For most people, you’d be hard-pressed to do better than the balance of the lighter-than-ever weight, simple design, setup, and time-tested build of the REI Half Dome Two Person Tent (view at REI). The cost isn’t bargain-basement, but it’s half of what most truly ultralight tents cost and easier to use to boot.
There are multiple ultralight options within our picks for those backpackers who can’t stomach the packed size and are counting every ounce. Still, the Mountain Hardwear Strato UL2 (view at Backcountry) stood out in our testing for its light weight but, more importantly, how it performed like a more robust, freestanding tent.
Other Tents We Tested
Nemo Aurora 2: We tested the Aurora car camping in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains in the fall with warm, sunny days and cold, windy nights. We found the build and setup of the tent straightforward. Unlike many tents, the footprint is helpfully included. The 68D polyester floor fabric seemed like it could hold up just fine on relatively smooth ground, though if you’re car camping with the Aurora, there’s no reason not to bring the footprint and extend your tent’s lifespan. We also liked how the footprint, tent body, and rainfly all used the same grommets to connect with the ends of the poles.
Despite being a car camping tent, we liked the inclusion of the hubbed pole architecture used in fancier backpacking tents which makes the setup pretty idiot-proof. There is a spreader pole, so it's not an actual one-pole setup, but it's close. One gripe is that although the stakes were nice and lightweight, we'd like to see heavier duty ones included on a tent like this where weight isn't the top concern.
Sea to Summit Alto TR2: We tested the Alto TR2 for several nights at high elevations in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain backcountry, where the tent’s lightweight and small packed size was a relief on our large frame packs. We found the setup very simple because, like most single-pole tents, there are a few wrong ways to set it up. The asymmetrical design made it reasonably obvious without instructions (though they’re helpfully printed on the packaging if you need them). We managed the tent-only setup in the dark with one person in less than 5 minutes, and the rain fly was added on under duress in surprise overnight light rain. Even groggy at 3 a.m., the rain fly was intuitive, and it has a rollback option to leave open for air and stargazing and be ready for quick deployment.
The 15D nylon is very light, and because of that and its somewhat irregular shape, I wouldn’t set it up without Sea to Summit’s custom footprint, which isn’t included. Side gripe: I wish ultralight tent makers would include the footprint matched to their tents since they all make them and recommend using one to protect the silky ultralight fabrics from the ground. It, of course, adds to the cost and the listed weight of the tent, but if it’s essentially essential equipment, just include it.
Moving on, we had a great experience in the tent—it held up under rain and wind—and the extensive Apex Vent system kept condensation down to almost nothing despite low nighttime temps in the 20s. Like most semi-freestanding tents, the tub floor lacks structure compared to more robustly framed tents, and that, combined with floor dimensions on the smaller side, makes me consider this a 1+ person tent. Fitting two people in this tent is theoretically possible with smaller sleeping pads, but there isn't enough square footage for two of my Nemo Cosmo pads due to the taper at the foot end.
Tarptent Double Rainbow: Tarptent’s Double Rainbow was one of the lightest and dimensionally largest two-person tents we tested. But it was also was one of the most frustrating to set up. Not surprisingly, it also took the longest to pitch. While we could pitch many two-person tents tested in less than five minutes, the Double Rainbow took about 10 minutes to pitch. This could be sped up with practice and time, but it will never be as intuitive and easy as other ultralight tents on this list.
Setup requires takes at all four corners, attachment points at the end of the single pole that our testers described as “baffling to figure out.” Two extra poles at the ceiling did give the tent a bit more structure. “The instructions, which we needed, are a yellow printer paper sheet with a link to a Vimeo video, which is a terrible idea,” our testers said. “Somehow, the rainfly was even more confusing to attach.”
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Our testers did like the spaciousness of the tent and airflow.
“While very lightweight, it didn't feel as roomy or fully featured as the Big Agnes tents, which were comparably heavy. It did, however, feel slightly more comfortable and usable overall than the ultralight ZPacks Duplex,” our testers observed. “The full pole sleeve design provides fewer failure points than clips. Once you've mastered the very frustrating setup, it seems like a tent that could last you years.”
