fb-pixel

In this article, I’m going in-depth on ultralight backpacking tents and shelters and giving you some of my top recommendations. A good ultralight tent or shelter is one of the most important pieces of gear we carry and deserves a lot of consideration.

Whether you’re planning a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail or have plans for an ultralight jaunt around Scotland. This post will help you figure out what you need. In this post, I’m only covering three-season, solo, ultralight backpacking tents, and shelters. I will not be covering traditional “dome” style tents as most do not fall into the category of “ultralight”. At some point in the future, I may do a full breakdown on dome-style tents and tents for winter backpacking.

 

Below is a list of all the different options for an ultralight backpacking shelter system. I will talk about each one individually and highlight things to look for. I’ll talk about how each component works with one another and look at the positives and negatives of each one.  I’ll also mention what ultralight backpacking shelter I’m currently using.

  • Single Wall Ultralight Tents
  • Pyramids
  • Flat Tarps
  • Shaped Tarps
  • Bivy Sacks
  • Ground Sheets
  • Stakes

Sil-Nylon vs Sil-Polyester vs Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF)

There are three main choices of fabrics when looking at ultralight backpacking tents and shelters. Silicone impregnated Nylon, Silicone impregnated Polyester and Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF). Sil-Nylon and Sil-Polyester have been used for decades in the backpacking industry. Whereas DCF is a relative newcomer.

There are minor variations of different weaves of the materials and all come in different thicknesses.

DCF is often laminated with polyester to improve abrasion resistance. The thinner the material, the lighter the weight but the less durable. Different thicknesses are used depending on the application. For Instance, thicker materials are usually used for backpacks but thinner materials for shelters as they take less abuse.

All three materials have their positives and negatives. I’ll outline them below and then give my thoughts.

Sil-Nylon Positives

  • Lightweight
  • Affordable

Sil-Nylon Negatives

  • Not as light as DCF
  • Sil-Nylon shelters need to be readjusted sometime after set up, as the material stretches a little

Sil-Polyester Positives

  • Lightweight
  • Affordable
  • Doesn’t stretch in the same way Sil-Nylon does

Sil-PolyesterNegatives

  • Not as light as DCF

DCF Positives

  • Lightest option
  • DCF does not stretch and so shelters do not need to be readjusted

DCF Negatives

  • Much More expensive

I haven’t mentioned durability in the pro’s and con’s because all three materials are very durable and more or less comparable. I tend to lean towards shelters made of Sil-Nylon or Sic-Polyester because the cost is lower and I save more money for Snickers bars.

I’ve had great experiences with DCF and although the price is higher, the weight savings are considerable.


Types of Ultralight Backpacking Tents and Shelters

 

There are many different types of ultralight backpacking tents and shelters. It’s often hard to separate them cleanly into a certain category. I’m going to break down the major categories below. Explaining the characteristics of each and the positives and negatives. I’ll also include a few top recommendations for each category.

Single Wall Ultralight Tents

 

Single wall ultralight tents are “all in one” shelters. They offer complete rain and bug protection and a built-in floor all in one piece. Many long-distance hikers use trekking poles. So, most of these ultralight tents use those trekking poles in their setup to avoid carrying the extra weight of tent poles. If you don’t use trekking poles you can buy pole sets from the manufacturer to work with that particular tent.

ultralight backpacking tents and shelters

Positives of Single Wall Ultralight Tents

  • Offers complete protection and a feeling of “security”
  • Relatively easy to setup

Negatives of Single Wall Ultralight Tents

  • Less versatile
  • Can be heavier
  • Can suffer from condensation

3 of The Best Single Wall Ultralight Tents

Gossamer Gear “The One”

Material – Sil-Nylon

Weight – 22.5OZ/238g

Cost – 299 USD

gossamer gear the one - one of my go-to ultralight tents

“The One” from Gossamer Gear is a single wall ultralight tent made from 7 and 10 denier Sil-Nylon. It uses trekking poles for setup (as do most shelters in this article) and is one of the most “liveable” tents in this category. I spent 4+ months using “The one” on my thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail in 2017 and highly recommend it.

Zpacks Plexamid

 

Material – Dyneema Composite Fabric

Weight – 14.8OZ/420g

Cost – 549 USD

The Plexamid is the lightest single wall ultralight tent on the market at just 14.8OZ/420g. Zpacks have achieved this by using DCF fabric and using their years of experience in the design of the tent. The price tag is high but the Plexamid is a liveable, no-frills shelter that will keep the elements at bay.

z packs plexamid one of the best utlralight tents

Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo

 

Material – Sil-Polyester

Weight – 26OZ/740g

Cost – 230 USD (With seam sealing)

I used a Six Moon Designs tent on the Appalachian Trail in 2015 and the Lunar Solo is Backpacker Magazines Editors Choice 2019 winner. It has great liveable space, excellent bug and weather protection, and an almost unbeatable price.


Pyramids

 

Pyramids are a single piece of waterproof material that use one pole in the middle like a teepee and has a zippered door. Trekking poles can often be used but separate tent poles are available. They do not have bug protection or a floor. So, you need to carry a groundsheet or if you will be dealing with bugs then some kind of bug nest/bivvy sack.

Positives of Pyramids

  • The best option for dealing with strong winds
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to setup

Negatives of Pyramids

  • Need to carry a groundsheet or a bug nest/bivvy sack
  • Less versatile

2 Great Pyramids

Mountain Laurel Designs Solomid

 

Material – Sil-Nylon or DCF

Weight – 15OZ/425g (Sil-Nylon) or DCF 12.5OZ/355g

Cost – Sil-Nylon 295USD (Seam Sealed) or DCF 430USD

mld solomid tarp tent

Mountain Laurel Designs have been producing high-quality pyramid tents since the early 2000s. The Solomid is a floor-less pyramid with a zippered door that can withstand heavy wind and rain. Add in a groundsheet or bug bivvy for a complete shelter system.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 2

 

Material – DCF

Weight – 18.85OZ/534g

Cost – 715USD

HMG ultamid 2

Strictly speaking, the Ultamid 2 is a two person shelter. But, with a weight of 18.85OZ its a roomy option for a solo backpacker. It has lots of room to store gear or a bicycle. The price is high but their products are made in the USA at their headquarters in Maine. You can add in a groundsheet or bug nest when necessary.


Flat Tarps – The Lightest Option

Flat tarps are rectangular sheets of waterproof material that can be pitched in many different ways. They have many different setup options using trekking poles or string tied around trees. You can choose your setup to provide the best rain and wind protection for your environment. They do not have floors or bug protection.

Positives of Flat Tarps

  • Extremely Lightweight
  • Very Versatile
  • Great at dealing with condensation

Negatives of Flat Tarps

  • Users can feel “exposed” sleeping under a tarp – this can also be a positive to many users
  • The user must practice to set up the tarp to provide complete rain protection

3 Great Flat Tarps

Zpacks 7′ x 9′ Flat Tarp

 

Material – DCF

Weight – 5.2OZ/148g

Cost – 235USD

zpacks cuben flat tarp

The 7′ x 9’ tarp is Zpacks smallest flat tarp option. It has an incredibly low weight but provides plenty of coverage from wind and rain. Being made in the USA from DCF bumps up the price but the craftsmanship is top quality and it will last for years. Add in a groundsheet for fair weather or a bivvy/bug nest if necessary.

Yama Mountain Gear 7′ x 9′ Flat Tarp

 

Material – Sil-Polyester

Weight – 13.4OZ/380g

Cost – 135USD (Seam Sealed)

yama mountain gear flat tarp

Using Sil-Polyester means the Yama Mountain offering won’t sag like Sil-Nylon. It has plenty of space for one and the price is very competitive. It comes in a variety of color options and a larger model is available for two people.

Sanctuary 10’ x 8’ Siltarp

 

Material – Sil-Nylon

Weight – 15.5OZ/439g

Cost – 80USD

ultralight backpacking tents and shelters

This offering available through Amazon rates 4.5 stars with 123 reviews. It has a low weight for the price and ticks all the right boxes. Cheaper options exist on Amazon. But, this one strikes a balance between weight, functionality and positive reviews. Great for someone who wants to experiment with tarp camping but doesn’t want to drop huge amounts of cash.

