How to Choose an Ultralight Tent or Shelter for a Thru Hike

by Nomad | Last Updated:  June 24, 2020
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When beginning your journey to preparing for a thru hike you have so much you have to research and learn about to become well versed in the needed gear, knowledge, and more.

Many times a new hiker is lured by the ultralight mentality by trying to follow YouTube and others to lower their base weight massively. While lowering your weight can be helpful and effective in hiking longer distances it comes with some better preparation needs.

Today we will focus on understanding the top items you want to focus on should you want to get an ultralight tent along with explain some features and benefits of our favorite options at a good price.

Below are my favorite 3 options from Amazon, the Copper Spur is both light and freestanding, not requiring trekking poles. The Lanshan has become an overall favorite due to solid quality and they released a pro which is a single wall and looks almost like the Zpacks Duplex but at 1/3 the cost!

Runner Up
Big Agnes Unisex's Copper Spur Tent, Orange, 2 Person
Budget Buster
3F UL GEAR lanshan 2 Tent 2 Person Oudoor Ultralight Camping Tent 3 Season Professional 15D Silnylon Rodless Tent 4 Season (2P Green 3 Season)
LanShan 2 pro Tent 2 Person Outdoor Ultralight Camping Tent 3 Season Professional 20D Nylon Both Sides Silicon Tent
Thru Hiker Fav
Nemo Hornet Ultralight Backpacking Tent, 2 Person
Nemo Hornet Elite Ultralight Backpacking Tent, 2 Person
Make / Model
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL
3F UL GEAR Lanshan 2
3F UL GEAR Lanshan 2 Pro
Nemo Hornet
Nemo Hornet Elite
Weight
3lbs 2oz
2lbs 9oz
2lbs 2oz
2 lb 6 oz
2 lb , 1 oz
Freestanding?
Single Wall?
Prime?
-
-
-
-
-
Current Price
$449.95
$148.00
$178.00
$369.95
$499.95
Runner Up
Big Agnes Unisex's Copper Spur Tent, Orange, 2 Person
Make / Model
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL
Weight
3lbs 2oz
Freestanding?
Single Wall?
Prime?
-
Current Price
$449.95
Purchase Today
Budget Buster
3F UL GEAR lanshan 2 Tent 2 Person Oudoor Ultralight Camping Tent 3 Season Professional 15D Silnylon Rodless Tent 4 Season (2P Green 3 Season)
Make / Model
3F UL GEAR Lanshan 2
Weight
2lbs 9oz
Freestanding?
Single Wall?
Prime?
-
Current Price
$148.00
Purchase Today
LanShan 2 pro Tent 2 Person Outdoor Ultralight Camping Tent 3 Season Professional 20D Nylon Both Sides Silicon Tent
Make / Model
3F UL GEAR Lanshan 2 Pro
Weight
2lbs 2oz
Freestanding?
Single Wall?
Prime?
-
Current Price
$178.00
Purchase Today
Thru Hiker Fav
Nemo Hornet Ultralight Backpacking Tent, 2 Person
Make / Model
Nemo Hornet
Weight
2 lb 6 oz
Freestanding?
Single Wall?
Prime?
-
Current Price
$369.95
Purchase Today
Nemo Hornet Elite Ultralight Backpacking Tent, 2 Person
Make / Model
Nemo Hornet Elite
Weight
2 lb , 1 oz
Freestanding?
Single Wall?
Prime?
-
Current Price
$499.95
Purchase Today

Now that you see the best choices we can now take a look at the things you should focus on when choosing to purchase an ultralight tent. These things should all be considered before any purchase and before each trip to ensure the tent matches the needs and will ensure you are properly prepared.

Top Items To Focus On When Choosing an Ultralight Tent

When deciding on a tent you really have some core needs to look at in greater detail to ensure you make the right choice. Many who come into this looking at weight alone can impact their hikes success and enjoyment based on fighting to drop a few ounces in place of comfort, weather, and the environment you will be in.

Pack Size

One thing which requires you to think about more than just your tent is the size the tent takes within your backpack. If you have a smaller backpack a larger tent is not something you can manage to balance out the other gear you need to contain.

You need to look at how the tent, when packed, will fit in your backpack as many people want or need their tent to lay horizontally in their backpack where others prefer vertical alignment.

This is a very personal choice and will be heavily influenced by the gear you already have and the space that will be needed within. This may require you buy a tent because of the size when packed as maybe one is longer than the other.

Pack Weight

Your tent pack weight is always going to be a deciding factor as it is part of the big three gear, backpack, sleep system, and tent which means to drop significant overall base weight you want to look to lower the tent weight as a priority.

