs $450 and the comparable 2 person Marmot Catalyst is only $185.

The reason for these dramatic price differences usually comes down to where the tent is made, fabric quality and how much of that fabric is used, and pole quality and design.

Overall, the lighter a tent gets, the more hi-tech the materials; which you will see in an increased cost.

Almost all backpacking tents are made abroad.

The most notable exceptions being Hyperlite, Tarpent, and Zpacks (all made in U.S.).

Hillberg, one of the burliest and also most expensive tents on the market, is a family owned and operated company from Sweden.

They manufacturer in Estonia but maintain an eye on equality and quality in their factories.

This small company mentality alongside their attention to complete ruggedness make their tents a bit pricey but well worth the cost.

Weight: Packaged/Max vs Trail/Min. vs Fastpack

When you look at a tent product listing you will probably see something that looks like this:

Common Backpacking Tent Specifications

For most backpackers, one of the most important tent specifications is weight.

There should be two weights specified; maximum weight (also called packaged or total weight), and minimum weight (also called trail weight).

Sometimes, you may also see a third weight called “fastpack weight,” or “fast fly weight.”

Tent Weight Specifications for Backpacking Tents

Maximum Weight (aka Packaged or Total Weight)

Maximum weight is the weight of all the components that come from the manufacturer in the package when your tent is brand new.

Generally this includes: tent body, rainfly, stuff sack, guylines, poles, stakes, and if included in the price, the footprint.

Carrying all these items with you on a trip would be the heaviest case scenario for that specific tent.

Many of the items included, however, are not always necessary.

Extra stakes, lines, or stuff sacks can be left behind to save weight.

This is where minimum weight or trail weight comes in to play.

Minimum Weight

Minimum weight refers to the minimum you would need to have a fully functioning tent in perfect conditions.

This includes: tent body, poles, and the rainfly

Not included in minimum weight calculations are: stakes, guylines, footprints, or stuff sacks.

Depending on your tent model, scaling down from packaged to trail weight can be either a dramatic weight savings or very minimal.

Consider this when looking for your budget backpacking tent.

All those extras like stakes, lines, and footprints, help your tent be a better shelter in poor weather.

Unless you know you will always be backpacking in perfect weather, try to find a tent whose maximum weight is close to their minimum weight.

This way you won’t be tempted to leave behind the rainfly or extra guy lines only to find yourself exposed during a massive storm.

Remember, some ultralight tents or tarp style shelters do not function without being staked or guy-lined out.

Fastpack Weight

Although not often seen in tent specification listings, fastpack weight is a useful metric.

This refers to the weight of only the rainfly and poles.

Not all tents can be pitched using only these two items, but if your tent does, you have another super light option when you are expecting mild weather.

Space

To determine how much inside space a tent provides, look for three measurements given by the manufacturer:

  • Floor area in square feet (or meters squared)
  • Tent dimensions
  • Peak height
Tent Space Specifications

Also, pay close attention the overall shape of the tent.

Even a tent with lots of floor space can be uncomfortable for living in if the sidewalls angle steeply.

Floor Area

On average a one person backpacking tent’s floor area is ~20 square feet.

With each one person increase in tent capacity, the floor area in square feet generally goes up by an increment of ~10.

So a two person backpacking tent has ~30 square feet of floor space and a three person ~40.

Note: Floor space is measured at ground level—the widest part of a tent’s footprint.

This is where tent shape becomes important.

Even if your tent has a large floor area, if it has steeply angled sides it will feel much smaller than it is.

Tent dimensions

While floor area gives you a good idea of how spacious a tent is, the actual dimensions are worth looking at.

As you can see in the diagrams above, the tent tapers dramatically at one end.

People who move around more at night or plan to spend a lot of time in their tent may not like this more restrictive shape.

Tent dimensions also allow you to estimate how much space you need.

Try climbing in your sleeping bag while someone measures your shoulder width including the bag and any camping pad that is sticking out.

As a rule of thumb, add 2-3 inches to this measurement and that is how much space you will need to be comfortable in your tent.

Keep in mind, you can squeeze right up against the sides of a tent, but in wet weather the more of you or your gear that is touching the sides, the wetter you will get.

Always look at tent dimensions before purchasing.

Peak Height

Peak height is an often overlooked measurement that can greatly effect how comfortable you are in a tent.

Lower profile tents save on weight and tend to be more stable in heavy winds.

However, for taller people, these low ceiling tents can quickly make you feel claustrophobic.

Not to mention, the lack of space makes removing/adding layers or doing anything functional while sheltered a bit difficult.

For example, even though it is one of our favorite budget backpacking tents, the North Face Stormbreak 1 has a maximum internal height of 34” (86 cm).

A petite person would be quite comfortable, but for myself at 6’1” it can feel crammed when sitting up, maneuvering to change clothes, or when cooking in the vestibule during a storm.

