A premium two-person backpacking tent can cost upwards of $500, but not everyone needs best-in-class performance. Casual weekenders and those just dipping their toes into backpacking can save a lot of money with a budget design. These tents are often heavier and less engineered than top-shelf models, but they’re nevertheless well-built and will keep you protected in a storm. REI Co-op dominates the value scene, but our list also includes tents from brands like Nemo, MSR, Big Agnes, The North Face, and more. For additional information, see the comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
Our Team's Budget Backpacking Tent Picks
- Best Overall Budget Backpacking Tent: REI Co-op Passage 2
- A Premium Backpacking Tent for Under $350: REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+
- Best Budget Tent for Families: REI Co-op Trail Hut 4
- Best Budget Backpacking Tent for Bad Weather: MSR Elixir 2
Best Overall Budget Backpacking Tent
1. REI Co-op Passage 2 ($159)
Packaged weight: 5 lb. 10 oz.
Floor dimensions: 88 x 52 in.
Capacities: 1P, 2P
What we like: All the tent that most backpackers need for just $159.
What we don’t: You can spend up for more interior space and a lighter, more packable design.
REI Co-op’s in-house brand offers great bang for your buck, and their lineup of backpacking tents is especially impressive. In short, no other tent manufacturer offers a better combination of price and performance—the holy grail for budget seekers. The Passage 2 is their entry-level offering, keeping costs low with a simplified pole structure and material set that emphasizes durability over weight-savings. But despite its budget designation, the tent is all most backpackers need, with ample interior space for two sleepers, two doors and vestibules, and a full-coverage rainfly for protection in wind and rain.
We’ve spent a lot of time in a tent—and a lot of time in $500 tents—and keep coming back to the Passage as one of the best values on the market. If you’re a casual backpacker or only get out a few times a year, you really don’t need anything more. Sure, the Passage is heavy, and it’s true that you can get a lot more interior space with a design that features a center ridge pole and steeper walls (for a bump in livability, check out REI's $199 Trail Hut 2). If you plan to spend a lot of time in your tent or want to keep your pack weight low, the Half Dome SL 2+ below is a nice step up for an extra $170. But for a durable, protective, and well-built shelter and footprint for well under $200, the Passage is our runaway favorite budget tent of the year... Read in-depth review
See the REI Co-op Passage 2
A Premium Backpacking Tent for Under $350
2. REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+ ($329)
Packaged weight: 4 lbs. 11.5 oz.
Floor dimensions: 90 x 54 in.
Capacities: 2+P, 3+P
What we like: The best combination of weight and livability for under $350.
What we don’t: Still heavier and bulkier than high-end backpacking tents.
REI’s Passage above is a function-first tent that will save you a lot of cash, but their mid-range Half Dome SL 2+ is the more well-rounded design. For $329 (price unfortunately jumped $50 recently), you get a sizable boost in livability thanks to roomier dimensions and modern features like pre-bent poles and a ridge-pole structure, both of which spread out the headroom and create steeper walls throughout. It all adds up to a nice amount of space for two adults, and with the "plus" designation, you’ve got room to squeeze in a smaller companion like a child or canine, too. Impressively, the Half Dome still manages to check in 14.5 ounces lighter than the Passage, and the whole package is noticeably more premium: finishes like a DAC-brand hubbed pole set and larger vents and vestibules give the tent a high-end feel that goes head to head with many of the top designs on the market.
The main reason the Half Dome SL dips into the budget category is weight: while it’s reasonably light compared to base models like the Passage above, it can’t compete with top-tier tents like the Big Agnes Copper Spur ($500; 3 lbs. 2 oz.). Simply put, if you’re headed out for weeks at a time or plan to cover a lot of ground each day, it might be worth spending up. But you can drop 8 ounces by leaving the included footprint behind, and the robust 40-denier floor should stand up well to rocks and branches. And if you’re looking to keep both weight and cost low, a tent like the Big Agnes C Bar is worth a look, but you’ll give up a good deal of livability with a tapered floor plan and single-door design. All told, for the best of all worlds at a sub-$350 price point, the Half Dome SL is without rival—in fact, it’s the tent we recommend most to family and friends... Read in-depth review
See the REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+
Best Budget Tent for Families
3. REI Co-op Trail Hut 4 ($299)
Packaged weight: 8 lbs. 1.6 oz.