While it is hard to drop pounds from the rest of your gear, you can drop pounds from a tent without it costing too much up to a point. Once you start to get to the 2 pound mark the decrease in weight comes with a large price increase.

Freestanding vs Non-Freestanding

While most campers are familiar with freestanding tents they may not know the difference between a free or non-freestanding tent.

A freestanding tent is one which can stand on its own without needing additional support, this is typically due to the poles being a part of the package which builds the structure of the tent.

A non-freestanding tent is one which requires guyouts and guylines along with typically one or two trekking poles to build the shape of the tent. This builds the structure of the tent and helps to lighten your carrying load by removing the poles as an additional hardware.

Overall Comfort

When you look at overall comfort you want to think about how your time in the tent will be spent, people try to lessen the weight and cost of their tent by choosing a 1 person tent instead but there is a lot of loss in personal space.

When you thru hike the tent you choose is your home, you will be spending a long time living from the tent. This can sometimes be upwards of 5-6 months where the limited space may irritate you more as you go, this is why most people will choose a 2 person tent for the additional living room.

Travel Environment

Are you heading into a desert or a forest, are there trees or is it mostly loose soil? When you are travelling you will want to have prior knowledge of the area and environment to ensure the right shelter for the right location.

For example, even if you want to hammock camp the PCT you may want to look at bringing a tent until you reach the forested areas to ensure you have space and ability to hang right.

Additionally in a desert style area with a tent, the freestanding tents benefit is they don’t need the stakes to hold the tent upright which helps you to hold the tent upright without the stakes pulling out of the sand and dropping the tent on you.

Trail Weather Expectations

Are you looking at super low temperatures more in alignment with 4 seasons? Are you looking at a high wind area or face other crazy weather patterns?

These you need to investigate and evaluate the needs of the weather on the gear you are choosing, in addition to understanding how to be use the shelter in that given weather which helps you fully be prepared for any weather which should pop in on you over 5-6 months.

Our Top Ultralight Tents Choices

When looking at tents there is definitely an overall favorite in the YouTube community and from regular hikers alike. What most people don’t hear about as much are some of the other favorites and some of the other options which may fit your needs or budget without the cost.

Best Overall: Zpacks Duplex

The Zpacks Duplex probably needs very little introduction from me as it is the all-star of online videos and content. Zpacks is an amazing US company which builds their tents from dyneema which is a very waterproof material that is also incredibly light in weight.

The Duplex was specifically designed by Zpacks for the demands of long distance backpacking. The Duplex hits a homerun overall when it comes to size, weight, and features.

The Duplex is lightweight, roomy, well-ventilated, packs down small, pitches easily, and can be set up in the tightest of spaces. You won’t find a lighter functional two person tent anywhere on the market.

Zpacks Duplex Benefits & Features

Zpacks Duplex Drawbacks

Runner Up: Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL

The new Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL as been redesigned with some brand new features inside and out. They are using proprietary materials that are lighter, stronger, and equipped with hardware that makes set-up even easier.

The high volume design provides ample living space in this freestanding structure. Traditional, media, and 3D bin pockets help to organize your gear without cramping your sleep space or capacity to sit up inside

Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL Benefits & Features

Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL Drawbacks

Big Agnes Unisex's Copper Spur Tent, Orange, 2 Person
  • The design allows for high volume pole architecture resulting in steeper walls
  • High volume angle hub increases stability and strength while creating optimal livable space
  • Features one door and one vestibule with storm flaps on the vestibule zippers
  • Quick stash on tent body door makes stowing unzipped door quick and easy
  • Two-tone mesh provides privacy while allowing for star-gazing transparency

Best Budget: 3F UL 2P Lanshan

The 3F UL 2P Lanshan Tent is an ultralight option for weight-conscious backpackers, thru-hikers, and section hikers from fall to spring. It has walls built out of no-see-um mesh for maximum ventilation and airflow.

It also has silicone treatments and PU coatings to ensure reliable protection when wet weather tries to dampen your trips. The tent has some assorted mesh storage pockets inside the tent for smaller items like your phone and headlamp.

The 3F UL 2P Lanshan tent portion can be easily removed allowing you to enjoy the functionality of a tarp cover only. This doesn’t come with poles in the packaging, but you can use the trekking poles. As always it is good to look at choosing a footprint to keep the bottom from being punctured.

