When we began looking for the best ultralight tent for fastpacking, we immediately learned that choosing the best ultralight tent is much like choosing a favorite type of pie – everyone likes something different. Rhubarb, cherry, or key lime? No one can agree. Some of us at iRunFar are happy under simple and versatile flat tarps, while others are only comfortable when encapsulated in a fully enclosed tent. Some of us fastpack with running poles, which can be used to pitch non-freestanding shelters, and others need an ultralight tent with a dedicated pole set.
We tested single- and two-person shelters for this guide and looked at simple tarps, single-wall tents, and modular, double-wall tents composed of an inner mesh tent and a fly. Some single-occupant tarps we tested are large enough to accommodate a partner.
To accommodate various shelter preferences, we researched over 50 ultralight tents and tarps and tested 16 in Silverton, Colorado, the Uinta and Wasatch Mountains of Northern Utah, the Wind Rivers of Wyoming, and various locations throughout the Colorado Plateau. Our testers consisted of those identifying as ultralight backpackers, fastpackers, and runners willing to carry a heavier pack to travel farther. Unsurprisingly, no single shelter was top-ranked by all of our testers, but 11 of them stood out as the best ultralight tents by being light, stormworthy, versatile, and durable enough to suit a variety of fastpackers with various needs.
Our team loved the Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid XL for a trekking-pole supported tent, the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 Solution Dye for a dedicated-pole tent, and the Zpacks Hexamid Pocket Tarp with Doors as an ultralight tarp.
Below are our favorite ultralight tents and tarps of 2023. For more background information, see our buying advice, testing methodology, and frequently asked questions below the picks. Also, check out our best fastpacking pack, best ultralight sleeping bag, and best ultralight sleeping pad guides!
Best Ultralight Tents
- Best Double-Wall Trekking-Pole-Supported Ultralight Tents: Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid XL, Durston X-Mid 2, and SlingFin SplitWing Shelter Bundle
- Best Dedicated-Pole Ultralight Tents: Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 Solution Dye and Tarptent Double Rainbow
- Best Ultralight Tarps: Yama Mountain Gear 1P Cirriform Tarp – SilPoly, Zpacks Hexamid Pocket Tarp with Doors, Paria Outdoor Products Sanctuary SilTarp, Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape, and Tarptent Preamble
- Best Ultralight Bivvy: SOL Escape Bivvy
Best Double-Wall Trekking-Pole-Supported Ultralight Tents
- Versatile and can be used as a tarp or tent
- Durable materials
- Large #8 zipper
- Double-wall helps with condensation
- Roomy and sleeps one or two
The Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid XL is our favorite one-person, double-wall fastpacking shelter because it is light, easy to pitch, super-durable, stormworthy, and supremely versatile, accommodating solo and partnered fastpacking trips. It has also stood the test of time, with one of our testers spending more than 120 nights in it without issue.
The tarp weighs 16 ounces, and with sealed seams and long guylines, it’s still only 18.2 ounces. With the inner, this shelter becomes a fully enclosed tent weighing 30.1 ounces without stakes. It pitches with four stakes, but nine are recommended for a sturdy pitch. With nine stakes, the whole package weighs just over two pounds.
The rectangular base of this tent allows the fly to be pitched easily using only four stakes. This lets you escape the rain before setting up your sleeping area. This is impossible with most freestanding tents with a dedicated pole, which means the shelter comes with its own specific pole or poles rather than requiring a trekking pole.
To pitch the tent quickly, stake out each of the four corners, ensuring each one is at a right angle to its neighbors. Then, insert the handle of your trekking pole into the apex of the tent and extend the pole. This whole process can take as little as 60 seconds, no joke. This matters when those afternoon thunderstorms roll in, and you need to get out of the rain ASAP. The rectangular shape also tensions the perimeter, making this shelter very stable in the wind. Once situated and warm, you can add more stakes and improve the pitch if needed.
While not as light as the Zpacks Hexamid Pocket Tarp with Doors — the lightest shelter on our list — this tent provides all-sided protection and enough space for two people without the inner at a very reasonable weight. Unlike many flat and shaped tarps on this list, this tent can pitch to the ground without sacrificing internal volume.
For such a spacious shelter, this tent packs down very small, about 4 x 14 inches for the tarp, inner, and nine stakes, but it will squish down much smaller than that in your pack.
The 20-denier silnylon that Mountain Laurel Designs uses for this shelter sags less when wet and seems to remain waterproof longer than other silicone- and polyurethane (PU)-coated sil/PU) fabrics we’ve tested. However, the high-grade silicone coating tends to attract sand, so be aware that the shelter will need substantial cleaning after a trip through canyon country. The burley #8 zipper is the largest and most durable zipper of all the tents in this guide, which we appreciated, given that zippers are often the failure point for tents.
The only real bummer about this shelter is it’s pricey — $275 for the tarp alone and $455 when you include the inner.
To learn more, read our Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid XL review.