Keep in mind, peak height measurements are given for the single highest point of your tent.

As with floor area, this doesn’t give a true sense of actual livable space inside your tent which depends on the shape of the tent and angle of the walls.

In general steeper walls mean less livable space.

Peak height is an important factor in choosing a backpacking tent that suits you and your needs.

Sleeping Capacity

Tent sizes are indicated by the manufacturer’s proposed sleeping capacity—the number of persons the shelter is designed to fit comfortably.

This is usually indicated by the letter “P” preceded by a number in the tent name.

Some companies simply put the number without a ‘P.’

In product specifications you will see ‘sleeping capacity’ or ‘capacity.’

Number of Doors & Location

This becomes an issue in 2 person tents and larger.

A two person tent with one door means you have to crawl over your partner to get in and out of the tent.

If you are spending a lot of time in the tent during poor weather, a single door can make cooking and other activities of daily living much more difficult for 2 or more people.

Luckily, many new tents provide two side doors on larger tents.

The Big Agnes Copper Spur 2 is a great example. Its inner tent has two large side doors while the rainfly can be staked out and rolled back to provide a sheltered-functional area on each side of the tent.

Big Agnes Copper Spur 2 Backpacking Tent with Two Doors and Vestibules

Location of Doors

Some tents place their doors on the front of the tent.

This does eliminate climbing over your tent partner and allows you to stretch out in the tent while still keeping muddy feet outside.

However, these tents usually only have a vestibule on the one side, meaning less livable vestibule space when you need it.

Vestibule Area

Like floor area, vestibule area is shown in tent specifications in square feet.

The more vestibule space a tent has the more flexibility you have.

Vestibules can be used to keep gear covered, to cook in, or as an extra sleeping space when you bring your dog along.

Vestibule Area of a Backpacking Tent

If you have a small tent, having that extra vestibule space can make it easier to change or pack up while remaining sheltered.

All things being equal, we recommend choosing the tent with more vestibule space.

Weather Protection

Your tent’s ability to protect you from bad weather ultimately comes down to two things: the rainfly and tent structure.

As we go into more below, rainflies and tents are made of either Nylon or Polyester.


Nylon is lighter and more abrasion resistant while polyester is a bit heavier but many times more water-resistant.

Most rainflies are nylon coated with an impermeable membrane to make them water-resistant.

Coated nylon works well and can withstand a decent amount of moisture before leaking.

Still, if you can find a tent with a polyester rainfly it will offer increased protection during wet conditions.

Look for a full coverage rainfly that covers your tent all the way to the ground on all sides.

During a storm rainflys that stop short of the ground or do not cover all sides equally will allow a lot of moisture to get into your tent, ultimately leaving you and your gear wet and cold.

How well your tent withstands heavy winds is determined by its shape, structure, and pole strength.

Overall, a lower profile structure (steeper side walls) and stronger poles will mean a stronger more wind-resistant tent.

Through better design and pole structure, some ultralight tents are able to achieve high levels of wind resistance with lighter materials.

Ventilation & Warmth

The less mesh a tent body has, the warmer it will be.

This is why 4 season tents are single wall designs without mesh.

When combined with a rainfly, however, a double wall tent with lots of mesh provides a wider range of flexibility in use.

More mesh means a lighter tent with more ventilation.

In hot weather, you can leave the rainfly off while still being sheltered.

With the rainfly on, moisture can build up on the inside of the tent and fly.

Some rainflies feature small vents near the top of the tent for extra ventilation.

Note: pay attention to how low the mesh goes on your tent. The lower it goes the more dust and debris it will allow in when it is windy. See the Big Agnes C Bar vs the Kelty Dirt Motel above.

Weather: Seasonality Rating

Almost all 3 season backpacking tents are double-wall style tents.

By three seasons they mean Summer, Spring, Fall.

Four season tents are tents manufactured for more severe winter conditions.

For example, a three-season tent like the Marmot Tungsten would be ideal for backpacking the Eastern Sierras or Appalachian trail in August while base camping in Patagonia would require a four-season tent like the Black Diamond Awahnee.

A three season tent can stand up to rain and wind while four season tents are designed for snow and extreme cold.

Seasonality ratings are indicated in tent specifications as ‘seasons’ and are listed as either 3 or 4.

Denier & Durability

Another very important factor to consider when buying a backpacking tent is ‘denier.’

As we have talked about in previous articles, denier is a measure of fabric thread count which translates to fabric durability.

In general, the higher the denier (indicated with an ‘D’), the stronger and more abrasion resistant the material.

Further, higher denier will also mean a heavier material.

The exception being newer ultralight materials like the proprietary rip stop mixed denier nylon from Big Agnes.

Through the manufacturing process, these materials are able to maintain a high level of durability with a lighter-lower denier count.

Nylon vs Polyester

As mentioned above and explored at length in other articles, nylon and polyester are both polyamides—synthetic fabrics made from an oil base.