Floor dimensions: 90 x 88 in.
Capacities: 2P, 4P
What we like: A spacious four-person tent with a ridge pole for extra headroom.
What we don’t: It’s worth considering purchasing two two-person tents instead.
Most of the tents here are designed to fit two sleepers—we do this both for comparison’s sake and because two-person designs are the most common and versatile size among backpackers. But if you’re traveling with children, want to mix in some car camping, or are willing to bear the extra burden for a roomier shelter, a four-person tent is a great solution. Within this category, the Trail Hut 4 is our favorite model: for just $299, you get sufficient room for four side-by-side sleeping pads, two doors and vestibules, and a generous 48-inch peak height. And unlike the 90’s-era REI tent that we spent countless nights in as a kid, the Trail Hut here tacks on a center ridge pole to increase headroom throughout.
If you're considering a four-person tent, keep in mind that this isn’t your only solution for family backpacking trips. At 8 pounds 1.6 ounces, the Trail Hut 4 is undeniably heavy and bulky for human-powered travel—even when divided into two backpacks. Opting for two two-person tents offers more room overall (including vestibule space) and can result in a better night’s sleep for everyone. What’s more, finding two small flat spots is often easier than one large tent site, depending on your environs. But you won’t find a better deal for accommodating four sleepers, and despite its heft, you'll still save a good deal of weight with the four-person model. All specs aside, we wouldn’t trade anything for the memories of waiting out a high-country storm with the whole family, complete with a deck of cards and a good book... Read in-depth review
See the REI Co-op Trail Hut 4
Best Budget Backpacking Tent for Bad Weather
4. MSR Elixir 2 ($290)
Packaged weight: 6 lbs.
Floor dimensions: 84 x 50 in.
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P, 4P
What we like: Sturdy pole structure and solid canopy fabric lend extra weather protection.
What we don’t: Heavier and less breathable than more mesh-heavy designs.
We’ve learned to count on Seattle-based MSR for their capable and protective backpacking tents, from the cult-classic Hubba Hubba NX to four-season designs like the Remote. The Elixir here is their entry-level tent, but don’t let the budget designation fool you—like its pricier brethren, this tend is primed for bad weather. A few design features make it a bit burlier than the competition, including large panels of solid fabric in the canopy (more wind-resistant than mesh) and a unique crisscrossing pole structure. Along with a ridge pole, this shape lends itself to a generous amount of headroom as well, which you’ll be grateful for while tent-bound in a storm.
But there are a few tradeoffs to the Elixir’s sturdy design. First off is weight: at 6 pounds, it’s the heaviest two-person tent to make this list. Second, with less mesh in the canopy than most tents here, the MSR isn’t the most breathable option, and it doesn’t help that the fly vents are placed particularly low at both the head and foot. Finally, the Elixir’s listed footprint is only 84 inches in length—a half-foot less than a tent like the Half Dome SL 2+ above. Most summer backpackers will be fine with one of the more mesh-heavy designs here, but if you’re looking for stalwart protection for serious three-season conditions, the Elixir is our top weather-ready pick of 2022.
See the MSR Elixir 2
Best of the Rest
5. Nemo Aurora 2P ($280)
Packaged weight: 5 lb. 7 oz.
Floor dimensions: 88 x 52 in.
Capacities: 2P, 3P
What we like: Massive interior space and a premium feature set.
What we don’t: Not as roomy or weather-worthy as the Half Dome SL above.