Type: Double-wall pyramid tent | Advertised Weight: 16 ounces (454 grams) tarp only without seam sealing and guylines, 11 ounces (312 grams) inner only, 27 ounces (765 grams) complete tent before seam sealing and guylines | Actual Weight: 18.2 ounces (516 grams) tarp only with seam sealing with guylines, 11.9 ounces (339 grams) inner only, 30.1 ounces (855 grams) complete tent | Packed Size: 4 x 14 inches (10 x 35 centimeters) complete tentShop the Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid XL
- Versatile and can be used as a tarp or tent
- Roomy and comfortably fits two
- Can sleep up to three without inner
- Sil/PU polyester doesn’t sag when wet
- Short corner guylines need to be replaced with longer ones
The Durston X-Mid 2 was one of the most hyped products in the ultralight backpacking world when it first came out, and it continues to live up to, and maybe even surpass that hype. This double-walled, modular, two-person, two-door, trekking pole-supported tent is huge, stormworthy, comfortable, inexpensive, and durable.
One of our testers has used this ultralight tent as his primary two-person fastpacking shelter for about a year and a half and has nothing but good things to say about it.
One of his favorite attributes is its rectangular base. You can pitch this tent on about any terrain with only four stakes. The rectangular base doesn’t just make pitching easy; it also tensions the entire perimeter, creating an incredibly sturdy structure. Once pitched with four stakes, you can throw your pack inside to get it out of the rain before adding additional stakes or setting up your sleeping area. And speaking of rain, because this tent is constructed from a sil/PU polyester, it doesn’t stretch or sag when wet.
While 37.4 ounces may sound like a lot for a fastpacking tent, it provides much space for the weight. The X-Mid 2 has two doors, each with a huge vestibule, so each person can organize and manage their own gear without bothering the other. Both people can sit up simultaneously without hitting their heads on the tent.
Plus, because this is a double-walled modular tent, you don’t have to take the inner if bugs aren’t an issue. The fly alone is only 22.2 ounces and sleeps up to three people comfortably. It also serves as a party tent for up to seven, as we discovered one snowy afternoon in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado when the weather turned unpleasant.
Type: Two-pole, double-wall pyramid tent | Advertised Weight: 35.4 ounces (1 kilogram) | Actual Weight: 37.4 ounces (1.06 kilograms) entire tent, 22.2 ounces (629.4 grams) fly only | Packed Size: 6.5 x 12 inches (17 x 30 centimeters)Shop the Durston X-Mid 2
- Lack of tarp zippers great for desert use
- High-quality silnylon
- Very small for two
- Short unadjustable guylines
The SlingFin SplitWing Shelter Bundle is a modern take on the traditional A-frame-shaped tarp and is pitched with two running poles. It’s a modular shelter that can be pitched tarp-only or with an inner to make it a complete tent. Two people will fit in the internal mesh body if you don’t mind smashing together like sardines.
Unique in this category, the tarp has two small wings at its opening to deflect rain and snow. We were surprised by how well the tarp’s wings worked in a backyard rain test. The inner tent remained completely dry during three days of almost constant rain. This was primarily vertical rain, though — if it was super windy, you might want to add the vestibule beak to the tarp. The beak is a small triangle of fabric that attaches to the trekking pole handle and clips on either side of the doorway, creating a vestibule and increasing the stormworthiness of the shelter substantially.
The guylines on this ultralight tent are absurdly short and have only about three inches of actual adjustability. They make finding a decent place for a stake on rocky terrain difficult. We recommend replacing these guylines with longer ones — at least for the corners — so you can pitch this tarp on variable surfaces.
As a simple tarp, this shelter only weighs nine ounces. It pitches taut and low to the ground and resists rain and wind quite well. This tarp’s silnylon was far more resistant to water absorption and sagging than any other nylon, except for the Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid XL.
Overall, the SlingFin SplitWing Shelter Bundle is a high-quality, ultralight tent that needs a few tweaks, including getting longer guylines, to improve it substantially. We’d also probably err on calling it more of a one-person than two-person shelter unless you’re close with your tent partner. For two, it’s just barely a step up from a bivvy. That said, for two people, it is a very light option.
Type: Double-wall catenary-cut tent | Advertised Weight: 21 ounces for the complete bundle (595 grams) | Actual Weight: 9 ounces (256.2 grams) tarp only, 11.5 ounces (326.1 grams) inner only, 2.3 ounces (64.7 grams) beak only, 22.8 ounces (647.5 grams) complete bundle before stakes | Packed Size: 4 x 7 inches (10.2 x 17.8 centimeters) tarp only, 5 x 11 inches (12.7 x 28 centimeters) complete bundleShop the SlingFin SplitWing Shelter Bundle
Best Dedicated-Pole Ultralight Tents
- Major manufacturer
- A good option for people who don’t use running poles
- Reasonable price
- Small for two
- Bulky to pack
- Short, unadjustable (but replaceable) guylines
The Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 Solution Dye is the latest iteration of a tent that has been in the Big Agnes lineup for a long time, and it’s a tried and true shelter. One of our testers reported that her seven-year-old version had performed admirably through two multi-month New Zealand bikepacking trips and many multiday fastpacking adventures in Colorado and is still going strong.
The HV in this latest version’s name stands for high volume, and this tent is indeed roomier than older versions our testers remember using nearly a decade ago. The solution dye process uses less energy and water than other Big Agnes tent fabrics and also results in a more UV-resistant material, increasing the life expectancy of the tent, especially if it’s used in sunny climates.
Since this tent has a dedicated pole set, it’s an excellent option for people who don’t use running poles. This shelter is comfortable sleeping but cramped for two medium-sized adults when preparing for bed or getting dressed for the day, but once everyone is settled, there’s enough room to sleep comfortably. The single front entrance makes entering and exiting a sensitive procedure with a sleeping tent partner and it’s worth taking middle-of-the-night bathroom breaks together since the chances are that if one person is up, the other person will be awake as well. All that said, the tent’s small size keeps the weight low enough — 31.9 ounces — for it to qualify as a fastpacking shelter.
