We selected these six tents because they represented a range of the many applications of the backpacking tent and all achieved a baseline level of performance. This variety of application means that the category is diverse, but they share many common design features and inspirations.
The tents were judged on five criteria: shoulder room, packability, setup, weatherproofness, and features.
One trend that became apparent in the course of this test was the increasing bifurcation between tents that focus on being really sturdy and weatherproof and those that focus on being really light. This test set focused on the later half of this split, since most three season tents have deep-backcountry aspirations that require a light trail weight. These three person tents are generally less specialized than ultralight solo tents, and thus retain more weatherproofness than their smaller, lighter cousins, but the industry is moving relentlessly towards lighter and leaner tents.
The Best in Class winner was the MSR Freelite 3. This win was delivered largely on the tent’s light weight and superior packability. The biggest drawback for the Freelite is its price tag of $500.
The Kelty Gunnison came in last, only eight points behind the winner, which shows how tight of a field this set was. The biggest limitation that sank the Gunnison’s score was the heavy weight without the commensurate weatherproofness. It will serve well as a go-to car camping tent, given its large floor and vestibule space.
Prices in this test set ranged from $200 (Eureka Midori 3) to $500 (MSR FreeLite 3), averaging at $336. This price range is extraordinary, with the most expensive tent more than two times as much as the least expensive. The Best Value in this test set was the REI Co-op Quarter Dome 3, whose all-around consistent performance gave it a 3rd place overall finish at the reasonable price of $399.
These tents were judged with two weights: the minimum and the maximum. The minimum, or trail weight, is the weight of all the necessary components to get the tent over your head. The maximum, or package weight, includes all tent components. Minimum weights were as low as 2 lbs 5 oz (MSR Freelite 3) and maximum weights were as big as 7 lbs 6 oz (Kelty Gunnison 3.3). Floor space ranged from 45.2 square feet (Eureka Midori) to 39.4 square feet (REI Quarter Dome 3).
To test these tents, we used them throughout the spring of 2017, mostly on a multi-week mountaineering trip that began at Mount Shasta, ended on Mount Olympus, and hit Hood and Rainier in between. Testing also took place in the central Sierra Nevada. The length and intensity of the trip with a variety of conditions (we had at least a night of rain in each, wind gusts to 30mph, and temperatures down into the upper 30s), were the perfect environments to reveal the strengths and weaknesses of each tent.
For more reviews beyond this 2017 test, check out our other tent tests, backpacking stove tests, and overnight backpack tests, along with other related hiking and camping gear tests.