Updated May 2017
As summer objectives loom, we updated this review as of May 2017 to include product changes and updates. Three of our award winners, from Big Agnes, Mountain Laurel, and ZPacks received significant updates in late 2016. We also added charts and graphs that give you at-a-glance product comparisons. While researching the current market, we ensured that our Editors' Choice winner is still the cream of the crop.
Best Overall Ultralight Tent
Weighs 14 oz. with bug protection!
Four-sided weather protection
Very comfortable inside
Hard to achieve perfect drum tight pitch
Not as adaptable as a tarp
3-season use only
Out of all the ultralight tents we've ever tested, the ZPacks Hexamid Twin Tent
was by far the best. In August 2016, ZPacks replaced this model with the Duplex Tent, which adds a sewn-in floor, better views, and better airflow. With these updates, it still cashes in on the staples of the original Hexamid, which one for its weather protection and livability. The Duplex weighs in at 21 ounces, and its predecessor was the best "do-everything" shelter and hands-down our favorite for three-season backpacking and bike touring. Its unique shape provides excellent wind and rain protection on all four sides and has more room for two than similar products. We think it will last most users for many, many years of light and fast adventures.
Read full review: ZPacks Duplex
Most Bang for the Buck
Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Tarp Duo
Generous coverage for a 2-person A-frame
Weighs 18 oz with guy lines
Available in SilNylon or Cuben Fiber
Three interior hang loops
Not very adaptable or weather protection
At only $170, the Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Tarp Duo
combines high-quality fabric with a superior floor plan. In 2016, the tent's fabric was upgraded to a new Pro SilNylon material designed to make the tarp more waterproof while improving its strength. This comes with a 4-ounce weight loss, which we can't complain about. This is the best value ultralight tent or shelter we've tested because it's more comfortable and more protective than other similar tarps and it performs well in the majority of three-season conditions. Whether you're making the transition from a heavy dedicated pole backpacking tent or are simply value conscious, this tarp offers fantastic performance for three-season backpacking. Its largest drawback is its limited adaptability. We find that flat tarps (like the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp) perform much better in very exposed conditions and for climbing. The Grace Tarp receives our Best Buy Award because it offers the most value of all the products we tested.
Read full review: Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Tarp Duo
Top Pick for Expert Users
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp
Only 10 ounces
Bomber alpine wind protection
Most versatile type of shelter
Not as much weather protection as pyramid tarps
Long pitching time
If you want the lightest 3-season shelter, with the most adaptability for rough terrain and off-the-beaten path bivouacs, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp
is a perfect choice. Its A-frame and storm mode pitches are only two of many that skilled users can adapt to exposed, small, and rough campsites, high in the mountains or deep in the woods. Weighing in at 10 ounces with the included guylines, this is the lightest product we tested. Used with a light bivy sack or modular inner tent, a flat tarp provides the lightest, most versatile, bombproof protection in exposed mountain environments. Although Hyperlite has been known for long ship times in the past, products generally ship within several days now.
Read full review: Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp
Chris Simrell leverages extreme adaptability of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat tarp during an alpine ascent of Mt. Huntington in Alaska. We recommend our Top Pick for those with expert rigging skills.
Top Pick for Ease of Use
Big Agnes Fly Creek HV2 Platinum
Easy to set-up
Clips separate the inner and outer tents
Weighing in at 28 ounces without the included stakes, the Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 Platinum
was the lightest dedicated-pole, double-wall tent we had ever tested. Updated for 2017, this tent is now the Fly Creek HV2 Platinum
, which includes a new hub design, resulting in a 20% volume increase. An issue with the older model was the lack of head space, so are encouraged by this update. Our tests revealed the Platinum as the quickest shelter to pitch, and it earned the highest weather resistance rating as well. We loved it for backpacking, thru-hiking, and bike touring. Some users will also like that when you order the Fly Creek, it comes with everything you need. You don't need to debate over modular components or purchase stakes or guy lines separately.
Read full review: Big Agnes Fly Creek HV2 Platinum