Nemo makes some of the best backpacking tents in the business, so the recent release of their budget-oriented Aurora certainly caught our attention. A modern take on the simple entry-level tent, the Aurora offers a large amount of livable space by way of prebent poles (the interior feels quite open with four near-vertical walls), hubs at both the head and foot ends, and a ridge pole at the center. A symmetrical design and Nemo’s intuitive hardware make set up a breeze, and you even get features like light-diffusing pockets and snaps for Nemo’s Pawprint liner (great for protecting the tent floor from your pup). For casual or penny-pinching backpackers who want a step up in interior space and quality from most budget tents, the Aurora is certainly worth a look.
Priced at $280 (with an included footprint), the Aurora is on the spendy side of "budget." You do save $49 compared with the popular Half Dome above and get more durable materials (68D vs. 40D for the floor), but the REI is over a half-pound lighter and far more spacious with an additional 4 inches in length and width. We also found the REI gets the edge in wind protection—the very upright shape of the Nemo made it vulnerable to bowing in strong gusts on a trip in Colorado's San Juan Mountains. Weight-conscious hikers that get out a fair amount will likely opt for the Half Dome, but the Aurora is still a durable and affordable choice, and it’s hard to beat the premium feel and finishes of a Nemo design. For more space, you can bump up to the Aurora 3P (88 x 72 in.) for $350.
See the Nemo Aurora 2P
6. Big Agnes C Bar 2 ($200)
Packaged weight: 4 lbs.
Floor dimensions: 86 x 52/42 in.
Capacities: 2P, 3P
What we like: Lightweight for a budget tent.
What we don’t: Cramped living quarters for two and not very wind-resistant.
When you opt for a budget tent, there’s no escaping without a little compromise in terms of interior space or weight. But it’s a spectrum: some tents tack on a few extra ounces for the sake of livability, while others streamline the build in order to keep weight low. Big Agnes’ C Bar 2 falls into the latter category, with a minimalist design reminiscent of their ultralight Fly Creek. You get just one door and vestibule, a mesh-heavy canopy, and a tapered roof and floor area that keep materials to a minimum. It’s a tight squeeze for two—you won’t be able to sit up at the same time as your tent mate and will practically have to crawl over them to get in and out—but at just 4 pounds, the C Bar 2 is the lightest two-person tent to make this list.
For solo hikers or those trying to shave weight from their pack, the C Bar 2 is a really nice budget offering. But the interior space is a far cry from models like the Nemo Aurora and Half Dome SL above, and you’ll have to ask yourself if it’s worth the sacrifice for one less pound. Further, the simplified pole structure (just one pole down the spine) and mesh-heavy design will suffer in heavy winds. If you’re truly serious about streamlining your load, it’s worth considering a more premium tent like the Big Agnes Fly Creek ($370) or Tiger Wall ($400) or opting for a trekking pole-supported shelter like the 1-pound 6-ounce Gossamer Gear The One ($300). But Big Agnes is one of the top manufacturers in the game, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a lighter freestanding tent at the $200 price point. And a final note: The C Bar is out of stock at the time of publishing (Big Agnes expects renewed inventory in mid-September); for a roomier but slightly heavier option, check out their Blacktail 2 ($200; 4 lbs. 15 oz.).
See the Big Agnes C Bar 2
7. The North Face Stormbreak 2 ($169)
Packaged weight: 5 lbs. 14 oz.
Floor dimensions: 87 x 50 in.
Capacities: 2P, 3P
What we like: Durable fabrics and good livability for a bargain-basement price.
What we don’t: Heavy and no rainfly vents.
The North Face makes a lot of high-performance tents for expedition use, but their casual lineup also has a lot to offer. For just $169 at full retail price, the Stormbreak 2 is a great value in a two-person backpacking tent. All the elements are there: The Stormbreak is roomy with a non-tapered shape, 50-inch listed width, and extended 43-inch peak height (thanks to two ridge poles). It also provides decent weather protection with a full-length fly and has two large doors and vestibules for storing your gear at night. In terms of durability, the TNF uses a burly 75-denier canopy and 68-denier floor, which means it's fully dog- and kid-friendly. All in all, that’s a lot of bang for your buck.