The 15-denier nylon fabric on this tent has been silicone coated on the outside and polyurethane (PU) coated on the inside — called sil/PU nylon for short. Because it is a low-denier fabric with a PU coating, it sags more in the rain than silnylon, the material found in other options in this guide. In our three-day backyard rain test, we observed this tent sagging more than silnylon tarps and tents.
For the most part, this tent’s major shortcoming — the light and saggy fabric — is completely acceptable and understandable. What our testers weren’t accepting of were the short, non-adjustable guylines. While tolerable on tundra or grassy meadows, they make pitching difficult on sandy or rocky surfaces where a little more creativity is required.
The short, non-adjustable guylines also make it difficult to re-tension the tent in the rain when the material starts to sag. During an extended rain storm, we had to pull up stakes and pound them back about three inches from the original stake locations. If this shelter had line tensioners and longer guylines, you’d have to re-tension each one in a quick, 20-second lap around the tent. If you buy this tent, replace its guylines with longer ones and use a trucker’s hitch to re-tension the shelter during a storm.
Big Agnes makes a vast assortment of tents to suit a variety of needs, and we are aware that they make tents even lighter than this one, but the significantly higher price and reduced durability of these options drove us to choose this tent over them. The Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 Solution Dye made our list because it is light, inexpensive, compact for a hub and pole tent, stormworthy enough, and durable enough to be used on fastpacking trips where weather uncertainty is ever-present.
Type: Semi-freestanding, dedicated pole tent | Advertised Weight: 31 ounces (879 grams) | Actual Weight: 31.9 ounces (904.2 grams) | Packed Size: 5 x 20 inches (12.7 x 50.8 centimeters)Shop the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 Solution Dye
- Two doors mean you won’t bother your tent partner
- High-quality silnylon
- Dedicated pole set
- A single-wall construction is not great for condensation
- Not freestanding
The Tarptent Double Rainbow is one of the only two-person, two-door, dedicated pole tents in the two-pound range that is also priced reasonably. The single-pole design saves weight but is not freestanding. Since this tent is a single-wall design and doesn’t have mesh between the interior and the fly, the inside feels gigantic. And because there are two doors, you can get out of the tent to pee in the middle of the night without waking your tent partner.
Single-wall tents are generally less comfortable than double-wall tents because there is no mesh body to catch condensation dripping from the fly. We found this to be somewhat of an issue with this tent.
The very high-quality 30-denier silnylon is about twice the thickness of the Sil/PU nylon fly fabric on the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 Solution Dye that we reviewed above and is this tent’s primary competitor on this list. This tent’s material doesn’t sag much when wet and is likely quite durable, judging by the thickness.
This shelter is excellent for people who want a fully enclosed option for bug protection and don’t use running poles. Even though this tent doesn’t use running poles for setup, it is not freestanding and requires careful staking for a sturdy pitch. That said, you can make this tent freestanding by clipping your trekking poles to the tent’s base at the head and foot, where the single pole terminates. We appreciate this feature for pitching on rocky terrain where it’s difficult to drive stakes into the ground. This will make the tent somewhat sturdier, but you will still want to stake it out.
Type: Dedicated-pole tent | Advertised Weight: 35.8 ounces (1.01 kilograms) | Actual Weight: 37 ounces (1.05 kilograms) | Packed Size: 12 x 6.5 inches (30 x 17 centimeters)Shop the Tarptent Double Rainbow
Best Ultralight Tarps
- Very light
- Low profile, good in wind
- Long guylines make pitching in variable terrain easy
- Fabric doesn’t sag when wet
- Low headroom
The Yama Mountain Gear 1P Cirriform Tarp – SilPoly is the most refined take on the traditional A-frame, two-trekking-pole-shaped tarp we have ever seen. It’s constructed from high-quality recycled silpoly, pitches taut and low to the ground, and looks nice to boot.
When setting up this ultralight tarp on a particularly rocky campsite in the San Juans of Colorado, we appreciated the long guylines because they allowed us to search a large radius for soil into which we could drive stakes. Shorter guylines, like those on the Tarptent Preamble — which was set up beside the Min that night in Colorado — made pitching more difficult on the rocky terrain. Since fastpackers often don’t know where they’ll end up for the night, having a tarp with long guylines to set up in various situations, including on sand, slickrock, snow, or tundra is nice. As a bonus, this tarp can be pitched using fixed-length poles.
This shelter’s catenary curves give it an aesthetically appealing shape, making it one of the best-looking shelters of the entire bunch. These curves also make for a tight pitch. Because this tarp pitches super taut and low to the ground, it performs superbly in the wind — assuming you’ve got it well-staked.
In a backyard rain test, the silpoly fabric on this tarp absorbed less water and sagged less than other shelters constructed from silnylon or sil/PU fabrics. We left it out for three days in a near-constant deluge, and it didn’t droop or sag in any observable way. Unfortunately, the high silicone content of the material makes it attract a lot of dirt, which can be annoying in certain environments.
This tarp is light at 13.1 ounces and packs smaller than your rain jacket. We also appreciate that this tarp sets up the same way every single time because, at the end of a 30-mile day, you may not want to think about how you will pitch your flat tarp. We recommend pairing this tarp with a bivvy such as the SOL Escape Bivvy or one of Yama’s bug bivvies to make a roughly 24-ounce shelter, including stakes.