Shaped Tarps

 

Shaped Tarps are a single piece of waterproof material without any kind of door. Unlike flat tarps, they aren’t necessarily rectangular. They are designed and cut to be pitched in a single configuration. Often as an “A-Frame” but many styles exist.

The tarps below are “catenary cut”. The entrance end is taller to provide access and the foot end is closer to the ground for protection.

Positives of Shaped Tarps

  • Extremely Lightweight
  • Easier than flat tarps to pitch
  • Great at dealing with condensation

Negatives of Shaped Tarps

  • Less versatile than a flat tarp
  • Users can feel “exposed” sleeping under a tarp – this can also be a positive to many users
  • The user must practice to set up the tarp to provide complete rain protection

3 Great Shaped Tarps

Gossamer Gear Twinn Tarp

 

Material – Sil-Nylon

Weight – 9.5OZ/270g

Cost – 155USD

Gossamer Gear Twinn tarp

The Gossamer Gear Twinn tarp is a Sil-Nylon shaped tarp with over 47 square feet of protected area. It’s easy to set up and affordable, it’s my current go-to tarp for ultralight backpacking trips.

Enlightened Equipment Rival

 

Material – Sil-Nylon

Weight – 6.9OZ/196g (without guy lines)

Cost – 190 USD (without guy lines)

Enlightened Equipment Rival Tarp

Enlightened Equipment is known for their down products but has branched out over the past few years. The Rival Tarp was designed with the Recon Bivvy below but works well alone or with other components. It’s very lightweight for a Sil-Nylon tarp and is available in three colors. Guy Lines are not included which is strange to me.


Bivvy Sacks and Bug Nests

Bivvy sacks and bug nests are often necessary with tarps or pyramids for complete protection. They also allow the user to have more flexibility in their shelter system.

Many hikers choose to go without their tarp on clear summer nights. A bivvy sack or bug nest can provide protection from the ground and protection from bugs. It’s possible to use a simple groundsheet (see below) with a tarp. But, there’s no bug protection and its possible rain will “splashback” and soak your quilt or sleeping bag.

Bivvy Sacks

Traditional bivvy sacks are a “tube” similar in shape to a sleeping bag. They use waterproof materials and bug mesh that you slide your sleep system inside of. They usually have a zippered entrance on the top or side.

MLD Superlight Bivvy

 

Material – Sil-Nylon or DCF

Weight –  Sil-Nylon – 7OZ/198g or DCF 5.5OZ/156g

Cost – Sil-Nylon – 175 USD or DCF 245 USD

MLD Superlight bivvy

There are many options in this category but the MLD Superlight bivvy is a great option. It can be ordered in either Sil-Nylon or DCF. A shock chord and trekking pole/tarp loop can also be used to pull the bivvy away from your face when sleeping.

Bug Nests

Mesh bug nests are hung from the inside of your tarp, some include a waterproof floor but not all. Those with floors usually have some kind of zippered door. Many bug nests are available but only work with a specific tarp/tent to make a complete shelter system. It makes more sense to buy gear that is versatile, so I recommend looking at a bug nest that will work with any shelter.

Sea to Summit Nano Mosquito Pyramid

 

Material – 100% Mesh

Weight – 2.9OZ/82g

Cost – 36USD

The Sea to Summit Nano Mosquito Pyramid is a floor-less option, perfect for a solo backpacker at just 2.9OZ/82g. It’s necessary to carry a separate groundsheet. But, a simple Polycro groundsheet (see below) weighs 1.6OZ/46g.

Hybrid Bivvy/ Bug Nest

 

Nowadays the line between Bivvy Sack and Bug Nest is somewhat blurred. A few years ago Enlightened Equipment released the Recon, a Bivvy/Bug Nest Hybrid. The Recon works well with any tarp for complete protection. It can also be used as a stand-alone bug nest/bivvy. The included bungee cord keeps the mesh up and away from your face when strung from your tarp or a tree. 
It can be ordered in a 10D or 7D Sil-Nylon. The 10D will be more durable but weigh .5OZ/14g more.