What are the downsides of the Stormbreak 2? With a packaged weight of 5 pounds 14 ounces, it’s among the heaviest two-person tents on this list, topping even the REI Passage above. It’s also important to note that the Stormbreak’s fly does not feature any venting, which means the tent can overheat quickly in a storm (on a dry night, you can open up your vestibule doors for airflow). Finally, TNF’s budget options don’t knock it out of the park quite like those from REI, and the Stormbreak feels a bit cheaper and less premium overall. But the price is right, and it’s a nice alternative to the Passage above for campers who want a bit more interior space.
See The North Face Stormbreak 2
8. Marmot Tungsten 2P ($249)
Packaged weight: 5 lbs. 4 oz.
Floor dimensions: 88 x 54/46 in.
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 3P, 4P
What we like: A unique mix of features that slides in right between the REI Passage and Half Dome SL above.
What we don’t: Headroom is compromised with the tapered shape.
We’ve mentioned REI as a great one-stop-shop for value, but Marmot isn’t far behind. For a decently low price of $249 (the footprint adds $20), their recently updated Tungsten is a durable three-season tent with all the features that most weekend backpackers need. Like the C Bar above, the Marmot features a tapered floor plan (8 in. narrower at the feet), which saves you weight while still offering ample room for two side-by-side sleepers. On the tent body, the mix of solid nylon and mesh provides good ventilation alongside privacy and weather protection, and the updated colorways add a nice amount of flair. Added up, it’s a nice alternative to the REI Half Dome and Passage designs above at a price point that slides right in between the two.
While the Half Dome SL above devotes precious ounces to an oversized floor plan, the Tungsten here places a premium on durability above all else. For comparison’s sake, the Marmot’s floor and fly fabric are 70- and 68-denier respectively, while the REI checks in at 40- and 30-denier. But the tapered design isn’t for everyone: You’ll have to sleep shoulder-to-shoulder with your tent mate (some prefer a head-to-toe arrangement for more space), and there’s not a lot of room to sit up side by side. In the end, the REI’s durability is serviceable for most, although the Tungsten makes for a nice hybrid backpacking and car camping option and will save you close to $100. It’s also worth noting that Marmot makes another well-priced tent in their Limelight 2P ($269), which offers more room at the cost of some added weight.
See the Marmot Tungsten 2P
9. Kelty Late Start 2 ($160)
Packaged weight: 4 lbs. 8 oz.
Floor dimensions: 85 x 54/45 in.
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 4P
What we like: Inexpensive, durable, and lightweight.
What we don’t: No rainfly vents and all-mesh body suffers in high winds.
For the true budget seekers among us, Kelty’s Late Start is another decent backpacking tent at a very low price point. This tent is about as simple as they come, with an all-mesh body and bathtub floor, simple crisscrossing pole structure, and one door and vestibule. Set up is a breeze with pole sleeves at each corner (this is a bit archaic, but it still gets the job done), and despite the robust 68-denier fly and floor, the Late Start is competitively lightweight at just 4-and-a-half pounds. For summer backpackers who want to keep their pack weight in check, it’s a roomy alternative to the cramped C Bar 2 above.
That said, the Late Start slots in toward the bottom of our rankings for a few reasons. First off, unlike the Passage and Stormbreak above, the Kelty is not sold with a footprint. In most cases, we’d have no qualms pitching this tent directly on the ground (the 68D floor is thick enough to withstand contact with sharp rocks and branches), but it’s still a noteworthy omission. Further, the Late Start features a tapered floor, limiting interior space and forcing you to sleep shoulder-to-shoulder with your partner. And finally, the all-mesh canopy is not ideal in high winds, and the lack of venting in the fly means condensation is likely to get trapped inside (in dry weather, we recommend propping open the door). But for a low-cost backpacking tent that’s lighter than most, the Late Start earns a spot on our list.
