Planning a multi-day adventure by foot or by bike in the great outdoors? A hardworking backpacking tent is the most important bit of kit you can take along for the ride.
As the name suggests, a backpacking tent is designed to be carried in your rucksack or your bike panniers, so it should be as lightweight and compact as possible.
Waterproofness is essential too, and while comfort is important, you’re not looking for a roomy, multi-bedroomed mansion of a tent here – a small setup with just enough room to squeeze in one or two people plus your kit will save on weight when you’re walking or cycling between camping spots.
Anything weighing under two kilos is ideal – our top-pick tent weighs just a paltry 700 grams. A tent weighing between two and four kilos will still serve purpose, but you may want to divide up a heavier tent between two people’s backpacks if you’re going to be sharing it come bedtime.
Stick to backpacking tents that sleep one or two people (usually listed as one-man or two-man tents). One-man tents really do only have space for one adult inside, often only with room to sit up at one end and with quite limited space for kit, so you may still want to pick a light two-man tent if you’ve got lots of gear with you, or if aren’t covering long distances on your solo adventure. Roomier two-person tents will usually fit in two adults comfortably. We’ve reviewed both sizes in our round-up.
Any tent you buy needs to be able to withstand bad weather – the model you pick should be a “twin skin” (a tent with an outer fly layer as well as an inner tent) and feature a waterproof rain fly and a tough, built-in nylon floor to stop the wet seeping in.
Look for a tent with lots of guy ropes to help you secure it against high winds. You’ll see both rounder dome tents and narrower tunnel styles available – if you’re planning on sleeping on exposed mountain sides, a dome-style model is a good choice for better wind resistance.
Because you can’t always cherry-pick the kind of terrain you will be camping on – a long hike might find you pitched on gravel, in dim light or anywhere you can’t be bothered to fastidiously clear the ground – we looked for tents with a tough groundsheet that won’t be bothered by a few thorns or stones.
A proper backpacking tent also needs to be able to withstand some variable tent hygiene. In an ideal world you’d stop somewhere during the day to thoroughly dry it out after every rainy night, but in practice, that’s the last thing you want to do on a quick lunch break.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
Vango project hydrogen air one-man tent
This is Vango’s newest model – and the lightest backpacking tent on the market. When packed away, it is tiny – about the size of a large loaf of bread – and will fit into small rucksacks and cramped bike panniers easily. The tent is quick and easy to pitch when using a bike pump to inflate the Airbeam poles (this is included), which is ideal in bad weather. The tent may be small but there’s good living space for one person, with a porch to store kit and enough room to sit up inside. Sturdy titanium pegs and well-placed guy ropes keep it stable in a storm. It may be expensive, but if you’re a hardy hiker, fastpacker or a bike explorer, investing in this tent will see you through years of lightweight adventures in comfort.
Coleman Batur two-man tent
This is a wind-stable, two-person tent that’s roomy enough to share with a friend without feeling like you’re packed in like sardines. The decent waterproofing and a nylon groundsheet will withstand a shower, while the two wide porches are ideal for storing muddy boots. Even on a wild adventure, a good night’s sleep is still important, and the brand’s “blackout” material keeps the tent’s bedroom cool and dark even when dawn breaks. This model is also available as a three-person tent, which would offer more space if you have a lot of belongings with you.
Sierra Designs meteor lite two-man tent
This good-looking two-man tent ticked all our boxes on test – it’s back-savingly lightweight at just 1.66kg, reliably waterproof and despite its compact size, offers a good amount of space for two people. Two doors and two porches make it easy to share, with plenty of space for boots and packs besides. This tent is quick and easy to pitch, and is a great choice for changeable weather, as it’s waterproof enough to withstand storms and its dome design will shrug off heavy winds. This all-rounder is our favourite design for two people, and the three-person version offers extra room while remaining fantastically lightweight at 1.86kg.
