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 Backpacking Tent
Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 $303.72 - $395.96 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 Ultralight 2-Door Backpacking Tent
MSR FreeLite 2 $307.96 - $332.46 Packing smaller than the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2, our testers gave top marks to the MSR Free Lite 2 for ultralight adventures. When weight and pack space are the main concerns but you still want the luxury of two doors and two vestibules, this sleek backpacking tent is your best bet. It also performed better in the wind than many of the other models tested. Though both the FreeLite and the Copper Spur list their floor plans at 29 square feet, the MSR tent is sleeker, more angular and lower to the ground. As a result, it feels slightly more cramped yet packs smaller and performs better in high winds.
Best Single-Door 2-Person Backpacking Tent:
Mountain Hardwear Ghost UL2 $241.00 - $302.33 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.
Top Car Camping Tents
- The North Face Talus, while among the most expensive 4-person car camping tents tested, was the burliest, weatherproof tent of the bunch.
- 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
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.
Slumberjack Daybreak 4
Field Notes: Set up on the river bed of the Colorado River, this tent kept testers warm in high-velocity gales. But the tent truly shined when stars were bright and skies were clear. A full mesh body makes this Slumberjack a premier stargazing tent.
Pros: The tent is simply designed, and makes a strong case for car camping families or hunting parties. The full mesh body is a fun feature when the stars are shining and makes the Slumberjack a low-cost option.
Cons: The poles are long and heavy; they could easily be considered jousting lances. The two top poles seemed superfluous and there is minimal pocket space. While testers prefer 2-door designs, the single-door design works with the Daybreak because of how campers can orient their sleeping bags.
Favorite Feature: The mesh body for the win; once testers were lying on their backs and staring at the stars, they couldn’t have been more stoked.
Tester Quote: “Affordability and stability make this tent a decent option for families, and the mesh makes it great for muggy summer trips when keeping out insects is the only real concern. Stargazing is phenomenal as well.”
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 campers, families, stargazers, hunters.
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