Type: Shaped tarp | Advertised Weight: 12.8 ounces (363 grams) | Actual Weight: 13.1 ounces (371 grams) | Packed Size: 3 x 6 inches (7.6 x 15.2 centimeters)Shop the Yama Mountain Gear 1P Cirriform Tarp - SilPoly
- Very light
- Lack of zippers great for desert use
- Very small
At 6.1 ounces, the Zpacks Hexamid Pocket Tarp with Doors is the lightest fastpacking shelter on our list. While not ideal for a trip where you know you’ll be frequently and heavily stormed on, it has a place for fastpacking in arid environments. Because of its weight, it’s an excellent option for trips where you anticipate cowboy camping 90% of the time but want to carry a shelter in case of weather. One of our testers uses it as his primary fastpacking shelter in the Colorado Plateau region, where rainfall is infrequent and storms are short-lived when they do occur. This tarp is an excellent option for people wanting the lightest shelter possible for environments where precipitation is unlikely.
We pair this shelter with the SOL Escape Bivvy to make it even more versatile. This way, we can cowboy camp most nights in the bivvy, only setting up the tarp when there’s a chance of precipitation.
Our biggest issue with this ultralight tarp is its length. It is advertised as 107 inches long, but that’s only true of the front edge of the tarp, while the back edge is 94 inches. This starts to feel small when you’re waiting out an all-night storm. One of our taller testers found himself tucking into a ball to keep the foot end of his sleeping bag dry. Shorter people should have no issue with the length of this shelter. Without a catenary cut, the tarp also doesn’t pitch tight, and our testers found that it was loud enough in the wind to keep him up.
Although $350 is a lot of money for a floorless tarp with no bug protection, it may be worth it for fastpackers prioritizing a light pack. If you like the feathery weight of the Zpacks Hexamid Pocket Tarp with Doors but want the security of a fully enclosed tent, look at the Zpacks Plex Solo Tent.
Type: Pyramid tarp | Advertised Weight: 6.1 ounces (173 grams) | Actual Weight: 5.3 ounces (151 grams) | Packed Size: 3.5 x 6 inches (8.9 x 15.2 centimeters)Shop the Zpacks Hexamid Pocket Tarp with Doors
- Versatile and can be pitched in many configurations
- Durable materials
- Fabric absorbs water
- Fabric coating seems less durable than some others
We initially wanted to test the Paria Outdoor Products Sanctuary SilTarp because it was the cheapest flat tarp that appeared to be constructed with quality materials. We figured its price could warrant its inclusion even if it wasn’t the highest-performing shelter on the list, and we weren’t wrong.
This ultralight tarp is constructed from 30-denier sil/PU nylon for durability and moderately low weight. Our 8 x 10-foot tarp weighs 19.5 ounces with all guylines attached but without stakes. While it does weigh more than many of the other tarps we tested, the price was significantly lower. Some of the extra weight comes from the tarp being a little overbuilt — there are 16 ¾-inch webbing loops around the perimeter. These loops make it easier to pitch in awkward situations, but it does add to the weight.
This shelter is large enough at 8 x 10 feet to fit two adults comfortably. It pitches with two running poles of any length but can also be set up in other ways. This tarp could be a good choice for fastpacking trips through piñon and juniper woodlands, where there’s often an option to string it between trees, creating a comfortable and sheltered campsite for waiting out those desert monsoons.
Type: Flat tarp | Advertised Weight: 15.5 ounces (440 grams) | Actual Weight: 19.5 ounces (553 grams) | Packed Size: 4 x 10 inches (10 x 25 centimeters)Shop the Paria Outdoor Products Sanctuary SilTarp
- Floppy pitch
- Awkward for running
- Not ideal for bushwhacking
One of the best ways to lower your pack weight is to ensure individual items have multiple uses. Use your sleeping bag’s stuff sack as a pillow. Use your trowel as a spork. Well, maybe not that one. The Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape is a rain poncho and tarp in one, saving weight and bulk over the typical setup of a rain jacket and a shelter. But does it work?
The answer is yes, but with some compromises. This ultralight tarp excels in specific use scenarios but is not right for all situations. One of our testers chooses it for on-trail ultra-minimalist trips with a promising forecast. She found it to keep her dry in both shelter and poncho form. It also sets up with her preferred hiking pole length of 110 to 115 centimeters and is easy to pitch once you get the hang of it.
Another tester agreed but added a couple of concerns. He noted that it doesn’t pitch taut as a shelter and tends to cave in significantly with the wind. Therefore, he would not choose it for trips with a stormy-looking forecast. As a poncho, he did find it to protect him from rain effectively. Both testers said they would not recommend this poncho-tarp for off-trail use because it, like all ponchos, could get snagged when bushwhacking.
After weighing this shelter’s pros and cons, we ultimately decided it deserved to make the list because of its price and versatility. It’s an excellent option for someone just getting into fastpacking who doesn’t have a shelter yet or who wants all their gear to have multiple uses.