From the testers: “In places where it should have clips or toggles (like with those little toggles you use to hold open a rolled-up door), this has elastic ties. Where it should have grommets, it has tight webbing sleeves. The concessions made to weight seemed less thoughtful than other ultralightweight tents in this roundup and were frequently aggravating. The interior had several slash pockets, plus low mesh pockets.”
Stoic Driftwood 2: While we didn’t find a specific superlative spot for Stoic’s Driftwood 2 tent, we highly recommend it. The tent is very straightforward to set up; it’s light enough to serve as a backpacking tent but would also be a solid tent for car camping. It had good enough space for two people to sleep in it comfortably. And perhaps our two favorite features: It comes with a footprint and has two doors and vestibules.
We selected tents to feature a wide range of shelters for camping duos and solo campers looking for a bit extra space. We used our previous knowledge of tent brands, styles, and materials to narrow down a list. Finding tents with different price points and purposes was paramount. Most of the tents we picked were tents we'd already camped in or decedents of a tent line we'd used in the past. For those we had yet to camp in or see, we looked at what other sites had featured and tents receiving excellent online reviews.
How We Tested
Tents were tested in our Brooklyn lab, in the backcountry, at campgrounds, and backyards. We spent multiple nights in each tent and even more time setting up and taking down the tents. Tents were tested in various environments and conditions, including high alpine nights in Colorado's Rocky Mountains and California's Sierra Nevada and along the coast in southern California. Since publication, tents have been dispersed to various testers across the country. Testing insights will be updated accordingly as more people spend more time camping and backpacking in the tents.
What to Look for in a Two-Person Tent
Most tents employ either nylon or polyester. Because it sags less when wet, polyester is generally more desirable for its taut look, though nylon is generally more durable and can be less expensive. Both need coatings (see below) to repel water.
Dyneema (sometimes “cuben fiber”) is a newer lightweight material used for its lightweight strength, but it is still much more expensive than nylon or polyester. Because it has issues with abrasion and requires careful handling, it’s only of interest to the most ultralight weight-shavers at this point.
Fabrics are sometimes rated by denier, which is noted by a number followed by the letter D, as in 10D ripstop nylon. The lower the number, the smoother and more sheer the material. Imagine silk at the low end and canvas at the other. Since denier is also a measure of weight, you can use it to estimate how heavy a material might be.
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As stated above, the “two-person” designation is self-assigned and non-standardized, so evaluate the dimensions of the footprint. If you have two people and know the widths of your sleeping pads, ensure that there’s enough room for both side by side (ideally with a little extra). Obviously, you also want the length of the tent to exceed the height of the tallest member of your duo by a few inches at least.
Peak height is another less obvious dimension to consider. Most tents give you enough room to sit up tall, but not all. Especially if you’re taller, double-check that the peak height offers enough space to sit up and change clothes under shelter.
If you intend to use the tent in its intended packaging, it's good to check the tent's dimensions when it's broken down and packed up. Some packed tents are short and squat, while others are long and cylindrical. Depending on the type of pack you use and where you prefer to store your tent in transit, some shapes and sizes may work better than others. For example, if you choose to store your tent at the bottom of your frame pack as I do, a long-packed tent may not fit between the sides of the pack.
Why Trust TripSavvy
Justin Park is a lifelong camper based in Breckenridge, Colorado. He spends several weeks in a tent each year and has camped in snow pits above 14,000 feet and on the beach in the tropics. He prefers to carry a few extra pounds for a more durable tent that he can treat roughly and count on but appreciates what the ultralight revolution has done for his pack weight over the years.
TripSavvy’s Outdoor Gear Editor, Nathan Allen, is also a lifelong camper and backpacker based in Ventura County, California. Allen also spends dozens of nights each year in a tent and camps and backpacks along California’s coast, in the High Sierra, Rocky Mountains, and Midwest. He spent a lot of time in his teens and 20s carrying hefty tents. Allen’s first ultralight tent was a two-person Big Agnes tent he won in a footrace, and now he prefers ultralight and minimalist tents. His current go-to’s are the Mountain Hardwear Strato UL2 and Big Agnes Tiger Wall Solution-Dye.
Andrew Whalen also contributed to testing these tents, leading testing in our Brooklyn lab. An experienced backpacker, Whalen has hiked more than 1,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail.