How to Choose an Ultralight Tent or Shelter for a Thru Hike
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 […]
Last Updated: 2 months ago
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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!
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Best Semi Freestanding
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL
Big Agnes Unisex's Copper Spur Tent, Orange, 2 Person
Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Trekking Pole Tent - Since it needs your trekking poles you have a much lighter weight on the tent itself instead of requiring poles in addition, though poles are available should you want to use them instead.
Wide Tarp Overhang Moisture Catch - There is a 4.5 inch wide strip of bug netting which allows moisture and condensation to fall outside of your tent helping you stay dry in all environments.
Tall Bathtub Floor - Unlike most tents this has an 8" bathtub floor which ensures nothing can accidentally get into the tent floor.
Zpacks Duplex Drawbacks
Cost - A big negative for most people is the price tag which it comes with. The $600 price point is a big hit when you are looking to budget out gear.
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
Gear Loft - An amazing holder which is up and placed more at a useful level then a typical foot storage mesh.
New Vestibule Featuring an Awning - Awning-style vestibules can be customized to expand living space, great for both drizzle and sun protection.
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL Drawbacks
Awning Fly Can Seep Water - There are some complaints that the awnings can leak water in a heavy, continuous rain.
Limited Color Options - The Big Agnes tent line as a whole tends to have limited choices as to color as this tent only has olive green and orange.
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
Ultralight & Portable Tent - Minimum trail weight is only 1.7lb and packed small with 15.7in*4.7in, so you can carry it easily on backpacking or camping trips
Waterproof Tent - Water-repellent, seam-taped rainfly featuring 15D nylon, silicone/PU 5000mm and bathtub floor with 20D nylon, silicone/PU 6000mm.
Easy to Set Up - NOTE you must have a trekking pole to use with the tent. The teepee can resist strong wind if you correctly pitch it.
Well Ventilated - 1 ventilation window and full mesh inner tent, which help provide good breathability and prevent condensation from building up.
Versatile Teepee Style Tent - Can be set up as a tarp-tent without bathtub and mesh walls, and also be set up as a bug mesh star gazer without the rain fly.
3F UL 2P Lanshan Drawbacks
Floor Material Wears Easily - I see a fairly consistent gripe that the floor of the tent gets holes in it pretty easily. The material doesn't seem very durable and they all suggest getting a liner to sit between the tent and the ground.
SUGGEST: Add a piece of 9x5 Tyvek as a ground cloth.
Difficult To Assemble On The Fly - Can be difficult to set up the first time. Many people reported needing to watch YouTube before they could properly configure it the first time.
ULTRALIGHT SHELTER WITH PLENTY OF ROOM: Designed to be the best double walled, ultralight tent supported by trekking poles (NOT INCLUDED). Weighing in less than 39 ounces, the X-Mid 2P makes it easier than ever to enjoy all that nature has to offer
SPACIOUS TREKKING POLE SHELTER: The X-Mid offers a generous living space with dual doors and an easy setup using four stakes, no guylines, and interior ridgeline pocket provides handy internal storage. Dual vestibules provide easy access and gear space.
SIMPLE PITCH: Pitching the X-Mid is similar to pitching a single-pole mid tent. There’s no guesswork with pole locations or pole lengths, because the fly naturally limits the length of the poles. Simply insert them into the grommets and extend until taut.
INNOVATIVE DESIGN: Innovative design with a diagonal inner inside a rectangular-based fly. This allows the poles to be moved inwards without interfering with doors and living space, eliminating vertical, wind-catching walls and the need for peak guyouts.
STORM WORTHY MATERIALS: The tent is made of 20d 420T 100-percent polyester with a 2000mm sil/PU coating. Tested under extreme lab conditions simulating 1.5 months of continuous high winds and heavy rains, the fabric still came out above 1500mm.
MADE FOR THRU HIKERS: Tent pitches fly first so inner stays dry even during setup in the rain, inner is fully protected from falling rain during entry and exit, Packs into a short 12 x 5 package that stores horizontally inside a pack, fully seam taped
DAN DURSTON: the X-Mid is the brainchild of Dan Durston, an experienced thru-hiker and established member of the ultralight community. Carefully crafted and designed for real trail conditions with an emphasis on simplicity and durability.
NITTY GRITTY: Fly Weight 22.8oz, Inner weight 15.8oz. Fly Dimensions 88 x 102 x 47in., Inner peak height 44in. Floor Dimensions 50 x 92in, 32 sq. ft. Vestibule Area (2) 12.5 sq. ft. Packed Size 12 x 6.5in. Trekking Poles Required for Setup NOT INCLUDED
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
ULTRALIGHT DESIGN - With brilliant design and engineering, the NEMO Hornet manages to be one the lightest tents on the market with all of the bells and whistles seasoned backpackers dream of
WEATHER TIGHT & RUGGED - True tub floor construction reduces seam construction and seam tape, making for a more durable waterproof floor; Two large vestibules provide more coverage for gear storage
DUAL DOORS / VESTIBULES - It’s the only free-standing tent in the sub-2 lb category with two doors and two vestibules, a simple expansion that makes a world of difference for easy entry / exit and access to gear
MAX VOLUME - Triangulated volumizing guy-outs increase interior space by up to 15% using included volumizing clips; Single Hubbed pole design makes setting up quick and intuitive
CREATURE COMFORTS - Light Pockets on the ceiling use your headlamp for pleasant interior lighting; Built-in privacy panel for extended coverage and security; DAC Featherlite poles minimize weight; Divvy sack allows you to divide the pack load between two hikers
Nemo Hornet Drawbacks
Leaks and Puddling - A few people reported issues with the waterproofing and that they experienced seeping into the interior of the tent.
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.
Hey I'm Nomad and this is my website all about hiking and taking back the outside world. I love being outside and having the smell of the woods around me which led me to decide to gain my independence again from the high tech world we live in, come and join me!
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We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. Some of the links on this website to REI, HMG, and many gear vendors which are "affiliate links". This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally or believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”