Vango F10 xenon two-man tent
Another tardis-like backpacking tent that delivers great living space despite its small weight and size, Vango’s model offers more height than most of the tents we tested out. There’s plenty of room for two people to sleep or sit up inside, making this a versatile choice for both backpacking and longer camping stays – or even a festival weekend. The tent is pitched all-in-one, which is easy once you get the hang of it, and a big vestibule is perfect for cooking in during a bout of bad weather, as you can have the door open but still be protected by the overhanging porch.
Berghaus Cairngorm two-man tent
It may be the heaviest tent in our round-up, but if you’re happy to sacrifice light weight for extra space, this roomy offering from Berghaus could be a good choice. Where it does perform well is in waterproofing, with a rainproof fly and a tough built-in groundsheet. Good guy ropes and an aerodynamic design helps this stay put even in strong winds and storms – this would be a good tent to use in its namesake Scottish mountains – and a breathable fabric and multiple vents make it cool even on sweltering days. Pick the more subtle green colourway if you’re planning wild camping forays.
Robens arrow head one-man tent
If you’re in the market for a small one-man tunnel tent, Robens’ offers excellent quality at a decent price point. We like the wide door, which makes it easy to climb in and out of the tent. This can also be folded open to give a nice sense of space when you’re relaxing on sunnier days, while well-placed vents also make this tent a cooler option in hot weather. Zip up the door and you’ve got enough space in the porch to store a backpack and boots, which is useful since the inner tent is definitely designed to fit just one person – although there enough is room to sit up. The low height and easily adjusted guy ropes make this a good tent for withstanding the wind if you’re venturing higher into the mountains.
Easy Camp energy 200 two-man tent
The most affordable tent in our round-up punches well above its weight in terms of performance, but it’s actually reasonably light – coming in at a very respectable 2.2kg. While it does sleep two people, you’d have to be good enough friends to not mind it being a bit of a squeeze – on the upside, this would make a roomy backpacking option for just one person, and there’s a porch for extra kit. Great ventilation makes this a brilliant tent for summer, but while it’s waterproof enough to withstand a shower, it would not stand up to tough winter weather or mountain environments. A good pocket-friendly choice for adventures in spring to autumn.
MSR hubba hubba two-man tent
All the MSR tents we’ve ever tested are beautifully made, and their quality components are worth the spend if you want a tent that will last you for years of outdoor adventures. Its bestselling “hubba hubba” is our pick of the brand’s backpacking offerings, as it’s a pleasure to use again and again. It’s fast and simple to pitch, with poles that quickly click together and hold brilliantly in heavy winds. The inside is light and roomy, with plenty of space for two people plus gear, with two doors and two porches offering even more room for kit. The inner tent can be pitched alone on summer nights, and we found the outer fly waterproof enough to withstand torrential rain. A 1.29kg one-man version is also available.
Jack Wolfskin gossamer one-man tent
Gossamer by name and nature, Jack Wolfskin’s one-man tent weighs in at a respectably light 1.75kg. This tunnel tent is definitely one of the smallest and lowest in profile of the ones we tested, which is a bonus for packing and carrying but does mean you have limited living space – the small door and low ceiling could feel claustrophobic if you’re used to roomier tents. It’s waterproof and resists wind well due to its low profile, and we like that the mosquito-proof mesh inner tent can be pitched alone for a spot of stargazing on hot summer nights.
Decathlon forclaz one-man tent
Weighing in at 1.3kg and just shy of £100, this more affordable tent is ideal if you’re in the market for a wind-resistant one-man dome design. It’s impressively easy to pitch and pack down, and its small, boxy bag is easily popped into small bike panniers, a kayak and other tricky spaces. The Y-shape design gives a nice amount of space to sit up, and the grey inner material makes the tent feel light and airy (although if you’re a light sleeper you might want to pick a darker tent). It’s also waterproof enough to withstand a night of rain.
The verdict: Backpacking tents
IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.