See the Kelty Late Start 2
10. Alps Mountaineering Lynx 1 ($96)
Packaged weight: 4 lbs. 1 oz.
Floor dimensions: 90 x 32 in.
Capacities: 1P, 2P, 4P
What we like: Bargain-basement price and good feature set for solo backpackers.
What we don’t: Budget build quality.
Alps Mountaineering is not at the forefront of innovation, but they certainly win out in terms of price. For just $140—and commonly found on Amazon for less than $100—the Lynx 1 is a great value for solo backpackers. It’s roomy for one, offers good weather protection and ventilation including two vents up top, and has a large door and vestibule for storing your gear at night. The Lynx is also pretty tough with a burly 75-denier floor and substantial zippers, which is great for those who are hard on their gear.
For folks that consistently travel alone in the backcountry, a one-person tent is a really good option to consider. You obviously lose the versatility of a 2P model, but otherwise there aren’t a whole lot of downsides to the streamlined floor plan, and you even get enough room for a canine companion. Within the one-person tent market, it's also worth checking out the REI Co-op Passage 1P ($139) and MSR Elixir 1P ($240), but the Lynx wins out in price and weight (it’s over a half-pound lighter than both the Passage and the Elixir). It’s for good reason that Alps has carved out a following among beginner backpackers and those on a tight budget. Just be sure to set reasonable expectations in terms of material and build quality.
See the Alps Mountaineering Lynx 1
Budget Backpacking Tent Comparison Table
|Tent||Price||Weight||Floor Dimensions||Floor Denier||Capacities||Footprint|
|REI Co-op Passage 2||$159||5 lbs. 10 oz.||88 x 52 in.||66D||1P, 2P||Yes|
|REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+||$329||4 lbs. 11.5 oz.||90 x 54 in.||40D||2+P, 3+P||Yes|
|REI Co-op Trail Hut 4||$299||8 lbs. 1.6 oz.||90 x 88 in.||70D||2P, 4P||Yes|
|MSR Elixir 2||$290||6 lbs.||84 x 50 in.||70D||1P, 2P, 3P, 4P||Yes|
|Nemo Aurora 2P||$280||5 lbs. 7 oz.||88 x 52 in.||68D||2P, 3P||Yes|
|Big Agnes C Bar 2||$200||4 lbs.||86 x 52/42 in.||68D||2P, 3P||No|
|TNF Stormbreak 2||$169||5 lbs. 14 oz.||87 x 50 in.||68D||2P, 3P||No|
|Marmot Tungsten 2P||$249||5 lbs. 4 oz.||88 x 54/46 in.||68D||1P, 2P, 3P, 4P||No|
|Kelty Late Start||$160||4 lbs. 8 oz.||85 x 54/45 in.||68D||1P, 2P, 4P||No|
|Alps Mountaineering Lynx 1||$96||4 lbs. 1 oz.||90 x 32 in.||75D||1P, 2P, 4P||No|
Budget Backpacking Tents Buying Advice
- How We Define a "Budget" Backpacking Tent
- Budget Backpacking Tent Considerations
- Packaged Weight vs. Trail Weight
- Fabric Durability (Denier)
- Weather Protection
- Storage: Vestibules and Interior Pockets
- Backpacking Tent Capacities
- Set up and Take Down
- Tent Poles and Stakes
- Do You Need a Footprint?
How We Define a "Budget" Backpacking Tent
By our own definition, a budget backpacking tent checks in for $300 or less, with some priced as low as around $100 (the one exception above is REI's $329 Half Dome SL 2+). Given that you can spend upwards of $500 on a backpacking tent, there’s no denying that the models here will save you a lot of cash. Of course, it goes without saying that budget tents have their fair share of tradeoffs, especially in terms of weight, packed size, and interior space. But if you’re willing to compromise a little in those areas, the tents here are great and functional low-cost additions to any backpacking kit.