3F UL 2P Lanshan Benefits & Features

3F UL 2P Lanshan Drawbacks

Sale
3F UL GEAR lanshan 2 Tent 2 Person Oudoor Ultralight Camping Tent 3 Season Professional 15D Silnylon Rodless Tent 4 Season (2P Green 3 Season)
  • Flysheet: 15D Nylon (Waterproof Index 5000mm),one-side silicon coated fabric with weight of 584g.
  • Inner tent: 20D Nylon high density mesh with weight of 480g.
  • Inner size: 210*110*120cm (L*W*H)
  • Bottom of Tent: 20D Nylon (Waterproof Index 8000mm)
  • Weight: 1155 grams

Best Budget: 3F UL 2P Lanshan Pro (Single Wall)

3F UL 2P Lanshan Pro Benefits & Features

3F UL 2P Lanshan Pro Drawbacks

Sale
LanShan 2 pro Tent 2 Person Outdoor Ultralight Camping Tent 3 Season Professional 20D Nylon Both Sides Silicon Tent
  • Tent size: 270*125 (H),Inner size: 230*120*120cm (L*W*H)
  • Net weight: 915grams(only tent),Storage size: 34 * 15CM
  • tent :20D double silicon fabric (waterproof index 2000MM)+20D nylon breathable gauze
  • Bottom of Tent: 20D silicone waterproof nylon (waterproof index 5000MM)
  • List: tent *1(915G) ,ground nail *8, wind rope,heat repair patch *2(can only repair the bottom of the inner tent),Glue needs to be purchased separately, no glue is available! ! ! This product does not include support rods and does not provide glue! ! Thank you!

Popular With Thru Hikers: Nemo Hornet

For those hikers looking for a ultralight shelter with greater volume, the Hornet™ offers the ultimate in livability and comfort. Top quality fabrics and a minimal pole structure shave every ounce possible. While the latest updates and new patent-pending Flybar™ volumizing clip add even more room without adding weight.

The single pole construction allows for quicker setup and minimal additional pole weight. Triangulated reflective guy outs and corner struts increase volume at the foot, protecting sleeping bags from tent wall condensation.

Nemo Hornet Benefits & Features

Nemo Hornet Drawbacks

Nemo Hornet Ultralight Backpacking Tent, 2 Person
  • THE MASTER OF ULTRALIGHT - The updated Hornet offers unmatched livability and comfort for its weight; NEMO’s patent-pending Flybar volumizing clip adds even more interior volume, while top shelf fabrics and a minimal pole structure make it even lighter than the previous generation
  • LIGHTWEIGHT & LIVABLE - The 2P model is one of the only free-standing tents in the sub-2 lb category with two doors and two large vestibules; Flybar pole clip adds more headroom and increased stability; Volumizing guyouts connect the inner tent to the rainfly, pulling the sidewalls outward to create more livable space; 2P model has a minimum weight of 1 lb 15 oz, a packed weight of 2 lb 6 oz, and packs down to 19.5 x 5.5 in dia
  • WEATHERTIGHT & RUGGED - Premium 10D Nylon Ripstop fly with silicone water repellent is extremely light and durable; DAC Featherlite poles boast minimal weight and connect with a single hubbed intersection for lightning-quick setup; Canopy: 10D Nylon Ripstop & No-See-Um Mesh; Fly: 10D Sil/PeU Nylon Ripstop (1200 mm waterproof); Floor: 15D Sil/PeU Nylon Ripstop (1200 mm waterproof)
  • PERKS & DETAILS - Guyouts and struts at corners increase volume at the foot, protecting sleeping bags from wall condensation; Unique Divvy dual stage stuff sack makes it easy to divide the load with a partner; Diffusing Light Pockets turn your headlamp into a tent lantern
  • LIFETIME WARRANTY - We strive to design and build the best outdoor equipment on the planet, obsessing over every detail; All NEMO products carry a lifetime warranty against defects in workmanship and materials to the original owner, with proof of purchase from an authorized NEMO dealer

Final Thoughts on How to Choose an Ultralight Tent or Shelter

There are numerous needs to make sure you evaluate to get the proper shelter for your hike, while it may seem like the $700 Duplex is the best choice it may not always align up that way in real life application.

I hope these give you a good chance to get started in long distance ultralight backpacking. There are many options out there that can be more expensive to lose a few ounces in overall weight but those are not required.

I purchased the Lanshan 2 and the Lanshan 2 Pro and am beyond happy with both of them along with the ease of setup and breakdown. Don’t get me wrong I would love to be gifted a Duplex but I am not shelling out $600 for a tent when I can find one at a third of the cost instead that is almost the same except in pack weight.

Nice to meet you, my trail name is Nomad the founder of Nomad Hiker and I love being outdoors and exploring nature! I now want to help spread that love through information back out to everyone to help them feel the same excitement with the world that I feel while in the back country. My current goals are to thru hike all the trails in the greater Texas region and to show everyone it is easily achievable at any age!