Two-person backpacking tents are the standard for most backcountry adventures, tough enough to stand up to rain and wind, but light enough to take anywhere. They’re perfect for couples, buddies and going solo. So the first criteria for this category is that the tent is designed for two people.
The next filter is weight, an all-important variable when it comes to logging miles in the backcountry, no matter your vehicle—boots, bikes or boats. Depending on the last time you updated your backpacking tent you may be surprised by our criteria for this category. A steady and relentless push towards lighter has driven tents to new lows. Where three pounds per person was a reasonable weight less than a decade ago, now almost every tent we tested is less than 2.5 pounds and most are sub two. These tents are so light they are worthy of solo campers too, letting them escape the hovel’s of old for palatial mansions with little to no weight penalty. And the bonus to being lightweight is almost always smaller pack sizes—these tents don’t take up much room in a pack.
We could have pushed the weight boundary farther, but that would stray into the ultralight category, where weight trumps livability. There is a time and place for cramped camping, but this is not it. The five tents reviewed here find a middle ground between weight, durability, and roominess. New pole designs and tent architecture push side walls to near vertical and headroom up to kneeling height. The result: in the same footprint you get way more space, making the tent feel bigger. The tents we tested range from the Marmot Tungsten, which could fit three people in a pinch, to the more minimalist KUIU Mountain Star, still enough room for two big guys.
Along with packability (a mix of weight and bulk), and shoulder room, we compared these tents on how easy they are to set up, their ability to deflect a storm and a miscellaneous grouping of other notable features. These are all great tents, but in the end the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 topped the category. Its acronyms say it all: HV for high volume and UL for ultralight—the best of both worlds. But if we were to roll value into the mix, the Marmot Tungsten would reign supreme. It scored 87 compared to the Copper Spur’s 90, but costs $150 less.
But in the end, when it comes to a tent we don’t think cost savings should rank too high on the priority list. This is a home, a long-term investment, after all. Treat it right and a backpacking tent should last hundreds of nights. Spread out over that amount of time and even $150 comes down to a buck a night.