Budget Backpacking Tent Considerations
Weight and Packed Size
While premium backpacking tents typically clock in between 2 and 4 pounds for two-person designs, the majority of budget tents hover around 4 to 6 pounds all in (by "all in" we mean the packaged weight, which we explain in more detail below). The reason for this is that manufacturers are able to cut costs considerably by using thicker fabrics, heavier components, and less innovative engineering practices. For casual backpackers who aren’t covering too much ground or only get out a few times a year, the added 1 to 4 pounds shouldn’t be too big of a downside (plus, all of the tents above include a separate tent body and rainfly, meaning you can easily split up the various components with your tent mate). However, if you’re looking to log some serious mileage or want to keep your backpack weight low, it may be worth investing in a lighter and more premium option.
In the majority of cases, packed size also increases with weight, meaning that most budget tents will take up more space in your backpack than premium models. This isn’t great news for those who like to keep a streamlined load, but most entry-level backpackers aren’t carrying sub-50-liter ultralight packs to begin with.
Finally, if you’re not keen to compromise on weight and packed size, there are a few other options for staying within a budget. Solo hikers can opt for a one-person tent, which will generally save you about a pound. For example, the MSR Elixir 2 clocks in at 6 pounds, while the one-person version weighs 4 pounds 10 ounces. Alternatively, it may be worth considering a more affordable ultralight design like the REI Co-op Flash Air 2 (2 lbs. 8 oz.) or Gossamer Gear The One (1 lb. 6 oz.), both of which retail for around $300. These are non-freestanding tents that require a little extra care to set up—and they’re certainly pricier than true “budget” options—but the weight savings will be well worth it for some.
Livability is another place where budget backpacking tents take a real hit compared to the pricier and more premium models. Most two-person tents have similar floor dimensions regardless of their price (and tapered designs exist in both the premium and budget worlds), but the real difference comes in terms of headroom. Tent designers have found a lot of ways to increase a tent’s peak height throughout—including pre-bent poles, ridge poles, and steep walls—creating a lot more space to move around and sit up side-by-side with your tent mate. However, all of these tweaks cost money, so we don’t see them all too often in the budget market.
For those looking to maximize livability while staying within a budget, there are a few models to consider, including REI Co-op’s Half Dome SL 2+ and the Nemo Aurora 2P. These tents use the components mentioned above to maximize interior volume and provide considerably more interior space than the more simplistic bargain-basement designs. It’s true that both the Half Dome and Aurora are on the pricier end of the spectrum at $329 and $280 respectively, but the extra investment may be worth it for the boost in comfort—especially for those that anticipate hunkering down in inclement weather or contending with pesky mosquitos.
Packaged Weight vs. Trail Weight
When researching tent weight, you’ll commonly see manufacturers and retailers list two specs: packaged weight and trail weight (also sometimes referred to as "minimum weight"). The former includes everything that comes with the purchase of the tent, including the tent body, rainfly, poles, stakes, guylines, stuff sacks, and footprint (when applicable). The trail weight, on the other hand, only covers the tent body, rainfly, and poles. We’ve chosen to list packaged weight in the specs above—it’s closer to what most folks realistically bring—but keep in mind that you can trim ounces from there.
Fabric Durability (Denier)
One of the easiest ways to think about tent durability is to consider the thickness of the fabric, which is measured in terms of denier (technically speaking, the weight of the yarn). The higher the denier—of the floor, canopy, and rainfly—the more durable the tent. Logically, denier lines up with weight, which is great news for budget tents (as we mentioned above, a hallmark of budget tents is their heft). For example, the premium Nemo Hornet ($400; 2 lbs. 6 oz.) has a thin 15-denier floor, while the 5-pound-14-ounce TNF Stormbreak 2 ($169) uses a robust 68-denier fabric. Because the area most vulnerable to punctures or tears is the floor, this is the number we list in the specs and comparison table above.