Type: Pyramid-style tarp | Advertised Weight: 11 ounces (311.8 grams) | Actual Weight: 10.2 ounces (289.9 grams) | Packed Size: 3 x 6 inches (7.6 x 15.2 centimeters)Shop the Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape
- Small #3 zippers prone to failure
- Floppy, billowing foot area
- Low headroom
If someone asked you to draw a tent in 10 seconds, you’d probably scrawl something like the Tarptent Preamble across your construction paper. This tent is appealing partly because it is blatantly non-revolutionary, proving that gear doesn’t have to be fancy and expensive to work. Indeed, this tent is simply a slightly improved reboot of Henry Shire’s first Tarptent.
This floorless tent offers bug protection and is tapered from head to foot. It has a catenary-cut ridge for a taut pitch and bug netting sewn around the perimeter and over the head and foot openings. The netting zips closed along one edge of the head of the tarp. The head of the tarp also features a solid door, a triangle of fabric that creates a vertical panel but no vestibule when closed.
The fabric is 20-denier silpoly, a material you will probably see more often in shelters because it is light, inexpensive, doesn’t sag in the cold or rain, and can be made from recycled polyester. After hours of rain, sleet, and snow, it didn’t sag at all, so we didn’t have to re-tension guylines in the middle of the night. The fabric is also super compressible. With eight stakes and guylines, this tarp packs to about the size of a large burrito.
Because there’s no floor, we’d recommend using a ground sheet to prevent punctures when using an inflatable pad. The additional weight of the groundsheet will be worth it for most people. With a large piece of polycro for a groundsheet, this shelter still weighs under 24 ounces, including stakes.
We were initially enamored with the simplicity of this tent, but it ultimately didn’t score very high on our list for a few reasons. While the interior floor space of this shelter is roomy for one, the headroom is poor. If you want to be able to sit up in your tent, this is not the right choice for you. And with two people inside, gear tends to migrate to the edges where it’s at risk of drifting out of the tent and getting wet. The light and floppy fabric that closes off the foot end of the shelter seemed ill-designed to us and tended to drift inwards with the wind.
Called “the Model A of tents” by one of our testers, this design has been surpassed many times by better-engineered shelters. But it could still have its place because higher-performing shelters cost much more. This tent makes sense for our list because it’s a light, compressible shelter with bug protection, and it is these things for only $200.
Type: Single-wall tarp/tent | Advertised Weight: 18.1 ounces (513 grams) | Actual Weight: 18.9 ounces (536 grams) | Packed Size: 4 x 10 inches (10 x 25 centimeters)Shop the Tarptent Preamble
Best Ultralight Bivvy
- Readily available
- Packs small
- Specialized tool/limited use cases
The SOL Escape Bivvy is a specialized tool for fastpacking trips with a mild forecast or when sleep isn’t on the menu. It weighs 8.6 ounces and packs to about the size of a grapefruit.
This bivvy does not provide the same storm protection as a tarp or tent. It’s an excellent option for trips without much precipitation in the forecast, where the goal is to cover a lot of ground, not necessarily to sleep super comfortably. When we tuck into this bivvy at the end of a long day, we try to find sheltered campsites, such as below the bows of a giant fir tree or under an overhanging rock. Good campsite selection will increase the stormworthiness of this shelter. Some of us also like to use it with a tarp if we know the weather will be gnarly.
This bivvy is not as light as SOL’s zipperless version, but our testers found the latter difficult to wiggle in and out of, so we prefer this heavier zippered version. Even this one is tight inside, but a smaller or medium-sized person can fit a sleeping pad, bag, and themselves in there when needed. One of our smaller testers can get herself, her 40-degree sleeping bag, and a sleeping pad inside and stay comfortable as long as she sleeps on her back. Due partly to the reflective liner material, this bivvy adds significant warmth to a sleep system. Condensation can occur inside the bivvy, especially around the feet, though we often find it to be frozen condensation, which is not nearly as bad as a sopping wet sleeping bag. Our team has also found this bivvy quite durable, as some of us have had ours for years with no issues.
Finally, we can’t overstate how excellent the price point is. The price is beyond reasonable for a bivvy that will last a long time and keep you safe on your most minimalist overnight trips.
Type: Bivvy | Advertised Weight: 8.5 ounces (241 grams) | Actual Weight: 8.6 ounces (243.1 grams) | Packed Size: 3.5 x 6.5 inches (8.9 x 16.5 centimeters)Shop the SOL Escape Bivvy
Ultralight Tent and Tarp Fabric Glossary
Refer to this glossary for more information on a shelter’s fabric.
Siliconized nylon (silnylon): Nylon fabric coated on both sides with silicone.
- Low water absorption
- High tear strength
- Highly waterproof
Silicone-coated polyester (silpoly): Polyester fabric coated on both sides with silicone.
- Almost zero water absorption
- Highly waterproof
- It can be made of recycled polyester
Silicone and polyurethane-coated nylon (sil/PU nylon): Nylon fabric coated on the face with silicone and coated inside with polyurethane.
- It can be seam-taped
Silicone and polyurethane-coated polyester (sil/PU poly): Polyester fabric coated on the face with silicone and coated inside with polyurethane.
- It can be seam-taped
- It can be made of recycled polyester
Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF): A non-woven fabric consisting of a lattice of ultra-high-molecular-weight-polyethylene (UHMWPE) fibers laminated between two polyester sheets.