These materials are some of the strongest fabrics on the planet. Hence why climging harnesses and ropes are made from nylon.

Between the two, the biggest difference is stretch and water-repellence.

Nylon is hydrophilic, meaning it absorbs water.

While polyester is hydrophobic, meaning does not absorb water.

As far as tent materials go, nylon is a more versatile and durable material than polyester so most lightweight tent bodies and rainflies are made of coated nylon.

Keep in mind however, because it does absorb water, nylon will feel heavier, colder, and take longer to dry.

In the quick video below you can see the nylon rainfly sagging as it gets wet while the polyester rainfly stays taught.

Both nylon and polyester are solid tent materials.


Nylon will be lighter and more wear-resistant but less waterproof over time, whereas polyester is heavier and less abrasion resistant, but will stay more water-resistant over time.

Freestanding vs Non-freestanding

Freestanding backpacking tents stand up by themselves once the poles are inserted without the use of stakes or guy lines.

You will still need to tie off and stake out a freestanding tent for full weather protetcion, but the structure will remain upright without them.  

When going solo freestanding tents are much easier to set and can be easily picked up and moved in case of a change in conditions or location. 

Freestanding tents are almost always a bit heavier than an equally sized non-freestanding tent. 

Non-freestanding tents have few or no poles and the use of guy-lines, staking out, and more frequently, trekking poles is required for the structure to remain upright. 

Setting up a non-freestanding tent alone can be a challenge so make sure you practice before heading out.

Still, if setup properly, a non-freestanding tent can be just as strong or stronger than a freestanding backpacking tent.

Double-wall vs Single-wall

Single-wall tents are better suited to cold dry climates like high altitude mountains or winter ascents and are usually rated as four season shelters.

Double-wall tents will perform better in warmer (warmer than high altitude mountain weather) and wetter weather.

Usually rated as 3-season shelters, double-walled tents give you greater flexibility and moisture control.

Poles & Stakes

Poles are what give freestanding tents their strength.

Today, most budget backpacking tents come with decent aluminum tent poles.

Some higher end tents like the Big Agnes Fly Creek Carbon or MSR Carbon Reflex come with lighter-higher strength carbon poles.

But for the average adventurer aluminum poles are the perfect combination of strength, weight, and price.

For an inexpensive way to drastically improve the strength and weather resistance of your tent, upgrade your tent stakes.

Almost all tents come with heavy stakes that bend when hammered in and pull out of the ground with even the slightest breeze.

Solid aluminum stakes like the MSR Dart Stake will keep your tent upright in the wind and your rainfly strong during a storm.

Footprints

Some tents, like the Nemo Aurora, come with a footprint.

In most cases however, it is an extra piece of gear sold separately.

Tent footprints are thin sheets or tarps with the exact shape as the tent floor.

The sheet is place on the ground under the tent to prevent punctures, abrasion, and moisture seeping in.

A quality backpacking tent will still function without a footprint but if you are camping on scree or granite you might consider it.

Sold separately, tent footprints can be expensive, averaging ~$30-40.

You can read more here to find out if a footprint is really worth it as well as a few inexpensive DIY tent footprint options.

Summary

Finding the best budget backpacking tent for you can take a little bit of leg work.

Choose your tent based on the terrain and weather you will be camping in most often.

If you’re not sure what to look for, read the background and buying advice section above.

The best backpacking tent will be lightweight, durable, and weather-proof without breaking the bank.

For the best balance of price and performance check out the Big Agnes C Bar.

If you prefer a two-door tent, the Marmot Tungsten or Catalyst offer similar quality and construction.

Backpackers with a little bit of wiggle room in their budget will get a significant weight savings and performance gain by going with a tent like the Big Agnes Seedhouse or Nemo Hornet.

Backpackers whose priority is livable inside space will love the Marmot Limelight and Nemo’s Aurora.

If weight isn’t a huge issue for you, The North Face Stormbreak is the most affordable option without sacrificing quality or comfort.

Whatever you choose, we hope this guide helped you to make a more informed decision so you can get out there and enjoy your next adventure in comfort and safety.

What is your favorite backpacking tent?

Find anything useful? Like or share this article with your friends. Click below.

Sign up for the Crux Range Newsletter for regular updates, outdoor news, discounts and deal alerts.

Please note: Some links are affiliate links which help keep this website running. At no extra cost to you, we may earn a commission.

 

The activities described herein can be dangerous and possess inherent risk. The content provided is not intended as an expert opinion or advice. Seek proper instruction or appropriate medical advice from qualified professionals to learn the necessary skills to participate in any of the activities or regimes described herein. See Disclosure & Disclaimer for more info.

Newsletter Sign up

Deals on gear, new blog posts, inspiring stories, and more.

Newsletter Sign up

Deals on gear, new blog posts, inspiring stories, and more.

About The Author

About The Author

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE