There are many very important factors to consider when choosing a backpacking tent for your first trip. So, before you rush to the nearest gear store, think about your purchase; how it can keep you safe from the elements and keep you comfortable at night after a long jaunt on the trail.
In addition, this is for the beginner backpacker. So, I have provided information about 3-season, 1 and 2 person beginner tents only in this review. Meaning, this is a good starting point for your backpacking future.
After considering and researching more than two dozen different tents, I chose the Mountainsmith Morrison 2-Person Tent as the best overall of the beginner tents. For me, it’s the perfect balance of price and quality. It is lightweight, easy to set up with color-coordinated poles, top clips, and fly clips. It also has two vestibules and is waterproof with good ventilation.
The most important takeaway from this review, I believe, is that I strongly encourage you to purchase a tent that fits your immediate needs and budget. The Mountainsmith is at the high end of the entry-level price point, however, I believe it will last until you are ready to upgrade.
I have also included 5 other worthy entry-level lightweight tents. I intend to provide information about 1 and 2-person, 3-season tents. The reasons, budget, weight, and comfort. I don’t want you to stop backpacking because of a miserable tent experience.
By the way, I did include a 4-season tent, the Kazoo Outdoor Camping Tent; this tent is great as a 3-season tent in the colder climates.
Top 5 Beginner Tents, Plus 1
All 6 tents have common qualities: they are well-ventilated, good in the rainy/windy weather, and considered lightweight between 4 and 6 lbs. The price ranges from a low of $63.99 up to $179.99. Take a look.
I chose this as number one because of the super easy set-up, lightest weight of the tents, has two vestibules and the most durable based on Amazon reviews. This tent will last until you are ready to upgrade to longer trips where weight plays a higher role. One thing, the tent is at the top end of the price range at $179, but I believe the durability will lessen the price blow.
This tent ran a close second to the Mountainsmith. It too is lightweight and easy to set up, and with great ventilation. This would be a good choice for week-long excursions.
This tent is when the price gets better. The 2-person tent is listed at $129.99. Like the others, it is lightweight, weather-resistant, and easy to set up.
A great lower-priced choice at $79.99. It has good ventilation, is easy to set up. However, the lowest comfortable temperature reviewed was about 50 degrees before it became somewhat uncomfortable.
This is the bargain of them all. The Sundome tent costs only $63.99. Like all Coleman tents, it is sturdy, weatherproof, and has good ventilation. The only drawback, this is the heaviest tent, coming in over 6 pounds.
This tent intrigued me. The Kazoo has the waterproofing of a 4-season tent while listed as a 3-season tent. It is surely designed to withstand the weather. I recommend this for people who backpack in colder climates or do more fall or spring camping.
What to Look for In Beginner Tents
Obviously, you’ll certainly want a tent that is easy on the eyes, but what other factors should you look for? Here are some things to consider:
How many people will be in the tent?
After sleeping with my wife and others in tents, I suggest you purchase a tent that holds one more than is expected. For example, a 2-Person tent will work well on a solo expedition and a 3-Person tent will suffice for two larger people. However, if you and your partner are on the small side then a 2-Person tent should work.
Which season are you using the tent?
A 3-Season tent works really well in the summer for most of the United States. However, it you choose to camp in the spring and fall, some places can really dip the temperature at night. So, smaller windows and meshed area helps keep the temps up inside the tent.
How long are your trips?
Because you will carry your tent, the lighter the better for the longer hikes. A weekend overnight won’t really sap your energy if you have to carry a tent that is a pound or two heavier.
What is the expected weather?
Always check the weather report…then plan accordingly. A flash storm in the desert can really ruin sleeping plans quickly. So, even if the sky is clear, it might be best to keep the fly on!
How much does the tent weigh?
With all the options out there and the ones above that we listed, you might be tempted to get the lightest tent possible. But remember, there are tradeoffs. A lighter weight tent might not respond to harsher weather patterns in wetter climates.
Flooring and footprints?
When I lived in the arid climate of New Mexico, I rarely used my footprint. The weather was dry and the tent stayed warm. When I moved to the Northeast, I have always used my ground cover. It protects from the dewy mornings during most of the hiking season.
What about ventilation?
We can get into dew points, hydrostatic head, and whether your tent can stand up to condensation. But I did that in this post on condensation and ventilation. So check it out.
We all worry about paying too much for a tent. I believe that with the abundance of gear shops, Amazon, and other online retailers, you can get a great tent at a great price. Many times, Amazon has nice discounts going on. So, just catch it at the right time and you will save big bucks.
When shopping around keep in mind you can find wickedly good prices on beginner tents online. Ask around, see what others are using and go from there.