- Extremely high tear strength
- Very waterproof
- Very light
Comparing the Best Ultralight Tents
|Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid XL
|4 x 14 inches
|Durston X-Mid 2
|6.5 x 12 inches
|SlingFin SplitWing Shelter Bundle
|4 x 7 inches
|Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 Solution Dye
|5 x 20 inches
|Tarptent Double Rainbow
|12 x 6.5 inches
|Yama Mountain Gear 1P Cirriform Tarp – SilPoly
|3 x 6 inches
|Zpacks Hexamid Pocket Tarp with Doors
|3.5 x 6 inches
|Paria Outdoor Products Sanctuary SilTarp
|4 x 10 inches
|Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape
|3 x 6 inches
|4 x 10 inches
|SOL Escape Bivvy
|3.5 x 6.5 inches
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose an Ultralight Tent or Tarp
Types of Shelters
There are three main categories of shelters to consider when choosing the best ultralight tent: freestanding shelters, non-freestanding shelters, and bivvies. Within the non-freestanding category are four main types of shelters: flat tarps, catenary-cut tarps, single-wall tarp tents, and double-wall tents. Some of the shelters in our list can be used as tarps or tents, which we’ll explain below.
Freestanding, dedicated pole-set shelters require no staking for setup, although even freestanding shelters need to be staked for use in inclement weather. These shelters utilize an included, dedicated pole set to make them freestanding. The Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 Solution Dye is the closest thing we have to a freestanding shelter, but even it requires staking out the foot end to extend the fly fully.
Trekking Pole Supported
Most of the best ultralight tents on our list are non-freestanding, requiring trekking poles and stakes for setup. A trekking pole-supported shelter such as the Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid XL is generally lighter and packs much smaller than a freestanding tent with a dedicated pole set.
A tarp is a floorless shelter, usually supported by trekking poles or strung between trees. Some tarps on the market, such as the Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape, can double as a rain poncho.
Flat tarps are rectangular or square and can be pitched in many different configurations. They are super versatile and light, and they also take a bit of practice to master setting up. The Paria Outdoor Products Sanctuary SilTarp is an example of a flat tarp.
A shaped tarp is constructed with a curved or catenary-cut ridgeline and edges to tighten the pitch. These tarps tend to flap less in the wind than flat tarps, and people usually choose shaped tarps over flat tarps for better performance in the wind. The Yama Mountain Gear 1P Cirriform Tarp – SilPoly is an example of a shaped tarp.
Tents are fully enclosed shelters consisting of a tarp or fly, bug netting, and a floor. They offer more protection from weather and bugs than ultralight tarps do. Tents can be either freestanding, like the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 Solution Dye, or non-freestanding, like the SlingFin SplitWing Shelter Bundle. Tents can also be either single-wall or double-wall, which we’ll explain below.
Single-wall tents, sometimes called tarp tents, such as the Tarptent Double Rainbow consist of a single layer. Tarps are also a single layer but don’t include the bug netting or floor. With single-wall tents, the bug netting is sewn to the fly and the floor to save weight. These tent designs can sometimes suffer from condensation issues.
Double-wall tents, like the Durston X-Mid 2, consist of two separate pieces: a fly or tarp and an inner tent that has bug netting and a floor. You can also think about many double-wall tents as modular tents because either part of the tent, the fly or the inner, can be pitched separately.
Besides modularity, the main benefit of double-wall tents is their increased weather performance over other types of tarps or tents. The floor protects the sleeping area from wet ground, the bathtub walls protect the sleeping area from spindrift and splashing rain, and the mesh tent body protects the sleeping area from condensation.
As moisture accumulates inside the tarp and drips off, it will land on the mesh rather than your sleeping bag, rolling down the outside of the tent toward the ground. This will help keep your sleeping bag dry. It’s worth noting that you could experience condensation both in a wet meadow under a clear sky and when it’s dumping rain. In both situations, a double-wall tent will outperform a single-wall tent.
While the fabric on every one of the shelters on our list is different, we can narrow them down into five categories: siliconized nylon (silnylon), silicone-coated polyester (silpoly), silicone- and polyurethane-coated nylon (sil/PU nylon), silicone- and polyurethane-coated polyester (sil/PU poly), and Dyneema composite fabric (DCF).
The Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid XL is an example of a tent constructed from silnylon. This 20-denier fabric is coated on both sides with silicone. It is a long-lasting, very waterproof fabric with high tear strength and low sag. The only real downside of this fabric is that it cannot be taped, so the seams must be sealed by hand using Gear Aid Silnet Silicone Seam Sealer. Most manufacturers offer a seam-sealing service.
The nylon fabric on the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 Solution Dye is also silicone coated, but only on the outside. The inside of the material has a polyurethane coating so that the seams can be taped. This fabric is referred to as Sil/PU nylon. The PU coating decreases the tear strength and increases the sag compared to a fully silicone-coated nylon. One of the benefits of PU is that it attracts less sand than fully silicone-coated nylons, making it a good choice for desert outings.
It is widely agreed upon that polyester has slightly lower tear strength than nylon, but how much lower is up for debate. Additionally, the tear strength of nylon may drop when it is saturated with water. But here’s where polyester really shines: it doesn’t absorb water to the same degree as nylon. This means it won’t sag when wet and will not be as heavy in your pack as saturated nylon would be after a night of rain. The Yama Mountain Gear 1P Cirriform Tarp – SilPoly is an example of a polyester shelter coated with silicone on both sides. This shelter’s fabric is also made of recycled materials, something very difficult to accomplish with nylon.
The Durston X-Mid 2 is constructed from polyester with a silicone coating on the outside and a thin polyurethane coating on the inside. This sil/PU material has minimal sag, in our experience. It’s also inexpensive, so it helps keep the price down on this tent.
