Through this last summer, PCT: Oregon’s gear testers got to sample some of the latest backpacking tent options available from some of our favorite brands. We were able to get these out into Oregon’s mountains in the sun, rain and even a little snow. Most were pretty solid performers, with more pros than cons, and each with some nice features. If you’re in the market for a new tent to replace an old one—or perhaps looking to gear up for a PCT hike next year—check out a few of the models we sampled, and get ready for the trail.
Big Agnes Happy Hooligan UL2
I’m already a big fan of Big Agnes tents, so it came as no surprise that the new Happy Hooligan UL2 would make a good impression. This freestanding, 3-season tent sports a roomy 29 square feet of living space, and a very generous 40 inches of headroom. This is especially nice for taller campers. Setup is quick and easy with a dual-hub DAC pole configuration and a single top crossbar. The main tent body is almost entirely mesh, which provides good ventilation and breathability—and good stargazing, sans-fly. Entry and exit is easy with two large side doors, and there’s plenty of room for gear storage in the two large vestibules. Instead of traditional interior side panel pockets, this tent employs two overhead media pockets. This is a creative (if somewhat frivolous) design; I much prefer side pockets for stashing my small essentials. The thin, lightweight rain fly stands up to the elements admirably, keeping the interior nice and dry. The price point is a little on the high side, but I would highly reco the Happy Hooligan UL2 as a worthy investment in long-distance trail comfort. Tested by Eli.
Min. weight: 3.1 lbs • Packed weight: 3.6 lbs • $380
Mountain Hardwear Hylo 2
While not the lightest tents available, I really appreciate Mountain Hardwear tents for their solid durability—most performing admirably, even in the worst conditions. The Hylo 2 holds up that standard. First the pros: This hybrid, 3-season, single-wall tent sets up in a flash. The triple-hub DAC pole unit, while a bit awkward to manage, creates a solid frame for this 27 square-foot shelter, while providing 42 inches of interior headroom. For a 2-person shelter, this is pretty decent—and there’s good interior pockets for stashing small essentials. When subjected to heavy rain, it stayed good and dry inside. Now the cons: This tent sports only one side door and one vestibule, so entry/exit for two users can be awkward, and storage space is limited. With only a mesh door and a couple small, mesh vents for breathability, internal condensation was an issue when the temps dropped overnight. (I’ve also heard from others that this can make it stuffy through warm nights.) Weighing all these factors, I would reco the Hylo 2 for fair-weather weekend camping or short section-hikes, but not so much for a long-distance shelter option. Tested by Eli.
Min. weight: 3.6 lbs • Packed weight: 4 lbs • SALE: $225
NEMO Hornet Elite 2P
NEMO’s Hornet Elite 2P was the lightest (and most expensive) tent I tried this summer. At sub-2 pounds, this 3-season featherweight shelter certainly did not weigh me down. However, as with most ultralight items, there are concessions to be made. Setup is easy with a single DAC Y-pole configuration; the front of the tent does need to be staked or guyed out. The interior provides 28 square feet of living space, with 38 inches of headroom. It’s fairly narrow for two people, and the angled sidewalls (which create a pyramid-like structure) keeps the headroom right in the center. This tent has two (smallish) D-shaped doors, two decent-sized vestibules for gear storage and two internal stash pockets. With a mostly mesh tent body, there’s good ventilation, however on especially breezy nights I found it to be a little drafty (perhaps due to the minimal floor fabric and high rear-wall cutout on the fly). In the rain, the fly held up well and kept the inside nice and dry. Because I like having a little elbow room, I would reco the Hornet Elite 2P as more of a luxury 1P. The price may scare away the casual hiker, but if you’re looking at spending weeks—or months—on the trail trail, this is a solid option. Tested by Eli.
Min. weight: 1.8 lbs • Packed weight: 2.2 lbs • $500
Sierra Designs Light Year 1
Constructed of durable fabrics, the 3-season Light Year 1 includes several nice features, including a single large door and roomy gear vestibule; the interior offers 18 square feet of living space, with 39 inches of headroom. On warm, dry nights, the full mesh body allows for nice stargazing, while the bathtub-style floor and full-coverage rainfly keeps the interior dry in stormy weather. Setup is easy, with just two poles for the main tent—however it’s not freestanding. It requires a minimum of nine stakes for a taut pitch to withstand windy conditions. I especially liked using the NightGlow feature, which converts my headlamp into a tent lamp with pleasant, diffused lighting. Another cool feature is the ability to turn the vestibule into an awning using trekking poles. There are also two pockets on the interior for keeping smaller items within easy reach. I would recommend the Light Year 1 as an affordable and lightweight entry-level option to consider. Tested by Lisa.
Min. weight: 2.8 lbs • Packed weight: 3.3 lbs • $170
Slumberjack Nightfall 2
The Slumberjack Nightfall 2 is a 2-person tent that actually has room for two people, and is super-light on the pocketbook. This 3-season model features a single, large front door, 31 square feet of living space and 39 inches of headroom. With the rainfly and tent attached, set up is easy with three external poles—perfect if it’s raining, as the interior stays dry while pitching. There is also the option to leave the inner tent behind for a “fast pitch” shelter using just the rainfly. The tent’s walls are nearly vertical, allowing for plenty of elbow room inside. I also liked that I could use my trekking poles to convert the vestibule into an awning for relaxing inside and still having a view. The weight is a little cumbersome for long-distance trekking, but for weekends and shorter outings, the Nightfall 2 makes for an affordable entry-level option that will hold up to many nights of outdoor adventures. Tester: Lisa
Minimum Weight: 5.1 lbs • Packed Weight: 5.8 lbs • SALE: $115
These reviews are based on the individual experiences PCT: Oregon’s gear team. Reviewers include hiking guidebook authors Lisa Holmes and Eli Boschetto. All items were tested in a variety of weather and temperature conditions. Personal results may vary. For more information on PCT: Oregon gear reviews, click here.
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Main photo: The Big Agnes Happy Hooligan UL2 in convertible mode, with the rain fly partially pulled back.