While fabric thickness is a large factor in determining a tent’s durability, it’s not the only one. The quality of the rest of the materials (poles, zippers, etc.) also plays a part, as does the attention to detail. And while premium tents will often add a silicone coating (also referred to as “silnylon”) to their thin fabrics for additional tear strength and longevity, we don’t see this technology on budget designs. We’ve learned to trust the build quality of budget tents from leading manufacturers like REI, Nemo, and MSR, but you’ll want to be a bit more careful with dedicated budget brands like Alps Mountaineering and Eureka, which specialize in the entry-level market. All that said, in most cases, increased durability is a significant and surprising benefit of opting for a budget model.
Protection from the elements is one of the primary functions of a backpacking tent. In general, budget tents do a respectable job keeping out wind and rain and perform on par with much of the more premium competition. Your first line of defense is a rainfly, and you’ll want to look for coverage extending below the bathtub floor of the tent body to maximize weather protection (manufacturers sometimes shorten the length of parts of the fly to save weight). A generous bathtub floor is also important for guarding against splashes and puddles. Finally, it’s important to evaluate the tent’s overall structure, including strong poles and lots of exterior ties to anchor it down in heavy winds.
If you’re like most backpackers and get up into the mountains just a few weekends a year during the summer months, you shouldn’t have any issue with the tents above. A full-mesh tent like the Kelty Late Start will offer the least amount of protection, while the MSR Elixir is our top pick in bad weather. However, you’ll want to be careful not to push any of these tents too hard in extreme conditions. If heavy winds or snow are in the forecast, a true four-season tent will be much more capable and confidence-inspiring. We don’t see a lot of budget designs in the four-season category—these tents are highly engineered for tackling bad weather—but there are some more affordable options to consider, including the REI Co-op Arete ASL ($449) and Alps Mountaineering Tasmanian 2 ($300).
Like weather protection, ventilation doesn’t take too big of a hit in the budget market. Ventilation depends on two main factors: the amount of mesh on the tent body and the quality and quantity of vents in the fly. Most budget tents have generous mesh panels, which are great for keeping air circulating—in good weather, you can even leave the rainfly off for unmitigated airflow. With the rainfly on, things get a bit trickier: given the waterproof fabrics and sealed seams, breathability is inherently compromised. For this reason, fly vents are vital, and in general are fairly well-executed in the designs above (although they're notable omissions on the TNF Stormbreak 2 and Kelty Late Start). For more on tent ventilation, see the buying advice section in our article on the best backpacking tents.
Storage: Vestibules and Interior Pockets
Like the higher-end competition, budget backpacking tents feature a range of storage options, including vestibules and both interior pockets and gear loops. Vestibules are indispensable for organizing your gear at camp: they cover the tent’s door while leaving enough space for items you don’t want in your sleeping area, including your backpacking pack and hiking shoes. In general, budget designs stack up very well to their pricier counterparts in vestibule space: for example, the REI Co-op Passage 2 ($159) boasts 19 square feet split between the two sides, while a premium option like the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 ($500) has a comparable 18 square feet of space. However, be on the lookout for tents that feature just one vestibule (and door), including the Kelty Late Start and Big Agnes C Bar, as these are far less convenient for two campers to stash gear and move around in comfortably (more on this below).
When it comes to interior storage, the budget market often has a bit less to offer. It’s standard to see fairly streamlined feature sets, including just a few pockets and gear loops. On the other hand, pricier tents might have a larger variety of stash pockets, light-diffusing pockets or built-in light strips, thoughtfully placed gear loops, and more. In general, higher-end budget designs are a great middle ground between those two extremes, including the Nemo Aurora and REI Half Dome SL. If you spend a lot of time basecamping or delight in keeping the interior of your tent organized, you'll want to opt for one of these more featured options.