Enlightened Equipment Recon Bivy

 

Material – Sil-Nylon and Mesh

Weight – 10D – 6.35OZ/180g or 7D – 5.85OZ/166g

Cost – 10D – 150USD or 7D – 165USD.

Enlightened Equipment Recon Bivy

I’m currently using the Enlightened Equipment Recon and am really happy with it. I often use it for cowboy camping and slide into it like a traditional bivvy sack. Often without zipping it closed or raising it away from my face. When dealing with rain I’ll hang it inside my Gossamer Gear Twinn tarp. If I’m only dealing with bugs I use a tree or a single trekking pole to raise it up off my face. Leaving my tarp inside my backpack.


Ground Sheets for Ultralight Backpacking Tents and Shelters

Many ultralight backpacking tents and shelters require a waterproof groundsheet. They can be used underneath a single wall tent for extra protection. Or with a tarp when there won’t be any bugs or heavy rainfall.

They are lightweight and affordable to buy. Both of the groundsheets below use materials designed for use in construction. They can work with any kind of shelter and different sizes are available.

Tyvek Groundsheet

 

Weight – 4.5OZ/128g

Cost – 9USD

Tyvek and Polycro groundsheets
Tyvek (On top) and Polycro groundsheets used together

Tyvek groundsheets are my personal choice. They weigh slightly more than Polycro and don’t pack down as small. But, the material doesn’t wrinkle up in the same way and is easier to work with. I fold up my Tyvek and tuck it inside my pack. I’ve had the same one for years.

Polycro

 

Weight – 1.6OZ/46g

Cost – 2 Pack 9.95 USD

Polycro groundsheet

Polycro is the lightest possible option but it’s harder to work with and you have to wrestle with it to get it to lay flat. The material is very durable and I’ve never punctured or torn through it.


Stakes

 

Stake choice is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. The right options will save weight in your pack and securely anchor your shelter system. Not all stakes are created equal and the lightest option is not always the best choice. I always carry a combination of two types of stakes and the ratio depends on the shelter I’m carrying.

I use MSR Mini Groundhog Stakes for holding power on critical stake out points like the ridge-line of a tarp. Then the Titanium Shepherd Hooks for less critical stake out points.

MSR Mini Groundhog Stakes

 

Weight – 0.35OZ/10g each stake

Cost – 17 USD for six

MSR Mini Groundhog Stakes

MSR make high-quality products and I’ve had a set of mini groundhog stakes for almost five years. I’ve yet to bend or break one. Their Y shaped design increases surface area and gives them great holding power. For these stake out points, they are worth the extra weight over a titanium shepherd hook.

Toaks Titanium Shephard Hook Stakes

 

Weight – 0.23OZ/6.5g each stake

Cost – 18 USD for six

Toaks shepherd hooks

The Toaks shepherd hooks are great when you don’t need a lot of holding power and want the lightest option. These little guys are tough and are suitable in most scenarios. I use them for less critical stake out points like the center stake out points on my tarp. It is possible to bend them so caution must be taken, but the weight savings are real and they do a good job.


 

Hopefully, this article has helped you figure out the best ultralight backpacking tents and shelters for you. If you have any questions for me then drop them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Thanks for stopping by, PIE

 

 

Facebook Comments

Enjoying the Content? Subscribe to My Newsletter

You’ll receive articles about Ultralight Backpacking and Awesome Gear Guides & Reviews.

I’ll also send you my FREE ebook - 50 Ultralight Backpacking Tips.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Subscribe To My Newsletter

Join today to receive articles about Ultralight Backpacking and in-depth Gear Guides and Reviews delivered straight to your inbox.

You’ll also get access to my FREE 15+ page ebook - 50 Ultralight Backpacking Tips.

I hate junk mail and I won’t send you any. Just awesome articles about backpacking.

You have Successfully Subscribed!