Dyneema Composite Fabric, or DCF, is a non-woven fabric consisting of a lattice of ultra-high-molecular-weight-polyethylene (UHMWPE) fibers laminated between two polyester sheets. The only tent on our list constructed from DCF is the Zpacks Hexamid Pocket Tarp with Doors. There are many excellent DCF shelters out there, but to make fastpacking more accessible to more people, we have left these pricey shelters off the list. DCF is lighter than the other fabrics on this list, has an astonishingly high tear strength, and doesn’t absorb water. There is some evidence showing that DCF doesn’t last quite as long as high-grade silnylons.
Denier is a rough estimate of the thickness of an individual thread in a fabric. Tents and tarps in this list range from 10 to 30 denier fabrics. Higher-denier materials are generally stronger than lower-denier fabrics, and lower-denier fabrics are lighter. The construction and coatings of fabric make a difference as well. The 10-denier silnylon on the SlingFin SplitWing Shelter Bundle, for example, absorbed less water and sagged less than the 10-denier sil/PU nylon found on the Gossamer Gear Twin Tarp, which did not make the list because of the relatively poor fabric performance. In other words, it’s important to know the denier of a shelter fabric, but it doesn’t tell you everything.
The waterproofness of a fabric is measured using the hydrostatic head test. This test measures how much water pressure a material can handle before moisture seeps through. Fabrics in this buyer’s guide range between 1,200 millimeters for the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 Solution Dye and 3,500-plus millimeters for the Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid XL. The higher the number, the more waterproof a fabric will be.
Our preferred guyline length for most shelters’ corners is at least 12 inches, and ideally 24 inches. While line tensioners are ideal, not every shelter on our list has them, and that’s fine if the guylines are long enough to tie a clove hitch or trucker’s hitch to tension them.
Why You Should Trust Us
The iRunFar team has been fastpacking for over a decade, and we have watched the adventure niche grow. What started as two separate endeavors — ultralight backpacking and adventure running — have now merged into one, fastpacking. Because of the overlap in gear needs, fastpackers have used ultralight backpacking shelters since the sport’s inception.
To develop this list, we considered over 50 shelters and tested 16 of them in Silverton, Colorado, the Uinta and Wasatch Mountains of Northern Utah, and in various locations throughout the Colorado Plateau. Some of the best ultralight tents and tarps on this list had been in our team members’ quivers for more than five years, while others were new to all of us. Different users with different needs tried each shelter to ensure we weren’t overlooking any shelter’s blatant flaws or unexpected boons. In addition to testing the shelters by placing them outside during multiday rain storms to test fabric performance, we also took opportunities to sleep in them in rain and snow storms in the wild.
To no one’s surprise, no single shelter performed flawlessly under all conditions, but nine of them stood out as being light, stormworthy, versatile, and durable enough to suit a variety of fastpackers with differing needs. Choosing the best ultralight tent will come down to personal preferences and needs. We evaluated the shelters based on their weight, space, ease of use, weather resistance, material sag, and wind performance to provide an accurate assessment of how each performed under various conditions.
Please note that product models are routinely discontinued in the outdoor world, while new ones frequently come to market. At the same time, we here at iRunFar often keep our top picks in regular use … they’re our top picks, after all! Sometimes, that continued use results in uncovering product failures. With all this — product discontinuations, product introductions, and product failures — in mind, we routinely update our buyer’s guides based on past and ongoing testing and research by our authors and editorial team. While these updates can appear to be us pushing the newest product, it’s anything but that. Most products will likely remain the same when we update any buyer’s guide. That matches our goal: to get you in the best gear you’ll use for a long time.
Frequently Asked Questions About Ultralight Tents and Tarps
What is fastpacking?
Fastpacking is essentially the combination of ultralight backpacking and adventure running. Want to utilize your entire weekend by linking two 30-mile runs with a night out under the stars? Fastpacking. Want to push yourself to do a 100-mile thru-hike in only three days? Fastpacking.
When fastpacking, you take the minimum equipment needed to spend the night safely in the wilderness and then hit the trail. Run a little, hike a little, stop to hone your amateur naturalist skills, and then run and hike again. With a pack in the 15-pound range, running often isn’t very realistic, especially when moving over rough terrain. But if you can get your pack weight low enough — and a lightweight shelter like the Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid XL can definitely help — you can have a bit of a pep in your step on the flats and when cruising downhill. The best ultralight tent will keep your pack light while sheltering you from the elements.
Do I need a shelter for fastpacking?
We don’t recommend that you embark on a fastpacking trip without a shelter because we believe some protection from rain, sleet, or snow is mandatory for safety. At a minimum, carry a small pyramid tarp such as the Zpacks Hexamid Pocket Tarp with Doors or a bivvy such as the SOL Escape Bivvy. These items, which we reviewed above, are tiny and light and will help keep you safe if the weather turns wet.
Do I need bug protection?
Well, sometimes. Most of the year, roughly August through April, bug protection is unnecessary on the Colorado Plateau, where many of our testers live and play. Early-season and late-season alpine zones are also typically bug-free. For this reason, many of us here at iRunFar don’t use fully enclosed tents much of the time, opting instead for flat and catenary-cut tarps.