The majority of tents above feature two doors, which is by far our favorite configuration. If you plan to consistently camp with a partner, it’ll likely be your preferred setup too. For reference, a few models above use just one door to save weight—the Big Agnes C Bar 2 has one on its end, while the Kelty Late Start puts its entry on the side. If you’re sharing the tent with a partner, this can be a major downside—you’ll be crawling over your tent mate to get in and out and will be limited to one vestibule for exterior storage. In the end, unless you’re traveling alone or pulling out all the stops to save weight, we recommend a tent with two doors.
Backpacking Tent Capacities
Most of the backpacking tents above are of the two-person variety, with floor plans that can accommodate two 20-inch sleeping pads side-by-side. The two-person tent is the most popular capacity, but many backpacking models also come in one, three, and four-person designs. Solo travelers can save some weight by opting for a one-person option (like the Alps Mountaineering Lynx 1), while families or couples traveling with a dog can bump up to a three- or four-person model. It almost goes without saying that weight and packed size will increase alongside capacity, but it is worth noting that, in general, one four-person tent will be lighter than two two-person models. For example, REI's Trail Hut 4 checks in at 8 pounds 1.6 ounces, while the two-person version weighs 5 pounds 15 ounces.
Set up and Take Down
Setting up a modern tent has become surprisingly easy, with simple clips and grommets that take a matter of seconds to attach and streamlined poles that come together with ease. Some budget tents even feature sleek additions more commonly seen in the premium market, including color-coded components, hubbed pole structures, and clip attachments to secure the rainfly. On the flip side, some of the more basic models forgo most of these features, and tents like the Kelty Late Start have kept things pretty old-school with sleeves to run the poles through. Gripes aside, all of the tents above are fairly quick and intuitive to pitch, even for the greenest of backpackers. The whole process usually takes just a few minutes from start to finish, which is fantastic.
Tent Poles and Stakes
Without getting too into the nitty gritty on tent poles and stakes, there are a few things we want to mention with respect to budget tents. In terms of poles, most are made with simple aluminum, which is decently durable but heavier than the premium aluminum and carbon fiber found in pricier designs. We also see a lot of simple pole layouts in the budget world: for example, the REI Co-op Passage 2 features two poles of identical length that crisscross at the apex of the tent and are held secure by a large clip attached to the tent body. Getting into the more premium side of the budget market (including models like the Half Dome SL 2+ and Nemo Aurora 2P), we start to see more complex pole structures, including the addition of a ridge pole at the apex and hubbed poles, which offer more rigidity and easier setup.
Most two-person budget tents will come with about six stakes: one for each corner and one for each side of the vestibule. In general, these stakes are of the hook-style aluminum variety, which are heavy and can be a pain to use: they're often too thick and round to sink easily into the ground and have a tendency to bend when being hammered in. To be sure, they'll do the trick for most, but upgrading isn’t very expensive. We especially like the MSR Groundhog Stakes: they are light, tough, and easy to pound reliably into the ground.
Do You Need a Footprint?
We’ll start by noting that a footprint is optional—some of the tents above come with an included footprint, while others do not. These simple tarps go beneath your tent (usually attaching to the pole in each corner) to provide an extra layer of protection underneath. They’re a nice added bit of assurance to have when it’s wet (make sure to tuck them under the tent to avoid pooling, as that can have the opposite effect) or when you’re camped on rough surfaces like granite or sharp plants. That said, they do add an additional cost (a $40 footprint would increase the price of a $200 tent by a whopping 20 percent) and 5 to 10 ounces of weight to your pack.
Here’s our take: for the majority of budget tents, a footprint is not really necessary. As we covered above, the tents listed here have fairly robust floors, ranging from 40 to 75 denier. Compared to more premium tents (which usually clock in between 15 and 30D), they’re pretty darn durable on their own. If you plan on camping on rough surfaces, tend to be careless with your gear, or you don’t have the risk tolerance for a torn floor (and the subsequent repair), it might be worth taking a footprint along. But in most cases, it’s highly unlikely that your tent's floor will rip. For more information on this topic, see our article: Does Your Backpacking Tent Need a Footprint?
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