Of course, your local playground could be different. Depending on where you live, ticks, scorpions, sand flies, and mosquitoes can be nearly constant concerns, and the best ultralight tent for these situations will be a fully enclosed one. One of our testers ended up acquiring her first tent while planning a trip to the Pacific Northwest and being worried about bugs.
So, if you fastpack mostly through the tick-infested Appalachians or the mosquito-infested Wind River Mountains in July, bring a shelter with bug netting. Several tents on our list will protect you from creepy crawlies. The Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid XL, the Durston X-Mid 2, the SlingFin SplitWing Shelter Bundle, the Tarptent Preamble, and the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 Solution Dye will all shield you from biting and stinging insects.
Do I need a ground sheet if my shelter doesn’t have a floor?
Shelters without floors are an excellent option for many fastpacking trips, but they don’t provide any protection from the ground. If you’re using an inflatable sleeping bag, having a ground sheet to put down can protect your pad from punctures and help keep your gear protected from dirt and sand. While this may seem unnecessary in many situations, keeping sand from covering everything at a desert campsite can make everything much more pleasant. Groundsheets can also keep your gear dry if the ground is wet.
How light should my shelter be for fastpacking?
As with every other item in your tiny fastpacking backpack, the lighter, the better, as long as performance isn’t compromised — a lighter shelter will reduce your overall pack weight, allowing you to move faster on the trail. But lighter weight can sometimes translate to lowered durability or decreased storm protection. Be sure to ask yourself if your shelter is “stupid-light,” considering the weather conditions you could encounter on your fastpacking trip. The best ultralight tent will strike a balance between its weight, durability, and ability to protect you from the weather.
For example, no one at iRunFar would take the SOL Escape Bivvy on a weeklong tour through the Weminuche Wilderness of Colorado. Those mountains are unpredictable, so, in this case, we’d happily take the weight penalty of a fully enclosed tent in exchange for some storm protection, durability, bug protection, and peace of mind.
Are bivvies as good as tents? When would I use a bivvy?
Bivvies offer less weather protection than ultralight tarps or tents, but they have their place. Their primary appeals are their low weight and ease of use. When you stop for the night, just throw it on the ground, climb in, and sleep. Their primary downsides are their low comfort and susceptibility to condensation and, thus, a wet sleeping bag. Our testers like to take bivvies on trips when there is a non-threatening forecast.
Because bivvies can be light, we also like to use them when sleep is a lower priority than moving fast through space. For these reasons, we chose the SOL Escape Bivvy for our list. It is light, inexpensive, and protects you from weather when needed. It’s a specialty tool, and most of us at iRunFar prefer tarps or tents for 95% of trips.
I don’t use running poles but I want a double-walled pyramid tent. What should I do?
You aren’t out of luck if you don’t use running poles but still want a double-walled trekking pole-supported tent. You can still experience the joys of a pyramid tent such as the Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid XL by purchasing it with this carbon fiber pole, and this will add three ounces to the shelter for a total weight of 33 ounces without stakes.
But why, you might ask, would anyone choose this pyramid over a dedicated pole, semi-freestanding tent such as the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 Solution Dye, which weighs only 31.9 ounces before stakes? The short answer is that most people wouldn’t. Dedicated pole tents are simple and essentially foolproof. But the Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid XL can be set up tarp-first in a downpour, which keeps your sleeping area from getting wet. It’s also constructed from higher quality silnylon, which is stronger and sags less in the rain than Big Agnes sil/PU nylon material.
Ultimately, there’s no correct answer. Some people will prefer trekking pole-supported pyramid tents, and some will prefer dedicated pole tents. Even if you don’t use running poles, you can use either type of tent.
Is Dyneema Composite Fabric worth the money?
Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF) is lighter and has better tear strength than the silnylons or silpolys found in this list. It also doesn’t absorb water, so you can shake much of it off before stuffing the shelter back into your pack. These are worthy attributes and will understandably push many to choose DCF shelters. But DCF is very expensive, so we only have one of these shelters on our list. We want to make many items accessible to fastpackers of all income brackets.
We have also found that most DCF shelters thrash in the wind while nylon or polyester shelters have some give to them. This means that the guylines on a DCF shelter will be under immense stress. Stakes on DCF shelters are thus more likely to pull out of the ground than stakes on nylon or polyester shelters. This strain also can cause DCF to deform, especially around the hem and at the corners where stress is greatest. Eventually, getting a good pitch on a DCF shelter becomes difficult.
Some of our testers have observed that zippers on DCF shelters don’t last as long as zippers on nylon or polyester shelters. This is most likely due to the inflexible nature of DCF, which strains the zipper slider. The high tension grinds sand into the metal slider, wearing it out quickly. Fortunately, it’s easy to replace zipper sliders.
What kind of running poles do I need for these shelters?
Most non-freestanding shelters on this list use poles ranging from about 110 to 140 centimeters, with the ideal length being about 125 centimeters. It’s easiest to use adjustable three-piece or two-piece poles, as they’ll allow you to get a tight pitch, but fixed poles can also be used.
If your running poles are too short for your preferred shelter, add these carbon pole jacks to reach the shelter’s ideal pole height. Some taller tents even come with jacks. It’s also possible to lash two fixed-length trekking poles together with a bit of paracord or two Voile Straps to achieve a taller pitch height.
Call for Comments
- What’s your favorite ultralight tent or tarp?
- Have you ever fastpacked without a shelter?
- Do you prefer ultralight tarps, tents, or bivvies for fastpacking?